Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mastering The Art Of Living

Exiting the prison yard after a couple of hours spent with 56 inmates in a faith based dorm, I felt energized and had a great sense of accomplishment.  As I entered the small holding pen that separates the free world from the one of captivity, there was an elderly lady who was in a wheelchair with a Bible in her lap.  My pride and sense of accomplishment quickly vanished as I was suddenly brought back to earth, humbled that someone of that age would be serving God in a prison.  

A couple weeks later as I was leaving I once again saw the woman entering the prison.  This time a guitar was in her lap along with the Bible. I introduced myself and told her how impressed I was that she was ministering in the prison.  She explained that she considered herself and her husband missionaries to the prison. She said she was 87 years old and they had been ministering in the prisons for 17 years!
That brings a whole new concept to retirement.  What a contrast to the American idea of retirement, to cease all work, spend all of our savings, relaxing, traveling, having fun and enjoying life.  Even though this couple's idea of life in the "retirement" phase was entirely different, I'd say they were still having fun and enjoying life to the fullest.

Thinking of this couple brings to mind one of my favorite quotes . "The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.”  - James A. Michener

Unfortunately, few people get to live on this level, where their work and faith is their passion and play.  We miss out because we compartmentalize our lives into work, play, vacation, worship so much that we fail to realize that a life that has worship at its center of everything we do, will be a life lived to the fullest.  Worship can be our work and play, our labor and leisure, our pursuit of information and love.  When one loves God and lives for Him, and his or her joy is centered around blessing others,  then just like this elderly couple, one will have mastered the art of living!  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Avoiding The Riptides of Life

A few years ago I had the opportunity to return to southern California where I spent my teenage years.  I was attending a ministry conference and our hotel was on the ocean. During a break in the conference, I rented a boogie board and hit the beach to catch some waves.  I swam out about 50 yards from the beach and floated in the swells waiting for just the right wave to take me in.  I hadn't been out for very long when I saw a lifeguard swimming toward me.  When he got within shouting distance, he hollered, "do you know what you are doing?'

I remember looking around to see who he was talking to.  Surely not me.  After all I grew up in southern California. I've been to the beach many times and although I'm not a surfer, I have body surfed many times and used a boogie board from time to time.  
He shouted the question again, do you know what you are doing"?  Now I realized he was directing the question to me.  All I could think to answer was, uh, I guess not.  I couldn't imagine what I was doing wrong just floating on a boogie board waiting to catch a wave. 

The lifeguard drew closer and explained, "you are in a riptide and I need to get you out.  I'm going to throw you this rope, just grab on and I'll pull you out."
I grabbed on and he swam toward the shore pulling me in.  I never knew I was in any danger, even though I had drifted quite a ways away from where I went in.  Later as I thought about the incident, I realized that this was a great illustration of life and a great teaching moment.  

Seldom does one fall quickly into spiritual lethargy, pornography, divorce, financial or emotional bankruptcy.  It's almost always a slow drift without us even knowing that we are in trouble until we start to sink.

To rescue us from the riptides of life, we desperately need a lifeguard, someone close to us that can recognize the trouble we are about to fall prey to.  What if we had that one person, that lifeguard that could speak truth to us when we venture into unsafe waters, that person who would tell us the truth no matter how much it hurts, "do you know what you are doing?!"

Think of the thousands of lives that could have been saved from drug abuse, financial ruin or divorce if the fallen had an accountability partner, coach, counselor or advisor? 
Riptides of life are inevitable, but we don't have to be victims.  

  • We all need a lifeguard, a mentor, coach or running partner who we can be brutally honest with.  Better to have one of each.  
  • We are accountable only to the areas in which we allow someone to hold us accountable.  Therefore we must be open to advice and actually listen.  We must surrender our pride, humble ourselves enough to allow others to help us and be willing to grab on to the rope when offered.
  • We need to be grounded in faith, on the biblical values and standards to know when we are straying.  If we can keep our eye on Jesus as Hebrews 12:2 says, we can survive many of the riptides of life that can destroy us physically, emotionally and spiritually. Spiritual, financial and practical mentors, friends and coaches can help us keep on course, if we allow them access to our lives.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Power of Purpose

I've had two close friends and ministry colleagues pass away recently from diseases which they both endured for several years.  Both went through the difficult ordeal of hospitalization and then hospice.  I knew that hospice was usually the place patients went before they died but I didn't fully understand the significance and purpose of hospice.  I learned through my two friends ordeal that the purpose of a hospice is totally different from a hospital.  In a hospital the doctors and nurses naturally do every thing possible to keep patients alive and heal them. However, the purpose of a hospice is NOT to keep the patient alive but to prepare the patient for death and to make their last days as comfortable as possible.  

