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Category: Mission
Dignifying Leadership

Compassionate leadership that brings dignity to humanity…what does that look like? Can a simple investment of time really make all the difference? Discover several leadership principles from Luke 18:35-43, a story in which leaders failed to truly lead in contrast to Jesus who welcomed an interruption.

Bread of Life

Bread features prominently throughout the Bible. In fact, Jesus is referred to as the Bread of Life. In this short video you will hear a New Year’s challenge to lead like Jesus in the context of His statement, “I am the bread of Life” (John 6:48).

Interview with Columbian Missionary

Brittany interviews a Columbian Missionary who came to town to speak in the local university chapel. Jeannine has a fascinating story and is a tremendous soul-winner both in her prison ministry and in her travels.

2013 Summer Travel Plans

My 16-year old daughter joins me on a short announcement video describing her summer plans across the seas on a Continent she has yet to set foot on!

Belong, Believe, Behave

Does the “Emerging Church” have a point in allowing “developing” disciples, like Jesus did, to belong first, before requiring all the correct beliefs and behaviors? When I study Jesus’ discipleship method I see a reversal of our common approach of “behave, believe, belong” to “belong, believe, and behave.” In the context of belonging, our beliefs and behaviors begin to change as we become more like Christ.

What’s Your Theology of Power?

Should Christians exert power to put prayer back in our schools? If so, how? Do you have positive or negative emotions when you hear the words “leadership” and “power” used together? If we are created in God’s image, are we also endued with His power? What was Jesus’ theology of power? My current class at ATS on Leadership Identity has me looking at a Biblical theology of power and searching for answers. Click on the video below to hear more.

Leading Like Jesus at Walmart

Leading like Jesus is all about loving and serving like Jesus. Jesus accomplished His Father’s will at 3 mph in a Judean wilderness; He walked, healed, and ministered intentionally while welcoming divine interruptions. Is it possible to influence others in the Spirit of Jesus in a simple way at Walmart this week? Click on the video below to find out.

Moses: Defined by Justice

Drawn out of the water, Moses attempts to bring justice to his relatives, then hightails it into the desert where he rescues some young shepherd girls, and finally brings deliverance to his people with mixed results. My experience with justice has been mixed as well; the same day I heard this message about Moses I was confronted with an opportunity to offer compassion. Click on the video below for more.

Uganda 2012 Trip Reports

In August, 2012, Jamin and I traveled to Uganda to join a team that conducted a number of Lead Like Jesus encounters, VBS events, and soccer camps. In this post I share a number of our experiences and observations.

CLICK HERE FOR THE INITIAL INFO-SHEET WE RELEASED WITH DETAILS ABOUT OUR UGANDA TRIP

WE’RE OFF AND RUNNING
AUGUST 16, 2012

The trip to Uganda was hard; at least for me. Some transcontinental flights just are; about twelve hours in I threw up everything I had consumed on the flight. A layover in Ethiopia and subsequent flight to Uganda further wiped me out. Another hour in immigration and customs followed by a six-hour road trip before finally hitting the sack almost made me wonder why I ever go overseas!

Upon our arrival in Uganda, Jamin and I were greeted by Musa and Sandrah and whisked off to Kampala where we picked up Stone, a former soccer player and Jamin’s boss for the upcoming soccer camps. Immanuel, age 7, and James a church planter, also accompanied us on the next leg of our journey; a six hour road trip to Lira in the northern part of the country.

Our road that first day took us through the pleasant countryside and jungle of northern Uganda. We stopped once to pick up from roadside vendors some barbecued beef on a stick and kasava–a cooked root that is quite bland but rather filling. The other time we stopped was at a police checkpoint. I soon found out why James had been so successful in planting churches (a total of 19 so far). He told us how he immediately used the officer’s name; how important it is to value a person by showing an interest in them personally. I had to reflect on how Jesus called all of disciples by name; how leading like Jesus is valuing a person made in the image of God.

We arrived at our hotel around 9PM and met up with the rest of the Lead Like Jesus team who had come to Uganda a few days before us. Jamin and I both crashed, too many hours to count since our last horizontal position in North America.

It’s now day three in Uganda for Jamin and I and we’ve had a great time getting acquainted with the team and conducting our first Encounter and soccer camp. Jamin had a blast at the soccer camp–he tells me his team won the tournament and he was able to score one goal on a header today. He also told me that many of the players he was with are younger and better than some of the club soccer players he is used to; I think his soccer skills will definitely get honed on this trip. Our encounter turned more into a day of preaching; it was a fairly large group packed in under a tin roof in rows facing the front. Typically our leadership encounters are structured for discussion groups around tables but we had to work with what we had. We’ve been warmly received by the Ugandans and Jamin and I look forward to the rest of our time here.

Thanks for your prayers and support…your partnering with us on this epic adventure into the heart of Africa. I’ll try to send another update before too long…I don’t have much email access but will do what I can to keep you updated. Again, thanks for your partnership…blessings to the max!

SECOND LLJ ENCOUNTER
AUGUST 18, 2012

Our team was pleasantly surprised today to land at a beautiful resort in Mbale, Uganda for the evening! We had traveled 4-5 hours this morning (supposed to have taken 2-3 hours but the one road was really bad) to get to our next Encounter location which was supposed to be spread evenly over two days. Due to our late arrival we started the Encounter around 4:00PM and spoke for about an hour; we will conduct the greater part of it tomorrow. The amazing thing is that our audience waited from 11:00AM this morning for us to arrive! In North America I think everyone would have returned home long before we showed up!

African worship is an amazing thing to experience by the way! It’s loud, passionate, and animated. People dance, clap their hands, and really sing it out!!! You can’t help but picture what the throne room in heaven will look like some day…consider Revelation 7:9, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, Who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'”

I think that’s also why we felt such a great connection when we kicked off the event today. The translator was one of the best I’ve ever worked with and I felt the Spirit of God in the audience and in the message. It was exciting to be a channel for God as He spoke through us…we could certainly sense His presence and know He is preparing the African church to lead out in the Spirit and truth of Jesus Christ.

Jamin will be assisting with the children’s VBS tomorrow and he hopes that includes some more soccer! On Sunday I will be preaching at a Ugandan church service in Iganga. On Monday and Tuesday Jamin will be helping with two more soccer camps while I will continue training with the team from Lead Like Jesus. Wednesday we hope to travel to the Nile River and also back to Kampala where we will finish out our week with more leadership training and soccer camps. Next Sunday evening we fly home. Hopefully I can post more updates before then.

Thanks again for praying for us! Pray especially for our strength and continuing connection with God’s people in Uganda.

Blessings to the max!

Jamin scoring a goal at his first soccer camp!

BEGINNING THE SECOND/FINAL WEEK IN UGANDA
AUGUST 20, 2012

I’ve just finished my first training session for the day and Fred from our team is teaching on disciple-making. Jamin is with Stone doing a city-wide soccer camp that will last today and tomorrow. Wednesday we plan to travel to the Nile River and then back to Kampala–Uganda’s capital–where we will kick off another LLJ Encounter in the evening.

