Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Church Types

I read a lot of books, articles, etc. In being an avid reader, it seems that my mind is always turning a churning. I chew on ideas and concepts all of the time. Some of my best ideas have been birthed out of reading something and thinking it over for a time. This blog entry is birthed out of several articles that I've read in Christian Standard and the Lookout, a book I'm reading on the "Reformissional Church" (not to be confused with the "reformation" church or churches).

Postmodernism has ushered in a new era in the life of the church. The golden years of the church no longer exist (if they ever did in the first place). In this new age of secularism and "forward thinking", relativism is king and tolerance is applauded. If everyone just let's everybody do and believe whatever they want, then we're all happy, right?! If someone wants to murder another person, that must be okay as long as it's okay with them. And most normal civilized people with any type of heart or compassion would stop me there and say, "Hey preacher, you just stepped one foot over the line." But my reply to you would be, "Who drew that line?" There's only one true answer to that question and we all know the right answer.

Today, the church finds itself as one of many options for a "belief system". Culture is throwing many options for "faith" at the people, and everyone is setting up their own belief system. This swing toward a man-centered theology versus a God-centered is alarming and the church has much to be concerned about if we wish to remain relevant to our culture of tolerance. The greatest thing we have is the truth. And most people, even the postmoderns, ultimately want to know the truth.

Through this time in church life and history it's interesting to see how the church will respond. There are several different types of churches that will respond in several different types of ways:

1) The assimilating church is the first type of church. This church tries to prevail by making itself relevant to the prevailing culture by adopting some of the culture's characteristics, using 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 as its justification. The problem with this type of church is that it tends to become so focused on relevancy that it's seduced and assimilated to the culture. The church then loses its biblical purpose for existence.

2) The protecting church goes to the other extreme of the assimilating church and wants to boycott current culture and set up its own little parallel culture. It's a form of separatism and the "holy huddle" mentality. It's a circle the wagons and protect mentality. Isn't the purpose of the church to make disciples and doesn't that mean that we have to engage culture?

3) The unchanging church just ignores the world around it. This church believes that it has nothing to do with the world or culture. Enough said on this one, you get the picture. (Amish, Anabaptist, some Mennonite sects, and other conservative extremes of denominations)

4) The battling church sees the two opposing worldviews and equates them as enemies in a battle. This church declares war on the culture and tends to pick fights with...well...just about anyone. It becomes more about the war than the result. Many times these churches try to bring about change through political means and advocacy groups or para-church organizations(the Moral Majority, Pat Robertson, etc.) This church is great at polarizing people rather than trying to bring them to the Lord into togetherness.

5) The influencing church doesn't necessarily want to be the best church in the community. It wants to be the best church for the community. It loves the people who are stuck in the culture and tries to talk about differences between truth and lies in order to influence change. It is involved in culture to facilitate change. It seeks to influence rather than battle.

Hopefully this will make a person look inside their church and ask, "what type of church are we?" And if we are all honest, it will only take a jiffy to figure out where your church really is. Perhaps for some, you may find your church somewhere in between a couple of these descriptions. Regardless, let's consider the book of Acts and see what and how church is really supposed to be. That's what I'm praying and hoping for Oakwood!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What's With the Gifts?

Where did Christmas gift giving come from? If we go back to the first Christmas story when God sent Jesus to earth, we recall that Jesus was given three gifts by the wise men or Magi, which serve as the inspiration for all our Christmas gift giving today.

Tomorrow night I'm going to be sharing "The Gifts of the Magi" as my Christmas Eve devotion. The Magi presented Jesus with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts were very prophetic for they spoke of our Lord's offices of King, Priest, and Savior.

GOLD: This carries obvious significance. It's a gift fit for royalty. It says to the Christ child, You will be a King. Throughout history gold has been considered the most precious of metals and the universal symbol of material value and wealth. It was used extensively in the construction of the Temple (see 1 Kings 6-7, 9; 2 Chron. 2-4). It was also a symbol of nobility and royalty (see Gen. 41:4; 1 Kings 10:1-13; etc.). Matthew continually presents Christ as the King, and here we see the King of the Jews, the King of kings, appropriately being presented with the royal gift of gold.

FRANKINCENSE: Frankincense was a costly, beautiful-smelling incense that was used only for the most special of occasions. It was used in the grain offerings at the Tabernacle and Temple (Lev. 2:2, 15-16), in certain royal processions (Song of Sol. 3:6-7), and sometimes at weddings if it could be afforded. Origen, the great church Father, suggested that frankincense was the incense of deity. In the Old Testament it was stored in a special chamber in front of the Temple and was sprinkled on certain offerings as a symbol of the people's desire to please the Lord.