That purpose dictates what the treatment or lack of treatment is. The caretakers in a hospice will not be constantly monitoring the patient during the day and the middle of the night, waking them up, poking and prodding.  Medication and intravenous tubes are not necessary in a hospice except for that which eases the pain. Everything is done to make the patient's last days as pain free and comfortable as possible. And this is very difficult for a loved one to comprehend because the decision to take their loved one to a hospice is in effect saying that the end of life is very near and we have given up the goal of recovery, in essence pulling the life support from the patient.

It occurred to me that this was one of the most powerful examples of how purpose dictates what we do.  The rooms in a hospice and hospital look much the same but what happens in those rooms is the difference between life and death literally based on the purpose of those rooms.  

It is the same for any organization.  Having a stated purpose determines the actions of the members or the employees.  If there is no stated purpose, no overall vision to guide and direct the employees or members to pursue, then each person is left to discern what that purpose is and the actions and decisions can be considerably different from those which the organization desires.  When the employees embody the company's mission then every move is filtered through that stated purpose.

How we view our personal purpose in life also makes all the difference in the world how we live our lives.  Do I live for self or to a higher calling?  For both my friends, Steve Stoner and Teresa Devlin, their legacy is great and long lasting because their purpose in life was to live for Christ.   Many of your decisions will be drastically affected even to the point of life or death because of your purpose.  That is why it is so important to live for a purpose in life that is more than just living for self. And equally important is to teach your children to do so also.  It doesn't happen naturally.  You must intentionally work so that your purpose becomes integrated into your life, family, company and church. 

Do you have a personal mission or purpose statement?
Does my purpose reflect my relationship with Jesus Christ?
Can you quote a life verse from the Bible that guides your life?
Does your family have a mission statement?  Can your children quote it?  What do you do to instill that purpose into their lives?  Into your church or business?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Is the life you are living worth the price you are paying?

If we could step back and take a good look at our habits and lifestyle we would have to say the price I'm paying isn't worth it.  It is ironic that often the life we believe God has called us to live is actually the stumbling block that keeps us from being what Christ called us to be.   

The writer of Hebrews encouraged us to remove anything that hinders us or causes us to stumble in our spiritual life.  Yet, it's hard to eliminate the trip wires when we are not even aware of them. Two of the most critical stumbling blocks that pastors seem oblivious to, are the way we eat and the amount of sleep and rest we get.  

This was brought to my attention recently when I heard that one of the church planters I coach had recently been bed-ridden for a month with depression.  I called him "super pastor" because he worked three jobs and was planting a church! I didn't realize how it was affecting his mental and physical health.   At the same time another pastor I coach confided that he was having difficulty with depression and anxiety.  As he described his lifestyle I realized he was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.  He was the text book of what not to do.  And he is not alone in his struggles.    

Church planting and pastoring is hard enough, emotionally and spiritually on the healthiest individual. When you add in our unhealthy lifestyle, you create a breeding ground for burnout, heart attacks, and all sorts of emotional and physical illness.  In the book The Way We're Working Isn't Working, the authors, consultants to major companies that help management get the best from their employees, target these two areas, the sleeping and eating habits of the managers and workers.

We hear much about healthy eating but little is mentioned about sleep depravation. Yet, no single behavior, more fundamentally influences our effectiveness in the waking life than sleep. Recent medical studies indicate that to be effective during the day, you should average between 7 - 9 hours of sleep a night.  The average for most upper level leaders, managers, and pastors is six or fewer hours of sleep a night. The Way We're Working Isn't Working cited studies that show failure to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night causes us to:
  • Be less efficient at work and more dangerous behind the wheel of a car.   
  • Be less able to respond creatively to problems and opportunities, to be less original, flexible and divergent in our thinking and thus less likely to generate new ideas. 
  • Undermine the quality of our lives and make us more vulnerable to illness. Our immune response drops significantly among people who sleep less than seven hours a night.  A study of 80,000 nurses over 25 years found that there was an increased risk of breast cancer, colon cancer and coronary heart disease for those who did not get the average seven hours a sleep a night.   
Yet most pastors wear lack of sleep as a badge of honor.  They push themselves without realizing the consequences of their work habits and driven lifestyle will only hurt their ministry, family and congregation in the long run. Here are some suggestions that might help avoid these pitfalls.  
  • Honestly examine your life, schedule and sleeping habits.  In surveys, workers said they average close to 7 hours of sleep a night and yet when their life was examined they discovered that they were actually getting less than six hours of sleep.
  • Make it a priority to go to bed at a reasonable time. Your body needs at least 7 hours to recuperate from the previous day.  
  • Take short power naps in the afternoon.  They are very good for your health and for your production in the afternoon and evening.  
  • Take vacations and spiritual retreats.  These are critical for the physical, emotional and spiritual health for all of us, especially pastors who often fail to take time away from church. 
  • Avoid setting an unreasonable work schedule for yourself and your staff that lays the foundation for unhealthy expectations from your congregation. 
  • Recruit an elder or spiritual coach to hold you accountable for your rest and healthy schedule.
  • Get time management help from a coach or mentor.Several pastors I have coached said that they just have a difficult time getting everything done.  Yet when we examined their schedule, we discovered plenty of activities that were unnecessary.  Get rid of the stumbling blocks that keep you from getting the sleep you need! Eliminate distractions and manage your time better.  Choose to do things only you can do.  Delegate the rest.   

