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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bike secrets to the abundant life in Christ

I recently had a conversation with a pastor friend who shared with me that he was having difficulty trusting God.  Does it surprise you that someone who often preached on the topic of grace was afraid to release control and trust God? Yes, pastors, theologians and regular believers, we all have issues. On one hand, letting go and trusting God may be one of the most difficult things to do. Yet, on the other, it is also the key to experiencing the abundant life that Jesus came to give us!
We all can accept an idea as being true but our struggle is moving from head knowledge to heart, from embracing to embodying the truth. This is where the rubber meets the road.  Truth is not worth much if we can't or don't apply it to our lives.  My pastor friend knew the truth, he just didn't or for various reasons, couldn't trust God enough to put his life in God's hands and live it out.

The big question for all Christians is how do I actually "pick up my cross and follow Jesus"?  I've discovered that as I attempt to live out this life in Christ, the depth of this new experience is incredibly difficult to comprehend.  It's like jumping into the ocean and being told to discover what's on the bottom.  Where do I begin and how do I accomplish this? How do I live by and in God's grace and not do this life on my own?

The wonderful thing I've learned over time is that I don't have to discover it all or do it all, over night. I can relax and learn from God as I pray, read and study his word allowing God to shape Me.  Begin to take your steps as a baby would learning to walk. Don't allow yourself to slip into shame and guilt of the performance lifestyle that our culture demands. You don't have to measure up to God.  He is our standard but Jesus has taken your place and He will help you live the life He has for you.  

One of my favorite poems gives us another wonderful picture of this life in Christ: 

A Tandem Ride With God
I used to think of God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there, sort of like a president. I recognized His picture when I saw it, but I didn't really know Him.

But later on, when I met Jesus, it seemed as though life was rather like a bike, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Jesus was in the back helping me pedal. I didn't know just when it was He suggested we change, but life has not been the same since I took the back-seat to Jesus, my Lord. 

He makes life exciting. When I had control, I thought I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable. It was the shortest distance between two points.

But when He took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, and through rocky places and at break-through speeds; it was all I could do to hang on! Even though it often looked like madness, He said, "Pedal!" 

I was worried and anxious and asked, "Where are you taking me?" He laughed and didn't answer and I started to learn to trust. I forgot my boring life and entered into adventure. And when I'd say, "I'm scared", He'd lean back and touch my hand.

He took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance and joy. They gave me their gifts to take on my journey, our journey, my Lord's and mine. And we were off again. He said, "Give the gifts away; they're extra baggage, too much weight." So I did, to the people we met, and I found in giving I received, and still our burden was light.

I did not trust Him, at first, in control of my life. I thought He'd wreck it, but He knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, jump to clear high rocks, fly to shorten scary passages. And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places, and I'm beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion, Jesus.

And when I'm sure I just can't do any more, He just smiles and says... "Pedal."
(Author unknown)

I love the poem because it gives such a wonderful picture of grace. Jesus is in control of the direction, yet I'm pedaling!  He doesn't want me just being an observer. But Jesus is pedaling also, providing the power.  

As you dive into the deep "grace life" of Jesus Christ, as you allow Him to pedal, you'll discover many riches.  These are some that I have found or experienced, that I believe are available to all who choose to follow Christ, some we may experience right away, while others may take longer.  I pray you are experiencing these and more.  
  • You will discover a new purpose for living, so much greater than living for self.
  • You will be able to rest comfortably knowing that you don't have to have control of people and all things in your life.
  • You will begin to make choices that benefit others more than yourself, loving people, not using them for your benefit. 
  • You will swim against the stream, bucking the trend of popularity, power, and the materialistic life our culture promotes.
  • You will be able to face your fears and not be afraid to fail. 
  • You will begin to choose to risk pain and suffering over security and comfort.
  • When you put your head on your pillow at night, you will rest in peace, not anxious and worried about what may happen the next day, month or year.  
  • You will be excited about what each new day brings and look forward to the adventure that Christ has prepared for you.
  • You will begin to love God and live out the principles and truths that you preach or teach.
  • You will understand grace more and more and yet you'll discover that the ocean of God's love and grace is deeper and wider than you ever imagined.  
What other tangible riches of His abundant life have you experienced?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Rethinking bi-vocational ministry

20 years ago the prevailing thought was that if you were a bi-vocational pastor, you were just not good enough to be a full-time pastor. Most every pastor's goal was to be full time.  After all, the job of a pastor, no matter the size of church, required more than 40 hours a week. For many the pastorate was viewed as a vocation, where one could make a better than average salary doing what you loved to do.
You went to seminary, got your degree and credentials and sent your résumé to potential churches.  Not much different from any other job.  You started out in a small church or a lower staff position to gain a little experience, then moved to a bigger, better church, with better pay and a better position.  You explain to your congregation with each move that God has called you to a new location. If you were fortunate enough and good enough you could eventually be called to a large church with a high paying salary.  Pastors changed churches (especially in the Baptist world) like college teams change coaches, working their way up the clergy latter.   

