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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Big things in small places

One of my favorite movies is, "It's A Wonderful Life," starring Jimmy Stewart.

There's a great scene where George is meeting Mary in front of her house, sharing his dreams and aspirations.

Here's what George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) said:

"Mary, I know what I'm going to do tomorrow and the next day and the next year and the year after that. I'm going to leave this little town far behind, and I'm going to see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Coliseum. Then I'm coming back here, and I'll go to college and see what they know, and then I'm going to build things. I'm going to build air fields. I'm going to build skyscrapers a hundred stories high. I'm going to build bridges a mile long."

As it turns out, George is wrong. He doesn't know what he's going to do tomorrow and the next day and the next year and the year after that.

As it turns out, what he is supposed to do tomorrow is pretty much what he did today.

God's plan for him is to do the ordinary thing — which, of course, is the last thing that George wants to do. If you remember another famous scene from the film, you know that George Bailey wants to lasso the moon.

I can remember coming out of Bible school and seminary with great dreams and visions of what might be. In those days I was "aiming for the moon" as George Bailey cries out with gusto. Pastor a megachurch. Win a country for God (France). Become a nationally known speaker. Receive the adulation of my peers.

Well, things haven't quite turned out that way.

Yet here is the irony: I have achieved everything of which I truly longed for.

I am married to someone I dearly love.

I have three great wonderful kids.

I am teaching and leading a great group of people at Stone Church.

I am at peace with who I am.

There comes a time in all of our lives when we must realize who we are, that what we are doing in the present is a "great thing", that not all of us are called upon to do "great things in big places," but "great things in small places" as well.

Most days, my goals are pretty low on the horizon, get up and to go work, come home and have dinner with Debbie. Go to the gym. Try to think of something to write about for my blog.

Yet, isn't this what God is calling us to? To "lasso" our dreams and in a sense, "lower or sights" and be of great value in the kingdom of God - in the place where God has called us to?

The path to glory must always be tested by biblical principles that stand the test of time. It is the way of the cross. It is the way of humility. It is the way of realizing our place in God's kingdom. And to seek to do God's will in that calling.

So...there is validity to being where you are right now. Not as an excuse for not reaching your dreams of long ago - but as a validation of where you and I are right now, which is where God wants us to be.

Just some thoughts for a Thursday.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

ministry team cooperation

I love our church. I like that fact that our church is filled with people "doing ministry" with fervency and passion. It is great to hang out with people who care; people who care about those who are not connected to Christ and those who are.

Let me share some thoughts that I wrote in an earlier blog some months we move into our new facility, we are all going to be called upon to work together for the greater good of our church. God has called us all to be a TEAM.

Here is a ministry team principle: Teamwork means cooperation.

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 – let me extend to you my 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.

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 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.

Thanks again for your willingness to keep your focus on the “big picture.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Praying the psalms

Thomas Merton has written:

"If there is one theme that is certainly to be found implicitly or explicitly in all the Psalms, it is the motif of Psalm 1:1: "Blessed be the man who follows not the counsel of the ungodly...but his delight is in the law of the Lord."

If there is one experience to which the Psalms all lead in one way or another, it is precisely this: delight in the law of the Lord, peace in the will of God. This is the foundation on which the psalmists build their edifice of praise.

There is not one who does not seek peace. The Psalms are sometimes anguished, sometimes tormented, turbulent, warlike, defiant, yet they all in end in peace, or show us that the way to peace is in confidence in the Strong Living God who is far above the struggles and tempests of earth, and who, nevertheless, descends on the wings of the whirlwind to rescue his elect.

There is therefore one fundamental religious experience which the Psalms can all teach us: the peace that comes from submission to God's will and from perfect confidence in him."

Good words for a Tuesday. I encourage all of us, in times of need, to take a Psalms and pray it, preferably out loud.

There is such a spiritual release and an emotional drainage that comes from praying the prayers of someone who has "been there, done that".

Let me take one of David's Psalms and use it as an example and pray it with you. I just opened my Bible and am going to pray the Psalm that I opened up to.

Psalms 121:

"During my time of need, I go to the one place where I know I can receive help, Lord, from you. My help comes from you Lord, for you have everything under control, you are the maker of heaven and earth. I thank you that you are not going to let me fall, you watch over me continually, for which I am grateful. You never sleep, Lord, and that knowledge really helps me. Any time the heat comes by day, or the cold by night, problems that come night and day, you are there to keep me from all harm. Thank you for watching over my life and for being with me all day - every day."

May we all be blessed as we pray the Psalms together.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Thoughts from the weekend

thoughts from the weekend:

Busy weekend, what with Alton Garrison with us Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday evening and both services Sunday.

We were privileged to have the Assistant General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God with us the entire weekend - his subject - change and transition.

Great stuff. Profitable for where we are at right now as a church family.

Let me summarize some of his teachings:

Friday evening he taught on the subject of, "Leading Relationally - increasing your likeability factor."