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Change One Word, Change Your Life

If you have done much counseling or coaching you've probably discovered that a good percentage of the problems revolve around communication or the lack of, and conflict resolution. Many find that in communicating we have a tendency to create conflict and then have difficulty resolving it once it starts.  Often this is because of how we approach conversations with others.   

Recently, my wife confided in me that one of the things that she wished I change was how I responded to her ideas.  She explained that I almost always responded negatively immediately to any suggestion she made.  She suggested that it would be much better if I responded in a positive, encouraging way even if I didn't think it was a good idea.  She would start a conversation with an idea and I would immediately throw it into a contentious discourse if she were to continue it.  She could verbally spar by arguing her case or end the conversation there.  So most times she discontinued the conversation.

As I thought about her request, I realized that getting it "right" was the most important thing for me.   So it was natural for me to respond by telling her what I thought about her idea.  I was not in the least thinking about how she felt.  My problem was my focus on the task over the relationship.  I imagine men in general, especially pastors struggle with this in their marriage and with their congregation and staff.  Do I hear any amens?  We are quick to make judgements, and have confidence that we can discern what is right or wrong.  Confrontation is often invigorating.  We've been taught to debate and feel the rush of a good exchange of ideas or opinions.  This personality helped mature our faith and understanding of the Gospel and the prophet in us is surely a strength in preaching and arguing in a theology class.  However, when it comes to relationships, the constant conflict can be a detriment.  Over time, it can damage a marriage, destroy relationships and hinder a pastor's ability to lead effectively.  One easy way to start to change is eliminating the use of "but".

I've found that the person with the confrontational or task oriented personality has the tendency to start a sentence with "but" or a negative and then proceed to share an opposing opinion or idea. Even coaching them is problematic because any suggestion or comment I offer is met with a "but" or "yes, but"...

One way to overcome the "but" mindset and help reduce conflict is to exchange the word "but" for "and" in your conversations.  It is a simple solution that can work wonders.  To show you the difference between "and" vs "but" dialogues, try this exercise.  Have a conversation with another person about a topic. Each person takes an opposing view, trying to convince the other that his or her view is correct. Each person takes turns making a statement for his or her case and starts the sentence with "but".  For example, "I like to vacation in the mountains".  The next person's statement would start with "but".  "But, I like to vacation at the beach."  "But, the mountains are so refreshingly cool."  "But, the beach is so relaxing and warm"

After five or six exchanges, try the same conversation only starting each statement with "and" instead of "but".  "And, I like to vacation at the beach."  "And, I enjoy the cool weather".  "And I like the hot sun".  Notice how the whole tone of the conversation changes from a competitive nature to one that is more informational and much less confrontational.  Instead of conflict, you look to find what you have in common, the positive.  Even when you are exchanging a differing opinion the conversation can be positive.

I recently coached a pastor who had a confrontational personality.  He admitted that he was a "contrarian" by nature and struggled with giving encouragement. He certainly had a "but" mindset.  The staff would tell me that their pastor seldom agreed with any statement, almost always challenging any suggestion, ministry idea or opinion.  If you mentioned that you liked a certain book, he would usually share something that he didn't like about it.  Planning sessions were long and often left the staff feeling confused, deflated and defeated.  Members of the staff complained that they had a hard time brainstorming ideas with him because almost all ideas were criticized from the start.  When they finally agreed, "it was like we had been through a battle".  After talking with the pastor, I realized that his objective was to help the person or team get it "right", and he always considered his opinion or idea the "right" one.  Therefore he always evaluated each statement and looked for the flaws or the negative.  He had no thought of the impact of the process on individuals or the staff as a whole. Building them up was not his goal, it was to get it right.

