Wednesday, February 27, 2008

If I were stranded on a desert island...

...and could only have one section of the bible it would be this passage.

Romans 8
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?36 (As the Scriptures say, "For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.")37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love.39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Erin and I read that passage together last night and was reminded (again) of the depths of God's love.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No Perfect People Allowed - Chapter 6

Chapter 6: But Don't Stay that Way: Creating a Culture of Growth

A really interesting chapter that I'm going to need to reread to better understand it. Here are some good quotes.

"How do people grow? What does it really take to grow spiritually? It's very simple - do life with God."

"Spiritual growth is a messy process. Leaders must asses trajectory carefully - is this a hard-hearted 'mature' Christ-follower, heading away from God and needing church discipline so he won't do damage to community? Or is this a toddler trying hard to walk the way of Christ but falling and failing as she learns to trust? Different people exhibiting the same outward behavior may actually be headed in opposite directions and need drastically different approaches to help them move forward on the way of Christ. Some need discipline, some just need patience."

The chapter then went on to describe the discipleship process at Gateway. They have a spiritual formation path called The Way of Christ. The goal of this process is to see people shaped into what they call Spiritual Maturity. They have two different levels. Their Running Group (think small groups) and their Running Partners (think accountability groups). The Running Partners are 2 or 3 people who are a part of the same Running Group. Their Picture of Maturity are people who are Loving God, Loving People, Building Character, and Building Christ's Church.

This can compare to our "5."

There were some really interesting comments regarding their Running Partners and your traditional "accountability group."

"'Accountability' has come to mean for many: asking each other if they are living up to the standard, offering forgiveness if they've fallen short, then encouraging each other to try harder. Henry Cloud says, 'This common evangelical mode of operation is a good picture of the law at work.' This style of accountability can expose a problem, but it doesn't fix it.

"What the person needs is grace and truth, where he is not condemned, even in failure, and where he hears the truth that he's unable to become what God intends just by trying harder. This kind of ministry directs him to depend on God's Spirit, by pointing him to places where he can be given what he cannot provide for himself, like support, structure, healing, and help with the appetites driving the behavior."

The 4 "Rules of Running"

1) Accept and encourage as often as possible

2) Ask questions often and give advice only with permission

a) What do you think God is trying to do in your life right now?

b) If there's one area in loving God, loving people, building character or building Christ's church you need to focus on right now, what would it be?

c) What's the one thing you will intentionally do this week to allow God to grow you up in this area?

3) Give reproof only when absolutely necessary

4) Give condemnation - never. Protect confidentiality - always.

"We ask Running Partners on The Way of Christ to use an assessment we developed to yearly evaluate spiritual growth in the areas of Loving God, Loving People, Buidling Character, and Building Christ's Church."

A great chapter. I'll reread it tonight.

The Relational Challenge of being a Pastor

I love reading the blogs of really smart pastors! It's an enjoyable discipline.
I ran into Craig Groeschel at the airport last week when flying back from the Evolve Conference. I didn't talk to him because I didn't want to bother him, he doesn't know me, but this current series of blog posts is incredible.

I'm learning the challenges of being a pastor and being friends with people in our church. I'm a people pleaser, I want everyone to like me. But I'm learning how to be courageous. If the choice is making someone like me or faithfully leading them toward Christ (even if it makes them mad) I MUST choose the latter. But I hate conflict, but I love people. It's only my love for them (which goes deeper than friendship) that can motivate me to confront when necessary.

So here are Craig's posts, "The challenge of ministry friendships." Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

There was a great comment on the first part: "I find my struggle is that many people want me to be their best friend (not because I am such a great guy…or am I…really I’m not. :)) When I fail to be their best friend I become their biggest letdown…"

I KNOW I've let people down in this way. Even in a smaller church, like ours, I simply CAN'T be everyone's friend. I have to let that go. And people in the congregation have to forgive me when I fail to meet their expectations of friendship.

No Perfect People Allowed - Chapter 5

Chapter 5 - Come as You Are: Creating a Culture of Acceptance

If you saw a Rembrandt covered in mud, you wouldn't focus on the mud or treat it like mud. Your primary concern would not be the mud at all - though it would need to be removed. You'd be ecstatic to have something so valuable in your care. But if you tried to clean it up by yourself, you might damage it. So you would carefully bring this work of art to a master who could guide you and help you restore it to the condition originally intended. When people begin treating one another as God's masterpieces waiting to be revealed, God's grace grows in their lives and cleanses them.
Can your church or small group welcome a gay couple or a radical feminist or an atheist or a homeless crack-addict with open arms? Stop and picture it for yourself. Can you? When you consider these people entering your group, what are the first thoughts that come to mind? Thoughts that focus on what you think needs to change? Or thoughts that focus on their worth as people? Do you see the mud or the masterpiece?

Until we believe God is truly for us, not against us, we will keep running and hiding (Christians included!). For this reason grace forms the foundation for all significant spiritual growth. A come-as-you-are culture brings this grace to life, so that people can truly become all God intended them to be.
Gordon MacDonald said it well, "The world can do almost anything as well as or better than the church. You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do (or any other religion for that matter). It cannot offer grace.
But if you interview people on the street, few, if any, associate Christianity or the church with anything closely resembling grace.... though the world cannot offer grace, in its absence, it found an inexpensive substitute: tolerance.
The very idea of toleration implies enduring or putting up with some thing you don't like or value... Tolerance might deal with differences, but it can't embrace us in full knowledge of sin and remove our guilt.

From Gateways weekly program:
Come as you are.
You don't have to dress up. You don't have to be any particular age. We couldn't care less who you voted for in the last election. And please, don't feel the need to pretend about anything. Gateway Community Church is a place where God meets seeking people who are far from perfect. That means anyone is welcome, no matter where you are on your spiritual journey. So learn at your own pace. Ask questions. Seek. We believe you'll find what you're looking for. You'll learn how to relate to God. You'll experience Christian community. And here's the big thing - you will change. Join us as we seek God together. Just come as you are.

