31Aug

What’s Your “Why”?

PhotoGrid_1418781544882~2 (Large) (3)You’ve probably had the experience of seeing or hearing something so profound that you had to tell other people about it. That’s what happened to me a few months ago. I was at a leadership conference and heard a message by my friend Reese Neyland. He is the pastor of the Glendale Ministry of the Lifeway Church, in Glendale California and has served in the leadership group of the Los Angeles International Church of Christ for over two decades. Reese has had a positive impact on many people through the years.

The title of his message was What’s Your “Why”? It had to do with where we Christians find our motivation and included, among other things, great, clarifying questions. In our spiritual lives, as in other areas, secondary and peripheral things can displace the main thing and the main thing can become obscured. What’s scary is that we’re often unaware when we’ve lost the main thing until a traumatic life event jars us into realizing that we’ve been adrift for a long time.

Jay Minor and I were so inspired by Reese’s message that we asked him to give the same message at our local church, Turning Point Church, yesterday. All I can say is that it was one to which I will refer people for years to come. It re-centered me, invigorated me, and reminded me of the one thing that matters most now and that will matter, above all else, in the end. When you have an opportunity, chick here to watch or listen to the message. It’ll be time well spent. Thanks Reese!

 

29Jul

Perfect Timing

Picture1 (2)Picture2 (2)You’ve probably noticed recent reports which state that Christianity is in decline in the U.S. Various articles note that the percentage of “Nones” (those claiming no religious affiliation) in the U.S. is increasing, Protestant denominations are shrinking, the percentage of millennials who are churchgoers is far lower than that of their Baby Boomer and Generation X predecessors, and our society is becoming more secular by the day. To be sure, these trends are troubling and real. However, history teaches us that in times of crisis and cultural upheaval, great opportunities also emerge.

What often goes unreported is that there are 72 churches in America that average over 10,000 people in attendance every weekend and 1600 churches with over 2,000. It’s true that thousands of churches close their doors every year but thousands of new ones are planted annually and thousands are thriving. Moreover, Thom Rainer points out that many non-Christians really are interested in engaging with and learning from Christ-followers.

The fact is, people are still broken, hurting, and in every sense of the word, lost. They still long to know who they really are, why they’re here, and whether anyone cares. The question is not whether the opportunity to change the culture for the better by changing individual hearts with the message of Jesus is disappearing. The question is whether or not our churches will become increasingly self-absorbed or choose to be mission-obsessed. It comes down to whether our hearts grow cold and numb to the unchurched or if we’re “willing to do anything short of sin” (as Craig Groeschel says) to love and reach people far from God.

Jennifer Martinez is one of the most spiritually sensitive people I know. She is pictured above along with the tattoo she recently got on her left arm. Her decision to get it was inspired by Jesus’ teaching in Luke 15. In it, he said the following: I can guarantee that there will be more happiness in heaven over one person who turns to God and changes the way he thinks and acts than over ninety-nine people who already have turned to God and have his approval.” If leaving the ninety-nine in pursuit of the one becomes our heartbeat, no trend will keep Jesus’ church from making an eternal impact in this generation. What was true in Jesus’ day is still true today. 1>99.

By the way, ours isn’t the first “unbelieving and perverse” generation in history. God’s purposes have prevailed in much worse. He has us right where he wants us and his timing is perfect.

1Jul

The Worst and Best of Us

charleston-victims (3)You never know when one random occurrence will forever change your world and the collective world around you. These events are rare. When they happen, they leave a mark on you and you’re different, whether you’re consciously aware of it or not.

The barbaric terrorist attack/massacre/hate crime that was perpetrated in Charleston on June 17, 2015 was one such event. The taking of these nine innocent lives, as they were gathered to worship in Jesus’ name, was a sickening nadir in our society.

The modern-day martyrdom suffered by those nine and the extraordinary Christ-likeness demonstrated in the forgiveness expressed by their families have changed all that are “changeable,” for the better.

Rarely, if ever, have we seen the very worst of us responded to by the very best in us in such an immediate way.