Today, the landscape of the clergy has radically changed.  More churches are struggling financially and full-time staff positions are becoming increasingly harder to find. Those going into the ministry today know that the big salaries of the past is not a reality anymore. And the perception of the bi-vocational pastor has also changed as the view of the pastorate has evolved into more of a calling than strictly a job. Those going into ministry have a purer motivation, sensing a calling much like a missionary would.  The church planters that I work with certainly don't start a church with the idea of ever becoming wealthy.  All of them struggle making ends meet, many sacrificing for their family, most having to raise their own support or be bi-vocational.
Many of our Missional Association church planting pastors are bi-vocational and there are some advantages to being bi-vocational.
1) A bigger percentage of the budget for missions and ministry
A few actually have chosen this course over a full-time pastor as a strategy to allow more of the church's budget to go to missions and ministry.

2) More members involved in ministry  
Having pastors who are bi-vocational also removes the stigma of the professional pastor who is paid to do the work of the ministry while the members come to be ministered to.  A bi-vocational pastor has to delegate, train and trust his members to do the ministry.  The pastor actually has to spend most of his time equipping the saints for ministry instead of doing it himself.  This is actually a good thing as members take on more of the ministry and feel a real ownership and fulfillment by using their gifts to grow God's kingdom. 

3) Pastors interact more with the secular world
Having another job working outside the church gets the pastor out of his office and among the secular world.  They will have more of an opportunity to share the gospel with non believers and they'll have a better understanding of what the members experience in the working world.   

The downside is that pastors seldom give away the ministry.  They often continue to work their 40 hours as a pastor and add their part time job on top of that.  Their families suffer and their health takes a tremendous toll.  A pastor transitioning into bi-vocation told me that since he was not full-time at the church, he feels out of the loop, like I'm losing control.  Maybe that's a good thing also.  A need to control is often the reason a church does not grow.

So if you are bi-vocatioal please don't consider yourself inferior in any way.  You may actually be in a better position to do what God has called you to do and your church may be healthier because you are bi-vocational.

For more on this, read David Wheeler's excellent article on the change in ministry from full-time to bi-vocational pastors.   David Wheeler's article

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Prisoners setting the example of how to share the Word

I teach in a prison faith based dorm each week with 54 inmates and I come away each time learning something from the guys I teach. Like this week I was blown away by the incredibly simple but profound way some of the inmates are sharing the Word to other prisoners.  One of the inmates named Robert gathered some other inmates in the dorm together and brainstormed about how they could more effectively share the gospel to prisoners outside of their dorm. They decided to write scripture verses on small pieces of paper and hand them out to other inmates in the prison. Robert explained to me that he and his team have written literally thousands of scripture verses to encourage others and have given them away or placed them all over the prison.

He said this past week he was eating next to one of the inmates who pulled out one of the small pieces of paper with a scripture verse and told Robert, "I don't know who keeps leaving me these verses but I sure hope they continue. I save them and mail them to my children."  Robert said not everyone accepts them, but knowing that some receive the scripture verses and are uplifted, makes their effort all worth while. 

I am inspired and humbled by Robert and his band of scripture writers and distributors. I don't even have to write the scripture verses. I can get cards preprinted or printed on the computer with any verse I want.  Yet, how many scripture verses have I given away?  Not nearly enough. I'm going to follow their example and keep a handful in my pocket to give away.  And not only did you inspire me, but perhaps many others will be encouraged to follow your example and share scripture verses!  You never know how God will bless and use our simple acts of obedience.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Church Planting and the NBA: Lessons learned from the SA Spurs

Would you allow me to share another bit of insight from the San Antonio Spurs that has to do with church planting? Here in San Antonio, as you can imagine, all the talk has been about the Spurs fifth championship and how well they played.  The headline in SA paper proclaimed the Spurs being America's team with a quote from the new NBA commissioner Adam Silver, "You showed the world how beautiful this game is."
Before the championship I posted about the Spurs' beautiful style of team basketball as it relates to the Apostle Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 12.  Every member playing an important role in the body of Christ.  This team basketball is a rare thing in the NBA today.  But with the success of the Spurs, the question a lot of people are asking is, will other teams now emulate this style of play, one where the ball moves and more players are involved in the offense.

The difficulty is that this type of basketball takes a great amount of chemistry between teammates.  It takes much longer to develop, and requires more practice time together. Not many NBA teams can accomplish this because owners are too impatient. Players are not willing to sacrifice individual accolades.  And most players don't stay on any one team long enough to get acclimated to their teammates to run this system.  The Spurs were able to do it so well because they had a nucleus of players and one coach who have been together for a long time. And they had star players that were willing to sacrifice individual stats in order to run the system.
Maybe the biggest reason you will not see many teams playing Spurs basketball next year is that it is just too difficult and takes too long to implement. It takes a lot of hard work, and it is so much easier to default to the one on one style. It is much easier to run the simple pick and roll offense, and if that doesn't work go one on one.

