Thursday, July 30, 2015


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Today I was thinking back to something I wrote 17 years ago.  It's just as true today.  God is a good Father... and He loves His children.  

Last week my wife gave birth to our 2nd child… a little girl we named Ashton.  It didn’t come soon enough!  Nine months… it doesn’t seem too long.  Unless you’re in school awaiting summer break, or away from your loved ones, or pregnant.   Then nine months can seem like an eternity.

I remember the first time I held her… she was wrinkly and cried a lot.   She was incapable of showing love and affection or appreciation.  She didn’t ask to be born and certainly didn’t seem to like the experience much.  She brought nothing to the table.  She had nothing to offer me… well, nothing I needed anyway.

But I had this incredible, overwhelming emotional experience.  I was so excited and so in awe all at the same time.  I was filled with such pride… this was MY little girl!  I would do anything to make her happy.  Nothing was too good for her.  I would give my life to keep anyone from ever hurting her.  Here she was, not even 15 minutes old yet, and my life was forever changed!  I would never be the same.

Driving home a few days later, I began to think of how God, our Heavenly Father, must feel.  We have absolutely nothing to offer Him.  He revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush experience as “I AM THAT I AM.”  He is totally self-sufficient!  He doesn’t need humans to make Him feel important.  He doesn’t keep us around for self-esteem purposes.  He chooses to use us for the fulfillment of His plan, but He could easily invented with another way.

I’m convinced that He created us because He wanted someone to share His love with.

But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. – Titus 3:4-5

The Apostle Paul wrote that it is not because of good works that we have done, but because of God's great mercy that He has chosen us (Titus 3:5).  We could never be good enough, or good-looking enough, or do enough or be loveable enough to earn a relationship or favor with Him.  He loves us because He has decided to love us.  HE LOVES US BECAUSE WE ARE HIS CHILDREN!  How His heart must beam with pride over us, even when we mess our pants or spit up or cry (spiritually speaking).  No matter what we do - even if we choose a life without Him - He claims us as His children and loves us unconditionally.   How incredible!  And how totally unlike us!  His mercy never wears out or comes to an end (Lamentations 3:21-23 and 1 Corinthians 13:8).

You are completely loved by your Heavenly Father.  He could never love you any more or any less.  And He invites you to live in a deeply connected relationship with him.  It's up to you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What if things don't work out like you planned? (a leadership thought)

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"Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”- Jesus in Luke 7:23

As you'll recall, John the Baptist's God-given mission was to introduce Jesus to the masses. (see John 1:29-34)  And he had proven himself to be a healthy leader by leveraging his influence to help someone else (Jesus) succeed.  People began to follow Jesus instead of John, which was all a part of the plan. (see John 3:30)

But at this point in the story John the Baptist had been left to rot in Herod's dungeon.  He had fallen from being the famous "prophetic voice in the desert" into obscurity.  Now he was languishing in prison because of his fiery rhetoric. (see Luke 3:19-20)  And aside from a few disciples, no one seemed to care.  I can definitely understand the fact that John felt a bit abandoned and forgotten... and probably even disappointed and disillusioned.

So He sent His disciples to confirm that Jesus was who he (John) had claimed.  After all, this wasn't the way a man of God should end his days.  Maybe he thought he and Jesus would be able to hang out together.  Maybe he expected a little more respect as the first one to truly affirm who Jesus really was. It could be that he thought he would die in peace since he had fulfilled his purpose. Whatever the case may be, we find him questioning whether he had missed God's will or not. 

Notice that Jesus wasn't offended by John's question.  Isn't it encouraging to know that God's not afraid of your questions?  In fact, Jesus gave demonstrative proof (according to Isaiah 61:1-2) that He was exactly who John initially claimed He was.  Now John would be able to die in peace, knowing he'd had a part in God's Master Plan.

Pastors: Are you questioning your call?  Have things not worked out like you planned, or as you prayed they would?  Have you not seen the growth or influence you expected to have?  Does it seem that God has forgotten you?  You need to know that God is not finished with you until you are dead.

After John's disciples left Jesus spoke to the crowd about him. (Luke 7:24-28)  Here we can see Jesus' high degree of respect for him.  He tells the crowd that John is the greatest man to live up to that time.  Why is this?  It's because John had completed the work that God had called him to do.  He'd had a part in turning a nation to repentance and connecting them to their Messiah.  I don't believe it was the scope of God's call upon John the Baptist that got Jesus' attention.  It was his absolute obedience to it, even though it meant he would fade into obscurity after his time in the spotlight was finished.  John must have felt like a failure.  But Jesus said he was a great man of God.