MYRRH: This is perhaps the most mysterious of the gifts. It is a resin produced by a small, tough, scraggly tree that grows in semi-desert regions of North Africa and the Red Sea. Myrrh is an Arabic word for bitter, and it is considered a wound healer because of its strong antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Myrrh was also a perfume, not quite so expensive as frankincense but nevertheless valuable. Some interpreters suggest that myrrh represents the gift for a mortal, emphasizing Jesus' humanity. This perfume is mentioned often in Scripture, beginning in Genesis (37:25; 43:11). Mixed with wine it was also used as an anesthetic (Mark 15:23), and mixed with other spices it was used in preparation of bodies for burial, even Jesus' body (John 19:39).

Those were the Magi's gifts to Jesus. Gold for His royalty, frankincense for His deity, and myrrh for His humanity. Some strange gifts for God's Son, but very significant for foreshadowing His future life. Once again, seems like God thought of everything (because He did)!

Merry Christmas to all! Keep Christ at the center of your Christmas season!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sad & Funny

So, for those that didn't know, the snow didn't make it last week. The weatherman, well, missed it by a mile. (Actually about 90 miles). Anyway...time for a good a pastoral humor kind of way.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow Tomorrow

I guess that being an Iowa boy makes you like snow. I always look forward to it. Tomorrow it looks like we're going to get something in the way of snow, and I'm excited about that. I love winter, cold weather, and especially snow. I'm always praying that God would send us some more. I'm thankful that me and my girls will get to see some white stuff tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Do Churches Have a Shelf Life?

I just read an article from the December 5, 2010 issue of the Lookout called "Local Churches Have a Shelf Life" written by Bob Russell. I just read it a few minutes ago so I'm still pondering a bit. The title jumped out at me, so let's start there. Do churches have a shelf life? He shared a statistic that, sadly, few churches retain a vibrant ministry for more than a century. I can see that from a lot of angles. Even just the architecture and usefulness of their facility can drastically change in 100 years. (We do have electricity widely available now). Bob then went into the warnings to the churches from Revelation. As I read I began thinking that the shelf life on a church is directly related to its effectiveness in ministry. Too many times churches want to rest on the laurels of their past and the "glory days" of their context. When churches do this, it's a death sentence.

It's been said, "Death comes when memories of the past exceed vision for the future." And I believe those sections to the churches in Revelation end with, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Take a Look at the Birds

The headline on the front of today's newspaper read "State Economy May Not Recover till 2014". I'm reading that and I'm thinking, really....

It was just a few months ago that the sky was falling down, remember that? But the sky didn't really fall down after all. It's still up there. Now, I'm aware of the economy's current condition, and I know that we are not in the "glory days" of booming economic growth right now. It's obvious that there are still people struggling financially. But so many times I think that we get caught up in the doomsday talk and we begin to worry.

Worry is nothing more than saying, "God can't or won't take care of me through this circumstance. So, we worry. We worry and try to come up with our own game plan. We try to control things that ultimately God is in charge of. Jesus said to not do that. He told us to look at the birds to remind ourselves of His sovereignty and provision.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave several illustrations as to why we should not worry, and one of the examples He chose to use was that of birds. Speaking outdoors near the Sea of Galilee, maybe Jesus even gestured toward a few birds flying by: "Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are?" (Matthew 6:26).

Birds don't have the promises that we have. Birds aren't promised eternal life. Birds are not created in the image of God. Yet do birds ever look worried to you? Have you ever seen a stressed out bird wondering where they will find their next meal or if they'll have a job in the morning? Every morning, like clockwork, they are up at the break of dawn, singing away. Jesus was saying, 'You see, the birds are fine. You can be fine. If God takes care of birds, won't He take care of you?"

That doesn't mean the birds don't go out and get their food. Some eat vegetation. Others eat seeds. Some eat fish. The rest hang out at McDonalds and wait for you to drop your fries. Then there are those thieving birds, the sea gulls, which hang out at the beaches and wait for you to go into the water so they can fly off with your lunch. Birds take care of business, but they don't worry about it. As one poet wrote,

Said the robin to the sparrow, 'I would really like to know
why those anxious human beings rush around and worry so."
Said the sparrow to the robin, 'Friend, I think that it must be
that they have no Heavenly Father such as cares for you and me."

If God takes care of the birds, will He not take care of you as well?

Monday, November 29, 2010


Wanted to pass this thought-provoking subject and article along. This is a trending that I have seen myself over the last 5-7 years and it seems to be broadening and deepening. Feel free to post a comment on what you think about it all. Thanks!

What is Adultolescence?

Christian Smith, professor of sociology at Notre Dame, wrote in the most recent Books and Culture a review of six books that deal with the new phenomenon of "adultolescence"—that is, the postponement of adulthood into the thirties. I want to relate this phenomenon to the church. But first here is a summary from Smith's article of what it is and how it came about.

Smith writes,
"Teenager" and "adolescence" as representing a distinct stage of life were very much 20th-century inventions, brought into being by changes in mass education, child labor laws, urbanization and suburbanization, mass consumerism, and the media. Similarly, a new, distinct, and important stage in life, situated between the teenage years and full-fledged adulthood, has emerged in our culture in recent decades—reshaping the meaning of self, youth, relationships, and life commitments as well as a variety of behaviors and dispositions among the young.

