Saturday, December 31, 2005

The End of the World

"Don't worry about the world coming to an end today -- It's already tomorrow in Australia.

-- Charles Schultz

Friday, December 30, 2005

Christmas Eve in an Abandoned Church

Minong is a small village about 20 miles northeast Hayward. Several families from that area travel the half hour or so to go to church with us.

Just a few months ago, Faith Nazarene Church (one of only three in the town), closed up. The Catholics and Lutherans are the only ones left now. Minong is like Garrison Keillor's Wobegon, where you're either "Catholic, Lutheran or weird."

But now, Minong had lost their weird church -- and there ought to be at least one weird church in every community!

The empty church sat on the corner -- a symbol of shattered hopes and dreams. (much like the old stump from my previous post.)

We have a small group that meets in Minong. They are one of the best groups in our church -- full of faith, laughter, and deep fellowship. I have met with them a few times, asking the question, "What is God doing in Minong, and how can we join Him?"

Last week, together, we dared to do something crazy -- something deliciously weird!

We held a candlelight Christmas Eve Service in the little abandoned church!

The Nazarenes kindly allowed us to use the building and our small group worked like everything, sprucing up the place for Christmas. They quickly spread the word to their family and friends.

"Come to church with us for Christmas Eve!"

We found some singers to lead a few carols, put together a small children's ensemble, found an excellent violin player, and some guitar players too (one guitar player, a rock & roller named Shawn, is really new to the church scene. He just recently came to Christ through the small group, and had sure never played Christmas carols in church before!)

The piano was tuned on December 23 -- and June, (a Presybertian from the next town over) graciously agreed to tickle the ivories.

I wondered if anybody would show up.

Coming directly from a Christmas Eve service in Hayward, I arrived 20 minutes after the service had begun -- and I could hardly believe my eyes!

The little church was packed full of people! 106 showed up (and we only had 100 chairs!)
Most of these folks were complete strangers to me -- but somehow, on this Christmas Eve, our hearts were knit together as one.

Jeremy, our children's pastor, preached a powerful sermon -- and led the people in a prayer to open their hearts to Jesus.

At the end of the service we collected communication cards from the congregation -- and discovered that a dozen people had marked their cards, saying that they had made a commitment to Christ that night!

I drove home, singing, "Gloria! In Excelsis Deo!"

It will be interesting to see what happens next!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Congregation Size: What the Research Tells Us

Here is a fascinating article by Marlis McCollum, of the Alban Institute:
Congregation Size: What the Research Tells Us

It speaks of church demographics -- and the strengths and challenges of small vs. large congregations.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Giving to God

In his novel, The Diary of a Country Priest, the hero brings his life to a close with the following prayer:

"Dear God, I give all to You, willingly. But I don't know how to give, I just let you take. The best is to remain quiet. Because, though I may not know how to give, You know how to take. . . Yet I would have wished to be, once, just once, magnificently generous to You."

In a moment of candor, Bernano once said, "Of all the people I have ever known, the boy I used to be was most important."

Leading and Managing Your Ministry

Here's a great article by my friend, Alan Nelson, on Leading and Managing Your Ministry. Excellent insights here for pastors!

(Alan's wife, Nancy, and I were ordained at the same time. )

Managers need leaders and leaders need managers!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Bigger Than Willow Creek

Today, we held our regular schedule of three worship services -- 8:20, 9:40 and 11:00.

Just over 300 people attended -- which is less than half of our normal Sunday morning crowd.

Still, for one Sunday we were bigger than Willow Creek.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Mystery Santa

Yesterday, I was the WRLS Radio Mystery Santa.

Listeners received clues throughout the day, and the one who correctly identified me received the Grand Prize of over $1000 from the Hayward Community Credit Union.

Pandora Larson, figured me out on this clue: "He is a confessed history buff."

Only in a small town. . .

Good for Pandora!

I like playing that kind of Santa.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Barna's Revolution

Barna's new book, Revolution, has sure hit a nerve! He lets church dropouts off the hook!

My friend, Keith Drury, goes so far as to call it heresy. That's perhaps an overstatement.

As a pastor, I've had to deal with dropouts on a regular basis. Even good folks who love Jesus, attend small groups, read the Bible, are active intercessors -- for some reason or another, choose not to attend church on Sunday morning. That's not ideal, certainly, but it's a fact of life.

How should pastors handle folks like that? Love them back! Encourage them. Bless them. Serve them. Cheer them up. Don't marginalize them. Don't write them off.

I've found it doesn't help my cause a bit to berate, belittle, or de-Christianize them. I'd rather work with them.

Often, there is some small issue that needs resolution -- and if guided by a loving shepherd, they usually make their way back into the Sunday morning fold.

Barna's book doesn't really help much in this endeavor. I sure hope my drop-outs don't read it.

Barna, unfortunately, seems disillusioned and jaded. (maybe he has good reason.) I wish he could see some really good, healthy churches in action -- maybe he would change his opinion.

I like what Kevin Miller said in a recent Christianity Today review:

"Do you want to become a Revolutionary? First, trade your copy of Revolution for Life Together, the manifesto written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the dark days of Nazi Germany. Then, if you want to do heroic and revolutionary exploits, go back to your local church."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Freedom Price

Pinky was a little slave girl -- only nine years old when her mother died. To lose your mother at such a young age is terrible -- but being a slave child made it even worse.