Something this stunning series of events shows us is that while we all fall short and are similarly sinful before God, we are not equally culpable when it comes to the evils of our society. Often moral equivalency is thrown out as a term basically saying that we’re all messed up and are equally to blame for where our society is. But that’s not true. Some do evil and some are civil. Some promote hate and some express goodwill. The movement to begin to remove  the flag and monuments of those who fought for the cause of the Confederacy from our national landscape is one example of the latter.

As we’ve witnessed in the past two weeks, there is a right side of history and a wrong side. The condition of one person’s heart does matter, for better or for worse. Finally, the message of Jesus is still the hope of the world because He alone has the power to transform the heart.

28May

A Friend in Need

Derrick HintonWWCOur Easter gathering this past April was huge for us. We had over 1,260 people in attendance and saw so many begin to find their place in God’s story! One of the things I remember most though, is how a couple of people saved the day, at the eleventh hour, the day before.

Around 6:00pm that Saturday, I was notified by one of our members that due to bad weather in the Midwest, our communion supplies would not be shipped in time for Easter. Why we didn’t have more in storage and weren’t better prepared is another subject for another day; sigh… Anyway, our members look forward to taking communion together each Sunday; especially that one. Dejected, I began to work on getting the disappointing word out.

That’s when Derrick Hinton went into action. Unbeknownst to me, he started searching online for nearby churches to see if any were open and had communion supplies we could use. He ended up calling Worship Walk Church and someone actually picked up the phone! Derrick went over there and they generously gave him more than enough communion supplies. All I could think of is that never in a million years would I have thought to do what Derrick did. The willingness to be suddenly inconvenienced after a long hard day, the presence of mind, and solution orientation were amazing to me. Besides all that, what are the odds that someone would be at their church late on a Saturday night? It’s still hard to believe.

So Derrick and Worship Walk Church saved the day! Thank you both again! In the future, I hope to respond to unexpected bad news the way Derrick did and hope that Turning Point will be as generous a sister church to others as Worship Walk was to us. Lesson learned (hopefully)…

28Apr

You’re Doing It Wrong

One of my all-time favorite scenes is from the 1983 movie Mr. Mom. Jack (Michael Keaton) is driving to school and goes the wrong way in the carpool drop-off lane. As his kids are telling him he’s messing up, the crossing guard introduces herself and says “Hi Jack, I’m Annette. You’re doing it wrong.” She proceeds to explain the correct process and the scene ends with a miffed driver yelling “south to drop off moron!”

Often, we Christians and those from our particular “tribes” do the same thing to other Christ-followers with whom we disagree theologically or doctrinally. It’s embarrassing. Whomever you think Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 was meant to include, surely it wasn’t just those who wear the same denominational or ideological jersey we do. The correct direction to drive in a carpool lane is pretty clear. So are some tenants of Christianity. But many are not. Those who are certain their interpretation of scripture is right and think that those who don’t agree are wrong, not as smart, or not as spiritual and they are legion. I think Jesus said something about that kind of attitude in Luke 18:9-14. Paul rejoiced that “Christ was preached,” regardless of the motivation or precision of the proclaimer. Perhaps we should too.

Ann Voskamp recently blogged about of one such situation in which a fellow Christ-follower, Tim Challies, wrote an extremely negative critique of her book, One Thousand Gifts. He wrote that “some of her ideas could well prove wrong to some readers.” Essentially, he was saying to her, you’re doing this whole Christianity/discipleship thing wrong. Worse than the critique was the demeaning tone in which it was written. To her credit, Ann didn’t respond in kind. Instead, she invited Tim and his family to dinner with hers. My mouth is still open from when I first heard of what she did. A disciple acting in a loving manner towards someone with whom they disagree doctrinally and that had treated them cruelly; what a concept.

She wrote the following about the encounter: “The Body of Christ has a thousand angry opinions, a thousand fractions and divisions and circles, all these cliques of circles, all these walls. But none of us are not broken. And acknowledging our own brokenness is what makes high walls between people crumble. Because when you are broken – it’s always your pointing finger that is broken. You can’t point at anyone else anymore as the only sinner. Brokenness breaks us from our need to be ‘right’ and breaks us open to our need to extend the grace we have been given.” As she considered reaching out to Tim she thought to herself, “While we yet theologically disagree, couldn’t I just reach out to you and be nice to you? Why do we demonize people instead of evangelize them?”

