Be Kind to Your Successors

Let’s talk about big decisions and long-term consequences.

I am going back to a discussion I had with a friend a couple of years ago. He serves as an Executive Financial Administrator at a large, well-known church in the south. He was telling me how, on a daily basis, he wrestles with decisions that leaders of the church made forty years ago. I was blown away by that idea. Specifically, he was trying to pay for and maintain buildings that never should have been built. It was currently hamstringing their ministry. They were having trouble fulfilling their God-given vision because they had to manage the choices made by guys who were no longer around.

Be reminded that, some of the things you decide today will be around for a long time. Long after you are dead and buried, some of your choices will still be going strong.  Before you decide to commit an organization to a long-term arrangement, consider those who will follow you. Before you jump on a bandwagon, before you follow a trend, before you do what other well-known leaders are doing, ask… how will this affect people who come along behind me in 10 or 20 or 30 years?

Go ahead and dream big, and act big. But do so with the knowledge that someone gets to deal with the residual of your decisions.

Be kind to your successors! They will love you for it.

(by the way, I took the picture above while on a bike ride in the swamp in South Florida)

apparently, it’s not harvest time

I heard a country song the other day by Luke Bryan called Harvest Time. The theme of the song is the hard work that farmers do this time of year. Everything else stops while these guys and gals work like crazy to gather whatever is in the field. The top priority is getting all the crops in. The bridge of the song says: At a quarter ’til 2 I kick off my boots in the laundry room. We’ll start it all over tomorrow at noon ’til it’s all done, until we’re all done.

Can you image a farmer who, at harvest time says, “who cares?”

My whole life, I have heard people in the church talk about harvest time – as a spiritual metaphor. The crops are the people who need Christ and we are supposed to be the “farmers” that bring them to Him. The idea comes from what Jesus said, “…wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.” John 4:35 (NLT)

We sing the songs, hear the sermons and even name some of our churches something connected with the idea of “Harvest”.

Well, I’m not buying it. We don’t believe it. Most Christians I know do not believe that this is harvest time. We do not believe that our time to work for God is short or that there are a lot of people who need Jesus. In fact, it appears that there is very little urgency by most American Christians to gather any crops (souls) for God’s kingdom. If we believe it is harvest time, we would adopt Luke Bryan’s approach and work hard until the job is done. We would do whatever it takes to get the job done. As it is, we may as well be saying, “who cares?”.

I guess that’s why Jesus said, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” (Luke 10:2 NLT) I am praying for laborers, but I want to do more laboring in the field.

leaders can’t be for sale

Most of us know what it’s like to be desperate. Leaders have to make things happen in their organization. Sometime we are desperate for something to happen in our organizations – and sometimes we are willing to do nearly anything to make it happen! But leaders can never be so desperate that they are willing to compromise their better judgment. Never turn a blind eye to someone or something that can bring your organization down. You don’t need that person or their money or their prestige that much. You have too much to lose.

Don’t sell your leadership integrity to someone who could destroy you. Keep your standards high. You and your organization deserve it – and so does God.

an eye-opening lesson on biblical community

Sometimes I think I know a lot about church. On Sunday, I learned some very important stuff.

We visited a small church in central Minnesota on Sunday, they asked me to come and preach in the morning service and stay for the evening gathering.  There were only about 25 people in the morning service. The people were very nice, they welcomed us with open arms. We enjoyed ourselves.

Sometimes we assume that it takes a large church to do a good job at ministry. Sometimes we are wrong. After a long day spent with this lovely congregation, I was thoroughly impressed. After about seven hours spent with them (including the after service gathering at Perkins), we were convinced.

They are a small church, but…

They are committed. Nearly everyone who came in the morning returned in the evening.

They love the community around them. They feed about 40 families a month from their food shelf.

They support each other. They prayed sincerely for each other and followed up on previous needs.

They embrace new people. They were very interactive and supportive of a new family that has only been coming about one month.

They care about and for each other. I overheard discussions about offers to help with projects and checking in on the elderly.

They just loved being together. You couldn’t pry them away from the conversation, the laughter at Perkins was genuine and rich.

They don’t demand perfection. They were not distracted by less-than-superior performance in the worship service. They just focused on God.

The funny thing is, on Sunday morning, I preached about how the church must grow  warmer through fellowship. Little did I know that they were the ones who should have been preaching to me.

That church understands real, genuine Biblical community. They don’t have a fancy mission statement. They don’t identify themselves as missional. There is nothing “mega” about them. But they get community. I learned some things.

380 sermons down, 2 left

I am in transition. As I write this post, I am supposed to be helping my wife pack for our move to Minnesota. I am leaving my post in Florida as a local church pastor, where I have served for seven years and eight months. We have two Sundays left before we leave.

