How long could you do ministry without God?

I wonder how long I could be successful in ministry without God? I’ve been in vocational ministry for 31 years, and I seldom encounter a situation I haven’t seen before. I have a stockpile of sermons to pull from, and many other places where I can grab a complete sermon with a moments notice. I do strategy, staffing and structure in my sleep. My experience, connections and the internet give me all the tools I need to do ministry, and do it at a very high level. God is good, but often not all that necessary.

How about you? How long could your church function, and function well, without God? You have your sermons planned through Easter, your song lists loaded into Planning Center and your small group resources online. You have well-trained volunteers and the best staff money can buy. Your IT and weekend tech have redundancies built in to handle any contingency. The people who attend your church know that they will have a quality experience every weekend regardless what might happen behind the scenes. Certainly God is welcome at your church, but is he really necessary?

Israel created an elaborate and efficient church that ran very well without God. The priests and Levites excelled at their roles, the sacrificial system was geared to handle the crowds at Passover efficiently, and the Jewish people knew their needs were met with consistency and care. 400 years after God stepped away the Jews no longer missed him. They had created a church without God.

And then one weekend he showed up. He ignored their service run down, he tore up their resource table and he violated their policies and procedures. Every time he came to a service havoc ensued. Finally they had to either completely change the way they did church or kill God. They chose to kill God.

I am all for policies, procedures, strategy, training, planning and technology. If fact, except for policies and procedures, these are the things I love the most. And I am amazed to see how effectively churches use these tools to reach people far from God and lead them into biblical discipleship. What scares me, shakes me to my core, however is how easily we can substitute the tools of worship for genuine worship. How often we find ourselves worshipping the creation rather than the creator. How many weekends we leave church feeling satisfied because the music was good, the sermon was well received and the attendance was up without even considering if God was pleased.

How long has it been since I have been on my face before God, desperate to hear from him, knowing that I am absolutely toast without him. When was the last time I was so hungry to experience the power and presence of God that I could not eat, I could not sleep until I felt the supernatural touch of his Holy Spirit? When was the last time I was so overwhelmed by the responsibility of preaching the Word that I could barely breathe?

It is not all that hard to build a ministry without God. What a terrifying place to be.

Notes from Over The Edge

“God is not a belief-system.
Jesus is not a religion.
Christianity is not a check-list.
Church is not an address.
The Bible is not a book of doctrines.
Community is not a meeting.
Grace has no exceptions.
Ministry is not a program.
Art is not carnal.
Women are not inferior.
Our humanity is not the enemy.
Sinner is not our identity.
Love is not a theory.
Peace is not a circumstance.
Science is not secular.
Sex is not filthy.
Life is not a warm-up for Heaven
The world is not without hope.
There is no “us” and “them.”
Tattoos are not evil.
Loving the earth is not satanic.
Seeing the divine in all things is not heretical.
Self-actualization is not self-worship.
Feelings are not dangerous and unreliable.
The mind is not infallible.”

Biblical Archeology Filmmaker Blasts Jesus Book Author Reza Aslan for Suggesting Jesus Called His Country ‘Palestine’

 

 

Simcha Jacobovici is a Canadian-Israeli adjunct religion professor and filmmaker known for his biblical archaeology History Channel series “The Naked Archaeologist.” In an op-ed in the Times of Israel, Jacobovici takes Reza Aslan, author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” to task for referring to the land of Jesus as “Palestine,” when a review of historical sources shows the place was known as “Judea,” a word that in Hebrew is synonymous with the word “Jew.”

Biblical Archeology Filmmaker Blasts Jesus Book Author Reza Aslan for Suggesting Jesus Called his Country Palestine

Author Reza Aslan (Image source: author’s website)

Jacobovici writes (emphasis added throughout), “in all his interviews, Aslan goes out of his way to refer to Jesus’ Judea i.e., the land of the Jews, as ‘Palestine.’  For all I care, he can call it ‘Nebraska,’ as long as he doesn’t give the impression that this is really what it was called by the inhabitants of Judea in Jesus’ time.”

If you write a book about Jesus and you call his country by the name that he called it i.e., ‘Judea’, the politically correct armies of anti-Israel activists may get upset with you. So Aslan calls ancient Judea ‘Palestine’ and hides behind the reference to the ‘Roman designation’ for the province,” Jacobovici writes.

