Sunday, July 31, 2011

PINK


Please be encouraged to take the poll at right under our pic - based on Friday's blog.

If our expectation as church leaders is rooted in church growth strategies and good management principles, then we are operating in the domain of what the Bible calls 'the flesh.'

Now, as soon as someone says those two dreaded words, 'the flesh,' everyone starts repenting and crucifying things and kneeling at altars and such. But just because we say it's 'the flesh,' doesn't automatically make it evil. That's a routine mistake we make. 'The flesh' is just our natural abilities.

And if we operate from our 'flesh,' our natural abilities, then that determines the results we get. So if you're smart and good-looking and well-connected and use all the latest and proven strategies, you'll have a hummin' church. You'll be successful. Congratulations.

And that's probably a terrible thing to say because don't most of us want a church that's successful? I think so. Sometimes I'm told by people that that's my job - to lead a successful church. But am I going to do it by trusting my own 'flesh' or by trusting an omnipotent, faithful God?

D. Willard tells about the Southern Baptist Convention years ago discovering that if you use large pink envelopes in your church auditorium, you get 11% more money in the offering than if you use those little white ones (we use the little white ones at KFA).

But the question is: what are you going to put your confidence in? Pink envelopes? Is that it?

Of course we should do our best, plan our best, strategize our best - and then never trust our best. Every weekend that I speak I end up preparing mega-hard, but I never trust my preparation. This is God's operation, not mine. It is God's church, not mine. Jesus is Lord of the church, not I. When we take control with our best 'flesh', we get our best fleshly results. When we let God take control, we get His results.

Please don't tell me it depends on pink envelopes.

And be blessed.

Friday, July 29, 2011

LEVITICUS


Feel free to take the poll under our pic at above right.

I love the book of Leviticus. I love it primarily because I don't totally understand it all. Yes, I'm admitting that. Is it bad that I just did that? Maybe.

But this I know: there's a lot of truth in there for us.

I would love it to be part of our church's (www.kenoshafirst.com) DNA that we assume there is something in every single text for us, no matter how obsolete it might feel - even those texts that make no sense the first (or fourth) time we read them -- especially those texts.

It's probably just my personal weirdness, but it's always been those odder places in the Bible that I have found most compelling. I have come to approach them with the assumption that there is more there than I realize.

As one author says, maybe we need to start asking when we read: 'What is the truth behind the truth?' So when we're talking about tithing, we're really talking about generosity and participation. And if we're talking about generosity and participation, then we're really talking about either the world as meagerness or the world as governed by a powerful Triune God.

Do you believe God made the universe as a place where you grab for your slice of the pie and then guard it fiercely? Or do you believe at the core that there is an endless, loving, self-sacrificing community of God we are invited to step into?

It's the truth behind the truth - and it is found on every page of Leviticus and the other 65 books.

And be blessed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

LaLANNE











I always thought Jack LaLanne was cool. He was this short, thick, muscly guy on TV when I was a kid telling people how to exercise by doing pushups on chairs long before it was popular to have muscles. It's too popular now.

He was called the 'Godfather of Fitness.' He opened the first modern health spa in America in 1936. It was in 1951 that he started up on TV and began a one-man campaign around fitness.

When he turned 70, he celebrated his birthday by towing 70 boats containing 70 people for a mile across Long Beach Harbor. He didn't want anyone to think he was taking it overly easy, so he added a twist -- he towed the boats by holding the rope in his teeth while handcuffed and wearing leg shackles. I'm planning something similar when I turn 70, unless I have dentures by then.

But do you know what that says to me? The guy never retired. Oh sure, at some point he kicked the bucket - actually it was just this past January when he was 96 years old. But he never gave up. The fire in his belly never subsided.

Study the life and times of any of the men and women who had profound impact for God and you will see they were as active as ever right up to the last day God gave them breath.

Billy Graham was once heard to say that God doesn't give retirement parties or gold watches.

Let the passion burn till the end.

And be blessed.

Monday, July 25, 2011

QUIT


Just quit. Admit defeat. Throw in the towel. Why keep at this if it’s wrecking your life?