It is ironic that his laser focus on getting it right actually hurt the team's ability to get it right.  Without the encouragement, team members were less likely to give ideas and input, afraid of having their ideas shot down.  If the pastor would simply acknowledge each person's idea with a positive, "yeah, that is a good or interesting idea, then use the word "and" instead of "but", it would change the whole dynamic of the conversation. It is possible to be both encouraging and informational (1 Peter 3:15).  We are called to the ministry of reconciliation and it is hard to reconcile with someone when we are in conflict.  (2 Cor. 5:18)
  • If you are of a "but" mindset, begin with being honest with yourself and realize that you have that personality and commit to being more intentional about encouraging others. 
  • Find the person that can help you change the way you communicate, hold you accountable and remind you when you use the word "but" or start off in the negative.
  • As you become aware of how often you use the word, begin to exchange "but" with "and".  The object is to help you begin to add the relational grace to your conversations.  Remember, it's not always about being "right" but about being the most effective for Christ. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

What Do A Funeral and Olympic Ceremony Have In Common?

Not much.  Actually, both were celebrations, one of a life and the other, an event.  But I cannot remember ever sitting through two more contrasting versions of life as I experienced this past Sunday within hours of each other.

The first celebration was the funeral of my good friend and colleague, Steve Stoner.  He was taken to heaven after a long bout with cancer and his funeral was definitely an experience that touched me beyond words.  Steve had time before he passed away to write his own funeral and the message was very clear.  It was all about Jesus.  There was a beautiful flower arrangement at the center of the pulpit saying TO KNOW HIM, TO MAKE HIM KNOWN.  The whole service was about that from the songs to the testimonies of friends, to Steve's own story which he had written and requested that it be read by his son, Tim.   There were 400 + who came to give honor and celebrate the life of a man who had impacted their own lives.  

Steve lived from his purpose: to know God, and to mlake Him known. He lived so that others would know the power of Christ not only to save lives but to also make a life infinitely more fullfilling and joyful because he had experienced such a transformation in his own life.  Almost every person I talked with afterward expressed what an impact Steve had made on their life.  The funeral was truly a celebration of a life lived well, that influenced literally hundreds of people. I went home with a lot of emotions, certainly a sadness for a friend that I'll miss dearly, but also a feeling of awe of the influence that Jesus Christ can have through the life of one individual.  

As I got home that night I turned the television on to watch the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, which I had taped.  I was stunned as I watched a spectacle that was literally beyond words. The production was bizarre to say the least. I felt as if I was watching some scene from a movie about life on another planet. Some of it I couldn't watch and just fast forwarded past it. At one time when the whole stadium was turned to a crimson red, the floor of the stadium was filled with fire, and actors were dressed in various shades of red, I told my wife that this looked like what I envisioned hell to be.  When it was done, I had a totally different feeling than what I had experienced just a few hours earlier. I was confused and saddened because this stunning display of lights, colors and sounds didn't make much sense. If there was a theme it seemed to be about self and a secular world of odd sorts.  I couldn't remember seeing or hearing one thing about spirituality, faith or Christianity in either the opening ceremonies or the closing.  And the opening ceremony centered around British history and life.  Surely Christian faith played as strong a role in forming their society as anything else, but not a mention.

Was the closing indicative of a society without God?  Was this one man's (the producer) worldview, or is it a closer representation of the real world than I ever thought possible? Has culture changed and passed me by this fast?  

As I thought about the contrast between the ceremony and the funeral, I thought about Deuteronomy 30:19  This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.

I imagined God laying the two before me.  You can choose either a life lived in pursuit of pleasure and all the world has to offer or a life lived like Steve Stoner, a man who lived for God and others.  It's not much of a choice for me.  I pray that I would always choose life!  

Did you see the Olympics?  What were your thoughts about it?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Finishing Well

I've had a couple of days to reflect on the life of my great friend Steve Stoner who battled throat cancer for three years until last Wednesday when God called him home.  I am not surprised but I must admit that I didn't fully realize the impact that his ministry had on so many people. Those on Facebook get to see, even though just the tip of the iceberg, his ministry and personal impact with so many commenting about how important he was to their spiritual growth. It is ironic that neither Steve or Peggy do Facebook. 

I could go on and on about Steve's ministry but at the moment, what has moved me the most about Steve in these last few months was how well he finished the race.  Watching the Olympics, you get a good appreciation of how important it is to finish strong, often the difference between gold and silver or medaling or not.  And the Apostle Paul used that metaphor of running the race to encourage us to preserver to the end as in 2 Timothy 4:7, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  And Acts 20:24. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.  

Steve, in the midst of the most difficult trial that one will ever face, finished extremely well.  Even in his last few hours, Steve continued to think more about others than himself.  As people poured in to visit him in his last days, even as he was in and out of consciousness, Steve often would recognize the visitor and ask them about their life, job or ministry. 