A few highlights from the last few days:
-Meeting Bishop John at the Palisa Encounter who was persecuted and imprisoned under Dictator Idi Amin.
-Meeting the husband of Margaret (lady sitting in front row of an Encounter) who told me that since I had called her my sister (during the seminar I had made reference to her with my younger sister Margaret in mind) I was now compelled to give him a chicken according to Ugandan culture. We had a great time joking about running around catching chickens that tend to run free wherever we go.
-Observing the elaborate hairdos of the Ugandan women…red braids mixed in with black braids sometimes in beautiful symmetrical alignment…feather puff balls tied on to the back of their heads that look like they’ve sprouted a bush…talk about creativity and beauty!
-Watching a guy in a dress suit walk past our hotel gate Sunday morning leading a cow…somehow it just struck our team as pretty funny…looked like the guy was supplying milk for that day’s potluck.
-Working with translator/pastor/church planter Jimmy! This guy was absolutely amazing…one of the best translators I’ve ever worked with. You can see a picture of him and his family on my Facebook site. Pray especially about resources for some dental work he needs done. He has very few teeth on the roof of his mouth and it’s beginning to affect his speaking.
-Hanging out in Pastor Daniel’s office Sunday morning before I preached at his church. I love to preach but the meeting with him probably held much greater significance for me! He told us about his vision to impact Africa. He told us how they don’t need handouts from America and Europe but empowerment. He told us how Africa lacks training and education. He told us how he wants us to come and speak to 50 men for one week and go deeply with them in training for leadership. His term? FAT leaders! F-aithful, A-vailable, and T-eachable! Pastor Daniel wants to plant a church in every village in Africa. To do that will take a long-term strategy. He then launched into what he has learned from al-Qaeda. He told us how they launched 9-11 twenty-three years before it happened by having someone move to America and having an American-born baby who would eventually train as a pilot and fly a plane into the twin towers. Uganda has one of the youngest populations in Africa/World. He told us we need to begin now…training now so that Ugandans can have a powerful impact in the future. I’ll leave you with a great quote from Pastor Daniel: “Being given a hook is better than being given a fish.”

Thanks again for your prayers!

NILE RIVER BOAT TOUR
AUGUST 22, 2012

We just finished our Nile River boat tour and are sitting down at a restaurant in town for lunch where they have wifi. Hence, another update! Our tour lasted for a little over an hour, took us out on Lake Victoria, and gave us some great opportunities to observe wildlife around the river’s source. Kingfishers, giant Monitor lizards, Egrets, Cormorants, and monkeys were easy to spot.

We’re now headed back to Kampala to finish out our events. I’ll keep this report mostly to pics…also have some posted at FB.

OUR UGANDA ADVENTURE IS WINDING DOWN
AUGUST 24, 2012

We have three days left in Uganda to wrap up several more Lead Like Jesus Encounters and one Facilitator training. Jamin has been busy with soccer camps ever since we arrived in Kampala and could attend one more on Sunday afternoon if we had time. Presently we are slated for a 6:45PM departure time out of Entebbe (our flight was delayed already once—I’m hoping it won’t cancel) for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where we will have a short layover before catching a direct flight back to the USA. The rest of the team departs a few hours after us and fly through Amsterdam. I’m hoping to get a good team picture in the next few days so I can introduce you to the amazing people Jamin and I have had the privilege of spending time with on this Ugandan adventure. By the way, that reminds me of our team slogan: “It’s an Adventure!”

Two nights ago I had my first experience preaching in the dark! The electricity blinked out several times cutting off the sound system and lights. The translator and I simply raised our voices a notch and plunged full steam ahead! Yesterday Randy and I were facilitating an event under a tin roof when a severe rain storm moved in. I don’t think I’ve ever competed quite that hard before with the rain. Although the sound system was cranked the rain pretty much had the upper hand. Again, we kept right on talking whether people understood or not (Dave—one of the guys on our team in charge of registration told us he could still hear us…a miracle considering that I could hardly hear myself!).

During the Encounter yesterday I had briefly shared about an experience I had in Northeast India when reflecting on the cost of leading like Jesus; it may very well mean laying down our lives for the sake of the Kingdom and for those we lead. I talked about entering a “Martyr’s Room” at a discipleship school in Mizoram, India where the belongings and instruments of death of a number of missionaries were on display. A torn purse of a young missionary woman who was dragged to death behind a motorcycle. A rock and a knife that were both collected from separate crime scenes. The Bibles and journals of several other martyrs and a book with over 400 names of young people who after observing these items had signed their names in commitment to lay down their lives for Christ. On our way back from the event last night our translator told me how that story had impacted him. He went on to relate some amazing facts about the Muslim agenda in Uganda. He told me how Muslim extremists from Saudi Arabia and former leader Gaddafi from Libya have poured funds into Uganda to spread Islam. He then proceeded to tell me how some of those funds were being used. Muslim men are given the equivalent of $80 a month for the nine months of a woman’s pregnancy if they impregnate a Christian girl. They’re given $200 for befriending the wife of a Pastor and destroying his marriage (NOTE: average annual income of a Ugandan in 2009/2010 was around $120).

Please pray for the church in Uganda. Pray that they will stand strong in the midst of persecution and present Christ with grace and wisdom to the Muslims. Pray that the truth will set people free. Some of the Christianity imported from the West has had unfavorable results. The Lead Like Jesus message is both needed and relevant. There are many hearts open to the message and certainly a deep sense of hunger for hearing the Word of the Lord. While the church understands passion and worship, there is still a great need for discipleship and Biblical teaching; something Ugandan leaders are quick to point out to our team.

Thanks again for your continuing prayers and support! We’ve been blessed to have wifi at our current hotel; I get pretty jazzed every time I hear from you. Pray that we finish well!

Below are two pics of common scenes in Uganda.

ENROUTE TO NORTH AMERICA
AUGUST 26, 2012

It’s been a great two weeks…we’ve had the privilege of building God’s Kingdom…we’ve observed and participated in a host of new experiences…and we’ve certainly been impacted by all that Uganda and it’s people have shared with us!

The time has come to go home, however, and Jamin and I are pretty stoked. “Home is where the heart is” goes the old saying, and we can hardly wait to see Amy and the girls! Courtney had a soccer tournament in Cincinnati this weekend so they’re all staying over for the night and picking us up tomorrow afternoon.

Pray that our jetlag factor isn’t too great…I have a few days to catch up on some office work before heading back to ATS for classes. Jamin will be diving into his homeschool work once again…something he’s unfortunately not too excited about!

A few highlights from the last few days:
…conducting a LLJ facilitator training African style. Because of the lack of resources for technology we suggested they utilize drama instead of showing the videos we typically use at our Encounters. I was blown away by one presentation featuring Peter walking on water. The Ugandans jumped straight into application while depicting this scenario with Peter falling off a bench (think “sinking into the water”) when two young women walked by. Taking our eyes off Jesus or being lured off course as leaders can have tragic results. Two of the facilitators in training presented before the entire group with excellent presentation skills and a pretty good understanding of the concepts.
…having Stone Kyambadde literally wash my feet last night as a gesture of appreciation for our service in Uganda. I was greatly honored as this well-known soccer coach got down on his knees to wash my feet and speak blessing into my life. Stone was a personal friend of the late Stephen Covey (author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”) and currently serves with their speakers bureau and often visits North America to speak to leaders from all over the world. His wife Tabitha told me yesterday how international leaders will often come up to him after he’s finished speaking and ask him if he is a Christian and then request prayer. Stone has tremendous influence and exhibits leadership qualities at multiple levels. Yesterday he was in a meeting with FIFA officials and the day before was on Ugandan TV. Please pray for his continuing influence both in the world of soccer and leadership development.
…receiving beautiful handcrafted gifts from our African hosts for my wife and daughters. Jamin received a traditional Ugandan soccer ball: a twine-wrapped bundle of banana tree fibers and cloth.
…attending a phenomenal worship service this morning at Watoto Church in which we heard an insightful presentation on the beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful.” Special emphasis was given to the implications this has on forgiveness with an illustration concerning snake bites. If you are bitten by a poisonous snake you can react three different ways: (1) Chase down the snake and bite it back while the poison courses through your veins, (2) Cry about the snake bite and do nothing about it, OR (3) Deal with the snake bite and move on as a healthy person.
…eating South African cuisine for our final meal…Jamin and I polished off a stew comprised of Wildebeest, Kuzu, and chicken over rice before heading to the airport.
…spending some quality time with our amazing team before heading to the airport. I was truly blessed to be a part of this group! Randy Strode was our team leader–flexible and ever-working hard to make our trip a success and team members comfortable (Thanks so much Randy!!!); his daughter Charissa came along to help with VBS and did so well with children. Fred Waggoner did an amazing job managing finances for our team and hails from my home area in KY…he’s also my assistant regional coordinator with Lead Like Jesus and a great friend. Debbie Piper, a master trainer with LLJ from Florida was a real joy to work with in co-facilitating several Encounters; her stories and experiences were intriguing and inspirational. Terri Roche from St. Louis, MO did an excellent job of heading up our VBS program. Her assistance in supervising Jamin when I wasn’t around (mega thanks to Debbie too!) was an added bonus. Dave Rieck, a car salesman from MN was one of the team mascots along with our bus driver James. They laid claim to the “two most handsome men in Uganda.” Some of us would debate that. Dave was a tremendous help in registering participants at the Encounters and assisting with breakout activities. His sidekick, James Kornelsen from AB, Canada helped with the VBS program and was a tremendous servant on our team helping with luggage and any small tasks needing attention. We were a fabulous team! (Not pictured is Stone’s wife Tabitha, our main connection to the leaders in Uganda. Unfortunately, she came down with malaria early on in our trip limiting her ability to travel with us. Her vision for Uganda is inspiring!)

