Jesus, the center

I was reading Alan Hirsch’s blog, The Missional Musings of Alan Hirsch and was reminded of some things that he spoke about at a recent conference. I was not able to attend the exponential 08 conference but lots of people are blogging on the topics covered there.

Hirsch discussed the necessity of maintaining, or recovering Jesus as the centrality of our faith. According to Alan, our Christology is the very heart of spiritual renewal. So much of the time in ministry, we get very busy working for God – so busy that we forget the work of God in our own hearts.

In my small group on last Wednesday, someone was addressing this very thing. Too busy doing, no time for being … in the presence of God. Jesus loses His rightful place, as the King of our hearts. He has been dethroned, strangely, by His work.

Listen leaders, we can’t do the work of the Lord if He is second or third in our lives. Let’s set our priorities right: God first. Family second. Ministry third. Fourth – who knows? golf, fishing, Wii?

Hirsch is right. It’s all about Him (not Hirsch – Jesus!). Colossians 1:18 He is the head of the body, which is the church. Everything comes from him. He is the first one who was raised from the dead. So in all things Jesus has first place. NCV

By the way, I recommend Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways.

chasen

I downloaded some great new music from Chasen, a group out of South Carolina. The project is called Shine Through the Stars and it has some great tunes on it. I especially enjoyed the fifth song, Doubts or Disbelief. It is a simple performance but the lyrics are powerful and heartfelt. Take a look and listen and see what you think. Doubts or Disbelief

Clones?

Letha and I had a laugh at Chipotle on Friday. We had dropped by to enjoy a few lunch tacos and there were 10-12 “twenty-something” guys having lunch, all of them obvious employees of the same company (their logoed white polos and company van gave them away). Not only were their shirts all alike, they were all wearing baggy cargo shorts, nice white tennis shoes and everybody had a Bluetooth device attached to their ear or an iPhone hangin’ on their hip. They were all Caucasian, all had the same haircut and all had that “I’m taking the technology world by storm” look in their eyes. It was weird. I don’t know if their job required them to look like clones or what. It was very strange. I had a good chuckle.

I also wondered how we are perceived by our community. By “we”, I mean believers in Christ. Obviously, we don’t all dress alike or look the same but I am wondering if those who drive by our church have a certain perception about us. Do they think we all are robots without the freedom and ability to think for ourselves? Do they do what I thought at Chipotle? Do they snicker and think we look a bit silly?

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells us, “…you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (NLT) Hebrews 13:7 tells us to imitate our leaders. I hope we understand the necessity of finding a healthy pattern of living and following it. We all know the value of a mentor. But I also hope we understand the necessity of individuality. If we are going to be effective in finding the lost, we have to respect the concepts of diversity. I think it is a mistake if we all listen to the same music and like the same artists and hang out at the same places. If we are all reading the same authors and attending the same conferences, we are getting a bit too predictable and boring. True, the road to salvation is narrow and straight. But once we are on that road, Christ never condemns individuality.

If you are a progressive leader, you are familiar with the list. The hot bloggers, the writers who are selling a ton of books. The conference speakers and pastors who have a thousand groupies following them around the country. I say, think a little for yourself. Go ahead and break out of the mold that has dictated what everyone else is doing and saying. Try something new.

Take a look around your church. Is everyone white? Is everyone rich? Is everyone young? If your answer is yes, then probably you are not doing the best job in reaching your community (unless everyone in your community is white and rich and young). How about your friends? Do they all talk and dress like you, have the same opinions as you? Do they all vote like you? If so, you are all missing a great opportunity to expand and grow. You may also be missing some chances to reach others – who are unlike you.

It’s a big world out there. There are lots of awesome people in it. Most of them are different from you. How ‘bout making a connection with a few of them today? It may be a little scary at first, but most of them don’t bite.

The evidence of The Spirit

Since Pentecost Sunday is right around the corner (competing with Mom’s day – I think the moms will win!), I thought I would try to take a fresh look at what it means to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit. What is the real proof that we are empowered by Spirit? As much time as I have spent as a believer, one would think that I have it down pat by now. You would think that we would have it down pat by now. Not so fast.

I took a novel approach – I went back to scripture. Acts is a fascinating book to say the least. I read through the passages about miracles and signs and wonders and all the cool stuff that happened at Pentecost, and still should be happening in Spirit-filled communities. I remember many of the sermons that I have heard and preached, saying that this is exactly what we need today. But as I re-read Acts, something else jumped out at me that I see as a real evidence of the infilling of the Spirit.

