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Insights and Ideas
Servant Leadership Insight from Matthew 1:21

In Matthew 1:21 we read that Joseph and Mary were to name their son ‘Jesus’, “because He will save His people from their sins.” Did the Jews know that their greatest need was salvation from their self-centered interests? Did they realize what had gotten them in to their present mess? Or why they were enslaved under the cruel rule of Rome? They were certainly looking for a Messiah, a deliverer, but not from their own sin. No, they were looking for a political Savior who would restore them to their former glory under King David…wipe out the Romans and give them back their land, their freedom, and their greatness. They wanted a Messiah on their terms. But Jesus would go to the root of their problems via a cross. As a servant leader He served their best interests whether they knew it or not because that’s what servant leaders do. They don’t lead to what people want but rather serve to bring about what they desperately need. Lead, love, and serve, like Jesus!

Am I a Disciple?

My daughter Brittany shares some of her thoughts on discipleship…what it means to be a follower of Jesus (originally written as a blogpost, I had her tweak it for this video).

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.

Failing Forward

Have you ever worked for someone who encouraged you to take risks and fail forward? In this short video I discuss the environment of empowerment that Christ’s disciples experienced under his leadership.

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).

Good News on Time!

A short Christmas message including a poem by Dustin Miller written on December 18, 2013 (used with permission).

JOY TO THE WORLD

Joy to the world
And in the world
But not of the world…
Pierced by the world
Joy sings…
Earth groans, trembles,
Shakes the halls of kings…
The Baby’s mother, weary-worn,
Whispers soft and secret things…

A child of Hope
To us
And in us
But not of us
Is born…
Mocked by the world
Hope longs…
Earth turns, yearns,
Weeps the ancient wrongs…
The Baby’s mother, tired-torn,
Murmurs sacred Mystery songs…

Love leaves All
For us,
Draws us,
Saves us,
Brings us Home…
Lashed by the world
Love dies…
Earth shakes, breaks,
Writhes in Eden’s web of lies…
The Baby’s mother, night-to-morn
Sips deep from Heaven’s Love-drenched eyes…

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.

Leadership Lessons from the Good Samaritan Parable

Why would two leaders simply bypass a wounded man on the road? Taking a deeper look at the Good Samaritan parable, we can discover a simple truth about leadership that anyone can practice to lead like Jesus.

Are You Someone Worth Following?

The key question in the Gospel of Luke is, “Who is Jesus?” One might wonder why the disciples would abandon everything and follow Him so readily. Why should anyone follow me or you?

The “Boy” Jesus: A Servant Leader

Digging deeper into Luke 2:41-52 (“12-yr. old Jesus in the temple”), what is meant by the term “boy Jesus”? If Jesus was asking questions why were the teachers amazed at His answers? Considering Jesus’ obedience to His parents in this story what is meant by His words later in Luke 14:26…that in order to come to Him one must hate father and mother?

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.

Is Love Defined by Obedience?

Is love defined by obedience? In other words, does an action of obedience define my love for God? After all, Jesus did say, “If you love Me, keep My commands” (John 14:15).

Imagine a person suffering from a high temperature as a result of the flu. You take that person’s temperature and with a fever of 104 degrees immediately dunk them in an ice bath and rush them off to the hospital. Clearly this person is very sick and in need of medical help! Now imagine taking the temperature of a second person who has just emerged from a Russian Banya after lying in a tanning bed preceded by a prolonged dip in some nearby volcanic hotsprings. You get the point; that person’s temperature may also register around 104! But this person does not have the same condition as the fever-strickened.

In John 3:16 we first note that God is the source of all love and that secondly love is fleshed out in the action of giving (“God so loved that He gave…”). We might conclude that God’s love is defined by the gift of His Son to us. Perhaps a better observation, however, is that love precedes the action. While an action flows out of that love, the love that precedes it is primary and deeper than the action. We might say that the following deed of giving is an act that illuminates the former.

Consider the nursing staff at a hospital. Medical workers are required to help and care for a variety of patients regardless of their genuine concern or love for the afflicted. They simply provide various actions of medical welfare without any obligation to love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 clearly states that one can do all types of actions that might resemble love yet clang like a cymbal or resounding gong. A volunteer at the local food pantry might minister all day long to the down and out and then upon returning home yell at his wife and slap his child. A supposed follower of Christ may do all the right things, wear all the right clothes, and go to all the right places, yet remain outside the love of God. Shallow activism and legalism can be the result when one attempts to define love by action, and more to the point—obedience.

Back to our first example. Anyone can display a “high temperature” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s symptomatic of one’s true condition. We’re thus faced with perhaps a deeper and more profound question: Have our hearts truly been renewed in the love of God? Do our actions and signs of obedience truly flow from a love that originates with the Father?

Furthermore, what is meant by obeying the commands of Jesus? Considering the importance of context we might wish to take a deeper look at John 13:34-35. Truly loving our brother and sister may in fact be the obedience required of us, the “commands” of Christ. Romans 13:8-10 would certainly support this: “love is the fulfillment of the law” (10b). But how can I love another without the love of Christ first saturating my soul? Precisely the point! If I’m not truly immersed in the love of God…if I’m not consistently and constantly basking in the unconditional love of the Father…then I truly cannot love my brothers and sisters redemptively and nor will religious rituals and outward manifestations prove my love for God.

Mega & Meta Narratives

One of my favorite classes this semester is Biblical Narrative with Dr. Joe Dongell. Brand new at ATS, this course looks at Scripture as a whole, proposing an underlying mega-narrative supported by a number of meta-narratives. (If that was somewhat “Greek” to you it also was for me until yesterday.) In an after-class discussion, Dr. Dongell presented what he believes to be the overarching story (“mega-narrative”) in the Bible followed by various themes (“meta-narratives”) that are present throughout.

For an introduction to mega-narrative we turn to Genesis, the book of beginnings or the place our story starts. Genesis can be broken down into basically two eras: the first recorded in chapters 1-11, and the second in chapter 12 to the end of the book.

In the first era we see God breathing life and hence order into the chaos followed by sin and death reversing the process. The progression is startling: a preference for something other than God (3:6) leads to murder (4:8), then to out-of-control revenge (4:24) and then eventually to unsustainable violence (6:5, 11). The antithesis of life is highlighted in the first recorded genealogy (5:3-31) in the phrase, “and then he died.” It’s a resounding endbeat for each life except Enoch. The first era ends with God “cleaning house” (the flood) and re-ordering the chaos followed by a genealogy that depicts a “diminishing life trend”; life spans descend from 500 down to 119 (11:11-25).

In the second era we see God establishing a people who will be blessed and be a blessing to all the peoples of the world. Just to be clear, this term “bless” and its derivatives should not be confused with that which we ask over a meal, a “good-day” to passersby, or our response when someone sneezes. Defined as “breathing life” into another, we see God infusing Abraham with life so that he can bestow it on others. Lot is successful when he is with Abraham; the redundant mention of their separation (13:11) draws attention to Lot’s downward spiral that follows when he is not connected to the one whose purpose was to breathe life into others.

