Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles I have read this week. I hope you enjoy them.

Will a Happy Marriage Prevent an Affair? – In my experience as Pastor, this article is spot on and well worth reading.


Seven Deadly Statements of Church Members

What You Don’t Know About Rural America: 3 Common Misconceptions

Five Reasons I Need Other Christians in My Life

This week I had the opportunity to listen to some great Christian leaders, speakers, and thinkers. As each one taught, I was touched by their words. Slowly my mind began to think of the Church as a local and global gathering. Deep in my heart, I felt this conviction, “I need these people.” I need to be connected to other believers for all they have to offer me in the name of Jesus.

1. I Need Christians to Teach Me. There is so much that I to learn. The moment I think I have figured everything out someone comes along and points out something new. The Bible, theology, and personal application are limitless topics. God’s people are always teaching me something if I am willing to listen and learn.

2. I Need Christians to Point Out My Flaws. There are moments when a word cuts to my heart, and it can access something I am doing or thinking wrong. It might be as simple as an ungodly attitude or as deep as a hidden sin. Other believers can say things and see things that I might have come to accept as normal but are slowly destroying me and my relationship with God.

3. I Need Christians to Encourage Me. There are times that life has seems to kick me over and over. Failure and frustration are a way of life. At moments like that, I am ready to throw up my hands in disgust and quit. Then another believer comes along and says some kind word or thanks me for my service. They encourage me to keep going through their words and actions, and I find the strength to keep the faith.

4. I Need Christians to Remind Me of Grace. It is easy to assume that all of life is about my best efforts. Unfortunately, my best efforts are usually flawed. I end up failing and distraught at my lack of spiritual strength. Other Christians have a way of pointing me back to Jesus and his work on the cross. They speak of grace and offer it to me without limitation when I need it most.

5. I Need Other Christians So That I am Not Alone. There are moments that I feel alone in the world because of my faith. I feel like I am the only one struggling to walk this path. I am the only one who finds it hard to share my faith and wants to give up. The Church reminds me that I am not alone. There are a whole group of people who are walking this path along with me.

I do not believe the Church is strictly utilitarian. God did not bring me into community strictly to meet my needs. I have as much to offer as I do to receive. The gifts that God has given me through the Church are to be shared so that other people feel the blessings of knowing me.

I know someone will say, “That may be how you feel about the Church, but that is not my experience.” My response is that you only feel these things when you are connected deeply over a period of years. These are not God’s gifts to the casual believer. They are the fruit of a life lived with a lasting connection to God’s people.

Each week we ask you to join our group so that one day you will experience all that God has to offer you. Won’t you come?

Four Christian Reasons Not to Be a Racist

Racism and inequality are in the headline almost every day lately. Yesterday I was driving down the road listening to Christian radio, and I heard a new song addressing the issue, and the chorus stated that we all “bleed red.”

While I do agree with that statement, I also realize there are some more Biblical and theological reasons to stand against racism in any form.

1. All Humans Are Created in the Image of God. I believe Genesis one and two give us a framework of how to view humanity. God says in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image.” Humanity is unique in all of the creation because it is made in God’s image. All of mankind has infinite value and worth because of its Creator.

2. The Cross for Was Everyone. We often quote John 3:16 with those famous words “For God so loved the world he sent his one and only son…” God loves the world. As I child we sang, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” Jesus died for everyone.

3. In Christ We are United. Paul writes the Church in the city of Colossae, and there he says “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all (Colossians 3:11 NIV). People who have placed themselves into Christ have lost their ethnic or racial differences and been united in one.

4. Heaven Will Be Full of All Different Types of People. In the book of Revelation, we get to see a picture of a heavenly worship program. There was see Jesus as a lamb that was slain and those in his presence sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9 NIV). Jesus saved people from every tribe and language. They are brought together locally in the Church and globally in heaven.

The followers of Jesus are called to be people who walk in his footsteps. We love the same people who Jesus loved. That truth should go beyond all ethnic and racial barriers. God’s love and salvation know no limitation and neither should ours.

My Life and a New Notebook

About a month ago I bought a new notebook off Amazon. It was a little pricey, but it was beautiful. The cover is a solid cork, and the pages are thick, and even a heavy pen will not bleed through. Each page is perforated if I would like to tear them out for later reference. I smiled as I opened the box and I felt joy as I tore off the plastic.

The funny part of my new notebook is that I didn’t use it for almost a month. I carried it around, and every time I went to write a note I thought, “This will mess up my beautiful notebook.” I mean what if I write something and make a mistake? I could damage the cover or ruin the pages.

I know it sounds funny to you, but I was afraid to use my new possession out of fear of how it might end up down the road.

