Monday, January 30, 2012

The Real Fishers of Men

"Some Christians are close to God, but remote from people;  some are close to people, but remote from God; some are close to neither, and some are close to both.  Those who are near to God and to their fellow are the real fishers of men."
--  Samuel Shoemaker

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wesley's Thanksgiving Prayer

"Eternal and merciful Father, I give Thee humble thanks (increase my thanfulness, I beseech Thee) for all the blessings, spiritual and temporal, which in the riches of Thy mercy Thou has poured down upon me.  Amen."
-- John Wesley

Friday, January 27, 2012

Vibrant Ministry for the Long Haul

"After  more than four decades in active ministry my enthusiasm is undiminished.  I'm not tired or burned out, or discouraged.  In fact, I love ministry more today than ever before.  As long as God gives me stregth I plan to walk through every door He opens and to do everything He calls me today.  I'm not looking for a place to stop, just for wisdom and guidance to do all the Lord puts before me!"
-- Richard Exley

(HT Al Prentice)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Do You Really Need to Know?

Mark Roberts' take on a fascinating New York Times piece by Harvard president, Lawrence Summers, What You (Really) Need to Know.  What are the implications for church ministry and discipleship?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Blessings in Disguise



The early Salvation Army officer, Samuel Brengle, was preaching on a
Boston street corner, when a young hoodlum attacked him by throwing a brick.  The blow to Brengle’s head caused severe injury, which threatened his very life.

Laid up for eighteen months, Brengle was unable to perform his duties.  Housebound, he could not accomplish important tasks, and felt totally useless.

But Brengle lived by this principle:  when life throws you lemons, make lemonade!

Attempting to redeem time during his housebound recuperation, he began to write a few articles to encourage people in their faith.  To his surprise, the articles were published.

This launched a splendid writing career, which led to the publication of eight books with over a million copies sold.  In fact, today, Samuel Brengle is known far more as the writer of books than a preacher of sermons.

Looking back on that painful ordeal, Brengle realized there was an unexpected blessing in the brick that had been hurled at him, stating, “No brick, no book!”

Similarly, John Bunyan was imprisoned for nearly twelve years in the Bedford jail because of his unbending religious convictions.  This confinement caused tremendous strain and heartache for him and his family, but in those years of captivity, he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, widely known as one of the most significant works of English literature.

Leonard Ravenhill was a pretty good preacher, until he was seriously injured after leaping from a burning building.  The recovery was a long painful process.

Like Brengle and Bunyan, Ravenhill wrote in his confinement, and became a powerful voice of conscience for church leaders around the world.

No brick, no book.
No jail, no book.
No fire, no book.

Sometimes, the greatest blessing comes in the most painful disguise. 

Conversations in Effective Children's Ministry

Jeremy Mavis is posting a fascinating series of reflections on a Children's Ministry White Paper by Daug Paul from Eicon Community Church. (the paper is found here)

Jeremy is responding to each of the ten sections in Paul's paper, and it's really good stuff

  1. It All Starts with Discipleship
  2. Children’s Ministry Research
  3. Parents as the Primary Disciplers of their Children
  4. How People Learn
  5. Role of the Church
  6. What We Want Our Kids to Know
  7. How We Will Do Children’s Ministry
  8. The Church Equips
  9. Parents Disciple Their Kids
  10. What If the Parents Aren’t Christians?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Patch the Sidewalk

A few years ago, our church board's annual vision strategy meeting didn't go too well. We talked around a dozen issues but ended up making only one momentuous decision:

Patch the Sidewalk!

Merits of a laying a new sidewalk vs patching the old one were discussed at length.  Strong opinions were expressed from both sides.   After a long, circular debate, frugality won the day.

Looking back, I sure wish I had led that meeting towards a more inspiring end.

Imagine, standing before the congregation the next Sunday with this important announcement:

"Brothers and sisters, last Thursday our church board discussed how we're going to fight evil, stir revival, win the lost, multiply disciples, transform the community, and change the world.  After much  deliberation, our first bold step is to patch the sidewalk!"

In the months that followed, I wondered why my board members seemed less than enthusiastic. 

Here's a valuable lesson from that experience: 

Church boards are meant to tap into God's great adventure -- His mission to bring hope and holiness to the neighbors and nations.  Board meetings should major on the majors and minor on the minors.

In the absence of compelling vision, we end up slogging away in trivialities.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tebow, Rodgers and the Christian Faith

As a pastor, I like Tim Tebow.  He obviously is on the Jesus side, and uses every opportunity to let his little light shine.