He was always positive, never complained and remained the rock of man we always knew.  One tender moment I'll remember near the end, as Peggy nursed him, he slowly lifted his arm around her neck and pulled her close up to his cheek and whispered, "I love you".  I can honestly say that Steve embodied the characteristics of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, as well as anybody I've ever known, all the way to the finish line!  And I know as he crossed the finish line of this life and entered into that glorious next adventure he was greeted with a "well done, good and faithful servant"!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fishing In An Aquarium

Reading Romans 15 today, Paul's words jumped out at me.  In verse 20 he stated "My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else". 
Reading this, I was reminded of a conversation recently with church planter, Al Parker about building a church by reaching those who are unchurched and don't know Christ instead of trying to attract those who are already churched to come our church.  

Al laughed recalling what a mentor pastor of his called "fishing in an aquarium". He claimed this was what most pastors do to build their church.  They fish for fish that have already been caught!  What a great analogy.  As I thought more about the metaphor and how it related to the way most churches seek to grow, I took the analogy a little further to explain why we find ourselves fishing in aquariums instead of oceans, rivers and lakes.    
  • Fishing in an aquarium is a lot quicker and easier than out in the ocean or river.     
  • You don't have to know a whole lot about the different kinds of fish you may encounter or the specific bait you'll need to use.  Just drop in a line or better yet you can just get a little net and reach in and pull them out.  Aquarium fish are usually pretty docile.
  • You can stay in your own controlled environment. No need to travel outside of your local area or comfort zone.  
  • It's also much safer.  You definitely know what you are fishing for in an aquarium. Out there in the ocean you might catch something that bites or can attack you. Think of all the things that can happen when you are out in a boat on the high seas or in a river!    
  • You can easily lose the fish and be really disappointed when it breaks your line or eats your bait.  
On the other hand think about this.  You really have to spend a lot of time maintaining those aquarium fish.  They need to be feed and pampered, their fish bowl cleaned often.  So we spend more of our time maintaining instead of discipling.  

I better stop there. I don't think that Jesus had fishing in an aquarium in mind when he called his followers to be fishers of men. Thank God that Paul followed the Holy Spirit's direction and went to those who never had heard about Jesus.  Is it the church's job to fish in the open waterways or just transfer fish from one aquarium to another?  How do we help our members become fishers of those who do not know Christ?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Creating Margin in your Life

My wife called to tell me she had been in a wreck earlier in the day.  She first told me she was all right but said the car's front end wasn't so lucky.  It happened while she was driving out of our neighborhood going to work at 6:30 in the morning!  As she followed a flatbed truck, the truck driver suddenly slammed on his brakes to avoid a deer that had jumped out in front of him and my wife just couldn't stop in time and the car crashed into the back of the trailer.  The truck driver apologized profusely but it was't his fault.  It was my wife's fault because she was following too closely to the truck, not giving herself enough margin for a sudden stop or unexpected event.

I think most of us are guilty of following too close at times, and perhaps you are fortunate enough not to have an unexpected event that caused you to crash.  Yet I venture to say that even if we are careful drivers, we have margin issues in other areas of our lives.  It's the American way.  Our culture encourages us to live in all areas of life as if we have no limits. So we fill up our schedules and empty our bank accounts. We do as much as we can, spend as much as we can, and acquire as much as we can—all in an effort to get as much as we can out of life. It's as if the apple is handed over to us without a rulebook telling us which fruit we can and cannot eat.  Just eat anything and everything you want.  But the consequences like in the garden are often devastating.  

Two areas of our lives which face increasing demands by our culture to push the limits of what is healthy are the areas of finance and relationships.  Most Americans have little to no margin when it comes to money.  We live from paycheck to paycheck and a good percentage of Americans are in deep financial debt. The average credit card debt per cardholder is $5,100, and expected to increase to $6,500 by the end of the year.  1 in 10 consumers has more than 10 credit cards.  1 in 50 households carry more than $20,000 in credit card debt. That amounts to more than 2 million households.

And the same can be said about our relationships also.  With the internet opening up the world of porn to children and adults alike, with little to no restraints or boundaries, there is a real sexual health crisis for adults and teenagers.  One professional counselor told me that he is seeing more and more young males who have E.D. caused by over stimulation from porn and sexual activity.   This is only the tip of the iceberg of the emotional and physical problems caused by a failure to put any kind of governor on sexual activities.  

The alternative is to create boundaries and healthy margins in all areas of life so that we can live productive lives and be prepared to handle the curves that life can throw us.  It is a simple concept straight from the Bible, as simple as keeping a safe distance from the car in front of you.  Yet, so many of us violate these basic principles and find ourselves in a heap of trouble whether it be with our finances, time management, health or relationships.

