Friday, May 30, 2014

The necessity of challenge ...

"Daddy, daddy, look at this!"

"Momma, watch what I can do, watch me!"

Come the cries from children who then do the most simple of things as if they had just completed the most complex and challenging feat known to humankind. We respond with great praise, applause, and congratulations, which spurs the children on to attempt even more.

Children respond to the encouragement of their parents, especially to the challenges proffered by moms and dads.

Like the child tottering on two feet as mom helps them to stand, then steps away and challenges them to walk toward her. Those first wobbly steps soon follow.

Like the child who is terrified that dad has taken off the training wheels, but he's running alongside, holding onto the little bicycle. Or at least he was ... he let go! And Johnny discovers he really can ride solo.

Challenge is the greatest of all encouragements, and it's those challenges that parents provide in our early years that help us to propel forward in life and make our way into it. We grow up from those challenges.

God does the same with us. Like the loving Parent He is, He helps us to develop and grow up in Christ by challenging us in just the right way. He doesn't abandon us, He's always just a step away if we need Him, or in case we're about to fall. But He puts us in situations that challenge us to first crawl, then stand, then walk, and then run the race before us, challenging us to become more and more like His Son, Jesus.

There's a reason for the challenges in your life ...

"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing," James 1:2-4.

"So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold --- though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world," 1 Peter 1:6-7.

"That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!" 2 Corinthians 4:16-17.

How are you responding to the challenges God places or allows in your life? Are you trusting Him, as a perfect parent, to use these challenges to grow you up in Christ?


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Just a friendly reminder ...

Today, I just wanted to share a friendly reminder:

The church you lead, it's not your church.

The church you are a member of, it's not your church.

It's not the pastor's church ...

It's not the elder board's church ...

It's not your parents church ...

It's not Aunt Martha's church or Uncle Bob's church ...

It's not the community's church ...

It's not the town's church ...

It's not the denomination's church ...


"Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything," Colossians 1:18.

This morning, I was reviewing three churches: one that is dead, one in the midst of death throes but can be revived, and one with serious red flags that it's entering into the process of dying.

A key reason for this in all three churches is because the leadership treated these churches as if it was their own little fiefdom to rule over as they please. The pastor of the dead church is looking back with regret.

"I should have changed 20 years ago," is what he says about the dead church he still calls himself pastor of.

"Well, at least he's been feeding the flock," said one pastor to that comment.

No he hasn't. Death is not the result of the body of Christ who is being taught, and is living out, the truth of God's Word.

But when leaders stop leading people in following Christ, yet remain in office for a protracted period of time, that church will die. That's because they are treating it like it's their own church.

But it isn't.

The church is the body of Christ, and it belongs to Him.

Treat it like it's His.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The important thing about leadership they didn't tell you in seminary - Part 1

After years of study, you've earned a sheep skin and, some time along the way, a church has ordained you. You've been educated and set aside to be a leader in the church. But there's something important that they probably failed to tell you in seminary that you're about to learn very quickly by experience.

What is that important, left out tidbit?

It's this: Serving and leading others will always result in push-back and tension.


There will always be someone like the little five-year-old girl who was having one of those trouble-filled days with her mother. They spent the day arguing back and forth with each other. Finally, the mom had enough.

"Jenny, go sit in the corner, right now!" ordered the exasperated mom. "Don't get up until I tell you to!"

Jenny went to the corner and sat down. In a few minutes she called back, "Mom, I am sitting down on the outside, but I am standing up on the inside!"

As a spiritual leader, there will always be someone standing up "on the inside" against what you teach, if not literally standing in your face! That's because as a spiritual leader, you're trying to motivate others to change, to become more like Christ. Whenever you attempt to move people toward change, you will have some level of resistance, even if that change is completely in their best interest.

In this case, you can't order them to the corner. But it's also important you don't retreat. You need to continue to love them, pray for them, and be steadfast in teaching the truth, even in the face of push-back or the tension it may cause. One of four things will likely be the outcome: 1) They will eventually give way to the truth and move toward change, or 2) they will remain obstinate about changing, but just tune you out and not argue with you, or 3) they will make it a fight against what you teach, and you'll have to directly address their opposition, or 4) they will go somewhere else.

Not even Jesus could please everyone, even He had those who stood up on the inside and the outside against Him. But Jesus didn't change His message, but instead. He remained steadfast because of this: "I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will," John 5:30.

As a leader in the church, you need to focus on carrying out the will of the One who sent you, and let God handle the outcome in the lives of others.

Ministry is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, and it will take the work of the Holy Spirit to overcome the push-back people often have to the Word of God. It will take loving others with the love of Christ to work through the tension caused by the challenge to change. And it will take a life of constant prayer to have the wisdom and strength to wade through such resistance.

They probably didn't tell you this in seminary.

Welcome to the ministry!


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How do you approach God?

