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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Trusting in God - even when we don't understand

This coming Sunday morning I am continuing my series on, "What bothers me most about Christianity."

One of the things that bothers me is that there is evil and suffering in the world. Why do people (especially "good" people) walk through difficult times?

Why is there evil in the world?

Why doesn't God do something about it?

Great questions. No easy answers. In fact, beware of people who give easy answers to these questions.

Here's one of the things I like about God. He invites our questions. He is not threatened when we wrestle with the issues of life. He has his "big boy" pants on. God's "self-image" is not going to suffer when we wonder, "what in the world are you doing, Lord"?

On many occasions, I have stood at the bedside of someone and prayed, "Father, we don't know why this is happening, but I do know you dear Lord, and I know that you can be trusted."

Why did an earthquake come and ravage Haiti, a country that is already steeped in poverty and misery?

I don't know.

But here's a great story that puts the whole thing in perspective.

I quote:

"The massive earthquake that rocked the nation of Haiti in January of 2010 brought with it an unfathomable amount of devastation, pain, and death. But as is often the case in times of extreme trial, there were also remarkable stories of bravery and heroism unearthed from the rubble in the days that followed.

Dan Woolley is one of those stories.

A film producer, Woolley was in Haiti working on a documentary about the country's starving children when the earthquake struck. He was inside the Hotel Montana when the shaking started, and the building collapsed before he could reach the street. When it was over, he found himself in the hotel basement among tons of fallen debris. Woolley was trapped with only the clothes on his back and an iPhone in his pocket.

Fortunately, though, his iPhone had a medical application that came in pretty handy. Using the light from the phone and the instructions from the app, Woolley was able to correctly diagnose a broken foot and use strips of clothing to bandage severe gashes he had suffered on his legs and the back of his head. Then he used the camera feature on the phone to get a map of his surroundings and plan a route to an elevator shaft that was protected from falling debris. More than 65 hours after the earthquake, Woolley was rescued by emergency personnel.

But it wasn't Woolley's quick thinking or handy gadgets that make his story remarkable. He earns that distinction because of the decisions he made on behalf of his wife and children during those 65 hours.

Dan Woolley is a Christian, and he told reporters after his rescue that he genuinely thought he was going to die in the hotel basement. So he wrote a note to his wife and children reminding them to trust God even in the middle of horrible situations.

"I was in a big accident," the note said. "Don't be upset at God. He always provides for his children, even in hard times. I'm still praying that God will get me out …. He may not, but He will always take care of ya."

May be all have that kind of faith and trust in God - even when we don't understand.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Stay together

"Thoughts from our lead pastor"

In speaking with our builders last week, we have set a tentative date of having our first service in our new building on June 20, 2010 (Father's Day).

It is an exciting time in our church.

Some nights I lay awake thinking of all of the wonderful possibilities that will present themselves as we move. God is going to do a great work in the Southland!

As we draw closer to the move, there is a lot to be done. We are going to need all of us pulling together, working together to make the transition.

We need to "stay together"!

It's the principle of synergy. Two working together can do far more than just one. Ecclesiastes 4:9,10,12 tells us, 'Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up....though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."

Carl G. Conner writes, "A few winters ago, heavy snows hit North Carolina. Following a wet, six-inch snowfall, it was interesting to see the effect along Interstate 40. Next to the highway stood several large groves of tall, young pine trees. The branches were bowed down with the heavy snow--so low that branches from one tree were often leaning against the trunk or branches of another.

Where trees stood alone, however, the effect of the heavy snow was different. The branches had become heavier and heavier, and since there were no other trees to lean against, the branches snapped. They lay on the ground, dark and alone in the cold snow. When the storms of life hit, we need to be standing close to other Christians. The closer we stand, the more we will be able to hold up."

Great stuff.

We really do need each other, especially in fulfilling the vision that God has for our church family.

In the book, "The Good Fight", author Mark Buchanan uses a movie scene to describe the necessity of unity for the church.

He writes, "General Maximus comes to Rome dirty and shackled. This is not the way it's supposed to be. Where's Rome's legendary pageantry to greet one of her war heroes—the heraldry, the burnished armor, the laurel crown? Where's the honor due him?

Maximus comes as a slave.

That's the premise of the movie Gladiator. Through a maze of events, Maximus goes from celebrated warrior, favorite of one emperor, to despised traitor, nemesis of another. He becomes a fugitive, then caged slave, then unvanquished gladiator. His growing fame in the arena brings him to the sport's pinnacle: Rome's magnificent Coliseum to face her elite warriors.

The games open with a re-enactment of the battle of Carthage. The gladiators, all foot soldiers, are cast as the hapless Carthaginians. It is a stage for slaughter. They are marched out a dark passageway into brilliant sunlight and met with a roar of bloodlust.

Maximus, their leader, shouts to his men: "Stay together." He assembles them in a tight circle in the center of the arena: back-to-back, shields aloft, spears outward. Again he shouts, "Whatever comes out that gate, stay together."

What comes out that gate is swift and sleek and full of terror. Chariot upon chariot thunder forth. War horses pull, with deadly agility and earthshaking strength, wagons driven by master charioteers. Amazonian warrior princesses ride behind and with deadly precision hurl spears and volley arrows. One gladiator strays from the circle, ignoring Maximus's order, and is cut down. Maximus shouts once more: "Stay together!"

