you may not like this but…it is truth

Living in south Florida is an adventure for a pastor. The people here are great, we love our church and friends are the best. But this is a very liberal place regarding issues of morality and sex.

I am responsible to tell people the truth, even when it hurts. At our church, we are finding, in increasing measure, that we need to say things to people that they don’t like, but that are necessary. Many of these episodes involve sex. It is common, I mean absolutely mainstream, for people to openly admit to having sex outside of marriage; cohabitation is the norm. There is no shame or guilt, and people are shocked when I share with them that this kind of behavior is not acceptable to God. And this happens very often within our church with people who know Jesus and study His Word.

I am so careful to speak truth in love. We try hard not to be condemning at our church. We are grace based and motivated by love. We are fully aware of the dangers of judging others – because none of us are perfect.  But I preach against sexual sins because it is covered thoroughly in the Bible. Heterosexual sex, homosexual sex (the Bible is against homosexual marriage), cyber sex, pornography – if you are not married – God forbids sexual activity. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been with your partner or the fact that you own a house together or have kids together. If you are not married, sex is wrong; the Bible prohibits it. I know that sounds like something from outer space in our culture – but it is truth.

Some people are shocked by this fact. They get offended. They get mad. They think I don’t love them. They think I am picking on them. And some of them leave, they walk away and continue with their lives. It is pretty easy in South Florida to find a church and pastor that will agree with them or ignore dealing with real issues. But most people just ignore what we say and go on about their lives. Please, if you are part of our church and are living with someone – we want you to remain as part of our church. But please listen to what God is saying to you. God wants to bless you and He will not bless a relationship that is outside of His will.

This all hurts quite a lot. It hurts to see people making decisions that are slowly destroying their lives. It is painful to lose friends because they think you are crazy for adhering to the Bible. I am troubled about this issue. It’s not going away, in fact it is becoming an even greater problem.

I have no choice. As a pastor, I have to navigate these treacherous waters. I will give an account to God one day for how I represented Him on these issues. I commit myself to tell the truth on these issues, regardless. I am not sorry for doing that, but I am sorry that it doesn’t always turn out well.

You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32) Be free!

kids go farther than their parents

I was witness to a great event today as a young girl began a ministry with the full support of her mother. Her mom has been in vocational ministry for many years – and this girl is only nine years old.  She feels called to help orphans around the world.  A couple of heroes, both mom and daughter.

Here is what I think: In many cases, kids do what their parents do, but they take it further. This can work for us or against is. Allow me to explain.

Whatever parents do in moderation, will be done in excess by their children. Parents who drink a little too much will possibly have kids that become alcoholics. Parents who model sharing in front of their kids have a good chance of raising generous kids. This is not a law and there are obvious exceptions, but I stand by my theory.

This is a very positive thing for us. Our daughter, Jessica was raised watching my wife and I do ministry. Now she does ministry way beyond anything we have ever experienced. And I want her to soar light years beyond where I am.

I felt inspired to tell the mother/daughter team this morning that the seeds planted by mom will come to fruition with the daughter. With absolutely no disrespect to the mom, I fully believe that the daughter will take it further.

You parents, what does that say to you?

learning to lead

An unbelievably large amount of material has been produced in the last few years on the topic of becoming a better leader. Some people are tired of the subject and others think they are excluded from the conversation because they don’t perceive themselves to be in a leadership position. Neither of these approaches are good because both of them will prevent us from accomplishing what really needs to get done in life. We cannot afford to get tired of studying leadership principles because they are ever-evolving. And yes, you are a leader! That simply means that someone is looking up to you, following you, watching you as an example.

So how do we learn leadership?

Most of us learn by reading. Good leaders are good readers. I think that if you are not perpetually working your way through some type of leadership material, you probably aren’t very serious about improving as a leader. Don’t know where to start? Try your public library. Walmart, amazon.com, and a thousand websites and blogs will provide a lifetime worth of decent material. Just start reading.

