Saturday, March 30, 2013


I love grace.

Grace is when God gives you what you need instead of what you deserve.
Grace is when God says, 'Come to Me.  I'm not mad at you.  Never have been.'
Grace is when God forgives you and then gives you a second ... third ... fourth ... twentieth ... hundredth ... thousandth chance to start again.
That's grace.  We all need it.

R. Warren tells a story about baseball umpire, David Hagler: 
   'I was driving too fast one day when a policeman pulled me over and gave me a speeding ticket.  I tried to talk him out of it by telling him how worried I was about my insurance going up and what a careful driver I normally was.  I begged for grace.  I begged him.  But he said if I didn't like it, I could go to court.
   The first game of the next baseball season I was umpiring behind home plate and the first batter up was that same policeman.  I recognized him and he recognized me.  He nervously asked me, 'How did things go with your ticket?'  I just stared at him and said, 'Swing at everything.'

'We're not that used to experiencing grace from others.'

We're not that used to experiencing grace from others.  But God shows you grace 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The next breath you take is because God's grace gives it to you.

You say, 'Wait a minute.  I earned what I have!'  Really?  Where do you think you got the power to earn it?  Where do you think you got your brains - your health - your mind - your arms - your legs?  Everything you have -- if it wasn't for the grace of God.

It isn't what you deserve, but it's what you get.

And be blessed.

Friday, March 29, 2013


I've never really understood why we call today Good Friday and then have church services that are generally dour, somber, quiet, and in minor keys to celebrate it.  Seems like it would be better labelled Sad Friday.

And I get it.

Jesus was arrested.  Bad.
He was beaten.  Bad.
He was crucified.  Bad.
He died.  Bad.
He was put in a tomb.  Bad.
For three days dead.  Bad.

But then all those bad things were trumped when the stone was rolled away and He rose from the grave in victory forever.  Good, good, good.

So yes - celebrate Friday today, but let's keep it good.

And be blessed.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Today is National Quirky Country Music Song Titles Day.

I am not making this up.

Some of the big winners in my book are:
'How Come Every Time I Itch I Wind up Scratching You?'  (Kenny Chesney)
'May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose'  (Little Jimmy Dickens)
'She Made Toothpicks Out of the Timbers of my Heart'  (Homer & Jethro)
'If I Had a Nose Full of Nickels, I'd Sneeze Them All Atchoo'  (Lou Carter)
'Did I Shave My Legs For This?'  (Deanna Carter)


But listen, COUNTRY MUSIC doesn't have a market on quirky song titles.  From the world of Jesus:
'Drop Kick Me, Jesus, Through the Goal Posts of Life'  (Bobby Bare)
'You Can't Get to Heaven on the Back of a Camel'  (Doug Horley)
'Kazoo Song'  (Hawk Nelson)

And just for honorable mention, though it isn't a quirky title:  'Jesus is a Friend of Mine' (SonSeed).
I used to dress like these guys and I love them.  I see Jesus all over them.

And be blessed.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Random.  It doesn't get any more that than this.

I don't even know what possesses me to write along these lines today.  It's just 'one of those days' - the kind of day that folks who read this will go: "What in the world is our pastor doing with his time that he ends up writing about such things?  Get to work, man."

And ... considering the subject matter today, I may not blame you.

I'll be honest to say that I don't remember a lot from my childhood.  The gaps are very wide when it comes to my memories.  I don't know if that's a good or bad thing, but my memories of pre-13 years old are extremely sketchy.  Pre-8 years old is nearly non-existent.  I probably need counseling.

The ping-pong table coming down on my fingers.
The kid who used to pick on me in junior high.
The big white house up the street where the Italian kid lived.
The guy next door who had 17 cats.
The dog I gave away.
Those I remember.

The dog.

I'm sure my mom can confirm or deny the accuracy of this - but it's what I remember and you can't fight City Hall with regard to memories.  They're locked in my personal vault and you don't have the right to alter them.

'Animals have no soul and they're as dead as your toaster right now.'

We had a little puppy - Cuddles, as I recall.  And to make a very short story even shorter --- one day I was outside playing with him and I gave him away to some people passing by who said he was cute.  Story over.