Blessings to the max!

UGANDA: A FINAL WORD
AUGUST 30, 2012

I was up this morning shortly after 4AM…I think I’m just about over jetlag. The first few days back have been spent mostly reading and enjoying time with my family. Tuesday I start classes at seminary. Jamin hit the ground running without a trace of jetlag and hasn’t slowed down yet.

Uganda already seems like another world away, quickly fading into our stash of memorable adventures. I’ve already received a number of emails from African leaders I met during our short two-week trip that remind me of the impact it has had on all of us. Jamin and I cannot remain the same and I pray that Jesus’ servant leadership model will be thoroughly embraced by those who heard the message.

Mega thanks to everyone for your prayers and support! You all made it possible for Jamin and I to have this epic adventure in Africa and words can hardly express our deepest appreciation! God bless you to the max!

Departing Entebbe, Uganda for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We stopped off in Rome to refuel before flying back to North America.
Our three amazing children on the way back from the airport sporting their new Ugandan soccer jerseys.
Enjoying whole-wheat pancakes on our first morning back!
We arrived back from Uganda on my 41st birthday and Amy had a delicious chocolate chiffon cake waiting!

 

Borrowed

Jesus was conceived in a borrowed womb (Lk 1.31-35), was delivered in a borrowed manger (Lk 2.7), preached one of his earliest sermons on a borrowed boat (Lk 5.3), rode into Jerusalem for His most important mission on a borrowed donkey (Lk 19:33-34), held his most important meeting in a borrowed upper room (Lk 22.10-12), and was buried in a borrowed tomb (Mt 27.57-60).

Will you let Jesus “borrow” your life today to incarnationally invest in a broken world?

[Special thanks to my Singaporean friend, Pastor Daniel, for these insights during our final Leading Change class at Asbury Seminary last week]

The Story of God, the Story of Us

It’s been a busy week at seminary culminating in a 13-hour intensive class on Friday and Saturday. For this week’s post I’ve decided to submit a book review I’ve done on Sean Gladding’s book, The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2010). This was a fascinating read retelling the Biblical story with a fresh approach; here is my take on it.

As our world transitions from modernity to postmodernity, the telling of stories holds greater meaning. Sean Gladding’s The Story of God, the Story of Us, retells the Biblical narrative in such a way that readers are both engaged personally and invited to join a story bigger than their own. We’re compelled to rediscover an overarching story in the ancient text that is not only a glimpse of the past but also embraces our story in the present. It’s a story about our Creator Who loves His creation and passionately desires to connect us with His greater purposes, that if faithfully embraced, bring glory to His Name and ultimate meaning to our lives.

First, Gladding gives us a glimpse of God’s self-revelation throughout Scripture. He shows us a God that is full of goodness and grace Who delights in His creation to the point of making a binding Covenant that will cause Him great sacrifice. Mirrored in that is God’s desire for us who are made in His image; to fulfill His great mission of blessing all nations, first commissioned to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant and later modeled in Jesus Christ. Gladding writes, “God’s people exist for the sake of the world, not for our own sake” (87). Just as God receives glory through blessing all humanity so are we a blessed people called to be blessing to all nations.

Second, Gladding desires his readership to strip their reading of the biblical narrative of the assumptions and prejudices commonly brought to it. We tend to read ourselves into the center of the story and make it more about us than about God’s Kingdom. Gladding points out that God not only needed to get Israel out of Egypt but “Egypt”–an earthly kingdom paradigm–out of the Israelites. While God designed for them a tabernacle–a mobile worship center that would serve missional purposes as they moved among the nations–they preferred a stationary temple that centered on the first part of the Abrahamic covenant and prevented the latter. They wanted a king to be like other nations; God wanted them to be a nation set apart with their identity wrapped up in His covenant relationship with them.

Third, Gladding paints a comprehensive picture of God’s story rather than the short snapshots we tend to see when we only study portions of scripture. He shows us that there is a grand story threaded throughout all the stories; and parallel portraits from the Old and New Testaments that tie it altogether. God’s story begins in a garden where humanity breaks relationship with Him and ends in a garden where all is restored. The cherubim that guard the garden of Eden after the fall of humanity reappear at the mercy seat in the tabernacle and then again at the garden tomb after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus is foreshadowed in Isaac (“God will provide a lamb–‘My Son’”), Moses, Joshua, and King David. The Law of Moses received on a mountain is later fulfilled when Jesus delivers His Sermon on the Mount–a declaration of His “magnum opus” in fulfillment of the law. The Bible is cohesive; each author, book, chapter, verse, and line plays a role in telling The Story of God, the Story of Us.

Sean Gladding does well in retelling the Story, not as the metanarrative of Scripture, but rather as his understanding of it which continues to deepen over time (237). Given the length, depth, and breadth of the metanarrative, he is forced to choose what parts to highlight and bring to the fore what he deems is critical in supporting the overarching theme.

Gladding uses the terms “vocation, permission, and prohibition” to explain God’s purpose and plan in The Story of God, the Story of Us. Vocation has everything to do with Covenant; humanity is invited to partner with God in caring for creation and continuing to create by having children. Permission deals with the free will of humanity and the choices we make to enjoy the blessings of God. Prohibition distinguishes God from humanity based on the former’s command to the latter to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Gladding points out that, “prohibition is only meaningful within the context of freedom; only when we can say ‘no’ is our ‘yes’ meaningful” (29). Since all three of these gifts help form the context for the Story of God, the Story of Us, it may have been helpful to refer to them more often throughout the story.

I was impressed with Gladding’s ability to weave a nonviolence thread into the narrative by his use of the characters who told the story; in one case, a gentle little girl was juxtaposed with a revengeful harpist. At another point, the narrator of story rebuked the crowd for their hatred of the oppressor by simply stating, “Then you still have not heard the Story, my friend” (148). In another context, Gladding strongly declares that anyone who seeks to enter the Kingdom, “must refuse to bow to any other gods–including any empire, nation or state that demands our allegiance and which use economic and military power to further its own interests at the expense of others” (226-227). In doing this, Gladding made the Story relevant for today by exposing the nationalism and pro-militarism prevalent among many Christians.

This book complements my current ministry with Unveiling Glory. As a speaker for their Cat and Dog Theology seminar, I’ve been introduced to the story of God’s glory throughout the Bible based on the Abrahamic Covenant. In the third lecture we unpack the Bible as having an introduction, a main story line, and conclusion showing the cohesive nature of God’s Story built around His desire to bless us and make us a blessing to all the peoples of the world. This book confirms my life theme of “blessed to be a blessing” and impresses on me the importance of remembering the simple theme of a Covenant God welcoming all people into His grand Story.

Missional Map-Making

Imagine arriving at Ellis Island a little over a hundred years ago. You’ve left your homeland and all that entails familiarity for a new land of supposed promise and enchantment. You sail past the Statue of Liberty and land at the Ellis Island immigrant inspection station. Suddenly you’re confronted with the awareness of a new language, a new set of customs, and a place for which old “maps of reality” hold no significance.