Many people can't believe God will accept them and love them until those who claim to know God start to show them.

Instead of acceptance that draws them into relationship and says, "I'm for you," seekers pick up an "us verse them" mentality from many Christians. It is subtle but deadly.

Isn't this why Jesus taught in so many parables? he knew just talking about God's grace and acceptance was not enough, he had to paint graphic pictures to illustrate it.

At Gateway, we teach our leaders and congregation to give up trying to fix people - it's not our job - that's God's job.

Sometimes the very fact that our band would play a song that seekers are familiar with communicates acceptance in a roundabout way.... We utilize the words of modern poets in today's culture, just like Paul did in Acts 17 to communicate the message to a Greek culture.

The question we ask in counseling is, "Which way forward from here? In other words, which way is this person moving - closer to God 0r farther away - and how can we best help them move forward?

Monday, February 25, 2008

My Prophetic Voice

At the Evolve Conference last week, Bil Cornelius had a great opening line in his breakout session. He said that when you get criticism for your preaching style, keep at it, it means you've found your unique voice. If you face push back on a theme it means you've found your prophetic voice.
As a side note, "prophecy" means to "speak the truth." It may have a connection with the future, but it's ultimately about proclaiming what it means to live by God's truth.

There are two things that burn on my heart - financial and sexual health. To express it negatively, I see two sins that are destroying God's people - debt and porn. Both of which are everywhere in our culture! We're constantly bombarded with the temptation to "buy now, pay later." And it's killing us.
I heard a sound bite from a conservative talk show host today declare (although I'll admit he enjoys making extreme comments) "Pornography is everywhere. It's our countries new 'apple pie.'" I'll admit, I'm a guy, I'm tempted to look at naked women, which makes pornography a constant temptation. Which is exactly why I have this software on my computer (a pastor friend in town has the same program and we're accountability partners). But I know that to 'deny' myself what the culture is constantly telling me to consume, will deepen my relationship with God and cause my love life with my sweet wife to sizzle.
This is why we've talked about pornography several times at our church, even hosting Porn Sunday last fall and mailing out thousands of invitations to the community. This is also why I keep promoting the men's accountability group lead by Areon Kelvington.
I've noticed, though that I don't get much push back from people when I speak on issues of sexuality. Part of it may be that we still don't want to talk much about our dirty little secret, to challenge me on this would be to admit our problem. And even if a person is deep into a porn addiction or infidelity, they will usually admit it's wrong.

Now, it's been a different story in regards to money! I've gotten some serious push back from a small but very vocal group when I talk about money. I've been told things like, "you're beating a dead horse" and "churches have no right to talk about money." But I really can't stop, because God has lit a fire in my heart, a burning passion to see us resist our consumerist culture and to become Christ-honoring, generous people!

I did talk about money some again on Sunday. The passage dictated that I had to discuss it. And I'm thinking that as I preach through Matthew this year, the subject will come up again. In fact, if I preached about money as often as Jesus did, I'd be be talking about it once a month! Whew, yet one more reason it's good to be the created and not the Creator.

After church, I heard a few comments (from a new person) along the lines of, "I'm ready to start giving of my money to God"! and "I'm going to give the child credit to TF Kidz." I can't tell you how that fires me up!!! It means a person is giving their lives to Jesus! We have not been fully converted until Jesus has sole check-writing privileges on our account!


Okay, so I feel called by God to take on the idols of debt (consumerism, etc.) and porn. Let me give you some tools for your own spiritual development.
xxxchurch x3watch pure online
Dave Ramsey child sponsorship Abundant Living
Help for Christians with a debt addiction
The best sermon I've ever heard on money! Link Look for "Worship the baby, resist the empire"

A great article by Joe Kumor! Joe, thanks for much for your honesty (both ways). Joe's post is what got me going today.

Pastor Perry Nobles insights on money, his top 7 financial mistakes part 1 and part 2

In a nutshell, here's what I believe about money.
1) It's not ours to begin with! Everything we have is a gift from God. The question isn't "how much do I give away?" but "how much should I keep?"
1) Scripture calls all Christians to give their first 10% to the local church to empower the church to be the body of Christ in the world. This is called the tithe.
2) We don't stop with the tithe! When we begin the discipline of tithing we begin to realize how many other ways we can give away our money.
3) We can all get there! Just like any other sin, there are consequences we need to work through (paying off debt, etc.) but we can begin honoring God with our money right now!
4) God's math is different that ours. I've seen this over and over and over in people's lives. When they give to God first, their money ends up going further. I don't know how to explain it and I don't mean God redeposits the money into our account. But I know 90% when we've put God first ends up going further than 100% with us in control. Some of that may be 'miraculous' but it's also the discipline of knowing where your money is going.

As we read in Sunday's passage, let's worship Jesus with ALL OUR LIVES!!!

Now, I need to get to ready to teach the FPU class this evening. I LOVE teaching this class!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Today's Preaching

You may not know this about me, but I'm very disciplined about my sermon prep (although I hope it's noticeable). I put a lot of work into each Sunday's message, even to the point of possibly over preparing, but I can't help myself. Part of it is that I have some OCD tendencies another part is that I'm scared to death of preaching every week, so I have a constant fear of falling on my face (which has happened - and I've lived to preach again).

Today was a day in which all the hard work of preparing a message really paid off. I had a really good time preaching today! Bryan and Tina Garner were able to be at church today, which isn't that often since Brian thinks he needs to be doing stuff like protecting others (he's a police officer). Brian came up to me after worship and said, "Dude, whenever I'm able to be here, you're always so fired up." I told him maybe it's just when he's here, so he should be here more often so I'd be fired up more often. Although, now that I think about it, it probably wasn't Brian that had me fired up but the message that was burning inside of me.