Pinky would not go to the home of loving relatives. Neither she nor her loved ones had any voice in her future whatsovever. She was considered "property".

Pinky's owner decided to sell her on the slave market. He figured he might get up to $900 for her.

It just so happened that Henry Ward Beecher, a pastor from New York was visiting in town and heard of Pinky's plight. He approached the slave owner and asked if, perhaps, he could take Pinky back home with him. "I'm sure the kind people of Plymouth Church would be happy to provide a loving home for her.", he said.

"Not on your life!" declared Pinky's owner. "I could get $900 for this girl! I'll tell you what, give me the $900 and she's yours."

Rev. Beecher did not have $900 -- but her persuaded the owner to allow Pinky to travel back to New York with the promise of full payment, or her return.

The next Sunday, the people at Plymouth Church were surprised when Rev. Beecher brought Pinky to the front of the church during the worship service.

"We are going to have an auction to purchase this little girl's freedom!" Beecher declared, "Who will start us out with $5? Yes! Now $10?"

He proceeded until they reached $900! Everyone cheered. There was hardly a dry eye in the place.

Rev. Beecher called the ushers up to take the offering right on the spot -- and when they brought the plates forward, they had more than enough cash for Pinky's freedom!

Someone had placed a golden ring in the offering. Rev. Beecher took it out of the plate, and placed it on Pinky's finger. "This is your freedom ring, Pinky!" he said. "Wear it proudly, and remember, you are free now, and nobody can take that away from you!"

Pinky was "adopted" by the Ward's, a fine family of the congregation. They raised her as their own child, gave her a good education and sent her to Howard University. She later became an excellent teacher, a loving wife and a devoted mother.

Many years later, in 1927, Pinky (Mrs. Rose Ward Hunt) returned to Plymouth Church for a special aniversary celebration. In a beautiful display of gratitude, she returned the ring to them, saying,

"Thank you so very much for what you did for me when I was just a child. You paid the price to set me free, and for that, I will always be thankful!"

-- personal note: I happened upon Plymouth Church quite by accident a few weeks ago, and was intrigued by the painting of the auction which hung in the hallway. Inquiring, I heard the story from a very gracious and kind hostess.

She says another portrait of Pinky, by Johnson Oatman, hangs at the Hallmark headquarters.
For many years, they had no idea of the the painting's meaning.

Also, interestingly, three weeks later, Abraham Lincoln came to visit the Plymouth Church. The next day, he gave a powerful speech which really launched his presidential campaign nationally.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


When the saintly John Fletcher, Vicar of Madeley, was on his deathbed, a friend came to comfort him, singing "Now, I Have Found The Ground Wherein." (A Zinzendorf hymn, translated by John Wesley.)

One beautiful stanza concludes with, "While Jesus' blood through earth and skies, Mercy, free, boundless mercy cries."

To this, his face brightened and he replied with a smile, "Boundless! Boundless! Boundless!"

How to Make The Most of a Board Meeting

Board meetings tend to produce a lot of extra paper that you'll glance over once, and never read again.

What is a good board member to do?

Don't waste the opportunity!! Make A Paper Airplane!

It will liven things up, and possibly even shorten the meeting!

Monday, December 19, 2005

The R Factor Question

“If we were meeting here three years from today – and you were to look back over those three years to today, what has to have happened during that period, both personally and professionally, for you to feel happy about your progress?” -- Bob Buford

Sunday, December 18, 2005

For a Rib

Adam was hanging around the Garden of Eden feeling very lonely.

So, God asked him, "What's wrong with you?"

Adam said he didn't have anyone to talk to.

God said that He was going to make Adam a companion and that it would be a woman. He said, "This pretty lady will gather food for you, she will cook for you, and when you discover clothing, she will wash it for you.

She will always agree with every decision you make and she will not nag you, and will always be the first to admit she was wrong when you've had a disagreement. She will praise you! She will bear your children and never ask you to get up in the middle of the night to take care of them.

She will NEVER have a headache and will freely give you love and passion whenever you need it."

Adam asked God, "What will a woman like this cost?"

God replied, "An arm and a leg."

Then Adam asked, "What can I get for a rib?" (sent to me by a friend)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Holiday Trees

"Heaven only knows what led a volunteer fire department in the Baltimore countryside to put up a sign advertising 'Holiday Trees.' Would any Buddhists in the neighborhood not buy them otherwise?"

- Editorial page, Wall Street Journal

Face the Storm

A Wyoming cowboy was once asked what was the greatest lesson he learned from his experiences of ranching.

"The Herefords taught me one of life's most important lessons," he replied. "We used to breed cattle for a living, but the winter storms would come and kill 'em off. It would take a terrible toll on the herd.

"Time and time again, after a cold winter storm, we'd find most of our cattle piled up against the fences, dead as doornails!

"They would turn their backs to the icy wind, and slowly drift downward until the fences stopped them. There, they just piled up and died."

"But the Herefords were different than that," he continued. "They would head straight into the wind and slowly walk the other way until they came to the upper boundary fence where they stood, facing the storm.

"We always found our Herefords alive and well. They saved their hides by facing the storm!"

When the storms of life are raging, our natural inclination is to duck and hide. It is easier to turn our backs on reality than to face the brutal facts.

The path of least resistance, however, is a deadly course. Instead, we must face the storm head-on!

When a problem arises in your life, you have to face it before you can fix it.