I don't know what happened to that dog.  It was 40+ years ago now so I'm pretty sure he (she?) is dead.  Not positive, though.

Other than the dog, I think I had a fish once.  And a turtle.  And ...... nope, that's it.  A dog, a fish, and a turtle.  The turtle might still be alive.  Again -- the memories are vague, but I'm pretty sure we put him in the middle of the street just to see what would happen when cars went by.

Anyhoo -- part of the job I love as pastor of JourneyChurch ( is to answer complex theological questions like 'Why did God make mosquitoes?' and the like.

Now and then someone will ask me about their dog - or cat - or fish or turtle.  Is he/she/it in heaven when he/she/it dies?

Sigh.  What do I tell them?  "Yes, of course, God loves all His creation and Rover is lapping up pure clean living water as we speak?" It sounds great, but it is mostly biased conjecture.

Or: "Don't be ridiculous; animals have no soul and they're as dead as your toaster right now."  Caustic.

I don't know that these guesses are particularly helpful, enlightening or healing.

"I really don't know" works a whole lot better for me.

Wimpy?  Maybe.

In the book of Jonah, God has relented of the pending disaster by saving the city of Ninevah, where the Bible says there were 'more than 120,000 people who didn't know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?'

... and also much cattle?  What?

So really, I don't know.  I mean, I guess God loves stones (which He made) - and He loves armadillo (which He made) - and He loves you and me (whom He made)?  But does He love all of those in the same way?

Is Cuddles in heaven right now?  Half of me says, 'Why not?'  The other half says, 'Absurd.'  But really -- who knows?  I know that not a single sparrow falls to the ground apart from God's sovereignty and care.  And I know Ninevah's outcome had some connection - even remotely - to cattle.

Otherwise, I'm stumped.  If you're not, let me know.

And be blessed.

Monday, March 25, 2013


There is a trend in church culture and worship toward horizontal theology.  This is theology where you're at the center -- it's about what you get out of God -- what you're interested in -- the focus is you.

Vertical theology is focused on God.  Way better.  Way more Biblical.  It's more Biblical because God is the beginning, the end and the middle.  Man is none of those.

Nevertheless, we have one striking statement and expression of Christianity that illustrates the importance of both vertical and horizontal theology.  It is:

And be blessed.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


God didn't spare His own Son in order to gain your salvation.  And He won't spare your health or your career or your wealth in order to get your attention today.

Is that controversial?  I don't know - but if God wouldn't spare His own Son's life to save you, do you really think He'd spare anything else in order to get you to surrender to Him?  If He sacrificed His one and only Son to rescue you, do you really think there's anything else He wouldn't sacrifice in order to keep you connected to Him?

Jesus says: "I'm not here just to be your Savior, I'm here to be your King.  I'm waiting for you to surrender to My authority; I'm waiting for you to raise the white flag.  It's your palm branch.  I'm waiting for you to say one big 'Yes,' regardless -- 'Yes,' no matter what -- 'Yes,' irrespective of what anybody else around you says or does -- 'Yes,' period."


And be blessed.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


We've all faced the personal consequences of saying, 'I'll be autonomous.  I'll be unaccountable.  I'll do whatever I want to do.'

And because of that, the enemy is right outside your walls - just about to break through - you can see the tips of his pitchfork entering the house - and you're not quite sure what to do.

The desire to be king is inside all of us.  We know best.  It's our way or the highway.  We have this.  But we don't have it, do we?

We're just not completely sure we're ready to throw out the white flag and surrender.  Not just yet.  We're not sure we want to say 'YES' to God.  Maybe tomorrow.  We still think it's better if we remain autonomous and unaccountable and independent.  We'll hold out one more day and see what happens.

'When your life gets out of control and ... you can't possibly manage, know that God isn't trying to harm you - He's trying to reclaim you.'

And I get it.  I do.  If we surrender, it seems like we're giving up so much of ourselves - our lives - our preferences - our wants - our dreams.  But that's because we haven't understood how very good God is.