God’s desire to impart life to those who bear His image constitutes the mega-narrative. God gifts humanity with an environment teeming with life and beauty, and in the middle of it all, a tree that will sustain life forever.

This glimpse of eternal life, however, is quickly snuffed out when an enemy misguides human choice toward sin (preference for anything other than God) which ultimately leads to death. The plot thickens throughout Scripture; the mega-narrative reveals a God Who is continually injecting life into His special creation while Satan undermines and destroys. God’s injunction to be fruitful and multiply (1:28, 9:1) is constantly thwarted by the satanic threads of violence and murder. Multiple stories of family dysfunction (Isaac/Esau vs. Rebekah/Jacob, Judah & Tamar, Joseph vs. his brothers) during the second era in Genesis are further evidence of Satan’s attempt to stop the Abrahamic lineage of blessing. We might also note that Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel all suffer from barrenness. Satan wants to stop a lineage that will ultimately produce a Mediator who will re-introduce eternal life.

The meta-narratives of Scripture are other themes we are quite familiar with: Sacrificial atonement, Kingdom, Covenant, and Redemption to name a few. These themes and threads throughout Scripture all tie into the mega-narrative–God’s passion for imparting life to fallen humanity.

The Bible is God’s story of eternal life for you and me. It’s His story (his-tory) that you and I are invited and privileged to join!

 

 

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!

 

Finishing Well

I got up to walk around in my seminary library and was almost startled to notice no one else around in the middle of the day. A backpack on a desk, a notebook computer at another, and lights on in a small meeting room, but no one around. I walked further. Still no one. And then, finally, a person emerged from a tiny room at the end of the library. The rapture had not yet happened!

Now before you literalists judge me about my lack of assurance let me state the point of this post: starting out well in life’s journey is important, but not near as critical as finishing well! In the spirit of Shakespeare, “I feel a soliloquy coming on”, or perhaps in this case, a sermon. But unlike Shakespeare, I’ll keep this short.

I was reading today in 1 Peter 5, preparing for a reflection paper due in my Leading Groups & Organizations class tomorrow. Peter warns those of us who are leaders to not take our responsibilities lightly; we are moving targets for the devil who would love to destroy us. I am especially aware of this fact after the recent suicide of Tom White, CEO of Voice of the Martyrs; a man who was in my home as a child and one I have always highly respected. No leader is farther away from losing everything than one small misstep. My faith must be firm, states Peter, in order to resist the devil and suffer well in my leadership role in the Kingdom. Peter wraps up this section by affirming that the God of all grace restores, establishes, and strengthens us. Yes! In Eugene Peterson’s words: “That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” (The Message, Hebrews 12:3)

Also significant is Peter’s allusion to faithfulness at the end of his letter. Silvanus was a “faithful brother” he writes. And that’s how I want my story to end. I want to be known as one who was faithful to the end. Starting out well is noteworthy in the Christian race; but finishing well is of utmost importance. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:27 that he strikes a blow to his body and makes it his slave so that after he has preached to others, he himself will not be disqualified for the prize. And at the end of his life he wrote that he had fought a good fight, he had finished the race, he had kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). How serious am I about finishing the race? What will it take to finish well?

Again, I am keenly aware of this in light of Tom White’s suicide that occurred around the same time Chuck Colson died. The latter finished well. I want my leadership story to speak of faithfulness; of the One who ultimately restored, established, and strengthened me from start to finish. To Him be glory forever and ever, Amen.

Creation: Framework Theory

Click on the image above to view my first video blog on the Framework theory of Creation.

New

[Photo credit: Kookkai_nak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

2012. A New Year. New resolutions, new plans, and new opportunities. NEW!

So what will be new for you? What new thing will transpire in the course of the coming year? What new experience will you encounter? What new idea will you come up with and share with the world? What new dreams will you launch? What new experience will enhance your life story this year?

God actually has quite a bit to say about NEW! In fact, doing a quick search through His story I discovered He’s pretty stoked about NEW. Here’s a quick sampling:

  • NEW life! (Ezra 9:9, Acts 5:20, Rom. 6:4)
  • NEW song! (Ps. 33:3, Isa. 42:10, Rev. 5:9)
  • NEW thing(s)! (Isa. 42:9, :43:19)
  • NEW name! (Isa. 62:6, Rev. 2:17)
  • NEW heaven(s) and NEW earth! (Isa. 65:17, 2 Pet. 3:13, Rev. 21:1)
  • NEW covenant! (Jer. 31:31, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25, 2 Cor. 3:6, Heb. 8:6) 
  • NEW mercies/compassions! (Lam. 3:23)
  • NEW heart & spirit! (Ezek. 18:31)
  • NEW teaching! (Mark 1:27)
  • NEW wine & NEW wineskins! (Mark 2:22)
  • NEW tongues! (Mark 16:17)
  • NEW command! (John 13:34, 1 John 2:8)
  • NEW way of the Spirit! (Rom. 7:6)
  • NEW creation! (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15)
  • NEW order! (Heb. 9:10)
  • NEW and living way! (Heb. 10:20)
  • NEW birth! (1 Pet. 1:3)
  • And in Revelation 21:5 we hear God’s vision for the future, “I am making everything new!”

Isn’t it interesting then, that some will quote Solomon, who at the peak of his cynicism and humanistic outlook, stated, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9). Really? Nothing new? Is that true about the arts, technologies, constructions, ideas—none of that is new?

God is about NEW! His first recorded act is NEW creation. Humanity’s greatest attribute—being made in God’s image—means we are called to create NEW things! What will that be this year? What NEW creation will God birth in you in 2012?

So go ahead…create something NEW! Engage in the NEW that God brings your way!

I wish you a happy NEW Year!

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]

Too Much of a Good Thing

Last night my son’s soccer coach dropped by to pick up his son who had spent the day at our place. We talked about the craziness in the sports world that has the potential to affect our families in negative ways. Consider just the time investment; many parents spend every evening of the week running their kids to and fro for practices and games…and for what purpose? Are they planning for their son to be the next Wayne Gretzky or Kobe Bryant?

At this point we have our kids in recreational soccer. It’s really helped us interface with our community, given us connection with new friends, and supplied an outlet for our children’s energy. All in all it’s been a great experience without robbing every moment of our time. But take it up a notch with select leagues? Good-bye family time!

This got me thinking on something else. Is it possible to experience too much church? Are you tiring of attending every church function? Is Sunday no longer a day of rest but the beginning of a week-long marathon? Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and then possibly Friday or Saturday night yet for some special service before starting all over again (not to mention all the other activities connected with church). I get weary just thinking about it! (Ironically, I may also be shutting down my own weekend ministry here!)