These people gave. They gave up their own stuff and gave to others. They sold what they had to take care of the needs of the community. The people in the church of Acts got what it meant to be so influenced by the power of the Spirit that they had no problem reaching out to the needy around them.

Check out Acts 2:44-45 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (NIV)

The DNA of the Spirit at work in the people of Acts is identified in their helping, their giving, their sharing, their feeding of the hungry, their clothing of the poor, their getting involved in correcting social injustices. As one with a Pentecostal heritage, I think I can offer a healthy criticism of our current operation. We have made Pentecostalism a style of worship. The Bible never does that. Pentecostalism is first and foremost a set of convictions that demands compassion by those who wear the label. A truly Spirit-filled person will get involved in efforts to address the needs of the less fortunate. A Spirit filled church really can’t be one unless they speak out and act on behalf of those who need help. Agreed, being Spirit filled it is about the manifestation of the gifts, no problem with that. It is about the unprecedented unity that they enjoyed, no doubt. But it is also about making a difference in the lives of hurting people. Not just praying for a miracle for those who are hungry, but creating a miracle by feeding the hungry. That is the work of the Spirit. That is what will make a difference in our world

In my opinion, many of the reports of revival in various places may be merely reports. My experience is that many of these events center around the church building, with believers coming together to “get blessed”. While this may not be a bad thing, I think that there is more to being revived by the Spirit than for already-blessed people to receive more . One of the indicators of true spiritual renewal and revival is the church reaches out to help, in practical ways, those who need it. When there are no more hungry people, we can rest assured that the church is revived.

Do you want to be a part of an Acts church? You have to give of yourself. You want to be a part of a truly Pentecostal group? Go out from your fired-up worship service and help somebody. It’s what they did in Acts. It’s what we should do.

If this happens, we may see a re-identification of those who are Spirit filled. Instead of us being, “the crazy folks who expend lots of energy in their worship services”, we may become better known as, “those crazy people who love you so much, they actually show it”!

Let Nothing Disturb You

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass.
God does not change.
Patience achieves everything.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.
Christ has no body on earth now but yours;
no hands but yours;
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes
through which the compassion of Christ
must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet
with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands
with which he is to bless his people.

—-St. Teresa of Avila

National Day of Prayer (as if every day shouldn’t be a day of prayer)

AW Tozer said:
“When I am praying the most eloquently, I am getting the least accomplished in my prayer life. But when I stop getting eloquent and give God less theology and shut up and just gaze upward and wait for God to speak to my heart He speaks with such power that I have to grab a pencil and a notebook and take notes on what God is saying to my heart.” (Success and the Christian, 46-47)

I thought I would just offer a prayer today. Let’s keep it simple.

God,
Let me hear from you, let me be still enough to sense you.
Let me be close to you.
Help me with my sin: Forgiveness for yesterday, strength for today, protection for tomorrow.
Change me.
Help me to obey you, whatever you say, detail by detail.
Help me to bring honor to you.

In the name of Jesus.

The necessity of Joy

I think that joy is an indispensible asset for every leader. It is so easy to get caught up in the intensity of our responsibilities. The weight we carry will, if we are not careful, sink us. I kind of consider joy to be my life vest. When the waves get too high, I hang on to joy for dear life! It keep me floating.

Joy will …
Keep you focused when things go wrong.
Provide the courage to stay with it until the job is accomplished.
Make you aware of the simple blessings.
Help you tell better jokes.
Promote peace of mind, well being and balance.

Without joy …
Life will get you down.
The mole hills will become mountains.
You lose sleep.
You’re no fun to be around.
Your smiles are fake – and people know.

Nehemiah 8:10 “Don’t be sad, because the joy of the LORD will make you strong.” (NCV)

My Top 10 Leadership Challenges – in no particular order

Maintaining focus in face of criticism.
Impatience when there is no perceivable progress.
Limited resources (money, time, people).
Dealing with uncommitted people.
Being too influenced by negative people.
Getting bogged down with minutiae.
Impatience with slow adapters.
Arrogance that I have the answers.
Keeping people (or getting people) motivated.

OK, I know that’s only nine, but I am enjoying an especially good day!

62.4%!

The divorce rate in our county is currently hovering at 62.4% which means that 6 out of 10 couples getting married today in Palm Beach County will fail in their marriage. This stat is quite a bit higher than the national average which is less than 50% divorce rate. It is data like this that fuels my vision for ministry. Families are in crisis. We have to do something.