Because when it feels God is coming after you -- He isn't doing that because He's angry with you.  He isn't your enemy.  He loves you.  He's trying to win you back, not hurt you.

So when your life gets out of control and you're suddenly faced with consequences you can't possibly manage, know that God isn't trying to harm you - He's trying to reclaim you.

And be blessed.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


The debate over being a seeker continues.  I'm not talking about the controversy over whether a certain church is seeker-sensitive or Jesus-sensitive or seeker-insensitive.  Aren't we all terribly bored with that conversation?

It is the concept that you and I are searching for God at all.  Are we or aren't we?  Is He hiding from us and we just haven't managed to locate Him yet?

It was the First Pair who hid from God in the Garden.  God wasn't hiding.  Jesus makes it clear that His own mission was to seek and save lost people, not the other way around.

Seems if anybody is searching, it might be Him.  But why is He searching?  Can't He find us?  Doesn't He know where we are?  Has He lost us?

Sproul said: 'Man seeks the benefits of God while fleeing from God Himself.  We are, by nature, fugitives.'

But does the debate really matter?  What semantics we argue over.  Aren't we each desperately searching for something?

Romans 3 says, 'Nobody seeks after God.'  But Jeremiah 29 says, 'When you seek Him, you'll find Him.'  

Deuteronomy 4: 'Seek Him and you'll find Him.'  

Proverbs 8: 'Those who seek Me, find Me.'  

Hebrews 11: 'He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.'

Matthew 6:  'Seek the Kingdom ... '

So don't get trapped in those seeker conversations.  Just go after God irregardless.  Seek Him, period.  Search for Him, no matter what others say.  With all your heart.  And find Him.

And be blessed.

Monday, March 18, 2013


After the massive recent failures of NASA in terms of safety and advancement, someone editorialized: 

'Our problems must be solved, but not at the expense of exploration.  Exploration is not a luxury.  It defines us as a civilization.  It directly or indirectly benefits every member of society.  It yields an inspirational dividend whose impact on our self-image, confidence, and economic and geopolitical stature is immeasurable.'

D. Browning took that statement and made it even better and more relevant to us.  In light of where God is taking us as a church, I embrace his tweak:

'Our [church] problems must be solved, but not at the expense of exploration [reaching out].  Exploration [outreach] is not a luxury.  It defines us as a civilization [church].  It directly or indirectly benefits every member of society [the world].  It yields an inspirational dividend whose impact on our self-image, confidence, and economic and geopolitical stature is immeasurable [we are blessed and it's a lot of fun when the arrows are pointed out and we are aligned with our Creator's agenda].'

Sky's the limit.

And be blessed.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Today is historic.  Our church membership unanimously approved the merger and acquisition of our new multi-site in Burlington, Wisconsin --- and then unanimously approved a church name change to reflect the merger.

Journey Church is our new name.

'Today is historic.'

I don't know how to be thankful enough for a church congregation who is courageous, compassionate, visionary, sacrificial, outward-focused, grace-filled, loyal and bold --- all at the same wonderful time.

There has always been a group of people who understood that this is a movement - it's a mission - it isn't about a style or preference.  It's about this simple Gospel that transforms lives and that God is always doing something new and fresh by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There has always been a group of people who understood that the church must work hard to retain its doctrine and its core values and be willing to change everything else so it never grows stale -- and determine to one day hand it off to another generation just like a previous generation handed it to us.

We've decided as a church that we're going to live for a greater vision rather than a lesser one.  We're going to serve with a greater vision - worship with a greater vision - tell people about Jesus with a greater vision - launch into Burlington with a greater vision - do technology with a greater vision - watch children in JourneyKids and bless students in H20 with a greater vision - give and sacrifice and help and do life, all with a greater vision ...

... because we've been invited to be part of one of the greatest things God has ever begun here in our city and our region.

And the journey ... has only just begun.

And be blessed.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


We are blessed at our church to have some amazingly professional (and young) cohorts.  They are full of passion and knowledge, despite some of their relatively young ages.  I have learned much from these teammates.

Their generations have been labelled Millenials and Gen-Xers.  I've come to find out they process things differently than I do - have different expectations than I do - communicate and receive communication differently than I do.  Basically, they're different from me.