I have recently made the switch from preaching with printed notes to preaching with an iPad. The picture you see are my sermon notes from day one to last Sunday at Cross Community Church. Approximately 380 sermons. Most of them were preached three times because we have three Sunday Worship Gatherings. When I got home from church on Sundays, I would put the outline on the stack and get to work on the following week’s message.

Unless someone contacts me very soon, these babies are going into the recycling bin. I can’t imagine anyone wanting them now, but they represent a lot of hard work and prayer. Blood, sweat and tears. I think they were all Biblically based. I hope they were all relevant to the worshippers. I pray they made a difference. I trust I was faithful to God’s call on my life to preach His Gospel.  They reflect my heart for the special people in this church family.

Famous preachers have their sermons published. Wannabe famous preachers publish their own. Mine will be recycled – literally.

A turning of the page, or a tap on the iPad.

the lesser blessing

God has the very best for us but most of us never get there. We settle for blessings like money or security or other things we can acquire. While these things are considered blessings, they should be considered as second-rate blessings. In other words, you can do better.

Let me explain. When most American talk about “being blessed”, they are talking about material things: houses, cars, boats, jobs.  Without doubt, these things are provided by God – and they are blessings. But sometimes the acquisition of these blessings has cost us something of much greater value. While it is not always the case, some lesser blessings cost us greater blessings. We have traded. If financial gain is the best blessing you have, you are not experiencing God’s best. According to Jesus, you can’t serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

Plainly put: if you skip worship to go out for a day of relaxation, your relaxation is a more valued blessing to you than experiencing God’s presence with your church family.

If you make a lot of money on your job but you neglect your family in doing so, your money is a more important blessing than your family.

You have blessings, but they are lesser blessings. You have settled for second-rate.

Life has fooled us. Many of us have been duped into thinking that $ = blessing. Dig a little deeper and you get to real blessings, like: Relationships. Love. Eternal life. The Presence of God. These are first-rate blessings – Greater Blessings!

Jesus asks you a very straightforward question: “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?” (Mark 8:36) I think we know the answer: lesser blessings.

Don’t settle for the lesser blessing. Let God give you His very best!

the new “no”

What do you think of this statement? “No response is the new ‘no’.” Here is what I mean: When you ask someone for something or request someone to get involved in a particular thing and you hear nothing back from them…you can assume that the answer is “no.” Apparently it is no longer necessary to actually say “no”. Saying nothing at all will suffice.

Our church staff experiences this frequently. My daughter, Jessica is a missionary and has to search for churches in which to raise support. From what she tells me, it is very common to receive no response at all from Pastors. Voicemails and emails remain unanswered most of the time.

I know I have been guilty of this. I get a message from a salesman or a band or an itinerate preacher who wants to be invited to come to our church. It is always uncomfortable to make that return call. I’d rather not, but I try. Putting myself on the other end of that call, I would rather hear a “no” than to be left hanging.

I just wanted to post this as an encouragement to leaders. People deserve to be treated with respect. It doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end of a “no” response, but it sure beats being left hanging.  We realize it is difficult to do. But go ahead and respond – with a “no” (assuming your answer is not “yes”).  You will feel better and the person you are responding to will feel better.  And then they can move on to the next person they need to ask.

the health care debacle: who is to blame?

I have a couple of friends that love our President and everything he does. He made their year with his influence over the Supreme Court and their decision to mandate a health insurance tax. However, most of my friends are quite upset with the decision.

For what it’s worth, I have a view I haven’t heard anyone else mention up to this point:

The Bible tells us that it is the responsibility of Christians and the Church to take care of the widow, the orphan, the needy and the poor (see references below). It appears that several years ago, we decided to abdicate that responsibility. So someone has to do it.  Enter – the government of the United States. Back as far as President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression, the government began handing our support to needy people. This practice has grown ever since.  The current health care reform emphasis is simply an extension of this.

So what would keep the church from being able to fulfill these responsibilities?

  • Most people are not a part of a local church, therefore we are not even in relationship with them.  This responsibility involves way more than just giving money.
  • Most people who do go to church do not give money to the church so there is nothing to share with the poor. We spend everything we get trying to keep the doors opened.
  • Most Christians simply won’t accept the responsibility. They are more concerned about democracy that they are about obedience to Scripture. So we hand the job over to the government. Yet many complain when it’s not done their way.

This essence of this problem is not political. It is spiritual. We won’t change it by voting. We will only change it by doing what God told us to do.

I think God had a better plan.

Proverbs 19:17 When you help the poor you are lending to the Lord–and he pays wonderful interest on your loan!

1 John 3:17 But if someone who is supposed to be a Christian has money enough to live well, and sees a brother in need, and won’t help him–how can God’s love be within him?

