The Internet's Best Practices for Ministry

Welcome to our site. Our mission and dedication is to equip leaders for innovative ministry. Explore. Read. Share.

Welcoming Guests and First Impressions

The sermon starts in the parking lot, and the impression you make for your guests on Sunday morning during the first 10 minutes will be indelible.

Technology and The Church

Leveraging technology for ministry can be an incredible blessing. But it can also be fraught with problems and pitfalls. Learn how to use technology well.

Vision and Leadership

Our God longs for leaders to request of Him to do that which they cannot. Faith filled vision, leadership and risk are key ingredients for ministry.

Preaching and Communication

You know and understand how challenging it is to communicate. It is hard to get and capture people's attention. Learn how to communicate effectively.

Creativity and Innovation

Being creative means asking the right questions and making new associations. Discover new and creative ideas for your ministry.

Showing posts with label Essay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Essay. Show all posts

Seven Things I Learned Writing With Gary Smalley

guest post by Mike Loomis:

I couldn’t believe my ears.

“Would you be interested in helping Gary Smalley on his next book?”
“Um, yeah!” was my reply. As soon as I hung up the phone, mild panic set in…

Dr. Gary Smalley sold tens of millions of books and videos. He was an internationally recognized expert on the topic of relationships. He took a Christian worldview to a mainstream audience. What would writing for him be like?

Last week, I learned that Gary passed away.

As a tribute, here are seven things I learned from the process of writing with him. It was a true honor.

1. You don’t have to be a “gifted” writer to reach millions with your books. Gary was very open about his strengths, and completely comfortable with his non-strengths. In fact, he struggled as a student. Later he realized his “7th-Grade reading level” made his book relatable to more people.

2. You must enjoy the planning process – before one word is put on a page. In fact, he mentioned that the pre-writing meetings were his favorite part of the process. Honestly, we could have met together for a month. And I would have enjoyed every minute.

3. When you live what you teach, writing a book is a natural outflow – not a chore. I had the honor of meeting with some of Gary’s kids and grandkids. We shared meals together. He was the same man in every situation.

4. You must take chances with your writing. Honesty is scary. But honesty helps people.

5. A book should be an experience, not just a “read.” Every page, every sentence, must help the reader think and feel. I remember this charge from Gary in our first meeting. “I hope we can make people laugh and cry in every chapter.” I turned very pale after that statement. Holy cats – Is that even possible?!

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Gary learned to ask questions throughout his career. You don’t have to be “the expert” – you simply have to love people.

7. Start where you are. Most people assume Gary Smalley set out to be an internationally known author and speaker. In fact, he began his career researching relationships while he was leading a small group of college students in Waco, TX. Gary wasn’t enamored with books, he simply saw them as a tool to reach people’s hearts.

Most importantly, as Gary often said, “Life is relationships. The rest is just details.” (Click to Tweet)

LINK for his book:

Mike Loomis helps people launch their dream projects and books. Since starting and selling two businesses, hes strategic partner to bestselling authors, non-profits, publishers as well as startups, and aspiring messengers. He and his wife live in the mountains of Colorado with their pet moose.

How To Avoid The Christmas Hangover

Holiday Hangover

Christmas is over. The floor is covered in wrapping paper. Everyone is stuffed to their eyeballs with cookies and treats. Perhaps you are standing in line, the day after Christmas, at the store to return many of the gifts you had looked forward to receiving. Family and house guests have left and now...Christmas is finished....and you are left with a Christmas Hangover!

What is a Christmas Hangover? It is the feeling that comes as a result of unmet expectations. You think that Christmas is going to deliver all that it promises, but at the end of the day, you are feeling as empty as the opened and discarded boxes being carted off to the trash. There is so much build up to Christmas that it never meets up to all the expectations.

One day in 365 can never meet them all. Like the rest of life, nothing can satisfy all our expectations. In life, things will occasionally go wrong. Your kids will get dirty, make messes and make noise. On Christmas day, you will forget to buy batteries, thaw the turkey, or the oven may choose to break as you are preparing for your evening meal. Planes will be delayed, relatives will get tied up with other responsibilities, and dogs will jump on your favorite suit or Christmas dress with their muddy paws.

Not only will circumstances disappoint but also people can as well. Family will never meet all your expectations. Your family is a real family, not a TV family. There will be arguments and rivalries among siblings. Perhaps that perfect picture moment got ruined because the children squabbled and fought over their toys. People will smile and thank you for their gift, while you can detect their disappointment in their eyes. If your mom or mother-in-law has always criticized you, she still will.

Also, tis the season for stress. We run ourselves ragged with all the preparations and planning then after Christmas we deflate. We decompress.

What are we chasing after? What do we think and hope Christmas will bring?
And as all the stress, that brought us up until Christmas lingers, we now have to pay off, throughout the year, all the purchases we made for this ONE day.