Have you ever been so poor that, when being invited to a friend's home for dinner, you couldn't afford to bring anything to contribute to the meal or a gift for your hosts?

It's an awkward feeling. A lot of false guilt flows at times like that. Your hosts invited you as their guests, they didn't require you to bring something. But you were probably raised with the idea that its "the polite thing to do" to bring something when invited to someone's home for dinner. Or, at least, offer to.

But here's the thing: even when you're too poor to bring something to give, you have something to give! You always have something available to offer, such as ...


Your company.

Your friendship.

Your gratitude.

Your appreciation.

Your love.

Those are valuable gifts to give, so you never really go empty-handed.

In Exodus 34, God and Moses are having a conversation. In the last sentence of verse 20, God says to Moses, "No one may appear before me without an offering."

Yes, we no longer live by the Old Covenant, but it's still a good idea to bring something to offer when you come before God. Not the sacrifice of an animal or a grain offering, but things like this ...


Your company.

Your praise.

Your worship.

Your gratitude.

Your trust.

Your adoration.

Your love.

We never have to come before God empty-handed, but often the only thing we approach Him with is our lists of requests. We can, and should, do better than that.

"Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him ... Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God," Psalm 95:2, 6.

"Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name," Hebrews 13:15.

How do you approach God? Do you make it a time all about yourself and your requests? Or do you offer Him something you have available to give? How could bringing Him your praise enhance the time you spend with Him?


Monday, May 26, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: A flawed book worth reading

Have you ever read a good book that drove you crazy because of a flawed writing style?

I have. In fact, I just finished reading one I'm going to recommend to you in spite of the style flaws in it.

The book is "The Extraordinary Fool" by Kevin Adams (published by Zondervan). This is a personal story of a man who had succeeded as far as the world is concerned. Living in a million-dollar home, married to a woman he loves, with children he loves, and succeeding in building his own business is the American dream that Adams achieved, and it was great!

Until it all came crashing down.

Well, the marriage and family survived, but the business and the "rewards" of financial success quickly came tumbling down for Adams. But we've all read stories like that. We've also read stories about how faith brought people through such hard times.

But there is something important that makes Adams' story different.

Adams didn't just trust God to bring him through hard times, he did more than that. He learned how to live by faith. Not faith for hard times. Not faith for the moment. But how to LIVE by faith ala George Muller style. About that, he writes:

"George Muller made it simple. By trading his commitment to Christianity for an absolute surrender to Christ, he left me with a challenge: learn to live by absolute faith --- foolishly so --- and let the answers be the answers, unembellished by my own desires or the opinions of others."

That's very different, and not very common today.

Because this is a story about really LIVING by faith and being fully surrendered to Christ, you'll find golden nuggets of insight strewn throughout the book. That's what makes this book worth buying and reading. But be forewarned, living by faith is so much more than what most people think that many readers will likely find themselves initially disagreeing with some of the decisions Adams made.

And that's the significance of this book!

The average Christian thinks they're living by faith, but more often than not they are living "practically" and "rationally." Living by faith will shake that up and turn things upside down. It did for Adams, and it does for those who make a real decision to follow Christ above all else, regardless of how impractical and irrational that may appear to be.

Now for my problem with the book, which is Adams' style of writing. There are a few flaws with how he writes that, at times, makes the book difficult.

First, in what seems to be an effort to keep the story flowing, I think Adams sometimes tells his story so fast that he leaves out some pertinent details. There were times when I didn't fully understand how Adams was approaching challenges by faith because he didn't provide enough details so the reader could fully understand.

What really drove me nuts was that Adams tries so hard to be poetic and eloquent with his choice of words that sometimes he just doesn't make sense. There was more than one occasion where I had to go back and re-read a sentence or paragraph and still didn't fully get what he was trying to communicate.

I chalk up these writing style issues to the fact that this is Adams' first book. I believe Adams is probably a diamond in the rough as an author. He certainly demonstrated in "The Extravagant Fool" that he has some brilliant, God-given insights worth sharing, and he can improve his writing style by slowing down just a little, providing a little more detail, and focusing on communicating a little more plainly so he can be more clearly understood.

I hope you don't let some style issues keep you from buying and reading this book. The content is worth absorbing and being challenged by, and you may just discover a new writer you would like to follow. I know I'm curious to see where Adams goes from here as an author.


I received this book free from HarperCollins Christian Publishing as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, May 23, 2014

If your life isn't full of joy, this could be why ...

Why do we put people on pedestals? Why do we accumulate things? Why do we hoard our money for ourselves? Why do we exalt recreation and luxury? Why are we always chasing bigger and "better"?

We fail to understand the difference between quality of life and comfort of life. The American mindset is a comfortable life is quality of life, but that's a different kind of living than what Jesus said would bring a rich joy to our lives.

And make no mistake about it, Jesus would like you to have a phenomenal quality of life ...

"The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life," John 10:10.