The instinct to scatter is strong. But Maximus exerts his authority, and they resist that impulse. The chariots circle, closer, closer, closer. Spears and arrows rain down on the men's wood shields. The chariots are about to cinch the knot. Right then Maximus shouts, "Now!"

The gladiators attack, and decimate the Romans. Commodus, the evil emperor, caustically remarks to the games organizer: "My memory of Roman history is rusty, but didn't we beat Carthage the first time?"

Whatever comes out that gate, stay together."

In the next 5 months, whatever comes our way - let's stay together!

That echoes what Jesus prayed for us in John 17:23: "May they be brought to complete unity". And He promises that the gates of hell will not overcome His church.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Our services were just wonderful yesterday. There was a great spirit, and God was there. In the second service, 5 or 6 people raised their hands, stating that they desired to connect with Christ and start a relationship with Him.

Wonderful stuff.

I am truly thankful that the Lord takes the time to minister to us!

Well, the Colts and the Saints are in the Super Bowl.

Should be a good one.

Peyton Manning is some kind of quarterback. He doesn't have much around him (as far as offensive weapons), and yet all he does is continue to win. One of the true greats of all time.

Now then, concerning the Saint-Vikings game, I was thrilled that the Saints won.

I'm still not feeling very good about the way that the Vikings piled on the points at the end of their game with the Cowboys (and can't wait until the Cowboys and Vikings play each other in the regular season next year - what goes around comes around), and felt like the Vikings got what was due them.

They didn't help themselves with all of the turnovers, especially the fumbles.

To all of my friends (and foes) who root for the Vikings - "You still haven't won a Super Bowl".......

Yet at the same time, it was a little bit of a disappointment for me to this extent - Brett Favre is truly a "warrior". The man is one tough guy.

A truly great quarterback. Not a great, great quarterback, but a very good one. He still, even as he threw (probably his last pass) that last interception, consistently makes bad choices toward the end of the game. Yet, again, I admire his toughness and his love for the game.

My Super Bowl prediction?

It's a tough one.

But here it is:

Indianapolis 35 - New Orleans 31.

I think Peyton rules the day - once again.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jack is back and being persistent

Well, Jack is back. Bauer that is.

Back to save the world.

I think that maybe he should write an autobiography - after all, he has saved the world seven times from disaster on the television show, 24.

Reluctantly, he jumps back into the fray this season.

Here's what I know:

Jack cares about people. He is willing to risk his life and put it continually on the line so that others might live.

Jack is "Teflon coated" when it comes to running away from the bad guys (killing two men in the process) nearly getting blown up from a missile and beaten up when a cop mistakes him for a killer. And yet he goes on - none the worse for wear.

Still - it's a great show.

The one thing I like about Jack Bauer is that he is persistent. He keeps on going until the job is done. Nothing can hold him back.

He will do "whatever is necessary" to finish his assignment.

That's a great attitude that I would suggest we all need to have.

I seriously doubt if anyone reading this blog is going to go through what Jack has already gone through in the first four hours of this year's series.

Yet we are all called upon to be persistent at something.

What is God calling you to finish - no matter what the cost?

For some, it might be a marriage that in the natural is on its last legs. It seems to be on life support - but you know that God is calling you to stay committed.

For others, it might be a job that you "hate" and want to get out of as fast as possible. But there are one or two people there that have listened, I mean really listened when you have shared your faith with them - and if you leave, there will be no one there to connect them with Christ.

For others still, it might be a ministry at the church. It seems like you are spinning your wheels, that no one is growing in God or coming to Christ. Yet, there is seemingly no one else to take your place.

- you are just about ready to give up praying for someone you love to come to Christ. Keep on praying.

- you are just about ready to give up on one of your children (or one of your parents) - they've done too much and you're not wanting to keep the relationship - try one more time.

- you are just about ready to throw in the towel in your attempt to lose weight - go to the gym one more time.

Here's what I know: that God is just as interested in seeing you grow in Him as he is in changing your situation.

God cares about whether you finish the task or not. But more importantly, he cares about you - and being persistent and finishing the role, job, task, ministry that he has given you is part of his working in your life.

I encourage us all to - be persistent!

Not all of us will face situations like Jack Bauer. But there are lots of stories out there happening on a day to day basis that show us that there are people that continue to be persistent - and achieving their goals.

Here's one:

"When Sumner Spence expressed his desire to attend college, many people scoffed because he suffers from cerebral palsy. Sumner can't read books because his eyes won't focus. He can't hold onto things very well because his hands clench uncontrollably. Taking notes in a classroom would be out of the question. Anyone who knew Sumner would have thought it perfectly understandable if he had never set a goal beyond learning how to operate his wheelchair. But that wasn't good enough for Sumner. And it certainly wasn't good enough for his mother, Susan Spence.

Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, Sumner Spence enrolled at the University of Delaware. His mother attended all his classes, faithfully taking his notes for him. Each evening she would enter the lecture notes into a special computer program whose digital voice read the notes back to Sumner as he studied. Over the course of 2½ years, Susan Spence scanned more than 5,000 pages of textbook material and edited the scanned text for accuracy so Sumner could effectively study.