Since I knew I'd be gone most of last week, I was able to get all my studying done before leaving for the conference. That gave me almost a full week to let the message grow inside of me, even getting another story from Dale while in Atlanta that fit the passage perfectly. When I sat down in front of the computer, the message just poured out of me. And when I took the manuscript and turned it into the outline, the message really started to get ahold of me.

I was so fired up while practicing the message that I even started crying a couple times. This didn't happen while preaching this morning, though. I don't know if that's because I over-prepare and lose some of the raw emotion or because I freeze in front of a crowd (that seems most likely). But even by my "scared of public speaking" standards, I was pretty fired up today.

But as I was reading Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov this afternoon, I found a line that would've fit perfectly into this morning's message. Alyosha Karamazov's conversion to Christianity was described in this way:
As soon as he reflected seriously and was struck by the conviction that immortality and God exist, he naturally said at once to himself: 'I want to live for immortality, and I reject any halfway compromise."
To Alyosha it even seemed strange and impossible to go on living as before. It was said [by Jesus]: "If thou wilt be perfect, give all that thou hast to the poor and come and follow me." So Alyosha said to himself: "I cannot give two roubles instead of 'all,' and instead of 'follow me' just go to the Sunday liturgy."

That would've preached!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Eliminating Portability as an Excuse - from Gary Lamb

I posted some notes below of the breakout session on "Eliminating Portability as an Excuse" by Gary Lamb. Well, here are Gary's own notes. link
It's a good read.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Evolve Conference - 2008

It has been a whirlwind the past 4 days. I got up at 4 AM on Monday to fly to Atlanta and haven't slept much since then. I had half a day in the office on Wednesday (just enough time to prepare for the Advisory Council meeting) before spending all day today at another conference, this one at MidAmerica Nazarene University.

The Evolve Conference in Atlanta was incredible! I got a spiritual and professional jolt. I took a ton of notes but I'm going to try to narrow it down to some highlights from each session.
If you want some more insights, check out the blog of the friend I hung out with at the conference.

Main Sessions
Shawn Lovejoy - The Healthy Leader
A great leaders is a healthy leader
Discipline is the path to getting healthy
Discipline is leading and managing myself
Leaders are to be disciplined physically, emotionally, spiritually, professionally and relationally
Over time, our churches will begin to reflect our health and/or our dysfunction
My goal is not to hand Jesus the biggest church I can but the healthiest I can

Steven Furtick The Courageous Leader
He preached from Joshua 10, story of the sun standing still
"I despaired that life might pass me by without God moving on my behalf." - from page 23 of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire
From the promise to the payoff, there's always a costly process
If you pray that God have the sun stand still, you'd better be prepared to march all night

Darrin Patrick The Spiritual Leader
Jesus doesn't want us to lose our souls for the sake of the ministry
Sin is worshipping something in the place of God, getting your identity from something other than God
To know your 'god', ask "what do I daydream about? When I get _____ then I'll be somebody"
We're scared to repent because we think if we get honest before Jesus, he won't love us anymore
Your people will become what you are. They will imitate you! You're photocopying your life and passing it out.
I don't want to be the guy who wakes up on Monday morning with his identity being defined by the size of the crowd or amount of the offering

Mark Batterson The Secure Leader
The favor of God is God doing things in my life I can't take credit for
My insecurity will shorten and undercut my ministry
Mark compared King Saul's insecurity to King David's security in 1st Samuel 14
1) Don't play the comparison game
2) Success isn't numbers
Be faithful where you're at
3) Celebrate your failures
Falling flat on your face may be the best thing that could happen to you
4) Don't panic
Don't let people leaving shake your confidence
5) Don't get defensive
with out courage you'll be a wimpy preacher leading an immature church
Listen to your wife!
6) Surround yourself with the right people
David was Saul's best asset but Saul was too insecure
7) Keep building altars to God
Ask, "Am I building altars to God or setting up monuments to myself?"
We can't fail if we build altars

Bil Cornelius The Resilient Leader
What resiliency looks like
1) A resilient leaders sees in every difficulty an equal and opposite opportunity
Everyone should have a failure early in life, that failure shapes your core values and hardens your commitment to living out those core values
Adversity is your friend
Churches stall out because leaders stall out
My misery becomes my ministry
I love our members, I just love those who aren't yet members yet even more
People will leave, the great thing about people is that God keeps making more of them
It's a disservice to those who stay to focus on those who left
You don't know someone's heart until you've really disappointed them
Out last your critics

2) A resilient leader understands the need to be faithful and applies diligence to that end
Pray diligently Bil gave me the idea last spring to pray for 100 hours, God really shaped me during that time
Think diligently - Lust is preoccupying
What you think about regularly over time becomes manifest
Be diligent in actions - whatever you want to achieve in life, if you try enough times in a row it almost virtually eventually happen
Become a terrible quitter
God does not bless your intentions, he blesses your actions

3) A resilient leader creates a culture of loyalty
Keep short accounts w/staff members
As leaders, we're called to protect the church from bad sheep
The difference between an amateur and a pro is a pro plays hurt

4) A resilient leader finds confidence in their calling and their identity in Christ
You know you're on the holy ground of a calling if when you leave that town, the burden for the town goes with you

Breakout sessions
Devin Hudson - Doing Ministry in a Modern Corinth: Taking the gospel to a post-Christian culture
This guy planted in Vegas, said Sin City is everything you've heard and more
I'm not a control freak, I just know what's best for everyone else (all church planters are control freaks)
Do we trust the power of the gospel?
1) Is the gospel transforming me?
2) Do I trust the gospel to transform my people?
3) Do I trust the gospel in my culture

Always fall toward grace. If I blow it on the legalistic side, I create a lot more barriers.
Can I serve others with no agenda (no bottle of water and an invite card to church)
I love Jesus, but sometimes his bride is a real b----