“This is very cynical. It’s very cynical to fudge the history of the Aegean Philistines 3200 years ago, lingering references to their name, and the Roman province of the second century CE. It’s very cynical to retroactively place modern Arab Palestinians into Jesus’ Jewish Hellenistic world,” the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker writes.

“In Jesus’ day, his country was called Judea, and the overall designation for the land was ‘Israel’ – as it is today. You can argue about politics, but let’s not change history to suit our views,” he adds.

Jacobovici points out that when asked why he uses the name “Palestine” for ancient Judea, Aslan insists he is using the “Roman designation” for the area, saying the designation was “Syria Palestine.”

“This is absolutely wrong,” writes Jacobovici. “More than this, it demonstrates a certain cynicism when manipulating history for the purpose of ideology.”

Jacobovici provides a detailed review of the word “Palestine” and where it came from including noting that when Jesus was born “there hadn’t been any Philistines in the area for some 600 years.” The name “Palestine” does not appear in the Gospels and those living in Judea during Jesus’ time – including Jesus and his disciples “would never have referred to their country as ‘Palestine,’” the filmmaker notes.

Biblical Archeology Filmmaker Blasts Jesus Book Author Reza Aslan for Suggesting Jesus Called his Country Palestine

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici (Screenshot: History Channel)

Many Blaze readers made the same point as Jacobovici when commenting on Faith Editor Billy Hallowell’s post reviewing highlights from Aslan’s contentious interview with Fox News. “It’s about a historical man who walked the earth 2,000 years ago in a land that the Romans found Palestine,” Aslan told Fox News last month.

One reader commented, “Notice how he refuses to say ‘Israel’ using the name ‘Palestine.’”

Another wrote of Aslan’s terminology: “It’s about a historical man who walked the earth 2,000 years ago in a land that the Romans found Palestine.’ This is inaccurate.”

“I wonder if his true purpose was not so much Jesus in his book but attempting to establish Palestine 2000 years ago,” wrote another Blaze reader.

Jacobovici has himself been the subject of some criticism for raising provocative theories about early Christianity, including a theory that Jesus and his family were buried in a tomb under Jerusalem.

Jacobovici likens Aslan’s word choice to another politically-charged issue, Native Americans, writing, “But let’s say the Romans had called ‘Judea’ ‘Palestine’ in Jesus’ time – which they didn’t – why would a writer focusing on Jesus as a Jewish patriot i.e., a Zealot, want to call Jesus’ country by the name that his enemies used?”

“It’s as if I wrote a book about a native American hero and kept referring to him as an ‘Indian’, because that’s what white people called him,” Jacobovici writes.

“I think there is no room for propaganda when reviewing history. No one is objective. But we can try to be truthful,” he adds.

The difference between Huddles and Small Groups

[This blog post is written by Doug Paul, the Director of Content for 3DM, based on some discussions we’ve been having on our team in the last few weeks and and some teachings I’ve done on it in the past.]

More and more people have heard about the discipling vehicle of Huddle, either through word-of-mouth or reading the book Building a Discipling Culture that we put out two years ago (which, by the way, is on it’s 5th printing and will be available soon. It’s become so popular we can’t keep them on the shelves). These are two of the more common questions or possible confusion points people hit about Huddles:

  1. What’s the difference between Huddle and a traditional small group?
  2. Am I suggesting that Huddles replace small groups?

First, let’s talk about the differences. The easiest way to highlight this is through describing exactly what a Huddle is.

A Huddle is:

