Wednesday, January 30, 2008

No Perfect People Allowed - Chapter 4

Chapter 4 "Losing My Need to Pretend: Creating a Culture of Authenticity"

"It's acceptable if kids pretend because they are still forming their identities. But the goal is to learn to be yourself by the time you are an adult."

"Can we be this kind of a church? The kind where people don't have to pretend? Where we can be ourselves and stop pretending we're more or less than what we are right now? That's the way we can help each other grow to be all God intended us to be. If we can't do this, we're just playing church!"

"The longer I walk with Christ, the more I see the Pharisee in me. I'm convinced the most important work of spiritual leadership is leading a spiritually authentic life. But to do this, I must break through the deception that I am somehow better than others. That I am somehow a little less in head of God's mercy and grace."

"I can be deceived if I'm not ruthlessly taking inventory before God. And I must always remember that if I am deceived, I'll be the last one to know about it.... This opens for others a view into an authentic spiritual life of a real human - not a religious salesperson."

"But it's a very real struggle to be vulnerable. It's much more powerful and immediately gratifying to play the Pharisee."

"As a leader, I need to be transparent not just with God but with others as well." I think this was probably the best quote of the chapter. The only way we'll be able to connect with people who have really struggled in life is to be honest about our own struggles and shortcomings. I could possibly summarize this chapter in saying the culture of honesty will only be created if the leader is first modeling this type of honesty and vulnerability. I don't need to divulge every single mistake or anything, but am I letting people know I'm an average guy with your typical struggles or am I putting up the persona of a "pharisee" who lives in a spiritual place above the rest of you commoners? I'm trying to communicate that I'm your average dude who's serious about following Jesus, wants you to do the same, but still has a long way to go.

Pastor Andy and I are trying to model this within the framework of our ministry team. Today we talked about our growth and weaknesses as leaders. As we practice this together we can then model it before those we lead.

I try to be intentional about this in my preaching, too. A couple weeks ago, I asked the congregation to "take me off any pedestal you've created." But I also admitted that if you've known me for longer than 5 minutes, that pedestal has already disappeared!

I got an email today from one of the most influential people in my life; a lady who's been a mentor and a second mom. I'm not exaggerating when I say she's probably the most incredible person I know. She's a ministry partner with her pastor-husband, a professor and an incredible leader. Also a strong judge of character. So I've either got her fooled or I am making some head-way in living an honest and vulnerable life.

Keep in touch. We love you guys! I am soooo proud of your honesty, your transparency and your willingness to share. Your vulnerability is likely one reason your church is growing. The unchurched see a pastor - a spiritual leader who is supposed to "have it all together" and not have problems - struggling with life...yet not buckling, not self-medicating, not giving up and losing hope. You have a vibrant enthusiasm for Christ...even in the midst of your pain. Hang in there.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A note from our District Superintendent

The District Superintendent for the Kansas City District, Jeren Rowell sent the following letter to all of the pastors, asking that we pass it along to our congregations.

January 2008

Kansas City District Family,

I have taken the unprecedented step of asking your pastor to get this letter into your hands. May I have a moment of your undivided attention?

Last August during our District Homecoming, I challenged us to do something this year beyond ourselves. That challenge was to engage in prayer and fasting for our brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa field. These are the countries of Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia.

There is a movement of God happening there that has resulted in over 1,000 new churches springing up just last year. One of the challenges of this kind of growth is the training of pastors and leaders. We can help.

Here is the challenge:
Fast one meal a week and pray for the Horn of Africa.
Save the money from that meal for a special offering in August at our 2008 Homecoming (Wednesday, August 6th)
If 1,500 of us averaged $3 per week ($156/yr.), our offering would be $234,000. It will provide preparation and training for pastors.

Many of you have already joined this mission and I thank you. I have heard some wonderful stories of children fasting, praying, and saving. Anyone can do this.

If you will give us your email address, we will send you periodic updates (about once per month) on what is happening in HOA. (Send a message to with “HOA List” in the subject line).

I was in Ethiopia in November and visited with our leaders there. I was profoundly impressed with how much they are counting on us.

The vision of our HOA family is: “To finish the Great Commission in the Horn of Africa in this generation.” I believe they have the passion, commitment, and blessing of God to see it happen. They are counting on our help. Let’s not let them down!

Please join me in doing something eternally significant for the kingdom of God!

Jeren Rowell, district superintendent

I first heard Jeren talk about this church-planting movement last August. Erin and I committed to giving the equivalent of the a meal per person per week. I've also committed to fasting two meals a week during 2008, some of which will be for the purpose of praying for "the Horn."
If you're interested in joining this prayer/ fasting/ giving movement, just let me know.

Pastor Andy's going to live!

As I mentioned below, Andy was puking his guts out on Sunday morning (my words, not exactly his). It was kind of crazy since it's the first time something like this happened but our awesome kids volunteers saved the day.
Andy was so sick he actually spent Sunday night in the hospital! He's not quite perfect yet but he's feeling a lot better. To read his own thoughts, check out his blog.

Super Servant - My sweet wife!

Yes, I realize this looks like I'm trying to score some points with my wife but in reality, Erin doesn't really like it when I single her out. But if anyone deserves recognition as a Super Servant, it's my wife.