Bil Cornelius Preaching to the disconnected
Allocate 10% of your annual budget toward marketing
(said of Rob Bell's insightful preaching) - Do you meet God on a hill like Moses?
Christmas Eve is the new Easter (for outreach potential)
If you get criticized for a preaching topic or style, keep doing it - that's your unique/ prophetic voice
1) Be positive
2) Assume everyone has never opened a Bible before
3) Make it attractive through stories, props, sets and designs
4) use as much natural humor as you can
5) Be willing to talk about subjects that you know the average person is discussing (sex, etc.)
6) Preach topically
7) Preach a balanced diet of message for pre and older Christians

Gary Lamb - Eliminating Portability as an Excuse This was my favorite session!
If you can't build a church in a portable situation you can't build in a permanent situation
I refuse to stand before God and say "I couldn't reach my community because I didn't have a building."
Lost people don't give a crap about where you meet
Steps to eliminating the excuse
1) If you have portability issues you have vision issues
2) Eliminating excuses starts with YOU
3) Keep it Simple Stupid
If you meet in a school, don't try to hide that it's a school
4) Spend money to be portable
Over the years, we've constantly upgraded our portable facilities. This shows our people that we value them.
5) Learn from others how to be portable
send leaders to visit churches that are portable to gather new ideas
6) Staff for portability
Every staff member has a set-up responsibility
7) Get creative
8) Look for opportunities to teach about being portable
When they show video testimonies of new Christians, they ask "what did you think when you drove up to the movie theater"?
Average church in America pays 30% of it's budget to facilities but we choose not to pour millions into a building we use once a week
9) Plan for problems
Have back-ups of everything (as you're able)
Have cash on hand for the last minute emergencies like batteries
10) Enjoy it!
Buildings cause problems

Thanks for reading all of this. If you'd like to hear any of these sessions, I can burn you a CD.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I miss my wife!

I'm exhausted and about to go to bed, finally. I haven't slept much the past two nights (had to get up really early on Monday to catch my flight and can never sleep in a hotel bed). But before going to bed, Erin and I read our bible passage and devotional for the evening.
I've been missing my wife while at this conference. It seems like over the past month or so I've been falling deeper in love with my wife. And while being here at a church planter's conference, I've been appreciating how there's not a dude at this conference with a better ministry partner than my sweet wife (maybe equal but not better). The way Erin loves and accepts people, the way she invites people to church and shares the message of Jesus through both her words and actions and how she's seeing some family members connect in church is amazing. I love my wife.

And as a funny, personal note. Since I couldn't sleep anyway, I was jogging along the jogging path outside my hotel (think Corporate Woods) just as the sun was coming up, listening t0 Marvelous Light on my ipod. Something relevant about hearing "into marvelous light I'm running, out of darkness into light" while jogging at sunrise.

I'll post the highlights tomorrow but this conference has been amazing! Not only have I learned a ton but it has been a spiritual and emotional supercharge. My time talking with Dale has been incredible, too. He's got a mind for systems of assimilation and discipleship that have been inspring me and I'm going to steal from him and begin working these systems at TF.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

We worship a big God!

I went to bed last night hoping the rain would stop overnight and wouldn't turn to snow. But we all woke up this morning to a snowstorm. I'll be honest, I was really hacked this morning. I was very frustrated, worried and even pitying myself during set-up this morning. We had been promoting this Sunday for weeks, why did a blizzard have to come today? In the midst of my frustration, I kept telling myself two things. "This is not a surprise to God, he knew it was going to snow" and "my sister-in-law is coming to church this morning and if she's the only one here, it's worth it."

While sitting at Pizza Hut after church (goofing around with Chris, Ben and Trent while our wives planned a year's worth of gift bags for Love Wins) I was thinking, "We serve a big God. He's just a bit bigger than a snowstorm." Here's a list of my thoughts from this morning. God did great things in people's hearts this morning.
  • Due to the fact that we had to cancel what we were going to start worship with and that people were having a tough time getting to church - we started worship at 10:35. I can't tell you how hard it is for an anal-retentive person like myself to start 5 minutes late, but we wanted everyone to see the entire movie.
  • I have to give props to our set-up guys, Chris Billings, David Brush, Caleb Wood, Brian Roberts, Joe Kumor (who said the trailer was sliding sideways as he came up the slight hill in front of Madison Elementary) and Scott Sidusky. You guys are the workhorses who pull the weight of our Sunday AM worship.
  • One of my sister-in-laws was with us this morning as well as her girlfriend. I can't even begin to tell you how awesome this is! I almost cry thinking about it. Molly told me she'd be back next Sunday, since she's off work and that she appreciates that I talk in a way that makes sense. Molly must've heard some pretty bad preachers before!
  • A brother-in-law also was in worship for a little bit this morning, he was picking up his girls who stayed the night at Molly's. Steve was last at TF on Easter of 2006 and this morning he told me that I've gotten better as a speaker. At first I thought he was joking, since we showed a movie, but I guess he was referring to the few minutes I talked after the movie. Funny.
  • My sister-in-law was able to be there today because Erin drove across town to help her get our nieces (who had spent the night with Molly) ready for church. My wife is serious about serving others and serious about helping her family members get into church.
  • There is nothing better than giving my niece Sydney a hug on Sunday morning. It's also funny to watch her throw a fit when she's tire after church.
  • We had a family join us because they were googling "Gardner churches" and found my blog. That's pretty funny, too.
  • My good friend, Russ Koelzer, pastor of Lifestream church called me a legalist today since we didn't cancel church. I told him he's a wuss. We'll NEVER cancel church unless the school district makes us. If we can't pull the trailer, we'll be totally unplugged. If we only have 3 people, we'll still worship. Also, Lifestream is going to show Most in two weeks, Russ is excited about it.
  • Today's movie really was powerful, wasn't it? I hope that the bit I shared before and after enhanced the message rather than detracting from it. My wife says the scripture at the end enhanced the message. She also said my set-up before the movie didn't make much sense. Oops.
  • We had a good sized crowd for worship today. Considering the blizzard that was raging outside, you could say it was a huge crowd.
  • The number that I'm focusing upon this year is unchurched people. Rather than asking, "how many were in worship" I'm asking "how many people are here who aren't a part of a church?" That number keeps growing, by the way. I know of the two we invited and I think there was one other person that another family brought with them. I know that a lot of you invited people. That's all you can do - keep inviting! One study showed that it takes an average of 13 invitations before a person responds. I've seen that to be true among my wife's family. It thrills me to see them responding to our invitations!
    If you didn't invite an unchurched friend or family member to church this morning, I'd simply ask, "why?" Is it because you don't know anyone who isn't in church? Is it because you haven't allowed your heart to be broken by the things that break God's heart? We are surrounded by people who don't yet know Jesus. We are God's only plan for introducing them to Christ. The church is Christ's body in the world. Thankfully, you've got another great opportunity coming up on Easter Sunday.
  • I'm going to be out of the office most of this week. I'll be at the Evolve Church Planter's Conference in Atlanta and then the Resilient Life conference at Mid America Nazarene University. Once a year or so I trek onto the campus of my alma matter. I'm pumped about the conference in Atlanta because I'll be meeting up with a good friend of mine, Dale Schaeffer. Dale and I went to college and seminary together and were a part of the launch team of GracePoint Church in Shawnee. Since Dale is kicking-butt-and-taking-names at the church he planted in Illinois, I'd actually considered spending a few days with him at his church. Now I get the best of both, I get to go to a great conference and I get to pick Dale's brain.
    And thanks to Josh Vance (who won a free registration for the conference but passed it along to me since he can't go) the conference is going to be free.
    My flight leaves tomorrow morning at 7:00. I hope the weather holds out.