BUT, having the quality of life that Jesus wants to provide you doesn't come through pursuing comfort of life. Instead, it looks like this ...

"Then he said to the crowd, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me," Luke 9:23.

So what are you really pursuing: quality of life the Jesus way, or comfort of life your way?


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Living the undeveloped life ...

As a kid, did you ever have a teacher who had the habit of asking a lot of questions and randomly calling on students for answers?

Yeah, I did, too.

So you've probably also experienced that time when the teacher asks something you have no idea about. As the teacher begins to call on students for answers, you're panicking inside and saying to yourself, "Please don't call on me! Please don't call on me! Please don't call on me!"

That's when the teacher calls on you ...

A lot of us are happier when we can just fade into the background, when we can observe without being noticed, certainly without being singled out.

That's how a lot of us "do church" together.

We're willing to sit in, and we might even be interested in what's going on, but we don't want to be called on. We don't want anyone to see what we really don't know, what we really don't understand, or just how ignorant we are when it comes to the Bible or the truth about following Jesus.

Here's the problem with that: just sitting in leaves you undeveloped.

Being a disciple --- one who is a student or learner of Jesus --- requires engagement in order to develop.

"As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend," Proverbs 27:17.

As a Christian, are you stagnating or regressing spiritually because you're just sitting in? Or are you making yourself vulnerable so you can develop as a disciple?


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Are you living like a guinea pig on a wheel?

All of us live as if we're addicts, just in different ways.

Let me give you an example.

Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, offers this simple description for addiction: "When we separate desire from its end, the action gets caught up in its own loop and insists on repeating itself."

All of us need purpose for living, and we'll chase all kinds of desires to try to find something that fills the emptiness in our purposeless lives. The problem is, when those desires don't fulfill, we attempt to separate those desires from the disappointing end result but keep on chasing the same empty desires, creating a loop of pursuing the desires and failing to find purpose, wholeness, and a fulfilling life.

There's only one way to break this cycle, and that is to come to terms with the truth that Christ alone can bring purpose and fulfillment to our lives. We'll continue loops of meaningless striving, like a guinea pig running on a wheel, until we come to the place where we understand that Christ Himself is enough. He is sufficient for all we need because He is our purpose!

"And in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority," Colossians 2:10 (NASB).

"... Everything was created through him and for him," Colossians 1:16b.

We have a single purpose for existing, which is to worship, glorify, and enjoy God, and there's only one way to restore that purpose to our lives ...

"Jesus told him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me'," John 14:6.

Have you discovered your purpose in Christ? Or are you still in a vain loop of chasing other desires?


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sometimes, you shouldn't sing ...

Scrolling through my Facebook timeline, this post stopped me:

"I want to sing but other patient is in deep sleep."

The person posting this is a young lady being treated in a hospital for a very serious illness. Even in the midst of such a trying time, she was stirred to sing. She had the freedom to do so. But she noted the other patient in the room was sleeping and she understood singing would disturb her roommate's rest.

Sometimes, you shouldn't sing.

Some would say this young lady, with her health imperiled, should be able to sing if she wanted, if it would lift her spirits in her trying situation. But this patient understood that, although she had the freedom to sing, she took note of the need of the other person in the room, and understood even during life's most difficult moments, life is still not all about ourselves.

The underlying biblical principle this young lady was demonstrating was this: "For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don't use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love," Galatians 5:13.

There are times when we shouldn't sing.

Even though singing is beautiful and can even cause our spirits to soar, we're not always the only one in the room, in the house, in the car, in the office, in the church, in this world. And we do need to take note of their needs before freely doing whatever makes us happy, or as the Apostle Paul wrote, "... use your freedom to serve one another in love."

Are you willing to sometimes reign in your own freedom for the best interests of others? Do you consider the needs of others around you, or do you do whatever you want without consideration of others? How can you better serve others in love?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The secret is out. Do you want to know it?

If I were forced to place a wager on what the single most asked question in human history is, I'd bet it all on three letters comprising a single-word question: "Why?"

But there's another question close behind it: "What is God's will for me?"

That question seems to perpetually perplex the faithful, as there is no shortage of Christians asking it.

But guess what ... the Bible actually tells us in blunt language what God's will for us is. The secret is out! Do you want to know it? If so, check out these three verses ...

"God's will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin," 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

"Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus," 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

"It is God's will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you," 1 Peter 2:15.

There are many other verses that touch upon God's will regarding us, but in these verses, the apostles Paul and Peter get straight to the point. They write it so plainly we can't miss it.

God's will for us is that we be holy so that we're capable of having a relationship with Him. God's will is that we're always grateful, because we can't have the right kind of relationship with Him without this kind of attitude. And God's will is that we live such a holy, grateful life that it would make the accusations the world makes about us look as foolish as they are.

There you have it. That's God's will for you. Now that you know, what are you going to do? Are you having a hard time wrapping your mind around this whole "God's will" thing? Let me give you one last verse:

"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect," Romans 12:2.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

God does the heavy lifting ...

