Another Decade! Here we come!

IMG_9445Until today (Christmas Eve), I haven’t given much thought to the end of another decade and the start of 2020. While running errands with my wife, we talked about the presumed events of the next ten years. Grandkids becoming teenagers. Continuing to progress in our ministry. Potential relocations for work. Lots of productivity. Perhaps even retirement!

If my sketchy math skills are correct, I am approximately 80% done with my vocational ministry work. I started right out of the gate in the early 80’s, which makes me ancient. 4 decades of uninterrupted, full time ministry! If God continues to grant His favor, I have about 8-10 years of public ministry left. Of course, I plan to minister until I die, but our current church culture isn’t friendly to older men who still have a fire burning in their gut. So I’ll work in the main stream until I’m retirement age, then I’ll go rogue!

Another decade. 4/5ths done with my professional ministry career. What does that mean to me?

It means it’s time to lay down all hindrances. Abandon security and comfort. Reject mediocrity and status quo. Take risks, be aggressive, embrace innovation.

In my last decade of professional ministry, I want to work like a fiend. I hope to benefit from everything I’ve learned over the last 40 years. I want to reduce mistakes, focus on the most important issues and be as productive as is humanly possible.

Over the next decade, I’ll passionately invest in those coming behind me. I want to exemplify grace, mercy and compassion, and I desperately want to finish strong.

2020-2030 should be epic!

How about you? What does the start of a new decade mean to you?

2020… here we come!

Who is Christmas for, Anyway?

IMG_8743Lots of retailers make a lot of money from Christmas sales. Major corporations enjoy record profits year after year at Christmastime. Marketers, delivery companies and small businesses count on big sales during the holidays to boost their profits and add to their bottom line.

But is this who Christmas is really for?

We have a problem with the commercialization of Christmas. For too many, the holy season has simply become a money maker. We tire of the incessant commercials, the pushy salespeople and the “special holiday offers.” If we’re not careful, we can develop a bad attitude about the season because so many are corrupting the true meaning of Christmas; Let’s not do that!

Let’s remember who Christmas is for:

Christmas is for children: The little boys and girls of the world who simply embrace the excitement of the holiday.

Christmas is for Christians: the Christ-followers around the world who humbly celebrate the birth of their Lord, Savior and soon-coming King!

Christmas is for families: though perhaps spread across the miles, they hope to be together to share special moments and memories.

But…

Christmas is also for the lonely: those who have no one during the holiday.

Christmas is for the hurting: those who are in physical, emotional or relational pain.

Christmas is for the bound and addicted: those who have no concept of freedom.

Christmas is for the hard-hearted: those who have been so hurt, they refuse to trust again.

Christmas is for the doubters: those who refuse to believe.

Christmas is for the rebellious: those who feel the need to run from God.

Christmas is for the lost: those who just can’t find their way through this dangerous world.

Christmas is for sinners: those who have yet to accept Christ as their Savior and Lord.

Christmas is for those who need Good News!: Those who are tired of the ugliness and sin of this world.

Christmas is even for those who miss the point entirely (they think it’s about making money): God doesn’t give up on them, we shouldn’t either.

God gave His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Way, the only Way to salvation.   

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) These words, spoken by an angel to Joseph, speak to us about the eternal Good News of the birth of Jesus. Jesus came to preach the Gospel (Good News) to all people! This means that Christmas is for everyone! Christmas is Good News for all of us!

This Good News of Christmas triumphs over the bad news. This Good News of Christmas heals the brokenhearted. This Good News of Christmas brings families back together. This Good News of Christmas comforts the lonely. This Good News of Christmas brings hope to the hopeless, joy to the sad, and the promise of a better future to a world that desperately needs it.

But it is not the presents, the money-spending, the holiday stress that brings what we need.

The love that God displays at Christmas is what makes Christmas belong to all of us.  

 Merry Christmas to you. We love you, thank God for you and pray that this Christmas season will be especially blessed!

 

 

Why I’m Thankful

design-54My wife will tell you, very often, as we are traveling about, I openly express my sincere thanks to God for His goodness to me. It is one of the most humbling thoughts to realize that God freely provides His gracious love to us. When I am in a healthy spiritual place, gratitude is one of my most common emotions. There are a few reasons for this.