Leadership conferences are all the rage these days. I receive invitations to dozens of leadership conferences every month. Many of these meetings are great and offer world-class training. Others aren’t, in my opinion, worth the price of admission.  And I think the trap for some has become, being conference-active and leadership-weak. Eventually we have to stop running around the country listening to Chan and Hybels and Maxwell and we have to get to work. If you’ve been privileged to attend conferences, stay home for a while and use what you’ve learned.

Most people learn by experience. In every one of my leadership appointments, I wasn’t adequately prepared for the challenges that were ahead of me – I had to learn on the fly. There is nothing like trial and error to teach us what to do and what not to do.  This can be a painful experience for both the leader and the followers but it is a necessary element in individual and corporate growth. Don’t be afraid to jump into the deep end of the pool – just be sure you are in a culture that provides life preservers (systems and safety nets for a growing leader).

I learn most by watching a leader in action. Yesterday I was able to be in a lengthy meeting with a leader that I admire. We were wrestling with some tough issues, decisions that had to be made that required strength and courage and wisdom. A few times throughout the day, I watched his facial expressions and his body language.  I listened to the way he addressed his fellow leaders around the table. And I took note. We all observed how he worked his way through a difficult agenda. I think I left the meeting as a better leader.

I learn the most by watching a leader lead. I learn when I follow. Come to think of it, that is how the greatest leader of all time did His best leadership training. Jesus asked His disciples to follow Him. As they spent 3 plus years shadowing Jesus, the disciples learned how to lead, how to respond to critics, how to care for the hurting, how to make decisions. They learned how to live and how to die.

No matter what you are reading, regardless of the latest conference you’ve attended, no matter in what capacity you find yourself leading, my question is: from whom are you learning leadership? Who are you following, observing close enough to learn from? Watch them. If they are a good leader, get closer and emulate them. Lean in. If they are a bad leader, learn what not to do and keep on looking for a good leader to follow.

That’s how we learn to lead.

why I won’t preach politics

President Obama really ticked off a bunch of my friends yesterday. When he issued his “evolution” statement on the topic of gay marriage, most conservatives in the US went ballistic.

For the record, I am prolife. Very prolife! I believe in the sanctity of marriage, that God provides this gift for men and women to live together under His blessing. I believe that homosexuality is a sin. I believe that those who live together outside of marriage are fornicators. Let’s see, whom have I not yet offended?

And for the record, I preach these things from the Word of God, often. In fact, just last Sunday, prior to the President’s announcement, I preached from I Corinthians 6:9-11 which tell us that those who indulge in sexual sins and are homosexual will not inherit God’s Kingdom. You just can’t change the meaning of those verses. But I am not preaching politics. I am preaching the Gospel.  But I sincerely try to preach the truth with humility, in love, seasoned with grace.

On many occasions, I receive emails from friends in our church who want me to preach about politics. Through the years, I have heard it all. “How will they know who to vote for if you don’t tell them?”. “People don’t have the right values, you need to preach about how this particular politician is against the Bible”. And so on.

Here is my position: I am not called by God to preach politics. I am called by God to preach the Gospel – His Word. I do not believe that the problem in our country is politics. I believe the problem is, people are ignoring God’s Word. The answer is not for preachers to preach about politics. The answer is for preachers to preach the Bible. Politics never saved a soul. The cross of Jesus saves everyone who is saved. Preach the Good News of Jesus!

Here is the greatest reason why preaching the Bible is better than preaching politics:

The Bible never changes – it is true for all people at all times. Politics change. There is no hope in politics. Jesus is hope!

I believe our country is in deep trouble and headed the wrong way. I am in deep disagreement with many of our leaders. I think the president is wrong. But I am not planning to give these misguided politicians my valuable preaching time.

The Gospel is the Truth!

The Truth will set you free!

Jesus is the Truth!

Let’s just preach Jesus.