To Tim’s credit, Ann’s “Christ-fullness” got through to him and wrote this in apology and in response to her invitation: “I did poorly here and I can see that I need to grow in my ability to critique the ideas in a book even while being kind and loving to its author. There was reason for the shame I felt when I saw that name in my inbox. I had put effort into reading the book and understanding and critiquing it, but no real effort into showing love and respect for the author. I had assumed poor motives and in arrogance and thoughtlessness had squelched useful discussion of the book’s strengths and weaknesses.

There is value in engaging the ideas in any book, and especially a book about this Christian life, but the desire to uphold truth has no business coming into conflict with love for another person. Truth and love are to be held together as friends, not separated as if they are enemies. In my desire to say what was true, I failed to love. I ask Ann’s forgiveness for this.”

You’ve got to read Ann’s blog, her book, and Tim’s blog, about their encounter. If there were more of us who had Ann’s spirit, and less who saw ourselves as the “discipleship police,” more people would see Jesus in us and be drawn to Him. We can do better; surely we can.

23Mar

A.D.

 

A couple of weeks ago, many others and I were invited to attend a pastors’ appreciation day hosted by Rick Warren and the team at Saddleback Church. It was nice to be reminded that there are people out there who appreciate what you’re doing for God and are eager to invest in you as a pastor and as a church, without wanting anything in return.

One of the highlights of the day was hearing executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey passionately share about their upcoming television series A.D. The Bible Continues. It airs on Easter Sunday on NBC. They were so enthusiastic about the opportunity this affords the Church as it is comprised of 12 episodes which depict the last chapters of the Gospels and first 10 chapters of the book of Acts. As an added bonus, we got to see the first episode.  I thought the look, feel, writing, acting, dialogue, and were outstanding.

Hearing how Mark and Roma really wanted to get it right, in terms of biblical accuracy, and to bring the scriptures to life in a way that will connect on a heart level with viewers was really moving. He was so excited about the scriptures portrayed in each of the episodes and the episode guide, complete with the scriptures references, they created. She was particularly taken by the fact that the Holy Spirit is mentioned over 50 times in the book of Acts and that He is the real star of the book and the series.

This is a multimillion dollar effort that is bringing the story of the birth, growth, and eventual world changing impact of the Church to network television for the first time! Who knows what God could do with and through this opportunity? Millions of people being exposed the story of the hope of the world can only be good. Thank you Mark, Roma, and all involved!

 

24Feb

The Inside Scoop on Your Loop

About two years ago, David Bruce read a book that opened his eyes as to why we as people think and act as we do. Others on our communications team and I were recently introduced to the same book through an Andy Stanley podcast and his interview with the author, Charles Duhigg. The name of the book is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. It is a must read.

We’re doing an entire Sunday message series based on it and are understanding our behavior more clearly, understanding how God designed our brains to work, and building better spiritual habits. As we study the customs of Jesus, Paul, other biblical examples, and our contemporaries through this lens, we’re already seeing how we can imitate them in our pursuit of being our best for God. As David said in the first installment of the series, we’re getting the “inside scoop on our (habit) loop.”

30Jan

Inner Work

You know how you experience times when you think life is teaching you one lesson but when you look back at that season in your life you realize it was teaching you another? That’s how 2014 was for our church.  Many of our members experienced breakthroughs in areas where they had been stuck for years. Whether it was in becoming more effective in helping people find God and become disciples, godly financial management, better eating habits and weight loss, or healthier thinking and processing, many gained real traction.

What the Holy Spirit was teaching us in those instances is clearer now. Namely, it was that trusting God more fully and obeying him more completely is the real path to freedom. We started to connect the dots and see that the people who actually made spiritual progress were actively trusting and obeying God and the ones that stayed stuck were not, generally speaking.

