Friday, March 31, 2006

Wild At Heart Dodgeball

A youth pastor was charged with assault this week, after a "dodge ball" altercation at a youth meeting in February.

Some kid whacked him in the face with the ball, knocking off his glasses -- and the reverend went wild.

I think this youth pastor's been reading too much John Eldredge.

Well, at least the kids in that youth group understand now that Christianity isn't just for sissies.

Wayne Schmidt on Church Planting

On Thursday, along with the senior pastors of the six other larger churches in Wisconsin, I travelled to Tomah and had lunch with Wayne Schmidt, senior pastor of Kentwood Community Church in Grand Rapids.

The purpose was to sharpen our focus on outreach and church planting.

Wayne shared his story with us -- how their church has helped birth several daughter congregations -- at varying levels of commitment from the mother church.

Sometimes, Kentwood helped with finances, sometimes people. Their first church plant was sending Kevin Myers from Michigan to Atlanta GA with another couple to start Crossroads. Crossroads is now the largest Wesleyan congregation -- so the baby elephant is bigger than momma!

Now, they are involved in the planting of a church each year. Wayne said this is the most exciting thing he's ever done.

He said the philosophy of Kentwood is this:

To permeate the region in such a way that every individual has the opportunity for a relationship with an authentic follower of Christ -- and that every person has the opportunity to know Christ.

They believe strategic church planting is vital to this mission.

At Kentwood, they focus their church planting efforts on changing and growing neighborhoods --that translates into bedroom communities.

He asked us about the bedroom communities in our area -- and we all laughed. Our churches are all in the rural northwoods -- and we don't have any bedroom communities. The closest thing to it is when someone adds a bedroom on the back of the farmhouse!

Wayne suggested that we use what we have -- and explore the "supply lines" for these rural communities. What are the natural traffic migrations? Perhaps the potential location for a new church will emerge from that exploration.

He also encouraged us to pool our lists of contacts throughout the state. Maybe we will find clusters of potential prospects in certain regions where we might possibly launch a church.

As long as Wisconsin has more bars than churches, we are definitely under-churched!

Also -- he shared three great insights on the side, which, for me, were the "take home points" of the day:

1. From Bill Hybels -- When facing a perplexing issue, schedule some time to "Sit in the Uncertainty" -- don't get sidetracked, answer e-mails, think about other stuff -- but focus, focus, focus on the issue. If you don't get an answer, schedule time again to do it -- and soon, the answer will emerge.

2. In the absence of clear authority, people act up! (My note: and also, in the presence of overbearing authority, people also act up!)

3. If you "play it safe" -- you will get a "safe" return. The higher the risk, the higher the return!

Thought you would enjoy these insights.

How to Be a Better Leader

If you want to be a good leader, start by being a good follower!

Sometimes, people want to lead before they learn how to follow. Non-followers make terrible leaders. They are self-absorbed and don't deal very well with people in general.

Occasionally, folks will come to me and offer their services in a leadership capacity. My usual response is "you can start your leadership journey by jumping in and helping others. The best leaders know how to follow well."

Sometimes, they walk away with a sniff. "I'm happy to be up front leading, but how dare you ask me to serve behind the scenes? Aren't you aware of my tremendous gifts and abilities?"

Yes -- and I am also aware of an over-inflated ego.

Samuel Brengle graduated from college and signed up as an officer in the Salvation Army. He was excited about his new role and looked forward to providing visionary leadership for the cause.

He was dismayed when on his first day at work, the very fist assignment was to polish a room full of boots -- filthy, worn, ugly scruffed up boots!

"I can't believe they're doing this to me!" he grumbled, "Don't they know that I'm here to lead? I am an officer for heaven's sake! I've just graduated with honors! Why on earth would they give me such a crummy task? I didn't apply to be a servant!"

Then, the truth dawned on him. In order to lead, he had to be a good follower. There is no job too small for a great leader. If you think a job is "beneath" you, that shows you aren't ready yet. You are beneath the job.

The best leaders are servants. From underneath, they lift up those around them and possess a "whatever it takes" attitude.

Getting along with others is a golden rule of leadership.

Do you want to become a better leader? Start serving!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Held Responsible

Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army, preached a powerful sermon in 1880, entitled "The Holy Ghost."

Let me warn you -- It's convicting.

Then, in conclusion, let me remind you--and it makes my own soul almost reel when I think of it that God holds us responsible.

He holds you responsible for all the good you might do if you had it (power of the Holy Spirit.)

Do not deceive yourself.

He will have the five talents with their increase. He will not have an excuse for one, and you will not dare to go up to the throne, and say, `Thou wast a hard Master, reaping where Thou hast not sown, and gathering where Thou hadst not strewn. Thou badest me to save souls when Thou knewest I had not the power.'

What will He say to you? `Wicked and slothful servant, out of thine own mouth will I judge thee. You knew where you could have got the power. You knew the conditions. You might have had it. Where are the souls you might have saved? Where are the children that I would have given you? Where is the fruit?'

Oh! friends, these are solemn and awful realities.

If I did not believe them I should not stand here. Oh, what you might do! Who can tell? Who would ever have thought, twenty years ago, when I first raised my voice, a feeble, trembling woman, one of the most timid and bashful the Lord ever saved, the hundreds of precious souls that would be given me?

I only refer to myself because I know my own case better than that of another; but, let me ask you--supposing I had held back and been disobedient to the Heavenly vision, what would God have said to me for the loss of all this fruit?

Thank God, much of it is already gathered into heaven.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I Went

I decided to attend the courthouse gathering this morning, (see last post) and am glad I did.

My earlier apprehension of a mob atmosphere was unfounded.

Pastor Ben was there too, and, as men of peace, our presence had a calming effect on the Sipe family and friends.