3 levels of encouragers

Acts 4:36-37 There was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. 37 He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles. (NLT)

Everyone needs to be encouraged. I believe that different experiences and responsibilities in life require different levels of encouragement.  Leaders and those involved in helping others certainly need an “attaboy” on occasion. I am writing from this perspective. The goal of this article is to encourage you to be an encourager to someone else, on any and all of these three levels.

The back patter.

This is your unofficial nice guy who takes time to say positive things and give compliments when warranted.  A “nice job” or “thank you” goes a long way to someone who is in the trenches. The back patters are important players in the leadership game. Never assume that people know how you feel. If they have done well, commend them. But please be sincere. Most of us can tell when people are blowing smoke or being disingenuous. Don’t cheapen the gift of encouragement by throwing compliments around.  Sincerely express your encouragement. It will go a long way. A pat on the back may be just what your leader needs today.

The load bearer.

The next level of encourager goes beyond words. He or she believes in you and the vision enough to actually get their hands dirty helping you.  When the weight is too heavy to bear, these second-level encouragers come alongside you and make your job easier. Never underestimate the value of a strong back. You notice when they show up – the atmosphere improves. You are glad they are involved. Load bearers may be not be long-term contributors but the time they spend pitching in makes a big difference.

I’m having a difficult time labeling the third level of encourager. The partner? No, too many cultural considerations. The sidekick? Too condescending. The colleague? Too academic. Just allow me to explain: This third level encourager is part of you. You couldn’t shake them if you wanted to. This person may be a spouse or a relative but for sure they are committed to you. Thick or thin, success or failure – they’re there. If you get into a fight, they’ve got your back. If your integrity is questioned – they defend you. They give you the benefit of the doubt. They know you are not perfect but they are committed to you anyway. And this relationship is a two-way street – you serve as a third-level encourager to them as well. I believe that this level of encourager only comes around a few times in one’s life.  They are not there to see what they can get from you. You can trust them to have your best interest at heart. A word of warning: you shouldn’t try to be this level of encourager for many people. It just won’t work, we are not built with the capacity to function like this for very many people. This level of encourager is a rare treasure. If and when it happens, value it.

I am grateful to have all three levels of encouragers in my life. To them I say, “Thank you!” I literally could not do what I do without you.  I hope I am involved in encouraging others on all three levels.

Be an encourager on all three levels. Someone you know could really use the pick up.

Let’s let Barnabas be our encourager. He was so good at it that they gave him the nickname. His place seemed to be as a genuine revitalizer for others. He made their world a better place. He picked them up and encouraged them to press on. I hope I can do that for you – on some level. And I am hoping for the same from you.

a missional pooper scooper

Our church has a problem. We seem to be serving as the designated dog-walking park for our neighbors. We are blessed with some nice acreage. It is a park-like atmosphere. And since we are not a public park, many people think they can walk their dogs without cleaning up after them.

I complain regularly about this. It bugs me to look out my office window and see dogs running free, fertilizing our lawn. Most mornings when I come to the church and usually in the evenings when I leave, I see cars parked on our back property with dogs running wild. One night on the way to my small group meeting, I saw a guy allowing his dog to defecate on our front lawn. I actually stopped my car in the street and yelled out at him, “Hey! You are going to pick up after your dog aren’t you?!”. He sheepishly said, “yea”. I think he might have been lying. The whole thing just feels disrespectful to me.

We have a problem. But the problem may not be pooping dogs.  The problem may be our attitude. No doubt, we do not exist to provide a public potty for neighborhood pets. But maybe we should be more engaging of our neighbors. It may be a compliment that they feel at home enough to visit us so frequently. Maybe we should view this as an opportunity to serve, to fill a need. These people love their dogs. Maybe there isn’t another place nearby that is suitable for this use. Could this be a chance to show our neighbors that we care more about them than we do our lawn? Is it feasible that we could better fulfill our mission to change lives for Christ if we engage people right where they are? I am trying to look at this from another angle.