We get drunk with our spending. The average American spends around $861 on Christmas gifts. The credit card debt generated around the holidays is not paid off until the following July, and 25% of American consumers report that it takes them until October to finally pay off the Christmas debt. Christmas has become one giant consuming orgy and once it is done, we get a hangover.

I grabbed this excerpt from the book, Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli. This book urges readers to escape the commercialism of the holiday season, to make it a “joyful, stress-free” time for the family. In a chapter entitled “The Four Things Children Really Want for Christmas”, the authors write:
One concern voiced by most parents is that of shielding their children from the excesses of holiday commercialism. While adults can mute the TV when the ads get annoying, children are defenseless against the onslaught of ads. As early as the age of four or five, they can lose the ability to be delighted by the sights and sounds of Christmas, only to gain a two-month-long obsession with brand-name toys. Suddenly, all they seem to care about is how many presents they will be getting and how many days are left until they unwrap them.
The authors go on to recommend four things that children "really" want for Christmas:

1. A relaxed and loving time with the family.

2. Realistic expectations about gifts.

3. An evenly paced holiday season.
4. Reliable family traditions.

And although these principles discuss what children really want, I believe ultimately it is what even adults really want.

Christmas should be a time of joy and reflection. We should take more advantage of the advent season and give ourselves over to reflect on the arrival and implications of Christ's birth. Advent has been a tradition in our home since our children were young and it allows us create and cultivate conversation with our children about the significance and importance of Christmas. Christmas is special because it ultimately points us elsewhere. It points us to the cross. It is often said that "Jesus is the reason for the season". I believe that sentiment is misplaced.

"You" are the reason for the season. Jesus came because He was on a mission. A mission to seek and save the lost. Guard yourself from the Christmas Hangover next year by allowing yourself and your family to slow down, be simple, reflect and enjoy the celebration of our savior's birth.

P.S. Watch this routine by Jerry Seinfeld about the real value and destination of the things we buy and get.

An Advent Reflection - The Power Of Hope

“On this side of eternity, Christmas is still a promise. Yes, the Savior has come, and with him peace on earth, but the story is not finished. Yes, there is peace in our hearts, but we long for peace in our world. 
Every Christmas is still ‘a turning of the page’ until Jesus returns. Every December 25 marks another year that draws us closer to the fulfillment of the ages, that draws us closer to . . . home. 
When we realize that Jesus is the answer to our deepest longing, even Christmas longings, each Advent brings us closer to his glorious return to earth. When we see him as he is, King of kings and Lord of lords, that will be ‘Christmas’ indeed!”
- Joni Eareckson Tada, “A Christmas Longing”

I love this thought by Joni Eareckson Tada. It reminds me of the wonderful hope found in Christmas. Just as the season of Advent reminds us of the expectancy that the nation of Israel had of the promised Messiah, we, as the Church, have an expectancy as well.

It is an expectancy that Christ will come again and set all things right. The first time Christ came, He came as a Lamb, yet when Jesus comes again, He will come as a Lion. Knowing that Christ will come again as conquering King to rule, bringing with Him justice and peace, gives us tremendous hope.

Christ's return gives us hope, that despite our current circumstances, this is not the end of the story. You may be going through tough circumstances right now. Perhaps it's a job transition or maybe it is a health concern or even a troubled marriage. Even as tough as it is right now, there is HOPE.

Hope is a powerful thing. It sustains us. It moves us forward. It helps us to persevere.

May God fill you with His love and give you hope this Christmas

Salvation Impossible Through Us

We are now in the second week of Advent, here are some thoughts during this Advent Season:

Mark 10: 26, 27The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

From all appearances, salvation seems impossible when one thinks of a holy and perfect God being united and reconciled to sinful man. And the truth of the matter is, that is impossible. Because of our sinful condition we stand separated from God. If left to our own resources, we are doomed, with no hope or solution. Salvation is impossible through us. Yet God did the impossible. God helped bring about reconciliation by uniting himself with man through the incarnation of Jesus. The incarnation is Emmanuel, God with Us. That is what the prophets of old anticipated, the promise of the coming Messiah. The incarnation is what we celebrate during this Advent Season.

Jesus, being fully God and fully man accomplished what no person could. Because Jesus is God, holy and perfect, living a perfect, sinless life, He didn’t have His own sins to pay for. Therefore Jesus could pay for your sins on the cross. Yet also because Jesus was eternal God, He could go beyond just payment of sins for a single person, rather His death could pay the penalty for the sins of the world. (John 3:16)

Prayer: Jesus thank you that you accomplished the impossible and willing came to earth, became man and dwelt among us. Thank you that you lived the perfect life, that I was unable to live and willingly went to the cross - to the pay the death penalty that I justly deserved.

(pictured above...Jesus and the rich young ruler)

You Are More Than A Consumer

Black Friday
Black Friday.