I gathered them all in a circle, and said a prayer, asking the Lord to give us his peace and strength for the day. I also prayed for Craig Sturdevant, that he would find his way.

Judge Yackel sentenced him to life in prison -- with a review in 20 years.

I'm glad that chapter is finally over.

The story unfolded of a broken young man, whose broken mother left him and his siblings to parent themselves. All of them have ended up in trouble with the law.

I left the courthouse heavy-hearted, wondering how many other children in our community are following this destructive path, and what can we do to turn them around?

I also felt a deep gratitude for those who serve in our Mentoring Program for Single Moms each Tuesday evening. Down the road, we will see how it really makes a difference.

I recall Keith Drury saying, "It's better to build a fence on the top of the cliff than a hospital at the bottom."

The Courthouse Gathering

I am struggling with a decision this morning. Do I attend the 8:30 a.m. gathering in front of the courthouse?

Today is the sentencing hearing for Craig Sturdavant, a teenager who brutally murdered Mel and Delores Sipe, the two oldest members of our congregation four years ago. The justice system has moved along at a snail's pace -- but today, finally, we can put closure on this chapter.

Friends and family of the Sipe's have called for a gathering before the hearing -- and thus, I'm in the valley of decision.

Mel and Delores were dear friends and I want to support the family, but I am not angry, nor do I seek vengeance. An emotionally charged crowd, gathering in front of the courthouse, has the potential to erupt into something ugly.

Maybe I should go to be a peace maker.

Finally Straightened Out

My friend, Shirley Boyle, had some fun with Church Sign Generator -- and sent me the results!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Are You A Minister?

Two men sat next to each other on an airplane.

"Are you a minister?" the first one inquired.

"No," replied the other, "I've just had the flu for a couple of weeks."

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Meaningless Ditty?

Todd Rhoades, of Monday Morning Insight, recently reported on the day Chuck Colson "yelled in church."

Colson said:

When church music directors lead the congregation in singing some praise music, I often listen stoically with teeth clenched. But one Sunday morning, I cracked.

We had been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called, “Draw Me Close to You.”
The song has zero theological content and could be sung in a nightclub, for that matter.

When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed at us and said in a cheerful voice, “Let’s sing that again, shall we?” “No!” I shouted loudly. Heads all around me spun while my wife cringed.

Well, now Brother Chuck, you just need to chill out a bit, and enter into worship. They'll sing one of your songs eventually.

I'll grant you that some of the newer songs lack theological depth and are often repeated more times than necessary. (I heard Dr. Earle Wilson call them 7-11 songs. They have seven words and you sing them over again eleven times.)

However -- Draw Me Close is a song of of deep personal love and devotion to God. It was birthed in reverence. You can find the story behind the song HERE.

I wish all the people in my congregation had this longing: to desire God alone.

I would not call it a "meaningless ditty" -- any more than some older songs of a similar nature from the hymnal.

Whenever anybody enters worship with his teeth clenched, that should be a clue. It's time for an attitude check.

Perhaps, it's a call, as the song says to "lay it all down again. . ."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Minister's Business

You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most…It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance.”

– John Wesley

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Saint Vincent on Leadership

Well -- maybe that's a stretch to call him a saint -- but he certainly is a legend in Cheesehead country. My good friend, and District Superintendent, Dan Bickel recently sent these quotes from "The Coach":

Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay coach, had some good things to say. In the book The Lombardi Rules (26 Lessons from Vince Lombardi, the world’s greatest coach) by Vince Lombardi Jr. shares some thoughts and quotes from his dad. Here are some of those quotes:

· The difference (between a good coach and an average coach) is knowing what you want, and knowing what the end is supposed to look like. If a coach doesn’t know what the end is supposed to look like, he won’t know it when he sees it.

· If you cheat on the practice field, you’ll cheat in the game. If you cheat in the game, you’ll cheat the rest of your life.

· The leader can never close the gap between himself and the group (he leads). If he does, he is no longer what he must be. He must walk a tightrope between the consent he must win and the control he must exert.

· You gotta remember one thing: If you’re going to exercise authority, you’ve got to respect it.

· I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Goose Eggs

After hearing that 43% of Methodist Churches did not receive one new member by confession of faith, (see my last post), I thought I'd check on my own denomination.

I obtained some statistics from the Office of the General Secretary, and crunched the numbers.

Guess what percentage of Wesleyan Churches did not have one new member (either covenant or community) last year by profession of faith??


We Wesleyans like to say we're more evangelical and mission minded than our Mainline Methodist Mother ship -- but the fact is -- we aren't faring any better!!

I think the Wesleyans AND the Methodists had both better start praying for revival.

How's Business?

Peter Drucker, the leadership guru once said leaders of non-profit organizations should ask two questions:

1. What is our business?
2. How's business?

Percentage of McDonald's franchises that did not sell a hamburger last year: 0%
Percentage of Ace Hardware Stores that did not sell a hammer last year: 0%
Percentage of Kaybee Toy Stores that did not sell a toy last year: 0%
Percentage of Salvation Army Outlets that did not help a needy person last year: 0%
Percentage of State Universities that did not educate a student last year: 0%
Percentage of airlines that did not fly a plane last year: 0%
Percentage of Wal Mart's that did not sell merchandise last year: 0%

Percentage of Methodist Churches that did not receive a member by profession of faith last year: 43%

Thursday, March 23, 2006

An Eagle Flew and the Angels Rejoiced!

Tiffany committed her life to Christ today!

She's been on a long spiritual quest. As a Native American young lady, she has had many negative experiences with "christians" and "churches." It was a big and courageous decision.

A while back, she began attending our mentoring program for single moms. I recall, her saying once, "I don't like Christianity too much -- but I sure like you people."

And the Lord has been drawing her to Himself, slowly and steadily, with his love. She's been attending church every Sunday lately. Several people have played significant roles in her faith journey.