I know what should have been. Only the Lord and I know what I was, and at times, still am. It is perfectly logical to think that I should have been destroyed. If I had reaped what I had sown, I would not be here. This is in no way a glorification of a dramatically bad boy life; far from it. I simply was a rotten person, and should God have chosen to give me my dues, I would have been done long ago. I am thankful that I am not yet done.

I know what could have been. Because of my early foundation, it is not beyond comprehension that I could have been destroyed. I could have gotten trapped in a miserable, desolate life. I could have spent my days in frustration and failure. I could have easily lived out my life in uselessness. I could have been consumed with pain, grief, addiction, despair and destruction. I am thankful that what could have been did not become reality.

 I know what wasn’t. My wife and I know the pain of losing a child. For the last many years, we have been impacted by our loss. Every holiday, every day we feel the pain.  This influences us at Thanksgiving because we are grateful for what we had, and then lost. It makes us treasure what we have. I am thankful for what we have, and for what we have lost.

I know what won’t be. I’m not getting any younger. My current situation is fleeting. My family is growing, the babies are getting big. My experience is fast, time is passing quickly. What I see now won’t last much longer. I am thankful that I have what I have now, and I plan to enjoy it to the fullest. I am grateful that, although passing quickly, life is very good for me.

So, I’m thankful. So very, very thankful for all that God has done and is doing for me.

I never want to lose that. Thank you, God.

Compassionate Celebration

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Thanksgiving is a time of grateful celebration! God has blessed us abundantly and He deserves to be glorified! But what if the season brings a struggle to express our gratitude for the blessings of life? How should we respond if the reality of life is painful and heartbreaking?

Of course, we realize that regardless of our circumstances, God is good. His faithfulness, mercy and grace have nothing to do with our feelings. We may have to look beyond our temporary trials in order to give God the praise He deserves. And we must learn how to worship through our pain.

But there is more to consider.

In Christianity, we walk a delicate balance.  On the one hand, we know the importance of sharing a testimony of God’s goodness: answered prayers, miracles experienced, and the favor of the Lord. On the other hand, we are aware that things do not always go as well for other people. Most of us have prayed prayers that seemed to go unanswered. There are times that things don’t go our way, we struggle through difficult seasons and celebration is the farthest thing from our minds.

Can we boldly celebrate victory when so many among us are mourning?

We must walk this delicate balance between celebration and sensitivity. How can we celebrate the goodness of the Lord when so many around us are struggling for any source of hope and joy? Can we possibly practice compassionate celebration?

Here are a few helpful ideas:

Give God the glory! Never stop praising the Lord! For all that He has done, for who He is, we must boldly honor Him! We must never entertain the idea of silencing our praise.

It’s all because of grace. In our celebration, be sure to deflect credit. We are not responsible for our blessings. While we may have been obedient, it is only God’s grace that results in blessings. Never attribute credit to people – always defer praise to the Lord.

Be sensitive. In our exuberant praise, remember those who are hurting. Some are grieving. Some are broken. We never want to inadvertently cause hurt to someone while we are expressing our praise.

Choose your words carefully. “I’m God’s favorite!”, “favor isn’t fair!”, “if you just had faith like me…” are statements that reveal gloating, not praise.  When you give thanks, consider what the other person is living through. If your words hurt, you’ve missed the point.

Don’t write a rulebook. When things go well, the temptation is to presumptuously create a list of simple behaviors that will result in getting what we want. This is not wise and it is not Biblical. God will not be put in a box. Resist the temptation to say, “follow these easy steps…”

Remain humble. While it’s good to be excited, and joyful celebration of victory is to be expected, never become selfishly proud of your blessings.  There is nothing wrong with a humble celebration.

God ahead, celebrate God’s goodness! Just do so with compassion for those who are struggling.

A blessed Thanksgiving season to you and your family. We love you!

 

10 Nuggets of Wisdom

design-52With all of the angst concerning the current status of our society, someone needs too refocus (me!).  Rather than being consumed with negativity and overrun with despair, let’s take a moment to center ourselves.

Listed below, in no particular order, are ten suggestions to help us to survive and thrive in these chaotic times. Let me know what you think!