What has emerged from this new situation has been variously labeled "extended adolescence," "youthhood," "adultolescence," "young adulthood," the "twenty-somethings," and "emerging adulthood."

One way of describing this group is to highlight the tendency to delay adulthood or stay in the youth mindset longer than we used to. Smith suggests the following causes for this delay in arriving at mature, responsible adulthood.

First is the growth of higher education. The GI Bill, changes in the American economy, and government subsidizing of community colleges and state universities led in the second half of the last century to a dramatic rise in the number of high school graduates going on to college and university. More recently, many feel pressured—in pursuit of the American dream—to add years of graduate school education on top of their bachelor's degree. As a result, a huge proportion of American youth are no longer stopping school and beginning stable careers at age 18 but are extending their formal schooling well into their twenties. And those who are aiming to join America's professional and knowledge classes—those who most powerfully shape our culture and society—are continuing in graduate and professional school programs often up until their thirties.

A second and related social change crucial to the rise of emerging adulthood is the delay of marriage by American youth over the last decades. Between 1950 and 2000, the median age of first marriage for women rose from 20 to 25 years old. For men during that same time the median age rose from 22 to 27 years old. The sharpest increase for both took place after 1970. Half a century ago, many young people were anxious to get out of high school, marry, settle down, have children, and start a long-term career. But many youth today, especially but not exclusively men, face almost a decade between high school graduation and marriage to spend exploring life's many options in unprecedented freedom.

A third major social transformation contributing to the rise of emerging adulthood as a distinct life phase concerns changes in the American and global economy that undermine stable, lifelong careers and replace them instead with careers of lower security, more frequent job changes, and an ongoing need for new training and education. Most young people today know they need to approach their careers with a variety of skills, maximal flexibility, and readiness to re tool as needed. That itself pushes youth toward extended schooling, delay of marriage, and, arguably, a general psychological orientation of maximizing options and postponing commitments.
Finally, and in part as a response to all of the above, parents of today's youth, aware of the resources often required to succeed, seem increasingly willing to extend financial and other support to their children, well into their twenties and even into their early thirties.

The characteristics of the 18-30 year-olds that these four factors produce include:
(1) identity exploration, (2) instability, (3) focus on self, (4) feeling in limbo, in transition, in-between, and (5) sense of possibilities, opportunities, and unparalleled hope. These, of course, are also often accompanied by big doses of transience, confusion, anxiety, self-obsession, melodrama, conflict, and disappointment.

How Should the Church Respond?

How might the church respond to this phenomenon in our culture? Here are my suggestions.
1. The church will encourage maturity, not the opposite. "Do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature" (1 Corinthians 14:20).
2. The church will press the fact that maturity is not a function of being out of school but is possible to develop while in school.
3. While celebrating the call to life long singleness, the church will not encourage those who don't have the call to wait till late in their twenties or thirties to marry, even if it means marrying while in school.
4. The church will foster flexibility in life through living by faith and resist the notion that learning to be professionally flexible must happen through a decade of experimentation.
5. The church will help parents prepare their youth for independent financial living by age 22 or sooner, where disabilities do not prevent.
6. The church will provide a stability and steadiness in life for young adults who find a significant identity there.
7. The church will provide inspiring, worldview-forming teaching week in and week out that will deepen the mature mind.
8. The church will provide a web of serious, maturing relationships.
9. The church will be a corporate communion of believers with God in his word and his ordinances that provide a regular experience of universal significance.
10. The church will be a beacon of truth that helps young adults keep their bearings in the uncertainties of cultural fog and riptides.
11. The church will regularly sound the trumpet for young adults that Christ is Lord of their lives and that they are not dependent on mom and dad for ultimate guidance.
12. The church will provide leadership and service roles that call for the responsibility of maturity in the young adults who fill them.
13. The church will continually clarify and encourage a God-centered perspective on college and grad school and career development.
14. The church will lift up the incentives and values of chaste and holy singleness, as well as faithful and holy marriage.
15. The church will relentlessly extol the maturing and strengthening effects of the only infallible life charter for young adults, the Bible.

In these ways, I pray that the Lord Jesus, through his church, will nurture a provocative and compelling cultural alternative among our "emerging adults." This counter-cultural band will have more stability, clearer identity, deeper wisdom, Christ-dependent flexibility, an orientation on the good of others not just themselves, a readiness to bear responsibility and not just demand rights, an expectation that they will suffer without returning evil for evil, an awareness that life is short and after that comes judgment, and a bent to defer gratification till heaven if necessary so as to do maximum good and not forfeit final joy in God.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It seems as though merchants really don't know what to do with Thanksgiving. They market Halloween and Christmas and make a lot of money off these holidays. But they don't really know what to do with Thanksgiving, which is really very spiritual and reflective in its origins. It was designated by President George Washington in 1789 as a national day for giving thanks to God.