And today, with the encouraging help of Pastor Loretta, she took the leap of faith!

This morning she thought, "Maybe today I should commit my life to Christ."
Just seconds later, she looked up and saw a bald eagle circling overhead.

That was God's confirmation!

When Tiffany told me the great news, I dashed to my office and brought back a birthday present: a mother eagle figurine. It has been collecting dust on my desk. Now, it has a better job -- inspiring fresh faith in a new home!

"I have carried you on eagle's wings and brought you to myself." Ex. 19:4

Happy Birthday, Tiffany! The angels are rejoicing in your newfound peace.

The Good Shepherd

At the Ministerial Association Meeting yesterday,my friend, Dr. Tim Warner, shared a very good devotional:

Seven Qualities of the Good Shepherd.

SACRIFICES life to give life to the sheep.
HELPS sheep to be healthy and thrive.
ENCOURAGES sheep to their full potential.
PROTECTS sheep from fearsome wolves.
HEARTILY relates to sheep & Shepherd
ENLARGES vision for the sheep to grow.
RESOLVES to do the Father's will.
DWELLS together in unity!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

My Fishin' Buddy

This afternoon, a gentleman came to the church to see me.

Mike and I had met on several occasions down through the years, but he has never attended our worship services.

"Preacher," he said, "I came to tell you I want to have Jesus as my Fishing Buddy!"

"I've decided fishin' alone doesn't cut it. I need Jesus to steer my boat!"

So, today, I prayed with Mike. It's the first time I've prayed with someone to receive Christ as his "Fishin' Buddy!"

He was beaming as he left my study, carrying the new Bible I gave him, and he promised I'd see him in church.

So -- I could say I had a good day fishin'!

Joined in Affliction

At the end of the 11:00 service Sunday, I had just preached about the walls of Jericho, and was about to pronounce the benediction, when Cathy waved from the front row.

"Wait a minute! May I say something?"

I've learned in 23 years of marriage, that when Cathy wants to say something, I'd better listen.

She came to the front, and shared her concern about a young lady in our congregation who has been experiencing a very difficult affliction. It's a puzzling illness, brought on by the bite of a tick, that has disabled her.

"I sense that God is calling us to fast and pray for Jess." she said. "For the next three days, I invite anyone who wants to join me to devote this time for prayer and fasting. Then, on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., come join me for prayer at the church."

Fasting?? Three days?? I gulped. "Oh boy, what am I going to do with this?" I thought.

Then the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, "Join her!"

Once, several years ago, I fasted for three days like that -- and it just about killed me.

This time, however, is different. We're on the third day -- and I've sensed a deepening in my own spirit. This morning, I arose extra early, and found that my spiritual focus was razor sharp. (Usually, my mind wanders all over the place when I'm trying to pray and meditate on the Word.)

Somehow, the absence of food has heightened my spiritual awareness and deepened my hunger for Him. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness," Jesus said, "for they shall be filled."

Right now, I'm not even hungry -- except in my soul -- to be full of the Holy Spirit, to be overflowing with His Presence -- to be abounding in His Love.

In my devotions this morning, I ran across a passage in Judges, when the Israelites were attacking. For two days, they made no progress, and were soundly defeated. Then, they devoted themselves to the Lord in fasting and prayer. On the third day, they gained the victory!

Oh, Lord -- may the victory be won THIS day!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Renewal of Christmas Evans

Christmas Evans, the tough, one-eyed Welsh revivalist, wrote in his diary of a spiritual dry spell. To rememdy this, he went into the woods and spent three hours before the Lord in prayer and brokenness.

He wrote:

“There stole over me a sweet sense of His forgiving love. As the sun was westering I went back to the road, found my horse, mounted it, and went to my appointment. On the following day I preached with such power to a vast concourse of people gathered on the hillside, that a revival broke out that day and spread through the whole Principality.”

-- Note: Last spring, I had the privilege of visiting Christmas Evans' grave in Swansea. I've been inspired by this godly man's faith and devotion to the Lord.

Pastor, if you're wondering how to revitalize your church, maybe you need to start with your own heart first!

The great evangelist, Gypsy Smith, said, "Draw a circle around yourself, get down on your knees and say, 'Lord, please send a revival, and start it inside this circle!'"

Monday, March 20, 2006

12 Ways to Reduce Your Counseling Load

Paul Bailey shared the following ways to decrease the demand for your pastoral counsel in Leadership Journal (Vol. 10: No. 4)

1. Don't put a door on your office.
2. Sing songs such as "Put On a Happy Face" and "Don't Worry; Be Happy" to counselees.
3. Step out of the office and start laughing uproariously.
4. Tell the counselee that although you can't figure out a solution to the problem, you'll bring it up in the sermon on Sunday and see if anybody has any ideas.
5. Casually catch up on your reading while counselees bare their deepest problems.
6. Tell the counselee you are videotaping the session for replay on the local cable program: Candid Clergy.
7. Put a bumper sticker on your car: "I'd rather not be counseling."
8. Refer them to a helpful article in your favorite professional journal: the National Enquirer.9. Suggest counseling by fax machine.
10. In front of the counselee, phone your spouse and ask for his or her opinion on what to do.
11. Recite tales of people who are a lot worse off, and call the counselee a crybaby.
12. Engage the counselee's mother-in-law as a co-therapist.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Nursery Fast Past

Much like the express lanes at Disney, Lark News announces the arrival of the "Nursery Fast Pass."

Get your youngin's in and out quickly by filling out this form.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Over the Cliff

Here's what happens when shepherds don't pay attention to the flock:

ISTANBUL: Hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff in eastern Turkey, plunging to their deaths while shepherds looked on in dismay. Four hundred sheep fell 15 metres to their deaths in a ravine in Van province near Iran but broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived, newspaper reports said yesterday. Shepherds from Ikizler village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free, the Radikal daily said. The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.