That’s what the first century believers were asking themselves. For them, following Jesus was not a great career move. Following Jesus didn’t expand their friendships -- it didn’t enhance their reputations -- it didn’t help their opportunities -- it didn’t make anybody popular or more influential. In fact, it had the opposite effect. It turned them into outsiders - oddities - targets of ridicule and abuse. It strained their relationships with family members outside the faith -- it negatively impacted old friendships -- the government turned against them. They couldn’t keep jobs. Everywhere they looked, people were against them.


So why didn’t they just quit?


Here’s the weird thing about perseverance - it only works and it only makes sense if you’re heading in the right direction. If you’re not heading in the right direction, you’re a moron to keep going. But if you are heading in the right direction, you’re foolish to quit, no matter how hard the journey might seem or feel or be. If you’ve found the one road that leads to life, press in with true grit and stay the course.


If you’re walking toward nothing -- if you’re fighting for no clear purpose, then quit. But if the road leads home, never give up.


Over the years I have seen a lot of people who just wanted to give up. And if that happens to be you, I would say to you: ‘Where did you think this road you were on was leading?’ If it’s not leading to a place you ultimately want to be in the end, then by all means quit. Don’t let me talk you out of it. You would be right to quit.


But what if this is the only road home?


That’s really the main and only question: Do you believe you are on the right course or not? If you believe you are, stay the course. The only thing is: you’ll need to persevere -- because nothing matters if you don’t finish well.


Don’t give up; stay the course.


And be blessed.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

BAPTISM

Today is one of my favorite days of the year every year.

It's the day our church goes out to Lake Andrea for a church picnic. It's also the day we water baptize as many people as will come out. The whole day is organized by Lisa Kurman, our amazing pastor of Life Development.

We baptized over 90 people in the lake today - story after story of husbands and wives and families being baptized -- friends baptizing friends who were instrumental in their journey to Christ -- stories of new found faith and lifelong commitments to Jesus.

I love how God is growing our church thru new-to-faith conversion growth. This must be the continuing and ongoing story of KFA (www.kenoshafirst.com).

And be blessed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

PANDA


Based on the title, you probably think this is going to be about the cuddly black-and-white bears you find in
National Geographic or at the zoo -- but no -- it's about the new restaurant in Kenosha, Panda Express, where free food was being given out from 11 a.m. till 8 p.m. yesterday.

Joelene and I were there on Wednesday to get some take-home, and we actually paid for our food. They told us they were having an all-day-free-food-giveaway on Thursday and we should come back.

I drove by around 5 p.m. last night and saw a line of a couple hundred people snaked in front of the restaurant in 100-plus degree heat like they were waiting to get on the Screaming Eagle. I thought to myself, 'Do people really want free Orange Chicken and PotStickers that badly? Really?'

I drove back by an hour later - and another time after that - I don't know why - and the line was even longer. I just kind of shook my head in amusement and drove down the road to Starbucks, where I had a coupon for a free smoothie.

And be blessed.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

SPEAKING

One of the great self-revelations of entering into lead pastoring over the past six years is how much I have begun to enjoy speaking. I’m not saying I’m all that great at it, but I enjoy doing it.


That probably sounds high and mighty, but I don’t mean it to. I have just found an incredible joy studying the Scriptures and then helping people apply it to their lives. That has brought great personal joy and fulfillment.


I have consistently hammered the belief that our story is found on every page of the Bible - that when we read about Joseph and David and Peter and Paul and the others, we’re not really reading about them -- they’re all stories about us. You. Me.


I love receiving phone calls and e-mails on Wednesday or Thursday to find people are still chewing on the Scriptural message -- pondering it -- questioning it -- drilling down on it in their own private time. That kind of thing makes me want to get up the next day and do it all over again.


But something else has become clear to me. Nailing a sermon doesn’t mean anybody’s life will change. I used to think that was my goal. Just deliver an awesome sermon and voila!, you’ll have people on their knees repenting in a flash. No.