In the midst of all our feasting, it is very easy to forget about the one we are celebrating. Sometimes we even forget to give thanks altogether. You might be thinking, "Well, I don't have a lot to give thanks for." Maybe you are having financial troubles or health problems. Maybe there is conflict in your family. But we need to put things into perspective. As someone wrote,
"If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who won't survive the week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 20 million people around the world. If you attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than almost three billion people in the world. If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8 percent of the world's wealthy."

There is a lot to give thanks for. And the primary reason we were put on this earth as human beings is to glorify God and to give Him thanks.

How are you observing Thanksgiving? Hopefully it's on your knees thanking God for ALL that He's done for you.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
— Psalm 107:1

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Weekend with Bob Russell

Many of you know that Bob Russell came to speak at our church this weekend. Bob is the retired minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY. Bob helped grow the church from 120 members to over 18,000 in a 40 years span. Bob has moved on to a new ministry now as he mentors Senior Ministers from around the country and visits churches to speak, encourage, and equip. Bob is a great man of God and is wise to how God can build a church.

As you can imagine, having him here this weekend was such a blessing to all of us who spent time with him. He spoke twice on Sunday (both are available online at click teaching). Both messages were powerful. On Monday, Bob stayed and met with our church staff and elders. Again, it was equally a powerful time of being challenged and encouraged.

Anytime that you get to spend with someone like Bob Russell is a time to soak it up. That's exactly what I did the entire weekend. Bob and I were able to spend some time together just the 2 of us where I was able to ask questions and seek wisdom on some of the issues faces facing our leadership and our church. Bob had several things that he shared that I'd like to share to encourage other leaders in churches, whether lay leadership or church staff.

1) If you stay one step ahead of your people, you're a leader. If you get 3 steps ahead, you're a target. Sometimes when you sit in the seat I'm in you see things faster than other people. Sometimes this may be a supernatural gift from the Lord and sometimes it may just be the seating. In leadership, you have to lead and be out in front...but no so far that you become a target.

2) Don't be too sensitive to people's criticism. Sometimes we care too much about what people might say? We need to know and ask ourselves, #1)"What's going to be the best for this church 3 years from now?" and then #2)"What are people going to say?" When question #2 becomes more important than question #1 then you've got trouble. We must remember that we are here to do what God wants us to do for His church and we ultimately answer to Him. Remember the Israelite leaders and when they did what the people wanted (golden calf, kings). Every time bad things followed.

3) Keep the unity and harmony of the church. Titus 3:10 says, "Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them." So many times we are afraid to do what we know is right. We are afraid of someone leaving or being offended. The church has to maintain a peace and harmony as part of our testimony and witness to the world. We are also called to not allow sin in the camp and we are called to deal with it biblically. What we find is that doing the right things will bring about that desired end result of unity because we do it God's way.

There are a plethora of other lessons learned, but those are 3 big ones. I encourage everyone who reads my blog to listen to Bob's messages for AM and PM services on our website.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Game On

1 Peter 3:15 "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."

As Christians, the Bible tells us we are to give an answer to every man who asks us. That phrase "give an answer" is from the Greek word apologia, from which we get our English word "apologetics." It means a legal defense, as in a court of law. But we are to keep in mind that as we make our case in the courtroom of public opinion with those we are speaking with, we are not there as prosecuting attorneys, but as witnesses. And witnesses simply testify to what they have seen.

Yet sometimes Christians, armed with all the information they can get, assault unbelievers with what they know and effectively blow them out of the water. They have won the argument but lost the soul, and that is not the objective. Even though we may know a great deal, we should present the information with love and humility. In 2 Timothy 2:24–25 we are reminded that "a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition...."

As you share you faith through the power and testimony of a redeemed life, be sure to not settle for winning a battle when you could help win the ultimate war for a soul. Always be ready to share your faith and give a witness to God's goodness!

Game on!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why Worry?

It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.
— Psalm 127:2

Daniel was a man of integrity with no weak spots, no scandals, and no sins that his enemies could identify. And when King Darius came into power during Israel's 70-year captivity, he relied on Daniel's wise, insightful counsel. Yet there were others who didn't like this Hebrew prophet.

Because Daniel had a habit of praying openly every day, his enemies convinced King Darius to foolishly sign a law that would prohibit prayer to anyone except the king. The penalty for breaking this law was being thrown into a den of lions. Sure enough, Daniel prayed as he always had, and it was reported to Darius. The frustration for the king was that as powerful as he was, he couldn't change a law that he himself had set into motion. So Daniel was sent to die in a den of lions. Yet the Bible tells us that Daniel slept while the king was up all night. I find it interesting that the child of God in the den of lions slept peacefully, while the faithless man in the palace with all its luxuries was up and worried and stressed out. As Solomon wrote, "For God gives rest to his loved ones" (Psalm 127:2).

And so it is for the person who puts his or her trust in God. When we are worrying, we are really saying that God isn't in control, that God is not paying attention. When we worry, we are not trusting in the providence of God.