Because it is not an option for our kids to step in doo doo, maybe I need to make a part of my weekly responsibilities the picking up of dog waste. Is it possible that one of our most effective missional activities could be poop scooping?

If this is what is required, I’ll do it. Whatever it takes to see lives changed!

why Easter is bigger than Christmas

Without launching into a theological debate, I want to address a little thought I’ve been having. I think Easter is a bigger deal than Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ while Easter commemorates his death and resurrection from the dead. Obviously you can’t have Easter without Christmas. If Jesus had never been born, He could not have been crucified or raised from the dead. But also, if Jesus had not died and resurrected from the dead, we probably wouldn’t celebrate His birth! I believe, pound for pound, Easter trumps Christmas.

One of the things I find interesting is that Easter doesn’t seem to get the backlash that Christmas does. Aside from the Jewish observation of Passover, Easter doesn’t have a lot of rivals (and the two are certainly connected!). There seem to be very few complaints about the religious nature of the day. Obviously bunnies and eggs have their supporters, but the animosity that comes against Christmas is pretty much absent at Easter. Sure, many public schools no longer observe Easter break, preferring instead to call it Spring Break. But think about the opposition to Christmas. Every year, I dread the same conversations – about how we need to keep Christ in Christmas. I don’t think it helps when Christians spend a lot of time complaining about the commercialism of Christmas. It’s a shame that we even have to have these conversations. Over all, people just seem to go with the flow of Easter, without a lot of pushback.

That’s not my only point. I am using impact as my criteria for assessment.

My observation is that Easter garners a lot more real ministry activity than does Christmas. At least in my circles, this season is massive for reaching out to people who don’t know Christ and who don’t go to church.  Christmas Eve has its punch but nothing equals Easter when considering the number of people who actually go to church services.  It simply has a greater impact. I know that tomorrow, over twice as many people will come to our church than who attend on any given Sunday. There is something to this Easter thing!

Now my hope is that the impact of Easter will last longer than one day, or one week. We are praying for an eternal impact in the lives of lots of people.  In churches all over the world, the truth of the resurrection of Jesus will be told. Let’s ask God to change the lives of everyone who hears the message!

Nothing against Christmas but Easter rocks! What say you?

Holy Week specifics

I have a special sense of significance about this week’s worship events. Our church needs Easter and the surrounding days to be deeply impactful. Yesterday, I used the phrase “do or die” regarding what happens this week. I am praying for “do”!

Here is our line up:

Vespers Prayer Service: Wednesday, April 4, 2012, 7:00 PM in the Worship Center of our Palm Beach Gardens Campus.  We will sing hymns, share times of corporate prayer, quiet individual prayer and Scripture reading.  The purpose is to focus our hearts and minds on the work of Jesus during Holy Week.

Good Friday Candlelight and Communion: Friday, April 6 at 7:00 PM. My good friend Travis Johnson will be our guest speaker. Travis is a passionate leader and will definitely challenge us with his message. Holy Communion as well as candlelight prayer around the cross will highlight the night.

Easter Sunrise Communion at the Beach: Sunday, April 8 at 7:00 AM. Palm Beach Shores Community Center.  This is an unparalleled worship setting as we will watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean on Easter Sunday! This one-hour worship event will include music, a message from God’s Word (a different message from our Gardens Campus) and Holy Communion.

New Life at Easter!: Sunday, April 8 at 9:30 and 11:00 AM at our Gardens Campus. These interactive worship gatherings will be life-changing for many people. Our Children’s Ministries Department has special plans for the day as well as egg hunts following both services.

On Easter, our church will conclude a very strategic preparation process, 40 Days to New Life. A lot of people have prayed, fasted, read the Gospel of John, served and invited people to Easter. I believe that all of this preparation will result in lots of changed lives.

For more information on any or all of this, please check out crosscommunity.cc

If you live in or around Palm Beach County Florida and do not have a church home, please be our guest.

where’s the passion?