Presently our family spends about an hour per week (gasp!) in church. Call us pagan if you like but we’re loving it! Sunday is a day of rest and a great day for our family to connect. I might also add that spiritual growth and development happens throughout the week without pressure to show up at a certain place at a certain time, often in the context of an intentional small group.

So let me ask you: Has church become a rat race for you? Lily Tomlin once said that the problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. Jesus made us human, not rats, and I believe He got it right when He said, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Maybe its time for us to get it right and take a Sabbath from all those “un-Sabbath” activities!

[NOTE: I’ve finally returned to the blogosphere after “drowning” in my seminary studies for several months…I hope to get a few more posts out before the spring semester kicks in!]

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.
Where the Unworthy are Worthy

It’s my second day at Asbury Seminary; first day of class. So far I’ve attended two days of new student orientation and several chapel services.

At chapel this morning I was confronted again with a tension I grew up with, something I’ll call the “worthiness factor” in taking communion. My faith tradition practiced “closed communion” which simply meant that the communion table was typically open to only members of that church who were in “right standing” with God and their fellow believers. This is based on an understanding of 1 Corinthians 11 in which Paul instructs the believers to not eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily.

The dean of the chapel made the rather startling comment at the onset of the service that there were some of us in the audience who were unworthy to participate in the Lord’s table. He then proceeded to announce that if any of us felt worthy of the bread or cup we ought not to come. For the unworthy—those aware of their constant need for grace—the table was open.

Perhaps the real problem lies with those who translate “unworthily” as being “unworthy”. A better rendering of that text might be “in an unworthy manner.” This is clearly seen as Paul elaborates about those who ought not to eat or drink—those who fail to discern the body of Christ.

Furthermore, is it Biblical to discern whether or not another person is “worthy” to commune? Can one see into another person’s heart? It’s easy to be externally aligned and offer acceptable words at a “preparatory service” while all the time be callous toward the body of Christ.

Closed communion presupposes that we have jurisdiction over those within our own church and must thus take responsibility for those who commune. But do we commune with those we think are worthy or do we commune based on self-examination? Only the latter is Biblical (see 1 Cor. 11: 28-32). And how does one explain Jesus offering the bread and wine to Judas—one that He knew was in desperate need of grace at that moment?

But there’s even a greater tension I’ve wrestled with in practicing closed communion. Something that stems primarily from my personal experiences within the broader body of Christ.

In Southeast Asia I would often travel to speak in a variety of settings. Often I was invited to commune with believers who didn’t share my denominational background or practice Christianity exactly as I did. Having refused the bread and cup offered to me would have been akin to committing sacrilege.

Why would Jesus throw a banquet in His honor and then not show up to celebrate it with all His children?

The Problem with Faith

When I was quite young my parents took our family to hear Dave Hunt speak on some of the common deceptions to which Christians have succumbed. One of those dealt with the issue of faith.

Dave told a personal story of living in Southern California and wishing one day that the heat would be replaced with a sudden snow flurry. Having been exposed to the hyper-faith movement he got down on his knees and attempted to “pray in faith.” He ratcheted up his own belief by praying, “I believe it will snow…yes, I believe…I believe, I believe, I believe!” At some point he sprang to his feet, ran to the window, and threw open the drapes to reveal the product of his faith.

Dave then shouted to us in the audience: “Thank God it wasn’t snowing!” He went on to point out that having faith in faith is not faith. We must have faith in God alone. Just think for a moment how crazy our world would be if everyone simply controlled the Master of the universe with their own amped up faith power? Can you imagine the products of our selfishness or the conflicts of interest by everyone who “prayed in faith”?

Faith has always presented Christians with a dilemma. On one hand many simply resign themselves to God’s supposed will and never pray in faith. They feel they are really godly to believe that God will simply do what needs to be done on their behalf. Unfortunately this often translates into a lack of faith and hence sin. They have not because they never ask. On the other hand there are those who believe that their faith will always be rewarded. If they have enough faith, that is, having “faith in faith,” they will get whatever they ask for.

Both sides have a point. Both sides have scriptures to back up their perspective. And both tend to be reacting toward the other. The problem is when one does not read both scriptures together or in context. We tend to either take one position or the other instead of living in tension between the two (see a blog post I did a few months back on the Either/Or Dilemma in Church World).

When it comes to faith we ought not to fall into one ditch or the other. Throughout the Gospel narratives we see Jesus getting more excited about random examples of faith than anything else. We ought to be people of faith. We ought to pray for healing. We ought to “expect great things from God and attempt great things for Him” (William Carey). But we also ought not to presume on God. We should not name it and claim it under the guise of having faith. We need to remember that as children of a Kingdom we are under the control of a King. Our faith is submitted to God’s perfect will. While we can certainly influence the hand of God we are not ultimately sovereign. God has the final say.

Downtime

“Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,” Jesus once said to His disciples. And this was based on His personal experience. Several times in the Gospels we read of Jesus getting away by Himself. It was vital to recharge His batteries by spending time with His Father in solitude.

Presently our family is in Colorado for three weeks of downtime. Though I have a few speaking events scheduled I’ve spent very little time hunkered down behind my computer screen. Rather, I’ve been out in the open air sitting on a tractor seat, hiking in the Rockies, and hanging out at a ranch. I’ve also cut back on listening to podcasts and music. I’m taking time to listen and pray.

The skies are vast, the air is fresh, and my mind is currently at rest.

Several years ago while still living in Southeast Asia my wife and I came to a point of mental, emotional, and physical burnout. Instead of traveling back to North America for a furlough we opted for nine weeks of rejuvenation in the beautiful country of New Zealand. We moved far away from schedules, meetings, and the obligatory demands we tend to put on ourselves. One of the critical decisions we made during this “vacation-with-a-purpose” was to say “No” more often in order to say “Yes” to the most important.

Through past experiences we have learned that “Good” often becomes the the enemy of “Best”. Attending numerous events to keep friends and family happy and generally over committing in an attempt to serve others had caused us to burn out. Maintaining a healthy tension between rest and service is difficult but of critical importance. In one New Testament story Mary chose what was best by sitting at Christ’s feet while Martha concerned herself with what Jesus deemed unimportant (see Luke 10:38-42).

More of us need to spend time putting together “Not-to-do” lists rather than “To-do” lists. We also need to schedule more solitude times to get the mental and emotional rest necessary for the long haul.

So schedule some solitude time. Re-align yourself with your personal values. Set aside a day this month or a week in the coming year to get away from the busyness of life and rest, think, and listen.

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.

What’s Our Basis for Unity?

While recently listening to an audio version of Matthew 17, I was somewhat puzzled by one statement. Descending the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus instructs his inner circle to not tell anyone about the event until after His resurrection. Why?