Fast forward to the present. The cultural map of modernity that has profoundly shaped the west is no longer navigating us toward transformational change in society. In a world of multiple religious views or no views at all our assumptions that were once taken for granted are no longer valid. In fact, a deep distrust for institutions, programs, and anything that smacks of control pervades our culture.

Some pastors I know struggle in leading their churches toward missional impact in their communities. At one conference a group of Christian leaders wrote their own version of Psalm 137:

In the midst of this crazy world I look around and wonder what has happened.
How do I talk to a kid with a ring in his nose?
Does “The Old Rugged Cross” mean anything to him?
He asks me to sing a song about “my Jesus.”
From what I can tell he is from another planet, or am I the stranger here?
I think it’s time to sell the Wurlitzer.
So how do I tell Martians about Jesus, when the only language I speak is 1955?
How do I write a headline for them that doesn’t screw up the Good News?
I kind of wish it were the way it was, but it’s not.
So I need to figure out how to sing the old lyrics with a whole new tune.
 

Reading Missional Map-Making by Alan Roxburgh for my Leading Change class at Asbury has been both stimulating and provocative. Stimulating in the sense that I need updated “maps” for a Message that has always been relevant. Provocative in that simply creating new forms or systems will not necessarily produce the change for which I hope.

Roxburgh relates the words of Arthur Kornberg, professor emeritus at Stanford University who received the Nobel prize for his work in the study of enzymes. Kornberg describes the rather unusual methods of scientists working to discover both concrete and practical solutions to human disease. He suggests that discovering solutions happens first “by investing one’s energies and skills in engaging the most fundamental questions of the system; second, by being shaped by the long tradition within which one has lived; third, by investing oneself in raising up a new generation who are able to do this foundational reflection within the tradition; and fourth, by recognizing that one is not in control of predicting what these practical, revolutionary solutions are going to look like. These are the nutrients of the soil in which a revolutionary future emerges” (39).

So what’s feeding the soil of our environments? Are we asking the right questions? This should be a given before expecting good answers. Secondly, do we understand our Christian history well enough to move forward on a solid foundation? Thirdly, are we in touch with reality and empowering the next generation to blaze new trails where we’ve never gone before? Lastly, are we willing to let go of the control tendencies of modernity and rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us where complexity and change have become the new norm?

I had to think of a quote from Anais Nin while reading this book: “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Through our set of lenses things might appear to make sense, regardless if they are working or not. Unfortunately, the common sense no longer makes sense. And that requires that we become missional map-makers in an ever-changing cultural landscape.

 Roxburgh, Alan. “Missional Map-Making.” San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.
So Right Yet So Wrong

Many years ago my friend Dave and I took a tour of a Mormon temple right after a $5 million renovation had taken place. It was open to the public for just a short time; I finally had my chance to satisfy my curiosity about what was inside one of these massive structures.

The halls were lined with very friendly Mormons who answered all our questions. Many of them told us that we just might feel a “burning in the bosom” as we walked through their temple. This would be a divine invitation to join the Mormon faith.

I remember some ladies showing me the room where my “future bride” would prepare herself for our special temple wedding. The carpet alone in that room cost $600 a square yard! I also remember the baptismal font. It consisted of a large basin (think pool) in a massive room perched atop twelve life-sized oxen, similar to what was in Solomon’s temple.

As we approached the top floor and entered the Celestial room where the ceilings were etched with 22 karat gold I leaned over to my friend Dave. The only burning in the bosom I was feeling, I told him, was a desire for the celestial bathroom; my bladder was screaming. In any case, I never did feel the “burning in the bosom”. I left the temple that day more convinced than ever that I needed to somehow convert Mormons out of their delusion.

I read up on Mormonism and studied the contradictions in their books: “Doctrine and Covenants”, “The Pearl of Great Price”, and the “Book of Mormon.” I also learned more about Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of this movement.

Armed with knowledge and arguments I entered into debate on various occasions with Mormons. I also bought Gospel tracts that were written specifically for Mormons and distributed them. I could argue and point out fallacies in their thinking. Not once, however, did I convert a Mormon out of his religion.

A little over a year ago, I met Bodie Hodge, Ken Ham’s son-in-law. Bodie had just delivered a lecture at the Creation Museum in Cincinnati, OH. We discussed the role of apologetics in Christianity and how public debates between Christians and evolutionists have often failed to win over the antagonists. We talked about another approach; one in which argument did not form the basis for debate, but love. Bodie told me how he much rather prefers to take visiting anti-creationists into his office and sit down for a conversation about the issues than to tear them to shreds in front of an audience. In other words, private discussion on the issues versus public humiliation and shrewd debate. Bodie told me of an evolutionist from South Africa who later came to faith; in part he believes, as a result of a closed-door meeting. Bodie had shared one-on-one with him in the context of compassion and concern.

In his book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie tells us that you can’t win an argument. If you lose it you lose it, and if you win it you still “lose” it. The person who lost feels inferior; he resents your triumph. In fact, you’ve lost any potential impact you may have had on him. In Carnegie’s words: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Avoid ALL arguments, says Carnegie.

A few days ago at my son’s soccer tournament we made a new friend. Callie had come to faith from a Mormon background and joined her husband’s church. It was the difference she noticed in Christians that compelled her to seek out a different belief system. She confirmed how disparaging arguments against Mormonism are simply a turnoff. For her it’s all about Christians’ love for others that wins out.

So let me ask you: have you ever won an argument? Have you ever pushed them into a corner, forced them to acknowledge that you’re right—but in the process lost a friendship and any impact you might have had in terms of determining their future destiny? You can be so right and yet ever so wrong.

Gelassenheit

A little over a week ago our family was in Washington DC with some missionary friends of ours, the Robinson family. We were delighted to meet with Congressman Marlin Stutzman from Indiana and have our own private tour of the Capitol Building.

Before moving to Southeast Asia I had actually worked on an agricultural cash-crop operation (that’s right…a “farm”!) alongside Congressman Stutzman before he entered politics. We developed a friendship while planting and harvesting crops and since leaving the farm have touched base a few times over the years.

What struck me with such force that day in Washington was Congressman Stutzman’s humility and modesty. He embodied it. I was especially impressed with how he related to one lady in particular—the woman who operated the small open train that took us underground from his office building to the Capitol.  He took time to stop and talk with her, showing an interest in her life.

Both of us come from an Amish/Mennonite background. We’ve both been exposed to the Amish perspective on humility and how it fleshes out in daily life. The Amish dress simply, are generally quiet and reserved, and value submission and obedience to the rules of their community. Their attitude of humility is so specific they have a special term for it: “Gelassenheit.” This characteristic permeates their culture. Based on the Biblical concept put forth by Jesus—”not my will but thine be done”—the Amish abhor all individuality, selfishness and pride.

Unfortunately there is also a downside to this remarkable trait. Maximizing their God-given gifts and abilities or embracing a specific calling from God is often seen as prideful. Hence, many in this tradition have “buried” their talents instead of multiplying them (see Jesus’ parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 or Luke 19:12-27).

Congressman Stutzman has clearly opted to maximize his abilities and opportunities. He believes that his call revolves around influencing government policy toward positive ends. He’s making a difference at one of the highest levels in our country. And he does it with humility. Congressman Stutzman realizes that the “Most High is over the kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.” (see Daniel 4:17, 25, 32 & 5:21) He realizes that his position provides an opportunity to serve others and bring glory to God.

We all have a responsibility to respond to God’s call on our lives. We all will give an account of how we utilized our God-given gifts, skills, and opportunities. Whatever world you’re in—education, homemaking, medicine, agriculture, business, science, politics, etc.—you are called to maximize your talents and bring honor and glory to God in that sphere.