One particular class assignment called for Sumner's mother to go the extra mile. The students were asked to read Liam Callanan's first novel The Cloud Atlas. The famous author was going to be a special guest lecturer on the campus. Sumner's mom was not aware an electronic version of the novel existed, so she re-typed the entire book into their home computer.

When the class hosted an informal lunch to chat about Callanan's book, Sumner offered a number of insightful observations and questions. Later that evening, Callanan received a phone call from the professor of the class.

Sumner's mom had just spoken with the professor, tearfully telling her how before that meal Sumner had never eaten in public with anyone other than a family member. He was always afraid he would repulse people who didn't understand. Since he loved reading, though, he wanted to talk about books, and the lunch that day had given him the opportunity.

On the evening of May 24, 2007, Susan Spence took a seat in the back of the auditorium, and she watched as Sumner wheeled himself across the platform to receive his Associate of Arts degree. After addressing his fellow graduates at the commencement ceremony, more than 300 students and family members in attendance erupted in a standing ovation for this determined boy and his loyal mother."

Great stuff...don't give up...keep going....

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A culture of discontent

It seems like lately I have been interacting with a lot of discontented people. be candid...there is a lot out there to be discontented about.

Living in the worst economic times since the Great Depression would discourage anyone, especially those who have experienced the loss of their jobs or homes. My heart and my compassion goes out to them.

The negativity and bad news that we all receive on a daily basis is relentless.

There is much to be discontented about.

That can apply, and many times especially applies, to God's people.

It's tough to remain positive in a negative culture. It's tough to remain content in a discontented culture.

Discontentment and her children - ingratitude, complaining, and grumbling - are serous temptations for us in the Kingdom of God.

Oh, we might not directly let it come out of our mouths, but it does come, in all kinds of subtle ways.

Do any of these statements reflect you?

"I regularly wish I had a different job."

"I possess a bad attitude when I'm at work."

"I am consistently disappointed in my relationships, whether they are with my spouse, my parents, my friends, my kids, or my church."

"People don't meet my emotional needs."

"My church doesn't meet my needs."

"I'm pretty resentful about that."

"I deal with disappointments and discontent in my life by doing one of the following:

- watching a lot of TV
- going shopping more than is healthy
- viewing pornography on the Internet
-drinking alcohol and doing drugs."

"I am losing a sense of hope about life and becoming more cynical as I grow older."

"I get really ticked off at the good things and circumstances people around me seem to have and enjoy."

Do any of these statements fit your life?

Author John Cheever writes that the main emotion that the average American feels is disappointment.

Ashton Kutcher, when asked what he missed about growing up and living in the Midwest (Iowa) said, "I miss being around people that don't complain. I'm in the drama business, and there are a lot of dramatic people that seem to be not very happy with where they are."

I'm not really wanting to give you pat answers or cliches at this point.

But maybe, just maybe, the answer to our discontentment is not finding solutions or answers or having our "if only's" met - but God himself.

Psalm 37:4 says: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart."

The Psalmist doesn't say the Lord will give you whatever you want. He says he will create in your heart desires that are appropriate. When you delight yourself in God, you're going to discover that the things you use to long aren't a distraction anymore.

In his book The Pressure's Off, psychologist Larry Crabb uses a story from his childhood to illustrate our need to delight in God through adversity:

"One Saturday afternoon, I decided I was a big boy and could use the bathroom without anyone's help. So I climbed the stairs, closed and locked the door behind me, and for the next few minutes felt very self-sufficient.

Then it was time to leave. I couldn't unlock the door. I tried with every ounce of my three-year-old strength, but I couldn't do it. I panicked. I felt again like a very little boy as the thought went through my head, "I might spend the rest of my life in this bathroom."

My parents—and likely the neighbors—heard my desperate scream.

"Are you okay?" Mother shouted through the door she couldn't open from the outside. "Did you fall? Have you hit your head?"

"I can't unlock the door!" I yelled. "Get me out of here!"

I wasn't aware of it right then, but Dad raced down the stairs, ran to the garage to find the ladder, hauled it off the hooks, and leaned it against the side of the house just beneath the bedroom window. With adult strength, he pried it open, then climbed into my prison, walked past me, and with that same strength, turned the lock and opened the door.

"Thanks, Dad," I said—and ran out to play.

That's how I thought the Christian life was supposed to work. When I get stuck in a tight place, I should do all I can to free myself. When I can't, I should pray. Then God shows up. He hears my cry—"Get me out of here! I want to play!"—and unlocks the door to the blessings I desire.

Sometimes he does. But now, no longer three years old and approaching sixty, I'm realizing the Christian life doesn't work that way. And I wonder, are any of us content with God? Do we even like him when he doesn't open the door we most want opened—when a marriage doesn't heal, when rebellious kids still rebel, when friends betray, when financial reverses threaten our comfortable way of life, when the prospect of terrorism looms, when health worsens despite much prayer, when loneliness intensifies and depression deepens, when ministries die?