Representatives of the law and the prophets—Moses and Elijah—appeared to Jesus at this time. Peter thought it was a good idea to erect temples for all three of them. Was he implying that the law and the prophets were equally important alongside Jesus’ “Kingdom of heaven” message? A voice quickly breaks through the clouds and God makes it quite clear that Jesus is greater than the law or the prophets. Everyone should listen only to Him.

Before His resurrection Jesus was living in an Old Testament era. He lived by Jewish rules and regulations set down by the law and the prophets even while introducing a new Kingdom paradigm. This Kingdom involved both new wine (truth perspectives) and new wineskins (systems). Yet it wasn’t until after Jesus conquered death that He had completely fulfilled the law and His disciples were able to begin a new movement we now call the Church.

The Church has always struggled however, with what to do with the Old Testament; it’s been a constant source of disunity. A church council meeting in Acts 15 decides to drop circumcision yet requires early believers to abstain from food sacrificed to idols and bloody meat. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, a curse is placed on those who returned to the law after walking the road of grace paved with saving faith in Christ alone.

Today I observe that many Christians still disunite over issues of law rather than uniting on the fundamentals of our Christian faith. Instead of using the Apostle’s Creed as a foundational starting point, the practical approach is to first observe how similar one is in culture and practice. If there is alignment in “the details” people feel comfortable in working and worshiping together.

After living in Southeast Asia for over ten years I personally believe there are various ways to apply God-given truth and principles. Take diversity in culture for example. Most people would agree that much of it is generally neither good nor bad, just different. In fact, much of it is a matter of preference. Everyone believes in satisfying their hunger. Some do so with rice and beans while others with steak and potatoes. Most people also believe in wearing clothes; some put on robes and turbans while others attire in jeans and t-shirts.

This makes me ask some questions: Are some of our practical applications (doctrines and laws) simply based on preferences (or our interpretative lenses) and not necessarily in contradiction to others’ applications of the same principles? Do we sometimes incorrectly assume that someone is disobedient to God’s Word when in reality they are living out the same principle with another form of application?

In terms of God’s Word, which parts of the law and the prophets should we obey today? Some would say everything but certain aspects of the ceremonial law. If so, do we follow to the letter of the law all aspects of the civil and moral laws set forth in the Old Testament? If so, how is this determined?

Should you plant more than one type of seeds in your garden (Deuteronomy 22:9)? Should you wear clothes made with two types of material (Deuteronomy 22:11)? If your brother dies should you marry his wife (Deuteronomy 25:5)? Should you abstain from medium-rare steaks off the grill (Leviticus 19:26)? And what about tattoos—should you forbid them and condemn anyone who wears one (Leviticus 19:28)?

I could list many more Old Testament laws and no doubt receive a vast number of opinions in response. Take the last one I mentioned—currently a controversial issue for many. I personally dislike tattoos. But on what basis can I judge someone who wears one?

We’re living in the post-resurrection church era. Jesus foresaw our struggle to get along with each other and prayed about it passionately. Especially noteworthy are His prayers for unity in John 17; it’s mentioned four times!

A wise German Lutheran theologian by the name of Rupertus Meldenius once said, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” So let me ask you: Is the Apostle’s Creed enough for you to unite with other believers—God’s children whom you will spend eternity with? Can you pray, worship, and work alongside another person who holds to the fundamentals of your faith? Why or why not?

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.

From Cows back to Tombstones

When I was around eight years of age my parents discovered that I was quite near-sighted. Here’s how it happened. Snow was falling while we drove away from our friends’ house after a Sunday lunch. Looking out the car window I spotted what I thought was a herd of cows in a nearby field. My heart of compassion melted for those “poor critters in the snowstorm,” and I shared my sentiments publicly. My mom and dad both gasped and laughed at the same time. I had mistaken tombstones for cows—we were simply passing by a cemetery.

Less than three weeks ago I traveled to Louisville, KY to see if I would qualify for LASIK eye surgery. According to the Joffe Medi-Center there are basically three steps to the standard procedure. First, the corneal flap is created and lifted; second, an excimer laser reshapes the cornea; and third, the flap is replaced. All this is done in a matter of minutes. Recovery and regained sight is almost instantaneous.

Before I take you through my experience with LASIK let me tell you about my condition. Without corrective lenses (contacts or glasses) I could hardly recognize someone standing five feet away. My prescription for glasses was around -8.25 and for contacts -7.5.

After getting tested by the professionals at Joffe, I was informed that I was not a candidate for standard LASIK. PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy) was recommended instead. It involved a gentle scraping of some surface cells off the cornea and then using a laser beam to re-shape it. I was told that recovery would take longer and that there would be several days of discomfort.

It took just three minutes on the operating table. Blurred vision and the smell of burning flesh lasted only for seconds. Imagine my surprise at being able to read the clock on the wall immediately after surgery. That was something I hadn’t been able to do for thirty years!

The first evening was very unpleasant as my eyes were on fire! Painkillers and other meds helped me fall asleep. By morning I was much better and actually drove the hour and a half trip home. A week later my vision was at 20/25 with “bandage contacts.” Those were taken out during my second check-up and my vision regressed for several days following. After that my vision improved almost on a daily basis. Today I have my vision back and I’m not using any corrective lenses whatsoever. I’m also back to work and using my computer again; hence another post to the blogosphere.

Never again will I mistake tombstones for cows.

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?

What is Spiritual Authority?

Much has been written on authority and how it relates to leadership. In the last few decades we’ve witnessed time and again a general lack of respect for authority and the crumbling of structures in which these authorities have operated. We’ve also generally been taught that those who reject authority are under condemnation. But is it also possible that those who claim authority are actually not “in authority” at all? And if that is the case should one seek out another spiritual authority?

Just last week I came across Watchman Nee’s Ten Commandments of Spiritual Authority. As a student of leadership I found his insights fascinating. I’ll make comments after each one.

1. One who learns spiritual authority as the power base for ministry must recognize the essential Source of all authority: God.

While many rely on their position granted to them by another human being, true spiritual authority can only stem from God. Positional leadership will always be limited in its power; people ultimately respect and follow the influence of one who is anointed with authority from above.

2. God’s delegated authority does not belong to the person exercising it – that person is just a channel.

Perhaps Andy Stanley says it best when expounding on a passage repeated four times in the book of Daniel (4:17, 4:25, 4:32, 5:21): “Leadership is a stewardship, it is temporary, and you’re accountable.” Nebuchadnezzar learned it the hard way but at least he “got it”! A later king—Belshazzar—treated his predecessor’s most important life lesson with contempt and lost everything including his life.

3. The channel of delegated authority is responsible to God for how that authority is exercised.

As often seen in the Biblical narrative, authority wrongly exercised by one, leads to another raised in his stead. Moses failed by not speaking to the rock and Joshua replaced him. As Saul became power hungry and consumed with self-preservation a young worshiper named David began his ascension to the throne.