His repeated last minute comeback performances for the Denver Broncos seemed almost miraculous at times.  Their overtime wildcard victory was somewhat like the plot of the movie, “Angels in the Outfield”, especially when people noticed his 316 stats (316 passing yards, and 31.6 yards per completion), which brought to mind Tebow’s keynote Bible verse, John 3:16.

The practice of “Tebowing” has spread across the nation.  Pictures of various people in the famous Tebow prayer posture are posted at www.tebowing.com.  In fact, I’ve heard that some folks are even getting tebow tattoos.

Closer to home, one of the shepherds discreetly tebowed in our congregation’s Christmas pageant.  I got a kick out of that!

I’ve noticed that Tim Tebow elicits strong reactions from people.  They either love him or hate him.  People tend to refer to him as St. Timothy, or to vilify him as some intolerant bigot.

Now, I’ve never seen anything that Tebow has said or done publically that warrants the kind of vitriol and mockery he has endured.  He strikes me as a very positive, definite, exuberant Christian – and a loud one at that.

And maybe that’s where the rub is.  I happen to like positive, definite, exuberant, loud Christians – but not everybody shares my opinion.

This brings me to another NFL quarterback, who also is a strong believer in Jesus Christ:  Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers, like Tebow, takes the Bible seriously, knows Jesus as his Savior, believes in prayer, and lives with a holy mission.   There is one major difference between them when it comes to matters of faith:  Tebow is noisy and Rodgers is quiet about it.

At appropriate moments, I’ve heard Rodgers give testimony to his Christian faith. For the most part, he lives by the adage of St. Francis, “Preach Christ at all times, and when necessary, use words.”

From everything I know about him, Rodgers’ faith is just as strong and real as Tebow’s.  He just doesn’t flaunt it as much.

I think this approach works much better in engaging people who don’t understand where noisy Christians come from.

My bottom line conclusion from this is that it takes all kinds of Christians to reach all kinds of people.   Some (like me) are deeply inspired by Tebow’s dramatic expressions of faith on the field.  Others are deeply annoyed by his antics.  So for them, there’s Rodgers!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Small Town Pastor

I invite you to check out this delightful blog by Marcus Lynn, packed with humor and inspiration:  Small Town Pastor

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Bible Lives!

The Bible -- It Lives! 
By O. Wood (The Bible Friend)
Adapted by Mark O. Wilson

Generations follow generations – yet it lives.
Nations rise and fall – yet it lives.
Kings, dictators, presidents come and go – yet it lives.
Torn, condemned, burned – yet it lives.
Hated, despised, cursed – yet it lives.
Doubted, suspected, criticized – yet it lives.
Scoffed at by scorners – yet it lives.
Exaggerated by fanatics – yet it lives.
Misconstrued and misstated – yet it lives.
Ranted and raved about – yet it lives.
Its inspiration denied – yet it lives.

Yet it lives – as a lamp to our feet.
Yet it lives – as a light to our paths.
Yet it lives – as a standard for childhood.
Yet it lives – as a guide for youth.
Yet it lives – as an inspiration for midlife.
Yet it lives – as a comfort for the aged.
Yet it lives – as food for the hungry.
Yet it lives – as water for the thirsty.
Yet it lives – as rest for the weary.
Yet it lives – as light for the nations.
Yet it lives – as salvation for the sinner.
Yet it lives – as grace for the believer.

To know it is to love it.
To love it is to live by it.
To live by it means eternal life. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thursday, January 19, 2012

God Fills the Gaps

A True Hymn
by
George Herbert 

 My Joy, my Life, my Crown!
     My heart was meaning all the day,
               Somewhat it fain would say,
And still it runneth muttering up and down
With only this, My Joy, my Life, my Crown!

               Yet slight not those few words;
     If truly said, they may take part
               Among the best in art:
The fineness which a hymn or psalm affords
Is, when the soul unto the lines accord.

               He who craves all the mind,
     And all the soul, and strength, and time,
               If the words only rhyme,
Justly complains that somewhat is behind
To make His verse, or write a hymn in kind.

               Whereas if the heart be moved,
     Although the verse be somewhat scant,
               God doth supply the want;
As when the heart says, sighing to be approved,
"O, could I love!"
and stops, God writeth, "Loved."

Churches are Like Horses

An old farmer once gave the following advice to their newly arrived rookie pastor:

"Go slow, son. Churches are a lot like horses. They don't like to be startled or surprised. It causes deviant behavior."

(I found this little gem in Larry Osborne's excellent book, Sticky Teams)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How Are Those Resolutions Coming?