And what is the providence of God? It is the belief that God is in control of the universe. And specifically as Christians, it means we believe there are no accidents in our lives. Nothing touches us that has not first passed through His hands. So trust in the providence of God.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Good Long Weekend

It started Friday with a Sunday School class party and bonfire. We were out north of Enid and the sky was really cool as you could see thousands of stars that are usually not seen in town from the city lights. Then Madalyn and I went to the Enid High football game. On Saturday we got up and decorated a door for Festival of Light (our Halloween alternative here at Oakwood) and mixed the final batches of candy that we had. On Saturday night Amy and I got to go to the Brandon Heath/Jars of Clay concert here in town. It was a great concert! We had lots of fun and a good friend gave me the tickets for my birthday. We had the "artist circle" seating and got to go backstage to meet the artists, etc. It was really cool. Jars of Clay and Brandon Heath are the real deal. Brandon Heath's new album comes out in January and it's got some really good stuff on it. Then on Sunday it was church, set up for Festival of Light, and do it that night. Wow...busy weekend, long weekend, but a good one none-the-less.

One of the things that I walked away with from the concert was the impact of Brandon Heath's new song called "Leaving Eden". Awesome song. I got the pre-release of it. The premise is that some of our worldly suffering feels like we're leaving Eden, like we feel what it must have been like to leave the garden for Adam and Eve. It's a cool concept and a very cool song. Really makes you look into yourself and think about sin and this fallen world and how it separates...but someday, we'll go home. That's what this world leaves us longing for. Good stuff. I highly recommend it.

I'm so excited about Bob Russell from Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY coming to preach this weekend. I've been on Bob's minister mentoring retreat and Amy and I both got to go on the couples retreat this past summer. Great times and great growth experiences for me. Bob is a great preacher and communicator and we will be blessed to have him here sharing here at Oakwood.

Good things are happening for God's Kingdom right here in Enid. I'm just glad to be a part of it. Keep the faith!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Give Him Some Time

I find that when I preach, so many times I preach to myself. God has a way with that I think. But what amazes me as a preacher is that when I have ample time (or make ample time) to spend with the Lord and hear His voice and feel the presence of His leading, how much better my messages are and how much deeper they can go. Let me put it this way...I'm realizing that just like with your children, there's no replacement for quantity time with God. Quality time is overrated (or just a cop-out).

Now if you are reading this and you don't believe me, then try it. Read a passage and pray for God to speak to you. Read it again and ask yourself what God is trying to impress on your mind and your heart. Dwell and meditate on it. Joshua 1:8 puts it this way, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."

In writing sermons and messages for different occasions it's always good to be full. The fuller I am and the more time I have to spend alone with the Lord, the better. Try it for yourself and see what happens in your personal walk!

Be blessed and be a blessing!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What We Can Learn

I received this from a friend via email this week. A good read and very thought-provoking. Let me know what you think.

Barnes and Noble, USA Today and the Church

“How did Barnes and Noble fall so far so fast?”

This was the question asked by James B. Stewart of the Wall Street Journal as the giant bookstore chain put itself up for sale this month.

Simple answer? The internet. More to the point, the internet of, kindle, the iPad, e-readers and digital books.

But here’s the real question insightfully raised by Stewart: with such market-share dominance in the book business, why didn’t Barnes and Noble, with dominant market position, do what it should have done? As Stewart observes, it could have “out-Amazoned Amazon, leveraging its brand and innovating when it began marketing and selling books online.” After all, Barnes and Noble was an innovation itself, putting many independent booksellers out of business with its deep discounts and in-store coffee bars.

Stewart’s conclusion: Barnes and Noble never really embraced the internet or e-books. In truth, it stayed tied to the old-fashioned world of physical books and stores. It was unwilling to destroy its old business model, so it simply focused on managing its decline, leaving Amazon to concentrate on the new world it was creating.

A similar story is happening with USA Today. As Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times notes, “The history of USA Today is full of firsts for the newspaper business: the first general-interest national paper of its kind, the first to use color widely in charts and photographs, and once first in the number of copies printed each day.”

Now? Its advertising revenue has collapsed and its circulation has plunged.

But unlike Barnes and Noble, USA Today is fighting back. It recently announced the most extensive reorganization in its 28-year history, shifting “its business model away from the print edition that has become ubiquitous in airports, hotels and newsstands across the country.”

Now the paper will focus on its digital operations, breaking news on its website, a stand-alone sports edition called USA Today Sports, and making content more available in digital form in order to snag a larger percentage of the tablet and mobile phone news market.

There are lessons here for all businesses.

There are also lessons here for all churches.

First lesson: You can go the way of B&N and simply manage your decline. Or you can go the way of USA Today and preserve your core while attempting to stimulate progress.

What is the core of the church that must never change? The message of the gospel; a defined new community in Christ; worship and the sacraments; the Great Commission, and the cultural commission inherent within it.

What must change? Methods, strategies and forms of communication.

I have often reflected on the demise of the railroad barons. They dominated their era until a new invention came along – the car. Instead of seeing the potential of the automobile, they fought it, working instead to preserve the railroad industry as they knew it.