Let me encourage you today: Don't throw in the towel.  Keep moving forward.  God has a HUGE plan for you.  And as long as you're breathing He's not finished with you yet.  Unfortunately here on this earth we can't see from God's eternal perspective.  But when we get to heaven it will have all been worth it - every moment of sacrifice, every sleepless night of prayer, every time we kept going when we wanted to quit.  God revealed Himself to a runaway slave as "the God who sees." (see Genesis 16:13)  He hasn't changed!

What words would you have to spiritual leaders that are thinking of quitting?  Join the discussion below.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bait and Switch

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One of the things that churches have become famous for is the old fashioned "bait and switch."  It's a marketing ploy where a business lures someone into their store by offering an incredible deal on something the person really wants.  But when the person arrives that item is "unfortunately" sold out.  The store does, however, offer the person something that is "actually a better product," but it comes with a higher price tag.  You took the bait (the incredible deal) to come into their store, but they switched it with the product they actually want you to buy.

As I said, churches often do this under the guise of "evangelism."  They offer a HUGE party with free food, a concert or a giveaway, only to use this opportunity to "share the Gospel" with the unsuspecting visitors.  The visitors came for the free food, or the giveaway, or just to have a good time, but they were tricked into a heavily evangelistic event.  It's a classic bait and switch.

What churches are up against

Let's examine it through the filter of today's cynical church visitor.  Millennials (today's young adults) display a large degree of cynicism toward institutions - especially toward churches, which are the face of organized Christianity.  This is why the Barna Research Group recently discovered that the number of those that self-identify as "religiously unaffiliated" is rising rapidly.  According to the latest research, among this demographic the percentage of "nones" (those with no religious background) and "dones" (those that are done with church) make up almost 50% of the population.  And it's over 30% for the general population.

In short, Americans simply aren't looking to the Church for answers anymore.  They may indeed be spiritual, but they often choose other ways of meeting their spiritual needs.

Robin and I saw where this road leads during our 13 years of church planting and church leader training in Europe.  According to the 2006 European Spiritual Estimate less than 2% of Europeans have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Christianity is considered a historical relic - a lot like the beautiful, but empty, cathedrals that dot the landscape.    And because of this the European Church and its leaders have absolutely NO VOICE in society.  Being a Christ-follower is counter-cultural.  We knew people that were openly mocked for their faith in Germany.  This is the future of the American Church, unless we can adjust to engage the prevailing culture.

What the bait and switch looks like in a church setting

Let's examine how the bait and switch event plays out in a typical church scenario.  A church member invites their cynical friend to a typical church event.  This person comes with their friend, meets a few people, has some fun... and then he/she is preached to.  He/she came expecting to have fun, but instead got suckered into a pseudo church service (complete with all the weird traditions that churches are famous for).

They've been tricked!  Now how much credibility do you think the church member will have the next time they try to invite this person (or anyone this person talks to about their experience) to a church event?  More than likely, none.

We have to rethink our strategy!  The bait and switch may have worked a couple of generations ago, but it's not very effective anymore.  People today - especially Millennials - have too many other options.  What if we, instead, offered a party where the entire goal was to hang out with our church people?  What if we offered an event where people just came together for a meal to enjoy each others' company?  We should at least teach our people to share what to expect when inviting someone to one of our events.  And we should also train our people to not heavily proselytize the visitors.  Jesus will probably come up in a conversation.  We are, after all, Christ-followers.  But we don't need to force it.

Going back to the beginning

In my daily devotional times I've been reading through the Gospels.  One of the things I've noticed is that Jesus NEVER offered a bait and switch.  When you came to Him, you could always expect to receive "grace and truth." (John 1:14)  The only ones to face His wrath and His rebuke were those that believed they were somehow better than others, and that they were capable of pleasing God entirely on their own merits.

Tweet This: Jesus never offered a bait and switch. He offered grace and truth.