            My friend, Ron McClung recently wrote this wonderful piece   I hope you receive as much encouragement from it as I did!

How are you doing with your New Year’s Resolutions? Enthusiasm waning? Ready to throw in the towel? If your resolutions are positive, I hope you’re still going strong.
May I suggest a few ideas to keep in mind for the New Year, based on an article I read by Dale Foster some years ago?

·  Travel light. If you are like most people, you experienced your share of failures, disappointments, perhaps even resentments during the past year. Don’t drag those into the New Year with you. Instead, travel light.

·  Live one day at a time. People often fail to enjoy each day for one of two reasons. Either they put off decisions they should make today and clutter up the future with procrastination. Or they borrow trouble by worrying today about what may happen tomorrow. Either method is unproductive. Live each day as it comes.

·   Be generous. There’s a great deal of need in this world. Not all of it is material and physical. Much of it is spiritual as people reel under bitterness, prejudice, and critical attitudes. You can alleviate a lot of this by being generous with your praise and your positive comments.

·  Face your problems with faith and courage. You have other options, of course. Some people run from their problems. Others resent them. Still others cower in fear. But we can face each day with courage, by His help.

·  If you cannot change your circumstances, change your attitude. Life comes at us with increasing speed, it seems. Sometimes we find ourselves in tough situations – some of our own making, and some not. Either way, we can have a positive attitude and face life with determination
.
A college girl finished tacking a new calendar to her wall, turned to her roommate, and said, “This is going to be a beautiful year!”

“How do you know?” her friend asked.

“Because I am going to take it a day at a time and do my best to see that every day includes something beautiful.”

She evidently believed what the psalmist said: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24 NIV).

Every one of the 366 days in this Leap Year is a day He has made. Make it your goal to honor Him in each one.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Then Sings My Soul

I am delighted to recommend Robert J. Morgan's beautiful new book, Then Sings My Soul, Book 3.

Like the first two volumes, Morgan shares the meaningful stories behind many of our beloved hymns.  A copy of the music accompanies each story.

Diving into this book, I felt like a kid in the candy store, as I read the hymn stories and then sang them at the piano!

Four things that make this volume particularly special:

1)  Morgan gives a good overview of the different genres of church music:  Ancient Hymn, German Hymns, English Hymns, Gospel Songs, Contemporary.  He also draws fresh water from each of those wells.  I think a church would benefit greatly by exploring all these rich traditions.

2)  I appreciate the inclusion of modern day hymns (i.e. "How Deep the Father's Love for Us"")   This is something I have not seen in other books of this nature.

3)  Morgan makes a powerful case for interwoven worship -- including both new and old in our church music selections.  I agree 100%.  We have not done the rising generation a favor by limiting our music to songs written within the last two years.  New songs are great, but not to the neglect of the cherished songs from our rich Christian heritage.  The collection of songs from church history is a great treasure. Every generation adds a few to the collection.  Assuming the music from our own generation is the only kind worth singing is pure foolishness.

4)  The best chapter in the book is "Hymns as Therapy: Why We Must Draw Strength from Song."  Hymns certainly are therepeutic!  I have personally experienced the healing power of singing hymns in private.  That's why I have an old hymnal collection.  It's my spiritual medicine chest!

Purchase Here

(A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for review on this blog.)

Slightly Dysfunctional

I shared this little poem I wrote about the human condition in my sermon yesterday:

Slightly Dysfunctional

He endured a dysfunctional childhood.
He wed a dyfunctional wife.
They had some dysfunctional children,
And led a dysfunctional life.

So he went to the Lord,
And begged and implored
As he pled his dysfunctional case.

The Lord sighed and smiled
And then replied, "Child,
You're from a dysfunctional race!"

Friday, January 13, 2012

5 Self Care Tips for World Changers

While you're tackling problems and making the world a better place, it's important to pause long enough to take care of yourself.  A great post by Dr. Alex Gee:  5 Self Care Tips for World Changers

How to Meditate

Psalm 1 talks about the righteous person who meditates on God's Law day and night.  But practically speaking, how do you meditate?

I'm not talking about sitting in a lotus position repeating a mantra -- but meditating on God's Word.

My friend, Nellie Dee, has some good pointers in a recent blog post at Relative Inspirations. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

John Wesley's Treatment Plan

I really appreciated this post by John Meunier, Wesley's Treatment Plan for those who experience spiritual darkness and lose the comfort, love, joy and peace of being a Christian.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Toxic Mess

It's easier to make a toxic mess than to clean one up.