While sitting there staring at my book I thought of the parable of the talents that Jesus told in Matthew chapter 25. In the Bible, a “talent” is a measure of money. Jesus tells about a man who was going on a trip, and he gave a servant five talents, another two talents and finally the last man received a single talent.

The man with five talents invested his and gained five more. The man with two talents was able to get two more. The man with one came in and said, “I was afraid, so I hid mine in the ground.”

The owner was angry. Why not make an effort to gain more? Why live in fear of what might happen while not embracing the opportunities around you?

My notebook was made to be used. Your life, your money, talents, and treasures, were all meant to be used by God.

The goal of life is not to stand before God saying, “Look I made no mistakes because I never risked anything.” The goal is to use all that God has given us for his glory, sure you will make some mistakes and ruin some pages, but you will also bring pleasure to Him.

Each day I ask myself, “Did I do what God created me to do today or did I play it safe?”

While attending my conference this week, I finally used my new notebook. There is even greater joy in using it than in just owning it.

Some Things I am Learning at the 95 Conference – Day Two

Today I finished up my time at the 95 conference with another four plus hours of teaching. There has been a lot to learn, and I am mentally wearing down. It was another good day full of insightful lessons. Here are a few of the biggest ones.

1. The Church is a Force for Good. Where else in the world are 150 or so leaders coming together to discuss the best practices to grow individuals and serve their community? This conference attracted preachers, staff, elders, and volunteers of all types. One panel discussion included the superintendent of Peoria schools who offered advice on how Churches can help the schools in their community. Churches and the Christians that compose them are a force for God wherever they are found and no matter what the attendance.

2. “We Battle Not Against Flesh and Blood.” If we step out in faith for Jesus and begin to have an impact on people’s lives, then expect attacks of the evil one. Do not expect to do God’s work without opposition.

3. The Jeremiah Instruction. Jeremiah 29:7 “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (NIV). The people of God were going into exile in Babylon, and they would remain there for 70 years. While there, God instructs them to seek the good of where God has placed them until they return home. If Christians believe we are living as foreigners in a strange land until God calls us home, should we not do the same?

4. Never Stop Learning. The man who delivered a wonderfully powerful message in our second session attended a workshop with me later in the day. Here I watched a man who was a Pastor in a thriving Church and clearly had an enormous amount of Bible knowledge take out a notebook and start writing. He asked questions and sought to learn from the speaker. It reminded me that no matter how much you think you know, there is always more to learn.

5. Transformation. God does not give us tools to transform us into the “me we want to be.” He gives us instructions on how to connect with him. God may have different plans for us than we have for ourselves. His plans might lead us through dark valleys and beside quiet waters. Be sure we are not trying to use Jesus to accomplish our goals for ourselves.

It was another good day full of learning, and I am thankful to God for the wisdom of his people. There is so much to learn if we will seek it and listen carefully. May God bless you as he has blessed me as you strive to grow in him.

Some Things I am Learning at the 95 Conference

Today and tomorrow I am attending a Church conference in Peoria Illinois. It is called the 95 conference because ninety-five percent of Churches are under 500 people in attendance. The organizer’s goal is to encourage smaller Churches in their service of the Lord.

Right now, I have a two-hour break for supper and relaxation before heading back tonight. During this time I thought I would take a few minutes and share some thoughts from today. I have been blessed to hear three main session speakers along with attending two breakout workshops. All total I have about four and half hours of inspirational teaching I have heard already.

Here are a couple of thoughts I would like to share.

1. The Church is a Place of Unity. With all of the things happening right now in the world, the Church is a place that is leading the way in working together. Churches across the country are working with all ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds. The Church is composed of both genders, all ages, and various denominations. In a world of disunity, the Church leading the way in unity because it works on behalf of the God who created us all.

2. Lead With Our Weakness. The book of Second Corinthians is the Apostle Paul’s manifesto on how to do ministry. He emphasizes his weakness more than his strengths with chapter 12 being the pinnacle of his thinking. There is the powerful line that reads, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Being a leader in the Church is not about having special abilities, it is about trusting in the power of God.

3. Hope is Not a Strategy. While we trust God and his power, we are also called to be wise. A thoughtful Church leader will assess what their Church is doing. Develop a plan of improvement. Create structures to support the plan. Finally, they will get to work on the task of developing more and better disciples.

4. The Wisdom of Age. Quote from Carl George, “A 30-year-old cannot imagine what a 60-year-old person knows, simply because they haven’t been beaten up enough times.”

5. The Death of a Church. “A Church is dying when it is more concerned about the ‘way’ we do Church than about the ‘why’ we do Church” (Tony Morgan). The Church exists to spread the message of Jesus to a lost and dying world, not to maintain programs that we enjoy.