It's called that for a reason-Black Friday darkens the soul of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, which is a holiday to remember and reflect on God's blessings is followed by a ritual that turns normal, respectable people into something resembling Lord of the Flies. 

Disgust. Embarrassment. Anger. Disappointment. Sadness.

These are some of the emotions that I experience every year when I see people on the evening news as they  are filmed piling into the stores early Friday morning (now for some stores it has even become Thursday evening!!). All week before Thanksgiving, I see the hype. I can't ignore the television commercials that tell everyone that we need to wake up early Friday morning to take advantage of the unprecedented savings. "Run, don't walk!" is the mantra of every television commercial and newspaper insert. If I hurry, stores will happily open as early as 4am so that I can take advantage of buying their cheap crap now.

What continues to amaze me is that this ritual gets bigger and bigger every year.  Every year the local news camera's get in place to capture all the action. Reporters are sent to the stores. It becomes a big party, the stores stoke a carnival-like atmosphere.

But nothing changes, I see the same thing every year -people pushing, running and screaming. People pushing over their fellow man in order to save $100 on a big screen T.V, or $50 on the latest computer gadget or 1/2 off the latest gaming console.  Sure the savings are good, But at what cost?

Here, I believe, are a couple of the costs:

People sacrifice their time. Thanksgiving is a time for family. It is a time for reflection and giving thanks. Thanksgiving is a time to look beyond one's self and give thanks to God, our wonderful creator and source of all blessings. In contrast, Black Friday is all about self.

Many of these sales demand that if you want to save you have to be there as early as 4am. (or even get there on Thanksgiving!). But, then of course, you need to get there even earlier in order to secure your place in line. People sacrifice their sleep. They take time away from their families and from their homes. Family members split up to divide and conquer in order to maximize the amount of stores they can visit.  Some families approach this shopping day with more planning and preparation than the Allies did for D-Day.

People sacrifice their dignity. Every year I feel the craziness and energy come through the television as I watch people shove and squeeze their way through the small, narrow portal doors of large department stores. People get worked up into a feeding frenzy. All social considerations are thrown out the window. No more is it women and children first, rather it is every man for himself.

Other people are to be seen as important and valuable and to be treated with kindness and consideration. But not on Black Friday. Black Friday says that people are obstacles who are now in my way of getting the $500 HD, 60", flat panel big screen T.V. If you have to trample over someone's fallen body, then DO IT! If you have to throw an elbow in order to grab a Xbox, then DO IT! Do whatever it takes because they don't call this day Black Friday for nothing. Disgusting!

People sacrifice their souls. Is this what we are? Is who I am defined as merely being a consumer. Is that my sole identity? Is that my sole purpose? NO, God tells us that we are more than consumers. Our purpose goes well beyond mere consumption. We are to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism question #1)

Look!-let it be known that I like getting a good deal more than anyone. I rarely buy anything full price and will often wait for something to go on sale. But what I am angry about is how many of us are being led around by the nose by these stores and their contrived, manufactured sales.

They create artificial scarcity to build up need and angst. They manufacture hype and buzz. They tell us that we need to be there. They tell us we need to sacrifice everything to get it, our time, dignity and soul. And in return they will sell us stuff, already marked up 400%+, at a token discount, letting us believe that we smartest and luckiest people in the whole world.


I would encourage you to choose not to take part in this ritual.  Sleep in and use the time on Friday to rest and rejuvenate.  Enjoy the time with your family.  Continue, from Thanksgiving day, to remember your blessings.  Your life can feel frantic every other day of the year, why make this day like all the rest.

(this post adapted from a previous post at Provocative Church on Black Friday)

Every Ferguson Will Be Made New

Hearts are heavy and our pain is real, yet the Gospel promises a day when every Ferguson will be made new.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” - Rev. 21:1-4
That is the hope of the gospel, accomplished to one day set all things right. Yet Christ not only accomplishes something we can look forward to in the future, but He also provides a foretaste of that future justice, breaking-in and manifesting within our world today.
When we look at the whole scope of this story line, we see clearly that Christianity is not only about getting one’s individual sins forgiven so we can go to heaven. That is an important means of God’s salvation, but not the final end or purpose of it. The purpose of Jesus’ coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world. God created both body and soul, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both body and soul. The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world.
- Tim Keller, The Reason for God

And I offer this prayer of St. Francis of Assisi as a reminder for us as Christ followers to be instruments of His peace amidst a time of trial and turmoil.

A Pastor Is In Danger If They Only Teach The Word To Others

Bible Reading

Bad things happen when maturity is more defined by knowing than it is by being. Danger is afloat when you come to love the ideas more than the God whom they represent and the people they are meant to free......