To explain why I say this, let me give you a picture into an average 5-day stretch for my wife. Last Wednesday night, she worked with some other members of the Love Wins ministry to put together the gift bags for their trip to the clubs that Friday night. On Thursday night, Erin lead her 5th graders in a big musical program. On Friday night, she loaded up the gift bags and took them to the two Gentleman's clubs for Love Wins. Since Erin was there by herself, she didn't go into the clubs but she was warmly greeted by the security at both clubs. In fact, the head security guy at one of the clubs gave Erin his email address because they want to continue helping the family that the Strahan small group has been helping.
I woke Erin up early Sunday morning to tell her that Pastor Andy was puking his guts out and wouldn't be able to lead TF Kidz that morning. So what does my sweet wife do? She gets all the supplies and lesson plans from Andy and she leads the entire kids program that morning. Maybe I shouldn't be that impressed, she did have like an entire half hour to prepare!
On Monday night Erin spent three hours at her sister's house watching their three kids while her sister and husband attended the Financial Peace University class I'm helping to teach. It's an awesome class, by the way, not my teaching but the change happening in people's lives.
Finally, every single night (almost) Erin posts on her Love Wins Dialogue blog. There are several ladies growing closer to Christ through reading this blog. We've also started putting this blog address in the Love Wins bags.

Wow! It makes me tired just writing all of this.

It was exactly 10 years ago that Erin and I went out on our first date. We went to Kemper Arena for the Stars on Ice show. It was an expensive date, I had to save for it but I was hoping it would tip Erin's decision toward "yes." In the middle of the date she told me she would've gone on a date with me wherever I'd planned. It was still however, money well spent!

I'd known Erin about 6 months before asking her out. It was long enough to know she was special. I had no idea however, just how special she really was. The longer we're married the more I realize the incredible gift that God has brought into my life. I can't imagine a better ministry partner.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Our nets are filling up!

Our SOAP passage the other day was Luke 5:1-11. The following is my journal entry from that day.

Wow! This is exactly what's happening at our church right now. I've spent 2 1/2 years working, striving, praying for God to use us to reach unchurched people and over the last 6 months, we've been doing exactly that! Peter is working and trying so hard but not getting anywhere. I've certainly felt that way at times, lots of times. I'd get so frustrated when unchurched families would come for a few weeks and then drop out. I can relate to Peter when he says, "we worked hard all last night and didn't catch a thing." Man, I've been there. Maybe I'll be there again. But right now I feel as if the nets are filling up. These 5 new unchurched families giving their lives to Jesus and connecting with the church - that's really a miracle sent by God that I have nothing to do with. I know I need to keep working hard, but so much of this is beyond my control.

Rick Warren talks about riding the wave when God sends it. I feel as if that's happening. That due to no cause of my own, God is sending a wave. How do I capitalize on it? By continuing to invest in the new people he's sent our way.

If what's happening is that we're harvesting/ reaping the hard work and prayers from 6 months to a year ago, it means that our hard work and prayer right now will matter 6 months from now, too. That it matters what we do. Doing the right things over and over will produce results whenever God chooses to bless that work.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Emily's Testimony

Here's a copy of what I read on Sunday. Before reading, you should go grab a kleenex.