His opening statement, "When people don't like you, they try to hurt you. If they can't hurt you, they won't help you. If they have to help you, they won't hope you succeed. When they hope you don't succeed, life's victories feel hollow."

Here are some bullet points from this teaching:

Building relationships requires intentionality.

Share stories. Pray for people. Give compliments. Do acts of kindness. Show empathy. Share your dreams.

Work on yourself before you try to change others.

Pastor Garrison then gave a great quote: "the real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."

If you want to improve your "likeability factor," ask yourself these questions:

Do I value people? Do I understand people? Do I get along with people? Do I influence people? Do I lead people?

His second session with us (on Saturday morning) dealt with leading change.

He writes, "it takes change to have growth! But not all change results in growth."

Why do people resist change?

Loss of security. Threatened personal status or position. Implied criticism of the past or present. Additional work. Seems unnecessary or unhelpful.

How do we respond to resisters of change?

Pastor Garrison shared with us that we must not abdicate or feel the opposition is a personal threat and resign with hurt.

We must not control and manipulate by forcibly imposing the change in spite of resistance.

Here's what we must do - we must keep our response to resistance positive and provide leadership.

Excellent principles....

Thursday, April 22, 2010


For close to 30 years, I have carried the book, "The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer around with me...literally around the world.

It's a great book, a transforming book, that is often referred to by authors and in sermons.

This pass week, I picked up a biography of Bonhoeffer that is the first major biography of the man in 40 years.

For those of you who aren't familiar with him, he was a pastor in Germany, both before and during World War II.

In 1939, he decided to return to Nazi Germany, leaving the safe haven of America. He ended up becoming involved in the famous Valkyrie plot and in "Operation 7," which was the effort to smuggle Jews into neutral Switzerland.

The Nazis ended up killing him April 9, 1945.

In the chapter concerning his time here in America in the 1930's, he sounds almost prophetic of the future of the American church.

He writes, "Things are not much different in the church. The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events......the enlightened American, rather than viewing all this with skepticism, instead welcomes it as an example of New York they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life...."

He further writes, "And in place of the church as the congregation of believers in Christ there stands the church as a social corporation. Anyone who as seen the weekly program of one of the large New York churches, with their daily, indeed almost hourly events, teas, lectures, concerts, charity events, opportunities for sports, games, bowling, dancing for every age group, anyone who has heard how they try to persuade a new resident to join the church, insisting that you'll get into society quite differently by doing so, anyone who has become acquainted with the embarrassing nervousness with which the pastor lobbies for membership - that person can well asses the character of such a church. All these things, of course, take place with varying degrees of tactfulness, taste, and seriousness; some church are basically "charitable" churches, other have primarily a social identity. One cannot avoid the impression, however, that in both cases they have forgotten what the real point is."

The words of Pastor Bonhoeffer are a great reminder to us that we must keep and guard the main thing as the main thing:

The proclamation that Jesus Christ died, rose again and is coming back for his church. May we be faithful to the message he has called us to bring forth.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


For the past several years now, I have really worked at not using the word "just" in my church vocabulary.

Here's what I mean - someone says, "let's just praise the Lord" (remember that song) if we don't have anything else to do...well, guess we might as well praise the Lord.

Or, "let's just begin to pray right now" if all other recourses have been tried...we might as well go to God.

"Let's just gather together". "Let's just pray together". "Let's just share a testimony."

Let me give you an exaggerated example (by just a little bit) of ""

Here is how we use the word "just" in prayer:

"Lord, we just pray you will just hear us tonight. We just lift up our hands to you and just pray that you will just send your love down to us in ways we just can't understand. Take us just as we are, Lord. Just, just, just, just."

Maybe we need to just take that word out of our church vocabulary.

Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pride, ego and boasting

Pride. Ego. Boasting.

Not a great trio of "gifts".

I think we can follow up those three words with three others:

Dividing. Critical. Arrogance.

Have you ever met that person who purports to be a spokesperson for God?

I do all of the time.

Some think that they have been called by God to give "words of judgement" to the church, when in reality it is not God's calling at all.

Now, don't get me wrong, words of judgement, direct words from God do need to come to the body of Christ, but the scriptures are clear that these words are to be spoken in love and given from a place of humbleness and humility.

One of the characteristics of someone that I look at, concerning someone who says that they are a "prophet", is their past experience of walking through the fire, through trials and tribulations that have brought them to a point of total dependence upon God.

The Old Testament is filled with "prophets" who were speaking out, but not speaking out from a centerness of true humility of the Holy Spirit in them. As a result, God brought them down.

God will not tolerate being second place when it comes to receiving glory.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:4, "Love doesn't boast."

Let me give you a definition of boasting.

Boasting is what the person with the more apparent gift does to those who have lesser gifts.

In many circles we have boosted boasting to a fine art.