Facing life's storms brings renewed strength, hope, and power for living:

1. Facing the storm strengthens character.
"Softies" who have never experienced any hardship tend to go all to pieces whenever troubles arise. "On no! The sky is falling!" If the sky falls on you a few times, and you're still kicking, you realize that you can make it! You are too big of a person to let the little problems get you. One day, when I was in a jam, a good friend remarked, "Not to worry -- Your ship was made to sail in seas like these!"
2. Facing the storm sweetens the spirit.
The sweetest people I've ever met are those who have endured much hardship. Somehow, they figured out how to come through it all rejoicing. Of course, negative processing can leave a person sour and bitter -- I've met plenty of those. But if you're determined to stay sweet, the problems will make you sweeter.

3. Facing the storm deepens compassion.
When we suffer, we are more able to identify with others who are hurting. My friend, Tim Young, is a good example of that. An accident on the job, left him with chronic stabbing pain in his back and legs. He has had to bear an unusually heavy cross. Instead of using this as an excuse to stay bottled up in himself, however, he has transformed this pain into a deep compassion for others. Tim is one of the most caring people I've ever met.

4. Facing the storm broadens the horizon.
Hardship helps us to look forward to better days. It makes us realize that our current situation isn't forever, this world is not our home, and the best is yet to come.

Friday, December 16, 2005

My Prayer

Lord, help me not to be the kind of person our cat thinks I am.

Proverbs 31 Woman

My friend, Lisa Johnson, recently shared a breakthrough she and her friends had at their small group. It has to do with the Proverbs 31 Woman.

Lisa writes:

Let me start by saying that I never really liked the Proverbs 31 Woman; in fact, I will go so far as to say I actually resented her.

Every time I read Proverbs 31, I was drawn to the conclusion that I was so very far from God's expectations of a godly woman. I didn't even come close to measuring up.

How many of us have been reminded of her on Mother's Day, whether she be mentioned in a card, or sermon. (No offense!) Talk about pouring salt in an already wounded self image!

No, Proverbs 31 Woman and I were not friends, but I did admire her, and longed to be like her.

In study today, we read aloud Proverbs 31, and put each "quality" in today's language/world.

MUCH to my surprise, I found that I am more like her than I thought! (Except for the servant girls... where, oh where are MY servant girls???!!!)

I don't fulfill the words, "always", and "never" as she does, but who really does? Plus, if her candle never goes out at night, how does she fulfill her and her husband's needs for intimacy?

Good question, eh?

We also discovered that this passage is a hymn. I think of it as a love song celebrating the good and admirable things about women that we should not take for granted.

Who wants to hear a song about a woman's mood swings, irritating habits, and P.M.S.?

So, I have reconciled with the Proverbs 31 Woman. We are now friends who actually have a lot in common.

She has found a way of letting me know that the mundane tasks we women do day in and day out, are admirable, and worthwhile. Hopefully I also, am worth far more than rubies and diamonds to my husband. (I haven't a doubt that I am.)

I will now hold my head high when I hear of the Proverbs 31 Woman.

She will be a reminder to me that I am valuable, and that I need always to strive to be the best wife and mom that I can possibly be.

Bless you, Proverbs 31 Woman!

Proverbs 31 Servant Girls

Lisa Johnson, sent a follow up to her original e-mail on Proverbs 31. This is really good too:

Greetings! I have had a few more observations about Proverbs 31 Woman today, and I would like to share them with you.

In my previous letter, I commented... okay,whined, about not having any servant girls. You will not believe what I found in my house today. Servant girls! I am surrounded by them! Let me introduce them to you...

Ms. Wilma Washer and her fellow employee Miss Debbie Dryer (No trips to the river for me!)
Miss Dolly Dishwasher (she even retrieves her own water AND heats it up!)
Ms. Mary Microwave (Wow... is she ever quick on her feet!)
Miss Farrah Furnace (I never have to worry about stoking the fire... even throughout the night!)
Ms. Hannah Hot Water Heater (How nice to have hot water on a moments notice. She'll even fill my tub!)
Miss Olivia Oven and her helper Susie Stovetop (What a team they are. No trips to the woodpile in the early dawn!)

As you can see, I am blessed with many servant girls. I'm sure you are too! You know them well, but do you know their names? Name them, be kind to them, and never take them for granted. They show up for work every day without complaining, and you never have to worry about them running off with the stable boys!

I hope this has brightened your day a bit. Now girlfriends, enjoy being the Lady of the House, and find joy in doing your work among such lovely, hard working servant girls.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Step Out In Faith!

My friend (and District Superintendent) Dan Bickel, sent me an e-mail today that included these wonderful, inspiring quotes. I thought I'd pass them along to you!

“If you really want to do something you’ll find a way; if you don’t you’ll find an excuse.”

“No dream comes true until you wake up and go to work on it.”

“Courage is not the absence of fear; but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Ambrose Redmoon

And this one is good, too: “God, make me the person my dog thinks I am.”

Retired or Relenlisted?

Jan Zeh hit the nail on the head when she wrote this article for Newsweek. It's about mining the "Golden Years."

I have found that there are two different kinds of retirees in my church:

The first group consists of those who have basically "retired from life." They fish, putz around the house, and talk about politics. I'm always happy to see them on Sunday, but they don't volunteer for much. After all, they're retired!

The second group is the greatest work force in our church! Bill, for instance, is a retired exec from IBM. He devotes his days to ministry -- helping those in need. Nickie leads a small group, and our flower ministry. Don heads up our ushers and greeters.