I was asked on Monday to write part of my story for Donnie to share on Sunday. I sat down Tuesday night and began praying, thinking and writing. For 3 hours I sat staring at a screen before I finally started typing something. I worried about it being perfect; I worried what others would think as Donnie shared my flawed past. He told me that it didn’t have to be perfect; he told me that I didn’t even have to share some of the things that I have told him and Erin about. With that in mind, I finally started writing. A page and a half later I thought that I was finished. I sent that rough draft onto Donnie in hopes that he approved of what I had written. Yet, all day Wednesday I just didn’t feel like my heart was in the right place as I was typing. I didn’t feel like I conveyed enough of my emotion. I didn’t feel like it was complete. So, once again I sat down to write. This time I knew whatever came out would be the message that he is now going to share with you.
6 months ago I was just starting a new job and was living life day to day, I was content with how things were. I was just living life, much like everyone else. I had a friend who was pregnant and in a rough situation, and she had decided that adoption was the right choice for herself and her child. I had told a co-worker who then told me about Erin. When I met Donnie and Erin, I wasn’t expecting life to take the twists and turns that it has, I wasn’t expecting to gain a friendship…much less gain a relationship with Christ in the process. However, that my friend’s is what God’s plan was. On November 13th I got a call from my friend saying that she had gone into labor and that the baby was going to be born, that there was nothing that they could do. She wanted me to call Erin. That night Erin and I met and went together to the hospital. It was the first night that I allowed myself to be vulnerable with Erin. I told her a lot about my feelings, life, and even cried. I let everything out. Just 3 months before I had a miscarriage, and then knowing that another baby was about to be born and not make it…I was angry. I didn’t understand how God could allow these things to happen. Why would God? I didn’t want to know, I just wanted to be angry. For hours that night Erin spoke with me, assuring me that while she didn’t have all the answers she believed and trusted that there was in fact a purpose. That God had a plan. It almost made me sick that she was so sure. I told her that there was nothing that would make me believe or trust that God had a purpose or that He even cared. Months later I would be eating those very words.
Right after Christian’s death I spiraled back into a self consumed lifestyle I had gotten out of just a little over a year before. I began using drugs again, not caring about anyone or anything. I began cutting myself again to release the pain that was eating away at me. I felt like there was no other release. I avoided everyone I could, including Erin. I was afraid she would sense something, or worse…that she would know. I also feared her being angry at me for what had happened. For about a month I continued the self destructive lifestyle of drug use and cutting. Until one day I realized where I was headed. I knew I needed help and the only person I could think of to ask was Erin. I can assure you that this was no easy task. With my head down, my eyes distant and a quiver in my voice I walked into her classroom and asked if we could talk. I paced back in forth, expecting her to start yelling at some point. We spoke for quite awhile, she shared her disappointment and concerns. She also shared the diagram of me on one box and God on another and the two being connected by the cross. A light bulb came on at that moment and finally things made sense. I didn’t have to do anything but want the relationship with God! He had already done everything for me! There was no amazing feat that I had to accomplish for Him to accept me, He already had!
For weeks after that conversation I slowly began to soak in everything I could. I quit using drugs, quit cutting, started talking more and even smiling. It certainly hasn’t been an easy road. Learning to forgive others, and more importantly myself has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I have struggled greatly with being able to forgive myself for my past choices and lifestyle. I had a hard time understanding that forgiving and forgetting are two very different things. I don’t want to forget the road I have traveled to be who I am today or who I will become as my relationship with Christ grows. While my past doesn’t define who I am, it has greatly shaped who I have become. It shows what God’s grace, mercy and unending love have brought me through.
In December my uncle passed away, he was like a 2nd father to me; he was a tall and skinny man who always saw the good in people and shared his love for Christ with everyone that he met, even after his diagnosis in September of inoperable cancer. Even though he was told he wouldn’t make it to the New Year he continued to have faith in God and trust in His will. I went to see him just 2 weeks before he passed away. He asked me how my “search for truth and self” was coming along. I told him "not well". I told him that I understood what I had to do, but that I was scared. His final words to me were “Em, stop trying so hard.” I chuckled and told him “I’ll try”. Looking back now, he was exactly right. Once I stopped trying to find myself I found God. I found exactly what I was looking for and exactly what I needed. His death happened shortly after my light bulb moment with Erin. I thought God was slapping me in the face; however it wasn’t that at all. He was showing me that He has a purpose for us here, and if we trust in Him once it is fulfilled we are free of the pain and ailments of this world and are able to come home.
For the past 6 months Erin has allowed me to travel the road, hit the bumps, and even allowed me to fall on occasion, each time being right there to make me brush myself off and get back up. She has for 6 months been the presence of God, showing me the importance of a relationship with Him without cramming it down my throat. I have pushed her away, but she silently stood by letting me take the baby steps that I needed to, to get where I am today. I never would have guessed 6 months ago I would be sitting in church listening to a pastor share a story about my life, my mistakes and my faults. Of course I didn’t think that I would be a firm believer in God either…but, I am.
In the past few weeks I have learned that being a Christian doesn’t mean life is perfect, in fact it means that you choose to see beyond the imperfections to the greater purpose. It doesn’t mean that you’re perfect; it means that you strive to live life for God’s purpose and plan…which is perfect. Life is full of adventures, memories and tragedies all are mere speckles that form the grand masterpiece of God’s creation…YOU! Choosing to see beyond circumstances, and misfortunes isn’t easy…I can attest to that. Though I can also tell you that this “new life” is far greater than the one I was living. It’s not easier, it’s not perfect and it’s not financially any different…but I am truly SO much richer!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday - WOW!

Yesterday was one of the most powerful Sundays we've ever had at Trinity Family! It really was amazing. After worship I saw Nate Warren and just as I was about to open my mouth and say something like "wow," he cut me off and said, "I know, but I had nothing to do with it." I can't really put my finger on it, but the Holy Spirit moved. Pastor Andy said the kids were exceptionally well behaved, too, so the Spirit really was moving!

Of course, one of the most powerful parts of Sunday was the testimony of Emily Crow. I saw several people crying after I read it. One lady told me she wanted to let out a 'whoop' but didn't want to embarrass her husband! I emailed Emily yesterday to tell her that since she's now "gone public" with her testimony, she's likely to face the spiritual backlash that always comes our way when we take big steps toward God. I told her that if she faces what seems like a more than usual amount of discouragement or temptation this week not to worry because that's normal. You know how she responded? She told me "Lets get ready to rumble! To read Emily's thoughts on Sunday and how she dealt with the spiritual backlash, check out this link.