I don't think this could happen to us...

On Friday night I took Erin to the two gentlemans' clubs and she gave the security guys a bag of candy and a stack of invitations to the movie we showed in church this morning. Although none of the employees came to TF this morning, it could happen in the near future. I hope it does, I think TF is a welcoming church.

I just got this email from Harmony Dust of Treasures, the lady who coached us in starting Love Wins. What you're about to read will break your heart. After reading it, I wondered if that would ever happen at our church? I really don't think it would, we're different than a lot of more 'churchy' churches. There aren't a lot of things that would prompt me to kick someone out of our church, but if someone ever did what you're about to read, they would never be allowed back at TF. I'm not sure if I'd have to hire security guards or something but they would be asked to leave - and never come back.

We have recently been in contact with Crystal (not her real name) a 21-year-old mother of two who has been dancing since she was just 15 years old. She has experienced her fair share of tragedy and heartache. For the sake of confidentiality, I will not share her story, but trust me, it would break your heart to know what she has had to overcome in short her years on this planet. About two weeks ago, she made the decision to start going to church in her small town where she hoped to develop her relationship with God. She found a church where she received the love and prayers of the pastor and his wife. Unfortunately, not everyone in the congregation shared their heart towards her. A couple of days ago, two women from the church who found out what she does for a living, showed up on her doorstep and explained that they did not feel comfortable with this young girl putting her children in children’s ministry with their children. Tremendously hurt and devastated, Crystal called her pastor to tell him what happened. He assured her that the women were out of line and that he would speak to them about the matter. A few hours later, 6 women showed up at her doorstep threatening her, “The next time you go running to the pastor will be your last!” Crystal was overwhelmed with feelings of anger. It took everything in her to resist the temptation to turn her anger inward and harm herself. She once again called the pastor and his wife who offered their sincere regrets and support. The next morning, Crystal woke up to find that her car had been vandalized. In the middle of the, someone painted “Whore, Prostitute, Slut” and other names too vile to repeat. The paint was removable, the words are not. Crystal told me that she doesn’t want to see anything come in the way of her love of God and her desire to know Him. But she is beginning to wonder if she has the guts to go to church and face the judgment she has been experiencing. And I don’t blame her. Even as she was telling me what happened, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs in frustration! Where is the love? Where is the heart of Jesus in all of this? Have we forgotten that he is the same Jesus extended compassion and mercy to an adulterous woman that the religious people of his day wanted to stone? He is the same Jesus that challenged, “If anyone of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” NOBODY COULD! None of us can today either. They all walked away. Every single one of them. And Jesus looked at the woman in her shame and showed her love and mercy. We are His ambassadors. We are His hands and feet. How people know that He is a God of love and grace if WE do not show them? It is the goodness of God that leads us to change our ways….not the condemnation of people. My heart aches over what this young woman has been going through. I wonder if most of us would have the guts to go to church after experiencing something like she has. Would you? Could you? I know that there are many churches, many leaders, many people throughout this world that are representing the heart of God in a sincere way. This gives me hope because we have a job to do. There are hurting Crystal’s all around us. People who have felt isolated and rejected. People who WANT to come to church, but they are afraid…not of God, but of US. Let us never forget that our greatest command is to love God with all of our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Mark 12:29-31) Are you up for it?
PS. As I am writing this I just received a call from Crystal who just had a “chance” encounter with a woman who pastors a church with her husband in Crystal’s area. Knowing nothing about what Crystal has been through this week, the woman invited Crystal to church and encouraged her that it was a safe place for people to come regardless of their lifestyle. She mentioned that many of the people have come from backgrounds of addiction and prostitution. His love never fails! “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)
Love, Harmony

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Willow Creek's Reveal Study or Why SOAP matters

I just heard a fascinating podcast from the Exponential Church planting conference. It was a discussion with Greg Hawkins of Willow Creek Church. Greg was sharing the results of Willow Creek's Reveal study.