Their mistake was that they thought they were in the railroad business.

They weren’t.

They were in the transportation business.

Failing to see this cost them everything.

USA Today is not in the newspaper business. It’s in the news business. They are realizing that this means they don’t have to live, and eventually die, with the newspaper.

Similarly, the church is not in the business of the hymns of Fanny Crosby, age-graded adult Sunday School, door-to-door leaflet campaigns or the King James Version of the Bible. We are in the business of worship, community/discipleship, evangelism and the Bible itself.

But there’s another, more subtle lesson to be learned. Both Barnes and Noble and USA Today were recent innovators. Very recent. Like 90’s recent.

And now? Struggling to stay current. That’s how fast things are changing.

The good news for USA Today? It is not resting on its laurels.

Unlike many churches.

I’m finding an increasing number of churches that did innovate – but then, once they “did” the innovation, firmly cemented themselves in that innovation.

So now, while they may not be mired to Fanny Crosby, they can’t seem to move beyond Darlene Zschech; while they abandoned Sunday School, they can’t think beyond small groups; while they no longer use the KJV, they don’t realize the NIV is beginning to be a bit worn in places; and while they wouldn’t dream of handing out tracts, they don’t realize that the older seeker services with a drama sketch doesn’t connect like it used to.

Cutting-edge churches have moved on to internet campuses, a multi-site approach, music by Jesus Culture and widespread use of film.

And if they’re smart, those same cutting-edge churches will hold those very things with an open hand, along with an open eye.

The goal is not to be “hip”, as a recent cover story in Christianity Today outlined. The goal is to be effectively standing, and contending, on Mars Hill (Acts 17). Paul wasn’t trying to be hip; he was trying to connect.

All to say, never before has there been such a need for leaders to be like the men of Issachar, who “understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take” (I Chronicles 12:32, NLT).

Or perhaps we should say, keep understanding the times.

James Emery White


“Clearance Sale: Barnes and Noble Didn’t Evolve Enough,” James B. Stewart, The Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2010. Online at:

“USA Today to Remake Itself to Stress Digital Operations,” Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times, Saturday, August 28, 2010, p. B1.

“Hipster Faith,” Brett McCracken, Christianity Today, at

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Live It or Quiet Please!

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men." -Matthew 5:13

It seems to be some part of every church and fellowship today: Christians who wear the name but don't live the life. I need to start by clarifying that there's a difference between a stumbler and a Christian atheist (one who believes in God but lives as if He doesn't exist). There is a difference between a believer who is seeking to live a godly life, but struggling, and the person who claims to be a believer, but blatantly disregards what the Bible says and chooses to live a lifestyle out of God's plan. My request of those in the latter category is to please do us all a favor and be quiet. Don't claim it if you are not going to live it. Your malpractice is killing the witness of Christ and the testimony of His church. It sounds surprising to hear a preacher ask someone to keep quiet their belief in Christ. But the key text of the Sermon on the Mount is Matthew 6:8, when Jesus said, "Don't be like them...." Essentially, Jesus was saying, "Don't be like this world. Be different. Don't be like them."

So what are we to be like? We are to be salt. Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless." In Jesus' day, salt was a bigger deal than it is now. The Romans believed that except for the sun, nothing was more valuable than salt. It actually was used as a form of currency, and Roman soldiers would sometimes be paid in salt. Hence the expression, "He is not worth his salt."

We are all going to have moments of hypocrisy. If I said I have never been a hypocrite, then I would be hypocritical for saying that. Believers have not always practiced what they preached. That is called humanity. Every Christian will fall short. The difference is that some are struggling in their sin while others are quite comfortable.

If you are a Christian and are habitually engaged in a lifestyle that is contrary to what the gospel teaches and what the Bible says, then please don't talk about Jesus. The world needs realness and authenticity today. To stay habitually in your sin with no repentance and change shows the eerie state of your heart. It might be time for an open heart procedure with the Great Physician.

D.C. Talk put it this way: "The single leading cause of atheism in the world today is Christians...who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the doors of the church and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what the unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."

Help the cause of Christ. Live it or shut up.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Calm In Your Chaos

So this past weekend, two of my daughters turned another year older. We had birthday parties on Saturday and Sunday, and I think that we are officially partied out now. It was a fun weekend though. For Madalyn's party we went out to Daze in a Maze, the corn maze and pumpkin patch about 35 miles away. It was fun and I think that the girls really enjoyed it. We had a weenie roast, did the maze, did the "dino dig" for cow bones, climbed and played on hay bales and old farm equipment. It was a good time had by all.

The only part of that Maze experience that I didn't like was the travel there and back. It wasn't that the girls were bad or anything like that. It was just really loud and bubbly in my vehicle. If you can picture me driving with 7 third grade girls then you can catch my drift. They were just non-stop talking and loud. I felt like my head was about to explode a couple of times. So much noise, chaos, and pandemonium!