Here are some other thoughts from yesterday
  • It was cold at 7:30 this morning when I met Jeremy Pride to hook up the trailer. The wind made it painfully cold. Mike Palmer didn't have any gloves on as he was unloading the carts, which had to hurt.
  • When I was at Gardner Nazarene, helping Jeremy back up the trailer, I ran over to a pile of bricks to get a brick to knock loose the big stone we set underneath the trailer and I slipped and fell right on my knee. It hurts like crazy today, can't hardly bend it. It's the same place where I severely bruised it 3 years ago, I had about 2 months of rehab. But it doesn't hurt as bad as that incident.
  • Mike Palmer and Caleb Wood represent the type of Mid America Nazarene University students that have been a part of TFC; dependable and willing to serve and lead.
  • I overheard Jeremy Pride invite a family to his small group. That's the way to be a small group leader!
  • It's good to have my wife singing with the band. Not only does she help fill out the vocal sound, she's also good to look at! Much better looking that Nate (no offense, Nate).
  • Joe and Vanessa Kumor are workhorses. They are always filling in at the kid's area. Although I wish there was a way that didn't have to happen as often.
  • The sense of worship that we felt while singing after hearing Emily's testimony demonstrates the power of testimonies. I love being able to sing after I preach, so I don't have to worry about saving my voice. I was almost completely hoarse when trying to give the blessing.
  • Last summer we took 5 minutes during every worship gathering to pray for people who did not know Jesus. We wrote their names on cards and placed them in a box that sat on the altar. Yesterday, Irene Delong told me that one of the guys she'd been praying for all summer went to church last Sunday for the first time in his life. Wow, what a strange coincidence.
  • We had 3 new families from Gardner join us yesterday, which was great. I try to track how people come to TFC. One family came because of the flyer we send to new residents, one came because they know the Brush's and got our Love and Logic flyer 3 months ago and another family (and this is so strange) came because they found our church on this list on Relevant Magazine. I have no idea how we got on that list, but I'm glad to see our church on a list with Relevant, that's a good magazine. Maybe I'll buy a subscription now.
  • I had a new Christian tell me they knew where to find yesterday's passage from Matthew because he's been doing his SOAP. That's awesome!
  • Of the 3 new families that came yesterday, 2 of them were at our house last night eating pizza and watching football with some other TFC families. That was a great thing. Only took a couple of hours to connect new families with regular families. It was also funny that of all the people for my 2 year old niece to choose to spill a cup of pop on, it had to be our children's pastor. Andy thought it was funny, too.
  • Speaking of my niece, it's an AMAZING thing to see my sister-in-law connecting with Trinity Family. It's really about too amazing for words. This is a huge answer to years of prayer. It's also humbling to have family a part of your church. I could possibly put on a show for people and try to seem like I'm better than I really am. It might be possible to fool some people, but you can't fool family. They know whether or not you're real. I hope my sister-in-law sees that mine and Erin's walk with Jesus is real.
  • Finally, there was a family visiting from Newton, KS. They were in town for a wedding but wanted to come to TFC because the guy was my dad's 4th grade Sunday School teacher WAY back in the day. Small world, huh?

Friday, January 18, 2008

No Perfect People Allowed - Chapter 3

Doubters Wanted: Creating a Culture of Dialogue

This culture affirmed a lot of things for me. Some of the language and behaviors that Burke proposes I'm already practicing. I'm gifted in one-on-one dialogue with pre-Christians and discipleship of new Christians. Where I struggle as a leader is in sensing the culture of the rest of the church and training other people in skills that I've honed.

One of the personally encouraging points of this chapter is that Burke used the example of John the Baptist to say that it's okay for people to have doubts. That to doubt does not mean you don't have faith. I preached this exact idea last Sunday.

Here are a couple of good quotes. "How many people have the stereotype that Christians 'love' them only if we sense we can get them to be like us or believe what we believe?" Ouch

"Because of all the baggage and lack of trust in our post-Christian world, people need to be engaged in dialogue."
"Questions, doubts and struggles are not the antithesis of faith. The opposite of faith is a decision not to trust God."

Burke's challenge to pastors was to give up the desire to control others (I'm a control freak) and to entrust their spiritual journey to God. To understand that we're all on a journey even those who have yet to take that first step of faith. That we're to create a culture of listening and interacting, asking questions as often as giving answers. This was the way of Jesus. He didn't try to control, he simply asked and provided guidance. He often painfully watched people walk away from him. It hurts me when this happens, but I must be open to the possibility. We're not in the business of controlling people.

Here are two more great quotes:
"Jesus would often look at the trajectory of a person's heart and either confront or congratulate him."
"Creating a culture of dialogue does not mean you never confront wrongdoing or challenge people with truth. It means you respect the will and opinions of the other person. you seek to listen as much as you speak and encourage where you see the work of God's Spirit. And at times, when you sense the promptings of God's Spirit, he will nudge you to confront or challenge. When he does, it is your responsibility to not hold back speaking truth, but to speak it in love."

I can think of a lot of examples where I've had the types of conversations described in those two quotes. The question for me as a leader is how do I reproduce that type of skill in dialogue among the congregation? To be honest, I'm not exactly sure. I know that last Sunday and this Sunday's message are modeling a commitment to journey and dialogue. I can also hold onto the belief that we eventually reproduce what we are. If I continue modeling dialogue, it will eventually take hold of some people and be affirmed in those already practicing it.

No Perfect People Allowed - Chapter 2

Even thought it's going to be a bit tedious, I'm trying to blog my way through John Burke's book, "No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a come as you are culture in the church."

Chapter 2: Cynical and Jaded: Results of the Postmodern Experiment

"All the diagnostic experts keep pointing backward to the era of the '60s and '70's as the fatal hour when everything started going to hell." - Howe and Strauss, 13th Gen.

"How do we best contextualize the unchanging truths of Scripture in ways they can understand and live out in their culture?"

According to Burke (and everyone else and their dog) our culture took a huge turn in the '60s and '70s. We embarked on what Burke calls the "Postmodern Experiment." Which he defines as "a generation deciding to test what life would be like living out the philosophy, 'if it feels good, do it... Americans went out for a three-decade binge on self, and now our country is vomiting up the consequences uncontrollably." The consequences have been neglect, physical abuse, sexual molestation, drug abuse, porn addictions, eating disorders, anger issues, serious crime, abortion, STDs, AIDS and sexual addictions passing from one generation to the next.