Divine Appointment

In just a half hour, I am going to conduct a big wedding -- but I wanted to take a quick moment and post something really cool that happened a little while ago.

I arrived at the church this afternoon, and saw a Native American lady out front. She came up to me and asked, "Are you the Father?"

I sort of nodded -- and she went on, "I was just released from the hospital, and I don't have a way back home. I walked here to the church, because I know some people who attend here -- and I even came once to a small group."

Now, it really went against my policy of taking females (besides Cathy, Hannah, and Mom) in cars anywhere -- but I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me to do it.

So, I borrowed a church van, and drove her to her home on the rez.

As we were travelling, she began to share the many burdens and barriers she is facing in her life. I told her that that sounds like my sermon tomorrow -- "The Walls of Jericho -- and how they came tumbling down."

"Jericho? Walls tumbling down? I've never heard that story." she responded.

So, I told her the story -- and she was amazed by it.

"I've not had much use for Christianity -- but I am into the Midewin Religion of my anscestors," she said, "but I like your story, and I like the people I've met from your church."

Then, we arrived at her destination -- and I asked if I could pray for her. She agreed, and I prayed that God would bless and help her with all her troubles.

There were tears in her eyes as she climbed out of the vehicle, and her parting word was, "I think I'll come to your church sometime."

20 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Day

1. Take the day for granted. Fail to recognize that it is a special gift from God.

2. Focus on the problems rather than the possibilities.

3. Complain! Complain! Complain! You can always find something to gripe about.

4. Recount the ways others have mistreated you and throw a pity party.

5. Forget to say "please" and "thank you." Be rude.

6. Don't take time to pray. There is not peace for an "un-centered" heart.

7. Cram every minute full of busy activity. Eliminate margin (breathing room.)

8. Criticize and belittle your family members. As Disraeli said, "to belittle is to be little."

9. Spend the entire day watching television. Contentment will evaporate as you vegetate.

10. Count your burdens rather than your blessings. Focus on the negative rather than the positive.

11. Be sure to whine when things go wrong. Whining is the cry of a shriveled soul.

12. Lose your temper! Let it explode in angry tirades.

13. Be a perfectionist. Refuse to be happy unless everything is just right.

14. When you don't get your own way, stick out your bottom lip and pout.

15. Refuse to admit your mistakes. Eliminate "I'm sorry" and "I was wrong" from your vocabulary.

16. Cry over spilt milk. Be absorbed with problems you can't fix.

17. Make excuses. This is much easier than making progress.

18. Find fault with everybody and every situation. Be sure everybody knows what's wrong.

19. Blame other people for your own mistakes.

20. Fail to read and apply the Bible. When you ignore God and try to manage life on your own -- you're sure to mess it up!

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Pastor's Mother

An elderly woman walked into a small town church one Sunday morning. She was obviously a visitor.

A friendly usher handed her a bulletin. "Welcome to our church!" he beamed, "Where would you like to sit?"

"The front row, please." she replied.

The helpful usher leaned over and whispered furtively in her ear, "You really don't want to do that. Our preacher is really boring."

"Do you happen to know who I am?" the lady asked.

"No." the usher said.

"I'm the pastor's mother!"

"Do you know who I am?" he asked.

"No." she said.

"Whew! That good!" he answered.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

My Kind of Math

My friend, Richard Nedrow, recently sent me this following equation:

What equals 100% in life?

Here's a little mathematical formula that might help you answer these questions:

Is represented as:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 2122 23 24 25 26.

8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%

11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%

1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%

AND, look how far the love of God will take you

12+15+22+5+15+6+7+15+4 = 101%

Therefore, one can conclude with mathematical certainty that: While Hard Work and Knowledge will get you close, and Attitude will get you there, it's the Love of God that will put you over the top.

Your Best Book Now!

I spent yesterday writing.

I'm working on a book to inspire and encourage small town pastors. It's been stirring around in me for a couple of years -- but this week, I'm actually starting on it!

I've pretty much knocked out three chapters -- and have a rough fourth.

Last night, I saw that Joel Osteen just signed a contract for a multi-million dollar book deal. Hey, I'll sign up for one of those! Then, I can be as generous as Rick Warren, and give back a reverse tithe of 90%.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Impressive Preacher's Kid

In the summer months of 1869, the one-armed Civil War veteran, John Wesley Powell, led an epic expedition down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

It was the first-ever complete exploration of the Green and Colorado Rivers, and the first known passage through the Grand Canyon -- the last unexplored region of the continental United States.

Powell wrote:

Thus the Grand Canyon is a land of song. Mountains of music swell in the rivers, hills of music billow in the creeks, and meadows of music murmur in the rills that ripple over the rocks. Altogether it is a symphony of multitudinous melodies. All this is the music of waters.

Later, he created the Cosmos Club, founded and directed the Smithsonian's Bureau of Ethnology, served as the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey and among many other accomplishments, helped to found the National Geographic Society. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

An amazing man -- with a fascinating story.

And here's the cool part: His dad, Joseph Powell, was an original 1843 Wesleyan Methodist preacher!

I have read every Wesleyan Church history book, and do not recall this guy being mentioned once!

You can read more about John Wesley Powell and his excursions here and here.

Pettiness and John Wesley

"In the absence of vision, pettiness prevails!"

The constant negativity spewing from a local Christian radio station, and their affiliated websites, reminds me of this passage from John Wesley.

I actally agree with some of the things the negative snipers are saying -- but their surly, haughty attitude is a beam in the eye, as they attempt to remove splinters. Fault-finding is neither a positive nor winsome attribute. Momma always said you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

It's interesting that in their diatribes, they will occasionally quote the 18th century spiritual leaders, such as John Wesley.