What makes this come home to me is that I know people, have friends who are giving up on their marriage. People who are Christ followers. People who sit in the church most weeks listening to our teaching about life and the Bible and how it is all supposed to work. Apparently, what we are currently doing is not working. It’s like we have lost respect for marriage and the commitment it requires. We have bought into the lie that divorce is the easy way out. In reality, there are some really hurting people out there; in our county, over 60% of them.

On Friday, I was part of a larger groups of pastors and spiritual leaders in our community that signed a document which pledges us to do something about the divorce rate. The Palm Beach County Healthy Marriage Initiative is an effort to strengthen local church and marriages by providing county-wide standards for performing weddings. The eleven points of the document are as follows:

1. Promote a healthy and biblical model of marriage.
2. Require a minimum of 4 months of preparation.
3. Promotes sexual abstinence outside of marriage.
4. Present the evidence of the negative impact of cohabitation on marriage.
5.Require a minimum of 4 premarital sessions, utilizing both the scriptures and a premarital inventory; and at least two post-marital counseling sessions within the first year of marriage.
6. Enrich existing marriages with an annual event in the local church using videos, marital inventories, or outside speakers.
7. Train “back from the brink” couples whose own marriages once nearly failed to mentor those in current crisis.
8. Reconcile the separated or abandoned with a course, “Marriage 911”
9. Enlist, train, and equip a support system of mature married couples to serve as Marriage Mentors to engaged couples, newlyweds, and those experiencing marital difficulties.
10. Create Stepfamily Support Groups to provide a place of prayer, encouragement and hope to stepfamilies.
11. Partner with other congregations and organizations to share resources and create a positive climate in which marriages can thrive.

Although these standards will be tough to uphold, I am all for the effort. I’m sure some prospective couples will get really ticked but our marriages and families need some help. Maybe we can see a turnaround in the future.

Interesting quotes on world change


The following quotes all come from a promotional piece I received pushing an upcoming conference at Ginghamsburg Church in Ohio. The Change the World Conference is in October and looks like something worthwhile. While it is too early for me to make a commitment to go, I loved some of the quotes by some of the featured speakers and leaders and thought you may also enjoy them. Though some may be a bit controversial, they will provoke some thought and dialogue.

Check these out . . .

Christians must act as the moral conscience for both sides of the isle, always advocating for peace with justice and the orphan and widow. The Gospel is good news for the poor. If it doesn’t cover the poor, it is not the Gospel! – Mike Slaughter

Why are so many religious people arguing about the origin of the {human} species, but so few are concerned about the extinction of the species? –Brian McLaren

Two of the great hungers in our world today are the hunger for spirituality and the hunger for social justice. The connection between the two is the one the world is waiting for, especially the new generations. And the first hunger will empower the second. –Jim Wallis

Christianity’s next reformation…will draw upon what is best in both fundamentalism and liberalism by holding together the evangelical and social gospels, by combining a love of scripture with a willingness to see both its humanity as well as its Divinity, and by coupling a passionate desire to follow Jesus Christ with a reclamation of His heart toward those whom religious people have often rejected. This reformation will be led by people who are able to see the gray in a world of black and white. –Adam Hamilton

…in the minds of many nonreligious people in America, Christianity is not associated with love or grace or justice, but with a particular view of homosexuality, or a particular stance on abortion…Christianity has become a wedge that drives people from Christ, rather than drawing them to him…There are a growing number of Christians who believe the Gospel calls us to be healers and bridge builders, not dividers. – Adam Hamilton

The Protestant theology of many Americans has reduced salvation by faith to a passive and easy “believism,” giving the impression that all a person needs to be saved is a right theology…The evidence of true conversion is a commitment to the work of Jesus. –Mike Slaughter

Faith is not just for the new life, the hereafter: it is precisely intended to transform the world in the here and now – otherwise, most of the Bible makes no sense at all. –Jim Wallis

Jesus’ message is not actually about escaping this troubled world for heaven’s blissful shores, as is properly assumed, but instead is about God’s will being done on this troubled earth as it is in heaven…The popular domesticated Jesus, who has become little more than a chrome-plated hood ornament on the guzzling Hummer of Western civilization can…be replaced with a more radical, saving and, I believe, real Jesus. –Brian McLaren

The time has passed when we can define ourselves on the tired and old labels of conservative or liberal, evangelical or charismatic, Catholic or Protestant. All who have faith in Jesus belong to Him. Everyone who serves the mission is a follower of His. It is time for all of us to change the world together. –Mike Slaughter

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

I am reading Jonathan Edwards’ Basic Writings and am blown away by his Resolutions document. If you get a chance to read these Resolutions, keep in mind that he wrote this stuff while he was in college in the early 1700’s. I had resolutions in college, too, but we won’t talk about that now.