....The ultimate purpose of the Word of God is not theological information but heart and life transformation. (Tweet This)
- Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling

It might appear odd to suggest that pastors are somehow misusing the Word of God. The Word is the pastor’s major tool in their toolbox. Most pastors go to school (seminary) just to study a single book, getting to know it backwards and forwards. As pastors we understand just how essential it is to be a faithful and diligent workman with the Scriptures and to correctly handle, teach, train and preach the Word of God.

So if all of that is suppose to be true, why is it such a danger that the pastor may be ignoring the Word?

This point goes to the crux of Paul Tripp’s comments at the beginning of this post - there is a difference between knowing and being. It is the danger of simply having head knowledge at the expense of ignoring the heart.

The pastor can’t stand outside and above the Word of God simply treating it as an academic exercise only interested in teaching and preaching it to others. No, the pastor must, just like the congregations they teach, have his heart in a surrendered posture, ready to have the word transform him.

The pastor is in severe danger if he simply approaches the Word in a clinical manner. The pastor cannot approach the Word merely as an academician, but rather he must approach it as a student, a pilgrim, one who is on a spiritual journey - continuing to learn and grow. He must approach the Word with deep affection and expectancy. Eager to hear from the Lord and to respond to His voice with faithful obedience. The pastor must be yielded to the power and work of the Holy Spirit, allowing the Spirit to apply the truth of the Word to his heart and life.

The pastor can’t be simply someone who teaches the Word, but they must be willing to be taught by it as well.

How God Uses Pain And Trials In Our Life

“We confess before Thee that if life were all smooth, there would be no patience; were it all easy, no courage, no sacrifice, no depth of character. We acknowledge before Thee that what is most admirable is the child of adversity and of courageous souls unafraid to face it.”
-Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick

One of the basic truths that I cling to when I am going through difficult and challenging times is that God ultimately wants to use that time and circumstance to move me closer toward Jesus.

It is those crucibles that God uses to bend my heart and will to His. He wants to drive me to the cross and to be surrendered in utter and complete dependence.

C.S. Lewis said that God uses pain and trials as a megaphone to get our attention and speak to us. (Tweet This)

One of the ways that God uses trials and difficulties is to continually expose the idols of my heart. I often respond to God like the older brother in the parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15. During difficult times I'll respond to the Father, just like the older brother, with anger, fear and frustration. Because, like the older brother, I am saying to God- "I've obeyed you!...I've done what you've asked!...God you owe me!...I don't deserve this!"

What foolishness and arrogance. I am often brought to my knees in repentance that I would treat God like a giant vending machine. That kind of "older-brother" thinking suggests that if I put in a dollar's worth of piety, obedience and holiness then God, who simply serves as the divine vending machine, needs to then cough up the product, service or demand that I paid for.

What foolishness!! God can't be controlled, rather He is to be loved. Our relationship with God is a relationship built and bound in love. I pray that during times of difficulty and trials my love and affection for God would go deeper even still.

"We love because He first loved us" -1 John 4:19

Leave Your Lights On This Halloween

reposted from Provocative Church:

I have made it a tradition to republish this post about Halloween from  Tim Challies 

I think that it is important to re-read this post as a reminder to us all as tonight as our communities celebrate Halloween.
I am guessing my neighborhood is all-too-typical in that people typically arrive home from work and immediately drive their cars into the garage. More often than not they do not emerge again until the next morning when they leave for work once more. We are private, reclusive people who delight in our privacy. We rarely see our neighbors and rarely communicate with them. . . . In the six years we have been living in this area, we have never once had a neighbor come to the door to ask for anything. . . .

Yet on Halloween these barriers all come down. I have the opportunity to greet every person in the neighbourhood. I have the opportunity to introduce myself to the family who moved in just down the row a few weeks ago and to greet some other people I have not seen for weeks or months. At the same time, those people's children will come knocking on my door. We have two possible responses. We can turn the lights out and sit inside, seeking to shelter ourselves from the pagan influence of the little Harry Potters, Batmans and ballerinas, or we can greet them, gush over them, and make them feel welcome. We can prove ourselves to be the family who genuinely cares about our neighbours, or we can be the family who shows that we want to interact with them only on our terms. Most of our neighbors know of our faith and of our supposed concern for them. This is a chance to prove our love for them.

The same contributor to the email list concluded his defense of participating in Halloween with these words: "One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on."

The truth is that I have several convictions regarding Halloween. I despise the pagan aspects of it. I am convicted that my children should not dress as little devils or ghosts or monsters. But I am also convicted that there could be no worse witness to the neighbours than having a dark house, especially in a neighbourhood like ours which is small and where every person and every home is highly-visible. We know that, if we choose not to participate, the neighbors will notice and will smile knowingly, supposing that we feel too good to participate.

. . . Our door will be open and the light will be on. And we trust that the Light will shine brightly.