Yes, there is always a danger of becoming prideful of our talents or arrogant in our calling; something the Amish have endeavored to avoid. Someone recently reminded me that arrogance is only perceived in others; we can’t see it in ourselves. If our motive is to bring glory to God by serving others we will fulfill our calling in the proper spirit of humility.

So serve in the true spirit of gelassenheit. Yield yourself to the will of God. Discover your gifts and abilities and use them to impact your world every time an opportunity presents itself. Don’t buy into a false humility or take gelassenheit to such an extreme that you bury your talents on the backside of Lancaster County.

Fathering Vision

Today Donald Miller spoke at our church on the need for fathers to have vision for their families. He pointed out that if you don’t have a plan for your family someone else will. His recent engagement to Paige Smith has him somewhat freaking out about the responsibilities marriage will bring. It really is a big deal. Dads are called to lead their families…and that’s no small undertaking. Miller went so far as to warn single women to stay away from guys who aren’t freaking out about marrying them.

Fathers need to give their families a purpose; something beyond simple survival. Listen to John Piper’s words in his book, Don’t Waste Your Life: “Oh, how many lives are wasted by people who believe that the Christian life means simply avoiding badness and providing for the family. So there is no adultery, no stealing, no killing, no embezzlement, no fraud—just lots of hard work during the day, and lots of TV and PG-13 videos in the evening (during quality family time, of course), and lots of fun stuff on the weekend—woven around church (mostly). This is life for millions of people. Wasted life. We were created for more.”

Writing that plan down is critical. It helps you stay accountable. It also places before the members of your family a reminder of who you believe them to be and what you think they are capable of achieving. It reminds me of the power of goal setting and writing those goals down. A Harvard Business school study between 1979-1989 makes a good case for this. Students in the graduating class of 1979 were asked if they had any goals set for their future. 84% had no goals, 13% had goals in their minds, 3% had written goals. Ten years later at the end of the study a survey was taken. It was discovered that the 13% of the students with unwritten goals had achieved success twice the amount of those without any goals. And the big finding? The 3% with written goals had achieved ten times more than all the other 97% combined!

So where exactly is your family going? What does your preferred picture of the future look like? What will each member be doing if they turn out the way you have proposed? In other words, what will things look like if they go as planned?

John Maxwell once said: “I want to make a difference with people who want to make a difference doing something that makes a difference at a time when it makes a difference.” What a great place to start! We want our families to make a difference in this world. So fill in the blanks. Describe the what, when, where, and how of making a difference.

How about it dads? Do you have a vision for your family? Can you easily articulate it? Will you take the next step and write it down? Click here for a basic template and a link to CHAZOWN (Hebrew for “vision”) where you can utilize a life development tool to determine spiritual gifts, vision, values, and goals.

I know what I need to do. Although our family has had a basic mission statement for a number of years it’s time to help each member begin writing down their own personal vision. That’s right…time for me to plan some date nights with my wife and kids.

Dispelling the Myth about Muslims

Two weeks ago my brother Tim—a pastor in Vancouver, BC—wrote to tell me about an exciting opportunity he recently had at Kwantlen University. In commemoration of the birthday of Bibi Fatima—daughter of Mohammed—Tim had been asked to speak on the topic, “Why Christians Respect Bibi Fatima.” Out of ten speakers he was the only Christian; the others were all Muslims. Below are three excerpts from his speech:

I confess as a Christian that we Christians have failed to follow the way of Jesus. We Christians have taken up the sword. We have killed our fellow human beings in the name of Jesus. We have taken up the sword even against our Muslim brothers. I hang my head when I remember these terrible stories in our Christian history. I confess this with great sorrow. On behalf of my Christian brothers and sisters, I repent and ask your forgiveness. This is not the way of Jesus. We have sinned against Jesus. We have sinned against our fellow brother and sister.  Jesus taught us that we must be ever willing to die for our faith, but never willing to kill for our faith. How we have grieved the heart of our Lord and our Master.”

Today you honor a noble woman whose griefs and burdens you share. Just recently we Christians commemorated Good Friday: the death of the one who bore our griefs and our sorrows. We see in these tears the heart of our compassionate and gracious God. The ways of this world are different: they want us to be always happy. They want us to celebrate the victorious and the powerful. Fatima was a woman who did not have a lot of worldly power. Yet she has inspired Muslims for many centuries with an other-worldly kind of power. We Christians honor this power in weakness. For we follow a Messiah who became weak in order to give us true strength.

We Muslims and Christians are of different faiths. We both believe in one God, and only one God. Yet our understanding of this one God is very different. We do share much in common, and yet there is so much also that separates us. Yet what a privilege it is to join together on a day such as this, to humbly reflect together on those areas of commonality, as well as to accept those areas where we differ.

Tim told me how the response was so positive. He also told me about the keynote speaker whose message of peace and non-violence towards people of other faiths was simply amazing and very powerful. How it completely breaks so many of the stereotypes Christians have of the Muslim people.

Afterwards, in the parking lot as Tim and his wife were getting into a car, two Muslim men approached him and asked, “Why are you doing this? What motivates you to come to our Muslim gatherings and to share as a Christian with us? What is it deep inside you that motivates you?”

Tim was then able to share the Gospel with them. He shared how God’s love had been poured out in his heart because of the death of Jesus on the cross for his sin. They were so eager to listen. They wanted to know what it was in his heart that caused him to love the Muslim people! They were so willing to listen to the whole story of Jesus dying for our sins, of His prayer, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

I close with some words from Shane Bennett who once wrote an article for the Missions Catalyst on the ‘Top Ten Myths about Missions”. His #3 myth was entitled: “Non-Christians (Especially Muslims) Are Hairy, Scary Meanies”.

Yes, many people are suffering at the hands of Muslims. Yes, some Muslims have done mean things on a massive and deadly level. Yes, some verses of the Qur’an suggest that Muslims should kill all who don’t believe like them. That said, personally I know more mean Christians than mean Muslims. Don’t you? I know more Christians than Muslims, so I’m not trying to establish a ratio in absolute terms. I’m just saying maybe we need to challenge this myth about Muslims. If you get a chance to travel to Asia you’ll be invited in and served food by Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists alike. I’ve personally had some of these “mean, hairy and scary Muslims” direct their Jesus-like behavior toward me. According to Dr. Todd Johnson, eight or nine out of every ten Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists do not personally know a Christian. A lot of “us” have never met any of “them,” either.  A cup of tea and a chat might begin to dispel this “mean” myth.

Christian America?

In the United States of America today, Christians are known more for what they’re against than what they are for. In their book, unchristian, authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons tell us that 91% of young people in America believe that we are anti-homosexual. 87% see us as judgmental and 85% deem us hypocritical. 78% view us as old-fashioned and out of touch with reality. 75% think we are way too political. 70% think we are insensitive to others and not genuine. For some reason we’ve become famous for what we oppose.

One speaker I heard in recent years painted a picture similar to that which has befallen the Amish in North America. In the not-too-distant future, he claimed, we may very well be able to board tour buses in Colorado Springs and visit the remnants of the Evangelical Church. We’re quickly becoming irrelevant to society. And unless we change our posture, we simply will become an oddity from the past that attracts a few passing tourists but has little influence on society as a whole.

83% of Americans claim to be Christian yet only 17% are attending church regularly. 50% of churches have no new converts in the last year; 95% of Christians never lead anyone to Christ; and 2% only give it any real attempt on a regular basis. By 2050, 400 million Americans will have no clear expression of the Gospel (most of these alarming statistics were recently presented by Pete Hise at an Uprising Conference I recently attended in Lexington, KY).

My pastor recently pointed out that many Christians either try to hide from the world or try to hide their love for Jesus from the world. We can fall into either ditch. Too many are concerned with living in a Christian nation rather than making America a nation of Christians.

We seem to have a problem with preferring adjectives over nouns and verbs. Jesus calls us “to be” who “do.” Furthermore, nouns always like verbs; sentences are only complete when both are present.