Chaos. It raises the blood pressure. It stresses you out. You can get a headache. It can even make you sick. I've noticed that there are people who struggle with chaos. They come to church tired and worn out. They come in and their kids are crazy wild and are just beating their parents down. I see parents that just want it all to stop, even for a moment, so they can gather the strength to move on in their parenting.

I don't like feeling that way, even if it was just for an hour. But I noticed how stressed and tense it made me. Just the noise, constant talking, music (turn it up) and general noisiness. I can totally see how it can wear a person down. And I think, how many people do this and live this chaotic lifestyle everyday? No wonder they're stressed, tense, and short with everyone. They've got to be miserable. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus' offer here is peace. Calm in your chaos. His "yoke" is not heavy and burdensome. Living His way will bring "rest for your soul".

If you need rest...a break from the noise and chaos of life...know that you'll never have that peace that your heart desires till you come to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. Then you will find rest.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Spiritual Person

It has been said that he who has the most need of righteousness wants it least. Some would excuse that and say that maybe they are not aware of the need. But if we really cut to the chase and get real, I think that true Christians are always aware of the need for righteousness. The question is, do we pursue it? If you think, "I am really doing well, and I don't really know that I need more righteousness", then you are in greater need than you realize.

The great apostle Paul, after years of walking with the Lord, said, "I don't mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me" (Philippians 3:12).

A real mark of a spiritual person is they are always hungry and thirsty for more and more and more of God. But there are certain things that spoil our appetite. Sometimes we feed on spiritual junk food and diminish our spiritual appetites. Health, wealth, and prosperity teaching, seeking a man-centered theology that asks, "What can God do for me?" instead of "What can I do for God?" can fill you up...but it's a bad thing to feast on. It's not healthy. In the end it will leave you hungry...and hungry for more junk food (i.e. false teaching). Careful what you consume because you are what you eat spiritually (I know this because I've even in this church). Some things just take the edge off our appetite for the true things of God.

So periodically we need to ask ourselves a question: Is this thing I am engaged in—this relationship, this pursuit, this activity—making me more or less hungry for spiritual things? Does it draw me closer to God, or does it in some way keep me away from Him more? Is it a turbo booster or a weight in the race of life? Does it speed me on my way, or does it slow me down?

Hebrews 12:1 tells us, "Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us." If you are really hungry and thirsty for righteousness, you will find it. Because if you really want something, then you will put yourself in that place where you will get it. Pray and ask God to help you hunger and thirst and go after what He wants for you. Matthew 5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Your Children and Cell Phones

I've had a couple parents call me in the last few weeks asking me about issues that they are having with their teens. All of these issues stem from the temptations that come with technology. Pornography on the web (and on the phone), texting or "sexting" as they call it now. Parents of teens and preteens need to wake up to the temptations that we are throwing our kids into, unintentionally of course, with the technology that makes immorality easily accessible. Let's be honest, some of our kids are just not ready for it (and as parents, you are not ready either). So before you go buy your 12 year old (or 7 year old) their own cell phone and netbook, consider this article written by Russell Moore of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Pray about it and talk to your spouse of what your course of action should be. Know that as a pastor, I'm praying for this whole generation of parents as they face these issues.

Does Your Child’s Cell Phone Preach Another Gospel?
I’m afraid I’m not the most popular pastor with the ten to fourteen-year-old demographic in my church right now. I took on an issue, parenthetically, yesterday that caused frenzied looks and agape mouths. I dared to question the theology of text-messaging.

Rifling through some things the other day I found some church bulletins from my home congregation from the 1980s. All over the back of them I can see my teenage handwriting, interspersed with that of my youth group friends. There’s some tic-tac-toe there, and some plans being made for after-church Capture the Flag games, and so on.

I realized that the pre-teens and teenagers in my congregation won’t ever have such things, not because they’re too holy to ever pass a note in church, but because cell-phone technology has made it as easy, and as temporal, as a text-message.

Text-messaging is easy, and can easily break the boredom of a classroom or a family dinner, and it can put one in touch with people one’s parents never know one is “talking” to. That’s easily enough remedied by Christ-following parents, but I wonder if the cellphone isn’t being used as just one more opportunity to preach a misleading gospel to our kids.

The formation and discipline of children, after all, is built on the pattern of God’s fatherly discipline of his people (Heb 12:3-11), seen in his discipline of Israel (Deut 8:1-20) and, ultimately, in his discipleship of the incarnate Christ (Luke 2:20, John 5:19-20; Heb 2:10). Our discipline of our families is rooted, then, in the Fatherhood “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:14).

I wonder, then, when it comes to cell phones, how many parents do precisely what our Father never does, and never will do. James tell us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:14). The Apostle Paul tells us that “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).

That’s why our God, through the Law of Moses, treats his people as a tightly-governed child “under guardians and managers until the date set by his father” (Gal 4:2). He carefully works us toward maturity, seeing that we’re faithful in small things before putting us over many things. That’s what a good and loving Father does.