4. A leader is one who recognizes God’s authority manifested in real-life situations.

A person who has spiritual influence is one who not only knows God but has also experienced God. His or her wisdom is derived from seeing God’s finger in the “normal stuff” of life and responding rightly to the means and methods of Sovereignty.

5. Subjection to authority means that a person is subjected to God Himself and not to the channel through which the authority comes.

Perhaps you’ve seen leaders who start out well with a desire to please only God, yet end up serving a system that God has seemingly withdrawn from. “Ichabod” (see 1 Samuel 4:21) is clearly written over the institution as it has become self-serving and no longer reveals the glory of God to its constituents. Instead of serving “an audience of One”, the leader now serves the structure or hierarchy that granted him his perceived position of authority.

6. Rebellion against authority means that a person is not subjecting himself to God, though it may appear that the person is rejecting some impure manifestation of God’s authority through a human channel.

Just this morning I was reading in Numbers 16 about the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On. They believed that Moses and Aaron had set themselves above everyone else apart from God’s authority. While Moses and Aaron were certainly human and thus prone to sin and failure, these rebels failed to understand that it was God’s authority they were questioning. They were struck down because they “treated the Lord with contempt” (16:30). Incidentally, not long after this event both Moses and Aaron also failed to subject themselves to God’s authority (20:12) and forfeited their privilege of entering the Promised Land.

7. People who are under God’s authority look for and recognize spiritual authority and willingly place themselves under it.

A centurion with great authority and power in the Roman world recognized Jesus’ Sovereign authority and humbly noted that he was undeserving of having audience with Him (see Luke 7:1-10). Jesus commended this man for his tremendous faith—something He could not say about His own people who should have recognized Him for Who He truly was.

8. Spiritual authority is never exercised for one’s own benefit, but for those under it.

The greatest model ever of this is Jesus of Nazareth. Entering our world as a vulnerable little baby and choosing poverty for circumstances rather than a palace, Jesus demonstrated that He wouldn’t take advantage of His heavenly position (Philippians 2:6). He instructs His disciples on authority in Matthew 20:25-28: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

9. A person in spiritual authority does not have to insist on obedience – that is the moral responsibility of the follower.

When a leader has to remind followers to obey his or her authority it may be a sign that the leader is no longer in authority. True followers who submit themselves to God’s authority will remove themselves from the influence of those who are simply blowing their own trumpet and seek out another leader where’s God’s authority is clearly evident. The men who followed David did that. And David removed himself from Saul’s authority as well—though perhaps more so for the preservation of his life than anything else.

10. God is responsible to defend spiritual authority.

When one who has spiritual authority is rejected it is not his or her responsibility to defend that authority. This principle is clearly seen in the Numbers 16 story alluded to earlier. In God’s words: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19).

Easter Blues

It’s Saturday night and Easter Sunday is just hours away. I’ve watched several online videos about the significance of the Death and Resurrection of Christ but I’ll have to admit—I’m feeling numb to it all. I know I should be excited about this day. I know it’s the pivotal event for Christ-followers. But I’m just not feeling it.

Does this just happen to me? Have I heard the story so many times that it no longer grabs me emotionally? Can I blame it on the burnout I’ve recently been grappling with? (I’ve been traveling a lot lately; too many road miles it seems. My body has also been run down; I think I’m finally getting over a head cold that has gripped me for several weeks.)

Or is it simply another reminder that our faith is not based on feeling but on fact?

Not too long ago I delivered six sessions on one day. By number five I was really dragging. I felt that my presentation had fallen flat; that I had lost all passion for one of my favorite stories in the Bible. What fascinated me, however, was how well the Q & A period went right after I had finished my labored delivery. We got on to this issue of faith versus feeling. That faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). That often as we mature in our faith our emotions, feelings, and experiences lessen—that we must tenaciously hang on, especially when we don’t feel like it. That sometimes, though not always, feelings might follow the choice to act out of our beliefs.

I believe that the death and resurrection of Christ is the greatest event that ever took place in history. I have a joy that is deep-seated though not always felt. And tomorrow I will choose to worship with thousands of others based on my beliefs rather than on my feelings. Perhaps my emotions will be touched, and possibly not.

So how about you? Have you discovered that the longer you follow Christ the more you walk by faith than by sight? What about the frequency of your feelings and emotions? If that is going down how do you deal with it? Is your faith growing cold or is it actually growing deeper?

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!

Getting Ticked Without Sinning

A little over a week ago my wife and I were returning from our 15th anniversary getaway. While enduring a rather lengthy layover in Chicago’s O’Hare, we were startled to see a man get kicked off his flight. After a United agent had checked his boarding pass, this young man had thrown a rather rude comment over his shoulder while entering the jet bridge. Apparently he had had enough that day with flight delays, re-routes, gate changes, etc. That brief retort did him in, however; a manager rushed onto the plane and forced him off. Cursing and yelling, this angry traveler demanded his rights and berated the gate agents while his flight continued to board without him. He finally stomped off down the concourse in a fit of rage.

I’m sure most people present thought he was a complete loser. But I couldn’t help putting myself in his shoes and feeling his pain. He had been pushed to the edge, and had snapped. Has that ever happened to you?

I vividly remember when I once lost it. It also happened right before I boarded a flight. I was still single, traveling in China with a group of guys. Struggling with culture shock and fear of getting apprehended by the authorities, I came unglued when a security agent asked me to open my bag. I pretended I hadn’t heard, put my head down, and forged ahead toward my gate. Of course I didn’t get far. They held the plane for me that day though. And after investigating my bags they let me board without further trouble.

I remember my embarrassment; my overwhelming sense of guilt for having left such a terrible testimony. I also did a lot of repenting that evening—before the sun set.

Ephesians 4:26-27 gives us some directives on handling anger. “In your anger do not sin,” Paul says. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

First, note that the Greek word for anger here is actually a command. Anger is an emotion that must be felt—not suppressed or denied. We’re ordered to be angry. In fact, anger is a negative emotion one keenly feels when perceiving that an act of injustice has occurred.

So not all anger is bad. It’s evidence, you might say, that we’ve been made in God’s image. Something within us cries out for the world to be made right.

Next, Paul points out; do not sin in your anger. “Go ahead—be mad,” he writes, “but when you’re ticked off, remember that sinning is off limits!”

Our problem is not anger; rather, it’s the sinful ways we tend to respond to it. Expressing anger in immature, selfish, and hurtful ways is always sin. If we don’t properly deal with our anger it can destroy both us and others. Buried anger eventually leads a person into pits of depression. Concealed anger eventually leaks out and poisons relationships, much like toxic waste that seeps into the water table.

Last of all, deal with your anger quickly—before the sun sets! The longer you wait the harder it is to resolve an issue. Going to bed angry makes your anger behave like cement; it hardens during the night. Holding on to anger also builds a wall of resentment between relationships. One person wisely said, “Do not erect a shrine to your anger in your heart. If you do, the devil will appoint himself its priest.”