We have to get back to representing the true heart of Jesus.  One of the church planters I mentor asked his people to invite their friends to "a church service with a baseball game afterwards."  After the short service they grilled hotdogs, then headed over to a pro baseball game to have some fun together.  No one was under any illusion as to what it was all about.  It was a chance for people to visit the church and then watch a ballgame afterwards.  And they DID have visitors because this church was up front about what to expect.

Let's rethink how we do ministry.  American culture is FULL of marketing ploys.  As a result, people have become cynical and choosy about with whom they do business.  Let's be authentic and actually EXCEED peoples' expectations.  If we do, word of mouth will be our best friend!

How does your church avoid the bait and switch?  Join the conversation below.  Your comments help others process how to do ministry in today's society.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Immunization from problems?

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During the reign of Herod king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and he had a wife named Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron. They were both righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they did not have a child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both very old. - Luke 1:5-7 

Some people believe that living a life that is pleasing to God will somehow immunize them from problems - as if serving Jesus is some sort of spiritual vaccination. Unfortunately this is not the case. Zechariah and Elizabeth were both faithfully serving God, but still were unable to conceive. They would have had to deal daily with the stigma of having no children (which in their day was considered a curse).  And now they were "very old."

Thankfully God gave them a miracle child. (You can read more about that in Luke 1:8-17 and the rest of the chapter) We know him as John the Baptist. He still does miracles and answers prayers today. You may feel abandoned by God - forgotten and alone. But God sees you, and the totality of your situation. Don't give up hope. Keep trusting. Keep serving. Who knows... your miracle may be right around the corner. Zechariah and Elizabeth kept their hearts in the game and were eventually able to hold the answer to their prayers in their hands.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Things are not always what they seem

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Have you ever felt as if no matter how much you prayed, hoped or trusted in God, He wasn't listening; or even worse - He wasn't going to get involved? It's frustrating when you pray and are doing your best to believe in God's willingness (and ability) to change your situation, but still see no changes taking place.

According to the Reuters News Service, in September 2004, David Page of Norfolk, England held onto a rusty piece of metal that he thought was a bomb for four hours. He was convinced that it was unexploded ordnance from WWII and would detonate if he let it go. He was working when he dug up the device. He immediately called the emergency operator on his mobile phone. She immediately dispatched fire, police and ambulance crews.

“The woman police operator kept saying it would be OK but he kept saying to her, ‘You’re not the one holding the bomb’." The father of five cried as he told her: “Tell my parents and the children that I love them if anything goes wrong.”

When the bomb disposal crew arrived, they told him his “bomb” was nothing more than part of the hydraulic suspension system of a Citroen car. Things are not always what they seem!

In Exodus 14, we find Pharaoh looking down on the Israelites. He had allowed them to leave because of the plagues, but now he was just plain mad! He thought he had them cornered, with their backs against the Red Sea… but things are not always what they seem!

In 1 Samuel 17, we see David facing off against Goliath. As Goliath looked down on this teenager, he mocked him. He thought he would quickly crush David… but things are not always what they seem!

In Luke 24, Satan thought he had Jesus conquered. He thought He had succeeded and God’s Messiah had failed… but things are not always what they seem!

In each of these stories, we find that people overestimated themselves and underestimated God. They weren’t smart enough to realize that God was working behind the scenes.

Perhaps you feel forgotten or overlooked. In 1 Samuel 16, David’s own father overlooked him. He thought David didn’t have the makings of a king, or seemingly of anything important, for that matter… but things are not always what they seem.

I’m sure the Israelites felt abandoned by God on the very night Jesus was born. That same night you could probably hear people singing songs of lament, hoping that God would remember His people. But things are not always what they seem. The Bible says,

“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…” – Galatians 4:4 (emphasis mine)

In January 2001 the small handful of teens at Rhema Bibel Gemeinde in Bonn, Germany prayed for a youth pastor. They asked God to send them someone. Since this was a new church plant, there wasn’t yet anyone to work with the youth. The teens later told me that many of them felt as if nothing happened when they prayed… but things aren’t always what they seem. One month later God told Robin & I to move to Germany to be the youth pastors at RBG Bonn.

God is not only willing, He is also well able to coordinate events and move people to bring His plan to pass. Let me encourage you not to give up on your prayers or your dreams. God is alive and well… and He is working behind the scenes. He is faithful. He can be trusted. We need to remember that just because we don’t see Him doing something doesn’t mean He is apathetic or uninvolved.

