Ephesians 1:18

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints... Ephesians 1:18

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why Believe In The God Of The Bible?

Sharing your faith in today's world can be challenging and intimidating.  As you  develop a relationship with a non-believer, one of the things I find that they want to know is, why I believe in God. Not all the theological and scientific reasons that God exists, but simply what are the benefits of my faith in God. Sure it's a bit selfish but unless I can give them motivation to believe in the God of the Bible, a non-believer may not be open to the idea of faith in God.  
The apostle Paul, all through out his letters in the New Testament, speaks of the riches of Christ Jesus as in Ephesians 3:8.  We call it the "Good News".  So how would I explain to a non-believer those riches or the practical benefits of having a faith in the God of the Bible beyond "you are going to hell if you don't believe".  
I'm not sure why, but I woke up the other morning with this urgency to put down on paper those benefits of my faith and the reasons I continue to believe in Jesus Christ even as the world, society and culture constantly challenges and tries to undermine my faith.
After putting my thoughts on paper, I realized that this was a great exercise that I had never considered doing before.  Below are the things I jotted down.  It is by no means an exhaustive list but some of the riches in Christ I have experienced that came to mind.   It may benefit you also to take a few moments to write your own list of the things you receive from having faith in God and to share that with someone who doesn't believe.  I'd also love for you to add yours to my list.  

Believing in the God of the Bible
  • Gives me the reason for my life, it answers the question, why am I here. 
  • Like a compass, belief in God establishes direction and a purpose for living beyond just living for myself.  
  • Provides me an anchor, solid footing in a world that is constantly shifting.
  • Helps me understand the existence of evil in the world and explains why I also have the propensity to do evil.
  • Provides me a way to reconcile and overcome this evil in my life, my failures, my selfishness. It helps me to understand grace and forgiveness and how to forgive others and also accept forgiveness. 
  • Provides wide but solid boundaries that protect me and give me the best opportunity to experience a life of joy, peace and fulfillment in this crazy, messed up world that seems to want to take it away from us. Within those boundaries I find great freedom and yet incredible security. 
  • Gives me an understanding of the true meaning of love and doesn't demand or suggest but compels me to love others in the same manner in which I am loved by Jesus. 
  • Jesus' life gives me a model of how to live my life, but not only instructions on how to love God and how to love and serve others but also the power to do so. 
  • More than knowledge, my faith offers me a way to communicate and actually experience the creator of the universe on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis. 
  • It gives me an identity and a family of fellow believers.
  • Gives me hope for the future, assurance that there is more to life than just today and that my life will continue to exist beyond death for eternity. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Coach Pop's Legacy And How It Relates To The Church Today

Tony Parker, Gregg Popovich (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
There has been a lot of fanfare around Greg Popovich's 1,000 wins as coach of the San Antonio Spurs, as there should be. Certainly this has been an incredible achievement.  Only a handful of coaches have accomplished this and only one other, Jerry Sloan, has won over 1,000 games with just one team.  
But Pop's legacy will go beyond his number of wins or the number of NBA championships as a coach and won't be finished when he decides to retire. His most significant achievement will be his impact on the league and that will be felt for many years to come because of the incredible amount of his disciples that will carry on his legacy for years to come. Pop certainly would not take credit for the abundance of former Spurs players, coaches and employees scattered around the NBA, but the number is staggering. 

In the high-profile coaching positions alone you'll find former Spurs like Alvin Gentry, Avery Johnson, Vinny Del Negro, Jacque Vaughn, Mike Brown, P.J. Carlesimo, Monte Williams and Brett Brown.  I haven't even mentioned the coaches of the two teams with this year's best records in the NBA, Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors, a Spur guard on the 2003 championship team, and Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer who spent 19 years in the Spurs organization.  And it doesn't end with the coaching fraternity. There are NBA general managers, Danny Ferry, Dell Demps and Sam Presti who are disciples of Pop.