Wesley wouldn't appreciate being hijacked in the name of small minded pettiness. He had to deal with the same garbage two and a half centuries ago. Here's his perspective:
How dreadful, and how innumerable are the contests which have arisen about religion! And not only among the children of the world. . . but even among the children of God, those who had experienced the Kingdom of God within them, who had tasted of righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

How many of these in all ages, instead of joining together against the common enemy, have turned their weapons against each other, and so, not only wasted their precious time but hurt one another's spirits, weakened each other's hands, and so hindered the great work of their common Master!"

-- John Wesley in his sermon, "The Lord, Our Righteousness"

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Rural America

Regardless of what it may seem, America is still primarily small town and rural.

You can see it for yourself here. The red areas are rural -- and the grey is urban/suburban. (it may take a few seconds to load)

It is not surprising, then, that the majority of American churches are in these smaller communities.

No wonder it's called the "Heartland."

Unfortunately, the conferences, books, and resources for pastors today mostly assume a suburban (or urban) context.

Without Reservation

Yesterday morning, I made my way to the Minneapolis Airport in a blinding winter storm.

Upon arrival, I went to the Northwest agent, and gave her my name and destination. She punched around on her computer -- and then, with a puzzled expression, looked up at me.

"You're not in here!" she exclaimed, "We don't have any reservation for you!"

I handed her a page I had printed from the web, which listed my flight, the cost, and departure times. She peered at it for a moment and said, "Oh, you didn't complete your purchase!"

Somehow, I had failed to punch the "buy ticket now" button -- and was thus, stuck in the winter snow without a reservation.

She offered me a ticket for a mere $1200 -- but I declined, and drove back to my snowbound home instead of flying out to the sunny southwest.

As I drove home in the wild, wooly winter weather, I could not help but wonder how many people in our community assume they've made their reservation for heaven -- but haven't closed the deal.

"Yet, to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God." --John 1:12

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." -- Matthew 7:21

Monday, March 13, 2006

Didn't Make the Bub Club

This Bub didn't make it to the club (see previous post) -- I'm back at home in a major snowstorm (over a foot and still coming down) instead of sunny Phoenix.

It's a crazy story -- but I'll have to tell you later. My wife and kids are happy to see me home, and they're paging me to play a game.

Oh well, there's no place like home -- even if it means skipping the Bub Club.

The Bub Club

I will not be posting from Monday to Thursday this week, because I will be out of town (Phoenix) for the Large Wesleyan Church Pastors' Roundtable.

This annual gathering is for senior pastors of Wesleyan Congregations of 500 or more people.

I recall a few years ago, when our church passed 500 and I was invited to attend. I showed the invitation letter to my sons, Adam and Ryan.

"Look boys!" I beamed, "I'm included in the Wesleyan Roundtable now! That means I get to go to Atlanta, meet Andy Stanley and have dinner with John Maxwell!"

I thought they'd be more impressed.

They just rolled their eyes, and said (with feigned enthusiasm) "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!! Yippee. Wow."

Then, after conspiring for a moment together, they sang a special rendition from Aladdin's soundtrack:

"Congratulations, Bub, You've joined the Club!"

Somehow, that put it all into perspective: a humbling effect. It seemed rather silly for me, a grown man, and a minister of the Gospel, to be so excited about being part of the "Bub Club."

Nevertheless, I did go meet Andy Stanley and had dinner with John Maxwell. I discovered that the senior pastors of the larger Wesleyan Churches are wonderful men of God, full of passion to reach the lost, and some of the most inspiring people I've ever met. They are compassionate and caring. They've helped me navigate the difficult maze of effective church leadership (The bigger a church gets, the more complex and hard to lead.) I treasure their prayers, insights, and advice.

In years since, because of the group, I've had the opportunity to visit some of the greatest churches in the nation, and to meet their amazing leaders. It's something I make every effort to attend each year, and I'm richer for it.

But, heading out the door, after kissing Cathy and the kids, I always say, "Well, see ya later! I'm goin' to the Bub Club!"

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Process it Up!

Have you noticed after a difficult conversation or interchange with somebody that we all tend to process it?

Sometimes we process it up. Sometimes we process it down.
Mostly, it's down!

We walk away and then begin to stew:
"What did she MEAN by that?"
"I wonder what he was thinking!"
"Did you notice his body language?"
"It's what she DIDN'T say that bothers me!"

Cooking conversations after the fact is like overcooking spaghetti -- it ends up tangled, mushy, and messy with a stench.

Here's the problem with processing conversations downhill -- You usually end up with a false perspective. Everything is blown completely out of whack, and the truth is distorted like the reflections in a carnival funny mirror.

Here's a good rule of thumb: Always assume the best.

Whenever you suspiciously impute motives onto people, you end up going down a dark trail of negativity which breeds mistrust. Most of the time, we assume things are worse than they really are. We "fill in the blanks" with monsters of our own imaginings.

If you're going to read between the lines, how about doing this? Read good into it! Read the silent blessings! Assume the very best! Process it up!

If they meant you well, they will be encouraged.
If they meant you harm, they will be astounded.

Either way, you both win!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A Popeye Moment

The United Churches of Christ have lost 97 congregations thus far this year -- as a direct result of their official sanction of same sex unions.

"It is a crisis of lost churches, lost funds, and lost unity," stated Dr. Bob Thompson, a U.C.C. Minister from Corinth, N.C., "brought on by the actions of our national leadership."

One of the 97 is in our own community. Since their vote to withdraw, we've been helping them by supplying inspiring, evangelical Bible-based preachers from our own congregation.

They are a wonderful congregation -- good people, who finally had a Popeye moment:

"That's alls I can stands! I can stands it no more!"