So how do you deal with your anger? Do you tend to own it and get over it or do you tend to excuse it or suppress it? Be brave, leave a comment. Share your strategies for overcoming anger; your coping mechanisms.

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.

Discovering Your Gift

At age seventeen I flew out to Alberta, Canada to visit my brother who was teaching in a small parochial school on the prairie. Escaping the classroom, Tim went skiing with me in the Rockies and introduced me to his hockey-playing friends. I dodged moguls at Lake Louise, floated through powder at Castle Mountain, and played hockey against a team consisting mostly of RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officers. It was an unforgettable week!

Two years later I headed west again. I was destined for more phenomenal skiing and fast hockey plus some school teaching on the side. I thought I had my gifts figured out—something to do with sports and the great outdoors. But during that first year I played very few games and hardly hit the slopes. My first year in the classroom turned into a second and a third. I was discovering my areas of greatest strength by trying something new. In fact, teaching and speaking became a passion. Had you interviewed me prior to moving west, however, you would have heard something entirely different. I would have told you that concrete construction or something connected with agriculture was on my horizon.

Last week I talked about maximizing your gift. But what if you haven’t discovered it? What if you don’t know what your strengths are and are only painfully aware of your weaknesses? Can you in fact discover your gifts and begin moving toward your strengths zone? Where does the journey begin?

Author Marcus Buckingham has produced some great resources on discovering one’s strengths. I’ve used his Trombone Player Wanted video series to help others discover their gifts and start putting them to work. One of my hottest selling resources at leadership seminars and youth conferences has been his book, The Truth About You.

Buckingham believes that many people have bought into three myths—two which are: (1) As you grow your personality changes, and (2) You grow the most in your areas of greatest weakness. But the truth is that, (1) As you grow, you become more of who you already are, and (2) You grow the most in your areas of greatest strength.

Consider your daughter coming home from school with an A in English Literature and an F in Calculus. What do you typically focus on? Do you help her conquer her Calculus or stoke her passion for English Literature? Most likely you focus on areas of greatest weakness and thus work on the Calculus. Now while it’s true that you ought to assist her in attaining a passing grade, far more time should be invested in your daughter’s love of English Literature. Her greatest potential lies in this sphere; she may in fact become a great poet, author, or journalist.

So how do we discover our strengths? Buckingham suggests several things to get us started. First, can you think of any activities that you excel at? Second, is there any work activity you’re involved in that recently went from good to great? Third, when your team is in a crunch and needs a great performance, what is the “play” that everyone knows only you can run? Or, what do others think you’re really good at doing? Fourth, are there any activities that make you feel strong, powerful, and fulfilled? Fifth, can you think of any activities that you especially look forward to; meaningful activities that someone might hire you for? And last of all, as with many hobbies, are there work activities you enjoy so much that you almost forget time when doing them?

If most of your answers were negative it may be time for you to try something new. Experiment. Risk. Be bold and adventuresome. Perhaps God has something big out there waiting for you to discover that will bring Him the greatest glory and you the most joy.

For the present, here’s a good place to start. Track your activities for a week. Whenever you do something that intrigues you, holds your interest, or perhaps even makes you feel magnificent, write it down and ask yourself some questions. Why did I enjoy it? Can I deliberately do this more often? Can I take this activity from its current level of performance to something much higher? In other words, are there some skills I need to develop in order to sharpen this strength? And lastly, is there someone I need to talk to about allowing me to work more in my area of greatest strength?

 

At age seventeen I flew out to Alberta, Canada to visit my brother who was teaching in a small parochial school on the prairie. Escaping the classroom, Tim went skiing with me in the Rockies and introduced me to his hockey-playing friends. I dodged moguls at Lake Louise, floated through powder at Castle Mountain, and played hockey against a team consisting mostly of RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officers. It was an unforgettable week!
 
Two years later I headed west again. I was destined for more phenomenal skiing and fast hockey plus some school teaching on the side. I thought I had my gifts figured out—something to do with sports and the great outdoors. But during that first year I played very few games and hardly hit the slopes. My first year in the classroom turned into a second and a third. I was discovering my areas of greatest strength by trying something new. In fact, teaching and speaking became a passion. Had you interviewed me prior to moving west, however, you would have heard something entirely different. I would have told you that concrete construction or something connected with agriculture was on my horizon.
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.

Unity in Diversity

This past month I’ve been reminded again of the diversity and beauty of the body of Christ. A roomful of guys from different backgrounds sharing their dreams about reaching a broken world. A group of students at LSU attempting to decipher their role in the Kingdom. A couple with three children—two adopted from China and one biological—who have taken a foreign exchange student into their home and are open to moving overseas to make God famous among the unreached. All seeking the heart of God, all pursuing His higher purposes for their lives. Though not like me, all are Christ-followers with whom I experienced a oneness and joy.

I’ve taught numerous times on the issue of God’s greatest glory being reached when He unites all the diversity on the planet under the one umbrella of Jesus Christ. I’ve seen my vision of God expand each time I worship Him with people from differing perspectives and cultures. I’ve also been enriched in my Christian walk by learning from people of varying colors and Christian backgrounds.

Unity is good, pleasant, and refreshing, David points out in his 133rd Psalm. It is there that “the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore” (vs. 3). Unity is also a major theme in the New Testament. Jesus prays for it three times in His classic prayer found in John 17. Paul mentions it over and over again. Yet we still don’t seem to really get it. As one of my friends recently commented, “It is unfortunate that we take time out of our busy schedule fighting the devil to fight each other.”

To keep things in perspective, John Trapp reminds us that, “Unity without verity [truth] is no better than conspiracy. In fact, many folks excuse themselves from the pursuit of unity for this very reason. And while that may be noble in certain situations, I believe that most of the time many Christians are misguided by their unperceived arrogance. Their feelings of superiority based on their belief that they have greater insights and revelation than other believers makes them prime candidates for opposition. Not opposition from the enemy however. The Apostle James makes it very clear that “God resists the proud” (4:6).

I have no doubt that true unity cannot occur apart from a commitment to truth. Yet why do we tend to fight over the 10 percent or less of nuance and application rather than unite on the 90+ percent of essentials we all agree on? The old ecumenism put little emphasis on truth…a new ecumenism must move forward on the essentials of the Gospel. It must grow in the context of relationship as we mutually influence each other to become more like Christ. In other words, what’s strong or beneficial in someone else’s faith tradition becomes a learning point for us, and what’s useful and valuable in our faith tradition becomes a learning point for them.

Frederick Coutts once said that, “Few things make a mockery of Christianity more than disunity among believers.” The present day fragmentation of the church must end. Not necessarily an end to all denominations and groupings, but rather an end to the isolation, turf wars and posturing these barriers have created.