These factors have created what Burke calls 5 main sociological struggles Christian leaders now face to reach emerging generations: Trust, Tolerance, Truth, Brokenness and Aloneness

"Trust is the cornerstone of relationship and faith. Without it, we cannot engage others or God in intimate relationship. Trust comes from a deep conviction that I matter, that I can trust the other person because he has genuine concern for my well being. The ability to trust often gets established or destroyed early in childhood." And that's exactly what has happened as kids' lives are torn apart by the national divorce rate of 50%. Burke quoted the song Father of Mine by Everclear to point to this erosion of trust.

Kids grew up learning their parents personal happiness or their material goods were more important to them by watching their parents divorce or in becoming "latchkey" kids so their parents could make more money. One of the best quotes of the chapter is the following, In my experience, adults affected by these trends will not necessarily connect them with their struggles to trust today. Just as children of adult alcoholics never knew their always-drunk father had a problem, in the same way, what we grow up with becomes "normal" for us. The resulting wounds of distrust fester, however, and they affect our ability to trust others and God.

"When you create a culture to deal with these painful issues of trust openly, with sincerity and honesty, you begin to see two things. First, you will hear more and more stories of wounds that once remained hidden and festering. But you will also hear increasing numbers of stories of God's healing work as people are brought into the light."

To a lot of conservative Christian leaders, Tolerance is a four letter word. To some Christians, it's synonymous with permissiveness. To those who don't know Jesus, it's a question of our love. Burke tells the story of his neighbors he'd invited to church for years finally deciding to come but asking him an important (in their mind) question first, "Are you a loving church... but how do you feel about gays?" "During the first two years of Gateway's existence, I consistently was asked two questions by spiritual seekers more than any other questions: 'What do you think of other religions' and 'how do you feel about gay people?' I've discovered the real question they're asking is: 'Are you one of the narrow-minded, bigoted, hate-filled, intolerant types of Christians I've heard about?' What they really want to know is whether we promote love or hatred."

"The way we must navigate these cultural shallows comes from understanding that in a postmodern culture, the messenger is the message. How we are perceived is every bit as important as the truth we espouse. What they see is what they get. The attitude of the church culture will either convey the person of Christ and his attitude, which was outrageously accepting of and attractive to the 'sinners' of his day, or our attitude toward others will reinforce a stereotype that does a disservice to Jesus. Christ-followers must remember that people are never our enemy, and if we can stand alongside people in the things Jesus stands for (like human rights) we can best undermine the schemes of the real enemy who uses lies to paint Good as Evil and Evil as Good."

This probably won't surprise anyone, but a national survey taken by the Barna Research group revealed that only one-third of Americans believe moral truth is absolute and unchanging.
Usually when I hear that stat, it's followed by church leaders explaining how we need to teach people to get all the right intellectual beliefs, they're usually coming from a very modern (rationalistic) approach. It doesn't surprise me that Burke takes a different approach.

"Since neither modern nor postmodern culture holds a lock on truth, this cultural transformation offers an opportunity for Christ-followers to assess what the Scriptures really teach about truth. Fundamentally, truth is not primarily propositional, but personal. Jesus said, 'I am the truth...' The best way to help emerging generations find truth is to introduce them to him."

When emerging generations are asking, "What is true?" they are ultimately asking, "Do I want to be like you?" Truth is relational. Which puts the church (an authentic community of Christ-followers) in a great position.

Burke tells the story of a lady who's dad walked out on her at a young age. As a result, she never knew what it was to be loved by a man. She used her body to get attention, but was never loved. When she finally met the perfect man and began what could've been a healthy marriage, she fell back into the same pattern of wanting attention from men and had eventually committed adultery. It was at the lowest point of her broken marriage that she came to Gateway Church. At Gateway she gave her life to Christ, built relationships in a small group and eventually became a leader. But one day she just dropped out and moved to another city to be with her fiance. Her small group had been challenging her about the speed of the relationship, but she fell back into the same old pattern. As I read that story, a face came to mind and once again the decisions that person has made hurt in my heart. But I can see how that comes out of both a lack of trust and brokenness.

"Nothing has been more difficult for me than watching people react in destructive ways to brokenness. Nothing poses a greater challenge and opportunity to the church than the overwhelming emotional pains that drive our generation into so many addictive behaviors."
"Broken people are wounded people. Like abused puppies, they often run from those attempting to help them. Leaders must create a safe climate, so the healing work of God can begin in their lives. It will take patience and time. People will come and go, walking toward the light of freedom, then plunging back into the darkness. But they must see the church as a light-house; always there to lead them into the safe harbor of God's grace."

"Can we lovingly accept them 'as is' and offer love, hope and healing as Jesus did to 'go and sin no more?' To do this, we must begin to see how we too are broken, and in need of a Savior. We must show others how our brokenness leads us to daily dependency on a merciful Saviour who brings healing for our souls and hope for our futures."

Travel, personal entertainment, career mobility have all combined to make us more isolated from each other. Gone are the relational safety nets of family and neighborhood. People are feeling more and more alone.