A great resource on creating margins is Andy Stanley's series for small groups called Taking it To The Limit.  In this study Stanley shows us how to create margin so that we can live healthy lives and be more prepared to handle the curves that life can throw us.  He explains that the secret to getting more out of life is not doing more, but doing less. 

Questions to consider:
Do you have an emergency fund of at least a year's salary?
Do you get at least seven hours of sleep each night?
Do you find yourself always late to appointments?  Do you create enough margin so that you'll be on time even if there are unexpected delays?

Do you have an emergency fund of at least a year's salary?
Do you get at least seven hours of sleep each night?
Do you find yourself always late to appointments?  Do you create enough margin so that you'll be on time even if there are unexpected delays?

Monday, June 18, 2012

MVP apps

I love it when I am introduced to a new app that is functional, especially ones that I can use often. So, I thought I'd share my most valuable apps. I'm probably way behind therefore I'd love to know what your most valuable apps are and be introduced to some new ones that could add value to my life.

My word processing app for writing, taking notes and organizing. I can sync it to my iPhone, iPad and laptop.  It has so many features, which I'm just now learning how best to use.  Its uses are so extensive, and there is an e-book available about the many applications for Evernote.

You Version Bible
There are many Bible apps but the one I find most useful is the You Version. It has multi translations available on and off line, with the choice of parallel versions on your screen.  There are also options for taking notes, audio and commentaries. For more Bible study, I use the app. 

The best music app I recently discovered when I bought a home speaker and iPhone charger combo.  I never used it much away from home.  So now while I charge my phone, I use Pandora to access and play the music of my choice. Whatever mood I want to create, I just type in the artist, song or style of music and I enjoy the songs I choose or ones similar as long as I need.  It's great for creating the atmosphere for writing or praying. 

A great app for reading magazines, newspapers, blogs and Facebook. Better on my iPad than iPhone but the iPhone app makes reading web based material easier.  Other similar apps include Zite and Pulse news. 

Words With Friends
I don't play video or many other games, but I love this Scrabble alternative. I keep in touch with a lot of friends and actually communicate thru this word game. Challenge me to a game. 

Camera Plus
Someone recommended this camera app and I love to use it to take pictures. You can edit your photos quickly and powerfully after taking them.  I found that you often don't need to use a flash when taking the picture but have the option of adding the flash after the picture is taken. People often comment about my photos, how colorful and clear they are. All because of Camera+.

Web Albums
I use this for storing, organizing and accessing my photos. This syncs with my Picasa website where I store all my photos on line.  So I can sort them and view them on all my devices.

Find iPhone 
This is the least used but perhaps most valuable app.  I've had to use it three times.  Not long after I'd gotten the app, I dropped my iPhone at night when getting out of the car.  I didn't realize I had lost it until I went to dinner that night.  I had my iPad and used my find iPhone app which led me back to the parking lot.  There it was lying on the parking lot next to where I'd parked!  

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Art of Kingdom Building

Barbara and I had the great fortune recently of traveling for two weeks through Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany, visiting some very old and beautiful towns and cities.  One of the highlights was touring several royal residences from the 17th and 18th centuries.  

One of the things that struck me as we walked through these incredible palaces was how much time, effort, money and lives these rulers spent building themselves up and creating this supreme image.  It seems their ascention was only limited by their ability to create the illusion of greatness.  Most everything about these palaces from the lavish gardens to the extravagant, grandiose entry halls and waiting rooms, was to show the guest king just how important and powerful the ruler was.  Their incredible castles were the ultimate symbol of their image and as we traveled from country to country I got the feeling there was tremendous competition to keep up with the neighboring emperor.

As I returned to San Antonio, I began to ask myself if there was a bit of image building in my life also.  I certaninly don't place much importance in money and power.  But I asked myself, am I trying to build God's kingdom or my own?  Is there some inner desire to shape an image that comes from my flesh and not from an identity based on God's imprint?  Have I bought into the world's idea that I can create my own image apart from God?  It's a good practice to give yourself a good motivation check every so often.

In this world that demands that we reshape our image out of a need for affirmation, love and acceptance, pastors can easily fall into the trap of building kingdoms to their own selves and calling them monuments to God.  I knew a pastor that actually made it known that his goal was to have a larger church than the biggest church in town! He made no bones about what motivated him.  Yet there are probably hundreds of pastors who would never admit it, but are driven by similar demons of pride and the need to be significant.   
Have you examined your motivation lately?  Am I building God's kingdom or my own?  What in my ministry is of the flesh and what is of God?  Is there a way to tell the difference?  What is the biggest trap that church planters fall prey to?  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Religious Games

I came across these verses the other day and they hit me like a punch to the gut, paraphrased in The Message;

Isaiah 1:13 13-17"Quit your worship charades. I can't stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings— meetings, meetings, meetings—I can't stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You've worn me out! I'm sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I'll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I'll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you've been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don't have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless. 
Amos 5:21-24"I can't stand your religious meetings. I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That's what I want. That's all I want.