My friend Mark complained all day.

Even though he griped, I knew he really didn't want to be anywhere else.

I was moving into a different place, and he was the one friend who showed up to help me lug all my stuff up to my second floor apartment.

Sure he groused through the carrying in of all the furniture. And he got louder, although more humorous, when it came time to carry all the heavy boxes of books up the stairs.

When we were done, we laughed about it together. He came and did the heavy lifting with me because he's a real friend.

That's what friends do. They show up and do the heavy lifting with you.

That fact came to mind as I read Isaiah 30:23a: "Then the Lord will bless you with rain at planting time ..."

God walks with us through life, not only helping us with the heavy lifting, but doing only what He can do. What good is all the work of preparing the soil and planting without the rain?

But God has to bring the rain. No one else can.

Like two friends working together, God brings about the produce of our efforts in life. He grabs the heavy end and helps us achieve something that could be done only with His help.

He does that because He's that kind of friend.

"For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends with God," Romans 5:10-11.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Keeping people OUT of your marriage ...

Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man, a woman, and God. Those are the only three people in the marriage covenant, yet by the way some people talk to others about their spouses, you would think marriages are a family or community event.

It's true the Bible says there's wisdom in many counselors, but we need to have wisdom about what that means. It's not uncommon to see women routinely tell the most intimate details about their marriage to their girlfriends, only to get a broad array of counsel, much of which isn't biblical, or godly, or wise. It's also not uncommon for men to complain about their wives to their buddies, again only to get some counsel that would hurt a man's relationship with his wife if he actually followed such advice.

The problem is, so many people invite so many others into their marriage that they do harm their covenant relationship because they listen to people give bad advice about a relationship that is none of their business.

And let's be clear, your marriage is not the business of other people, it is between you, your spouse, and God. Any other people you may speak to about your marriage should be carefully chosen, and the counsel you seek should also be carefully selected and applied only with godly wisdom. To do less will invite influences into your marriage that could harm it. That's why God designed it to be a covenant of just three people, not a covenant for a family, extended family, friends, co-workers, or people in your small group Bible study.

When you really have to talk to someone about your marriage, start with your spouse and God. If there is a real reason to go beyond that, limit it to the most godly and trustworthy person you know. Don't make the mistake of thinking your marriage is a reality show to be participated in and voted on by many, or to be used as a form of entertainment for others. Thinking that way could be a quick audition for "Divorce Court."


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Is obedience important?

If you want God's blessing on and in your life, you have to obey Him.

Bil Keane, creator of the Family Circus cartoon strip, told of a time when he was penciling one of his cartoons and his son Jeffy asked, "Daddy, how do you know what to draw?"

"God tells me," Keane answered.

Jeffy responded, "Then why do you keep erasing parts of it?"

We tend to edit what God tells us in His word, erasing the parts we don't like, and then wonder why God doesn't bless us. Jesus spoke about this issue ...

"So why do you keep calling me 'Lord, Lord!' when you don't do what I say? I will show you what it's like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears but doesn't obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins," Luke 6:46-49.

Do you keep erasing parts of God's message? Or are you building a life on the firm foundation of both listening to and obeying what He says?


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: A moving story worth reading ...

I've said several times that everyone has a story, but not every story should become a book.

Tricia Lott Williford has a story, and fortunately it has become a book, one I think you will be blessed by reading.

"And Life Comes Back" (published by WaterBrook Press) tells the very personal story of Williford enduring the trauma of unexpectedly, and very suddenly, losing her husband. One minute he's the picture of health, a loving husband in a loving marriage, and a wonderful father of two young and energetic boys, and then just a few hours later he dies on his bedroom floor.

What a tragic story!

However, don't think this is a long, drawn out story that just attempts to milk emotion from you. It's very different than that. The prologue captured my attention, and I was in tears by the end of chapter one. Rest assured this story will definitely pull on your emotions, but in a good way.

The first half of the book delights the reader with a beautiful picture of what a marriage filled with love between two imperfect people can be like. You can identify with both the husband and the wife, and connect with similar experiences and challenges. And then you will be rocked by a poignant picture of heartbreaking loss that forever tears apart a marriage so many readers would love to emulate.

The only weak moment in the book is the sudden shift about midway through when the author shares that not every moment in the marriage was picture perfect, and begins to move the reader into the aftermath of loss. It's weak only because the reader goes from a flowing love story to seeing some of the hardness without a transition. Beyond that, the story continues to work out as the writer shares how life begins to come back to her, one agonizing day at a time.

Williford is a gifted wordsmith. The story flows so smoothly, so effortlessly, and so interestingly, that there's hardly a spare, unneeded word. One unfolding story is unveiled through multiple smaller stories, each of which will hold your interest through the myriad ways you can relate to the many things that make up life that we tend to think so little of until its too late.