God has climbed through the small window into my dark room. But he doesn't walk by me to turn the lock that I couldn't budge. Instead, he sits down on the bathroom floor and says, "Come sit with me!" He seems to think that climbing into the room to be with me matters more than letting me out to play.

I don't always see it that way. "Get me out of here!" I scream. "If you love me, unlock the door!"

Larry Crabb writes, "Dear friend, the choice is ours. Either we can keep asking him to give us what we think will make us happy—to escape our dark room and run to the playground of blessings—or we can accept his invitation to sit with him, for now, perhaps, in darkness, and to seize the opportunity to know him better and represent him well in this difficult world."

Good stuff for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Faith or fear?

At our deacon meeting last night, I brought up "worst case" scenarios concerning our relocation project and our church.

In other words, I tried to "predict" some of the challenges that we might face in the future.

It's all part of being "good stewards" as leaders of our church family.

Yet, to a man, we all agreed that faith and the leadership of the Holy Spirit will overcome any challenges that we are going to face.

To a man, we believe in God.

To a man, we believe that God is going to see us through.

I would suggest to you that the difference between a church that fulfills God's calling is often the difference between faith and fear. It is the line between stepping out and holding back.

It is the line between control and empowerment. It is the line between taking action and thinking about it.

When fear gets into a system, it clogs up the works. Decisions come more slowly. Risks get managed. Everyone becomes cautious, calculating, and conservative. Instead of living tiptoe on the edge of expectation, people become hesitant.

Eventually we try to protect ourselves, and our passion is gradually restrained, starved, and weakened. We begin to feel less alive as a result.

In my opinion, the most fundamental issue holding back the any church is, “Are we truly willing to live by faith and risk it all?”

The only power on earth stronger than fear is faith.

We have to believe that God is who he says he is and that he will do what he says he’ll do. We cannot believe our eyes. Faith is the substance of things not seen.

Faith calls us to go and not to take much in the way of supplies. Faith calls us to put our lives at risk.

A man falls off a cliff but miraculously catches a branch on the way down. He begins yelling, “Is anyone up there?”

An answer comes back. “Yes.”

“Who are you?”

“I am God, and I am going to save you.”

“Wonderful. What should I do?”

“Let go of the branch.”

After a long pause, the man yells, “Is anyone else up there?”

Warren Bennis wrote a book, entitled "Organizing Genius", in which he looked at leaders who turned around impossible situations. They shared some common traits.

They had high energy. But they also had an almost delusional confidence. They had no success to protect. Their lack of experience was an asset. They did not know what was supposed to be impossible. They had a completely unrealistic view of what could be accomplished.

Spiritually, we need this. If age, experience, cynicism, and success have robbed us of our pioneering spirit, then we need to return to a vibrant, young faith.

The Bible says we can’t please God without it. It is also impossible to achieve our goals without it.

We desire to be led by the Holy Spirit. As we are lead by the Holy Spirit, the Lord will bring opportunities for which we cannot plan.

The Bible says in Proverbs 16:4,9, “The Lord works out everything for his own ends…In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps”.

Our approach to planning at Stone Church is less like a cannonball fired at a fortress and more like a heat-seeking missile tracking a moving target. When the pillar of cloud and fire moves, we’ll move with it. We are continually looking for the genius of the Holy Spirit as we chart our course.

Isn't it true that when our plans – no matter how big – are always too small for God?

In this relocation process, we are attempting something so big that it is doomed to failure unless God is in it.

The question we want to ask is not, “Can we afford to do it?” but, “Is it a great thing for God?” We want to let go of the arrogance of knowing and move toward wonder and reverence. We want to move from the black-and-white zone of control toward the gray zone of greater openness.

A lot of planning in churches pushes the present into the future. The better and biblical approach to the future involves prayer and preparation, not prediction.

Long-range planning can be an attempt to turn life into a predictable science. Sometimes complicated plans can be a subconscious attempt to avoid doing, to avoid growing, to avoid faith.

At our church, we live with an emotional paradox. On one hand, we revel in the joys of accidental discovery. On the other hand, being human, we don’t want to feel out of control. Yet real control is the ability to respond automatically to altered and unpredictable circumstances.

As Scripture instructs us in Galatians 5:25, "we want to “keep in step with the Spirit”. Jesus compared the Spirit to the wind – it blows unpredictably. It is critical that we continue to ask, “Where is God at work, and how can we join him in that?”

Monday, January 18, 2010

running up the score and other things

Okay, the Dallas Cowboys deserved to lose yesterday. They played poorly, often making me wonder why they even showed up.

Yes, I do understand that poor tackling will lead to touchdowns.

But....that is no reason, I repeat, no reason to run up the score at the end of the game.

It's called respect for the other team and for the game.

I always teach, "in order to gain respect, a person (team) must show respect".

Yes, I do understand that Minnesota Viking fans will not agree with me.

Perhaps you read recently of a Vikings football fan who was almost killed in a tragic horse accident. He fell from the horse and was nearly trampled to death. Thankfully the manager of the K-Mart store came out and unplugged it.

What do you call a Minnesota Viking with a Super Bowl ring? A "thief".

How many Vikings does it take to win a Super Bowl? Nobody knows. (They've never won one).