Through this modern translation of the Old testament passage, Isaiah's message could easily have been to the church today. When we take a look at where the church in general is today, many would agree that there is one issue that has thrown most of the church off track and Isaiah and Amos both proclaim it; that is a move away from an external focus to an inward focus.  

You can look back on the development of the church In North America the last century and understand how the church drifted away from an outward missions focus to more of a self serving model. Of every dollar given to a U.S. Protestant church, the average amount going to overseas missions is 2 cents.  In 1920 the church gave 10% of the total offering to missions, compared to only 2% today. 

With the settling of new territories and development of cities and new frontiers in the US, the church in 1920's was in an outreach mode. Ralph Winters used the term sodality, the evangelistic arm of the church, going outside of the church to make new converts. The inreach arm of the church he termed "modality".  Modality is like the lake with streams and tributaries running into it, sodality is the river streaming away from the lake. Early in the deveopment of our country the church was focused on sodality, evangelism, missions and reaching the lost.

But after WW II, the US had adopted a Christian culture and a good percentage of the population considered themselves Christians. The clergy was most concerned with attracting believers to attend their church.  So churches started in growth areas and marketed themselves to this hugh mass of potential members. As the church began to take on more and more of the characteristics of the culture, it became more and more competitive and turned more and more inward.  To attract the potential members, churches needed to "do church" better than their competitor down the street. This meant having dynamic preachers, a good music program with a big choir and solid soloists, lots of programs, safe and exciting children and youth ministries and of course comfortable and nice facilities. One had to keep up with the church around the corner.  Schools and seminaries focused on producing the type of pastors and ministry leaders that would produce "successful, growing" churches. Conferences on church growth and church excellence sprang up all over.

In the rush to attract 'believers', the church lost it's mission, "to go and make disciples".  They certainly wanted to disciple believers, but reaching the lost, bringing them to Christ and then discipling these new believers was not the main focus.  As a matter of fact, to do that took so much time and effort that it was not 'profitable' for the church to spend its time on the lost.  Time was better spent on reaching believers who already possessed a church background who would understand tithing and be plugged into the ministry of operating any one of the many programs that were designed to minister to believers and their families. 

There were some who realized the need to reach out, to send missionaries who became frustrated with the church's reluctance.  These men and women of the faith started para-church ministries and mission organizations to fill in the gap. Even these are frowned upon by many pastors as taking away resources from churches.  The question is, are we guilty of playing "religious games"?  If you could give a grade to the churches today on how well they made new disciples, what would it be?

The good news is that as the "Christian culture" in the U. S. shrinks along with the number of people who claim to be Christians, there is a greater realization from clergy and church leaders of the need to focus on reaching the non-believers.  It's still a battle to convince pastors to change.  But thankfully there is a movement back to the Sodality mode for churches led by Verge, Catalyst, Exponential and educational forums like Perspectives.  After all isn't that God's mandate to us, "to go and make disciples"?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dread or Excitement? What do your church newcomers feel?

Not being on a church staff anymore, I now have opportunity to visit other churches and I enjoy checking out our church plants from time to time.  But it also brings back memories of a time when visiting churches was a very unpleasant experience.  

My family moved from Texas to California when I was in middle school and for two years we visited a new church almost every week.  My parents just could not find a church in Califorinia that they liked.  So each Sunday we'd walk into a new setting and either attend the worship service or sometimes both Sunday School and worship.  As a teenager, I had to "visit" the youth Sunday School class.  I was always the outsider in the class and I never remember a time feeling welcomed.  During this time of searching for a church, I don't remember any teenager asking me to sit with them in church, so I'd end up with my parents in the worship service wishing I was part of the youth group sitting together on the other side of the church.

Those experiences gave me a great appreciation and empathy for those who are new to the church. Having been on church staff for 30 years, its easy to forget how stressful it can be to walk into a new place for the first time. Experiencing the stress of visiting a church for the first time has reminded me of the importance that first impressions can have on whether an individual or family decides to make a church their home.  I've experienced everything from a church who spotlights the visitors by making them standup and introduce themselves to churches that never even acknowledge that you were there.   