In all relationships, you make a toxic mess by dishonesty, manipulation, pushing and demanding control.

You clean up a toxic mess by understanding, patience, trust, perseverance, and love.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Silent Years

Yesterday, I finished reading The Silent Years, a gripping novel about the life of Jesus, by Alan W. C. Green.  Normally, I don't get into imaginative fictional accounts with a biblical setting.  I like to let the Bible be the Bible -- and fiction be fiction.

Nevertheless, when this book came unexpectedly in the mail, I thought I'd give it the three chapter test.  If I wasn't hooked after three chapters, I'd quit reading and pass the book along to someone else.  I really don't feel an obligation to any author to finish a book.  It's the author's job to keep me wanting to continue.

The Silent Years drew me in.  This fictional narrative about Jesus, told from the perspective of his uncle,  gave me fresh insights into the life of Christ I'd not previously considered.  It also opened up my spiritual understanding on a couple of significant issues.

In this book, the humanity of Jesus is emphasized, and his deity is downplayed.  The author certainly does not deny Christ's divinity, and as the chapters progress, we see a growing awareness of it.  However,  if I had written the book, I wouldn't have gone so far as the author in portraying the human side of Jesus.

For instance, there's a cloud of suspicion surrounding Christ's birth. Now, remembering that this is a work of fiction, I just assume it to be the uncle's suspicion and not the author's.

A place that made me uncomfortable was when Jesus felt that he had sinned, and needed to repent.  As an evangelical pastor, I believe that Jesus lived a sinless life.

At times, early in the book, Jesus seems confused about his identiy and mission.  Again, I believe he knew exactly who he was, even as a child, and that his mission was crystal clear all along.

Nevertheless I deeply appreciate Dr. Green's effort at portraying Jesus in rich personality -- How he may have experienced heartache, joy, disappointment, friendship, misunderstanding, and the like.  I've never reflected on my Savior's personality so deeply as I did while reading this book.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Poor Puppy

Understanding A Worldview

In my sermon this morning, I used This Insightful Graphic from The Truth Project.  It does a great job of showing how our theology is foundational for everything else in life.

I also mentioned that I would post the Four Big Questions that worldviews address:

1. Origin – where did we come from?
2.  Problem – what’s wrong with the world?
3.  Solution – how do we fix it?
4.  Purpose – why am I here?

Homework:
I gave a homework assignment at church today--   to run run a favorite television program, music group, movie or book through the grid of these questions, seeking to discover the worldview of the person who created it.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Farewell to Jessicao Joy Rees

Jessica Joy Rees, age 12, went home to be with Jesus after a ten month battle with brain cancer.  Jessica's daddy, Erik, is on the pastoral staff of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Califorina.

Young Jessie, a seventh grader, was a true hero as she bravely battled this disease, and kept an online journal of her experiences and became the face for childhood cancer.

Her courage and faith stand as a shining example for us all.

Jessie concluded each post with NEGU which means "Never, Ever Give Up!"

Her favorite verses:
"I can do all things through him who strengthens me." – Philippians 4:13

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

As I prayed for the Rees family during this difficult valley, lyrics from the old hymn, Children of the Heavenly Father came to my mind:

Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given.

God His own doth tend and nourish;
In His holy courts they flourish;
From all evil things He spares them;
In His mighty arms He bears them.

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever;
Unto them His grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.

Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy.


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Fret Not in 2012

At the launching of a brand new year
I banish care and doubt from here.
The Old we leave without at tear,
The New embrace without a fear!

Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is mystery.
We must step boldly into 2012, unhindered by misgivings and undaunted by anxiety.

Certainly, we have plenty to worry about.

If we allow it, anxious care will slowly seep into the soul, and corrode the joy. It takes courage and work to fight against it.

We can worry about the state of the world -- terrorism, depleting natural resources, and global warming. We can worry about the economy -- unemployment, inflation and national debt.
We can worry about relationships -- unmet needs, unhealed hurts, and unfulfilled expectations.
We can worry about our job -- failure, frustration and friction.
We can worry about the end of the world -- after all the Mayan calendar ends this year.

As Barbara Holland observed, "Gloom, we always have with us, a rank and sturdy reed. But joy requires tending."

Yes, in the face of all these concerns, tend to the joy!

In the face of it all, God is alive and well! He understands the situation perfectly, and has it all under control. He is good on his Word, and never fails.

That's why the Bible, in Psalm 37:1, says, "Fret not"

As long as God is on the throne and your faith is still intact, then everything is going to be all right.

Walk by faith and night by sight. You can trust God to carry you through every tomorrow.