When I go to minister's conferences, the question among pastors is always, "how is it going at your church," which translates out to, "how many people now come?"

Some respond, "well, our church has doubled in the last ten years."

With that response is the sense that "God's doing something for me, and not doing it for you."

"Well, in our life group, God is moving," the person says as they look down their nose at other life groups. Pride. Ego. Boasting.

"God is moving in my life, why doesn't God move in yours?" Pride. Ego. Boasting.

"What the church needs is _______ (and fill in the blank)." Pride. Ego. Boasting.

If God gives you something, accept it. But boasting is saying you're richer than other people, better looking than other people, more gifted than other people, more spiritual than other people.

"If only the church were filled with people like me," they shout out, "people who really know God."

Boasting says, "I have the word of God for the church," when that word has not been tested or tried.

Boasting puts us in competition rather than in communion.

I would suggest that if you live your life before God and accept what he has given you and just do it, you can live without boasting.

William Carey is called the father of modern missions. As a young man he was a cobbler. He repaired shoes. But he was a brilliant linguist. Even as he repaired the shoes he learned Greek and Hebrew.

Later he taught school, and then he went to India. Because of his linguistic ability, 34 dialects and languages have the Bible in their language.

When he was in India, he spent time with people who were there on business, usually people educated in the best schools. One day in one of the dinners, someone said in a rather loud voice, "Mr. Carey, I understand that when you were growing up you were a shoemaker?"

And Carey said, "No, no, no, sir. I was not a shoemaker. I repaired shoes. I didn't have the ability to make them." Somebody who can handle life that way was able to take India for God.

Love doesn't boast. It doesn't destroy community.

It doesn't seek to destroy or tear down. It seeks to encourage and build up.

May we all strive to walk in humility before God.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Money, sex, power

Yesterday, I shared with our church family that the three things that tempt the body of Christ - and cause havoc and disruption - are ironically enough - the three things you don't hear a lot about in the church.

Money, sex and power.

For whatever reason, we have bought into the deception of the enemy that those three subjects are not to be broached in the church.

Our culture floods us with books, commercials, TV shows and movies that try to fill our thought life and actions with these three temptations.

And yet the church remains silent.

I ask you - how many people to you know, and many times godly people, have fallen in those three areas. Money, sex, power.

What were the foundation of the tele-evangelist scandals of the 1980's?

Money, sex and power.

I found something that goes with this subject today.

A survey of 3,000 U.S. adults identifies the differences and similarities between what men and women say tempts them the most:

Sex: Men (50 percent), Women (22 percent)

Food: Men (29 percent), Women (56 percent)

Money: Men (14 percent), Women (15 percent)

Alcohol: Men (7 percent), Women (2 percent)

Power: Men (2 percent), Women (7 percent)

What is interesting about those statistics is that what might tempt me might not be what tempts you and vice versa.

But it is just not in the kingdom that we see these three temptations. We see that in our culture as well.

Does the name Tiger Woods ring a bell?

What finally caught up with him? Money, sex and power.

Let me give you three quick thoughts about this.

1. The temptations of money, sex and power will not affect us if we find our ultimate satisfaction in God.

Here's what I know: We will never find ultimate satisfaction in money, sex, or power. We can only find our ultimate satisfaction in God.

In the Old Testament, Solomon, much like Tiger, had virtually everything this world could offer but comes to this conclusion in Ecclesiastes 12:13:

"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil."

Writer and apologist G.K. Chesterton offers a brilliant synopsis of Tiger's situation and the Book of Ecclesiastes when he writes, "The man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God."

That is, the person who is looking to buy sex, is looking to be complete, happy, full of joy.

They are looking for transcendence, and they are doing so because they have a hole in their heart that was designed for God. They just happen to be looking in the wrong place.

One author writes,"As humans, we were made for more than what we see. We were made by God for a relationship with God. Until we get that, we are never ultimately complete, and we'll keep looking for things to give us meaning and pleasure. Some believe that wholeness will come through fame. Others believe it comes through power or sex or pleasure or money. But as the Book of Ecclesiastes points out, none of these things work. A no-strings-attached affair offers pleasure without responsibility, but it's nothing more than a brief high. It will wear off like any other drug.

Men, take note! Tiger is a man who had virtually everything he could possibly want: An attractive wife. More money than he could ever spend. Multiple homes, jets, and boats. Two beautiful kids. The title of the world's best golfer. The adulation of millions. He plays basketball with Michael Jordan. He goes bike riding with Lance Armstrong. He takes calls from the President of the United States. Like Solomon—who was the king of Israel during the zenith of her glory—Tiger had it all. And like Solomon, he kept looking for more, because there is a hole in our heart that only God can fill."

2. Our sins will find us out.

This is exactly what Numbers 32:23 says: "Be sure your sin will find you out."

You may be able to get away with lying and cheating for a while, but eventually things are going to collapse.

Proverbs 6:27 says, "Can a man take fire into his bosom and his clothes not get burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not get scorched."