"This provides a tremendous opportunity for the church. According to Scripture, the church is to function like family. We are to be that supportive community, that extended family to one another... I am convinced authentic community provides the context where the majority of spiritual growth and healing can take place. Emerging generations, like never before, crave this sens of community inside a spiritual family. If they don't experience hope for authentic relational support, I don't care how hip the service, or rippin' the music, or how vintage the vibe, they won't stick. The challenge for leaders is to learn how to live in community with others, and then to provide ways to ensure that nobody stands alone."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Doctor's Appointment

It was hard not to break out in a smile. In fact, I almost shed a tear. As Erin and I stood at the check-out counter at the office of a reproductive Doctor, Daniel Stewart, I felt a little hope for the first time in a long time.

I'm going to get tested again next week. If I can improve my scores from the test last June, we're going to try artificial insemination at $300 a pop. If I score the same, which is likely, we're going to pursue Invetro Fertilization. With IVF, I don't need the normal count of 10 million boys, they just need to be able to find as many boys as eggs harvested from my wife, likely less than 10.

We were a bit freaked out when the Doctor told us the total cost of IVF is 14,000. But the lady at the front desk checked with Erin's insurance and found that we'd need to pay only $9,600. That's a lot of money but we're still taking it as good news. Our insurance company covers half of the potential drug cost of $5,o00 but we may be able to get the entire cost covered, which would save us $2,500, knocking the price down to $7,100! Again, that's not cheap but what else do we have to spend our money on, we don't have any rugrats?

When I was in school and we had 1 1/2 full-time incomes we kept saying, "we need to save becaue there's no money in church planting." But God blessed us and I've got a full-time salary. But when we started trying we were thinking, "we need to save money because we want Erin to stay home when we have kids soon." But that time hasn't come yet. Now we keep thinking, "we need to save money because it's going to cost a lot for IVF or adoption."

I may not be able to impregnate my wife, but I thank God my parents taught me how to stick to a savings plan.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

No Perfect People Allowed

I've just started reading a new book, No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a come as you are culture in your church and I thought it would be good to blog my way through the book, to share some of the insights.

I read chapter one yesterday, The First Corinthian Church of America.
The author's name is John Burke, he planted Gateway Community Church in Austin Texas. His story immediately won my respect.

When John first moved to Austin, he began building a core group to launch his church. He spent a year building this core up to about 100 people but he took a different approach than most church planters (myself included) he wouldn't allow church people to join his core! One church person said, "God told me to join your church" and Burke responded by saying, "I don't care, God told me not to allow you to join." Gateway runs in the thousands now, but according to their yearly surveys, 60% of the people at their church were not following Christ before coming to Gateway. Wow! That's certainly bucking the mega-church trend. Like I said, he quickly earned my respect. I want to hear what he'll say.

Burke tells the story of a small group he's been leading. 10 of the 12 members were completely unchurched. He describes the one previously churched couple as "a bold new genre of missional Christians who are not content to play church by just huddling up with Christians. They wanted to be in a place where real, worldly people, with real messy lives, were seeing the real God in action. But unfortunately, they represent a minority of churched Christians - Christians who, like the apostle Paul, willingly venture out of their comfort zone into the messy, pagan culture of Corinth or Austin." Wow - that hurts! Burke goes on to tell an amazing story of how a guy came to small group right after doing crack and how his confession and the group's acceptance sent him on the road to recovery. He told other similar stories as well.

On page 23 Burke gives another theme from the chapter. "But have we considered the soil needed for a healthy Christian community in a hard-packed, post-Christian society? God is responsible for the growth, for changed hearts, but the soil is the responsibility of the leaders and Christ-followers who make up that church." Burke goes on to say the way we tend that soil is to create a come-as-you-are culture. The culture of a church is more important to connecting with unchurched people than the music, preaching or any other ministry. Do new and unchurched people feel welcomed? This sounds like an easy no-brainer, but the cultural gap between pre-Christians and Christians is huge. I've seen this exact phenomena take place during unchurched-churched interactions. The church people don't realize they're pushing the unchurched people away, but they often are.

I need to develop some questions for unchurched people as to the "feel" of TF's culture. I may also ask an unchurched leader in the community to come to church for a few Sundays to give me some feedback.


The SOAP passage today is John 1:35-51. The part that really jumps out to me are verses 40-46. It's amazing what happens here. After being introduced by John the Baptist to Jesus, Andrew is so excited he goes to find his brother, Simon Peter (who goes on to be the first leader of the Jesus movement). Philip finds Jesus and he has to go tell his brother, Nathanael.

This is an awesome progression! John brings Andrew to Jesus, Andrew brings Peter to Jesus. On the day of Pentecost, Peter's preaching brings thousands to Jesus. Acts 2

I think the longer we know Jesus, the easier it is to take him for granted. We forget (or in my case have never really known) what it's like to be away from Jesus. A life lived for Christ is the life we were created to live. A life lived a part from Christ is going against God's intentions for our lives, which is why it brings so much heartache and pain. The farther removed we become from our pre-Christ days, the easier it becomes to forget the pain of not knowing Jesus. Which then results in us becoming apathetic about investing in unbelievers.

My wife is an exception to the rule. Her sensitivity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit puts her in places where she can point people toward Jesus. On Sunday, I shared how Erin spending the night in the hospital with our potential birth mom and the mom's friend allowed her to bring the presence of Christ into a terrible situation. I didn't go into a lot of details about this story, partly because that friend was sitting in the congregation. But Emily has given me permission to begin sharing part of her story. But since Emily is such a great writer, I'll let you read her own words here.