So how Christian really are we? What will it take to be known as people who love unconditionally? Can we create cultures of redemption that are irresistible? Can we flavor society as Jesus’ salt analogy of Matthew 5 suggests rather than run from it? If so, what will “being Christian” and “doing Christian” look like?

The Great Initiator

Noah is raising three sons. He’s a righteous man, blameless in his community, and walking in the steps of his Creator. God invades his space one day and announces that the world is going down. Suddenly Noah finds himself constructing a giant life preserver and then out on the high seas. God initiates, Noah obeys, and the planet is saved.

Gideon is cowering in a winepress, beating out his wheat; it’s the last place the Midianites will look for a guy trying to survive. Suddenly a messenger from God appears and refers to Gideon as a mighty warrior. Gideon attempts to sidestep his calling but ultimately ends up becoming general of a small army. God initiates, Gideon responds, and a simple act of obedience rescues an entire nation from the oppressive Midianites.

Moses wakes up one day to the reality that he’s been strategically positioned for the deliverance of his people. Taking things into his own hands, he kills a slave driver and appoints himself leader of a nation. Moses’ leadership lasts for just a moment however and suddenly he’s hightailing it for the desert. Forty years later at a burning bush, God initiates and Moses’ dream finally becomes a reality; this time on God’s terms.

David is tending sheep. Anointed one day by God’s representative Samuel, David is suddenly thrust toward kingship. God initiates, David submits, and years later after many harrowing escapes, David aspires to what was promised.

Isaiah is worshiping when suddenly he gets more than he bargained for. Seized by his imminent fate, Isaiah cries out, God intervenes, and Isaiah is spared. God then initiates a call (“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”), Isaiah responds, and a Messiah is foretold Who will take salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).

A young lady is simply minding her business one day when an angel appears and announces that she will bear the Son of the Most High. God initiates, Mary complies, and the world has never been the same since.

Saul is on a mission—one he fervently believes in—when suddenly God invades his space through a blinding flash. This prompts a 180-degree turn in Saul’s heart, tipping a domino that will result in the Gentile world coming to Christ. Again, God initiates, man responds, and Gospel shock waves reverberate around the world.

God is the Great Initiator. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). And according to two Old Testament authors He also sustains us in the middle (Psalm 55:22, Isaiah 46:4).

This is the ultimate perspective that should impact every aspect of our leadership. Not “kudos to us” but rather “kudos to God.” The Psalmist reminds us that, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1a). God invades our space to call, equip, empower, and direct us in our sphere of leadership for the sake of His Kingdom.

Leadership is not about us. It is not about us striking out on some journey and equipping ourselves with certain skills to fulfill our purposes. Rather, God invades our space to fulfill His purposes for the world.

What’s Significant About Turning 40?

I’m turning 40 this year. Seems pretty huge. The Psalmist reminds us that our lifespan is between 70 and 80 years, depending on our strength (Ps. 90:10).

Just this morning my wife informed me that a relative of hers passed away from cancer. His prognosis was only known in the last two months. Life is short! But rather than expounding on the brevity of life I’d rather probe this idea of significance while we are alive. What does it mean to achieve true significance during our short time on the planet?

A few days ago my children told me about a YouTube flick that has gone viral. Rebecca Black’s “Friday” music video is quickly approaching 70 million hits and has now been rated as the worst song ever. Intrigued, I watched an ABC newscast that detailed the hatred and cyber bullying against Miss Black. I wondered why. Perhaps it has to do with a distorted view of significance.

Are people upset with Rebecca merely over the fact that her voice isn’t that great? Or are they rather upset that they haven’t achieved similar popularity? Given the current cultural obsession with reality shows and “American Idol” I further pondered the depth of current human pursuits. People are clamoring for significance. We hear stories of ordinary people—in some cases with mediocre talent—achieving phenomenal popularity. But is significance merely a sum of our talents or good looks?

In the ABC interview, Rebecca stated that it would “make her life” if Justin Bieber would sing a duet with her. After all, she is now a pop star. For Rebecca, hanging out with famous people and being popular is achieving significance. And ditto for many others. But is that really achieving true significance?

I personally believe that significance is not found in serving ourselves but in serving others. It’s found in what we give away—how we leave this world a better place because we were here.

Several months ago I heard Scott Harrison’s story. It both captivated and motivated me. Changed from self-serving to missional; Scott is now raising millions of dollars to bring the water of life to a billion people on the planet who don’t have access to safe, clean, drinking water. Consider the fact that 4500 children die each day from diseases caused by a lack of safe drinking water and proper sanitation. Or that 2.2 million die each year from illnesses caused by drinking contaminated water. That’s the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing each day!

So here’s what I’m doing. I’m donating my 40th birthday to Charity Water. I’m also being audacious and setting a goal of $40,000. In the next three months I’m hoping to get 1000 people crazy enough over my 40th birthday that they’ll each donate $40! Or 2000 people each giving $20! Will you join the campaign? We can impact the lives of thousands…we can make a difference together…we can achieve significance! Click here and donate $40 or $20 to Charity Water on behalf of my 40th birthday. I dare you to be significant!

My Definition of Holiness

Our family has been horror stricken by the video footage over the last few days in the wake of Japan’s recent tragedy; office workers escaping a crumbling building, a massive wave of water driven by some unseen force boiling over the countryside destroying everything in its path, vehicles tossed around like toothpicks, and fires raging out of control.

In a world of instant news coverage, these powerful images have the potential to numb and terrorize. Some folks simply turn it all off, grateful they’re alive in their part of the world. For them, ignorance is bliss. The safety zone beckons; maintaining one’s culture apart from outside interference is easier and certainly lessens any guilt one might feel for not getting involved. It’s also less messy. Not unlike some Christians with a mistaken belief about holiness.

I was recently asked by a Youth Committee to submit my perspective on holiness. It’s been an interesting endeavor. I’ve reflected on various “environments of holiness” I’ve either been subjected to or have observed. Many were well intentioned but also quite limited. The religious tradition I grew up in, for example, focused largely on outward appearance. There was a self-directed righteousness that dealt primarily with externals instead of an internal passion for God and His purposes in a broken world. Holiness was something I did to make sure God wouldn’t send me to hell. I focused on maintaining at least a minimum standard of holiness in order to insure that God would give me heaven in return for my personal piety.

But holiness is multifaceted, definitive of God and His people, and certainly much broader in its scope of practical application. In the Hebrew context it connoted dedication or devotion to a particular purpose. Anything that comes between us and God (“idolatry”) is unholy since it robs us of our wholehearted devotion to God. In the Greek context, “separation” is emphasized with connection to the idea of “God-likeness”.

It’s with concern for this latter definition that I would like to focus my attention. In the beginning, God created us in His image. This means that we were designed to create, and in a sense—to be like God. This shouldn’t be confused however with the satanic obsession many have had throughout the ages of attempting to be God (Lucifer’s original sin from which all other sins have flowed). Rather, we were made for God to inhabit us—Christ’s righteousness to envelope us—so that we might be sanctified for every good and creative work in restoring a broken planet. When sin, corruption, and destruction become the earth’s norm, our holiness counteracts to fulfill God’s restorative purposes for His ultimate glory.

God’s intention was for a world of harmonious relationships; God with man, man with man, and man with creation. Because of the redemptive work of Christ, we become “little Christs” (Christians) to recreate a world where humanity once again can “walk with God in the garden,” as Adam and Eve once did. This is true holiness.

If one has been redeemed, he or she has a passion to create, to bring redemption into his or her sphere of influence. On the other hand, if one has simply prayed the prayer, is indulging in idolatry (serving self, pleasure, and anything other than God), and is currently waiting around for heaven to show up; he or she has only acquired “fire insurance” and has not yet been made holy. One could even question whether or not that person will be ultimately saved considering the Apostle Paul’s words, “to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). Remember that in the same breath, Paul reminded us that we must work it out since God is working in and through us “to fulfill His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).