The Reveal study sought to answer the question, "what role does the local church play in helping people become disciples of Jesus Christ?"And, "how does the local church help people in that journey?" They surveyed 700 churches of all different denominations and styles and 175,000 church goers.

The summary of the study is that Christ forms Christians, not churches. Sometimes Christ forms Christians in spite of the church! Hawkins stated "the path people take toward intimacy with Christ is amazingly consistent!"

In their research, they discovered 4 different stages of spiritual development.
1) Exploring Christ - belief in God but wondering about Jesus.
2) Growing in Christ - New to faith and exploring a personal relationship with God.
3) Close to Christ - Christ is important and they rely on Him for daily guidance and help.
4) Christ-centered - Christ is everything to these people, they are truly aligning their lives/ values/ actions around Jesus' teachings.

Reveal found that the differences among these four groups are huge. The differences in attitudes about God and others are obvious. These attitudes then translated themselves into behaviors: how they spend their time, how they serve others, how they invest in those who don't know Jesus, how they manage their money.

So the main question of Reveal is "how did people get to the place of being Christ-centered?
Organized church activities seemed to help people move through the early stages. Small groups, weekend services, classes, organized service opportunities, etc. Early on in the spiritual journey people seem to have the same needs and similar questions. As a person matures however, their needs and questions become more nuanced and specific. It becomes less likely that a church can meet those needs. So what happens is a more mature believer begins depending less on the church and taking more personal responsibility for their spiritual growth.

The stats pointed to one specific practice that determined whether a person moved from stage 2 to stage 4: engagement with the bible! Moving from an occasional reading of the bible to deeper reflection to daily study. Christ-centered people became Christ-centered through an increased engagement with scripture. They move from "I don't even know how to read the bible, it intimidates me" to "it's the most indispensable aspect of my life."

A close to Christ person is enjoying how a relationship with Christ benefits and transforms their life. A Christ-centered person is saying "It's not about me, it's about Christ." I become aligned with the will of Christ by immersing myself in scripture.

The second most important aspect of moving closer to Christ is prayer. The closer we move to Christ the more frequent our communication with God. Confession of sin, prayer for lost people, prayer for the needs of others, prayer for guidace.

The third most important aspect was relationships. Accountability and living life in community. Organized community such as formal small groups were more important earlier in the journey and mentoring relationships and close spiritual friendships (non-structured) become more important as a person moved closer to Christ.

Fourth in importance was serving. This is most important early on and then later on. The pattern moves from serving at the church to serving those in need through a church ministry to taking personal initiative to serve those in need outside of a church-organized opportunity (they find a way to serve others whether the church has organized it or not). I'm thinking that a Christ-centered person is more attuned to the needs of those around them. And what's amazing is that the more mature a person becomes the more likely they are to serve in the church because they want to support the organization that's helping other people take first steps. Again, this comes under the category of "it's not about me, it's about Christ."
Jesus was a servant so it makes sense that a Christ-centered person would follow in his footsteps of being a servant.

To summarize: read your bible, pray, serve others and you'll grow closer to Christ.

This is why SOAP matters! To learn more about SOAP, click here.
To see this week's SOAP reading, check out the blog Derin Beechner put together. link

As I was writing this I realize it will fit perfectly with my message on February 24th. So I'll be preaching this soon.

Happy Valentines Day

10 years ago today, I took Erin O'Toole to Blackbob park to give her the single carnation I'd bought her and to swing on the swings. We'd been on two dates but were still a bit unsure about the whole thing. That morning, I found a Snoopy Valentine's Day card stuck under my windshield wiper.

This morning, I stuck a card on Erin's windshield along with three carnations (we make a little more money than we did in college). After going to the doctor (which I'll explain below) I asked her if she wanted to get breakfast from McDonalds and go sit on the swings at Blackbob park. She thought about it for a minute and chose the comfort of a breakfast at First Watch. Yep, we're older and less adventurous ten years later.

We had a consultation with our fertility doctor this morning. He told us that due to my low sperm count, the only option available for us is a specific form of IVF, where the sperm is inserted directly into the egg. We told him we wanted to do that and we were scheduled for the week of July 7th to fertilize the eggs. Some prep stuff for Erin (shots and other tests) will begin in May but the actual IVT will happen that week in July. So, that's that. Our big task between now and July is to save enough money to pay for this treatment. Please be praying that the right thing happens which (to us) would be that the eggs get fertilized and successfully implanted in Erin's womb.

Our Doctor tried figuring out any reason for my extremely low sperm count. Asked if I'd undergone radiation treatment as a child or other traumatic events. I told him that when I was in 4th, 5th and 6th grades, from late summer through early fall, I was very sick with a high fever, terrible cough and other symptoms. It would come back each of those 3 years, although the symptoms were less each year. The doctors were never sure what it was, they just assumed it was some sort of virus, but the antibiotics they gave me never worked. The only thing that ever worked to minimize the symptoms was Sudafed. Our reproductive doctor told us today that extended periods of high fever during early puberty can destory your body's ability to produce sperm. So I lost my ability to knock up my wife naturally while I was in 4th grade, when no girl with good eyesight would even look at me.

While having our V-Day breakfast at First Watch, I lamented all the money we'd wasted on birth control pills our first few years of marriage.

Sharing about Love Wins

Last night, Pastor Joel Atwell of Spring Hill Grace Community invited Erin and I to come share with their church what's happening through our Love Wins ministry. He wanted to encourage his people to take the same types of steps of faith. It was a neat opportunity to be able to share what God's been doing.

I talked for a couple minutes but knew Erin needed to do most of the talking. It's amazing what happens when Erin talks to a crowd, it seems that she holds the crowd in the palm of her hand. Her exuberance and sweetness seems to draw people toward her. It was fun watching her share from her heart and watching the faces of the crowd as couldn't help but get inspired by Erin's personality and passion.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


On Sunday, I preached from Matthew 16:21-28. We responded to the passage by choosing to "leave behind" something during lent (either something selfish we know we need to give up or something that isn't necessarily bad but its absence would help us focus on Christ) and to "take on" something. We passed out nails with cards for people to write what they were leaving behind and taking on.