What is amazing is that coach Pop seems to relish the opportunities for his disciples to move on to other teams. Losing Brett Brown and Mike Budenholzer at the same time, two long-time assistants must have been incredibly difficult.  But I never heard one negative comment from Coach Pop, just proud accolades for both of them.  Pop just celebrates their new head coaching roles and reloads with a new batch of eager young coaches. 

Steve Kerr on Pop's legacy said, "His impact on coaching is dramatic. Pop has pretty much taken over the league.  All of his protégés are out there, spread all across the league, GMs and coaches. It's amazing to see guys are having a lot of success so the impact goes well beyond the game itself."

I couldn't tell you whether Coach Pop has always mentored coaches with the intent to send them out or whether it is just the by-product of the Spurs program that most every team wants to replicate. But you do know that Pop is very willing to let go of his coaches and he puts the welfare of his players, coaches and employees ahead of his own interests. This is very uncommon in the competitive professional sports world.  Yet, the team still stays on or near the top every year.    

What would it be like if pastors across the nation had the same attitude about their members and staff as Coach Pop?  Imagine, the impact around the world, if instead of being afraid of losing staff, volunteers, or members, pastors intentionally trained and discipled young men and women and actually encouraged them to leave their congregation and spread the Gospel, as missionaries or plant churches.  What if the goal was to send instead of trying to hold on to everyone?  

I spent 20 years on staff at a large church in Austin, many of those years ministering to several hundred single adults.  Now returning to Austin, I've had the privilege of reconnecting with some of those who still live in Austin.  Very few are attending my old church anymore. I've gotten invitations to attend churches all over Austin where they are now attending. This is not a slam against my old church.  It is just the way it is in most all churches.  

Few people stay for a lifetime at any one church. The average American family moves every five to six years, so unless they leave earlier for some other reason, 5 years is about as long as you'll have most members! To think you will be able to hold on to your members for much longer is fooling yourself.  This is one of the top stressors for pastors (I've counseled many pastors about their pain and frustration over a family or families that has chosen to leave their church) and many spend a lot of their ministry trying to find ways to 'close the back door' and maintain as many of their members for as long as possible. Members will leave for all sorts of reasons and if you take it personally, it can suck your passion for the church right out of you and possibly kill your ministry totally.

Yet every experienced church planter I know will tell a new church planter that the initial team that helps start your church will not be with you long term. They are coached to view your initial core team as the scaffolding to help build a foundation for your church but don't expect them to be there long term. 

So instead of getting all worked up about a family that leaves your church, why not do what Greg Popovich does with the Spurs, train them and send them out.  Heck, it's actually what the Bible tells the leaders of the church to do, help every member to see their potential as a missionary and equip the Saints for ministry.  You've got most people for five years, so why not implement some sort of 5 year discipleship plan that will help grow your members into mature believers who are equipped to serve as ministers and missionaries wherever they may end up. Then celebrate those who move on to take the Gospel and your church DNA to other churches, countries or ministries. 

It may seem counter-intuitive to growing a church, but it is God's formula! Focus on His Kingdom and you'll grow people, the church and the Kingdom!  We made the switch at Grace Point when several great families left our church for various reasons during a critical season. It was painful.  Yet working through the difficult period, we realized that San Antonio, being a military city, was a temporary home for many of our families. So instead of being discouraged about families who leave, we looked forward to seeing where and how they used what they learned from their time at Grace Point.  We set a God-sized goal to help plant 100 churches in 10 years. We discipled to equip and empower our members to go. After we made the switch from holding onto to sending, we began to grow again, doubling in size over the next ten years, sending people all over the world and planting more than 100 churches.

Pastors, you can relieve a lot of your stress, disappointment and frustration by replacing your old mindset of worrying about "closing the back door" with a big Kingdom mindset of discipling and sending. After all, God is a sending God, sending his very Son to earth so that you and I could be redeemed.  So why should we think differently?

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Power Of Taking One Step Of Faith

Looking back on my ministry experiences, I've found that adventure and untold opportunities to experience God are just one step of obedience away. But often that step of faith can seem like foolishness. When faced with the choice between risking our lives and playing it safe, fear can be described as wisdom and we can miss out on experiencing God.