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Holy Week, sometimes referred to as Passion Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday and extending to Easter, we recall the Passion of Christ, the road He walked that led Him to the cross. It’s a great time for Christ-followers to get re-focused on matters of faith and worship.

Leading into this season of ministry, there are many times that I ask the question, “where is the passion?” Obviously, Christ cared enough and was committed enough to do whatever it took to save us. But it seems, at times, that there is a lack of response on the part of those of us who have been saved. Allow me to explain:

On any given Sunday, during music and worship, I am amazed at how many people have no response. I mean they either just stand or sit there, expressionless, unmoved. They don’t sing, or in any other way engage in the music. I realize one can worship by listening but there is no getting around the idea that we are told in scripture to sing, clap our hands and worship God. Outward worship is simply a way to express love for God, it is a “spilling over” of what is in our spirits. I wonder, do these people sense anything in their hearts? Are they, in any way, moved in their spirits? Sometimes I preach about God’s love, His sacrifice, His intense desire to know us…and there are times when there is no response. In these times, I have to ask, “where is the passion?” This explains why the average Christian will not be in a local worship gathering at church tomorrow.  Recent research indicates that church attendance doesn’t mean what it used to for Christ-followers. Where is the passion?

The real issue isn’t with what is happening or not happening in corporate worship gatherings. I think Sunday is just a snapshot of the rest of life. I believe that the cares of life have acted like wet blanket on a fire. Stress kills passion. Pain has a way of burying it. Distractions prevent us from feeling and discouragement prevents us from expressing love for God.

One of the more disconcerting parts for me is, people don’t seem to hold back in their passion for other things.  Tonight’s NCAA Basketball Final Four will blow up Facebook and Twitter. This certainly is a season of political posturing – most people will gladly let you know where they stand on the issues. But spirituality has become taboo for many people in our culture – including those who have been saved from hell by God. It just shouldn’t be this way.

I am asking you to reconsider your approach and response to God, especially during Passion Week. He gave everything for you. How does that make you feel? Can you contain those feelings on the inside without outwardly expressing them in some way? God doesn’t need your passionate worship, but He wants it – and certainly deserves it.

Tomorrow, I will preach a message at Cross Community Church entitled: Pasión por la Vida. It will describe how passion for eternal life for you and me drove Jesus to the cross. And I plan to challenge the people of our church to be passionate in their response to the Passion of Jesus. Join us if you are able.

sound bytes from sunday

I began a new message series yesterday. Pastors who utilize series hope and pray for a strong 1st message. In many cases, the success of the remainder of the series is dictated by the first message. Our first week of Backbone: The Courage of Daniel had mixed reviews. Actually, only one of our 3 Sunday gatherings left me with a less-than satisfied feeling about the message. So I thought I would offer a few sound bytes. Even as I type them now, they sound much better than when I delivered them yesterday during our 11:00 gathering.

Keep in mind, I was speaking about Daniel and applying the characteristics displayed in his life to our lives. Let’s see what you think:

A lot of people want courage, but nobody wants to be in a spot where they really need it!

Like grace, courage is given to us by God, on an as-needed basis. You won’t need it/get it sitting on your couch.

Conformers blend in; they don’t rock the boat. Transformers receive opposition. If you want to be left alone, do nothing. People won’t bother you. But if you live with passion, if you are continually looking to improve the world, you will be the target of a lot of attention, some of it negative.

Our theology (what we believe about God) dictates our behavior. Others can determine our theology by how we live. What we think about God is reflected in how we treat others and how we face crisis.

Backbone based on our opinion becomes stubbornness and rigidity. Backbone based on the character of God is courage.

The weapons you bring to battle today are the weapons you’re fighting with. Preparation needed to be done yesterday.

Preparation can’t be retroactive.  You can’t pray today that God will change yesterday. If you want God’s favor tomorrow, you must prepare yourself today. If you don’t prepare today, you won’t be courageous tomorrow.

If you have any interest in listening to the message, you can do so on our website here: Cross Community Church

Preparing and praying for a better week 2 next Sunday!