There is renewed faith at the church now, and hope for a bright future, as they get back to the basics of preaching the Word, sharing the Gospel, and discipling the believers.

I ran into one of their board members at the Christian bookstore the other day. She was picking up new hymnals. It was a good move in the right direction, because the old ones neutered God and omitted the hymns referring to the blood of Christ.

With a fresh appreciation for that brave little country church, I left the bookstore humming, "On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand"

footnote: I got the "Popeye Moment" idea from Bill Hybel's talk at the 2005 Leadership Summit.

A Faith Budget for Your Church

Yesterday morning, I was fretting over a budget challenge we were wrestling with at board meeting this week. There's something we really need to do -- but it will cost us about $30,000 more than our projected income.

I poured my heart out to God about it -- asking Him to show me His will in this.

Coming to my office, I noticed a book on my desk that I had recently purchased for a buck at a rummage sale: Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby.

I happened to open it to page 213 -- and there, in bold print was, "A Faith Budget for Your Church"
In the paragraphs that followed, Henry Blackaby shared the following:

One year, the people on our finance committee said, "Pastor, you have taught us to walk by faith in every area of life of our church except the budget." I asked them to explain. They said, "Well, when we set the budget, we set the budget on the basis of wht we believe WE can do. Id does not reflect that we expect God to do anything."

"Hmmm," I said, "Then, how do you feel we ought to set the budget?"

They said, :First, we should determine all that God wants to do through us. Second, we need to estimate what the cost will be. Finally, we need to divide the budget goal into three categories:
1. What we plan to accomplish through our tithes
2. What others have promised to do and
3. What we must depend on God to do."

As a church, we prayed and decided that God did want us to use this approach to budgeting. We did not try to dream our own dreams for God. We had to be absolutely sure God was leading us to do the things we put in the budget. Then we listed what that would cost. We listed what we thought our people would give and what others (denominational board, partnership churches, and individuals) had said they would give. The difference between what we could resonably expect to receive and the total was what we would ask God to provide.

The Big Question Was: What is our operating budget?

Well, by faith we adopted the grand total as our operating budget. At this point, we reached a crisis of belief. Did we really believe that the God who led us to do these things would also provide the resources to bring them to pass? Anytime, God leads you to do something that has God-sized dimensions, you will face a crisis of belief. When you face a crisis of belief, what you do next reveals what you really believe about God.

The budget of our church normally would have been $74,000. The budget we set was $164,000. We pledged to pray daily that God would meet our needs. Any money that came in that we did not anticipate we credited to God. At the end of that year, we had received $172,000. God taught our church a lesson in faith that radically changed us all.

The greatest crisis came when we decided to operate on the grand total rather than what we knew we could do. Operating on the $74,000 amount would not take much faith. We were sure we could do that much. Operating on a budget of $164,000 required faith. We could not see any way to get that much money unless God provided it.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Lil' Markie

This old vinal cover was posted at purgatorio today -- and I thought it would be good for my pastoral calling card.

They called me Markie when I was a little boy.

In fact, the day I was born, a lady from the church came to visit momma in the hospital.

"Ohh!!! What did you name him??"


To this the astonished woman replied, "Monkey??????????"

From then on, my four brothers called me "Lil' Monkey."

Lutheran Airlines

A friend sent this to me this week. . .


*If you are travelin soon, consider Lutran (Lutheran) Viking Air, da *no-frills* airline.

You're all in da same boat on Lutran Air, where flyin is a upliftin experience.

Dere is no First Class on any Lutran Viking Air flight. Meals are potluck. Rows 1-6, bring rolls; 7-15, bring a salad; 16-21, a main dish, and 22-30, a dessert.

Basses and tenors please sit in da rear of da aircraft. Everyone is responsible for his or her own baggage.

All fares are by free will offering and da plane will not land 'til da budget is met.

Pay attention to your flight attendant, who will acquaint you wit da safety system aboard dis Lutran Viking Air 599.

Okay den, listen up. I'm only gonna say dis vonce. In da event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, I am frankly going to be real surprised and so vill Captain Olson, because we fly right around two tousand feet, so loss of cabin pressure would probably mean da Second Coming or someting of dat nature, and I wouldn't bodar with doze liddle masks on da rubber tubes. You're gonna have bigger tings to worry about den dat.

Just stuff doze back up in dair little holes. Probably da masks fell out because of turbulence which, to be honest wit you, we're going to have quite a bit of at two tousand feet, sort a like driving across a plowed field, but after a while you get used to it.

In da event of a water landing, I'd say forget ! it. Start saying da Lord's Prayer and just hope you get to da part about forgive us our sins as we forgive doze who sin against us, which some people say "trespass against us," which ain't right, but what can you do?

Da use of cell phones on da plane is strictly forbidden, not because day may confuse da plane's navigation system, which is seat of da pants all da way. No, it's because cell phones are a pain in da wazoo, and if God meant you to use a cell phone, He would have put your mout on da side of your head.

We start lunch right about noon and it's buffet style wit da coffee pot up front. Den we'll have da hymn sing; hymnals are in da seat pocket in front of you. Don't take yours wit you when you go or I am going to be real upset and I am not kiddin!

Right now I'll say Grace: "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let deze gifts to us be blessed. Fadar, Son, and Holy Ghost, may we land in Dulut or pretty close."

Happy Landin wit da Lutran Viking Airline.*

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I'll Praise my Maker

About 10:00 a.m. on March 2, 1791, the great spiritual leader, 87 year old John Wesley, died "without a struggle or groan."

The day before, in a final surge of strength, he sang the Isaac Watts hymn, "I'll Praise my Maker."

I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath,
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler powers;
My days of praise shall ne’er be past,
While life, and thought, and being last,
Or immortality endures.