A great example is the story of Rob and Joany Wills, a typical hard working west Texas couple that took one small step of faith which has led to a spectacular adventure with God.  Rob, a long time high school football coach, and Joany, a high school counselor, were working and serving in their church and life group in San Antonio. But a testimony from Teresa Devlin, a missionary to Honduras suddenly changed the course of their life. God began to stir in them a desire to go with a team from their church to Honduras on a short term mission trip.  But Joany had never been out of the country and so, even though there was a desire, there was also great fear and anxiety.  She was intimidated by the smallest details, afraid to even go and get a passport.

After hearing the missionary's story and praying, Joany, despite her fears, committed to going to Honduras and set about preparing for their first trip overseas.  They were so impacted by the mission trip that they began to consider retiring and going full time on the mission field. I remember having lunch with Rob and Joany and them asking me if I thought they were crazy to consider going full time on mission. Absolutely not I said. I encouraged them to pursue the idea and see where it leads them.

After researching and learning that they could retire, and live off their retirement, they decided to go for it. They had no idea where they would go, but were convinced that God wanted them on the mission field somewhere overseas.

Fast forward a couple of years and you'll now find Rob and Joany living in Ireland serving as missionaries full time.  They had spent a half a year traveling to Central America, visiting missions amd orphanages with the expectation that this was where they would serve as missionaries.  During their travels they were persuaded to go to Waterford, Ireland and spend some time with a small evangelical church. Rob, being a west Texas high school football coach, did some research and found out that the town had an American club football team that had recently been organized. He contacted the coach and told him that he was coming to Waterford and would like to meet him.  Well you would have thought that a celebrity was coming to Waterford.  In the eyes of these amateur football players, meeting a bona fide Texas football coach was like meeting Bill Belichick in person. 

During the Wills' initial visit to Ireland, God opened several doors for ministry and with an invitation to coach the football team they chose to move to Ireland and be missionaries to an area that is very much post-Christian. Rob says that most adults in Ireland consider evangelical Christianity a cult.
Since Rob and Joany are able to live off their retirement, the money they raise goes directly to their ministry. Joany has opened up a thrift store that they named The Grace Shop. They secured a three story building downtown which had been a hostel, using the first floor to house the store. Their living quarters are on the second floor and the third floor is being used to house mission teams.  Most of the clothes they sell at the thrift shop come from donations from friends here in the U.S.  It's been a wonderful avenue for Joany to meet and develop relationships with ladies in the town.  She is holding a Bible study and using relationship evangelism to share the Gospel. Rob has been coaching and sharing God's grace to the men on the football team. He has had a profound impact in the first year he has been there and will be on Ireland's national football team's coaching staff.

If this were the extent of their impact, it would be amazing but God has a way of doing even more than we could imagine. This past fall, Rob and Joany had the opportunity to travel to India with the pastor of the church in Waterford to help train and disciple Indian pastors and potential leaders. Rob returned with an incredible experience of being able to impact men and women who are serving in areas where there had never been a church before.  He told me that it seemed beyond his imagination that God would call this old west Texas coach to Ireland to minister to men in India! Rob went on to share this wonderful story about his trip to India, how God works even in the details to meet our ministry needs. 

"Shortly before we left for India we received a sizable amount of money in our checking account. At first we thought there had been a mistake but we discovered that the donation of $2500 was from my mother.  My dad's death in April had been ruled an accident and one of his insurance policies paid off. My mom divided it up between me and my siblings and we received $2500.

At the end of our pastor's conference in India, we asked the organizing pastors if they had any urgent needs for their ministry. We wanted to give them a blessing for an immediate need. They told us how all the pastors shared one motorcycle in order to reach the remote villages.  I asked how many they needed and they said two more would help them tremendously. What is the cost for a motorcycle here?  They answered 70,000 rupees per bike about $1250.  The two motorcycles would cost exactly the same amount, $2500 that we received unexpectedly from my dad's insurance policy. God knows ahead of time our needs and He is faithful to provide. 