My encouragement to you today is to think and pray about this issue. I do not see Halloween as a great evangelistic occasion. I do not foresee it as a time when the people coming to your door are likely to be saved. But I do think it is a time that you can prove to your neighbors that you care about them, that you care about their children, and that you are glad to be in this world and this culture, even if you are not of this world or this culture. Halloween may serve as a bridge to the hearts of those who live around you who so desperately need a Savior.
(ht: Provocative Church)

The Most Important Question To Ask During Conflict

Conflict With Friends
"When you write a very angry letter to a friend who has hurt you deeply, don’t send it! Let the letter sit on your table for a few days and read it over a number of times. Then ask yourself: “Will this letter bring life to me and my friend? Will it bring healing, will it bring a blessing?” You don’t have to ignore the fact that you are deeply hurt. You don’t have to hide from your friend that you feel offended. But you can respond in a way that makes healing and forgiveness possible and opens the door for new life. Rewrite the letter if you think it does not bring life, and send it with a prayer for your friend.”
 – Henri Nouwen

Great advice from Henri Nouwen. Friends are a tremendous gift from God and yet real friends will at times offend and wound us (and let us not forget that we will wound them too). So although it is important to bring truth as you confront and address that friend, it is also equally important to bring grace too.

Email and texting has made it too easy to send out, at light speed, angry and thoughtless words. Take time. Sit prayerfully on your words and don't forget to ask the question, Will what I am about to say bring life to me and my friend?

Following Jesus Is Not For Wimps

When I travel down to central Florida to visit family, I find myself in the heart and epicenter of the retired world. During one visit while browsing in a local shop I saw a funny and clever t-shirt that said, "Getting Old Ain't For Wimps".  And while that sentiment may be true, I think that it is even more certain to say that "following Jesus" ain't for wimps either.

You don't have to be a Christian too long to know that being a follower of Jesus isn't easy.
It's messy
It challenges us
It provokes us
It is not always simple
It calls for surrender
It demands that we die - to ourself

G.K. Chesterton wrote this very insightful thought:

“Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.” (Tweet This)

So how do we follow Jesus when it is so hard, difficult and challenging? Contrary to popular practice, the answer to following Jesus isn't found in trying harder, gritting your teeth and striving. 

Rather following Jesus is simply about relationship and rest.  It is about leaning into Him and resting in Him with complete surrender and trust. It is about knowing the truth and efficacy of the gospel when it says that in Jesus we are found completely righteous, accepted and loved.

We are to rest and trust in that reality and truth. This is why I appreciate Jesus' invitation in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The Default Setting Of My Heart

Love Me

I think about myself. Actually I think about myself a lot! Thinking about ME is my default setting. I don't have to work hard to think about me and to focus on my own needs, agendas and wants. And yet even when I am serving others, the temptation in my heart is to still make it all about me.

I imagine that you aren't too different than me. So then how do you and I inoculate ourselves from believing and behaving in ways that are self focused, self centered and selfish?

David PlattAt the risk of oversimplifying a solution, we are able to die and abandon ourselves when we fix our eyes on Jesus and the cross. When the gospel and all that Christ accomplished for us becomes a daily reality - it invites us to open our hearts and be captured and comforted by His great love for us. When this happens, it gives us the freedom and power to take our eyes off of ourselves.

Yet how do we make the gospel a daily reality? One way is by being a "repenting repenter". Turning away from my sin, selfishness, pride and the "idols of my heart", and turning to Christ and the cross. Repentance must mark our life. This was the great discovery of the Reformation.

"So began the Reformation, and at its heart lay Luther’s great discovery: Repentance is a characteristic of the whole life, not the action of a single moment.” Sinclair Ferguson, The Grace of Repentance (Tweet This)

When we live out repentance, it propels us to Jesus and the reality and beauty of the gospel, and therefore makes what Paul said to the Philippians a reality for us.

Philippians 2:1-11

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Living East Of Eden

Dead Tree

One of the biggest challenges I face in leading mission teams around the world, is the part of the experience when the team comes back home.  Re-entry. The trips are a spiritual mountain top experience for many of the team members - even with all of its hard work and effort.  Yet coming home to the mundane, routine and stressful life can feel like a valley to most.

Therefore it is not uncommon that team members may struggle with their re-entry home.  They quickly discover how much they miss the close-knit fellowship and times of continual worship.  They hunger for the sense of purpose and focused mission. Even though the mission experience and the life they encounter back at home can seem in conflict, they are not. How do we reconcile these two experiences?

Below is a written response to a team member's frustration that they expressed upon entering back home.