Jesus saw unity in terms of missional impact. “By this will all men know that you are My disciples,” He stated, “by your love for one another.” What are you currently doing to fulfill His vision for unity in the body?

“Sacrifice Your Son on Top of a Mountain”
Posing with my son Jamin (age 7) at the summit of the first "Fourteener" he climbed in CO in 2009.

What if your friend told you he’d heard a voice lately instructing him to do exactly that—take a hike up a distant mountain and sacrifice his son there as a burnt offering. And furthermore, he’s pretty sure it was God’s voice. Would you think, “I’ve got to get this guy committed to the psycho ward…he’s either believing a really bad joke or is a fringe lunatic.”

Or what if one of your good friends told you that God had told him to hang out in the red light district of a local city and marry the first hooker that propositioned him? Would you tell him he’s a sick man taking a one-way ticket down a road clearly paved with marital wreckage and well-deserved character defamation?

Or would famous Father Abraham or holy-man Prophet Hosea both come to mind. These men both heard from the God of the universe tell them to do exactly what I’ve described above (Genesis 22:2, Hosea 1:2; 3:1-3). And both real-life stories from the Word beg the question: does God still ask His followers to do seemingly crazy things that go completely against conventional wisdom?

Just yesterday morning I read in Mark 3:21 that Jesus’ own family thought He was “out of his mind.” They tried to shut him down or at least bring him under their control. Have you ever been accused of being out of your mind when pursuing a God-inspired dream or following the course God has laid out for you? Does heroic faith often look absurd to those obsessed with commonsense and only aspire to a “good call” in retrospect?

Stories of other Biblical heroes further rock our airtight arguments for rigid applications of truth and principles. A faithful woman named Ruth uncovered a guy’s feet in the middle of the night (Ruth 3:7)—was she setting a good example to those wondering about how to ask out a date? Isaiah walked around naked and barefoot for three years to make a graphic point (Isaiah 20:2-3)—shouldn’t someone like that be arrested for indecent exposure? And then there’s Jesus. Rather than going along with a broken religious system, He rebuked its leaders in fits of anger (John 2:15-17) and preferred to hang out with outsiders—men and women of ill repute (Luke 5:29-32; 7:37-39). Always at the center of controversy, Jesus often caused disunity (Matthew 10:34) and exhorted His followers to choose Him above their parents and religious authorities (Luke 14:26-33). And finally, the Apostle Paul—a former promoter of Jewish orthodoxy and absolute adherence to its system—is a Spirit-inspired troublemaker who today might be known as one who is constantly “church-hopping” (Acts 16:40; 18:1-23), judging Christian leaders (Galatians 2:11-14), and instigating violent protests (Acts 17:1-9).

Consider further these last two characters. Would Jesus pass the “Not even a hint of immorality” test with all the people He hung out with? And honestly, would you let a preacher speak in your church who like Paul had mystical experiences (2 Corinthians 12:1-4) and whose handkerchiefs were used to heal the sick (Acts 19:11-12)?

I’ve just finished reading Fixing Abraham by Chris Tiegreen that has me re-thinking my typical approach of forming conclusive opinions on the purposes or nature of God. I’m also wondering about our tendency to judge those who don’t follow conventional Christian pathways or use orthodox methods while pursuing what they understand to be God’s will for their lives. Is our general approach to Biblical understanding too sterilized; or in Tiegreen’s words—“Is it possible we’ve created a safe, tidy Christian culture that too often holds back from embracing the complete truth of God’s character—and those of His people?”

What do you think? What part of the Biblical narrative is jarring your neatly packaged theology?

One Word for the Year

I took Jon Gordon’s free tele-seminar last week. My most important takeaway resulted in a family powwow yesterday that zeroed in on Gordon’s advice to pick one word to focus and define one’s life for the coming year. We decided that choosing verbs would do best in keeping us action-oriented with these words.

For me it was pray—I want to develop a deeper prayer life in the coming year. My wife Amy chose the verb listen since her desire in 2011 is to cultivate a greater sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit in the little things of life. Brittany chose the word respect—as a teenager she desires to grow in her respect for her parents and her friends. Courtney felt that the words be kind would help focus her responses to siblings and others when they “get under her skin.” Jamin chose the verb obey as he believes he needs to grow in the area of instant obedience. Lastly, our family chose the word encourage, focusing our collective vision of building each other up over the course of the next year.

I took each of these words and printed them out on cardstock. Each of us will now draw a picture on the background of each card to further demonstrate how that word will affect us in 2011.

So how about you…what will define your focus in the coming year?

New Year’s Lenses

As we close out 2010 and prepare for 2011 I’m reminded of this idea of setting New Year’s resolutions. While striking cynicism in the hearts of some, in others it creates a sense of excitement; there’s this prospect of starting out with a fresh slate and making some positive changes. Some get a charge out of setting goals and fulfilling them while others know that it amounts to little more than short-term hype—their New Year’s resolutions are usually broken before the end of January.

Regardless of whether or not we set New Year’s resolutions, many of us unfortunately tend to believe in a future that is based on our past. We perceive that the future will hold much of the same and that little can be done in terms of intentional thinking or planning since what generally happens will happen. Those of us who don’t buy into such strict fatalism may still tend to see ourselves in terms of the past however. If we’ve had some negative experiences in the last year and attained few wins under our belts we will most likely face the future with less optimism and hope than those who have a trail lined with success.

But what if we didn’t see our future in terms of how we presently see ourselves? What if we refused to define ourselves by the past and instead looked at our future as God does?

I recently listened to Andy Stanley hit another home run with the final message in the North Point series, Game Plan. He pointed out that we tend to see our children in terms of their future and potential rather than looking at their past with all its mistakes and failures. In 1 Samuel 16 God tells Samuel that He sees not as we see. He looks at our hearts. He looks at what can be done with a heart that is fully committed to Him. He looks at our future through the lenses of redemption and restoration. God does not look at the things we look at.

So what if our heavenly Father really does see us differently than we see ourselves? What if Jeremiah 29:11 is really true? What if God really desires to prosper His children and not harm them? What if He really does have plans for us; plans that we would have a hope and a future? What if His thoughts and ways are really higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8)? Listen to the preceding verses that are filled with hope and goodwill: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their way and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (vs. 6-7).

There is hope for our future. Even if we think we are past half-time in the game. Even if our lives have been defined by failure in the past. God does not see us as we see ourselves. He sees us in terms of redemption and restoration; in terms of our future and potential!

“My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” (Jeremiah 24:6-7)

The Either/Or Dilemma in Church World

Either we focus on getting people saved or we get caught up with a social gospel. Either it’s about nurturing people on the inside or it’s about reaching those on the outside. Some would agree with the first statement and yet disagree with the latter. We tend to say it’s both/and…we’re about discipling those on the inside while sharing the gospel with those on the outside. Yet, a common concern I’ve often heard has generally been, “If we’re not careful to maintain and protect what we already have we’ll have nothing to offer those we are attempting to reach with the Gospel.”