As I listened to Rob and Joany excitedly tell this story and the other amazing things God was doing, I thought back only a few years when Joany was too afraid to even get a passport. The transformation was incredible. But as she overcame her fears and put her trust in Jesus and obeyed His call, Joany and Rob are now experiencing Him in wonders beyond our imagination.  We receive power when we step out and trust God!  It may often seem like insanity, but often times taking one faithful step forward can catapult you into the center God's epic drama.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The One Thing Pastors Must Do From The Pulpit

Mark Miller posted a great blog on this subject:  Inspire
After reading his blog, I was inspired to repost a blog I wrote a couple of years ago on the same subject. 

A mediocre person tells. A good person explains. A superior person demonstrates. A great person inspires others to see for themselves." - Harvey Mackay

I came across this quote the other day, which I quickly put into my most favorite quote folder.  It made me think of the former great football coach of Baylor University, Grant Teaff.  Teaff was an incredible motivator who turned that football program around in the 70’s leading them to the Southwest Conference championship with the miracle on the Brazos in 1974.  His inspiring stories and coaching moves are legendary and considered the key to his greatness as a coach.  I was fortunate to be a student athlete at Baylor when we won the conference in 74.  

One legend was how he used the illustration of eating a worm to inspire his team to victory.  Coach Teaff wanted to emphasize taking care of details so he shared the ice fisherman’s secret to catching fish.  Coach Teaff said the secret was to keep the worms warm.  He explained that the ice fisherman would keep the worms in his mouth until it was time to put them on the hook.  Warm worms attracted the fish and that small step was the difference between catching a lot of fish or coming home with an empty bucket. The coach then pulled out a big long earth worm and put it in his mouth, saying the difference between winning and losing was taking care of the small details.  The players went berserk, ran out on to the field and pulled off an incredible upset.  Coach Teaff used a great visual to get across a point but more than anything he inspired his team.

If I were to give what I thought is the most important thing for a pastor to strive for outside of being Biblically sound, it would be to inspire his flock.  When you prepare a sermon, Bible study, lecture or testimony, think about what you want to accomplish.  Shouldn’t you always have a goal to inspire others to change.  What sets the great preacher apart from the good is inspiration.

When I walk away from a great sermon, I'm motivated to change.  As I thought more about the significance of inspiration, I could see how important it is for all those who want to make a difference in the world.  Whether you are preaching, teaching, coaching or parenting, inspiration is such a critical ingredient to helping others change, and yet so many miss the opportunity.

Preaching today often is either all intellect and no inspiration or all hype and no substance. There is a trend in many churches today to emphasize teaching and imparting information in the name of discipleship. The goal is to dump a lot of information and hope some of it sticks.  The problem is that without inspiring others to own it, apply it, and share it with others, the information is just that.  Inspiration is what separates the mediocre from the superior communicator.   We can criticize the preachers who preach to thousands each week for their lack of deep content but what most every one of them has in common is that they do a great job of inspiring.

Whether you are a preacher, coach, parent, teacher or mentor, to be great, you must consistently inspire others.  Aim to inspire. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

What Matters Most

My wife and I took a Caribbean cruise over the Christmas holidays to get away from the mad rush of buying presents.  We had spent weeks getting rid of stuff preparing for our move to Austin the following week after we returned, so we really didn't need anything else to move.  Everyone should move every 10 years or so to keep from accumulating more stuff. It's amazing how much stuff you collect over the years that you never ever use.  But back to the cruise.  

The highlight of the cruise was meeting a couple from Dallas, Bruce and Anne. Bruce was a principal of a private elementary school, and was one of the kindest persons I think I've ever met. He greeted every waiter and worker on the ship with a smile and a complimentary statement.  Everyone was his friend and he seemed genuinely interested in each person's life.  He would often reach out and gently put his hand on someone's arm when encouraging them with words, "you did such a wonderful job". I could see how he must be a great principal, one who is loved by the students, parents and teachers.