As I am writing this, a group of 15 senior citizens are meeting for a Bible Study in the room next door. They are the best volunteers in the congregation: vibrant! enthusiastic! alive!

American Health Magazine reported a study from the University of Michigan, which concluded that regular volunteer work increases life expectancy! Live long! Help in church!

There's gold in them thar golden age hills!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

To the Margins

My friend and co-worker, Heath Davis, sent me this beautiful prayer yesterday. It captures the spirit of Advent in a beautiful way.

O Jesus Christ,your mother and father were excluded by all who they sought shelter with on the night you were born.

You came into this world as a marginalized person, part of the “they” who were being counted by those in power for their own ends.

This Advent, open our eyes to see how many of your children are still in similar situations.

Open our minds to understand their struggles; open our hearts and help us begin the journey to worship you by practicing inclusion.

Guide us in the dark night to your Light, which shines for all.


The Sleeping Giant

I have some friends who have dropped out of church. As I've visited with them about it, they've informed me that they are protesting the entire "American church culture."

They are not alone in this assessment. George Barna, in his new book, Revolution, seems to say the same thing. He doesn't put it out there quite as strongly as my disillusioned friends -- but he has to sell books to pastors.

In many ways, I can relate with what they're saying. The church in America is like a sleeping giant. Or, as in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a giant that has been petrified.

Just think what could happen, if the giant would be resurrected from the long sleep!

The church in America has the resouces and volunteer power to totally transform the entire society -- to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to rehabilitate the wayward, to meet the deepest needs of society. In the power of God, The Church Could Change the World!

Yet, that's not the way it generally works in a community. Churches often end up cocooning as a culture unto themselves. (A couple of positive signs, however, lie in the Hurricane Katrina Response, and the recent rallying of evangelicals to combat aids.)

The problem isn't the resources -- but the heart and the vision.

We need a New Great Awakening!

In mideival times, a churchman was giving a tour of his newly constructed cathedral to a friend. "The church can no longer say, silver and gold have I none!", he boasted.
"That's true," his friend replied, "and it also can no longer say, "But such as I have I give unto you."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Are You a Leader?

"If your actions inspire others to
dream more,
learn more,
do more
and become more,
you are a leader."
--John Quincy Adams

Mr. Grinch

These are negative people. Nothing is ever good enough for them.

In the church. I call these people graveyard Christians. They have lost the joy of the Lord and are just biding their time until death.
You may have some of these people in your family.
Interject positivism.
Change the discussion.
If that doesn’t work, carry a survival kit.
It can contain things you like to do such as a hobby, a book or pictures to look through.

When the Grinch starts their downward spiral, simply go sit somewhere else and occupy your mind with something that won’t pull you down.

Misery loves company; but, if you don’t give toxic people an audience, they will have to move on or be quiet.
-- Travis Plumlee

Monday, December 12, 2005

St. Ephram's Prayer

O Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of sloth,
of despondency, of lust or of vain talking;
but bestow on me thy servant a spirit of chastity,
of humility, of patience and love.
You, O Lord and King, grant to me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother,

for blessed art thou unto ages of ages.
--St. Ephrem, the desert father

(He wrote a bunch of Christmas hymns too -- but he rambles. Too much time in the desert methinks!)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Wise Men and Shepherds

Some people come to Jesus like the Shepherds.

Out in the fields, minding their own business --and KABLAMMO! Something Big Happens!

Angels show up! A huge angel choir! Glory to God in the Highest!

Life changes in a moment. The shepherds drop everything and run to Bethlehem, where they find the Christ-child lying in a manger.

They rejoice, celebrate and end up broadcasting the good news everywhere they go! Glory! Glory! Hallilujah!

Others come to Jesus like the Wise Men.

They see a distant star in the East -- and are puzzled by the appearing. They ponder, "What does this mean?" After studious reflection, they begin a long, long journey of faith.

It takes them quite a while to figure things out, with some detours along the way -- but eventually, they, too, end up at Bethlehem. Departing, they didn't cause a big scene like the shepherds-- but had experienced inner transformation as well (though of the "still waters" variety.)

I like the manger scenes where the wise men and shepherds are all together at the manger. I know most Bible scholars say otherwise, but, as a romantic, I choose to picture them all kneeling before Jesus side by side -- rich and poor; wise men and shepherds; local and out-of-towner -- all worshipping Jesus together! It would be just like God's timing to do it that way!

The important lesson here? It doesn't matter whether you are a shepherd or a wise man. Shepherds aren't better because they dashed to Jesus. Wise men aren't better because they took the longer, more thoughtful route.

The only thing that really matters is that they both end up worshipping Jesus in Bethlehem

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Why Pastors Must Be Shepherds

Every pastor is called to have a Shepherd's heart. Pastors are primarily spiritual guides -- not CEO's. Even if a church grows beyond the ability of the pastor's "shepherding ability" (which is about 200 people), the ethos of of the shepherd must still be maintained.

Too many pastors want to be bosses rather than shepherds, but the fact is, 8 out of 10 will never pastor a church over 200. Particularly in the smaller congregation, the pastor is expected to fulfill the pastoral role.

Of course, I believe in visionary leadership, effective outreach strategies and cutting edge ministry programming. These, however, cannot substitute for loving the people. Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and John Maxwell are excellent resources for leadership and outreach. We must go elsewhere, however, to find good models for pastoral care in a smaller faith community (Eugene Peterson is once such model, I think.)