The answer is "No," of course.

Even if we could keep small sins small, over time they will lead us a long way from where we want to be. Sin is self-destructive behavior. It poisons your soul. It hardens your heart.

It creates distance between you and God. It makes you less of a person, not more. No one who could see things clearly would ever chose to sin, because to choose to sin is to choose to suffer. Over time, you can't hide such suffering."

3. Power can be a dangerous thing.

The arrogance and self-importance that can accompany those who become successful can blind them to their desperate need for God and his forgiveness.

That's why we need accountability in this area.

We need real friends.

Real friends are those who understand what is going on in your life because you are not hiding it from them, and they call on you to become a better person.

Seek these relationships today. Be intentional about it.

What is disconcerting about Tiger is that he is now pleading for privacy. That's a little hypocritical for a man who has spent ten years profiting from selling his image. What he is really asking for is not privacy, but the right to secrecy.

May God give us the strength that we all need to stand victorious in these three areas.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Healing of the whole person

Here's what I know.

The New Testament teaches us that our humanity is a unified whole.

God created us, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, "....spirit, soul and body..."

This view of humanity is quite different from the Greek concept that emphasized the different parts of the human being as body and soul or as body, soul and spirit. The Greek understanding pivoted around the idea of an immortal soul, an idea that Plato popularized. The goal of the soul was said to be release from the body, an idea that Paul thought unnatural (2 Corinthians 5:1-4).

In the early church, Athanasius and Augstine, then during the Reformation, Luther and Calvin, all of them affirmed our humanity as an integrated whole with different aspects and maintained that our every acts is done by the total person. Our souls alone do not sin; men and women sin.

Our bodies alone do not die: men and women die.

Our spirits alone are not redeemed; men and women are redeemed.

While it is true that the soul and body are separated at death, Christ' bodily resurrection assures us that our salvation will someday be made complete, reuniting soul and body, redeeming our humanity.

Just as there is a "Wholistic" (my word) approach to who we are - there is to be a "holistic" approach to the healing of who we are.

The body can affect the spirit and the spirit can affect the soul and the soul can affect the body and the...well, you get the point.

What I would suggest is that there is no one approach that can be pinpointed as "the approach to the healing of our souls (emotions, mental condition), our body (physical condition) or our spirits (spiritual condition).

Many times, to bring about wholeness and health, all three of these areas need to be addressed.

Years ago, it was popular in the kingdom to attribute all of our hurts and wounds and needs to sin. That was followed up by a striving to deal with every negative aspect of our lives with "deliverance" and a prayer that would "deliver" person from there woes.

While there is validity to the understanding that many times our problems are caused by sin, and that many times we do need to pray a prayer of deliverance, I would suggest that we "throw everything we can" at the challenge, the problem, the addiction, the habit.

In other words, just as we are body, soul, and spirit, so we must combine the methods that God has given us to bring about healing in those areas.

Let me give you an example of this. When someone is sick, I always say that we, "pray and go to the doctor."

Going to the doctor is not showing a lack of faith. Nor is taking medicine. It is following through on good common spiritual sense and what is shown in the scriptures (Luke 17:14; James 5:14; 1 Timothy 5:23).

When it comes to our spirits - same prescription. "Pray and go see a pastor, or an elder of the church." Take the "medicine" of talking it out. Being accountable. Seeking God together. Asking for and receiving godly counsel.

Yet somehow, for whatever reason, some rebel against this when it comes to the soul. Somehow, for whatever reason, some believe that when struggling with emotional and mental conditions, that prayer is the ONLY avenue (specifically a prayer of "deliverance") that someone can be healed to the extent that they are brought back into mental and emotional wholeness and health.

I would suggest that is uncaring at best and mean spirited at worst. It is also a misapplication of God's Word.

When someone is struggling emotionally and mentally, the same principles should apply. Pray and go to a counselor.

That might be a pastor, it might be an "elder" in the faith, it might be a Christian counselor, it might be a Christian psychologist and yes, it might even be a Christian psychiatrist.

Prayer helps. A belief in God helps. Fasting helps. Seeking God helps. And....many times does bring about emotional and mental healing. But to suggest that we must "throw out" other avenues of healing is preposterous.

What about the individual who is struggling with some kind of chemical imbalance in their brain? Do we throw a lot of condemnation at them and point fingers saying that they are dealing with some kind of "sin" in their lives and they what they need to be is "delivered" from their struggles, purporting some kind of "superspirituality" that comes, most of the time, from a sense of pride and a lack of humility.

I think not. How unloving. How unkind. In these kinds of cases, we "pray and go to the doctor." A person believes and takes his medicine (if necessary and prescribed).

Many times a person is not in a position to pray. They are hurting so bad that they need help to cope, help to be placed in an emotional and mental state to where they can reach out and be touched by God.