Or the opposite will happen ... somebody will utterly surrender everything to Christ but you realize it can’t be because of what you said because that was one of your - honestly - worst sermons ever. Not one thing that you did caused him/her to become a believer.


I cannot make someone fall in love with Jesus. He does that.


I am now convinced that a lot more of our work needs to involve prayer and trusting God. I could spend an extra ten hours on every message and make every sentence grammatically powerful, but my time would probably be far better spent praying and sharing the Gospel with people.


I know I’m always going to throw myself into every message like a madman, but I’m coming to realize even greater things will happen if I spend as much time praying for a move of the Holy Spirit as I do trying to craft a message.


It isn’t easy to lead a congregation into greater depth and truth and commitment, but it doesn’t have to be easy, because it’s really God’s doing -- and you have peace with that.


And be blessed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

BAILEY


Every Christmas - and sometimes in June or July - people watch the movie
'It's a Wonderful Life' with Jimmy Stewart. It's one of the sappiest films - with an ultra-sappy ending - we've ever seen and yet we keep watching it.

The characters are all standing around in a cinematically perfect little group laughing with hysterical joy. Why? Because the main character, George Bailey, played by Stewart, has been allowed by heaven to see things as they really are.

I won't suggest that the movie has its angelology down pat, but the point sticks: God sees things in ways we cannot see and He is using us in ways we cannot expect, using even frustrations and trials in our lives.

If you could really see the spiritual reality of your life - that the battle is won by Christ already and that far less than you ever thought stands between you and the joyful, fulfilled life God wants for you, you would respond just like George Bailey.

That's pretty much the reason we are called to surrender on a daily basis. It isn't even the surrendering part that is so challenging, it's the 'daily' part. But we have to. Daily.

We have to because our memories are so poor about yesterday and the day before. We quickly forget how God brought us through ... we forget the sacrifice Christ made at Calvary ... we forget the promises ... we forget His lovingkindness and grace and mercy toward us. So we have to 'daily Bailey' it.

At the movie's end, George Bailey kisses his wife and kids and stands there like a goof with his mouth wide open in a silly grin - and yet he is, in that moment, expressing the passion of a life whose doors have burst off their hinges by seeing things the way they were all along, if only he'd had God's perspective on it.

That's our challenge ... daily.

Be a Bailey.

And be blessed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

GOAL

Here is the goal of your every day life as presented by J.C. Ryle, who was the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool, England a few generations ago:

'A zealous man in religion is preeminently a man of one thing ... he sees only one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up for one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies, whether he has health, or whether he has sickness, whether he is rich, or whether he is poor, whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offense, whether he is thought wise, or whether he is foolish, whether he gets honor, or whether he gets shame, for all this ... the man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God and to advance God's glory.'

Maybe a primer from the year 1538 says it as good as anything could:

'God be in my head,
and in my understanding,
God be in mine eyes
and in my looking.
God be in my mouth
and in my speaking.
God be in my heart
and in my thinking.
God be at my end
and at my departing.

And be blessed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

TWEET


An apparent addiction to Twitter among many leads me to encourage you to “Tweet the Bible” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It seems that Twitter can use a little love, so over the next year, join me in committing to letting God’s Word out every day, from Genesis to Revelation -- on Twitter.

The Bible is over 800,000 words within 31,000 verses - plenty to tweet and re-tweet about.

This is a way we can contextualize the Gospel in our day and age.

Tweet, Tweet.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter by clicking the link at right.

And be blessed.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

RENEW

Make no mistake about it, we are the products of the thinking in our hearts and minds. If you can find a way to get your ideas inside another person so he thinks the way you do, you gain that man. That’s what God is trying to do with you every day - get His ideas inside you. This is both the motivation of the Holy Spirit and the unholy spirit. Both are eager for control of your thoughts and mind every single day.

We live in a world that lies to us every single day. All our lives we have been told lies. It is a consequence of living in a world that has turned its back on the source of truth.

Every day women in our culture are told in a thousand different ways that in order to be lovable, they must be physically beautiful. And while few women would admit they buy in to that line of thinking, fewer still could deny that they have at some point acted on that philosophy. Most women are acting on that philosophy in some form or another even as you’re reading this --- probably wearing eye liner, rouge, mascara, blush ...