A lot of times, when a pastor says "I'm a rancher", or "I just don't have the gift of mercy" what they really mean is "I don't love my people very much."

There are a couple thousand people on our "responsibility list" now. It's harder for me to know each member of the flock by name. Nevertheless, my deepest desire is that each person feels loved and accepted by us. I have committed myself to pray, by name, for every person in our church family -- even if I have not met them yet. Even if I do not do the "hands-on" shepherding for all of them, I strive to maintain a shepherd's heart.

Beyond 200, a pastor must not switch from "shepherding" to "ranching" (That elicits images of cattle drives, brandings, and the like.) Rather, growth should lead from "shepherding" to "multi-shepherding": we're shepherds together!

My friend, Damien Vraniak, speaks of switching the paradigm from "one serving the many" to "many serving the one." I like that!

Here is a great article on shepherding by H. B. London on this subject. I found it insightful.

An old preacher friend once said, "If you can't stand the smell of sheep, get out of the pasture!"

Pastor Marries Dog Couple

Now, this is an interesting idea: Pastor Marries Dog Couple. I suppose you could say it was a case of puppy love at first sight -- but I'm afraid their relationship will go to the dogs.

The Good Old Days?

The past is a nice place to visit from time to time -- but it's a terrible place to live.

Sometimes, we see a television show or visit a museum exhibit showing life a couple hundred years ago. Perhaps, you've thought, "Those were the good old days! I wish we could go back and live like that."

I don't think you really do.

A couple hundred years ago the life expectancy was 38 years, the average work week was 72 hours, and the median annual income was $300.

Cholera, typhiod and yellow fever were common. For instance, one out of five people in Philadelphia in 1793 died from these diseases.

Many women died in childbirth, and the flu also claimed the lives of many. Almost every home experienced the sorrow of losing a child.

No indoor plumbing, no refrigerators, no microwaves, no soft mattresses, no electric heat, no lights, no cars, no tv, no computers, no recorded music, no tupperware, no soft drinks, no cheeseburgers.

Everybody milked their own cows!

Nah -- you wouldn't want to go back there and live.

Thank God -- You've survived 2005 instead 1805!

Yet, there is something special about yesteryear. Perhaps we can bring the treasures of the past into the present.

Rich family values are passed along from one generation to another. Some of the greatest music was written two or three hundred years ago. The Bible, of course, composed in ancient times, brings fresh inspiration and insight today.

St. Augustine said, "You can only understand backwards, but you must live forwards."

Friday, December 09, 2005

Why Great Men Fall

Here's a great article from by Wayne Goodall, entitled "Why Great Men Fall -- and How to Prevent Yourself from Falling." An insightful article -- and a good reminder to stay close to the Savior. I've seen too many good friends in the ministry fall by the wayside. God, protect us.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Turtle Law

The Law of the Turtle: You will make no progress unless you stick your neck out!

You can't live in fear of what people think.

As Rick Warren says, "When youre small, they'll dismiss you. When you're growing, theyl'l criticize you. When you're large, theyll resent you."

So -- Who Cares what "They" think anyway?

There are three kinds of people in the world:
Those who MAKE things happen,
Those who WATCH things happen,

The Unchanging

Let us suppose that there are two sorts of existences -- one seen, the other unseen. . . The seen is the changing, the unseen is the unchanging. -- Socrates

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Baby Funeral

This morning was really hard. I conducted the funeral for three month old, Kaylee Zopp, who died Sunday morning of SIDS.

I've officiated at a couple hundred funerals -- and this was one of the hardest I've ever done. It seemed so surreal -- so wrong -- to have a tiny little casket with a tiny infant in the front of our church.

She was such a precious little baby. Speaking for her service took just about all the strength I could muster.

Usually, funerals are reserved for folks who have lived a long time. Usually the grandchildren weep. This time, the grandparents were the ones in deep sorrow.

I spoke mostly from Isaiah 40 -- keying in on verse 11:

He tends his flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. . ."

I also shared the words of Cynthia Clawson's song, "When You Can't Trace His Hand, Trust His Heart."

GOD is Too wise to be mistaken.
GOD is too good to be unkind
So, When you don't understand And When you can't see HIS plan
And When you can't trace HIS hand Trust HIS Heart

This afternoon, after the funeral, I received an e-mail from my friend, Naomi Cochran. Having attended the service, she reflected on the words of poet, Wendell Berry:

To Know the Dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

"The darkness in the loss of a child is perhaps the deepest of all." Naomi reflected, " But, when I saw Monica kiss her angel child, and then the one in her arms, I knew her darkness will bloom and sing."

The Art of Managing Church Staff

My friend, Dan Reiland, wrote a great article for Senior Pastors about managing church staff. It is dealing primarily with paid pastoral staff -- but there is also an excellent sidebar regarding volunteer staff.

Dan's the Executive Pastor at Crossroads Community Church near Atlanta -- and we've been friends for a long time -- all the way back to when he directed High School Camp, and I was a counselor.

His article is good, because it reminds us of the importance of good leadership. A congregation will never grow beyond its leaders. (At least, not healthy growth.)

I am thankful to have a staff of Eagles! My staff is a lot like Moses' -- they've been known to both part seas and destroy pestilence. I lean on them a lot!

Monday, December 05, 2005


We do not want merely to see beauty.... We want something else which can hardly be put into words--to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.-C.S. Lewis

Sunday, December 04, 2005


The ordinary man has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them.