If you are struggling today with your emotions (depression, anxiety, any kind of mental condition), please know that you are not going to received "stones" from me or our church family.

We love you. We desire to minister to you using every resource that we can.

With much love....George

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Living the life through prayer

The Pittsburg Steelers have had some rough press as of late, what with Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes.

The Steelers finally gave up on Holmes and recently traded him to the New York Jets.

However, there are players on the Steelers who not only profess a faith in Jesus Christ, but live it as well.

One of the best players (and hardest hitters) on the team is Troy Polamalu.

In seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Troy Polamalu has won two Super Bowls and played in five Pro Bowls.

With his success, Troy strives to maintain Christian character.

In an interview with CBN, he said, "Pride is tough. You go to high school, and it's pride, courage. It's all these types of words that we use to motivate us. I don't think there's anywhere in the Scriptures ... where pride was ever a positive characteristic of anybody. That kind of egotism is a really tough struggle—especially in this business. ... It's a big struggle of mine."

Polamalu goes on to say that it's not the obvious things that are the hardest to deal with in his life.

"The big things are the easiest to turn away from. It's the accumulation of small things that are hard. People know adultery's bad and murder's bad. I'm not going to go out and sleep with the first girl I see. But when your eyes start wandering, and you become a little more jealous and envious, and these passions start rising up inside of you -- that's when it really becomes dangerous. Because the Devil doesn't work that way. His strategy is always to be very subtle and continue to build on top of that evil seed that he planted."

What keeps him rooted? Prayer.

Polamalu says, "As your prayer life becomes more and more fine tuned, and your conscience becomes more and more fine tuned, you're able to start plucking away at these things."

I encourage us all today to bathe our lives in prayer - in conversations with God. Letting the conviction (not the condemnation) of the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts.

David writes in Psalms 131:1,2:

"My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lost and found

Have you ever lost something? I have.

I can remember one time when our oldest daughter, Christie, was lost on a beach. We were on a beach in California, actually La Jolla beach, and were doing what families do.

All of a sudden we turned around and Christie was gone.

I will never forget that feeling of terror and anguish. We couldn't find our little girl!

Christie has wandered off - and on her way back she was looking for the lifeguard stand by which we were "camped" - and went to the wrong one.

The story ended well as we did find her! Man, did we rejoice!

She was lost and then she was found!

I read a story today that reminded me of that. Let me quote it to you:

"An 11-year-old girl missing for five days in an alligator-infested Florida swamp was found alive by search crews overnight and carried out Tuesday morning, police announced.

Nadia Bloom, who is thought to have a mild form of autism, was said to be in good shape, but was tired, hungry and covered in mosquito bites.

She made two comments upon being rescued, Winter Springs Police Chief Kevin Brunelle told reporters: "Glad you guys found me" and "can't believe you rescued me."

He added that rescuers "had to carry her out of the water, they had to chop their way out of the bushes" since the swamp was too dense for a helicopter landing.

"She's got a heck of a story to tell" about her ordeal, he added.

Brunelle praised the crews for having made their way through the swampy terrain that ranged from six feet of water to five feet of mud.

The Metro Church, which is attended by Nadia's family, said one of its members found the child.

Concern for the girl had been growing after police exhausted every possible tip during an all-out search that began last Friday when Nadia disappeared from her Winter Springs neighborhood.

NBC's Orlando station WESH TV said the girl was taken to a hospital for a checkup. Dr. Todd Husty said although she was covered in bug bites, she was not in a life-threatening condition.

Winter Springs officials had not been soliciting help from volunteers in the search, WESH reported, but the Metro Church member, James King, and others from the church decided to carry out their own search.

"Obviously, we are ecstatic. Unbelievable good news," Church pastor Dan Holland said, according to WESH.

Holland said a search team of about 35 to 40 men worked through the night Monday. He said the searchers prayed, asking God to lead them to Nadia, then walked straight into the swamp and found her, WESH reported.

"The hand of God ...," Holland told the news station. "However someone is found alive, I don't care. We are just ecstatic."

Teresa Brown, director of children's ministry at the church, told that a celebratory dinner was to be held at the church Tuesday, although she was unsure whether Nadia or any family members would be able to attend.

"I know they are going to be invited, but we don't really expect them to be here," Brown said. "I'm just overwhelmed with joy, it's been an absolutely wonderful morning."

You know, that's the way I feel about the non-churched in the southland of Chicago. They are lost, spiritually, looking for purpose and meaning in life.

I feel that same intensity in my spirit to help them "find their way," so to speak, by connecting to the answer, the purpose, the direction, the relationship, the helper, the forgiver of our wrongs, the one who can save us not only from our sins, but many times from ourselves.

His name is Jesus. And when people do connect (as the 20-25 did on Easter Sunday) I rejoice! The Bible says that the angels rejoice!

May we search for those who are "lost" spiritually with the same intensity that we would a lost child.