"And Life Comes Back" is also a story of faith. The mutual faith of a loving couple living for Christ together, and the faith of a widow who has to discover how to live again when her life companion is wrenched from her life.

This book will move you, perhaps challenge you, and certainly inspire you because it's just one of those beautiful stories that should be told.

And read.


I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

Setting the right goal ...

The philosophy of the positive-thinking, motivational speaker crowd has so infiltrated the church we've adopted a lot of their platitudes and language.

For example, a lot of preachers talk about being "winners."

Wow! That's one word I wish church leaders would stop using in most settings. If some people are "winners," then there must be "losers." Who are the losers? What people did Jesus call "winners" and who did he label as "losers"?

The use of these words paint the wrong picture of what God calls us to accomplish and for the goal He has set for us.

It reminds me of a story about a youth minister who spoke about attending a Special Olympics event where handicapped children competed and demonstrated great dedication and enthusiasm. One of the events was the 220-yard dash. Contestants lined up at the starting line, and at the signal, started running as fast as they could. A boy by the name of Andrew quickly took the lead and soon was about 50 yards ahead of everyone else. As he approached the final turn he looked back and saw that his best friend had fallen and hurt himself on the track. Andrew stopped and looked at the finish line, then he looked back at his friend. People were yelling, "Run, Andrew, run!" But he didn't. He went back to his friend, helped him up and brushed him off, and hand-in-hand they crossed the finish line together dead last.

But as they crossed the finish line, the crowd cheered wildly. That's because there are some things more important than being a "winner."

One of those things is love. In fact, the Apostle Paul says that was his goal for his teaching ...

"The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith," 1 Timothy 1:5.

Paul longed for people to know Christ. When people surrender their lives to Jesus by faith, the Spirit of God purifies our hearts and cleanses our consciences. The result is being like the One we now serve, who IS love. Love is the end goal!

That sure beats trying to be a "winner."

What's your end goal?


Monday, May 12, 2014

Mix it up, because it all matters ...

We can be quick to minimize our means of serving others. We're fast to find the least we can do and then take credit for having done something, even when we could have done so much more.

But with that said, sometimes it is the "little" things that do make big differences.

There's a barista at the local Starbucks who, for the past eight months, I have never seen smile. Not one time. Not even slightly.

She usually doesn't work the counter taking orders, but last week she did, which meant I had the opportunity to interact with her. When I stepped up to the counter and saw her, I immediately made it a mission to see if I could possibly motivate a smile from her. After she took my order and handed me my coffee, I thanked her ... somewhat profusely.

That's when it happened.

She smiled!

It was very quick, leaving her face immediately after displaying itself, but it was there.

Mini mission accomplished!

I don't know anyone who doesn't feel just a little better when someone has done something that motivates them to smile. And if you've never once smiled in public for months, I can't help but think even a flash of a smile did something good inside.

It probably didn't change her life, but it probably added something to it, if at least in that single moment.

Those things do matter.

Little things and big things matter.

We can't change the world every day, but we can have an effect on it. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small. Use all the ways available to you. Mix it up. If you can do something big, costly, and risky, do it! If you have a small opportunity in front of you, take it!

Mix it up, because it all matters!

And the compilation of those big and little things are used by God to help change lives.

So at the very least, see if you can cause someone to smile today.


Friday, May 9, 2014

How hypocrisy in our approach to ministry fries pastors ...

More than 1,500 pastors quit the ministry every month.

They're fried!

They've been overworked. They've had a ridiculous amount of unreasonable expectations piled upon them. Often they were expected to do the majority of the work of the church themselves. They were pushed more than a person should be, and they finally quit.

We can't continue to do that.

We talk about pastors having to delegate to other staff, but a lot of churches don't have "other staff." We talk about the ministry of all believers, and how we all have to roll up our sleeves and shoulder the responsibility of ministry.

But then we do this ...

When we talk about men's ministry, we insist the pastor must also be involved (I just finished reading a book about how to start a men's ministry, which insisted on the pastor being involved --- most such books insist on this) ...

When we talk about women's ministry, we talk about the pastor must provide his support ...

When we talk about the ministry of mission, we insist the pastor be involved ...

When we talk about small groups, we talk about the pastor must provide some leadership ...

When we talk about Christian education, we talk about how the pastor must provide his enthusiastic support ...

Do you see the trend here?

We claim to understand the fact that we expect far too much from a single man, yet when we describe how to build any ministry within the church we still insist that it must have some involvement and some direct support of the pastor himself!

We cannot have it both ways!

It does not have to be true that the pastor has to be directly involved in every ministry in the church. Other staff, as well as elders, deacons, and other leaders in the church can be given responsibility for areas of ministry, and that responsibility can be left with them. Yes, the pastor has to have an awareness of what's going on with all the ministries, and may need to sign off on their mission and strategy, but the real work of ministries in the church can --- and should! --- be carried out by many other people other than the pastor.