One season, the Vikings and Packers ended the year tied. Every tiebreaker the NFL had was used to break the tie, but the tie remained. Which team would be the NFC Central Champion? The NFL office was consulted. They said to figure it out locally, something like a coin toss would be fine. Well, Minnesota and Wisconsin being the fishing states they are, someone got the idea of a 3-day fishing contest. Both teams agreed.

On the first day, the Packers caught 100 fish, while the Vikings caught none. On the second day, the Packers again caught fish, 200 this time. Once again, the Vikings were skunked. Things were looking bad for the Vikings - the Viking coach was desperate. He called one of his players aside, and dressed him in green and gold. "Go over to the Packer camp and find out what they're doing!" he was told.

The Viking player returned a couple of hours later. "I know what they're doing Coach!" he reported excitedly. "Well what is it? asked the Coach.

"They're drilling holes thru the ice!"

It was 27-3. Not much time left. And Minnesota goes in and scores another touchdown to make it 34-3.

That is rude, classless and tasteless.

Sports etiquette says "thou shalt not run up the score."

My personal feelings? I hope that the New Orleans Saints go all the way. I hope they blow the Vikings out. I hope that Brett Favre goes 5 for 23 in the passing game.

Even little leaguers know that to run up the score doesn't show much class.

Anyway.....are you getting how I feel about the game yesterday?

Now then, let me take off my "trash talkin sports hat" and put on my "following God with all of my heart hat" again....

Forgive me for my verbal transgressions.

We had wonderful services yesterday, especially around the altar. "God is moving," as my friend David Dewes says.

It's beginning to be a new day at our church. I am excited!

I can see the level of anticipation and expectation of God's Spirit raise each week.

And then at our life group last night...wonderful stuff. We are watching John Ortberg's DVD series, "When the game is over, it all goes back in the box."

Great stuff. The lesson, when all is said and done, we need to focus on eternal things and not temporal things - because all temporal things go back into the box. We can't take anything with us - it is all left behind, except:

The lives that we influence.
People we have lead to the Lord.
Raising our kids in a godly way.
Serving others
Helping people in the time of need

These are things that stay out of the box after our time spend on this planet is gone.

John Ortberg says this:

"Actually in some ways it’s really ancient. There were manuscripts back in the Middle Ages that compared life to chess. They said, "Pawn or king—they all go back in the same bag." But the particular metaphor that I talk about, I had actually heard used first by James Dobson. It reminded me of playing Monopoly with my grandmother back when I was a kid. She was this ruthless Monopoly player. She would always win. She understood that money’s the name of the game. You’ve got to acquire everything. I would always lose. I’d have to give her all my money and get really depressed and disappointed.

And then one summer I played all summer long with a kid who lived in my neighborhood, and I gradually learned what it took to actually win at the game. I was finally able to defeat my grandmother—my moment of great glory—until the final lesson came: when the game is over, it all goes back in the box. All the houses, all the hotels, Boardwalk and Park Place, all that money—everything is going back in the box. That really is sort of the central metaphor for the whole deal of life.

We get messages from the media, from ads, from school, from our peers that life’s about nothing more than trying to become master of the board. That money is how you keep score. It will give you identity, make you secure. And there are very bright people who play the game really well. They only forget this one small detail: that the game is going to end; and when it ends, it all goes back in the box."

Let's remember this day to focus on the eternal and not the temporal.....It will do us well...especially when our football team loses the game....

Thursday, January 14, 2010


At our elder's breakfast the other day, I encouraged each man there to mentor someone in our church.

By that I mean praying about another man in the church in which they can pour their life to as a mature follower of Christ.

I asked them to do the following:

Pray that the Holy Spirit will lead you to a man in the church that needs spiritual coaching.

Ask that person if they are open to receiving mentoring.

Touch base with the a couple of times a month.

Establish some kind of accountability with them. Ask them accountability questions, whether it be verbal or email.

Pray with them on an as needed basis.

Be available to them, especially during times of crisis.

I shared with the elders that I am not really interested in starting a ministry at this point of "how to coach" other men - but that we "just do it" and begin to reach out to those around us.

I believe in mentoring. I believe in accountability.

I believe that every man should seek to have three individuals in his life: a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy.

A Paul is an older man who is willing to mentor you, to build into your life. Not someone who's smarter or more gifted than you, but somebody who's been down the road. Somebody willing to share his strengths and weaknesses--everything he's learned in the laboratory of life. Somebody whose faith you'll want to imitate.

A Barnabas is a soul brother, somebody who loves you but is not impressed by you. Somebody to whom you can be accountable. Somebody who's willing to keep you honest, who's willing to say, "Hey, man, you're neglecting your wife, and don't give me any guff!"

A Timothy is a younger man into whose life you are building. For a model, read 1 and 2 Timothy. Here was Paul, the quintessential mentor, building into the life of his protege--affirming, encouraging, teaching, correcting, directing, praying.

Do you have these three guys in your life? Are you mentoring someone?

If you are interested in this, please feel free to email me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Walking in dignity

Conflict is inevitable in all spheres of life. Wherever you find people, you find conflict.