These are just a few brief thoughts from the many things I wrote down. I am sure these and dozens of others will find their way into blogs, leadership lessons, sermons and conversations in the coming year. I am glad to be here, and I am blessed by such a wonderful experience.

Unexpected Things that Shaped My Church Leadership

This Sunday afternoon I am heading out to a conference specifically designed for Churches with attendance under 500. I am excited to learn and grow, but I am really excited because on Monday night they are having an hour of worship specifically designed for Pastors. Basically, that means I do not have to do anything.

While I am looking forward to learning next week during the main sessions and workshops, I know I will also acquire new things in unexpected ways. Through the years of attending conferences, I am usually caught off guard by one or more interactions that take place on the fringes.

Here are some of the things I have learned at conferences that were not on the main agenda.

1. The Power of a Team. I attended a conference at Southeast Christian Church many years ago. While walking around the building, my group went into a room labeled “communion.” Inside were dozens of refrigerators filled with communion trays ready for worship. There was also a specially made machine to fill an entire tray of communion at one time. Later we caught a staff member, and he talked about a man who engineered that communion machine and the dozens and dozens of people it took to fill all their communion every week for 9,000 people. The lesson was simple; One man preaching a great sermon is good, but you need a number of gifted servants to lead people to God.

2. The Power of the Gospel. I was at a Church conference in Grand Rapids, and we heard a new preacher deliver a power talk about creativity and being made in the image of God. We learned that he led a large Church in town, so we loaded up the car and drove over. There were no signs on the street, in the parking lot or anywhere really. The only sign they had was a little-printed note on the front door. I noticed something I had never seen before; people came to that Church purely to hear the gospel. I am still in favor of signs, but I know that those are only tiny aids to the big project of Jesus.

3. The Power of Professionalism. The flip side of my last experience was a visit to a Church conference here in Missouri. The first night there was a cookout on the front lawn of the Church to kick off the meeting. While sitting on the grass, I noticed there was not a single dandelion. I started talking to a companion, and we noticed the grass was perfect, there was not a piece of trash anywhere, the parking lot had no holes, and the exterior seemed to be flawless. I learned that doing things for God should push us to do our best. Sure, the power is in the gospel, but if people are turned away before they hear a sermon, then there is trouble.

These are three of the biggest lessons I was taught at a conference without ever hearing a word. The truth is that they are all interconnected. It takes a great team of people to build a professional environment for people to listen to the message of the gospel.

I can’t wait to see what I learn this year.

Finding Your Own Way to Spiritual Growth

Unfortunately, there is no cookie-cutter approach to spiritual growth.

As a Pastor, I want to tell you, “Do these things in this order, and you are guaranteed results.”

Faith just doesn’t work that way. Every individual is wired differently and what works for one person may not work for another. The goal is not for my life to look like yours; the goal is for my life to look like Jesus.

Understanding this one truth is the single biggest factor my spiritual growth over the last few years. I tried to imitate my parents when I was growing up. In high school, I listened to my youth leaders and decided to follow their example. In college, I was surrounded by great men of faith and surely copying their methods would make me grow, but it didn’t.

I have spent most of my life trying to act like my leaders and other believers but to no avail. Finally, I set out on my own path and slowly my life began to change.

1. It doesn’t matter how you learn the Bible, just learn it. I have tried the one-year Bible, Bible reading plans and every other method under the sun. Finally, I landed on a way that works for me, and I have been able to read through the Bible four times in the last seven years.

2. It doesn’t matter how you receive instruction in Christian living, just get some. Some people listen to Christian radio, some podcast, some go to seminars and still some to Sunday school. The goal is better understanding what you are reading, and it doesn’t matter where you get it.

3. It doesn’t matter how your marriage grows, as long as you are growing together. Some people thrive on date nights and private vacations. I have never been able to afford either of those. My wife and I enjoy a Redbox movie alone in our bedroom. It works for us. Find what works for you.

4. It doesn’t matter how you instruct your children, just be sure they are receiving spiritual teaching. Try devotionals, straight Bible reading, children’s Church and even videos. Your child is unique, and it may take a unique approach to help them grow and learn.

5. It doesn’t matter how you serve the Lord, just serve. You have something special to offer the kingdom of God. It may be singing, teaching, planting flowers, painting or even lawn maintenance.

You need to connect to other believers. You need a time of worship. You need accountability. I could probably go on and on, but you get the point.

There is no need to feel guilty that someone else’s method doesn’t work for you. Failure only comes when you stop trying different things to see what works.

I think God puts us in a community of believers so that we can learn from each other not imitate each other. I can hear what works for you and learn from it. People can point me in the right direction until I find the path God has made for me.