After all, as Corrie Ten Boom noted, "God has no problems, only plans!"

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

I Am A Follower

Leonard Sweet is an engaging author -- a "theological poet" as Shane Clairborne dubbed him.  His new book, I Am a Follower is a work of theological poetry.

This book is vintage Sweet -- packed to the hilt with wonderful quotations, poems, and insights that, alone, make the book worth buying.  I copied many of them into my journal.

Sweet's primary mission in this book is to challenge readers to stop fixating on leadership, and begin focusing on being followers of Christ instead.

This is a good corrective to the evangelical church which has, in recent years, overemphasized organizational leadership to the neglect of spiritual formation.  We need to remember the essence of why we are doing all this in the first place.  We are called, after all, to make disciples (followers) of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

In making his case, however, I believe Sweet goes too far with his anti-leadership rhetoric.  His Jim Collins and Willow Creek bashings, for instance, are unhelpful, and actually hinder the effectiveness of his point.  Both Collins and the folks at Willow have excellent insights to move organizations forward, and should not be so quickly dismissed or discounted.

Contrary to this author's opinion, I believe we need more good leadership - -not less.  Those who lead churches should be on a constant quest to grow as leaders and to improve their skills. The enormous mission before us demands it.

Effective leadership is not the essence of our message -- but it is a tremendous vehicle to multiply it.  We can improve our leadership ability by learning from others who lead (both positively and negatively) and there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so.

Still, despite his anti-leadership stance, I think it's a good read, and especially appreciate Sweet's emphasis on followership first - -which is really what we should be.  Followers first and leaders second.

By the way, his challenge to explore what the New Testament specifically says about leadership was an eye opener for me.  I plan to use this exercise to spark conversation the next time I teach my Church Leadership Course.

Purchase here

(a complimentary copy of this book was provided for review on this blog)

Not Much History in Northampton

I know we're a couple of days into the New Year already, but figured this might be a good time to review Jonathan Edwards' Resolutions. 

I can't help but wonder if these resolutions made early in Edwards' life had something to do with how God used him so mightily in his later years

This past September, Cathy and I were privileged to visit Northampton, where Edwards served as pastor at the epicenter of The Great Awakening.  I've read many accounts of this amazing revival, and was excited to actually be in the place where it occurred! 

It was a sacred pilgrimage for me -- although a disappointment that none of the Northampton folks we encountered knew anything about this mighty work of God in their own backyard.

Checking in at the local hotel, I asked the clerk,  "Can you direct me to the historic district?"

The baffled young man replied, "You must be thinking of another place.  I've lived here all my life, and can assure you there's not much history in Northampton."

Monday, January 02, 2012

Sacrilege

I recently had to opportunity to read Hugh Halter's fascinating book, Sacrilege.

Before reading this book, I had never once considered Jesus as sacrilegious.  But he was -- at least in the minds of the Pharisees.  Jesus didn't fit inside their small boxes.  He ate with tax collectors, touched lepers.  forgave sinners, and visited with Samaritan women.  Gasp!

This is the kind of stuff the reader encounters.  Sometimes disturbing.  Sometimes challenging.  Sometimes profound.  Hugh Halter turns things upside down in his quest to live the Jesus life.

Halter strikes me as the kind of guy who likes to get a rise out of people -- and he succeeds masterfully.

At a few points, I wish I could have had him in the room with me, so I could debate a bit and ask, "And what did you really mean by that?"

I deeply appreciate this author's candor, and willingness to tackle hard issues straight on.  He doesn't sugar coat.

His emphasis on grace, and trust were very helpful to me.

The most intriguing part of the book, for me, was Halter's take on communion, which he views as a genuine means of grace.  He says churches should see themselves as distributors of this grace, rather than hoarders and guardians of it.  In other words, if a lost person, in desperate need of grace, comes forward to receive communion, that act can be a ministry of grace to his heart.  I'm inclined to agree.

Purchase Here

(A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me for review on this blog.)

How I Lost My Credibility in Five Minutes

Here's an insightful post on making correct leadership judgments by Richard Winters, MD

Mark Batterson on the Techology Show

My blogger buddy, Mark Batterson, is going to make a special guest appearance on The Techology Show this Wednesday at 9:00 am EST (8:00 Central.) to talk about his new book, The Circle Maker.

The Techology Show is a weekly grassroots podcast featuring theology, technology and everything in between.  The Techology guys, Tony Casey, Steve Stanley, Matthew Tietje and Heath Mullikan, are good friends of mine, and they sure now how to have fun and produce a great program.