  • A place for leaders to receive investment, training, imitation and accountability (in other words…discipleship!). Here’s the big thing to note on this one: It is for current and/or future leaders. The people accepting an invitation into a Huddle should know they are expected to lead something (and maybe they already are, but if they aren’t, the expectation that they will start leading something). This is the principle at work: If you disciple leaders in how to disciple people, everyone in your community will be discipled. Why? Because you’re instilling in your leaders the Great Commission principle that “every disciple disciples others.”
  • By invitation only. A Huddle is an invitation for 6-12 leaders to regularly receive intentional investment by a discipling leader. But it is more than that. It’s also an invitation in that person’s life, not just a 90-minute-per-week gathering point.  You have access to the life of the discipling leader outside of just the Huddle time. As we know, the principles of discipleship at work are often better caught than taught.
  • Something that is reproduced. Rather than adding people to a Huddle, we multiply the discipling culture that is created with the expectation that every leader start their own Huddle at some point. But this isn’t something we spring on them. They should know that by accepting the invitation that this is the expectation. So rather than growing your Huddle to have 10 people instead of the 8 that it started with, we ask that the 8 people you started with all start Huddles of their own. It’s growth by multiplication that eventually leads to exponential growth.
  • A place for invitation and challenge. The discipling leader, as they invest in the lives of the people in their Huddle, will invite them into their life, their rhythms and have access to their Spiritual capital. But they will also, from time to time, be challenged (gracefully) to live more fully into the Kingdom when their way of life is different or out-of-step with the things we read about in scripture and the Kingdom.
  • High commitment. For all the reasons stated above. ;-)

And while I realize every church does small groups differently, here are some differences from the way most churches use small groups:

  • Small groups are usually much lower commitment.
  • They are usually looking to grow by adding new members.
  • Anyone can be part of it.
  • Challenge is not a regular fixture in most small groups because the emphasis is much more on sharing, contributing and creating as warm an environment as possible so that newcomers feel welcome.
  • Small groups are usually led by facilitators who are looking to create space for everyone to share and contribute.
  • Small groups multiply when they are too large, and usually it’s  through splitting them (every Small Group Pastor in the world just cringed that I used the word “split”). It’s growth by addition.
  • Small groups tend to lean towards the lowest common denominator in terms of spiritual content so that anyone can step into it (again, we’re not saying all small groups do. But in general, many do).

So those are some key differences between them.

Notice, however, that I didn’t point to any negatives in small groups. I just defined what they are in juxtaposition to a Huddle and said what they can do and can’t do.

Here’s the thing I hope people understand who are trying to implement Huddles into their existing church structure (or even a church plant): For people who already have small groups, there’s a good chance you’re still going to need small groups.  So don’t go killing them off because you think you’ve found something that really works with the vehicle of a Huddle. Understand what a Huddle is great at and what it does, and what a small group does well and does in your spiritual formation process.

Huddle focuses 100% on leaders. It’s got to be leaders. If you Huddle a leader and disciple them, invest in them, give them an easily transferrable and portable discipling language, teach them how to disciple others, teach them how to calibrate Invitation and Challenge in discipling both individuals and groups…they can do this in any sort of spiritual formation vehicle. You can use small groups, triads, one-on-one mentoring, sunday school, etc. The essential question is do you have a leader who has been trained to disciple people and can they import that into any setting? Investing in a leader through Huddle does that for you. Simply by putting in a leader who knows how to disciple people like Jesus did, it almost instantly makes any discipleship vehicle more effective in discipling people.

Are some vehicles better than others? Of course. But every church  community is different and utilizes different vehicles. You must evaluate those vehicles in your church and city context. Every church truly is different.

So let’s say the current discipleship vehicle you’re using in your church is small groups.

Here is what we’ve noticed with small groups and Huddles:

Huddles need to be high challenge and very high commitment. Out of the gate that excludes a lot of people in your community who may not be ready for that kind of commitment. Do we want them to be ready? OF COURSE. But we have to live in the reality that people are in different places in their spiritual journey. If you try to simply replace small groups with Huddles, I can almost guarantee a few things will happen:

  1. You will dilute your Huddles. They will become a mixture of leaders and non-leaders; people up for actively spreading the Kingdom, and people who aren’t willing to take that step. When this happens, Huddles become frustrating and/or VERY VERY BORING. Why? Because Huddle is for leaders who are seeking training, investment, discipleship and accountability for the Kingdom work they are leading people into. If it’s just information transfer, the potency is lost. They have to be out there doing something. It usually only takes about 6 months for “boring” to kick in if you’ve diluted your Huddle.
  2. A good chunk of the people in your community will become displaced. They aren’t ready for the commitment of Huddle, but now their small group has been removed. Suddenly, outside of organic relationships, their principle tie to “church” is the Sunday morning service. Well, that’s the exact opposite direction we want things to go, isn’t?! I’m not saying we coddle and pacify lazy consumers, but I’m saying we don’t  have to see mass carnage in the transitions we’re making either. I’m saying we need to have an simple and effective spiritual formation pathway for people, regardless of where they are at.