Many people will say that it is necessary that the pastor at least publicly demonstrate his support for all of the ministries of the church. While it is possible for that to be done in simple ways that don't overwhelm a pastor, it cannot be reasonably expected that the pastor be the "salesman" and driving force for promoting and/or leading each ministry. If every ministry requires the voice of the pastor in order to recruit and be effective, that church has built its reliance upon a single man. Other leaders need to have as much credibility as the pastor, especially those men serving as elders.

If we continue to stack the initial success of all the church does onto the shoulders of pastors, we'll continue to misuse, abuse, and fry them and they will continue to leave the church in droves.

Is your church depending too much on your pastor? How can other leaders step up and take real responsibility for leadership within the church? Does your church really practice the concept of the "ministry of all believers?" If your pastor wasn't doing the promoting, how successful would the ministries in your church be? What are YOU doing to serve in a ministry and directly contribute to its success?


Thursday, May 8, 2014

How to do ministry better in the 21st century ...

Some guys get loud --- even downright rude --- in trying to defend their common practice of looking to business leaders and business models to inform them on how to better do ministry.

They're fast about registering for the conferences featuring business celebrities and quick to buy and intellectually devour their books. They read their email newsletters over breakfast, and listen to their podcasts during their daily run.

But they're very slow to open their Bibles for examples of how to do ministry well in the 21st century.

Yet, we find in the pages of the New Testament some insight and wisdom from the greatest church planter and evangelist the world has known: the Apostle Paul.

How did Paul make the impact that he did? He tells us ...

"When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn't use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God's secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness --- timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God," 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

You won't hear business celebrities giving church leaders that kind of leadership advice; in fact, what they have to say is usually the opposite of Paul's wise words to us.

Maybe your ministry in the 21st century could be improved by dropping the influence of business gurus and, instead, giving some attention to Paul's example. You certainly won't do worse by following his lead. And if you achieved half of what he did by approaching ministry the way he did, I don't think you would be the least bit unhappy.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Worst book I've read on men's ministry ...

"Building A Ministry Of Spiritual Mentoring" by Jim Grassi (published by Thomas Nelson) is the worst book I've read on the subject of building a men's ministry.

With that clear statement made, I'm not implying there aren't some good ideas in the book. But let me share with you some of the things I found very wrong with this book.

Let's start with the title. There's a real and distinct difference between mentoring and discipling, which the author acknowledges, but then states he will use the terms interchangeably in the book. Bad decision. There are times where he's really talking about mentoring, but other times he's clearly meaning discipleship, but the reader can become confused by the choice of words. I wonder if the author didn't sometimes become confused himself, because sometimes he would write something like "mentoring (discipling)" to provide clarification, which was something he was supposed to not have to do based on his claim the words could clearly be used interchangeably.

The biggest issue I have with this book is if someone applied the content of what they read, they could put together a classic men's ministry program, most of which I have seen fail. The author almost completely fails at teaching that ministry is first a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, and "successful" ministry must be birthed from significant time in and guidance from the Word of God, significant time in and reliance upon prayer, and a whole-hearted reliance on the Holy Spirit. Instead, the author focuses most of his writing about developing something that is heavily programmatic and event driven, coming from a ministry formula that is more a business model than a spiritual approach to ministry.

The book contains significant repetition of content with the writer driving home again and again the need to assess, plan, and deploy resources mostly to achieve successful programs or events. Lots of buzzwords are tossed about, and there's even a classic referral to the movie "Braveheart," as if it's unimaginable to talk of men's ministry without mentioning this Mel Gibson movie.

The ideas in this book are not communicated concisely or even comprehensively, but are scattered throughout the paperback. And the content itself is basic, ordinary information about the need to reach men, and how to pull off a successful program. But nothing of significance is offered as a cutting edge and focused philosophy of ministry to men, or a theology of ministry, or putting the reader in the right spiritual frame of mind to effectively move them into the nuts and bolts of the steps for developing a dynamic ministry to men.

The physical book itself is somewhat confusing. On the cover is the phrase, "A Romans 12 Disciple" and there's the slightest of mentions to this book being a part of a series of books. A page at the end of the book refers to three other books in a series, but the reader doesn't have any real information about this being one book in a series that works together. Further issues include a boring cover, odd chapter sub-headings such as "Assessment" and "Blueprint" that are not explained to the reader, we just have to guess what the purpose of that section in the chapter is for.

Even the very brief Bible studies located at the end of each chapter often didn't make sense to me, as I often found the topic didn't directly or strongly relate to the content of the chapter.

There are some good books out there on the topic of why there is a need for ministry to men, and how to build such a ministry and accomplish it well. This is not one of them.


I received this book free from HarperCollins Christian Publishing as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

This might help you ...

As we have been sharing the vision and mission of the Scott Free Clinic, there's just one point some folks don't seem to realize: this is not a local ministry!

Even though we haven't launched the clinic yet, we are already connecting with people locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.