His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight, he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.

It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand.

The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes clear. From Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton (circa 1900)

The No Diet Diet

Steve Hawks, Brigham Young University prof, lost 50 pounds and kept it off for five years with a No Diet Diet! He calls it the "intuitive plan" -- and he listens to his body. Whatever his body craves, that's what he eats.

Eat when you're hungry. Stop eating when you're not hungry anymore.

This is the same basic idea promoted by Gwen Shamblin, of the Weigh Down Worskshop.

Weigh Down was one of the most successful programs in our church a few years ago -- until Gwen went weird, denied the Trinity and stuff like that.

So -- do you have to deny the Trinity to have a diet that works? And what about the "Full Gospel" folks?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Peace of Wild Things

Wendell Berry, the Kentucky naturalist and poet, holds a special place in my heart.

With dozens of "administrative" and "relational" monkeys clamouring around in my mind, I needed to set my heart at peace.

I sat down and read Berry's poem, The Peace of Wild Things. It soothed and quieted my soul, and the birds began to sing again.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Muddy Waters

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not clarity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

One day a preacher waxed eloquent. After the sermon, someone remarked, "My, wasn't that deep?"

"Nah," came the reply, "Just muddy!"

Another Quote from St. Francis

"Darn Pigeons!"

What Did You Mean By That?

"Half the harm that is done in the world," said the poet, T.S. Eliot, "is done by people who want to feel important. They do not mean to harm. There are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

I've discovered that most of the time, people mean well. Even when they speak or behave in troubling ways that makes us wonder -- they mean well.

It's best to give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.

Yet, at the same time, it is also beneficial for us to examine our motives, and try to understand more deeply how our behavior effects others.

Sometimes, winning the argument loses the fight. A marriage counselor once asked a distraught husband, "Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be right?"

After a frustrating conversation one day, I thought, "What he said spoke so loud, I couldn't understand a word he meant!"

Perhaps, the best path is mapped out by St. Francis of Assisi, who prayed:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand,
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive.
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is dying that we are born to eternal life.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Church Growth Barriers

I'm still learning to lead.

I find that as our church has grown, I've been challenged to grow personally, as well.

There have been four major "leadership transitions" during our church's growth, which required me to think and stretch to a new level.

1. When we transitioned past 100.

The central issues here were survival, outreach, and programming. I had to start a lot of activities. Key question: What are we going to do?

2. When we transitioned past 200.

The central issues here were adding a second staff member,multiple services, small groups and facilities. Key question: How do we multiply ministry opportunities?

3. When we transitioned past 400.

The central issues here were multiple staff, developing a "large church" mindset, and leadership development. Key question: How do we multiply leaders?

4. Now we are transitioning past 600 -- and I'm trying to identify the central issues. I believe they have something to do with focus, ministry alignment, my own personal growth as a leader, infrastructure, systems, and developing leaders of leader. Key question: How do we narrow our focus but broaden our influence?

Leading by Listening

Leaders are not the ones with irrefutable answers, but the ones who can support others and help them ask the right questions. Leaders do as much listening as talking.

As visions are sought, leaders keep the conversation alive and active in the congregation, allowing the vision to be shaped by past history, current practice, and future opportunities and call. -- Gil Rendle, Leading Change in the Congregation (Alban Institute)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


All that matters is to be at one with the living God
To be a creature in the house of the God of Life.
Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house,
with the mistress at home,
at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.
Sleeping on the hearth of the living world,
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of a master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.

-- by D.H. Lawrence

Monday, November 28, 2005

Prayer and Desire

True prayer is only another name for the love of God.

Its excellence does not consist in the multitude of our words; for our Father knoweth what things we have need of before we ask Him.

The true prayer is that of the heart, and the heart prays only for what it desires.

To pray, then is to desire—but to desire what God would have us desire. He who asks what he does not from the bottom of his heart desire, is mistaken in thinking that he prays.

Let him spend days in reciting prayers, in meditation or in inciting himself to pious exercises, he prays not once truly, if he really desire not the things he pretends to ask.

-- Francois Fenelon in his classic text, Spiritual Progress

The Angelus

Yesterday, our worship pastor, Loretta, showed us a slide of "The Angelus" by Millet. She used it as a tool to guide us in prayer. I was deeply moved by the meaningful worship experience.

Is this the picture of a harvest or a planting? At first, I thought harvest -- but looking more closely, it seems to be a planting.

The sacks of potatoes in the wheelbarrow speak of lots of work still to be done. The sun is setting. It has been a long day of wearisome toil.

They're tired. They want to finish up what's in the basket and go home. But from a distant steeple, the evening Angelus Bell rings -- calling them to stop everything and pray.

So, removed from all spectators except Almighty's eyes, they pause in reverent silence -- perhaps thanking God for strength asking Him to bless and multiply the fruit of their labors.

"Evening and morning and at noon, will I pray. . ." -- Psalm 55:17

Depth of Life

"You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth." -- H.L Mencken

Sunday, November 27, 2005

One Lucky Guy

I am one lucky guy to have such a wonderful, beautiful wife as Cathy!!

I definitely married "up"!

Not My Love

I love you, Lord
But with no love of mine,
For I have none to give.

I love you, Lord
But all the love is yours,
For by your Love, I live.

I am nothing and rejoice to be
Emptied and lost
And swallowed up in Thee.