Most of the churches we have seen be very successful at discipling people well and who are missional sending centers for Missional Communities and other missional vehicles tend to have small groups (and/or other discipling vehicles).

Why?

Because they see them as a kind of developmental fishing pond. If every small group is led by someone in a Huddle with all the skills and know-how of discipling people like Jesus, there’s a good chance that, over time, person by person, the people in those small groups will be formed, shaped and see massive breakthrough that would get them to the place where they are starting to live in the Kingdom differently. In other words, they might be open to Kingdom leadership. Then, people in Huddles looking to disciple future leaders by starting a Huddle of their own have a place to look to. Suddenly, instead of being a “spiritual holding tank”, small groups become a key place in our spiritual formation paths for future leaders development. Small group leaders (all of whom are in a Huddle) are some of the most important leaders in your church; they are spiritually investing in and preparing the leaders of the future.

You could argue that it could be one of the most important places that spiritual formation happens in preparation for mission. However, the other important thing to note is that small groups don’t typically need to meet as often with the churches we are working with because, 1) People are functioning well within Missional Communities, and 2), Many MC’s have small groups meeting within the group itself.

But it depends 100% on the leader of that group. If they are in a Huddle, that’s what can happen.

USING HUDDLES TO DISCIPLE PEOPLE OTHER THAN LEADERS
What many people do is take EVERYTHING they might do in a Huddle and start a group with people who are on the fringe; unchurched, de-churched, apathetic, cynical, etc. This works AMAZINGLY well in discipling people AND in seeing people come to faith (in effect with these types of groups, many times you’re discipling someone in the ways of Jesus before they’ve even become Christians yet). This is outstanding. JUST DON’T CALL IT A HUDDLE. Call it anything you want. Call it a small group, LTG group, call it a water bottle…just don’t call it a Huddle.

The reason for this is the language quickly becomes very confusing  for people because you’ve said Huddles are for leaders and suddenly there are groups happening with the same name, doing some of the same things, but some of them don’t even have Christians in it and the dynamics and expectations are very different.

Trust me on this one. You’ll see amazing fruit in using all the same principles with people who aren’t leaders when discipling them, just use a different name and change expectations accordingly (because they aren’t expected to lead things from the get-go). You want the language of Huddle and the expectations of what it is to be in one crystal clear for people. Make it as clear as possible by not muddying the waters with groups with the same name doing sightly different variations of similar things. (Hopefully that makes sense.)

To close, here’s a helpful diagram we often use to help explain this  visually. For churches that have all of the 4 sociological spaces at work (Public worship service, Missional Communities and Small Groups), it can often look like this:

WHY I HATE SMALL GROUPS

I have to confess I that I don’t like small groups (the church kind, not gatherings of height challenged individuals) When we host group I dread it all day. We have to get the house clean, reset the furniture, watch my wife make dessert, study the material, plan the questions…all the small group stuff a small group leader does. On top of all this I’m an introvert. Small group day is the worst day of the week for me, why do we do this to ourselves?

And then the people come and we laugh, and we talk, and we study, and we pray. Eventually we get a little under the surface and we see what real life looks life instead of the plastic version we experience the rest of the day. Occasionally life peels away all the layers and we come face to face with the ugliness of this mortal tent  we wear. For two hours a week we are forced to be ourselves, share our joy and our pain with friends who know us, who love us, who care. At the end a couple lingers longer than the rest and shares their wound and we try to offer a little help and we realize we are all hanging desperately onto God’s promises and  we know that we are connected at a level deeper than most people ever experience.

I’m afraid I will always hate small groups. They will always be inconvenient and a hassle, they will always be uncomfortable and frustrating. But I can’t think of  better way to follow Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself than to connect deeply with a small group of fellow travelers. So I’ll see you next week at small group. Oh, great.

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Home away from home

 

imagesIn the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, Chapter 29, an account is given of the Lord’s plan to turn His people, the Israelites, over to the Babylonians for 70 years of captivity before rescuing them and bringing them back home to Jerusalem. It is from this passage that we get the oft-quoted verse: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (verse 11).

Meanwhile, there are instructions as to how they are to live while in exile, and most of it comes as rather a surprise to me: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (verses 5-8).