Sorry for the massive post but I thought I would share a few that jumped out at me as being especially applicable:

Edwards starts with the statement: BEING SENSIBLE THAT I AM UNABLE TO DO ANYTHING WITHOUT GOD’ S HELP, I DO HUMBLY ENTREAT HIM BY HIS GRACE TO ENABLE ME TO KEEP THESE RESOLUTIONS, SO FAR AS THEY ARE AGREEABLE TO HIS WILL, FOR CHRIST’ S SAKE.
5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.
12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.
13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.
14. Resolved, never to do any thing out of revenge.
17. Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
19. Resolved, never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.
25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.
28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent,- what sin I have committed,-and wherein I have denied myself;-also at the end of every week, month and year
52. I frequently hear persons in old age, say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.
67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what am I the better for them, and what I might have got by them.
70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

Anybody else feeling challenged???

The Prosperity Gospel

Who doesn’t want to be rich? I certainly wouldn’t mind it. But how much of a place should this desire occupy in our hearts?

The North American church is conflicted. Consider the following research/stats:

61% of Christians believe that God wants people to be financially prosperous.
48% of Christians believe Jesus was not rich and we should follow His example.
49% believe Christians don’t give enough to the poor.
57% do not believe 10% is the minimum God expects Christians to give.
(source: David Van Biema and Jeff Chu, “Does God want You to be Rich?” Time Magazine 6/18/06)

New research released by The Barna Group reveals that in 2007 just 9% of adult Americans who are Christians gave away 10 percent of their income to places of worship or nonprofits (tithing).

Now consider what scripture teaches:
Ecclesiastes 5:10 Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! (NLT)

Hebrews 13:5 Don’t be obsessed with getting more material things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,” (MSG)

It’s time for us to get this thing straight. We have to get off the defensive side when it comes to our money. There has to be a more open atmosphere available for us to deal with this topic. But for those of you who wish I would mind my own business in this regard, I will borrow part of a posting from my friend Chris Goins “I love the way Chris Hodges of Church of the Highlands describes his desire for his congregation as it relates to giving: “Don’t listen to me! Listen to God!””

Happy Earth Day!


I am risking coming across like a tree hugger but it is obvious to me that we have to focus more attention on issues like the environment. It seems that many Christ-followers are a little behind when it comes to dialogue and action regarding ways in which we can take better care of the creation. This is a big deal in our country. While preservation of the earth and its resources should receive more attention from those who follow Christ, I see an even bigger issue at hand.

Since our culture is keenly attuned to matters of ecology, we can easily appear disconnected and aloof if we are not proactive in addressing these concerns. How can we say that that we care for people, for their well being and for the future of their families if we ignore topics like environmental responsibility? I think there is credibility to be gained if we will speak and act in well balanced ways regarding the environment.

What will it hurt if we recycle some plastic, save a little water or drive a hybrid car? Just maybe along with making the world a cleaner place for the next generation, we may also earn the right to address our culture on more important topics, like eternity.

Happy Earth Day!

intentional hanging out


Over the last couple of weeks, Letha and I have had several opportunities to spend time with a variety of friends. These were mostly casual settings – enjoying a meal with another couple, gathering at the church for some fellowship or just spending a couple of hours talking with some guys. The thing is, these events were strategically planned. The calendar over this span has been typically busy, we just decided to make it a priority to be around more people in more settings.

Sounds kind of sad, doesn’t it? We have to be purposeful and intentional about spending time with friends. But that’s the point. Until we made the decision to do so, our time with other people had taken a back seat to the demands of life. And we were paying for it.

I tell people all the time that we were not created to do life alone, that isolation leads to disaster. If you are a leader, you are probably going to have to schedule in some friend time. Look ahead now and plan something. Meet someone for coffee. Plan a meal together with a neighbor. Invite a new family at church over for dinner.

It feels really good to be making more friends, getting to know some old friends better. Give it a shot – intentionally.

Stepping it up technologically

In the last few weeks I have started this blog and also made the switch to an iPhone. Admittedly, I am a slow adapter when it comes to tech but surprisingly, I am having fun. When I do finally take the leap, it is usually because of pressure put on me by friends and family. I get tired of people making fun of me just because my phone is the size of a shoebox.

My daughter, Jessica told me that I am now edging toward being cool. That’s what I want to be . . . cool. But she also is one who is always bugging me, wanting me to text message back and forth. What does she know? Everyone knows that texting will never catch on!