What does this have to do with Church Planting?  I thought about the comparison as I was coaching a young pastor who is planting a missional model church as opposed to the attractional model, which has been the standard way to plant and grow a church for years. The missional model focuses on growing many small missional groups and is a much slower process.  In the attractional model, the church basically grows from the typical worship service, advertising and trying to attract as many people to the service as possible. In this model, the focus is on the worship music and preaching.  Once the crowd is gathered, often the smaller discipleship groups are formed. The success of the church depends on the preacher and the band or worship leader on the platform.

Can you see the parallel to NBA basketball?  The prevalent way is to build around "stars" whether in church or basketball.  The Spurs way is similar to the missional model of church planting, as it takes patience, with each individual, member involved in the ministry, pulling their own weight.  The focus is not on the one "star" pastor, but teams of people discipling others.  The missional model may be a purer model of church, more like the early church in which Christians met in houses and caves.  It can be effective but takes much longer to develop.  That is why most church planters opt to go with the attractional model.  If they can find or be the "star" pastor, and have a "star" worship leader, they can attract people quickly and build a church much faster.  The problem for many churches, once they get to a certain size and their "star" moves on to another team, (church), they must continue to find the "star" pastor or worship leader to carry the church.  It is not easy because the "star" players are not easy to find.  But like going one on one, preaching from the pulpit is our default system of discipling people and growing a church.

Is there a better way?  Could the Missional model become the winning way we build churches in the future, or is it just too hard, too slow of a process?  As a church planter do you see yourself as the "star" instead of one of a team of players?  Would the world start to see how beautiful the church is, if we moved to the Missional model?

Friday, June 27, 2014

And God Said No.

The recent announcement by Isaiah Austin, Baylor basketball team's 7 foot 1" center, that he has Marfan Syndrome and will not be able to continue to play basketball is a powerful illustration of how cruel life can be, and how life can rock your world just when you think you have arrived. The NBA made a gracious gesture in asking Isaiah to attend the NBA draft and then "drafting" him symbolically. watch video Yet it is a tough break for a really great young man who looked as if he had a bright future playing in the NBA.  It is ironic that this condition that prevents Austin from playing basketball in the future is why he is unusually tall, which gave him a significant advantage in the sport. 

Marfan syndrome is an inherited disorder that affects connective tissue — the fibers that support and anchor your organs and other structures in your body. Those with Marfan syndrome are usually tall and thin with disproportionately long arms, legs, fingers and toes. If your heart or blood vessels are affected, the condition can become life-threatening.  Some people experience only mild effects, but others develop life-threatening complications. In most cases, the disease tends to worsen with age.

What is impressive is how Isaiah has handled the news and the attention. He has used the spotlight to emphasize his faith in God, that God has another path for his life and will help him overcome the disappointment. 

Isaiah is no stranger to setbacks, having overcome losing sight in one eye after being struck in the eye by a ball playing baseball when he was in Little League.  He learned to adjust to the lack of vision and the loss of perspective that you have with two good eyes to become an all-conference player in the Big 12, helping Baylor win the NIT last year and get to the NCAA tournament this year.  His focus was on becoming an NBA player but he now says he has a new mission, to help and inspire others through his story.  

Still, it must be extremely difficult and disappointing to have God say no to your dream and to learn at the same time that you have a serious health issue you'll deal with the rest of your life which may also shorten your life. What do you do when God says no to a dream?  Will you handle your heartache and disappointment as well as Isaiah?  I recall something I came across years ago, that helped my perspective on why God sometimes says no to us.  

I asked God to take away my pride. And God said “No”.  He said it was not for him to take away, but for me to give it up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole. And God said “No”.  He said her spirit was whole, her body was only temporary.
I asked God to grant me patience. And God said “No”.  He said patience is a by-product of tribulations. It isn’t granted, it is earned.
I asked God to give me happiness. And God said “No”. He said he gives me blessings, happiness is up to me.
I asked God to spare me pain. And God said “No”. He said suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me.
I asked God to make my spirit grow. And God said “No”. He said I must grow on my own. But he will prune me to make me fruitful.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. And God said “No”. He said I will give you life, that you may enjoy all things.
I asked God to help me LOVE others, as much as he loves me. And God said, "Ah, finally you have the right idea."

Yes, Isaiah heard God and he has the right idea.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Do we love things more than people?

I heard a powerful quote the other day which sent my mind in all kinds of directions, "People are created to be loved. Things are created to be used. Many of our problems stem from us getting this backwards. We love things and use people".