It sounds to me as if He is telling them to make a home for themselves, while in exile. This is not their permanent home, and yet the Lord wants them to carry on as if it were. Seventy years is a long time. Many of them will not live to see God’s plan fulfilled. Don’t postpone life in the meantime. Live it the same way you would live it were you at home in Jerusalem.

I believe there are obvious lessons for us here for how we are to live in a world to which we don’t belong. Christians know that their permanent home is in heaven. God is preparing a place for us, and He promises to take us to it. Meanwhile we are in exile on this earth (for 70 years), and yet the Lord wants us to make a home here – a place we will settle, carry on our business and watch our families grow. While we are “almost home,” we make this our home away from home.

I love talking about and living for our permanent home in heaven. I like knowing that this is not it. “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through/My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue/The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door/And I can’t be at home in this world any more.”

Truth be told, I don’t like being almost home, I want to be home. I have made convenient spiritual alliances with my heavenly home that in my mind excuse me from the responsibilities attached to my temporary Babylonian home. I like spiritualizing this, but in fact, that form of spirituality is a copout.

We spent the better part of a year fighting to save our “almost home.” That fight was all Marti and many of you who jumped in to help, but not as much from me. That’s because this home spells responsibility. This home represents sacrifice, duty, and facing into lots of things that have become barriers to me.

It’s interesting that the Lord told the children of Israel to build houses, not just set up tents. I would have thought tents would have been the way to go. After all, it’s only 70 years; and yet 70 years is a lifetime, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that their time in captivity coincides with what the Bible allots as the average amount of time a person is allowed on this earth.

All this means I have some work to do before my 70 years is up, and I need some help. I need to get my heart into this. You guys get it. You stepped up when our home away from home was in jeopardy.

Forgive me while I try to work this out in front of you, but pray for me, and if God gives you something to pass onto me by way of encouragement, send it along.

What do you count?

count-von-count-sesame-streetI had the chance to hang out at my house today with eight incredible church planters from all over the country. We spent the day kicking around some questions they sent me a few days ago, so I thought I’d share some of their questions and my answers here on the blog. Let’s start with the counting question:

What are some measurable things we need to keep an eye on in the church that we might not currently see value in?

If I were leading a church I would count four things:

1. Attendance
It is popular today to say that attendance doesn’t matter, but it does. If you don’t have people you don’t have a church. Bigger numbers don’t mean a better church, but small numbers mean people are going away and there is a reason. So I would track attendance, I’d just resist the urge to brag about it on Twitter. (Yes that was a shot at you, you know who you are.)

2. Giving
Giving indicates growth both as a church and as an individual. If giving is increasing then there is growth happening, and if giving is shrinking something may be out of whack. Not always, but often. The two most important giving numbers are the giving per adult (I like annual giving per adult, it’s easier for me to understand), and year over year total giving. Week to week and month to month is meaningless.

3. Leadership Pipeline
Who are the leaders being developed? Every staff member should be able to name two or three people they are developing as their successors and to describe exactly what they are doing to develop those leaders. This should be a main discussion point at least one a month when you sit down with your leaders. I would have a scoreboard that lists ever major leadership position in the church and the leaders who are being apprenticed in each position.

4. Discipleship
Are you  making disciples who make disciples? That seems to be the point of doing church. If we aren’t making disciples we should sell the buildings, stop leasing the schools and go fishing. A couple of maxims here:

What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done
You have inspect what you expect

To measure discipleship you have to define what a disciple looks like and then ask the people if that is who they are becoming. To me a disciple is someone who serves the local church, prays consistently, reads the Bible daily, engages in biblical community, actively participates in community transformation and develops other disciples. I wrote about how I would use the acronym SPREAD to measure this type of disciple here.

One of the glaring omissions from my list are baptisms. I think baptism is a huge deal and essential in the life of a Christ follower. The challenge I have with using baptisms as a major measurement is that it is easily manipulated. A decent preacher with a pond and megaphone can drive up the dunking number with a well-timed “spontaneous” baptism. The more important number to me is how many people are becoming disciples who make disciples.

So how about you? What do you  measure?

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

EDITOR OF REDSTATE

 

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

 

 

I remember it so clearly — a memory you can only remember so clearly when it is from sadness. You can’t let it go.