And furthermore, “Don’t forget about our kids!” We all know that we need a safe environment for our children. But really, how safe is the church today? Our children are exposed to insider-centered programming (see next paragraph), materialism, escapism, and a posture against change that cherishes maintenance at the expense of missional values. C.T. Studd once said that “Some wish to live within the sound of Church or Chapel bell; I want to run a Rescue Shop within a yard of hell.” Which one really is safer for a living faith to be passed on to next generations?

In practical terms, simply consider how our systems and common lingo caters to those of us who are in church world. We talk knowingly about being “born again,” “saved and justified by grace”, “having a burden for the lost,” “laying on hands,” or “being the bride of Christ.” Do Christianese terms such as these make any sense to outsiders who just happen to slip through the plate glass doors on a Sunday morning? And what about normal church programming? Does it make sense to members in the club but leave outsiders confused and feeling excluded? Consider passing statements such as, “We all remember what happened to Daniel’s three friends.” What does that say to the person who never saw a Sunday School flannel graph in their life? It’s simply understood that everyone present has heard the story. If we really are honest however, what we do generally translates into a holy huddle that enjoys the warmth of the campfire while unintentionally blocking out the light for those in the shadows. Perhaps in practical terms we really do have more of an either/or approach.

And what about the social gospel? Is it an either/or issue? I think scripture is clear that Jesus had a both/and approach—he met people’s physical needs while also addressing their root spiritual issues. Yet today’s evangelicals have reacted to the social gospel and focus more on just saving people’s souls, serving their congregations, and defending the faith. British theologian John Stott lists five specific reasons why this has happened:

  1. The evangelical reaction against theological liberalism.
  2. The division of the gospel into social and spiritual categories.
  3. Evangelicals’ disillusionment with earthly life after World War I.
  4. The spread of premillenialism that emphasized a rapturous withdrawal from this evil world rather than introducing the Kingdom of heaven now.
  5. The spread of evangelical Christianity among the upper and middle classes who equated it, more and more, with their own personal well-being.

Recently I finished reading “The Church of Irresistible Influence” by Robert Lewis. He believes that “contrary to much evidence, the church does not exist for the sake of the church. It exists for the sake of the world.” He says that most Christians are becoming more and more comfortable with each other while becoming more and more disconnected with the world. We live in fairly isolated communities with programs that meet our needs primarily. In terms of the season, we’ve lost our ability to incarnate the truth. Christ left the safety zone of heaven to bring transformational truth into our world. The law from Unapproachable Deity above hadn’t cut it…the Word had to come down and become flesh. He had to speak our language in our world in order for us to get it. By building a bridge from the eternal realm to us in time and space, Christ set us free to transcend our world and enter His (Ephesians 2:6).

If in fact, the church embraced a holistic gospel and focused its energies on becoming all things to all people in order to draw them into the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), perhaps the either/or dilemma would start to disappear. I believe we need a both/and approach that builds bridges to our communities and results in a vibrant faith.

Let me close yet with two reality check questions I once heard that may help you keep this conversation going: (1) If your church doors closed tomorrow would anyone in your community notice? (2) Would anyone care?

Was Jesus a control freak?
Jesus on servant leadership

I’ll never forget that meeting. We sat in a circle to discuss strategy, or perhaps better stated—my strategy. The tension was palpable; in fact, you could have cut it with a knife. They were my team and I was running point. There was one slight problem however; you see, from my leadership point of view, I believed that they were there to carry out my vision according to my plan.

Years later my leadership mentor would invite me to a Lead Like Jesus Encounter with a group of Wycliffe associates. Assembled at the conference table were linguists—brilliant men with degrees out to wazoo—and then this young inexperienced kid that was trying to lead a budding organization. That day I was introduced to a new paradigm of leadership.

Jesus as Savior—check, Jesus as Lord—check, but what about Jesus as the greatest Leadership role model ever? I’m not sure that this thought had ever crossed my mind. And perhaps for some simple reasoning. Just consider for a minute, His greatest moment on the planet—when the reason for His earthly existence culminated at the cross. The guys He had led for three years all turned tail and ran; in fact, one from his inner circle “cussed Him out” (Mark 14:71) after denying twice even the slightest acquaintance to Him. Yet it was this motley crew, minus one, that went out just a short time later and turned the world upside down…that started the greatest organization in the world.

What was it about Jesus’ leadership that transformed unlearned, ignorant men into passionate followers and thus leaders of the early church? What was the DNA of His leadership methodology—the nuts and bolts of equipping these men who would ultimately do greater works than Him?

Servant leadership. Jesus called a group of men together from various backgrounds to embrace the vision of His Father—they were to become “fishers of men” among all peoples of the world. And after casting a powerful vision, Jesus didn’t lean back in His armchair expecting His people to get out there and do it. Rather, He modeled what He taught. He gave them authority and power to do what He did. His servant leadership approach was firmly explained—“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

Yet, one might be hard pressed to see how well that model has caught. Many traditional leadership paradigms continue to reflect top-down structures, power and control; some even to the point of manipulation.

Either we fear losing control or our misunderstanding of responsibility results in micromanagement. Just the other day, my friend told me about his idea to empower groups within his church to launch out on their collective visions. The Pastor’s response? “We have enough pastors to run each group!” In other words, “Here’s how we can maintain control.” Perhaps this response is due to our default thinking that generally imagines the worst case scenario possible. “Everyone will do what is right in their own eyes” or “People will get carried away with their own ideas.”

Sure that might happen. But then good leadership—in the context of Christ’s—would cast a powerful vision and then equip each member/group with the tools to accomplish it. Jesus kept the traditional paradigm very much alive by casting vision from the top and then flipping the pyramid upside down in order to serve from the bottom. It’s called empowerment and deals a death blow to control and fear-based leadership.

Consider just a few verses in the beginning of John chapter four. Jesus didn’t baptize—His disciples did. How many pastors do you know that believe in that level of empowerment?

Or think about how hard Jesus worked on deflecting all praise to His Father. He kept sneaking off into the desert when the crowds wanted to make Him King. He was there to fulfill His role in His Father’s vision…He was there to equip men and women to carry it out. He served, He taught, He led.

In fact, Jesus stated that His disciples might do greater works than they had seen Him do (John 14:12). Leadership was not about Him. It was about bringing glory to His Father. Jesus served His people because He served His Father’s vision.

Was Jesus a control freak? I think the answer is clear. With a basin and towel Jesus got down and washed His disciples’ feet leaving us with one of the most powerful images for servant leadership—one based on empowerment vs. control, one based on vision rather than on the leader.

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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Countries Visited
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14-ers Climbed in CO
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2014 - 2017

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.