I thought about Bruce this past week as I was studying through Galatians, reading Paul's exhortation to the members of the Galatian church in Galatians 5:6, where he writes, "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love". Paul admonishes the Galatians not to fall back into keeping the law.  And he makes this incredible proclamation that what matters most for any Christian is to live out your faith through love.  

It is such simple charge, taken from Jesus' answer to the question, what is the greatest commandment, that we tend to brush it off.  Yeah, I know we should love others. I learned that in Sunday School as a kid.  But Paul reminds us here in Galatians and also in 1 Corinthians 13, that nothing else really matters if we don't have love. It is a powerful lesson for all of us in this complicated world full of all kinds of extra stuff.  
Bruce was a great living example of one who exhibited his faith through love. His unique expression of love was through words of encouragement and through touch.  He did it remarkably well and I took note. I consider myself an encourager but he put me to shame. He showed me that I can be better at encouraging others, if I'd just make an effort especially when I don't feel up to it.  

Each of us has unique ways in which we express love to others, our "love language", but however we express it, what matters most in our life as a follower of Christ, is to love God and to love others. To "agape" others. This is a sacrificial love that demands nothing in return.  We often get caught up in doing so much, trying to earn respect and standing from others and arguing about doctrine and methodology, that we forget what truly is important.

The principle of all obedience to God is love; therefore faith cannot work unless it is associated with love. Paul's simple principle is a great reminder for us how to live the life as a follower of Christ. Just as I simplified my life and got rid of a lot of material stuff, we would also benefit from ridding our lives of excess "doctrinal" stuff that can hinder us from living the simple life of faith in Christ expressed by our love for others.  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Ferguson and Justified Sin

NY Post photo
A lot has been written and debated this past week over the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri.  I watched in horror the unbelievable destruction of property and was amazed at how easily people could choose to do evil.  Here are a couple of my observations that I haven't heard or read in all of the discussion.

We all have a natural bent to sin as humans and there is a fragile barrier that keeps a populace from doing evil and living only for themselves.  When the people of a society feel justified or are given a license to do wrong, they will jump over the wall of law and order and act irresponsibly, selfishly and/or criminally. Sin is destructive to oneself, but justified sin goes even deeper because it almost always is perpetrated on someone else. It also brings a sense of righteous indignation and therefore brings about little guilt or remorse. 

When there is a justification to sin in any of society's systems that are created to maintain a safe and productive society, these institutions begin to crumble whether it is the government, an organization, company, or marriage. 

In a marriage, when both the husband and wife slip into justified selfishness, when you begin to justify an affair, your anger, your impatience because your wife or husband is not treating you right, then you can bet that the marriage is on life support. And the same goes for the government.

The two things that keep order in a society are strong moral values that are embedded into a culture or fear and control by the ruling power.  Justified selfishness erodes our moral values and when they deteriorate, then the state has to exercise more fear of punishment on the populace to control them.  So when there is a widespread entitlement to act selfishly, society either slips into anarchy or into a police state.  

My second observation is that people watch and listen and take their clues from their leaders and the power of suggestion can easily motivate people in the wrong direction. We are prone to sin without any prompting, so when those in authority give the impression by an action, inaction, words or even their silence, that it is ok to misbehave, we will jump at the opportunity.

Ferguson is an example but we've seen this before.  College students and young people have done similar acts of destruction when their team wins or loses an important game.  You'll see criminal behavior, breaking into and looting buildings, burning cars, sofas and the like, tearing up property, all in the name of celebrating a win. Who gives them permission to do this?  Where did young people get the idea that it is ok to do evil when their team wins or loses?  Could it be that the leaders of the institution, by their silence, somehow give permission to do this.