 

I was sitting in the mud by the rear passenger side tire of my old Acura cradling my one year old in the steady, driving rain. I was sobbing doing my best not to fall apart in front of my little girl. But the tears ran. My throat hurt as I tried to suppress the guttural cries I wanted to cry there in the mud.

 

RedState, which got up and running in 2004, was out of money. No one wanted to put ads on a conservative site after the Democrats had just delivered an absolute shellacking to the GOP. We were out of money. Christmas was a week away. I was out of a job.

 

But that was insignificant compared to where I’d been that day. I’d just left the hospital where I had the task of telling my wife she was dying and there was nothing anybody could do.

 

Then there I was one week before Christmas in 2006 sitting in mud, leaning up against a tire covering me in black, holding a one year old too young to know what was going on, and sobbing in the rain too shell shocked to even try to pray. Too overwhelmed to even think. Out of money, soon to be a single dad, no job, a one year old, and I was very overwhelmed.

 

Let not your heart be troubled is not just something Sean Hannity came up with on his radio show. It is not just some trite expression people use to superficially aid and comfort others. It is a phrase spoken by Jesus Christ found in the first verse of John 14. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”

 

My wife and I got married in 2000. Within three months she had a double mastectomy not because she had cancer, but because we knew she would get it. We waited five years to have our first child. We figured it would be smooth sailing after that.

 

The Thursday before Labor Day 2006, my wife called me from her office. She said she was dying. She sounded like she was dying.

 

We got her to the doctor who, based on her symptoms, diagnosed her as having either a pulmonary embolism or a gall bladder attack. He had me take her to the ER with orders to check her for an embolism knowing if it was not that it would be her gall bladder.

 

The scan came back clear. It was her gall bladder. “Oh by the way,” they seemed to say almost in passing. “We found some spots on her lungs.”

 

We went to the beach. Within twenty-four hours of arrival my wife was in the Emergency Room at the beach preparing for surgery. She had a blockage in her bile duct. She was in agony. She spent a week at the beach recovering while I took care of our one year old. When we got home we found a message on our answering machine from the local hospital we’d been to before our trip. They had discovered a blockage in her bile duct and it was vitally important we call them to schedule immediate surgery. Ahhh . . . timing.

 

We finally got around to her going back to the doctor about the spots on her lungs the week before Christmas. I remember she came home with a scared looked on her face. Yes, the spots were still there, but they’d found a blood clot in her jugular vein. She had to be admitted to the hospital for treatment. While there, the doctors got worried about the clots plus the spots. They decided to biopsy. That’s when they told me she was dying. There was nothing they could do.

 

That night after cleaning myself up and having help for the one year old I went back to the hospital. My wife and I talked as you talk when you know you might not have much longer to talk. In the course of the conversation the surgeon came in, told us everyone had now reviewed the biopsy, and they were sure it was not cancer, she was not going to die, and they’d send off the biopsy for more study.

 

Turns out she has a relatively benign condition.

 

Within a day or so, Eagle Publishing, Inc. called and offered to buy RedState. They’d keep me on as an employee. I had my wife and my job.

 

Fast forward four years. I had not had a pay raise, we were dependent on two incomes to make ends meet, and my wife, given everything she’d been through, wanted to stay home with the kids. We knew it was the right thing to do. We just did not know how to make up the loss of income. We took a leap of faith and my wife left her job.

 

Literally the next day, and I use literally intentionally as it was literally the next day, my boss called and told me I was finally getting a pay raise. It was identical — dollar for dollar identical to what my wife would be giving up. A week later CNN came calling. I would never have been able to do my job at CNN without my wife staying home.

 

A year later, Cox Media Group asked me to be on the radio.

 

My life is not all peaches and roses. But I write this whole story and highlight the ups, not the downs, because I do not believe in coincidences. I do not believe in luck. I believe in an active Creator. I have experienced too much in my life to lead me to think this is all atoms and physics and chemistry and coincidence. I have experienced pain and misfortune and sadness, but as much as those things too define me it is the joys of life I dwell on.

 

There is a man upstairs. He has a plan. And while I do not know the mind of the Creator, I know this all works for the good of those who are called according to His purpose. I do not know His plan, but I have experienced enough in my life to know I should trust Him and that His plan, however confounding it may seem, is a good plan that will work out in the end for the best.