The Church at its best is a collection of individuals who are all striving for the same goal in their own wonderful way.

Music that Shaped My Life

Yesterday I was reading through other people’s when I discovered that it was the 20th anniversary of the death of Rich Mullins. I immediately felt inspired to write a story from my life, even though it is a day late.

The year was 1989. I was trying to decide on where I wanted to go to college. I had narrowed it down to a Bible college primarily because I thought it would be easy. I went to visit five colleges in my search, but one weekend in November changed my life.

Ozark Christian College in Joplin Missouri was hosting their fall retreat for High School kids. It was called back then “The Ambassadors Rally.” Even though it was eight hours from home, my parents agreed that I could go with Kirk for the weekend. Kirk was my minister’s son and the grandson of the founder of OCC. For some reason that I do not completely understand as a father of teens, my parents let us make the trip alone.

Honestly, I do not remember the speaker or any of the breakout sessions. There are two things I remember from the weekend. One, my friend Kirk went to stay with his grandparents, and I was dropped off at college. I didn’t know I had to preregister for this event so I didn’t have a room. Two incredibly kind students named Doug and Troy took me into their room and gave me a place to stay. Later when attending college there Troy and I would become friends, and we have stayed in touch through the years.

The second thing that happened that weekend was a concert by Rich Mullins. At that time I had never heard of him. He was just a random artist trying to get a music career off the ground. Throughout the evening I heard something in Rich’s songs that I had never heard before in Christian music. His songs were a mixture of honesty and grace. Songs like “Elijah,” “Home,” “Ready for the Storm” and “If I Stand” spoke to me in a new and fresh way.

That day I bought all four cassette tapes he had for sale in the lobby. I took them home, and I listened to them over and over. In fact, it was only a few years ago that I finally throw those tapes out. They are the songs of my Christian life.

Over the coming years, I would purchase every Rich Mullins CD and listen to them repeatedly. I attended three more live concerts across the country. I read everything about Rich that CCM magazine published. Like the rest of the country, I sang the chorus to Awesome God as an early praise chorus.

His words shaped my life as he sang of God’s grace in the light of our frailty and faults. You may have never heard of him, or ever listened to one of his songs, but his shadow was cast over my life and helped mold me as much as any preacher or teacher.

When Rich died 20 years ago, I wondered who would fill the void of his life in Christian music. As of yet, no one has even come close. Christian music is made to sell, and popular culture has made everything sound very similar. Worship music drives the market more than personal reflection. Rich’s music and his life were unique. I thank God for Rich and people like him.

Being a Follower First

The world is full of the rhetoric of leadership. It appears that if you really want to get anywhere in life, you must become a leader. This thinking is reinforced in high schools, college scholarship applications, university classes and activities, business books and articles you are exposed to before you even take a real job. Even my children’s sports teams speak of leadership on the field along with the emotional leadership of a few players. Honestly, it is hard to go anywhere without someone writing or talking about leadership.

Interestingly enough, when Jesus called people to himself while in ministry on the earth, he called them to be followers first. Jesus did not call 12 men into “future leadership training” instead he simply said, “Come, follow me.”

Eventually, some of those men went on to be leaders in the Church, but before they could be good and godly leaders, they needed to be followers. I think the same reality exists today. Before I try to move anyone into leadership, I ask some questions about how they are living as a follower of Jesus and the leadership placed above them.

Here are some of the characteristics I see in a good follower.

1. A good follower is willing to listen & learn. A good follower must first admit that they do not have everything figured out. They must acknowledge that there is a great deal to learn. As a result, they listen to the instructions of others. They read to grow. A good follower is committed to seeking growth through the teaching of others.

2. A good follower is willing to submit.
There is not really a nice way to say this other than, “they do what they are told.” Granted they may not always agree or even understand the reason for the instruction, but they do it anyway. They submit their will to the person who is placed over them.

3. A good follower is willing to serve. Jesus was arguably one of the best leaders of all time, and yet he says that he came to serve (Mark 10:45). Christian leadership is achieved by a life of service. The goal is not to have people who desire to sit in a boardroom making decisions. The goal is to have people willing to do anything for the kingdom of God. They will wash, clean, paint, pick up, repair, or do whatever is required to move forward the cause of Christ.

4. A good follower is willing to sacrifice. These people are willing to give of themselves for the good of the group or the leader. They give up time, talent and treasure to bring growth. They will work hard and surrender themselves for the good of their cause.

I firmly believe that real leadership is formed in the lives of good followers. Before you set your heart on leadership, especially in the Church, you must be willing to follow. This process has a way of humbling your soul and breaking your spirit so that God can use you.

In a world looking for a few good leaders, I would like to be a part of a group of followers.