But what if it takes awhile to see the answer to your prayers or the fulfillment of your dreams? If you give up, you’ll never see them. It took Joseph 22 years to see his dreams come true (See Genesis chapters 37-46), but it was well worth it. And Abraham had to wait 25 years to see God's promise come to pass (see Genesis 12). So don’t give up… keep praying, keep serving, keep dreaming. God rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6)! And remember: Things are not always what they seem!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dear Church Diva...

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I was reminded today of a bad experience I had while visiting a church a few months ago.  And probably because I didn't get enough sleep last night, I felt compelled to write this.  I do have a favor to ask of my readers: Please don't passive-aggressively post this on someone else's wall in the hopes that they will read it and change.  That's not the point.  If you want someone in your circle of relationships to read it, the best way to accomplish this without being rude it to share it on YOUR Facebook page.

After visiting a church recently I have some advice for the "Church Diva" that sat behind me.  You know the type... they want everyone to notice them, whether it's because of their clothes, their actions or their attitude.  Well this guy must have thought the Sunday morning service was his chance to audition for American Idol, and that I was one of the judges.  Now God has blessed me with a powerful set of lungs (read: I'm loud), but I almost couldn't hear myself sing over the sound of his voice.  To be fair, he did have a decent voice.  But to be honest, I don't think anyone around him was as impressed with his voice as he was.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Sacred People (part 4)

In this series of articles we're examining the life of Jesus to see what a truly Sacred Person looks like. And it may not be the most spiritual or holy person, although that's what we've been led to believe.  The answer may shock you.

Sacred People (part 1)
Sacred People (part 2)
Sacred People (part 3)

Unholy people

So far we've talked about the need to be authentic and to begin to allow God to expand our small-minded thinking.  And we saw in Acts 10 that we need to treat everyone as if they are created in God's image... because they are!  As we finish up this series we'll look at ways to practically apply these truths.

When we look at the life of Jesus, we see the will of God in action.  He lived a holy life.  His disciples record God speaking from heaven about Him:

And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” - Matthew 3:17

God was well pleased with Him because He always did those things that please God.  He lived a life that was fully devoted to God.  This is the definition of a sacred life.  Jesus was truly a sacred person!  And by looking at the life of Jesus we can see how sacred people should live.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Enemy of the State

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So often we miss the contextual details of the biblical narrative.  Most people don't know the cultural context of 1st Century Palestine.  We forget that Jesus and the New Testament writers were real people that lived in the real world.  We must never forget that the Bible was written in space and time.  Unfortunately much of this cultural context is lost on us.  Take, for instance, the following example...

Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it.  For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life?" - Mark 8:34-36

The interesting thing about this passage is that his audience knew exactly what it meant to "take up your cross.’’  Crucifixion was regularly used by the Roman occupation force as a means of keeping the Jewish population in line.  It was a gruesome/tortuous method of execution, almost always committed alongside major travel routes for maximum exposure.  It was reserved for serious offenders - a way of punishing its enemies.  When Jesus used this phrase His hearers understood exactly what He was implying.  It meant dying as an enemy of the State.

What does that have to do with us?  We can’t expect everyone to like us as we follow Jesus.  This goes against the part of us that wants to be liked.  But we have to understand that as our culture wanders farther from God, genuine followers of Christ will be more counter-cultural.

Our insecurity drives us to seek affirmation.  We want to be loved, liked and accepted.  But Jesus was telling His audience that in order to follow Him they would end up as counter-cultural enemies of the State.    The good news is that the darker the world around us grows, the brighter Christ’s light shines through us.  And that’s a good thing because the light is supposed to shine in the darkness. (John 1:5)  We need to let our light shine brightly!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Facing Reality

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Reality - what a painful word for leaders.  It refers to the status quo we live in.  It speaks of the circumstances we are currently experiencing - the inconvenient truth we probably aren't happy with.

A good friend of mine worked at a large church in the Midwest a number of years ago.  This church had been plateaued for awhile, and was starting to head into decline.  So they made a smart decision: they brought in an outside church consultant.  This brings in a fresh set of eyes and removes the emotion from decision-making.  A consultant has nothing to lose by being honest.  He/she can talk about "the elephant in the room" without fear of consequences.

This church hired a very well-known church consultant to identify problem areas so they could make the appropriate adjustments.  They paid a good sum of money for him to analyze everything they did and define their current reality.