The bulk of the clinical pastoral counseling will be done locally, although some (on a case-by-case basis) can be done by distance. Coaching, some Pastor Care, and consulting can be done by distance, and we anticipate I will be doing some traveling, especially for consulting and training with churches. So as you consider and pray about this ministry, don't think of it in terms of what we offer from our headquarters because we'll be serving many people far from our base of operations.

With that said, we haven't launched the clinic yet because while demand for the services grows on a daily basis, we don't have the funds to launch. You could probably think of at least 10 people who could benefit strongly from the services that will be provided by the clinic, but could you think of at least five people you could ask to pray for this ministry? Could you think of at least two or three people you could ask to consider giving to this ministry to help us be able to provide these critical services to people in need?

We need your help!

Below is a video that tells you much more about the Scott Free Clinic. Please feel free to share this post with as many people as possible to help us spread the vision for this ministry, and share our needs as well. You can also explore our website at

Thank you, and God bless you!


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The blonde who was stopping traffic ...

I'm sitting in Starbucks trying to get some work done. As I'm busy thinking, I glance out the window and see a young man in a car stop short, and sit there looking at something. I notice two other fellows stop and look in the same direction.

What were they looking at?

Along the front of the coffee shop comes along a young, tall blonde female dressed in skin tight leggings, a cropped top, and high heels, quite obviously enjoying the attention she's getting from the men outside. When she enters Starbucks, I watch the people inside and observe all the men lock eyes upon this young woman as she makes her way to the counter. Most don't take their eyes off her until she leaves with coffee in hand.

Many of us are visual creatures, but men tend to be more so than women. It was very nearly humorous, but literally quite sad the behavior of most of the men who observed this young woman. I think there's little doubt that she chose to dress in such a way as to capture attention, but the visual of a beautiful blonde certainly resulted in stopped cars and near adolescent behavior from grown men.

Visuals get our attention!

Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus taught us to live in such a way that our devotion to God visually demonstrates to people the beauty of a life transformed?

"In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father," Matthew 5:16.

Jesus lived such a beautiful life that He messed up traffic when entering a city. Crowds would follow Him, people packed houses He visited. They were enraptured not just with what they heard from Him, but what they saw from Him. His life outwardly demonstrated the love, grace, and glory of God, and that captured people's attention!

Does your life do that?

With Christ in you, it can!

And that's how Jesus wants us to live. He wants the outward expression of our lives to pierce through our environments and stand out, like a light that cannot be hidden but draws the attention of people all around us. He wants people to be able to see the beauty of Him in us!

Is that what they see in you?


Monday, May 5, 2014

Do you really want to die like an amoeba?

John Ortberg wrote the following in his book, "If You Want To Walk On Water, You've Got To Get Out Of The Boat":

"Too much comfort is dangerous. Literally.

"Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, did an experiment some time ago that involved introducing an amoeba into a perfectly stress-free environment: ideal temperature, optimal concentration of moisture, constant food supply. The amoeba had an environment to which it had to make no adjustment whatsoever.

"So you would guess this was one happy little amoeba. Whatever it is that gives amoebas ulcers and high blood pressure was gone.

"Yet, oddly enough, it died.

"Apparently there is something about all living creatures, even amoebas, that demands challenge. We require change, adaptation and challenge the way we require food and air. Comfort alone will kill us."

There are a lot of people who, like an amoeba, would wither away if it wasn't for circumstances demanding change in their lives. Frank Tyger once wrote, "Some people would do anything to be able to do nothing." That temptation to be lazy isn't a healthy urge.

But making some changes just because your circumstances have reached such a compelling influence is half-hearted improvement, it's change by compulsion rather than by choosing to progress your life because you can be better and do better.

The Apostle Paul helps us understand there is a reason for us to embrace change, and that reason has a name: Jesus Christ ...

"Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God --- truly righteous and holy," Ephesians 4:21-24.

Many of us make occasional changes when we have to, but Paul gives us a reason to make changes because we want to. Motivated by what Christ has done for us, we can partner with the Holy Spirit to become like Jesus. We can allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds ("... let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes ..."), and we can throw off our old nature and put on a new nature, one "... created to be like God --- truly righteous and holy." Part of what that looks like is described in the remainder of the chapter in Ephesians 4, take some time to read it for yourself.

If you haven't reached that place where you're truly righteous and holy, then there's plenty of change to accomplish. Will you embrace it and and choose to pursue such change? Or will you lounge as you are until circumstances put you in situations where you must make some changes?


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Leaders need to have management skills ...

There's a ton of junk being passed off as leadership wisdom in conferences pastors and other church leaders attend. One of the biggest falsehoods so easily embraced and bounced around social media is the difference between leadership and management, with a condescending, almost insulting view of the work of managing.

But the truth be told, the BEST leaders usually have strong management skills, or they partner with someone who does in order to be an effective leader.