Sometimes we in the kingdom can get a little got of guard when it happens - because we expect the best of people - but as long as we live on this side of eternity - we will deal with difficulties in relationships.

I came across a piece of advice today that really spoke to me. It's something that I am going to try to apply to every facet of my life.

The "punchline" is this (and then I encourage you to read the story below): "Someone has to show a little dignity in this thing. It should start with you."

May you be prayerfully challenged as I have today.

In an article for Leadership journal, Gordon MacDonald shares the story of a friend who was caught in the middle of a nasty church conflict that had spun out of control.

When MacDonald asked his friend how the situation had been resolved, his friend told him that he had been confronted with a piercing piece of advice: "Someone has to show a little dignity in this thing. It really should start with you."

MacDonald's friend took the wisdom to heart, and it worked wonders in the situation.

MacDonald took the wisdom to heart himself and had the opportunity to apply it when caught in the middle of an airport fiasco.

Here's the story:

"MacDonald was scheduled to fly from Boston's Logan Airport to Chicago, but the boarding-pass attendant realized that he was scheduled to fly not out of Boston, but Manchester, New Hampshire. MacDonald asked whether she could solve the problem for him. She could—but for an extra $360.

MacDonald was shocked. "I'm a 100k customer on your airline. I give you guys a lot of my business. Can't you just get me on the flight for free as a courtesy?" But the boarding-pass attendant said her hands were tied. MacDonald would have to pay the $360.

The testy situation had reached its decisive moment. Though the problem was a result of MacDonald's incorrect booking, he felt "depreciated, blown off, victimized by a big company that seemed to put a monetary value on every transaction." As he points out in his article, "the ungodly part of me wanted to say something sarcastic (about friendly skies, for example) that would hurt the other person as I felt hurt. Hurting her would help me to feel that I'd hurt the rest of the company—all the way up to the CEO. Perhaps she'd call and tell him how I felt so that his day would be ruined like mine was about to be ruined."

But then he remembered the advice his friend had been given: "Someone has to show a little dignity in this thing. It really should start with you."

MacDonald swallowed his pride and applied the advice to the situation at hand. He writes about what happened next:

I said to the boarding-pass lady, "Before I pay you the $360, let me say one more thing. Six weeks ago I came here to take a flight to the West Coast and discovered that the airline had cancelled the flight and hadn't told me. They said they were sorry, and I forgave them.

"Then two weeks later, on a flight to Europe, the airline lost my luggage (for two days). They said they were really, really sorry. And, again, I forgave them.
"Last week, on a third flight, they got me to my destination two hours late.

Your people fell all over themselves saying how sorry they were about the delays. And you know what? I forgave them again. Now here I am—fourth time in six weeks—wanting to fly with you again. See how forgiving I am?

"But this morning the problem's mine. I forgot that I scheduled myself out of the other airport. And I am really, really sorry that I made this terrible mistake.

"You guys have said 'sorry' to me three times in the last six weeks, and, each time I have forgiven you. Now I would like to say 'sorry' to you and ask you to forgive me and put me on that flight without charging me the $360. You have three 'sorries,' and now I'm asking for one. Does that make any sense to you?"

The boarding-pass lady took her own time-out and considered my idea and then said, "It really does make sense to me. Let me see what I can do."

She typed and typed and typed into her computer—as if she was writing a novella—and then looked up with a smile. "We can do this," she said. Two minutes later I was off to the gate with my boarding pass.

That morning dignity won. The airline forgave me. The skies were indeed friendly. I didn't have to pay an extra $360.

MacDonald offers these closing thoughts: "This increasingly crowded, noisy world is generating more and more of these kinds of moments where no one is really doing something bad … just stupid (me, in this case). But because our human dignity is eroded by these constant clashes, even our innocent mistakes point to the possibility for hateful exchanges and vengeful acts. You have to keep alert lest you get sucked into saying and doing things that you'll regret an hour later."

May we all walk in dignity today

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Being all that we can be

"Be all that you can be", is an old army commercial that used to blare out on the television.

And God desire the same thing for us - He wants us to "be all that we can be"!

God desire that our church family reach and fulfill the potential that He has given us. God desires that we be running on all cylinders - in ministry, in fellowship, in worship and in evangelism.

So what is holding us back?

Every church in America deals with the following three "weights" that hold them down in this kingdom race that God has called us to.

Serving God is not a 100 yard dash and with a burst of speed we make heaven. Serving God is a marathon race - a long-distance race in which we need endurance to complete.

My desire is that we finish our portion of the race well. Each generation, from the beginning our church to the current generation has handed off a baton. Some have handed off the baton weary, worn out and sad, while others have handed off their baton full of God's power, anointing and strength.

Let's be the latter!

As we transition to 183rd street, let's ask ourselves, are we running our race faithfully?

What we do as a church family this year, 2010, will affect those who attend our church for generations to come.

Serious runners always strip down for a race. They don’t carry a lot of baggage or extra clothes.

Even in winter. I have seen joggers in Chicago lately, in the middle of winter, running in jogging shorts and T-shirts. They don't want anything to slow them down or hold them back.

That’s how God wants us to run the race of life – with as few distractions as possible. So many people in our churches aren’t living up to their full potential in Christ. In fact, many are being held back by three particular struggles we need to overcome to be all God wants us to be.