If you just skipped over that link, believe me, you want go back and read what Emily wrote.

Yesterday I received an email from Emily telling me she couldn't limit herself to five for our Fave Five. She asked me if it's okay if she had ten, afterwards she listed her ten.
This is Andrew's story. This is Philip's story. When we first encounter Jesus, it's so life-changing and powerful that we must go share it with others. We can't keep it to ourselves.

What happens to us as the years go by? Why do we tend to become so self-centered, focusing upon Jesus and me? This is why if we're going to continue to focus upon connecting with unchurched people, I need to be investing in and empowering the newest Christ-followers among us.

My prayer for TFC today will be that God sends us more Andrews.

What you've just read is my SOAP journal entry of the day. Rather than keeping it hidden in my notebook, I wanted to share it with all of you.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Thoughts from Sunday

  • The weekend kicked off on Saturday with the kids attending the new Veggie Tales movie, The Pirates who don't do Anything. We used the church budget to buy tickets for the kids and their friends. I know of several families who brought unchurched friends, which really pumps me up! There's nothing better than that!

  • Sometimes when I'm sure my message will hit a home run, I bomb and fail to connect with people. Sometimes when I'm sure I'm about to strike out, I end up connecting. By Friday afternoon, I was pretty sure Sunday's message was going to hit home with people, which actually concerned me (my wife says that it's a matter of over-confidence vs. over-preparation). I took time each day last week to sit in the passage, letting the passage work on me and reveal what I needed to share with the church. I was talking about how John pointed people to Jesus, just as we point people toward Jesus. What jumped out at me were John's doubts about Jesus - Matthew 11:2-6 - as well as Jesus' graceful response. John's life shows us that it's possible to be working through doubts while at the same time, pointing people toward Jesus. I shared the story of my wife spending all night in the hospital room so as to be the presence of Jesus to the birth mom we'd been talking with. Really, really powerful.

  • There are a several families facing some serious challenges right now. It causes me to pray hard for these families.

  • We had our biggest group of kids ever on a Sunday morning! Pastor Andy was really pumped about it. This number was spiked by the 6 kids brought by a friend in which my wife has really been investing.

  • Almost all of our new families over the past 6 months have been from unchurched families. It's really been amazing to see God bring these families to TFC. God obviously trusts our church!

  • I unveiled (that word makes me sound like an incredible leader) our plan for investing in unbelievers in 2008; Fave Five (borrowed from T-Mobile commercials). I asked the congregation to begin thinking of five people they can help point toward Jesus in 2008. If you haven't decided on your Fave Five, be thinking and praying about it.

  • I had the privilege of sharing the story of how getting SOAPed up is already helping people listen to God in 2008.

  • Our trailer was loaded by 12:20, which is a new TFC record! Actually breaking our record of 12:25 from last Sunday. The reason for this record breaking speed? People are staying around to help tear down. I'm not exaggerating when I say this help has been awesome. Having so many people stay and help takes so much pressure off our set-up/tear-down crew as well as giving us more time to hang out together. This is going to become a habit for us.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Weightlifting Goals

My New Year's resolutions were to bench 3 plats on a side and squat 4. I took some significant steps in different directions toward those goals this week.Last Thursday I found out I'm just 15 pounds away from hitting the 3 plate goal on the bench. We usually do high volume work outs (5-8 reps) so I'm not really trained to focus all my strength into one lift, which lowers my one-rep max potential. But last week I went for a one-rep max anyway and repped out 305, the most I've done in years. I'm okay with the amount of weight but what makes me really happy is how I did it. Just as the weight came off my chest I lost momentum for some reason and the bar stopped moving. Months ago, that would've been the end of that attempt but I was able to recover and push the bar all the way up. That's hard to do and I'm more proud of that than the actual amount. Being able to recover is a better picture of my overall strength than simply a smooth lift. I built up this ability by doing a couple things: failing enough that I stopped being scared of failure, working on a "lock 0ut" exercise and doing enough volume in our workouts that I've built up a strong enough base from which I find strength reserves. I'm sure there's a life principle in there somewhere...

I've just gone down in my squat max, though, at least with the new way we're squatting. Jason just bought a squat box for our workouts. We used to just sit down far enough for our butts to touch the top of a bench (just below parallel) and then bounced back up, carrying our momentum throughout the entire lift. But now we're sitting all the way down on the box (again, just below parallel), stopping in a complete sitting position, before standing back up. This means we lose all momentum in the lift, making the return trip back up almost twice as hard. Last night was the first time we've tried it and it's going to take awhile to get my form down. Hopefully I'll have a quick learning curve because I tried less than 3 plates on a side and couldn't finish the lift. So, it's going to be awhile before hitting 4 plats, as I'd like. It's going to be more work but it will make me stronger in the long run. Again, I'm sure there's a life lesson in there somewhere...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Let's get SOAPed up!

This is our plan for listening to God through scripture in 2008.

S for Scripture: Open your bible to the day’s reading. Take time reading and allow God to speak to you. When you are done, look for a verse that particularly spoke to you that day and write it in your journal.

O for Observation: What do you think God is saying to you in this scripture passage? Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you and reveal Jesus to you. Paraphrase and write down the scripture passage in your own words.