Wow!  This is so true and can be a problem in so many areas of our lives, from family to politics. We so often take advantage of people to get the things we love!  It is also a real problem in the church and is one of the main reasons people leave the church, never to return. When pastors use and manipulate their own members in order to get the things they think they need to be successful as a church or as a pastor, members of the church can sense that they are being used.  When that occurs, it's not long before they will be heading to another church or to never set foot in a church again. 

It may be one of the most common complaints I hear from Christians these days. For example, I was recently told, "I just feel so disconnected from the pastor and the church staff.  I am constantly asked to give money to this or that at the church and exhorted to participate in this campaign or this program but I can't remember when I was asked about me personally or even how I am doing spiritually."  
I had a conversation with a young man that had recently returned from a two year term on the mission field. He had grown up in the church that commissioned him.  He told me that he was very disappointed that once he got overseas, it was as if his home church had forgotten about him. No one ever sent a care package and there were no emails of encouragement. The only time he heard from the church staff was when they needed his help with a mission team they were sending his way. When he returned, many asked him where he had been. Most of the church never knew he had been sent on the mission field. He said wasn't expecting much but what he came away with was the feeling that he was being used, not loved or cared for. 

Leaders must be very careful not to love things more than people.  Especially in the church, we can get so caught up in leading, planning, preaching, evangelizing and sending missionaries, in order to make our goals, to grow our church, that we neglect the shepherding part of the ministry. And when we get word of a member's discontent, we often just dismiss their feelings as being selfish.  We have forgotten that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love people. If you fall into the trap of using your people to build your own kingdom, you can significantly damage the faith and the trust of those you are called to disciple.  

That is not to say we must not exhort and challenge our members to give, grow and be involved in ministry.  I also realize as the church grows, each member's voice can become smaller and it becomes impossible to stay closely connected to everyone. That is why it is so important to delegate the ministry and train up other leaders to minister to the members, in small groups or through ministry teams.  Creating community within the larger church is critical.

It really comes down to motive. What is my true motive for ministry?  Am I driven to succeed for the sake of success? If so, you'll probably use people to get there.  Or do I serve in ministry from a heart of loving people.  Will it help if I remind myself fairly often, that people are more valuable than any possession I may desire, including success and are to be loved and not used?  Search me oh God and help me not to love things. Grow my love for you and give me a heart to love people. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Lessons learned from San Antonio Spurs: The Bonner Principle

Perhaps the greatest reason the Spurs are such a successful team, setting records for consecutive playoff appearances, is that they follow the principles that the apostle Paul conveys in 1 Corinthians 12.  It's no secret that Greg Popovich is considered the best coach today and the reason is that he sticks to the same principles, one body, one team with many parts all working together for one goal. As the Spurs attempt to win their fifth title most all agree that they are the epitome of a team that plays "team" basketball.  In a league where the stars are the focus and many games boil down to the star players going one on one, the Spurs stick to the team concept. All teams make an attempt at the passing game but never seem as committed to it as the Spurs. 

Popovich's players all know their goal, their abilities and the role in which they are called to play.  And because they don't try to be more than the assigned role they play on the team, they excel at what they do and so does the team.  Sure the Spurs have stars, Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan, but these stars and the rest of the team know their specific role and put team first before individual accolades.
Matt Bonner is another great example, a player who may not see the court on many NBA teams.  Not many want a slow footed big man that can't jump but he thrives in the Spurs system because they know how to maximize his talents, using his great 3 point shooting to stretch the floor and draw the opponent's big men out of the paint.  The coaches know his limitations but minimize them by using him in situations that call for his strengths.

Players like Patrick Mills last year and Corey Joseph this year, spend the majority of their time on the bench cheering the team on.  Mills made the most of his time on the bench last year waving a towel and cheering the team on and was ready when called on to play this year bringing that same energy to the court. Joseph was called on in the Thunder playoff series and did as well if not better than the starters when he got his chance to play.  

It should be no different in ministry, only our goal changes from winning a championship to making a difference for God's kingdom (much greater).  Our team is the body of Christ and God has given each of us special gifts and talents to accomplish His purposes which He has already prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:10) Church planters, pastors and all believers need to understand their unique talents and gifts and accept their unique role they are called to play in the body of Christ.  

Paul explains to the Corinthian believers, everyone is valuable in God's kingdom but not everyone can be a Michael Jordan. The team needs point guards, back up centers and forwards. They need scouts, front office personnel coaches and trainers.  All are important and play a role in a successful team. In God's kingdom we need house church pastors, urban planters, missionaries, Godly businessmen and women, children's workers and on and on. We can't accomplish God's work without any of them. Don't worry about being the next Rick Warren or Craig Groschell.  When you know your purpose, find your unique calling, do it well, you'll accomplish incredible things for God and will be an instrumental part of The Ultimate Winning Team.  Video of Spurs team basketball