-- Charles Spurgeon in his sermon, "Because He First Loved Us"

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Love, the Excellent Way

Love is the greatest human virtue! It is the primary measuring stick of the goodness in one's life.

Nothing is more delightful than loving, and nothing feels better than being loved.

A wise old minister once said Love is. . .
Slow to suspect - quick to trust
Slow to condemn - quick to encourage
Slow to offend - quick to defend
Slow to expose - quick to shield
Slow to reprimand - quick to forbear
Slow to belittle - quick to appreciate
Slow to demand - quick to give
Slow to provoke - quick to reconcile
Slow to hinder - quick to help
Slow to resent - quick to forgive.

True love is much more than a feeling or an emotion - it is an act of the will!
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

Real love moves beyond intentions. It shines through our actions, attitudes and words.

Un-love, unfortunately, shines through too. You can pretend to love others - but they will find you out before too long.

If you are always finding fault and criticizing people, that's a sign of love deficiency in your life. You need to get it right.

Faults grow thick when love is thin.

Loving is risky business. There is a chance of being deeply hurt if you open your heart.

However, we must remember these words from Eleanor Roosevelt:
It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire, which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell. Giving out nothing, they receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.

Also, consider what Mother Teresa said about the subject, "I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no more hurt, but only more love.

"Tennis - the only activity in which love means nothing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving Break

I am taking a break from the blog for the rest of the week, due to Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

White Folks and Thanksgiving

We held our Community Thanksgiving service on the LCO Indian Reservation this past Sunday evening. The LCO Assembly of God church hosted us beautifully.

It is the first time in Hayward's history, that the Community Thanksgiving Service was held on the reservation. Although attendance was much smaller than usual, I believe it was a very significant statement.

The people of faith can build a bridge where there has been a wall.

At the conclusion of the service, the pastor, Marvin, invited us all to have refreshments.

"We were going to have a full blown Thanksgiving dinner," he smiled, "then we remembered the first time the white folks came over for Thanksgiving dinner -- They never left!"

Thorns and Roses

Happiness is a decision -- a choice.

If you wait for "happenings" to make you happy -- you'll be waiting most of the time.

Life isn't easy. It brings a measure of pain, as well as joy. The thorns come with the roses.

There's no such thing as a thornless life.

John Calvin said, "We must develop a better and deeper concept of happiness than that held by the world, which makes a happy life consist of ease, honor, and great wealth."

Now, it's a wonderful thing when somebody pushes the "easy button" for us. When plans go better than anticipated, we all rejoice.

It always feels good to be appreciated and honored. We are all glad to be recognized for "extra mile" effort.

Having extra money is always nice. "Money doesn't buy happiness, but it sure comes in handy!"

Nevertheless, if we must depend on ease, honor and wealth to make us happy, we are doomed to misery.

When we chase happiness by these avenues, we'll never find it. It's like trying to catch a butterfly with your hands.

When we seek the Higher Truth, rather than these lesser desires, we find what we've been wanting all along!

Follow the God-path, and the joy will follow.

"Seek first, the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you." Matthew 6:33

Your roses may have thorns, but don't forget -- your thorns may have some roses too!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Kangaroos and Emus

The Australian coat of arms includes the images of a kangaroo and an emu.

These were chosen because of one characteristic both creatures have in common. They both can move in only one direction -- forward!! (Ever seen a kangaroo hop backwards??)

They are able to bend their heads and look in all directions -- but they don't have a "reverse". They don't move backwards.

Wouldn't it be great if we were all kangaroo/emu people? We'd be able to look around, look back -- and learn!

St. Augustine said, "We live forward, but we only understand backwards. "

In other words, what we've experienced in the past helps us to understand our present situation -- and our future direction.

Gaining insight from the past, however, is much different than LIVING IN the past.

The past is a lot like the dumps of Tijuana -- an interesting place to visit -- but I sure don't want to live there!

Kangaroo/Emu people have one direction -- forward! Going backwards is no option.

Keep going!

When you're stuck in a hard situation, and don't know what to do -- take a lesson from the emu and kangaroo. Just hop forward!

Great Wisdom

I was filled with "great wisdom" -- I thought I was a "whiz", but was really "dumb."

A Pint of Sweat

"A pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood." -- Brian Tracey

Monday, November 21, 2005

Frozen Chosen

"Unless the church evangelizes, it fossilizes!" -- A. J. Gordon

If you aren't filled with fire, you'll end up being one of the "Frozen Chosen."


Each separate life is fed
From many a fountain-head:
Tides that we never know
Into our being flow,
And rays of the remotest star
Converge to make us what we are.

John B. Tabb (1845-1909)

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Ohio State -- 25
Michigan -- 21

You can take the boy out of Ohio, but you can't take Ohio State out of the boy!

An Average Perspective on Missions

"Beyond the wild wood comes the wide world!" said the Rat,

"and that's something that doesn't matter, either to you or to me. I've never been there, and I'm never going-- not you either, if you've got any sense at all!

Don't ever refer to it again, please. Now, here's our backwater at last!"
-- The Wind in the Willows

On His Blindness

This post is dedicated to Judy Gorud, the greatest prayer warrior in our church -- and though, unable to leave her house, is doing the greater work.

WHEN I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,—
Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?
I fondly ask:—But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: God doth not need
Either man's work, or His own gifts, who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at His bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:—
They also serve who only stand and wait.