 

So I raise my head these last few days and see liberals salivating at the idea that it might be a right wing tea partier who blew up Boston while conservatives are convinced it is a Middle Eastern terrorist. I see the wailing and gnashing of teeth over gun control, the evil of Kermit Gosnell, and the politicization of everything. Then there is the destruction in Waco, the dead and injured — it is enough to make you want to sit in the mud while holding your child close and cry.

 

It should be hard to be optimistic, but I, a natural pessimist, I am optimistic. I have hope. I know that there is a higher purpose to it all. I know that there is not just the rudimentary day to day existence in which we live, but there is a master plan to it all. I know some of you do not believe that and you are entitled to reject that. But I have experienced too much in my life and see clearly in hindsight an active presence who leads me somewhere down a path I did not choose, but on which I walk.

 

Choosing to let your heart not be troubled is not easy. It is often hard. We see bombings in Boston, planes flying into tall buildings, random explosions killing many at one time in Texas, politicians and citizens at each others throats and it seems the whole world has gone mad. But the world has always been mad. We are just more aware of it these days with bold events that shock the conscience.

 

We are on a blue marble circling a giant ball of plasma that if we draw too close to we burn up as we and it hurtle around a black hole at the center of a galaxy scientists believe will one day collide with another galaxy. The world is a crappy, hostile place in a colder than ice dangerous expanse of vacuum, radiation, and sweet meteors of death. The thought that we exist as we do at all borders on absurdity.

 

And yet there is a one year old who, though she knows not why her father cries in the rain and mud, pats his face to tell him it is okay. There are strangers who, instead of running from the blast, turn to it to help those who have fallen. There is a President some of us care little for who chooses his words carefully to bind the wounds of dark days for all of us regardless of our votes.

 

The world is not meant to be fair. It is a maddening place filled with bad and evil. But the good shines through. The right overwhelms the wrong. The very real good slays the very real evil. The smiles break through the tears.

 

You do not have to be mad in a maddening world. You can choose to be happy. You can choose to be optimistic. You can choose to let not your heart be troubled.

 

I am a man who had to tell my wife she was going to die. By God’s grace she did not die, but is with me still.

 

I can tell you confidently it is no easy thing to let your heart not be troubled. But I can tell you in a world where so many politicize everything, we yell at each other, and every hill is a hill on which to die, whether you choose to believe or not there is good and there is evil and there is a man upstairs who has a plan that while we may not know it we can be assured that all things, even in the pit of the various hells on this present earth, yes all things do work for the good of those called according to his purpose. He brings forth water from rocks and bread from heaven and you and me from the dust of the earth, stitching us together in our mothers’ wombs.

 

So let not your heart be troubled. The sun still shines. The smiles are still there. The good graces between neighbors still exist. Bad things will always and have always happened. But love and good and right prevail even in the madness of the present age.

AMAZING GRACE

Living By Grace

 


AMAZING GRACE

   

Then he bowed himself, and said, “What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?”  2 Samuel 9:8

 

 

The speaker is Mephibosheth, a descendant of Saul. He was crippled in both feet. The injury was suffered the day his Father, Jonathan, and grandfather, King Saul, were killed in battle. For reasons not explained in Scripture Mephibosheth’s nurse began running. She must have been carrying him. She fell. He was crippled in both feet for the rest of his life.

 

King David called Ziba, a servant in the house of Saul, to see if Saul had any descendants to whom he could show the kindness of God. Ziba told David about Mephibosheth and added that he was crippled in his feet. He would not be able to serve David.

 

Without hesitation, David had Mephibosheth brought to him. He bowed before David as a servant would. Then David told him that he was giving to him all of the possessions of King Saul and that he would eat at his table continually. Mephibosheth could not understand. He bowed himself, and said, “What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?”  2 Samuel 9:8

 

Likely, most of us have gone before the Lord and ,in light of the grace He has shown to us and through us, have said, “Why me Lord?”

 

God works through anyone who walks in grace to do things far greater that he could ever do in his own wisdom and strength. That is when we are prone to say, “Why me, Lord.”

 

And there is more grace as we continue to live out our union with Christ.

 

The Five Commands

 

 

Believe              Romans 6:11            Reckon (believe) yourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Choose              Romans 6:12            Do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey it in its lust.