My best experience of being welcomed into a new place was the time I visited the Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream factory in Vermont on a vacation a few years ago.  I recall not being that excited about taking a tour of an ice creme factory but by the time we parked I was pumped up with anticipation.  Ben and Jerry's changed my attitude.  The minute we drove onto the parking lot, the folks at Ben and Jerry's created a sense of excitement and anticipation that something good was awaiting us, laughing, joking and directing our way. I remember thinking at the time, how great it would be if churches could create the same atmosphere. 

Most churches that handle newcomers well have a "guest services" team whose job it is to make sure the newcomer feels welcome and has an opportunity to become connected to the church.  I would call this ministry team "Guest Connections" and it would be one of the most important ministry teams in the church.  For more about making guests feel welcome and connected read this great article on Guest services

It's important for pastors and leaders of the church to get away occasionally and visit other churches to put themselves in that position of being a newcomer in a church.  It is also wise to have independent "auditors" to visit your church and give some feedback as to how well your church handles newcomers.  Evaluate how you handle newcomers, accept constructive criticism and be willing to make the necessary changes. Here are some questions to ask:

Does the atmosphere at your church create a sense of dread or excitement for visitors?
Do you have a team of trained volunteers that specialize in handling newcomers?
Do guests feel welcome and valued?
Is there a follow up procedure?
Does each guest walk away with a general knowledge of the church's vision, purpose and values?
Is there a pathway for a new person to connect to the church?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why miracles on the mission field and not at home?

I've had the privilege of leading hundreds of ordinary people on short term mission trips and I've had the opportunity to experience God in incredible ways and see Him work through these common folk to do extra-ordinary things, most of which I would consider miracles of God.  Some people would dismiss them as coincidences but as you read these stories you'll see some amazing experiences and phenomenon that are hard to explain by calling them coincidences.  They are all unique, as God moves in many different and sometimes supernatural ways using common people to accomplish uncommon results.

As I chronicle these miracles of God which I have witnessed on the mission field, I wonder why these have all occurred while on mission and not at home.  Read about the miracles at
Unfortunately, I've not experienced the same miraculous moments here in the every day life even though I spend a majority of my time in ministry.  Why is that?  Am I not obedient, not following God as close while at home?  Is it about location?  Is God not as involved in our every day life here as He is overseas?  Why do I experience Him in such incredible ways and with so much power on the mission field?

There maybe various reasons but I've come to the conclusion that the main reason is, it takes a total dependence upon God to really experience His power.  Here at home in my daily routine, I am going about MY business, taking care of MY needs and responsibilities.  There is not a lot of dependence upon God because I have spent years building a foundation of security and safety so that I control the circumstances of life as much as possible.  Therefore, there is little need to rely upon God until I lose a semblance of control because of health or circumstances.  

On the mission field we are more likely to have that dependence because we have left our secure life behind and stepped into an unknown world and different culture.  And when we arrive, our purpose is Gospel centered, pretty much 24/7.  There is fear, uncertainty, insecurity and a real sense of a lack of control of the life around you. Therefore, when God intervenes and works through you to accomplish His purposes, whether miraculous or not, there is a very profound experience of the power of God and intimacy with Christ.  

Well, why don't we experience this while doing ministry at home?  A fellow pastor gave a me  simple answer, "because we don't operate in freedom".  He explained to me that so much of our ministry here at home is self-centered, operated out of our flesh instead of from a pure motive, that we can't experience Christ in it.  The barrier is that I am motivated to accomplish my goals through ministry to satisfy my needs for security, accomplishment, or validation.
Jesus said it simply, "whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow me.  Only when I have a sincere dependence upon him do I experience the wonders of God.  Miracles can happen when we get out of our self supporting, routine and rely totally upon God.  I admire so much those serving full time on the mission field and the everyday experience of depending solely on God.  I realize that just being in a foreign place does not equal dependance upon God.  But it's my experience that there is a greater opportunity for a dependence upon God when out of your comfort zone, serving Him whether here or overseas.    

I also realize that the miracles of God that we often take for granted are the lives that are radically changed by God's grace.  We often get to see first hand, lives being changed before our very eyes and yet many times we don't get to see the fruit of our work.  Some of these stories reflect those personal changes but there are so many more that are untold, stories that are still being written in the lives of those we have encountered.

I also want to say that short term missions is the most powerful and quickest way to bring about spiritual growth in Christians.  You can accomplish in a week or two what may take years to learn from a Bible study.  So, not only have I seen life change from those we minister to, I've also seen incredible life change and spiritual growth from those who have gone on these mission trips, growth that leads to full-time missionaries and ministers. So many Christians miss out on the opportunity to impact others and be impacted by God, because many churches do not place a high value on actually sending their members.  They may give to missions but fail to actually send.  If you want to light a fire under your members for Christ, send them on a short term mission trip.  Perhaps, after you have read the experiences, you too will want to go, serve, and share.

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