Why should I make a man my trust?
Princes must die and turn to dust;
Vain is the help of flesh and blood:
Their breath departs, their pomp, and power,
And thoughts, all vanish in an hour,
Nor can they make their promise good.

Through the night hours, the song remained in his heart and on his lips, as weakly, he whispered, "I'll praise. . . I'll praise. . ."

"The best of all is, God is with us!"

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Nascar Levitical Cover-up


One that observes the Levitical Law -- (or Seventh-Day Adventist rules.)

Little Debbie, sponsor of the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford, doesn't allow its logos displayed between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday as it observes the Sabbath. The team must cover Little Debbie logos on its hauler, change into non-Little Debbie attire and remove Little Debbie livery from its race car during those 24 hours.
-- From Auto Week

Wake Up Everybody!

Two Sundays ago, during the pastoral prayer, a little kid yelled out, "Wake Up Everybody!! Wake Up!!"

Sometimes, I want to yell that at church too!

"Wake up, thou sleeper! And strengthen the things that remain!"

But, if it seems like they're dozing, maybe there's a reason. A recent poll by USA Today shows that Americans are sleep deprived.

I thank God for good sleep -- seven or eight hours each night, but I wonder, if these stats accurately portray the members of my congregation.

If so, maybe it's not such a bad thing if they nod off a little during my sermon.

I used to feel guilty about falling asleep while I was praying, but then I remembered the words of Jesus, "Come unto to me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Just For Fun: The pastor noticed a man get up and walk out right in the middle of his sermon. After the service, he approached the fellow's wife.

"I didn't offend your husband with something I said?" He inquired.

"No," she replied, "He sleepwalks all the time!"

Monday, March 06, 2006

My Occupation

"My soul is occupied" he said,
"And all my substance in his service.
Now I guard no flock,
Nor have I other employment,
My sole occupation is love.

Before the soul succeeed in effecting
This gift and surrender of itself to the beloved,
It was entangled in many useless occupations
by which it
Sought to please itself and others.

All this is over now --
For all its thoughts, words, and actions
Are directed to God.

All my occupation now is the practice
Of the love of God. All I do
Is Done in Love

-- St. John of the Cross

Personality Test

My 11 year old son, Wes, invented this Personality Test. Perhaps this will catch on and be the new assessment tool for Ministerial Development Boards as they review prospects for ordination. It might be just as effective as the tools currently in use:

Personality Test
1. What would you rather do? Work in an office or tree house?
2. When was the last time you took a shower?
3. What would you rather sell? Firewood or Happy Meal toys?
4. What do you like more? Going on the computer or making a fire?
5. What would you rather do? Math or something fun?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

What Holds You Back?

This morning, I preached on Moses being held back from the Promised Land (Deut. 32, Num. 20, Psalm 106)

It was a good Sunday. Members of the youth group led the music. I felt the anointing as I spoke, and the message seemed to hit home. Attendance was down a bit (580), but the the spirit was good.

The great news is, God showed up! (Without Him at church, we're sunk! I'm glad He's not in the habit of skipping church.)

I'm grateful to my friend , Marlin Mull, of Brooksville, Florida, who graciously took time over the phone last week to help me frame some of the message -- from the events in Numbers 20.

Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because He Did Not Exalt the Holiness of God. (Deut. 32: 51)

How did Fail?

1. He Grabbed for the Glory that Belonged to God Alone. "Must WE bring you water from the rock?" (Num. 20:10)

God said I will not share my glory with another.

When someone comes to you with a compliment, don't stammer around in false humility.
Say "Thank You" and then take the compliment and offer it to the Lord. Anything good that comes from us is a gift from God, and should be returned to him as thanks.

(We can do the same thing with criticisms too!)

Together, as a congregation, we spoke, aloud, the following words from Simone Weil:

My job isn't to think about myself.
My job is to think about God,
And to let Him think about me.

2. He Reacted Harshly "Listen, you REBELS. . ." (Num. 20:10)

Moses was right in what he said -- but WRONG in HOW he said it.

You can be very right -- and also very wrong!

3. His Impatience Led to Disobedience "Moses struck the rock twice. . ." (Num. 20:11)
God said "Speak" and Moses, in a fit of anger, Smacked the rock with his big stick.

About 40 years earlier, there was a similar situation (Ex. 17) where God told Moses to stike the rock to provide water for the Israelites -- and here he is -- striking again.

The first time -- it was the strike of positive faith.
The second time -- it was the strike of impatient anger.

4. He Spoke Hard and Hurtful Words. (Psalm 106:33) "Rash words came from Moses' mouth."

It pays to think before you speak.

A friend of John Wesley commented that Wesley seemed to be much better in control of his temper in his later years, than when he was younger. The friend observed that it seemd Wesley "held Christ more closely in his heart" and "kept his thoughts close"

Hold Christ close to your heart! Keep your thoughts close -- or think before you speak.

A Beautiful Postlude: Although Moses failed in this, God still treasured him -- and gave him a special view of the Promised Land -- a panorama. The last scene Moses beheld before he died on Pisgah's lofty peak was Canaan: his destiny. He beheld it with his eyes, and held it in his heart.

Then, he died and God buried him with his own hand. (Deut. 34)

Moses was an extraordinary man -- but an ordinary extraordinary man.

His faith serves as an inspiration. His failure serves as a warning.

For our Benediction: I shared from Moses' last message to his people in Deut. 32:3-4

"I will proclaim the name of the Lord. O praise the greatness of our God. He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he."

Headed Home

Last night, I preached at our fledgling satellite campus in Minong. Some kids from our youth group led the music, and I preached. 45 people showed up -- including two new families.