Let go of your worries.

Worry is emotional garbage that hinders our people’s progress to spiritual maturity.

The more we worry, the more it slows us down. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Worry weighs a person down.” Think of what God’s people could do if we weren’t being dragged down by worry. Think of the people we’d reach, the evil giants of the world we’d conquer.

Worry exhausts our energy. It exaggerates our problem. And it wastes our time. Instead of doing what God has called our church to do, many are often stuck in their worries. So what do you do with your worries? How do you deal with them?

Start by having them identify those worries. You can’t release your worries until you know what they are. One of the reasons why we’re often stressed out is we have a vague feeling that “something is wrong,” but we don’t know what it is. If you carry this vague sense of anxiety, it’s harder to deal with.

Then we need to take those worries to God. Psalm 55:22 says, “Give your worries to the Lord and He will take care of you.” He says, “Let it go. Give it to Me. I’ll take care of it.”

You don’t get rid of worry through therapy, fads, diets, pills, seminars, or conferences. You get rid of worry by prayer.

If you prayed more, you’d worry less. Philippians 4:6-7 in the Message paraphrase says, “Instead of worrying, pray. Let your petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness…will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Don’t waste any more time with your worries; let them go.

Let go of your wounds.

Many things wound us emotionally. Lies, broken promises, conflict, and betrayal are just a few. And internal wounds are much more serious than external ones. For example, you don’t remember the cuts, scrapes, and bruises you got on the playground as a kid, but I would guess you remember the painful words that were said to you.

We remember emotional wounds a lot longer than physical ones. Why? Because we rehearse those hurts in our mind over and over again. We replay the tape.

That’s dumb. Your past is past. If you keep rehearsing a past wound, you allow someone to hurt you over and over again. There’s a word for rehearsing a hurt over and over again in your mind – resentment. That literally means, “to cut again.” Every time you nurse an old would, you’re cutting yourself again.

The Bible says in Psalm 37:8, “Let go of anger and leave your rage behind. Do not be preoccupied. It only leads to evil.” When you rehearse the pain, you just reinforce and reinvent the hurt.

There are those in our church family who week after week, month after month and year after year, nurse their wounds. They can’t let go. They’ll never reach their God-given potential and purpose for life until they let go of the past.

What hurts do you need to leave behind? The only antidote for those hurts is forgiveness. There’s no other way to get past your hurt and pain. Some people say, “The person who hurt me doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.”

There’s a great answer for that: neither did you. You don’t forgive people for their benefit. Resentment doesn’t hurt the other person. It hurts us.

Let go of your wrongs.

In order to move on and "be all that God wants us to be", we’ve got to let go of our sins, mistakes, regrets, and failures – all the things we wish hadn’t happened and we feel guilty about. Many people have been carrying the same guilt for 40 years. No wonder they’re not growing spiritually!

We need to help people come clean. There’s no time to waste. Every day we live with guilt is another day it’s dragging us down. Why is it important to come clean?

Guilt disconnects us from God.

Isaiah 59:2 says, “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.” When you have a bunch of guilty garbage piled up, it separates you from your God. You can’t connect to God with sin in your life.

Guilt affects your health. Psalm 32:3 says, “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long.” When you’re dealing with guilt in your life, you’re always worried about being “found out.” That takes a toll on your health.

Guilt dominates your mind. Psalm 51:3 says, “I know about my wrongs, and I can’t forget my sin.” When you feel guilty about something, you can’t think about anything else. You can’t become what God wants you to be when your mind is dominated by guilt.

In the next few weeks, take a moral inventory. Make a list of everything that’s between you and God. God has given us a wonderful promise in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God is ready and waiting to forgive us if we just confess our wrongs to him.

Worries, wounds, and wrongs are holding back Christians in our churches. Let's go beyond that and "be all that we can be"!

Monday, January 11, 2010


In ministry, I do my best not to ride the high's and lows of church life. I try not to allow myself to get too excited at the good, or too discouraged at the difficult.

It's important to remain steady at the helm.

Yet, I must say, yesterday was just phenomenal. There was a powerful sense of God's presence, of God's spirit.

I have been receiving emails all morning - stating how much our church family enjoyed experiencing God's ministry presence.

I was so pleased as our teenagers were at the altar seeking God. I must admit I teared up in seeing them standing in a line at the altar, and having our older saints pray for them. Wonderful stuff.

Robert Madu did a wonderful job in giving an anointed presentation of the gospel.

Who can ever forget his visual of dirt and the gift?

His thought was that we are all made from dirt (Genesis 2:7: "The Lord God formed the man from the dust (dirt) of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."

God made us from dirt. Yet God has also gifted each one of us with a gift (if not many gifts). Each one of us has been tasked by God to use our gift in Kingdom ministry.

What really spoke to me personally was that we are called upon to celebrate each other's giftings, while at the same time accepting each other "dirt" with love, acceptance and forgiveness.

Powerful, powerful, thought.

We were also thrilled to have Mike and Christine (along with little Elijah) Trevino with us as fill-in youth pastors. Christine sang for us - beautifully.