Our society's tolerance of sex outside of marriage is another example. Few of our leaders have proclaimed outright that teens should have sex any time they desire but when we pass out free condoms and emphasize safe sex to our teenagers, it sends a message to teens that it is ok as along as you are safe. It may be a subtle message but you can see the power of suggestion and the consequences. We have a whole generation of teens who view casual sex as the norm and as a result we have a huge increase in unwanted pregnancies, teens with STD viruses, abortions and an abundance of single moms.  
  • Justified sin is the undoing of all of our basic social institutions.
  • People look to their leaders and take their clues from what they say or don't say.  
  • When our leaders lie, or abuse power, their followers will feel justified in doing so also.  
  • Whether you are leading your family, church, business or country, you have a great responsibility.  Clear communication of what you expect from your followers and embodying the values your organization deems important are the keys to leading well.    
Can you think of a time when something you said, did or failed to say or do gave someone "permission" to do the wrong thing?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Who Pastors the Pastor?

One of the primary purposes of the church, the body of Christ, is to help a believer grow in Christ in a community of support, encouragement and love. This great togetherness is what made the early church so effective, as we see in Acts 2:44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 

In our country one of our values is individualism and although this is a very positive value, it can become detrimental when we attempt to mature as a believer in isolation. As our culture of high tech gadgets encourages even greater isolation, the Church, becomes even more important for a believer. There is one person who attends your church that may be missing out on just the thing that all believers need in order to grow in Christ. That person is the pastor!  No one gets less of the ministry of the body of Christ than the pastor! 

Paul David Tripp makes the point emphatically in his important book, Dangerous Calling. In this mandatory read for church planters and anyone in ministry,Tripp explains that pastors are just like everyone else in the church, with the same temptations and sin issues that we all have. Pastors are in the process of sanctification just like you, and they need the body of Christ, just like all members. But the reality is that the pastor and his wife usually receive none of the benefits of the church that the members do. 

I coach many pastors and I think that very few realize what they are missing in the church. They are always giving, preaching, counseling, visiting the sick, exhorting their flock to be more like Christ. This is just what they are supposed to do, what they are paid to do. When I share with a pastor the statement "no one gets less of the ministry of the body of Christ than the pastor", there is that pause as they process the statement, then a slow awareness of this fact and almost always an acknowledgment that this is true.  

The problem starts when the members of the church put the pastor on a pedestal and think of him and his wife as some kind of super Christians. After all, he is "called" into the pastorate, probably been to seminary and been trained to be a pastor. He has to be a mature believer and above any of the hurts or hangups that we common believers have. 

The pastor often begins to believe in the idea that they have arrived. After all, God has anointed me and with my education, training and experience, I deserve to be up on this pedestal. This becomes a problem because the heart of a pastor who believes he has arrived begins to harden and this can easily give way to sin in his life. He can become impatient, angry, self-righteous, judgmental and controlling. And when you believe you have already arrived, you are very resistant to change.    

There are many more pastors who really know they haven't arrived and they still feel the pressure to maintain the image of super-spiritual pastor. They live with the guilt of being a poser, living a lie. I can't afford to let anyone see the real me or I might be thought less of or even fired.  Therefore many pastors isolate themselves from the flock and live without the interconnectivity and necessary ministry of the body of Christ. No one is safe living separated and unknown. Each of us, whether a pastor or lay person, needs the eyes of others in order to see ourselves with clarity and accuracy. We need the accountability and encouragement to press on and the love and grace when we have blown it.  

Ask these questions to see if you as a pastor or your pastor and family may be missing out on the ministry of the church. And if you haven't read Dangerous Calling, order it today!

  • What is your initial reaction to the statement that the pastor and wife receive none of the benefits of the church that members do?  Do you agree? Disagree?  Why?
  • Can your pastor be real and share his own hurts, hangups and habits to the members? 
  • How free do you feel to be transparent in your small group or Bible study?  
  • Does your pastor attend a small group that he doesn't lead? 
  • Does he have a spiritual mentor that he meets with consistently? 
  • Does the pastor's wife have a group of ladies that she can be open and honest with and trust?  
  • How often is your pastor invited to your home or any members home just to hang out?  
  • Do you give your pastor and his wife significant away time?  
  • Is there counseling available to the pastor, his wife and family?