Over 1500 years ago a certain Simeon Stylites believed that he could live a holier life by living separate from the people of the world. This monastic, according to some accounts, lived atop a pole for 37 years!

While living separate from the world, Simeon failed to realize that holiness is not just about avoiding sins of commission. It’s also about sins of omission. By escaping the world he failed to be God/Christ-like, bringing healing to a broken world.

By simply turning off the news, shutting off the world, or escaping into a community of safety and tranquility, one is not becoming more holy. One must engage with the world. One must become a “little Christ” in a world of tragedy and pain.

So don’t turn off the news. Pray for the brokenness around you. Get out there and get your hands dirty. Get involved. Join us in embracing holiness this week by responding to an Asia Harvest news brief on the plight of earthquake/tsunami-stricken Japan. Click here for more details.

Maximizing Your Gift

I remember winning the privilege of standing before my whole school to recite a speech. I had spent hours and hours writing it, then rewriting it, and finally memorizing it. After presenting it to my class, I was chosen along with several others to present it to the entire student body.

I well remember my apprehension leading up to that event. I was frightened by the thought of staring into a sea of faces while quoting from memory my carefully prepared speech. What if I forgot a line? What if everything crumbled from that point onward? What if I made a complete fool of myself?

I did okay. I survived. I think some even enjoyed it. But my discomfort leading up to that moment and throughout those five minutes on stage was not quickly forgotten.

Thinking back on all the stress I experienced in connection to that speech makes me wonder why I ever continued on in that sphere. Why am I a public speaker today? What motivated me to press on? Why do I absolutely love what I do now but feared so much back then? What ultimately prompted me to work on a God-given gift I didn’t know I even had until years later?

It wasn’t until the end of my teen years that I began to flow in this capacity again. I was given a special oratory part for a choir program. I started teaching school and coaching my students in how to give effective speeches. I preached at the local church I attended. I got involved in prison ministry and spoke to inmates from the platform. All this happened before I had discerned a life career.

Did I just wake up one day and decide to be a public speaker? Did my awareness of God utilizing this gift within me come into sharp focus in a moment?

No, not at all. In fact, just the opposite. I more or less grew into it. My fear of audiences slowly faded.  My speaking style morphed over time into what it is today. Oh, I still get nervous sometimes before getting on stage. I still quake a little at the fear of failure. And I certainly still have a great amount to work on in developing my speaking skills and presentations. But I’m moving upward and onward. I read books on communication. I both listen to and watch great communicators on DVD. I also constantly seek feedback on my presentations.

I think I’ve discovered my gift. God orchestrated various events throughout my childhood and adolescence to bring me to this point. I clearly know that this is the talent he has called me to utilize for His glory. He requires that I not bury it, that I not waste it.

I was reminded of all this while reading Erwin McManus’ insights into the parable of the talents (Luke 19:11-27) just this week: “God sees not only who we are, but who we can become. When we neglect our God-given capacity, when we refuse to maximize our God-given potential, it is wickedness in the sight of God.”

Did you catch that? The guy who buried his gift is called a “wicked servant”! Sometimes sins of omission are just as great as sins of commission.

Every one of us has potential. Every one of us has a God-given talent that He wants to maximize for His glory. And to not utilize it or develop it to its full capacity is wicked.

So what is your gift? Have you discovered it? If so, what are you doing with it? Are you going to do everything in your power to maximize it for God’s glory?

Radical Christianity

Our neighbors across the road moved out yesterday. We didn’t get the chance to say good-bye. Not that we had ever really said hello. Our daughters knew each other of course and yes, we waved at each other from time to time. But that was about it. Oh, we were planning to get to know them better—eventually. But that never happened, and now they’re gone. I wonder what they thought of us? Were we simply the “friendly-from-a-distance” neighbors? The folks across the road who keep to themselves? How about “radical Christians” typical of those found in the book of Acts? Probably not.

This week I’ve been repeatedly processing the theme of radical Christianity. First was a webcast I watched in which Gabe Lyons and Tim Keller discussed “Next Christians.” While introducing the webcast Gabe referenced a letter that will be the main feature of this blog post—the “Epistle to Diognetus” written in the 2nd century that describes Christianity in amazingly powerful terms. Next was a short clip from a sermon Francis Chan recently shared at a Catalyst Leadership Conference on thinking Biblically. He asks us to ponder the question: “Who is really weird?” Last was a short radio interview conducted with Francis’ wife Lisa on hospitality that my wife and I just listened to yesterday. She talks about downsizing to a 1000 square foot home and re-thinking what is necessary for hospitality.

Here’s the letter from the 2nd century by an unknown author to a certain Diognetus:

“The Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, by language, nor by civil institutions. For they neither dwell in cities by themselves, nor use a peculiar tongue, no lead a singular mode of life. They dwell in the Grecian or barbarian cities, as the case may be; they follow the usage of the country in dress, food, and the other affairs of life. Yet they present a wonderful and confessedly paradoxical conduct. They dwell in their own native lands, but as strangers.

“They take part in all things, as citizens; and they suffer all things, as foreigners. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every native land is a foreign. They marry, like all others; they have children; but they do not cast away their offspring. They have the table in common, but not wives. They are in the flesh, but do not live after the flesh. They live upon the earth but are citizens of heaven. They obey the existing laws, and excel the laws by their lives.

“They love all, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown, and yet they are condemned. They are killed and are made alive. They are poor and make many rich. They lack all things, and in all things abound. They are reproached, and glory in their reproaches. They are calumniated, and are justified. They are cursed, and they bless. They receive scorn, and they give honor. They do good, and are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice, as being made alive. By the Jews they are attacked as aliens, and by the Greeks persecuted; and the cause of the enmity their enemies cannot tell.

“In short, what the soul is in the body, the Christians are in the world. The soul is diffused through all the members of the body, and the Christians are spread through the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but it is not of the body; so the Christians dwell in the world, but are not of the world. The soul, invisible, keeps watch in the visible body; so also the Christians are seen to live in the world, but their piety is invisible. The flesh hates and wars against the soul, suffering no wrong from it, but because it resists fleshly pleasures; and the world hates the Christians with no reason, but that they resist its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh and members, by which it is hated; so the Christians love their haters. The soul is inclosed in the body, but holds the body together; so the Christians are detained in the world as in a prison; but they contain the world. Immortal, the soul dwells in the mortal body; so the Christians dwell in the corruptible, but look for incorruption in heaven. The soul is the better for restriction in food and drink; and the Christians increase, though daily punished. This lot God has assigned to the Christians in the world; and it cannot be taken from them.”

Powerful isn’t it? Perhaps one of the best descriptions about what it means to be salt and light in the world. They were in the world but not of it. They engaged their culture yet were counter-cultural.

So how about you and I? What are our neighbors saying about us? Or not saying about us? Are we radical Christians making a difference in our communities?

A Man Named Ivan

Last weekend I ran into a guy named Ivan and heard his story. He works with a ministry called Steeple to People. Their purpose is to bring the Church to People by utilizing the skills, talents, and resources of Christians to meet the needs in their community. Their statement of faith includes a declaration to cooperate and not to compete. Since my meeting with Ivan was brief, most of what I learned about his story came from others.

An elderly gentleman, Ivan is known by most folks in town including the senior citizens, teenagers, police, town council members…and well, just about everyone. For the last twenty plus years Ivan has been investing in his local community. If someone has a problem, they call Ivan. He fixes their things, helps with basic needs, oversees funerals, settles estates, and generally cares for whoever he meets. He also shares his testimony everywhere he goes.

Ivan serves under a group of people from the local community. This board has representation from various denominations including the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Mennonite churches in town. They all collaborate on one thing—serving their community. They all believe that only by working together can they make a difference in their neighborhood. Presently a youth center, a thrift store, and refuge house exist in this town as a result of their united vision.