I used to wear a tie to work way back in the day.  It was just what you did then.  I thank this younger generation for removing that rope from around my neck.  I still like to wear ties but now I do it because I want to do it.  It's more fun now.

One of the preferences I've discovered of the younger generation I work with every day is they prefer texting over e-mailing.  Now, most of us/them have e-mail capability right on our phones, but I always get a faster response if I text them.  I'm just slower at texting than I am at e-mailing.  My fingers are too big for my phone keyboard.  But I'm a speed demon at e-mail.

I've also realized I can send a seven paragraph message and often get a seven-word response.  It isn't disrespect - they just streamline to a fault.  Brevity is the sincerest form of flattery (no, that's 'imitation' actually - but whatever).

The younger generation also likes something written in the e-mail subject line.  I'm famous for sending e-mails with NOTHING in the subject line.  I think it might be seen as a message indicating laziness or unimportance - neither of which really apply.  Still, the team will poke and prod me that I've neglected the subject line.  They still answer though.

I'm fond of putting things in CAPS.  I learned that it was kind of like yelling - even though that wasn't what I meant by it.  I routinely type my sermons with combinations of words italicized, bolded, underlined and in CAPS.  It's just my style to indicate EMPHASIS - not to yell.  Still, they don't like messages written with all CAPS.

It is also rather common for many of us to 'CC' others on one e-mail.  That's just to keep people in the loop who you think should be.  I think the younger generation prefers you just talk to them and not make it a round table discussion.

I wonder what the next form of communication will be and what challenges we'll have talking to each other in the future.

We're so different -- and that's what makes it so great.

And be blessed.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


I believe we need both inside and outside in the church today.  Get fed, get built up, get discipled and - o yeah - don't forget to GO also.

We need both.

The only problem with that is, left to ourselves - without being purposeful about it - 'inside' always wins.  Yes, it does.

I am always inclined to want my own stuff fulfilled before I bother about someone else's.

'The world depends on you thinking about this.'

I love what G. Chesterton said about this.  He says many of the world's religions have circles as their symbols.  He says: 'The cross can extend its four arms forever ... the cross opens its arms to the winds."

That's what you need to do, Christ-follower.

We need both inside and outside, but rarely have we neglected the former for the latter.

The world depends on you thinking about this.

And be blessed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


I wonder what would happen if I asked my congregation to tell me the top things they wanted in a pastor.  It's kind of a frightening thought because I don't know how many of them I'd measure up to.

Some of the things I think would make the list are:

1   Love the sheep
2   Cast vision with passion
3   Teach effectively and consistently
4   Have character and integrity
5   Work hard
6   Be transparent and open
7   Build a great team
8   Model everything you talk about

What did I miss?  I'm sure I missed something.

And be blessed.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


I can't remember who said it, but it's lodged in my brain: 'The world can do everything better than the church except for one thing ... offer grace to people.'

Love it.

So as we continue our journey of grace as Christ-followers we understand that what people are looking for and what they need is transformation, not information.  They don't need a new set of rules to follow.  Rules end in behavior modification, not a changed heart.  Anybody can do temporary adjustments and keep it up for awhile.  Grace helps us lean toward principles, not rules - and we all need that.

Grace means we care for people.  We value them regardless of their behaviors, lifestyles, belief systems or judgments.  It isn't about what they do, but who they are.

Grace begs for trust in people.  It isn't blind, but it leans toward people, not away from them.  It puts away judgments and pushes against spirits that turn critical instantly.  It denies suspicion and rather than assuming the worst about everyone, grace believes the best.

Grace is being like Jesus.

And be blessed.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


There are people you've thought about inviting to church but you still haven't.

We need to ramp up our boldness in this area and I'll tell you why.  It isn't so we'll get bigger; it's because you need to experience our church thru the eyes and ears of a person who's far from God or who doesn't go to church at all.  Because, if once or twice a year you experience church thru the lens of someone who doesn't know God, you'll begin to let some of the things you're holding onto as traditions and liturgies fall away.

'There are people you've thought about inviting ... but you still haven't.'