So I want to share my two decisions. I've decided to take on praying specifically for my Fave Five 10 minutes a day (in addition to regular times of prayer). Which means I have some praying and inviting to do as we prepare to show the movie Most on Sunday.

I've decided to leave behind control. The "need" to control is a big struggle for me. I want to control everything around me, individuals, the church, my wife, my friends. The control-freak in me is most harmful to myself as pastor and husband, which makes sense considering these are two significant roles in my life. Since Sunday, when I've started getting frustrated with someone at church, at our FPU class or even with my wife (sorry, sweetheart) I tell myself, "I'm not in control."
Pastoring is a tricky balance. I have a responsiblity of inspiring and challenging people in their walk with Christ, while at the same time I have to allow people to make the decisions on their own. There is so little I can do to actually control people that most of the controlling goes on in my own head, it's an internal struggle. And I'll win this battle for control as I surrender these mental battles to God.

"It's your church. You're in control, not me."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Thoughts from Sunday

  • God moved in a powerful way again yesterday and it seems to be happening on a more regular basis these days. God is doing good stuff in and through our church!

  • I can't share personal details but there was a family that joined us for worship today and it's nothing short of a miracle to have them with us at TF!

  • As I was preaching, God ignited a fire inside of me that kept getting hotter as I went along. I spend enough time in study each week that the message usually gets down inside of me but today it seemed to be bursting back out.

  • The stomach flu of last week is gone, it was nice to not have to wonder whether I'd make it through the entire message.

  • It's amazing what a creative worship planning team can accomplish. My initial idea was to just have the congregation write their "leaving behind" and "taking on" on an index card, but my wife and Alicia Brush put together the nail, ribbon and card that we used. Thanks, ladies.

  • As great as this Sunday was, next week is going to be even better. Most is a powerful movie. I thought I heard someone crying even during the trialer. We set up all our chairs to show how much room we have for inviting your friends. Invite someone (or someones) from your Fave Five next Sunday!

  • I'm going to a church planters conference next week, I think I should do some research to find out whether the regular tardiness of the congregation at the start of worship is something I should be concerned about.

  • I've heard some rumors of kids being excited about Pastor Andy's slumber party next Sunday morning! Should I join them and preach in my pajamas?

  • It was moving to watch people lay their "selfish ways" down before the cross this morning. This season of Lent we're leaving behind and taking on.
  • Finally, I want to give a shout out to Deputy Joe Kumor who is reading this blog while he should be looking after some inmates. Dude, stop wasting my tax dollars and get to work :) !

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Kansas Caucus

I just got back from the Kansas Republic Caucus. I really wanted to be a part of the Democratic Caucus, it would've been priceless to watch Hillary and Obama people go at it, but I'm a registered Republican so I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get in. If the Democrats had done it like the Republicans, I would've been allowed in but I may not have been given the "official sticker" making my ballot valid.

I want to give some observations:
First of all, I felt it was my patriotic duty to vote, even though I thought about not going. But since I'm a white, land-owning (20% of my land anyway) male, I realized that over 200 years ago, men had died in the Revolutionary war so I could vote.

With that said, I'm glad the whole thing was over in 45 minutes. In a brilliant move, the organizers only allowed the representative of each candidate to speak for 10 minutes. Here's a rundown of each representative's speech.

Ron Paul - this dude was fired up! His basic message was that Dr. Paul is a true conservative and you're an idiot if you vote for McCain because of some false media notion of "electability." The guy knows Ron Paul is going down but he won't go down without a fight!

John McCain - I understand that it's very admirable, I don't mean to show disrespect, but how many times are we going to hear about McCain's POW stint? While that says a TON about his resiliency, does that alone qualify him to be President? The only other thing the guys said was Dole and Brownback support McCain (he said it like 10 times) and you'd be a fool not to.

Alan Keyes - This was great! The guy only used about 4 of his allotted 10 minutes. The basic speech was "You may never have heard of Keyes, he doesn't get any media attention but he still runs every year. He's got all the right stances and is a 'Regean Conservative' [but since I know he can't win - strongly implied] , you'd be making a good choice with these other candidates, too. I had my picture taken with Keyes in 2000, which was kind of cool. But I couldn't help but wonder as the guy was stumping, "who keeps giving money to Keye's campaign?"

Mike Huckabee - I saved the 'best' to last. I felt like I was in an old-school revival service, all the "amens" being thrown up as the two different representatives spoke. There were two kids who spoke for the Governor. The first 'kid' was 22 and you want to know his credentials for being Huckabee's representative, he's a hymn-writer, "like Charles Wesley" (I'm sure he's exactly like Charles Wesley). They took the Hymn-writer approach to play an Amazing Grace the movie angle. Mike Huckabee is both John Newton and William Wilberforce rolled into one.

The way this guy ended his speech creates both a deep hurt and deep anger down inside my being. He concluded with, "And Governor Huckabee promotes life by supporting a ban on abortion and a ban on (I kid you not - he actually said this and although my typing can't convey his intentions, it was a sincere accident) homosexuality... I mean, gay marriage. That's exactly how the gay community hears the "Christian" agenda of a marriage amendment.
I was completely dumbfounded after hearing his "Freudian slip."

The second kid got up and announced his credentials to speak on behalf of Huckabee as "I was home-schooled." Which got a big applause from the crowd. He finished his speech by reading the actual hymn Amazing Grace. I really wanted to stand up and read this book to the crowd.

I wanted to go shower after hearing the Huckabee speech. I did call a pastor friend of mine who helped me work out my frustration. He said that he's currently suffering from electile dysfuntion - the inability to become aroused by any of the candidates!