-- John Milton

Saturday, November 19, 2005


In patience as in labour must thou be
A follower of Me,
Whose hands & feet, when most I wrought for thee,
Were nailed unto a tree.

John B. Tabb

Successful Ministry

Here is a wonderful article by Bert Lewis, Rick Warren's father-in-law: Seven Principles Required for a Successful Ministry.

I don't think young preachers listen to the older ministry veterans enough! Wisdom is gained through experience (and listening to people who have experience!)

Friday, November 18, 2005

In Memory of Peter Drucker

The great business management guru, Peter Drucker, passed away last week. He has helped a lot of leaders.

In memory of Mr. Drucker, I would like to submit his Most Important Questions for Non-Profit Oranizations:

1. What is our mission?

2. Who is our customer?

3. What does the customer value?

4. What are our results?

5. What is our plan?

"Often people feel the church exists to take care of problems. And it's terribly hard for the church to say no. And yet the effective ones say no. They know what their mission is, and they make no apologies for sticking to that."- Peter Drucker, in a 1989 Leadership magazine interview

Too Small to Make A Difference?

“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve obviously never been in bed with a mosquito.” – Michelle Walker

Thursday, November 17, 2005


"Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed."

-- Brian Tracy

Prayer Power

"Prayer can change anything. The impossible doesn't exist. His is the power. Ours is the prayer. Without Him, we cannot. Without us, He will not." -- Jack Hayford

Sermon Preparation

A pastor was asked how he prepared for his sermons. He replied,
"I milk a lot of cows, but I churn my own butter!"

Unfortunately, too many pastors buy their butter at, or sermon central.

If you really can't cook, I guess it's o.k. to serve up t.v. dinners -- but you can't pass it off as home cooking.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More Spiritual Than God

“One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God.” – Frederick Buechner

First Snow

This morning, I awoke to five inches of obligation.
My kids awoke to five inches of opportunity.
They were the same five inches.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Multi-Site in a Rural Community?

There has been much discussion in church leadership circles recently about multi-site ministry options.

We are looking at launching a ministry in a rural community, Minong, which is located just over 20 miles away from us. Several people come to our church from that area -- and our Minong Small Group is enthused about exploring the possibilities.

I've wondered, though, how we can bring "Hayward Wesleyan Church" to Minong? Is the multi-site approach viable in a smaller community?

Greg Surratt, pastor of Seacoast Church, a leading multi-site congregation, writes about this question in his blog.

Big things CAN happen in small places!

Monday, November 14, 2005

God Calling

Past the seeker, as he prayed, came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them, the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried, "Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?" And out of the long silence, God said: "I did do something about them. I made you."
-- Anonymous

Hot Water

Put an egg in hot water -- and it becomes hard boiled.

Put a carrot in hot water -- and it falls apart -- soft and mushy.

Put a tea bag in hot water -- and it transforms the water!

What happens to you in hot water?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sanctified Exhaustion

"We cannot possibly flatter the Almighty by hurrying into His presence, flinging a song and prayer at Him, and hurrying out of church back into our hassled lifestyles. God is never flattered by our sanctified exhaustion."

- Calvin Miller Into the Depths of God

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Robber

St. Serapion, the second century Bishop of Antioch, saw a poor beggar beside the road, and gave him his cloak.

As he walked on, he met another who was shivering, and he gave that one his tunic.

He then sat down naked, holding the holy Gospel.

"Who has taken your clothes, father?" a friend asked.

Pointing to the Gospel, he said, "This is the robber."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Bon Voyage Again

Once again, I will be taking a break from Bloggerland, as I am travelling to Vassar, Michigan to teach a couple of FLAME Courses: Evangelism and Church Leadership.

I really do enjoy teaching the classes -- but 90% of me wishes I could stay home with my family and my Hayward vineyard. I'll be more motivated after I get on the airplane tomorrow.

Tomorrow, we are planning a Ministry Fair at the church -- The crew worked all through today, transforming our gym into a land of ministry opportunities!

Sandpaper People

Some folks are like sandpaper. Everywhere they go, they rub people the wrong way.

An individual may be highly intelligent, hard working , willing to go the extra mile -- but still fail because of an abraisive personality.

I've often wondered, how do they sabotage themselves? Is it just the way they're wired, or can they do something about it?

Although we are born with certian "grit" which make us more or less people-oriented, I firmly believe that anyone can get along with just about anybody, if they follow a few basic relationship rules:

1. Focus on the Positive.
You will find plenty of negative things about people if you look for them. Instead, go mining for the positive -- and you will find that too!

2. Never go fishing with a Crabapple for Bait. You have to be friendly if you want people to be friendly to you. You can't expect to keep many friends if you are always grousing. (Negative folks do keep some friends -- negative ones!)

3. Follow the 101% Principle. Find the 1% you have in common and give 100% to it!

4. Don't impute Motives. It's easy to jump to conclusions and rush to judgement without knowing all the facts. Regardless of what happened, assume the other person had good intentions.

5. Be willing to Forgive. Refuse to allow your frustrations to stockpile into a mountain of bitterness. It's best to keep short accounts. Deal with it and let it go.

6. Believe in Other People. Remember that we are all created in the image of God. Each person you meet is a VIP! Never consider yourself "above" someone else.

7. Follow the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

8. Be Genuinely Interested in Others. Focus on them rather than yourself. Self-absorbtion is a certain path to unhappiness.

9. Determine that you will be an Encourager and a Positve Influence on each Person you Meet!