Your thoughts remind me that you and I in this world are living, East of Eden. John Steinbeck wrote the novel “East of Eden” in the 50’s. The title was taken from Genesis 4:16, “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden" There is a place called Eden, a paradise, a state of being in which everything is in its right place. A realm where the favor and peace of God rest on everything…and because of the fall, Cain is not there. He’s east of there. And he’s not only east of there, but the he was “building a city.” He is putting down roots…east of where he should be. East of where God intended him to be. The book of Genesis keeps returning to this eastward metaphor insisting that something has gone terribly wrong with humanity, and that from the very beginning, we are moving in the wrong direction. East of how things are meant to be… East of Eden.

What you and I experience in this world is not how it was intended to be...therefore we feel unsettled, not at home...because in fact you and I are living east of Eden. Separated from how God designed it to be. So know that what you are experiencing is real...and is "normal" in the sense that this world should make us feel unsettled. But through Christ there is a new and different reality for those follow the King.

The reality for you and me is that there MORE for us beyond this world and that one day,when Jesus returns, all things will be settled and be set right.  Yet God allows and invites that future reality to break into our present through God's people (you and I) in and through the power and might of the Holy Spirit.

You experienced some of that "inbreaking" of the future during our mission trip this past week- the fellowship and the worship. It is a foretaste of what awaits us.  But also let it be an encouragement that God doesn't just reserve that for mission trips, he wants to (and can) take what you experienced on the mission into your daily life.  He want you to take it into your experience with your family.  Your experience with your patients. Your experience with your neighbors and friends.

But know that even though we may sample a taste of the sweet fellowship with God and His people, or worship of Him - and a greater sense of His purpose for us...we are still not at home...we are living East of Eden.

(republished from Provocative Church)

How To Reconcile The Tension Between Safety & Serving

Safety Serving Bravery Mountain Climbing

Because of the years of work with medical missions and international travel I've been in situations where I've served in the midst of political unrest, in the wake of natural disasters and human suffering. In every place I've served, there has always been the necessary discussion and consideration of the balance between safety and serving.  These thoughts by Gary Haugen of the organization International Justice Mission - a group that addresses the plight of human trafficking, are of tremendous encouragement in helping to negotiate that tension between Safety & Serving.

excerpted from Church Relevance:

When did it begin to occur to the twelve disciples that following Jesus was going to be dangerous?

When did it occur to you that following Jesus is going to be dangerous?

There are two ways to respond to fear: (1) seek to be safer or (2) seek to be braver.

Jesus is in the business of making people who are braver. Jesus is not in the business of making situations safer because he uses unsafe situations to make people braver.

You must make a choice between being safe or brave. Jesus tells us we will suffer for him. (Tweet This)

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. - 1 Peter 4:19 (NIV)

There are two things that are always God’s will and dangerous:
  • Telling the truth.
  • Loving people in need.
  • If my life in following Jesus, doesn’t feel dangerous I might want to check if I’m actually following Jesus. 1 John tells us that if we see people in need but do not help them then the love of God isn’t even in us.
Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. - Isaiah 1:17

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8

God is calling all of us to the work of justice, but it is not safe. Do you want to experience your power safely? Or do you want to experience God’s power dangerously? (Tweet This)

The Bible says God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind.

(ht: ChurchRelevance)

Applying The Gospel To Everything

"In order to grow in Christlikeness, we’ve got to intentionally apply the gospel to everything we are and everything we long to do. We’re not to sever our obedience from [Christ's] perfect sinlessness nor disconnect our mortal life from his resurrected life. We’ve got to understand ourselves in the light of our new identity, seeing ourselves as we truly are: sinful and flawed, loved and welcomed. Only these gospel realities have enough power to engender faith, kill idolatry, produce character change, and motivate faithful obedience."
- Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me

I remember hearing years ago from pastor and teacher Jack Miller, that, as Christians, we need to "preach the gospel" to our hearts and lives every day. We don't graduate from the gospel. (Tweet This) The gospel isn't merely some set of propositional truths that we affirm in order to become Christians and then after that it carries no relevance. Rather the love and grace of the gospel is the reality that we must live in and let permeate in and through us every day.

If you are anything like me, I have short term memory loss. I easily forget. And I can forget at times that I am loved and fully accepted by Jesus. How is that possible? It becomes possible when I allow the stresses, failures and pressures of the day to overshadow Christ's love for me. It becomes possible when I choose to listen to the voices of the world and the enemy define me by their lies. That is why I must double down on the gospel. Through the Word, I need to press down into my heart that I am accepted and loved by Jesus, and that no circumstance, feeling or failure can change that fact.

In spite of how I may feel today or the circumstance that I may face, I must remember the truth of Paul's words to the Galatians.
Galatians 4:4-7 "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Tweet This) So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God."
Remember today who you are in Jesus. That your identity and acceptance is found in Him, defined by Him and secured in Him.

Would You Notice If Jesus Was Absent From Your Church?