And one final, funny comment. I grabbed the extra ballots in my row because I wanted to a 'keepsake.' But as I was walking to the back door, the people at the end of the row kept handing me their ballots. The bigger my stack got, the more questions I was getting asked, "where do I put the sticker, where does my ballot go..." I kept having to say "people just handed me the ballots, I'm not an official volunteer." It was both funny and annoying.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Most - February 17th

I just got done watching the movie Most and my eyes are still wet, seriously.


To be honest, although I'd been told by Ben Arment that it was a great movie, I was worried it might be a bit cliche. I had told a variation of this story in a message two years ago but this movie is WAY more powerful than that story. It's better told (obviously) and has more depth.

I can't encourage you strongly enough to invite people to TF the 17th. This story has a way of connecting with us wherever we are on our spiritual journey. We'll have invite cards available on Sunday morning.

To view the trailer, check out the Most website.

Super Servants - Aaron and Sarah Holmes

Aaron and Sarah Holmes (and we can add Lincoln, too) are the latest TFC Super Servants!

Since the fall, they've been investing in a family that isn't a part of TF and doesn't yet know Christ. They admit it's not the easiest thing but they know God has established that relationship for a reason. Investing in Unbelievers

Aaron serves faithfully on the set-up/tear-down crew, serves on our Advisory Council and serves in other various ways. I've also heard a rumor that Pastor Andy just recruited Aaron to join TF Kidz as well!

Sarah also faithfully serves our kids through TF Kidz. Sarah has also just taken on the big role of being the church treasurer, which means she pays the bills, balances our check book and answers my never-ending questions about where we are in the budget. Serving Others

One particular act of service inspired me to share Aaron and Sarah's story. Sarah received some very nice Christmas presents but decided she'd like to pass along that generosity. So Sarah returned the gifts and used the money to buy some very nice jewerly for all 40 of the February Love Wins bags. Some of what she bought were earrings. Now I dont' really know the difference but my wife said they're really nice! That's a great example of Giving Sacrificially.

Thanks for being Servant-Leaders!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Yep, that's what it's all about

I heard a guy named Gary Lamb speak at a conference last February. He's a pretty in your face dude and I loved his passion for reaching those who don't know Christ. He started out his session by saying "every church planter says they want to reach unchurched people, but few actually do. Most of them are stealing sheep from other churches."
The stats in our country prove exactly that. While the number of megachurches over the past 10 years has doubled, the number of people actually a part of a church has dropped by about %15. What does that mean? It means that most churches that are growing are doing so because they've got better music, better preaching or better programs than the former church of their new members. Every once in awhile, you find a church that is actually growing through evangelism.
Here are a few that I know of.
Revolution: Canton, GA
GracePoint: Shawnee, KS (I worked with Dave for two years)
ForeFront: Virginia Beach, VA
Gateway Community Beach, Austin, TX

And you need to read Gary's post, it's good stuff. link
He's exactly right. As pastor, I need to keep most stuff private, but just this week Erin and I have been talking with several different people that are dealing with some serious stuff. While Jesus Christ sets us free from sin and destructive patterns, it usually doesn't happen overnight. It takes time. God is doing it through our church, it's a long and slow process.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Wow - I made it!

If you're easily grossed out, you probably shouldn't read this...

I woke up this morning at 3 AM with a bad case of the runs. I knew it was going to be a rough morning but I also knew I had no choice. If I call in sick, what do we do? I guess I could've had someone read the manuscript I'd written but I assumed it was too late for that. I was able to get about another two hours of sleep before finally getting up at 9:00.

I didn't show up for set-up until 9:30. Unfortunately, there weren't a lot of guys there so there was still a lot of work to do at 9:30. I had to go 3 times the last 15 minutes before worship but I made it through the entire service. We did have a plan for a "commercial break" in case I had to run to the bathroom while preaching. I was so exhausted and sick after preaching that I just sat in the lobby with my sister-in-law whose baby was sick, too.

And to top it all off, we had a bunch of sleet dumped on us about 9:30 and I figured not many people would be able to make it. I had the thought, "maybe I should've just stayed in bed" run through my mind. But there is a reason the Psalmist calls worship "the sacrifice of praise." I believe God honors our sacrifice when we give the best we can even when we know our best is subpar. And we did have a good-sized crowd and people were worshipping. I had trouble but I could tell others were engaged. Just goes to show that my thoughts, worries or feelings are often wrong. In fact, I was sitting in the bathroom at 10:25 feeling very desperate and very much wanting to just go home. I did have the thought, though that maybe things are this difficult for a reason, maybe God's about to do something great!

I had been worried all week about my message, too. I was preaching on the transfiguration and wondered how in the world it could connect. And to make it worse, I had trouble preacing today because I was so tired. I kept losing my train of thought and losing my place in my notes. But again, even when our 'best' is pretty weak, God takes it and uses it in ways we could never manufacture on our own. I had several people thank me for the message, so I guess God blessed the effort.

I was going to go to my cousin's to watch the Super Bowl, but I think I'm just going to go to bed. Although I think another visit to the bathroom is coming first...

Friday, February 1, 2008

"Stronger than you think you are"

I posted awhile ago that I'm only 15 pounds away from my goal of benching three plates this year. The other night I was doing reps with Jason and decided to go rather heavy on my last set. I wasn't sure how much weight was on there but I knew it wasn't light and I was hoping to do three reps. I did it without too much difficulty. Afterwards I counted up the weight and realized it was 290 pounds! Had I known that it was that much, I probably would've psyched myself out and not been able to pump out three reps. Two weeks ago I got a one-rep max at 305. So to do just 15 pounds less for 3 times as many reps was encouraging.

After I added up the weight and realized how much I'd done, Jason just smiled and said "you're stronger than you think you are."