Though inspiring that discovery presents a dilemma. Let’s face it; the word obey is odious to us because we think of it as limiting and cowardly, not heroic. In fact, trust and obedience get a bad rap and are extremely underrated.

Everything in our national DNA, history, and the media glorifies rebellion and belittles trusting obedience. Certainly, those who have made the world a better place through civil disobedience of corrupt authority are to be held in the highest regard. Our problem arises when we carry over that pre-programmed habit of disobedience into our relationship with the only completely incorruptible, honorable, and benevolent authority in the universe, our Heavenly Father.

While on earth as a man, Jesus’ had the most intimate, trusting, loving relationship with God the Father. He expressed that closeness by glorying in precisely obeying God, delighting in following him, and obeying his commands exactly, to a tee. He also happened to be the most revolutionary, constructively civilly disobedient, culture-changing, world-changing person in the history of mankind.

So we have decided to devote 2015 to imitating Jesus in this way. Our really creative and original theme for this year is “Trust and Obey.” It meant success or failure for God’s people when they we’re called to possess their destiny upon entering the Promised Land and has for every spiritual endeavor his people have embarked upon since. So here we go. To quote Bilbo Baggins, I think we’re “quite ready for another adventure.”

29Dec

In Loving Memory of Dr. Laura Knight Holland

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” Psalm 116:15 (NIV)

Laura Knight Holland, who was affectionately known as Frances to many in her family, was born on February 23, 1936, in Pensacola Florida.

She was married to Attorney William E. Holland and gave birth to two adoring sons, Kevin Eugene Holland and the late Shawn Knight Holland.

Though Laura was an entrepreneur and businesswoman, her passion and life’s work were in the field of education. She was the first in her family to graduate from college, earning a Bachelor of Education degree from Chicago State University in 1962, a Master of Science degree from the University in Chicago in 1973, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Education degree, in the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in 1994.

Laura loved imparting knowledge to others and empowering them to excel. These gifts served her well as she was a teacher, counselor, consultant, and administrator for the Chicago Board of Education, for over 30 years. She also served as an education consultant for DePaul University.

Laura was a beloved disciple of Jesus and was baptized into Christ on December 27, 2008. She was a member of the Chicago church of Christ.

Laura’s heroic and sacrificial love for her family and others lives in our hearts. She has our love as well, forever.  Laura is survived by an adoring family including her son Kevin, his wife Tracena, her daughter-in-law Sheena, three beautiful granddaughters, Tory, Taylor, and Kennidy Holland, numerous brothers and sisters in Christ and dear friends.

Laura entered Paradise on Saturday, December 13, 2014.

I will always love and honor you Mom. Thank you forever. Rest in peace and joy eternal.

14Nov

Improving Our Doing

One of my wife Trae’s favorite passages from the bible is “walk with the wise and become wise.” The rest of the passage says “…associate with fools and get in the trouble.” No commentary needed on that one.

2014 has been a year of us inviting wise spiritual leaders/authors/thinkers to speak into our lives and help us in the area of being better “doers of the Word.” One of the traps that is easy for Christ-followers to fall into is “being hearers only.” Jesus did say that “everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” His brother put it this way: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” It does seem that doing makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

Dave Ramsey and his team at Financial Peace University, introduced to us by Dave Etterbeek, have been helping us do things differently in order to honor God with how we manage our finances. Gwen Shamblin through her Weigh Down program, brought to us by Traci Minor, has helped us learned how to be more obedient and God-honoring in our attitude towards food and our eating habits. Through the influence of David Bruce, Tommy Newberry and his book, 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life, have been helping us change our thinking (repent) and help thought lives to become healthier and more godly (check out his encouraging video below).

As we’re attempting to “walk with the wise” in these areas, we are becoming “better doers.” This is the litmus test for authentic Christianity. We certainly aren’t made right with God by what we do but the evidence of having been made right with God, through faith in Christ, is seen in us “improving our doing.” As my friend Marty Fuqua often says, “progress is always appreciated.” Here’s to progress, one baby step at a time.

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