I gotta go. If you need me, I’ll be at my typewriter and on my land line phone.

Critics: Ya gotta love ‘em!

Donald Rumsfeld said, “If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.” We shouldn’t be concerned if the critics line up at our door, waiting for a chance to shoot us down. We should worry if what we are doing and who we are is resulting in the sounds of chirping crickets. It goes without saying, sometimes the critics are correct. They can be our best friend in that they sometimes point out areas that, when addressed and improved upon, can result in growth and progress. But I’d be lying if I said that critical people don’t really bother me. So I collected a few classic quotes, (OK some of them aren’t yet classics) to help inspire you. If you are leading and you are being criticized, (one in the same) be inspired by a few of your colleagues:

Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” Aristotle

Fans don’t boo nobodies.” Reggie Jackson

He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.” Abe Lincoln

Don’t pay any attention to the critics-don’t even ignore them.” Samuel Goldwyn

Pay no attention to what the critics say. A statue was never erected in honor of a critic.” Jean Sibelius

Criticism is an indirect form of self-boasting.” Emmet Fox

A critic is someone who never actually goes to battle, yet who afterwards comes out shooting the wounded.” Tyne Daily

Come now mothers and fathers throughout the land, and don’t criticize what you can’t understand.” Bob Dylan

Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.” Ben Franklin

So, be encouraged. If you are being criticized, you must be doing something right! Don’t get too caught up with those who tear you down. These are not the people who are changing the world for the better. In fact, many of them have no greater calling in life than to hold others back.

You, however, have the call to change the world!

passion

I am getting stoked about our next missions project. If all of our plans work out, this summer (June 29-July 5) some friends and I will be traveling back to Central America to serve two orphanages. We plan to visit New Life Nicaragua in Managua and Casa Shalom in Guatemala City: casashalom.net. I wish the trip was tomorrow.

These trips help keep me focused on the important things. These babies born in adverse conditions are our chance to express love. It is amazing, although these kids have been abused and neglected, they are very receptive to our care and a little effort on our part makes a HUGE difference for them. It is simply a great way to serve and hopefully change the future for at least one child.

This won’t be a vacation. It won’t be a sightseeing tour. It won’t be a chance to be a hero. It will be a chance to be a servant.

If you have interest in making a trip to Nicaragua and Guatemala, contact me.

Someone Should Do Something!

Somebody has to step up. There are too many hungry kids in the world. There are too many people dying because of a lack of clean water. Too many people lacking basic health care. Who is going to address the problems the people in our world are facing? With all the talk about showing the love of God to people, do we think that maybe Christians could do something? Should the church be more outspoken, more energized toward action?

In his position paper, A Theology of Social Action, Jerry Redman writes:
All of this points us to popular culture, and many of its leading faces and voices that have decided to use their celebrity, wealth and influence to engage those who value their creativity so that the plights of orphans, AIDS patients, the victims of the Darfur crisis, the homeless, the hungry, etc., are no longer ignored or forgotten. It has been especially true of the Church in America over the last quarter century that we have not been nearly as engaged in changing the fortunes of the socially marginalized as scripture calls us to be, but many of the key figures of popular culture (musicians, actors, artists, and athletes) have drawn significant attention to these unfortunate groups. Beyond the attention they have been able to create, they have also created significant momentum and action on behalf of various social action initiatives. The Church, especially the evangelical segment of the Church in America, can no longer sit on the periphery of these issues and the initiatives that seek to solve them. To do so any longer not only lessens our missional opportunities, but also shows popular culture we do not believe the totality of all we say our faith is about and built upon, especially the specific words of Christ.

Although it addresses may other issues, I love Bridget Willard’s quote about the church: “Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not just go to church, let’s be the church.”

Maybe we can stop waiting for someone else to do something. Maybe we can step up and make a difference. One person at a time.

Beautiful

A wonderful lady and member of our church just passed away. She has been sick for some time with cancer. I went to visit her again the day before she died, to say goodbye and to comfort her family. As a pastor, I have had the privilege of these experiences several times, but this one was a little different.

When I got to her home, especially her room, it just seemed beautiful. There was a lot of peace there. I was reminded of a scripture and shared it with one of her daughters: Psalms 116:15 The death of one that belongs to the Lord is precious in his sight. (NCV) This entire process, though painful, is precious. It is precious because God loves her so much and precious because He is taking her home.

She was a woman of grace. She lived her life with dignity. She died the same way. Although she never said a word the morning I was there, while we were praying and worshipping, she lifted her hands in praise to God and wore a big smile. She is now in the presence of God. Beautiful!