10 Nuggets of Wisdom:

1. Take your eyes off of people; keep your eyes on God.
2. Stop focusing on the evil going on around you.
3. Don’t obsess with fighting those who oppose you.
4. Resist getting trapped in endless debates.
5. Don’t insist on always being right, recognized or respected.
6. Refuse to be driven by emotions; live by faith.
7. Trust God with the future.
8. Believe for an ultimate positive outcome.
9. Let God handle His enemies.
10. Live your life in a way that brings glory to God; serve Him and others.

This Wisdom will help you to be successful, joyful and at peace, regardless of what is happening around you.

A Successful Church

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A church will most likely succeed when:

  1. There is a clear and united understanding of the Mission and vision of the church.
  2. Members care more about the lost than they do their own preferences.
  3. The lost are saved, disciples are made, and people engage in ministry – on a regular and consistent basis.
  4. There is an ethos of grace.
  5. Leaders are continually trained and deployed to serve.
  6. All generations are included equally.
  7. There is a strong priority on regional, national and international missions.
  8. The church reflects the cultural diversity of the community.
  9. The worship services and gatherings are training and preparation for ministry outside the building.
  10. Generosity and tithing are the norm.
  11. There is a systematic approach to prayer.
  12. The pastor shares leadership authority and responsibility with others.
  13. There is a culture of financial accountability, transparency and fiduciary responsibility.
  14. The buildings and grounds are well used but meticulously cleaned, and frequently updated.
  15. The Gospel Message remains the same but methods are adjusted as necessary.
  16. The people love God, love others, and love one another.

These are 16 chapters for a proposed book on successful church ministry.

That’s a lot; we have a lot of work to do.

What are We Good At, What are We Not?

design-48Definitions for this article:

  1. Product: The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. Promotion: Marketing or advertising the Gospel.
  3. Presentation: The method utilized to deliver the Gospel.
  4. Productivity: The positive results of the Gospel of Jesus.

We don’t have a product problem. We don’t have a promotion problem.

We have a presentation problem. Because of this, we have a productivity problem.

While visiting a large suburban mall, I noticed that the Apple store had relocated. They had outgrown their space and moved to a larger spot in the same mall. In a few moments, we walked by their new location. But here was my surprise: they had yet to put up their sign. There was no indication anywhere on the outside that this was the Apple store. I wondered about their decision to open the new location without first putting up the sign. But, as you can see, everyone knew exactly what store it was – the place was full; business as usual.

Apple has great products. They’ve done their promotions. Their presentation is unquestionably effective. Of course their productivity is unparalleled. They have been so good at what they do, the temporary lack of a sign had no negative effect whatsoever.

I don’t work for Apple; I work for the Church.

Let me say, church signage is very important. Like it or not, we must brand our churches. We must market the ministry. In our culture, if people don’t know about us, they aren’t coming. But I don’t believe our biggest issue (why more people don’t come) is promotion.

I know for sure that our product (the Gospel of Jesus) is the most valuable and important product ever.

I believe we have two problems that we should address and solve:

  • Our presentation suffers sometimes. The way we communicate the most important product is sometimes subpar. A lack of quality, ill prepared sermons and worship services, and ignoring the needs of our “potential audience” can really hurt our efforts. Our “potential audience” is our unsaved community. Churches that operate in ways that disconnect them from their unsaved community will suffer.
  • Our productivity is stifled. In many churches, very few people are coming to salvation in Christ. The harvest is sitting in the fields. This is a major problem.

I would remind you that the product needs no adjustment. The Biblical Gospel can stand for itself. I would also suggest that better promotion might not be the answer. If our presentation is poor, the best promotion in the world won’t help. The fact that our productivity is suffering is enough to cause us to evaluate and adjust our presentation.

Pastor, don’t change the product. Go ahead and improve your promotion. But if your productivity is less than you desire, invest in changing your presentation.

We’re not Apple. But wouldn’t it be cool if our presentation of the product was so amazing that promotion wasn’t necessary? It’s possible!

We don’t have a product problem. We don’t have a promotion problem.

We have a presentation problem. Because of this, we have a productivity problem.

Focus on your presentation of the most amazing product ever, and productivity will take care of itself.