Every day, men in our culture are told their key to happiness is a newer model that requires less maintenance. Whether that means cars or women or something else, the lie is the same. We see the lie repeated every time we turn on the TV or open a magazine. I’ve never met a guy who would actually acknowledge thinking that way, but I know a lot of men who have made real-life decisions based on that lie.

The fact is, you cannot fill a mind with truth until you have identified and removed the lies that live there. Christianity is a life-long process of being transformed into Christ-likeness. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to believe that if our spiritual experience is real, it will produce instant change. And when it doesn’t, we are prone to believe the experience didn’t work. Or maybe we weren’t sincere enough about it. Or we didn’t have enough faith. But here’s a news flash: Being adopted into God’s family doesn’t instantly or automatically improve your character. Spiritual growth comes as a result of a process called renewal.

When we talk about renewal and transformation, we’re not merely talking about replacing a list of bad behaviors with a new list of better ones, because you can avoid all kinds of worldly behaviors and still not be transformed. You’re not transformed by re-dedicating your life - or by feeling extra sorry - or by repeating a nice long prayer. It happens by renewing your mind. This is the most significant thing you can do to develop Godly character.

Our mind is our biggest problem because when we just have a Biblical commandment without having a corresponding Biblical worldview, then the Bible just becomes a bunch of rules that aren’t supposed to be broken - and God’s commands end up not making sense to us - and that makes follow-thru very tough.

If you want to discover where renewal needs to happen in your life, all you need to do is examine your responses to some of God’s laws. Our natural tendency is to self-edit God’s laws to our personal lifestyles. A good rule-of-thumb to see where and if your mind needs renewed is to use the “But-Principle ... ”

‘I know I should put others first, but ... ‘

‘I know he or she isn’t good for me, but ... ‘

‘I know I don’t have any business going to that place, but ... ‘

‘I know I should forgive, but ... ‘

‘I know I shouldn’t have behaved that way, but ... ‘

‘I know I shouldn’t be living with him because we’re not married, but ... ‘

‘I know it isn’t good to take up that person’s offense, but ... ‘

‘I know about the divorce thing, but ... ‘

‘I know I shouldn’t talk about her behind her back, but ... ‘

When you know what to do but you are unclear about why to do it - when the ‘why’ amounts to nothing more than ‘because the Bible says’ - then you have revealed an area of your mind that needs renewal. You are not convinced that God’s way is the best way for you. You actually see God standing in the way of what is best for you - and when that begins to happen, you’re due for some mind renewal.

Read the truth. Do we spend as much time in the Word as we do in the allurements of the world? When something happens in your life, is your involuntary response a Biblical one? If it IS, that’s a renewed mind. If it ISN’T, that’s an area that needs renewal.

Speak the truth out loud. It worked for Jesus, when the devil was tempting Him: ‘It is written.’ Volume isn’t the issue, but something powerful happens when we verbalize truth and Scripture.

Listen to the truth. Biblical CDs and DVDs and online things. Ponder the writings of great, spiritual men and women.

Personalize the truth. This is the same as ‘SPEAK THE TRUTH,’ only you do it in first person.

“There is no weapon formed against ME that can prosper.”

“Greater is He who is in ME than He who is in the world.”

“All things work together for good for ME - because I love You, God - because I am called according to Your purposes.”

“I will be strong and courageous. God will be with ME wherever I go.”

Pray the truth.

“GOD, thank you that there is no weapon formed against ME that can prosper.”

“GOD, I praise You that You are greater inside ME.”

“I am blessed, because I know all things work together for good to those who love You, God -- and I love you -- and to those who are called according to Your purposes -- and I am called by Your purposes.”

“God, make me a man who is strong and courageous. I know You are always with me.”

Journal and meditate on the truth.

These aren’t meant to be ‘Six Easy Steps To Successful Christian Living.’ They are HABITS to develop in your life that will serve to renew your mind - and that’s a process.