Because if all we ever get in the way of evaluation is from people who never bring anybody who doesn't know Christ, our evaluations will turn us more and more into a church that stops reaching the people who are our mission.

So let's be bold with our invitations.  And ultimately there will be people you invite who will give their lives to Christ and get discipled and grow and get in a life group and keep growing who will then invite someone else who will give their life to Christ and you'll become a spiritual grandfather/grandmother and there's nothing else like being part of the amazing chain of salvation.

Boldly invite.

And be blessed.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


There isn't much stronger than fear.  The only thing I can think of that is - is maybe - faith.

If we're going to go out on any big ledges, let it be the ledge that says, 'God is who He says He is.'  Let it be the ledge that says, 'God does what He says He does.'  

Your eyes will never believe.  Faith is at the heart of what you can't see.  You can't please God without faith.  You also can't go with much force and speed without it.

Go forward and step off the ledge -- with faith.

And be blessed.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I have days where I feel overwhelmed.  It isn't always for the same reason.  Some days it's the sheer work load.  Other days it's about WHO rather than WHAT.  Still other days it's neither of those - it's being overwhelmed for someone I love and care for.  Now and then it's a singular event or circumstance that overtakes me and 'whelms' me.

'Now and then it's a singular event or circumstance that overtakes me and 'whelms' me.'

In such moments, what do I do?

Let me tell you what I think I should do, rather than what I actually do, because that isn't a particularly pretty or effective blog.

And at the risk of being cliche, it's still powerful.  First, give thanks.  Anonymous wrote: 'I cried for having no shoes, until I met a man with no legs.'  That just means, it could be worse and some days, it has been.  There's still a lot to be grateful for.

Second, believe what Jesus said.  That means on the day I want to stay in bed, pull the sheets way up over my head and stay in the dark, I've missed the fact that Jesus' yoke is easy - His burden, light.
'Doesn't feel light, Jesus.'  
'Child - I've told you the truth.  I don't lie.'

Third, repeat #1.

Try it.
No - just try it.
You know who you are.

And be blessed.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


I'm a planner.  So is my wife.  We've planned June 26th, 2014 at this point.  Just kidding.  Kind of.  Not really.  Yes, we have.

Planning is a good thing.  Jesus talked about counting the cost before you did such and such a thing.  Think about it.  Plan it out.  Don't do anything foolhardy.  Be sensible.

Having said that, He also said: 'If God wills, we'll do this or that.'  In other words, you're not in charge. Last time I checked you were pretty much vapor and dust.  Not that high on the food chain really.

If we'd just think for more than three seconds about what God wanted for our lives, we'd succeed far more often.  Of course, to do that, we have to actually have some idea of what God's plan really is.

'What we can do is what He has told us to do.'

Some of what He's planned is a mystery.  We don't know it all.  We aren't completely sure of His strategy for 2014, or for Monday, for that matter.

What we can do is what He has told us to do.

Do Justice.
Love Mercy.
Walk Humbly.
Be consumed with His Kingdom.
Teach our children to do the same.
And their children, too.

That's pretty much a full life right there.

I'm gonna start there.  By doing those few things, we might see what we so badly desire to see in our world today.

And be blessed.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


Our priorities are all out of whack.  Bet you knew that.

Even the 'thing' we most long for as Christ-followers - heaven - we long for in the wrong way.  We long for a bug-free environment, no wrinkles or allergies, no fear of bankruptcy or bad economies, no more deadline pressures or stress, no bad phone service, no more family squabbles, no insurance claims, pleasure galore.

But none of that is the real treasure or blessing.  Those are merely shadows.

What we get is the awesomeness of being in the very glory and presence of God.  When you receive Jesus by grace, what you get is God.  You want God.  You need God.  You receive God.  You get God.

'You get God.'

All those other blessings are dwarfed by that.  Aren't they?  If they aren't to you, you need to re-examine what you're in this for.

You get God.  You get to walk with Him like Adam & Eve did in the Garden - like Aslan did with the Wardrobe children.  That's what we lost.  Not the opportunity to have mansions and sit on clouds.

You get God.

Are you excited for that?

And be blessed.