My sermon was entitled "Headed Home" I wove two Wild Man & Pig Scriptures as the foundation for the message --

1. The wild man delivered by demons and Jesus said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you." (Mark 5:19)

2. The Prodigal Son, when he came to his senses: "I will set out and go back to my father. . ." (Luke 15:18)

I drew a few thoughts from Spurgeon's message on Mark 5, which he preached shortly before Christmas in 1857. Amazing, that 150 years later, a little bit of Spurgeon is preaching to the loggers in Minong, Wisconsin!

My questions to the congregation:

Where are you right now? Are you home? Is your heart at peace? Is your mind at rest? Is your heart right with God? Are things "right" at your home?

There was a good response.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


It's my goal to finish a book a week. I seldom start and finish a book in the same week -- and I'm usually starting four for every one I finish.

Thus, there are a dozen books cooking on my stove at the same time.

Reading, for me, is essential for effective preaching and ministry. First -- reading the Bible -- and then the other stuff. I rarely watch televison (except the Packers and a few minutes of O'Reilly), and I carve out time to read in the morning as a part of my quiet time (devotional literature) , before bed (biographies, fun stuff, whatever), whenever I'm waiting (I always carry a couple of books with me -- and read whenever I have to wait. Keith Drury taught me this a long time ago.) and the "in betweens" It's amazing how much reading can fit in between the cracks.

You can see what I've finished recently at my Reading List Blog.

Good Preaching

I do believe that we slander Christ when we think that we are to draw the people by something else but the preaching of Christ crucified.

We know that the greatest crowd in London has been held together these thirty years by nothing but the preaching of Christ crucified.

Where is our music? Where is our oratory? Where is anything of attractive architecture, or beauty of ritual? "A bare service," they call it.

Yes, but Christ makes up for all the deficiencies.

-- Charles Spurgeon in "The Crisis of This World"


I'm not too graceful.

Watching the Olympic skaters recently made me wish I could skate like that -- but my feeble attempts at Shue's Pond have been much more like duck waddlings than swan swimmings.

Downhill skiing is the same way for me. My feet point out -- and therefore my "snowplow" doesn't plow, and equals "full speed ahead!"

My few excursions beyond the bunny hill have always ended the same way: "Look out belooooooooooooow!!" CRASH!

I'm not very graceful at swimming either. When I met Cathy, she was the lifeguard at the college swimming pool, and all I could do was doggie paddle. I tried to get her to rescue me several times from the deep end.

It's a good thing my value as a person isn't measured by how graceful I am!

It's more important to be gracious than graceful.

Remember back in January 1994, when skater Tonya Harding paid a guy to club her opponant, Nancy Kerrigan in the knee?

Immediately after the attack, Kerrigan wept in pain and confusion, "Why? Why?"

Harding was a "graceful" skater -- but a most ungracious person.
Kerrigan, on the other hand, was both graceful and gracious.

I recally wiping tears from my eyes, just a month later, as Nancy Kerrigan, though injured, won the silver medal at the Lillehammer Olympics. It was the best performance of her career. The crowds stood and cheered for a long time.

When it was Harding's turn, her laces broke and she stumbled to an eighth place finish. Vindication! We reap what we sow.

During the uproar after the attack, Charles Barkley, the surly NBA star said, "I heard Tonya Harding is calling herself the Charles Barkley of figure skating. I was going to sue her for defamation of character, but then I realized I have no character."

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

Last night, I finished The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

As it is coming to the theaters in May, I thought I'd better figure out the scoop. Probably, half of Sawyer County will go see the movie, and then a bunch of folks are going to come to me with confused questions.

I came away from the novel with three conclusions:

1. Dan Brown is a very good fiction writer -- captivating.
2. He is a misguided theologian and an inaccurate historian. (concrete mind =thouroughly mixed up and permanently set!) His belief about Jesus is downright heresy!
3. People will believe a good story told well -- even if it's not true.

Folks buy Brown's baloney just because he's a good story teller, and he speaks with an air of authority. Just think what would happen if he used those gifts for truth.

When we proclaim the Gospel -- the Greatest Truth -- we must tell it boldly and beautifully. Take authority and preach the Word!

My friend, Jim Garlow, has written a great book called Cracking Da Vinci's Code, which I also have read.

Jim is a much better historian and theologian than Brown. You can read some of his thoughts here.

Note: Almost 2/3 of CNN Poll Respondance, say the Da Vinci Code's premise that the church hid a secret marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdaline is credible.

Yikes!! Now, that's scary!!

We'd better get out there and start telling the better and true story.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Tim LaHaye Was Right!

Tim LaHaye was right! Click Here for Latest Update.

Fido's Prayer

Dear Lord,
Help me to be the kind of dog
my boy thinks I am!

Guest of the Soul

From Samuel Brengle's holiness classic, The Guest of the Soul:

O the bitter shame and sorrow,
That a time could ever be,
When I let the Savior's pity
Plead in vain, and proudly answered;
"All of self, and none of Thee."

Yet, He found me; I beheld Him
Bleeding on the cursed tree,
Heard Him pray, "Forgive them, Father"
And my wistful heart said faintly
"Some of self and some of Thee."

Day by day, his tender mercy,
Healing, helping, full and free,
Sweet and strong, and Ah! So patient
Brought me lower, while I whispered;
"Less of self and more of Thee."

Higher than the highest heavens,
Deeper than the deepest sea,
Lord, Thy love at last has conquered,
Grant me now my spirit's longing --
"None of self and all of Thee."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Strategic Thinking

Thoughtfulness may be defined as a careful concern for the secondary consequences of each decision and each action. This is the essence of strategic thinking.
-- Brian Tracy

To be honest, I have a hard enough time anticipating the primary consequence of each decision, let alone the secondary ones!

I had a chemistry set when I was a kid, and I recall thinking like this: "Let's put a little of THIS into the formula and see what happens!"

Sometimes, I do that with ministry planning.

It may not fare too well as far as strategic thinking is concerned, but it sure makes for some exciting adventures!