In the book called Organic Church, by Neil Cole, Neil asks a very provocative question,
“Our churches should allow Jesus to be the leader on our team and set expectations accordingly. Someone might say, ‘Well of course we recognize Jesus is on board; it is assumed.’ But the real test is if you conduct ministry business expecting Jesus to carry the load - to carry the team. Or do you practice church as though Jesus doesn’t need to do anything, and everything is done for Him instead of by Him?”
Later in the book, Neil writes about this issue again,
“We must trust God to do His part. We must be willing to place ourselves in a position where, if He does not show up, we will be seen as complete fools. Most churches have not been willing to take that risk.”
So, if Jesus never showed up in your church or ministry, would anyone notice? (Tweet This)

Are you and your leaders willing to risk and lead in such a way that unless God is in it, your plans, goals and dreams are doomed to fail?

I understand that this is not an easy thing. We don't want to be foolish about our decisions...but we do need to be fools for Christ. What does this look like practically? Here are a couple of thoughts (in no particular order) that would help and guide a Church in placing themselves in a position to fail if Jesus doesn't show up.

Are you willing to make decisions in light of where God is leading, not necessarily having your budget be the sole arbiter of decisions you make.

Are you willing to confess your weakness and need for Christ and His strength to others? -  “My grace is sufficient for you, for [my] power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Are you willing to take times to wait at times for the Lord and not just push ahead with your agenda?

Are you looking to the wrong gifts and experiences for people to be in spiritual leadership. Instead of merely competent people within leadership, what about faithful people? What about broken and surrendered people?
"God’s idea of ministry training is a broken vessel. His idea of spiritual preparation is suffering, which includes rejection."
— Frank Viola (Tweet This)
Instead of requiring your pastor to be a CEO (in addition to many other things), perhaps you need to revisit and emphasize their responsibility in being a shepherd for the people of God. A shepherd that points us to Jesus.

Are Jesus' words merely just a motto or are they truly something you cling to - “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). (Tweet This)

Do you embrace failure in ministry or do you react by being worried, anxious and frantic?

Are you willing to trust God enough that Jesus is truly the Head of His Church in such a way that you are willing and have the freedom to let certain balls drop?

How much does do you and your church's leadership dedicate to prayer (and fasting)? How much of that time is proportionate to the time you spend in strategic planing and team meetings?

Any thoughts or questions you would add to this list?

How Our Idols Impact Each Other

Our idols aren't merely personal and private - they impact others. In other words, even though it is necessary to address those areas in our life that serve as counterfeit gods, their impact isn't merely personal and private - it affects the people around us. It affects those in our family. It affects those within our churches. It affects those who we lead or work with.

Mentioned in one of my previous sermons on this issue were two quotes about the impact of our idolatry upon others:

N. T. Wright in Surprised By Hope (HarperOne, 2008):
One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only back to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sexual objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch. (p. 182)
In other words, idolatry—while at root a heart issue—not only affects the sinner but also the community. Idols dehumanize the heart and cause us to act inhumanely towards others.

This idol-projecting point is also made Mark Driscoll’s book Doctrine (Crossway, 2010):
If we idolize our gender, we must demonize the other gender. If we idolize our nation, we must demonize other nations. If we idolize our political party, we must demonize other political parties. If we idolize our socioeconomic class, we must demonize other classes. If we idolize our family, we must demonize other families. If we idolize our theological system, we must demonize other theological systems. If we idolize our church, we must demonize other churches. This explains the great polarities and acrimonies that plague every society. If something other than God’s loving grace is the source of our identity and value, we must invariably defend our idol by treating everyone and everything who may call our idol into question as an enemy to be demonized so that we can feel superior to other people and safe with our idol. (350-351)
The call for all Christians, but especially pastors and ministry leaders is to quickly identify and apply the gospel to our idolatry. Because failure to do will have a grave impact on the churches we pastor and the people we shepherd. Our idolatry isn't merely personal, it affects and impacts others.

Is Your Gospel Too Small?

A gospel which is only about the moment of conversion but does not extend to every moment of life in Christ is too small. A gospel that gets your sins forgiven but offers no power for transformation is too small. A gospel that isolates one of the benefits of union with Christ and ignores all the others is too small. A gospel that must be measured by your own moral conduct, social conscience, or religious experience is too small. A gospel that rearranges the components of your life but does not put you personally in the presence of God is too small. 
- Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God

I remember hearing years ago from pastor and teacher Jack Miller, that as Christians, we need to "preach the gospel" to our hearts and lives every day. In other words, we don't graduate from the gospel. The gospel isn't merely some set of propositional truths that we affirm only to become a Christian and then after our conversion it then carries no application or relevance. No, the gospel is more.

Rather the love and grace of the gospel is the beautiful and majestic reality that we must live in, sit in and let permeate us every day. The gospel not only saves us from eternal separation from God for all eternity...but the gospel saves us to live a changed, renewed, powerful and transformed life every day.