It all started over 25-30 years ago when the local Presbyterian Church started Steeple to People Ministries. It wasn’t long before Ivan was involved and his farm became the epicenter for local mission. It was just the right environment for vacation Bible school and kids’ clubs. In fact, when recruiters hit the streets to mobilize children for events all they had to do was mention Ivan and his farm. No more questions were asked; Ivan’s reputation had preceded him, and anything connected to him had everyone’s support.

Ivan’s story intrigued me so I decided to call him for more information. “We don’t even think about denominations,” Ivan told me on the phone this afternoon. “All that matters is that we are born again.” He went on to tell me about a Bible study he and his wife lead at a local senior citizen apartment complex every Tuesday night. A Catholic lady has been attending those for the last 6-8 years.

Ivan is a Conservative Mennonite man. He still holds to his convictions. But Ivan has concluded that much of his Christian faith is the same as other local Christians. He understands that majoring on the minor issues that divide so many believers flies in the face of what Christ had in mind. He also realizes the impact he can have on his broken community when he aligns himself with what God is already doing through the local body.

So here’s my question for you: What will it take for your church to reach your community? Where can you join God where He is already at work around you? Can you unite on the essentials of your faith with other Christ-followers and dare to overlook the 5-10% of controversial non-essentials that tend to divide so many? The Kingdom is at stake.

Contact MeContact Me

Let's Connect

I’d love to connect with you via email or phone. Snail mail can be sent to the address listed below.

Address

333 East Margaret Drive, Wilmore, KY 40390

Phone

(+1) 269.625.3400

Booking InfoBooking Info

Logistics and Details

Select me as your speaker, and I will give you my best effort. See me as a catalyst or facilitator that will help you achieve the goals you’ve set for your event. When you win, I win. It’s as simple as that. I’m here to serve you in life’s journey!

Venue

A venue for the event should be chosen with the target audience in mind. All-day or half-day workshops are ideally hosted in rooms where food can be served and participants can gather around tables for group dialogue and breakout sessions (click on links for preferred room setup: round/long tables). All venues should be suited for multi-media presentations and wired for sound.

Once a date and presentation topic have been confirmed for an event, the venue name and address along with a contact phone number should be submitted for advertisement purposes. These will be posted in my speaking schedule and used in advertising media.

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Equipment

A room featuring a multi-media projector with 3000 lumens or greater is preferred for all events. I will use my own projector when one is not available. Please note that for most presentations and workshops I need my laptop at the front of the venue from where I’ll be speaking. My system can accommodate VGA/HDMI/DVI cables. Most of my presentations are designed for widescreen (16:9).

For audio I prefer a lapel or Countryman microphone. For presentation/video audio I can supply my own speaker for groups under 100 people. For larger groups I need an audio cable (3.5mm mini stereo) that plugs directly into my laptop.

Replace lecterns and pulpits with a small table or stand on which to place a laptop.

For workshops, have a flip chart or white board available with markers in several colors.

An eight-foot table should be available on which to place books, CDs, DVDs, and other resources for sale. Cash, checks, and credit cards are all accepted.

Fees

I do not charge a set fee when speaking at non-profit events. However, donations are welcome to support my family, cover bills, and feed my Puggle. Suggested donation amount is $500/day plus travel expenses. If I’m within 8 hours of an event I will drive (suggested reimbursement of $250), otherwise I typically fly (if within the USA, $500). I fly out of Lexington, KY and typically purchase my own tickets; a reimbursement check can be mailed to 333 East Margaret Drive, Wilmore, KY 40390.

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I’d be delighted to come to your event and speak. I typically keep my events within a 1-3 day time period due to commitments to my family; anything over this length of time is generally reserved for international travel. Workshops can be facilitated as whole-day or half-day events. My multi-part series can be easily held over a weekend, beginning Friday night and ending Sunday morning or beginning Sunday morning and ending Monday evening.

About MeAbout Me

Speaker, author, and life coach.

Born in Ontario, Canada, I moved to El Salvador at age 4 to live as a missionary kid for three years. At age nineteen I moved to Alberta, Canada where I taught school for three years. After leading several short term teams to Asia focused on unreached people groups, I married my sweetheart Amy and lived in Northern Indiana for Familya year and a half. In 1997, we moved with our infant daughter Brittany to Thailand where I served as director of Global Tribes Outreach. During our ten-year stint in Southeast Asia, God blessed us with two more children—Courtney and Jamin. In 2008 we moved back to North America and bought our first house in Kentucky, USA. I acquired a Masters in Christian Leadership from Asbury Seminary in 2014 and now travel both domestically and internationally to develop leaders.

As a leadership developer and life coach I help non-profit and business leaders understand how to maximize their God-given potential to lead and serve others. I am the author of A Serving Leader’s Devotional and the President of the Reverb Network.

I’ve spoken broadly on personal & global mission, leadership, team building, and numerous Biblical subjects over the last 20 years on four continents and numerous states and provinces in the USA and Canada.

I am committed to a Biblical worldview and dedicated to motivating the church toward missional thinking and practice in all areas of life. I believe that everyone has a God-given purpose to love and serve others like Jesus. I firmly believe that having our thinking challenged is not enough; it must be translated into change.

MY STORY

I have heard from other staff members who agree with me, this was one of the best/productive workshops we've attended.

Dan Domer
Staff Member, Covenant Church, Winterville, NC

Your talk rocked my world.  

Qian Wang
Perspectives Student, College Station, TX

Luke Kuepfer’s high-energy presentation of the material was delightful, articulate, and profound! If you are looking for a fresh and life-changing look at Jesus’ servant leadership model, look no further! Give Luke a call!

Don Showalter
President, Hearts Alive!

Luke is a dynamic speaker with the gift of clearly articulating Biblical truths in an easy-to-understand manner. He speaks in humility but with authority, and injects his message with the experience and global perspective gained from living abroad as a missionary for many years.

Santosh David Poonen
Elder, River of Life Christian Fellowship, Loveland, CO

Luke’s enthusiasm and passion for the local church and its impact in the community is inspiring. I highly recommend his teaching and ministry!  

Clarence Miller
Deacon, Sharon Mennonite Church

“Transformational” is the one word I would use to describe the seminar. Luke has a true gift in communicating God’s truths with clarity and passion.

Joe Bacher
Pastor, Foothills Fellowship Westminster, SC

Luke is enthusiastic and knowledgeable, presenting the interactive material creatively. It is a unique presentation unlike the usual “leadership seminars” taught from the front. Luke presents it with expertise, fun, and interest in each attendee.

David Livingstone
Regional Manager, North-East & Mid-Atlantic Region, The JESUS Film Project

Luke really has an incredible way of captivating everyone’s attention and making a seminar meaningful. He speaks from his heart and lives what he preaches. As a result of this Encounter we’re taking our family to Southeast Asia on a two-month mission trip with the possibility of moving there long-term.

Lloyd & Mary Ellen Esh
Pastor, New Covenant Mennonite Fellowship New Holland, PA

REVIEWS

SKILLS

Years Lived Abroad
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14-ers Climbed in CO
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2014 - 2016

SPEAKER, COACH, & LEADERSHIP DEVELOPER

Presentations and workshops in both non-profit and business venues around the world on leadership, people skills, and life purpose.

2011- 2013

STUDENT @ ASBURY THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

Masters Degree in Christian Leadership.

2009 - 2010

STUDENT @ THOMAS EDISON STATE COLLEGE

Bachelor’s Degree online in Liberal Studies.

1997 - 2008

DIRECTOR @ GLOBAL TRIBES OUTREACH

Founded and served as Field Director of Global Tribes Outreach (GTO), a non-profit organization based in Southeast Asia committed to church planting and social work.

1994 - 1996

WORKER IN CONSTRUCTION AND AGRICULTURE

Floor finishing in concrete construction and equipment operator on a cash crop farm.

1990 - 1993

TEACHER @ PRAIRIE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL

Taught elementary through high school students in a self-directed learning environment.