 

Choose              Romans 6:13a          Do not present your members (body) as instruments of  unrighteousness to sin.

 

Choose & Believe  Romans 6:13b    Present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead.

 

Choose              Romans 6:13c          (Present) your members (body) as instruments of righteousness to God.

What Subway Can Teach the Church

The Subway sandwich chain has surpassed McDonald’s Corporation as the world’s largest restaurant chain in terms of units.  At the end of 2010, Subway had 33,749 restaurants worldwide to McDonald’s 32,737.

What is even more impressive is that Subway didn’t open its first international restaurant, where growth has been most explosive for chains such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, until 1984.  But by 2020, Subway expects its number of international restaurants to exceed its domestic ones.

How did they do it?

Subway has opened outlets in non-traditional locations such as an automobile showroom in California, an appliance store in Brazil, a ferry terminal in Seattle, a riverboat in Germany, a zoo in Taiwan, a Goodwill store in South Carolina, a high school in Detroit and a church in Buffalo, New York.

“We’re continually looking at just about any opportunity for someone to buy a sandwich, wherever that might be,” says Don Fertman, Subway’s Chief Development Officer.  ”The closer we can get to the customer, the better.”

Consider that a lesson, church.

And before you start in on the bigger isn’t always better, and quality trumps quantity, and numbers aren’t everything, and that the church isn’t in the sandwich business, re-read Fertman’s words, and substitute the gospel:

“We’re continually looking at just about any opportunity for someone to be introduced to Christ, wherever that might be.  The closer we can get to an unchurched person, the better.”

Kind of sounds like Paul in I Corinthians 9 writing about becoming all things to all people in order to reach them, doesn’t it?

So how might the church take a cue from Subway and expand its reach?

It’s very common for churches to offer multiple services at varying times.

It’s becoming increasingly common to offer those multiple services over multiple days.

Now, the frontier that needs to be explored is offering multiple services over multiple days through multiple locations.

Meck has become a multi-site church, which simply means one church with multiple locations.  We currently have five campuses with a total of seventeen services each week.  Three of these campuses are physical locations in our immediate area; one is an internet “campus,” and one is international serving expatriates in the United Arab Emirates.  The Charlotte Observer ran a front-page story this past weekend featuring our efforts.

We have plans to launch two more Charlotte campuses by February of 2012, and are open to additional international opportunities (Our staff has already prayed and are convinced that it’s God’s will to start one in the U.K.; they’ve also all volunteered to be on the launch team.).

  Why is this a worthwhile strategy?  It’s simple.  If someone has to drive more than 15 or 20 minutes as a first-time guest, chances are, they won’t.  You might say, “Well, if that’s their attitude, they should just be more committed!”  Quick reminder:  these people aren’t even Christians yet.  Rumor has it that it’s our job to go to them.  Same to those who say, “You’re just trying to make it easy on folks to attend.”  Yes, that’s kind of the point.

When you go to multiple sites you go to where the people are, tearing down any and all geographic barriers to attend, and opening up the ability to offer vast numbers of services at optimal times.  And most importantly of all, you are making it easy for anyone and everyone, no matter where they live, to invite their friends.

Due to breakthroughs in technology, including video and simulcast, in ten years, this will probably be the new normal.  It will be as common for churches to be multi-site as it is now for churches to have multiple service times.  It’s already exploding:  In 2008, 37% of all churches averaging 2,000 or more people per week were multi-site.  In 2009, over five million people attended a multi-site church in the United States and Canada.

Geoff Surratt draws an analogy from World War II in regard to the multi-site approach to reaching a city:

Some 300,000 troops were pinned by Hitler at Dunkirk with their backs to the sea.  The only way out was to retreat across the water.  But how do you move 300,000 people by water?  There isn’t a single boat big enough to carry that many people.  So the call went out to anyone with a boat to rescue them.  One thousand boats arrived, and over the course of ten days, all of the troops were evacuated.

They couldn’t build a boat big enough to move 300,000 people, but 1,000 little boats could do the job.  No single church with a single location can fully reach your city.  But a single church in multiple locations can.

  Hear my heart:  partner with other churches where and when you can; plant new churches wherever it makes sense; but also multiply your current church wherever possible.

At the very least, think about it the next time you eat at Subway.