And in it all ---- pray, pray, pray, pray that the Holy Spirit will renew your mind ---- because you cannot become the person God created you to be by remaining who you are.

And be blessed.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

GOOD

I'm going to partially borrow from M. Driscoll today in his writing about 'Ten Things Good Pastors Say.' I've said a lot of these, but some of them I need to say more often.

1. Please Forgive Me

It's better than "I'm sorry," which can often be followed with an "if" or a "but." These words indicate a humble heart.

2. You're Right

Good pastors know they're not always/usually the smartest, most "spiritual" person in the room. They are zealous to give credit and acknowledge, achievement and intelligence, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it encourages and empowers others.

3. You're Wrong

Bad pastors chicken out when it comes to calling out people on sin or Biblical ignorance. Good pastors brave conflict and hurt feelings and say, "You're wrong," in gentle but firm ways, when necessary.

4. Jesus Loves You

Why did we stop saying this? I think because it became cliché. I'd love to see a recovery of the art of "Jesus loves you."

5. I Love You

I think one reason we stopped saying "Jesus loves you" to people is because we don't really love them ourselves. Telling people you love them is a reminder to them and to you that sacrificial love is your calling.

6. Me Too

These might be the most important words in pastoral counseling. Bad pastors trade regularly in "Not me." In the pulpit and in the office, bad pastors set themselves apart from their congregations with tales of adventure, spirituality, and personal holiness. In the pulpit and in the office, good pastors talk of sin and trials and utter ineptitude and say, "Me too." I have seen entire countenances change when I've said some variation of "Me too."

7. Any Time

Of course you don't mean it literally. But you kind of do. Good pastors are available.

8. Thank You

Bad pastors think they're owed. Good pastors know everything is a gift.

9. Grace is True

Good pastors take the opportunity to glorify God by talking up His amazing grace every chance they get. Bad pastors may say grace is true but the context of their teaching and the expectations in their leadership say, "Your works must be this high to ride this ride."

10. You're Approved

Be a good news pastor. Bad pastors beat their people up with their failures. Bad pastors are always disappointed. Good pastors know grace is true and Jesus is Lord, so they are ready to challenge every self-despairing soul with the wonderful truth that in Christ we are approved by God.

I think I'm pretty good at #1, 2, 3, 6 & 8 -- but I could be a whole lot better at #4, 5 & 10.

What about you?

And be blessed.

Friday, July 15, 2011

PEOPLE


Biblically, the word
'church' does not refer to a building or a ministry or any of the other stuff we've come to attach it to. It never has.

The focus of the church is, unashamedly, directed toward people and not toward the organization. Jesus did not give His life for a denomination or any other man-made entity. He died to pay the penalty for people, individuals like you and me. For people.

And be blessed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

THIRD


We need to continually remember what a life lived for God is all about and who it is for. I won't beat around the bush. It's not about you, and it's not for you.

Don't read that wrong: The life God wants for you will take you into the most awesome, satisfying life you could ever imagine. It's hardly pain-free or trouble-free, but it is rewarding beyond belief. But God doesn't call you to a life that is for your own enjoyment. It's all about bringing Him glory and sharing His life with someone else.

That's what it is. You can debate it and argue it until you're blue in the face and you'll get nowhere with me on it. At the end of the day, the truth is, you're at least third in line. At least. God is first, somebody else is second, and you might be - maybe - third. MAYBE.

Every single spoke in the wheel of your life goes back to the center - God. Being what He wants you to be is the superseding drive and force in your life. You are not your own; you were bought at the highest price. You belong to Christ.

The two greatest commandments are neither one about you. The first is about loving God and the second about loving others. One ... and two. You aren't in there anywhere. Keeping these two ideas at the top of your priority list every single minute of every single day would revolutionize your life -- and in the end, would benefit you beyond measure, even though that wasn't your motivation.

You are ... at best ... third.

And be blessed.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

BARBIE


We tend to listen to the world over listening to God. If somebody continually calls you a loser, you may soon begin to wonder if it might be true, even though you don't really think it's true, and even though you know God doesn't call you that.