Proverbs 14:31 Anyone who oppresses the poor is insulting God who made them. To help the poor is to honor God.

James 1:27 The Christian who is pure and without fault, from God the Father’s point of view, is the one who takes care of orphans and widows, and who remains true to the Lord–not soiled and dirtied by his contacts with the world.

Psalms 82:4 Rescue the poor and helpless from the grasp of evil men.

1 Timothy 6:18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give happily to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them.

Luke 3:11 “If you have two coats,” he replied, “give one to the poor. If you have extra food, give it away to those who are hungry.”

2 Corinthians 9:9 It is as the Scriptures say: “The godly man gives generously to the poor. His good deeds will be an honor to him forever.”

Isaiah 58:7 I want you to share your food with the hungry and bring right into your own homes those who are helpless, poor, and destitute. Clothe those who are cold, and don’t hide from relatives who need your help.

Isaiah 58:10 “Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day.

Matthew 25: 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,you were doing it to me!’

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

take care of your body

On Sunday, Rich Whitter delivered a great message at Cross Community about how God has decided to making his living place within us, how we are the temple of God. We were reminded that God no longer lives in houses made by human hands (Acts 7:48). He now lives in us. I’ve been thinking about that ever since. He told us that we are the temple of the Living God.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I went to some meetings for pastors. We were visiting an unnamed city and state, but rest assured, the culture was a bit different that what we are currently accustomed to.  Our current location emphasizes, sometimes to a fault, physical appearance. I was taken aback by the number of overweight people present. I don’t mean to be cruel, but the average weight of the people in this group was well over average. Again, these were pastors and leaders. Without being too judgmental, I think this may reveal several problems. At least many people perceive this to be a problem. I don’t like it when people characterize Christ followers and especially pastors as lazy, fried chicken eaters. We may really be hindering our effectiveness in a world that is so health-conscious.

While some people have health issues that prevent them from losing weight, many people lack the discipline it takes to be healthy.

We are the temple of God, shouldn’t we take care of ourselves? We want to feel good and be strong and have good health because we are God’s house. We want to live long lives so we can accomplish more for God. Doesn’t it make sense that we should stay in some kind of reasonable physical shape? We can glorify God more through our bodies if they are healthy.

You only have one body – take care of it, because it belongs to God.

i go to church

I make a living in the church, actually through the church. Worship services usually happen in the church but they are only a part of what we do. I went to church before I was paid to go and should I lose my job in ministry, I would keep going to church.

I usually emphasize a missional expression of ministry, or carrying out in our culture what Christ tells us in the church. But today I want to discuss what I get out of worship services. In addition to the usual (worship, prayer, learning more about God, etc.), I find many personal benefits to regularly attending worship gatherings.  These things have nothing to do with my being a pastor. They have everything to do with me going to church services.

Here are some of the benefits I get out of church:

I encourage others at church. Many people don’t believe it, but their very appearance in a church service is an encouragement to other people. Obviously if you are not there, they will not get that encouragement. So I go.

I get to experience “the moment”. God’s Spirit works in unique ways while His people are gathered in a group. That moment cannot be recaptured or transferred. If I miss it, I just miss it. There is power in spontaneity. God might tell me to say something or do something for someone “right now”. If I’m not there, I will miss the spontaneous.

I get to use my gifts that are intended for worship gatherings. The Bible is clear that some of the talents given to people are given for the purpose of building up others while at worship. If I don’t go to church, I cannot use those gifts anywhere else.

I am made aware of the right-now needs of my church family. A simple look in the eye can inform you of someone who is hurting or frightened or angry. I can respond, on the spot, to that need. If I am not at church, I won’t even know of the need. So I go.

My fellow leaders speak into my life. Messages or sermons or teachings are the best counsel and advice that a pastor can offer. Watching on the Internet or on television or listening online is great, but it is not the same as in person. D. L. Moody (in the late 1800’s) said, “The difference between listening to a radio sermon and going to church…is almost like the difference between calling your girl on the phone and spending an evening with her.”

I am “in the know” with the immediate direction of our church. I don’t want to hear through the grapevine about something special that God is doing or a change that is taking place. I want to see and hear it first-hand.

I am able fulfill my responsibility as a member of my church. Among our responsibilities are: prayer for others when they need it, responding to crisis at the moment, providing support when it is needed, and participating in the forward movement of the church. If I am somewhere else, none of this can happen…until maybe later. Sometimes, later is too late.

These things cannot happen outside of the church, so I go. Often. I love going to church and my life would be incomplete without it. So I go. Whether or not I am a pastor, I go to church.

So before you decide to skip church, or before you allow something else to push your church service to the back burner, please know that your attendance and involvement is important.

Don’t miss something important. Go to church.

How about you? Why do you go or not go to church?

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.