Monday, April 12, 2010

thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Last Friday evening, Debbie and I were invited to go to a White Sox game. So....that was two games for me in one week! I was thrilled. Now that I am investing my emotions in the team, I was not thrilled however, that they lost.

Alexei Ramirez made two errors. Every time he gets a ground ball, I cringe.

We had a great time with Joe and Holly Schwider. Wonderful people.

Yesterday was a good Sunday. We took up pledges for our new church campus - asking people to either pledge for the first time, keep their current pledge going - or raise their pledge.

It is an exciting time in the life of our church!

While it has been (and continues to be) a lot of work, I know that God is going to bless us and minister through us and use us and...well you get the point.

With my spiritual eyes, I see whole families coming to Christ. Through our Upward Basketball ministry to kids (grades kindergarten through sixth grade) I see non-churched people connecting to God.

I foresee signs and wonders, the blind seeing the lame walking. I see people being baptized in the Holy Spirit. I see the disconnected, connecting to God and the connected growing in Christ.

It gives me goose bumps just pondering the possibilities.

As I said yesterday, it takes all of us working together as a team.

It takes all of us praying, all of us giving. Not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice. In 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that it's not the amount that God cares about (2 Corinthians 8). Some people can give a lot because they have a lot.

Others might give a smaller amount, but it is no less significant because they are giving according to what they have.

All pledges are significant when they are given sacrificially.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:10-11, "Having started the ball rolling so enthusiastically, you should carry this project through to completion just as gladly, giving whatever you can out of whatever you have. Let your enthusiasm at the start be equaled by realistic action now."

In other words, let's continue to be as passionate about our relocating our church campus as we were at the start. It is not how we start that counts - it is how we finish.

I love to hang around enthusiastic people.

It's like the 10 year old boy who was selling pencils door to door in his neighborhood. When an interested adult at one house asked him the reason for selling pencils, he replied, "I want to raise six million dollars to build a new hospital for the city."

Amazed, the inquiring adult exclaimed, "That's a mighty big job for just one little boy, isn't it?"

"No," responded the 10 year old with big dreams, "I have a friend who's helping me."

I like that.

May we all continue to dream "big dream" and be passionate about letting God help us fulfill them.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Outward righteous; inner holiness

Let me share with you some thoughts that I shared at my bible study last night.

We are going through the "Sermon On The Mount" that Jesus shared in Matthew 5-7.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that there is a huge difference between religion and spirituality.

He lets us know in a rather "to the point" manner that being religious is not good enough. And then he says something that must have thrown his listeners for a loop in Matthew 5:20, "Unless your righteousness surpasses the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven."


Unless your righteousness surpasses the Pharisees.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were the most religious people in first century Judaism.

They were the "superspiritual" ones, which is fine, it is just that they like to let everyone know that they were.

This would seem impossible to the people Jesus was speaking to, but Jesus shares with his disciples that not only is it possible but it is required to enter into God's kingdom.

What's the qualifier to this? There is a big difference between religious behavior and true spirituality.

Religious people tend to focus on outward behavior; spiritual people tend to focus on the attitudes of the heart.

The verse comes to me: "Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

The Pharisees were great about keeping laws, but it didn't come from a foundation of loving God, it came from a desire to look good in the eyes of other people.

They had pridefully identified 613 rules in the Old Testament: 248 commands to do something and 365 commands to not do something.

If there was anything that just drove Jesus "crazy" it was a mentality that said that the way to spirituality is through outward actions with no inner love for God.

To a certain extent, it comes down to the one word "pride".

Bill White writes this:

"I recently took a 45-minute drive in an old, beat-up van with a guy I barely know. Along the way we ended up talking about Jesus and whether this man would give his life to Christ. His response to me laid out humanity's resistance to the gospel with striking clarity. He said, "My biggest problem is pride. I can't humble myself. And you wanna know the reason I can't give up my pride?" He leaned up onto the steering wheel and paused for effect. "Because it's brought me so far."

I couldn't believe my ears. I knew that his pride had brought nothing but great pain. It was all he held onto while growing up in gangs—while his father died of a drug overdose and his mother was in the mafia. I knew that this self-made man beat his wife regularly, that he was unemployed, that he had just gotten out of prison. In fact, I found out a week later that he was on his way back into prison!

In a separate conversation, his wife told me that his young daughters are terrified of him, that he is an alcoholic, and that she is planning to leave him. She even told me that the old van he was driving was going to be repossessed in a week.

Yet despite all our differences, I couldn't help but notice that in some ways, this guy and I are similar. I struggle to lay down my pride, because it's brought me so far—or so I think. What it's really brought both him and me—and you, no doubt—is pain, isolation, and ruined relationships."

We can make the outside look good can't we? We are very skilled at that. But we are powerless when it comes to the inside.

I mean, think about it. We can refrain from stealing, but how many of us have never coveted something that wasn't ours?