A for Application: Personalize what you have read by asking yourself how it applies to your life right now. Perhaps it is instruction, encouragement, a promise, or correction for a particular area of your life. Write how this scripture passage can apply to you today.

P for Prayer: This can be as simple as asking God to help you use this scripture passage or it may be a greater insight on what He may be revealing to you. Remember, prayer is a two way conversation, so be sure to listen to what God has to say. Now, write it out.

This week's scripture passages
Monday: Mark 1:21-18
Tuesday: John 1:35-42
Wednesday: John 5:19-24
Thursday: Luke 10:1,3,17-4
Friday: Hebrews 1:1-12
Saturday: 1 John 4
Sunday: Matthew 3:12, 11:1-19, 14:1-12

Financial Peace University has begun!

Our FPU preview class was held last night at the King of Kings Lutheran church. I'm really excited about this class for several reasons. First of all, there were 28 different families that bought the packet and decided to go through the class. That means there are 28 more families in this area that will be able to make an impact for the Kingdom of God because they'll be learning how to (in Dave Ramsey's own words) "live like no one else so they can give like no one else." I'm thoroughly convinced that there is nothing better than intentionally living on less than we make so we can fulfill Jesus' expectation that his followers share with "the least of these."

I'm pumped that 7 families from TF are going through the class!

I'm pumped that a guy who played on our softball team was at the preview class last night. I talked with Dan, the pastor of KOK Lutheran and he said that guy began coming to church about 6 months ago. Coincidental, 6 months ago, Travis Theel invited him to play softball with us. It's really not a coincidence that the time he was hanging around church guys was also the time he decided to get back into church. We didn't win many games, but we pointed people toward the Kingdom!

I'm also pumped about a particular family that decided to take the class. I can't really share too many details, but it's nothing short of a miracle that they were even at the preview class together, let alone deciding to work on this area of their marriage!

God is at work in people's lives and we get to be a part of it!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Our gift to Water Partners

Yesterday was the last day we were collecting money for Water Partners International.
We've now raised a total of ..........................
Wow! That's awesome! That's generosity! That's our church living out the discipline of Sacrificial Giving. That's also bringing the Kingdom of God not only to our little corner of the world but a far-off corner of the world as well! We found ways to intentionally spend less on ourselves to serve people in Ethiopia who literally have almost nothing.
Days like this make me so proud of this church!

I'm also proud to say that TFC raised more money than the church pastored by my good friend, Russ Koelzer, Lifestream Christian. Russ was already to call me to brag that they'd raised more than us, but we ended up passing them.
Seriously, though, it's awesome to be able to come together with other churches in Gardner to transform our world. I love it!!!!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

I'm doing it, for the first time ever, making a list of New Year's resolutions. These are things I've been seriously considering over the past couple months and I know that if I make them public I'll be held accountable.

  • Jog 12 miles per week, although I need to fix my treadmill first
  • Do my ab workout on the running off days
  • Finally get to 3 plates on my bench press and 4 plates on my box squat
  • Spend 3 hours per week in personal Bible study
  • Begin studying French
  • Attend some sort of coaching training event
  • Read the Bible with my wife before going to bed
  • Fast every week from Monday noon to Tuesday noon


I've decided it's time to stop worry about things that are out of my control and to actually let God be in control of His church. This means that I'm going to entrust God with growing TF numerically so I can focus on growing people. There are two groups of people in which I'll be investing most of my time: our Advisory Council and the unchurched people God has entrusted us with. With that in mind, here are my specific goals.

  • Redesign the structure of our Advisory Council so we have leaders over each of the 5. Finish this by spring
  • Personally invest in the new people who were previously unchurched (I have a list on my desk)
  • Spend 3 hours per week in prayer for TF.
  • Find more ways to emphasize the 5 during Sunday morning worship
  • Read 1 chapter a day of a ministry related book.
  • Equip the church for personal Bible study (coming this Sunday) or as the pastor from whom I heard of this plan called it, "develop a self-feeding program."
  • Focus on our Fav Five (coming soon)


It's been a difficult few weeks for Erin and me. It seems like a lot of the emotion we've been holding in during the difficult past 6 months has started to come out. Even as unemotional as I am, I had a bit of an emotional breakdown over the Holidays when I was confronted with some of the grief I've been holding in. I know I'm being vague, but I just need to put out there that we've both been experiencing quite a bit of pain in relation to this whole struggle to be parents.

On New Year's Eve day, I read this passage from Habakkuk 3:17-19:

17 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines;even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren;even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty,18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.

Here's a portion of my journal entry after reading that passage.
Little did we know, when 2007 began, the type of pain we'd experience this year.... But this passage gets right at what we've been feeling. Yes, things have been very hard, but God's very good! "Even though (we're still barren)... yet, I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in the God of my salvation."
Jesus, I don't feel so great about everything, but from my heart I can affirm this to be true. I love you. I've committed to you and I'm going to keep following you.

And then today, I read this line from Ezekiel 34:26, "I will bless my people and their homes around my holy hill. And in the proper season I will send the showers they need. There will be showers of blessing. " I don't read this to mean God will send a stork to our front porch tomorrow morning. But I can stand on the assurance that God will give us what we need. He has the resources we need, not matter what we face. Even if his gives us the strength to deal with our loss when it seems that everyone around us have been blessed but we're still barren. God will send, in the proper season, the showers we need. I believe that and I stand upon that.