Conversely, if your mom and dad always called you 'Gorgeous,' you probably grew up seeing yourself as attractive, even though maybe you could stop a train with that face. And if a parent nicknamed you 'Dummy' (do parents do that?), well --- I probably don't need to tell anybody what that would do to a child growing up. That kind of influence extends to other important adults in your life -- teachers, relatives, coaches, pastors.

Culture had something to do with that, too. Barbie dolls were slender, blond, blue-eyed ultra-proportioned 'ideals.' If you were chubby with frizzy brown hair, you were automatically 'less than ideal from the get-go.'

Maybe church contributed to that as well. If the emphasis was more on sin than on grace, you may have matured viewing yourself as a 'worthless sinner' more than a 'sinner saved by God's grace.'

So now, you carry a mental photo of yourself everywhere you go - except it may be a false and distorted photo. Probably is. So when your hubby says, 'You're beautiful,' you compare that unfavorably with the photo you're carrying in your mind's eye which is, 'No, I'm chubby with frizzy brown hair.' If she says, 'Honey, you're such a wise man,' you internally dismiss it because you know you're a moron, according to the picture you're carrying of yourself.

And when God speaks to you about something exciting, promise-filled, passionate -- you're pretty doggone sure He's talking to the guy next to you.

May I remind you on July 13th that:

God created you in His image ...

God loves you as His child ...

You are eternally lovable ...

God gave up His Son to reconcile you to Himself ...

If that is true, and if you were worth such an expensive ransom, you are infinitely valuable ...

You may not be the most talented person in the room, but God has gifted you to be His light in the world ...

If He is ready to entrust that kind of responsibility to you, you must be thoroughly competent.

Go get 'em.

And be blessed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

NOBODY

I don't know if you ever feel like a nobody. I think all my life I have. That isn't a sob story or a goad to get you to say something nice about me -- it's just the basic truth. I've come to terms with my 'nobody-ness' now, but I will admit it has been a force to deal with along the way.

We live in a culture super-soaked with superstars. Everywhere we turn we are faced with images of professionals ---- athletes - actors - scientists - politicians - celebrities - famous people - VIPs.

There is a story told about Billy Graham and one of his occasional associates, Leighton Ford. Ford was speaking at an open-air crusade in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Graham would be following him to the microphone the next evening. Graham had actually arrived a day early and at that night's crusade, was sitting in the back on the grass, unrecognized with his sunglasses and hat.

Just in front of him was an elderly gentleman who seemed to be listening intently. When Ford came to the conclusion of his message and invited people forward for a commitment, Graham decided to do a little one-on-one evangelism. He tapped the man on the shoulder and asked, 'Would you like to accept Christ? I'll be glad to walk down the aisle with you if you want to.' To which the gentleman replied, 'No, I think I'll wait till the big gun comes tomorrow night.'

There is at least part of that illustration which should sadden us - that a 'big gun' mentality has spread even into moments such as faith commitments.

Sometimes I say things on the blog that get me in trouble. I don't welcome that or hope for it, but I try not to shy away from it when I feel passionately (which is nearly always). There are times, standing down front at our church to pray for people, when there are a dozen people on either side of me also waiting to pray for needs -- God-warriors all -- and sometimes I see a line backed up in front of me while other prayer team members are standing solo. I know some of that is born out of relationship -- but more times than not, I get a sense that people think my prayer as a proverbial 'big gun' might be more effective than the guy down three to the left. So not true.

We're in the presence of God. Who needs 'guns' any bigger than that?

Where is it written that a person must be famous, spectacularly talented, brilliantly wise or amazingly beautiful to lead a passionate, effective, turned-on life for Jesus? Did those former things characterize the disciples of Jesus? Certainly not. They were nobodies. Peasants -- fisherman -- accountants -- yet Jesus chose them and empowered them to take the Gospel everywhere.

First Corinthians 1:26 makes it clear: 'You see your calling, brothers, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. Wow.' (I actually added the 'Wow.')

You and me -- we are the chosen nobodies.

And be blessed.