We can worship on Sunday mornings at our church, and for all intents and purposes look like we worship only, one God. But have you ever loved something more than God? Has any thing ever taken God's rightful place in your life?

I would guess that none of us could say that every moment of every day our thoughts and desires are for God and God alone!

We try our best, and with our own will power to look good and look righteous on the outside, but on the inside, well, let's just say we don't' want to go there.

It's like that one cluttered, dirty room in your house whose door you always keep shut tightly when guests are present. You don't want anyone to see in there. And the truth is we all have those "dirty rooms" inside. Outside we may look good, but inside we fall far short of God's righteousness "bar." We don't even come close.

May we depend upon God's Holy Spirit to live a righteous life.

May we realize that apart from Christ I am helpless and hopeless in living a sanctified lifestyle.

May we never judge others by outward appearances but by watching and seeking out their inner attitudes.

Just some thoughts for a Thursday.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Christian codes

In becoming a Christian, one of the things that you pick up quick (or maybe not so quick) is the code that we use when we speak.

I can speak for paragraphs, using terms that only we understand as followers of Christ.

We speak of "Light for the Lost", "BGMC", "Speed the Light", on and on it goes.

Words roll off of our tongues like, "sanctification", "blessed", and "tongues", words that we would never think of using in an every day conversation.

We use words like "Worldly, eschatology, seeking, sacrificial, Pagan, exegetical, brothers & Sisters (in Christ), fellowship, discipleship, walking in the light, the enemy, premarital sex, spiritual warfare, battle cry, hosanna, and holy."

We like to say that someone is "saved", and the non-churched person asks, "saved from what?" (Even though the word is found in the Bible).

In March of 2009, the police department of Dallas, Texas, joined a growing number of agencies getting rid of complicated codes used in radio calls or signals. Instead, operators and officers now communicate through a plain-language system that relies on ordinary words and phrases.

For example, in the past an officer might have radioed in to say, "I'm approaching a Code 7 on Highland Ave." Now they just say, "I'm approaching a minor accident on Highland."

The switch is due in large part to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. During the chaos that resulted from the attacks, many federal agencies and officers had trouble communicating with each other because they used different codes for different situations—or worse, similar codes that had different meanings between agencies.

As a result of that confusion, federal officials mandated that plain-language be used when police and other federal agents respond to major disasters. Many local police and fire departments have followed suit in recent years.

Herb Ebsen, a senior corporal with the Dallas Police Department, thinks the change to a plain-language system is a great idea. "It's just common sense," he said. "If we start speaking in codes, you have a real chance for a problem or misinterpretation."

So true.

Let me decipher some "code words" for you in the church.

Someone is asked to do something in the church, and they say, "I'll pray about it."

What is really means - "There is no way this side of heaven that I am going to do that."

Someone shares that they feel "led" to go to another church.

What it really means - "I don't like the way things are going in the church and I am outta there!"

Someone ask that you pray for "Chicago Cathy who is (and you fill in the blank).

What it really means - "I want everyone to know that is going on in Cathy's life."

Here are some others:

1. I'm waiting for God to open some doors = I'm living in my parent's basement.

2. God gave me a word for you = I have advice to help you with your disaster of a life.

3. I'm going to have my quiet time = Leave me the heck alone!

4. God is good = My life stinks.

5. Bless his/her heart = What an idiot.

6. I have the gift of discernment = I can judge people without even talking to them.

7. I was having fellowship with them = We had Pepsi and pizza and watched the game instead of going to church.

8. I'm saved by grace, not works = I can do whatever the heck I want.

9. I kissed dating goodbye = I couldn't get a blind date, literally.

10. Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth = I can't believe you said the real curse word!

11. I don't mean to judge but... = I'm going to judge.

12. I'm dating Jesus right now = Are you kidding? I'm way out of your league.

13. God wants me to take some time off from this relationship = I met someone else and I'm too coward to break up with you.

14. I'll pray about marrying you = NO!

15. God told me that we are supposed to get married = Maybe you'll say yes if God is behind this.

16. I'm fasting = Your spiritual life is minuscule compared to mine. Try to keep up.

17. God has called me to minister to her = She's really hot.

18. I think you should pray about it = You'll see that I'm right.

19. We've decided to court, not date = My parents have a death grip on my life.

20. Courting = Homeschool dating.

21. Lord willing = My plans are His plans.

22. Take this with a grain of salt = I'm about to really offend you.

23. I'm feeling convicted about this = One day my actions might change too!

24. Have I offended you? = Why are you treating me like garbage?

25. Who wants to pray? = I don't want to pray right now.

Someone says, "I am really hurt by what they said."

What it really means - "I am really ticked off and would like to do something about it."

Well, you get the point. Maybe, just maybe, it is time we stop speaking in code and speak plainly and clearly.

Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Mark Buehrle's great play:

Yesterday was a pretty incredible day for me.

I came to work, got some administrative things done, and then went to my first "Opening Day," at Cellular Field.