Let me give you a very real example. I'm thinking of a specific pastor and church I know, but this pastor and church are multiplied by several other pastors I know just like him. This pastor could be a good leader, but he allows his lack of good management skills to hurt his leadership.

This pastor is proficient at coming up with good ideas, and with collaborating with others in developing ideas and creating plans. But this pastor is terrible at implementing plans and turning them into successful realities. In fact, his ministry career is the story of regularly coming up with good ideas with his team, but almost always failing at them.

These failures usually result from a couple reasons. One reason is that, after building a vision and developing a plan, he continues to allow input so broad --- and continued addition of ideas after a plan has been developed --- that what is finally attempted is far afield from what was initially decided upon and planned. The other reason things fail is that when he does stick to a plan, he micromanages the new idea to death ... literally. He doesn't allow anything to happen without him being directly involved, which means nothing exceeds his level of mediocre management. So things stall, then crash to a fiery death. Well, maybe not that melodramatic! The new ideas, processes, or programs usually just languish for lack of good management for a few years until it's decided something new needs to be tried.

There are a lot of pastors out there who are building a ministry career of "launch and crash" because they're told management is not leadership and they should be out there leading, "casting vision," and creating leaders, not the lowly work of managing.

But a vision with a plan must be executed. That execution, and the work of turning a vision into a reality, must be managed. It cannot stear itself. A leader must manage his work! Management skills can be learned, and leaders can also partner with others who have greater management skills than themselves to help turn ideas into successful realities.

An effective shepherd doesn't just dream of ways of enlarging his herd, he also takes good care of --- manages! --- the flock he has. Pastors might find some benefit in cutting back on the flood of so much leadership information and make time to sharpen their management skills so they can accomplish more than think up good ideas.

Like see them actually become reality.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Could it be your "how" has less purpose than you think?

A few weeks ago, I asked a friend about his thoughts on a seminar he had attended. He thought the presenter focused a lot on the "why" of the topic, rather than providing more practical to-do steps.

In our discussion, I pointed out that you really can't begin to resolve an issue, improve upon something, or start something well until you have the "why" behind what what you're doing. Without the "why," you'll lack purpose in the "how" of what you do.

That reminds me of a story about a newly wed couple. The husband was watching his wife prepare a roast, and noted she cut off the end of the roast before placing it in the roasting pan.

"Why do you do that?" he asked?

Taken by surprise, the bride asked, "Do what?"

"Why do you cut off the end of the roast?" the husband clarified.

"Oh," the wife responded, and then thought for a few seconds. "Well, I cut off the end of the roast because that's what I always saw my mom do, but I don't know why she did it."

So the couple decided to call the bride's mother and ask why she always cut off the end of the roast. They turned on the speakerphone and listened together as the wife asked her mother the question.

"Well," replied the mother, "I always cut off the end of the roast because my mother always did ... but I really don't know why!"

So they decided to connect with the grandmother on a three-way call, and asked her the now perplexing question.

The grandmother answered, "Well children, I always cut off the end of the roast because my roasting pan was too small!"

There's a lot of things we do the way we do because that's how we've seen others do it. But that doesn't mean there's purpose in it for you. What we do, and how we do it, needs a "why" to have the fullest value in our lives.

Do you have a solid why behind what you're doing, and how you're doing it?


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Why are you biblically illiterate?

In spite of a plethora of Bible studies, Sunday School classes, home groups, "life" groups, and other similarly named meetings of people for the intent of studying the Bible (not including resources available via the internet), a majority of church members remain biblically illiterate.

There's more than one reason why biblical illiteracy is such a widespread problem, but LeRoy Eims highlights an important cause while writing in "The Lost Art of Disciple Making":

"One spring our family was driving from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa, Florida. As far as the eye could see, orange trees were loaded with fruit. When we stopped for breakfast, I ordered orange juice with my eggs. 'I'm sorry,' the waitress said, 'I can't bring you orange juice. Our machine is broken.' At first I was dumbfounded. We were surrounded by millions of oranges, and I knew they had oranges in the kitchen --- orange slices garnished our plates! What was the problem? No juice? Hardly. We were surrounded by thousands of gallons of juice. The problem was they had become dependent on a machine to get it. Christians are sometimes like that. They may be surrounded by Bibles in their homes, but if something should happen to the Sunday morning preaching service, they would have no nourishment for their souls. The problem is not a lack of spiritual food --- but that many Christians haven't grown enough to get it for themselves."

Do you know how to study the Bible? If not, there's all kinds of help all around you, starting with the leaders of your own church. Ask for help, many people would be happy to teach you how to study the Bible.

Are you applying yourself toward learning the Word of God? If you really want to grow in the "grace and knowledge" of the Lord, you will have to pursue it for yourself. Others can teach you how to study, and even study with you, but you have to make the time and take action yourself to study, learn, and apply what you learn. No one can do that for you.

"I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," 2 Peter 3:17-18.