Let me say, "Thank you, Lord," for the way you ministered to us yesterday. You are so good to us - we desire MORE of you Spirit in our lives!"

Can you pray that with me today? "God send us MORE OF YOUR SPIRIT!"

BTW, the Dallas Cowboys won Saturday evening.....they play the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday....Go Cowboys!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The power of fear

I think it was President Franklin Roosevelt that said, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

So true....powerful.

As we approach this coming year as a church family - I must say that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Fear will hinder us.

Fear will slow us down.

Fear will cause us to be less than we can be.

Times of transition can cause us to fear the loss of control, things aren't as they normally should be.

God's word says, "God has not give us a spirit of fear, but of peace and love and of a sound mind." (2 timothy 1:7).

What is fear? Fear is really the desire to avoid pain. It's the avoidance of pain. Sometimes, if not most of the time, the fear of a situation or circumstance, can be more debilitating than the circumstance itself.

And yes, fear can cause us to do things we would not normally do otherwise.

In his book "Fearless", Max Lucado writes about the power fear possesses to turn us into beastly people:

[Fear] turns us into control freaks … [for] … fear, at its center, is a perceived loss of control.

When life spins wildly, we grab for a component of life we can manage:

our diet, the tidiness of our home, the armrest of a plane, or, in many cases, people.

The more insecure we feel, the meaner we become. We growl and bare our fangs. Why? Because we are bad? In part. But also because we feel cornered.

Martin Niemöller documents an extreme example of this. He was a German pastor who took a heroic stand against Adolf Hitler. When he first met the dictator in 1933, Niemöller stood at the back of the room and listened.

Later, when his wife asked him what he'd learned, he said, "I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man." Fear releases the tyrant within.

As we walk through this transitional year together, let's remember what I am writing here. Let's remember to walk in love, peace and forgiveness.

And let's remember that God is in control.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A new thing

Let me share with you what I sensed the Lord saying to us as a congregation (I talked about this last Sunday in our corporate prayer time).

God is in the midst of doing a new thing.

Obviously, one of the new things that God is going to do is to help us to move our church campus to another town, Orland Park.

That is huge in and of itself.

New campus
New town

And now we are challenged to bring on new staff.

But the "newness" that God is going to bring will be deeper than that.

God is going to give us a new sense of His Spirit, His Presence in our lives.

And....God is going to give us new direction.

I'm not quite sure how to articulate it yet with words, but there is within my spirit and distinct rumbling of the fact that God is going to lead us to new heights, a new ministry capability.

Isaiah 43:18, 19, tell us, "Forget the former tings; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."

In a sermon John Ortberg once reflected on one of the greatest enemies of the human spirit.

It's a worthy goal for us as a congregation in 2010.

Ortberg writes:

"For many years, Max Depree was the CEO of an innovative Fortune 500 company called Herman Miller. Depree has written classic books on leadership and anchored the board of trustees at Fuller Seminary for 40 years. Max is asked to speak a lot about leadership, and at one session somebody asked him what the most difficult thing was that he personally had to work on. This was Max's response: "It's the interception of entropy."

Entropy is a term from physics that has something to do with the second law of thermodynamics and the availability of energy. It speaks to the fact that the universe is winding down. It's the idea that everything that is left to itself has a tendency to deteriorate.

Entropy. It's not only one of the great enemies of the universe; it's one of the great enemies of the human spirit. A person becomes apathetic or complacent or settles for the path of least resistance in some area of life. Dreams die and hopes fade.

A terrible thing happens: a person learns they can live with mediocrity.

Entropy is a great enemy of the human spirit, so the writers of the Book of Proverbs have a lot to say about it. One thing they say is that the wise person is always on the lookout for early signs that entropy is setting in.

Proverbs 27:23-24 shows us the picture of someone who has livestock and how they need to monitor its condition.

Though the words speak of livestock, they are true in any area of life:

"Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations."

Everyday you have to be on the lookout for entropy. Though things might have been okay yesterday, that doesn't mean they stay okay forever.

Put any important area of your life on autopilot, and risk entropy that is both subtle and destructive."

I'm am thrilled that God is going to take us to places we have never gone before as a church family!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Unconditional friendship

You probably won't think that this is funny unless you work or minister full time with people.

Working with people can be the most rewarding thing in the world - or the most frustrating.

What am I referring to?

I bought a t-shirt over the holidays that said this on the front:

"I can only please one person each day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow doesn't look good either."

Some days (and they are few and far between) I just want to wear that t-shirt where ever I go.

You see, working with people is not like building a house for instance, being a carpenter or an iron worker.

Those guys (or gals) get to physically see the results of their hard work at the end of the day - if not at the completion of the project.

People aren't like that.

You and I are never fully "completed". We are always a work in progress. I know that I am.

That's why it's important to know that God never looks at us as we are - but as we will and can be.

I am thankful for that.

I need to do the same with those I minister to.

God doesn't call me to change anyone (only the Holy Spirit can do that) - but to continue to love them and and be their friend.

Be their friend no matter what. Let's call it "unconditional friendship."

More than receiving that type of friendship this coming year (2010), my goal is to give that kind of friendship - to be a friend that continues to like and to love no matter what.