It was a beautiful day, clear skies, 74 degrees. Perfect.

4 of the Chicago Blackhawks threw out the first pitch (I was amazed at how small those guys are).

During the National Anthem, a huge American Flag was unfurled, that covered most of the baseball field. Jets flew overhead.

Mark Buehrle's first pitch was a ball - but he went on from there to pitch a masterful 7 innings.

Two home runs, stolen bases, a diving catch to end the game, hot dogs, peanuts, it was truly a slice of heaven.

But probably the greatest event was Mark Buehrle tossing the baseball through his legs to throw out a batter at first base. I read today that the second base umpire told Gordon Beckham (second baseman for the White Sox) that they might as well, "turn off the television cameras, that was the play of the year." And truly it was.

Oh, and by the way, the score was: Chicago White Sox 6 - Cleveland Indians 0.

Then last night, I watched the Duke - Butler game. Twice, in the course of the game, I almost watched something else. The first time was at the beginning of the game where Duke jumped out ahead 6-1. Then later on in the game it was 59 to 53 or something like that - and I thought that it was over.

I continued to watch the game (and was glad I did) as Duke won, even though Bulter almost pulled it out.

What a wonderful "Hollywood Ending" it would have been. Truly a "Hoosiers" moment.

Duke won - which was to be expected - but......

Great day.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

What a wonderful weekend it was!

It was a blast being with Christie, Georgia and Becky the past few days.

Georgia is really growing. Her facial expressions and actions bring a great deal of joy into my life. I love getting on the floor and chasing her around. She is quite the young lady.

It warms my heart to see that Christie is such a good mother. She has such a love for her daughter - my granddaughter!

Debbie and I also had a lot of fun with Becky! While MSU did not win last Saturday night, it was fun hearing of how she got to go to the game in Indianapolis! I am extremely proud of her (as I am of all of my children).

At one point we all "skyped" George and talked with him in Paris. He attended Sunday morning worship service (Easter) at Notre Dame. It was fun talking with him and have our family (in one sense) all together.

Well, what can I say about yesterday. Powerful. Anointed. Amazing. Best service that we have had since I have been here.

I was told that some 20-25 people raised their hands (and most of those came forward for prayer) for salvation. It made my weekend, my week, my month, my year...well, you get the point.

Everyone did so well.....from the drama to the worship choir to the solo...

And then.....Debbie and I had the privilege of greeting almost everyone in the services as we encouraged people to "walk across the bridge". It was a joy to see new converts in Christ walk across first, along with church family folks.

Tears were shed, joy was expressed, truly Christ is risen!

I can't tell you how much I love my church family. They are a true joy to pastor.

May this be the beginning of a wonderful time of ministry in our church!

P.S. Let me say thank you to everyone who helped and participated in the "Bridge". We couldn't have done it without you. Thank you so much!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Identifying love and Easter

During my sermon series, "The Things That Bother Me Most About Christianity," I used Tim Keller's best selling book, "The Reason for God," as a resource.

In that book, Tim Keller reflects on the substitutional atonement of Christ, pointing out that "in a real world of relationships, it is impossible to love people with a problem or a need without in some sense sharing or even changing places with them. All real life-changing love involves some form of this kind of exchange."

Keller goes on to share two examples that illustrate this well.

He writes:

"Imagine you come into contact with a man who is innocent, but who is being hunted down by secret agents or by the government or by some other powerful group.

He reaches out to you for help. If you don't help him, he will probably die, but if you ally with him, you—who were perfectly safe and secure—will be in mortal danger. This is the stuff that movie plots are made of. Again, it's him or you.

He will experience increased safety and security through your involvement, but only because you are willing to enter into his insecurity and vulnerability.

Consider parenting.

Children come into the world in a condition of complete dependence. They cannot operate as self-sufficient, independent agents unless their parents give up much of their own independence and freedom for years.

If you don't allow your children to hinder your freedom in work and play at all, and if you only get to your children when it doesn't inconvenience you, your children will grow up physically only.

In all sorts of other ways they will remain emotionally needy, troubled, and overdependent. The choice is clear. You can either sacrifice your freedom or theirs.

It's them or you. To love your child well, you must decrease that they may increase. You must be willing to enter into the dependency they have so eventually they can experience the freedom and independence you have."

Keller closes with these words:

"All life-changing love toward people with serious needs is a substitutional sacrifice. If you become personally involved with them, in some way, their weaknesses flow toward you as your strengths flow toward them …."

"How can God be a God of love if he does not become personally involved in suffering the same violence, oppression, grief, weakness, and pain that we experience?

The answer to that question is twofold: First, God can't. Second, only one major religion even claims that God does."

That would be.....drum roll please.....Christianity.....

This Easter, I am thankful for a relationship with a God who loves me, and understand me at the same time, who died for me, and is now risen again.

He is risen!

May you be blessed with a wonderful Easter with family and friends.