If you are anything like me, I have short term memory loss. I can easily forget. Yet more tragic than simply forgetting where I parked the car, I can forget at times that I am loved and fully accepted by Jesus. How is that possible? It becomes possible when I allow the stresses., failures and pressures of the day to overshadow Christ's love for me. Or I choose to listen to the voices of the world and the enemy define me by their lies. That is why I must double down on the gospel. Through the Word, I need to press down into my heart that I am accepted and loved by Jesus, and that no circumstance, feeling or failure can change that fact.

I need to be reminded of what Paul said in Galatians (4:4-7) "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God."

In Jesus, I am a son or daughter of the King. I am deeply loved and accepted because I am united with Jesus. I need to apply these truths to my life every moment of every day. As Elyse Fitzpatrick says in her book, Because He Loves Me
"In order to grow in Christlikeness, we’ve got to intentionally apply the gospel to everything we are and everything we long to do. We’re not to sever our obedience from [Christ's] perfect sinlessness nor disconnect our mortal life from his resurrected life. We’ve got to understand ourselves in the light of our new identity, seeing ourselves as we truly are: sinful and flawed, loved and welcomed. Only these gospel realities have enough power to engender faith, kill idolatry, produce character change, and motivate faithful obedience."
Although these truths are true for every Christian, they are definitely no less true for every pastor or ministry leader. Ministry is an incredibly tough, stressful and lonely job (as we've spoken about HERE, HERE and HERE). Therefore as ministry leaders, we need to drink deeply of the gospel. The gospel must become for us a giant anchor that we constantly cling fervently to.

We can't allow the gospel to become too small. What about you, is your gospel too small?

A Beautiful Mess

John Stott, in his preface to his book, Basic Christianity, makes this sobering statement,
“Hostile to the church, friendly to Jesus Christ.” These words describe large numbers of people, especially young people, today. They are opposed to anything which savors of institutionalism. They detest the establishment and its entrenched privileges. And they reject the church — not without some justification — because they regard it as impossibly corrupted by such evils.
I have heard people say, "I love Jesus, but I hate His bride". If anyone said to me, "Bill I love you but I hate your wife Lauren." I might just have to pop them one! You can't diss a man's wife. When you insult my wife, you insult me.So is the same for the church and Jesus. They are intricately linked. You can't separate the two. But unfortunately many people do.

Approximately 22 million Americans say they are Christians and have made a faith commitment to Jesus Christ. Yet those same people say that although commitment is still important to them, they have struggled with faith or relational issues and therefore quit going to church.

Maybe you haven't gone so far as to quit the church, but perhaps you don't have a lot of hope in it. Perhaps you are just coming on Sundays and going through the motions, but you don't see how the church is really relevant to your life or see any purpose in going deeper into the Christian community.

If you feel this way, perhaps you feel you have some very good reasons why.

  • Perhaps in the past you have faced from the church condemnation and judgment. You've seen in the church involved in acrimony, with back biting and gossip. Or perhaps you've witnessed a church split.
  • Perhaps you've just felt the pain of loneliness or feeling disconnected from the church.
  • Maybe you've been unsure of where you fit into the church.
  • Sometimes you might feel confused or overwhelmed by the church's expectations.
  • Perhaps you've been burned out, felt unappreciated or forgotten.
Maybe you feel as if the church has failed you, the CHURCH just looks like a complete MESS!

Phil Yancey in his book, Soul Survivor; How My Faith Survived the Church, ponders his own disenchantment with church:
I have spent most of my life in recovery from the church. Every writer has one main theme, a spoor that he or she keeps sniffing around, tracking, following to its source. If I had to define my own theme, it would be that of a person who absorbed some of the worst the church has to offer, yet still landed in the loving arms of God.
The church is a Mess. But it is a Beautiful Mess. This is because the church belongs to Christ.

St. Augustine wrote, “The church is a whore, but she is my mother.” Yes, the church is definitely flawed. But we should not give up on it.

In the book, Letters to a Young Evangelical, Tony Campolo urges young evangelicals not to give up on organized religion and the local church in particular.
“Because as Augustine made clear, the church is still your mother,” he wrote. “It is she who taught you about Jesus. I want you to remember that Christ loves the church and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:25) … Christ’s church is called his bride (2 Corinthians 11:2), and his love for her makes him faithful to her even when she is not faithful to him.
Through the ages, God has used the church to keep alive and pass down the story of what Christ has done for us … and has kept the world aware that Christ is alive today, offering help and strength to those who trust in him.
There will be times when your church will fail and disappoint you.

If you are a part of a church community, be assured that community will fail and disappoint you.

But regardless of the church's failures and messiness, Christ will never fail you.

You can't give up on the church, because it is intricately tied to Christ. Cling to Jesus and remember that this is Christ's Church and He is the chief cornerstone (Eph 2:20).

Yes, the church can be a mess, but it is a Beautiful Mess.