A pre-teen or a teenager with unrestricted cell-phone usage (or Internet or television consumption) is being placed in a very, very difficult place of temptation. The company of that young man or woman is now away from the scrutiny of parents, and is now left only to his or her discretion or conscience. Are there some young Christians who can handle such? Of course. Should you assume your child is one of them? Your Father is more careful of you than that.

First of all, pre-teens and teenagers, simply, brace yourself, don’t need cellphones. I know you’re immediately responding with safety issues, etc. Nonetheless, for thousands of years pre-teens and teenagers have safely grown to adulthood without having communication devices in their pockets. Pre-teens and teenagers all over the world do it right now, and they survive.

Second, if your child does have a cellphone, this means you have a cellphone. Your responsibility is to know about every call, and the identity of every person text-messaging your son or daughter. You don’t have time to monitor this? Then you don’t have time for your child to have a cellphone.

This doesn’t mean you have to turn your house into an Inquisition hall. It simply means your child knows that you love him or her enough to check in frequently to see what’s going on in life. It also means that you communicate clearly that the child doesn’t have a personal cellphone, autonomous of your authority. It’s your cellphone, and your child is using it.

Communicating your love to your child means communicating your involvement. The gospel message is one of Fatherhood and sonship, of a Father who knows the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7), who fights for his children when they’re tested, tempted, or mistreated. Picture that kind of God to your children, even if they grumble and complain at first. So did we, and all those before us, when we were first delivered from our respective Pharaohs into a Father’s house.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Help Me Pray

One of the things the Holy Spirit does in our lives is to help us with our prayers.
Why? Because if we are honest with ourselves, there are times when we don't really know what or how to pray. Maybe you are overwhelmed by a burden. You find yourself discouraged, depressed, and overwhelmed. Maybe the weight of the world is bearing you down and you are feeling like there's no hope. It is at that point that the Holy Spirit intercedes for the believer.

Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as a "Counselor." In John 14:16, He said, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever." The Holy Spirit is also referenced as the "Helper" and "Comforter" in that same verse in other translations.

We have lost the meaning of the word "comforter" or "counselor", I believe. It comes from the Greek word paracletos, which means "called alongside to help," as a helper, aide, or assistant. This gives us the idea that the Holy Spirit of God is right there, pulling for us, helping guide our minds and actions in Christ Jesus. Some versions translate paracletos as the word "advocate," which is applied to Jesus in 1 John 2:1: "If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous". The purpose of an advocate is to plead the cause of another—to be an intercessor. This is part of the work that the Holy Spirit has come to do in our lives.

Here's the good news: sometimes just a sigh or thought will do. Why? Because we don't always have to put words to our prayers. The Holy Spirit knows our thoughts and feelings and worries. And the Holy Spirit will do the rest for us in intercession. Trust me; I have done this many times myself. I don't know what to say, or how to say it. I just know that I am in pain or anguish, that I'm under the stress and weight of the world; so I sigh, I think, I surrender, and sometimes I might even cry. God hears and understands my plight. That's where the Holy Spirit comes in.

Romans 8:26–27 tells us, "And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don't even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will."(NLT)

Having trouble praying? Quit trying to find words and just yearn for God. His Spirit will take care of the rest.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Whoa, 20K

It was just 2 years ago that I started the blog and it just crossed 20,000 hits yesterday. Wow. Seems crazy. I appreciate all of you who read and I pray that you are challenged to move toward God in your life as you see me unpack my brain. I'm humbled by the responses I get. Thanks so much for the readership!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I've got an H.S.O. (hot sports opinion, I'll explain what that means someday...or ask me!) that I need to let out. Don't burn the koran. It won't help anything. It will just tick the Muslims off. I don't agree with their book or their religion-based animosity and jihadism just as much as anyone else. They are a false religion, but let's remember that Satan is the father of lies! Their deceived, people!!! I've got hurt feelings about 9/11 just like anyone else, but burning the koran isn't going to help. I just got invited on Facebook from someone to join them in the movement "burn the Koran day". I mean, come on! Really? Is that what we're called to do?! Let's do something valuable like pray for these people! Wasn't it Jesus (the Son of God) that said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..." & "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you...". The good that Jesus was talking about was not burning their book. W.W.J.D.? Probably pray for them and try to talk to them about God's love for them and show them the way to life that is truly life!

Glad that I could get that off my chest. Thanks for letting me.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Holy Spirit...a Planner?

As a preacher who's in the pulpit every week, I want to express how encouraging it is when people share with me what God has done in their life. I preached a message today called Good & Angry. I shared the passage about Moses and Aaron in Numbers 20:2-13 where Moses snaps and loses the ability to enter the Promise Land. After the service today, there were many that shared how practical the message was and how it had spoken to them. Apparently there are many who are dealing with anger right now!

It never ceases to amaze me how God and His Spirit can work in the planning. I didn't just come up with the message this week. This message and the passage were planned at least 2 months ago. But God's timing on His preaching calendar for me must have been just right. I was both overwhelmed and humbled when I talked to person after person who said that they had received just what they needed from the message. Some of them needed the steps to self-control. Others were convicted. Others were just needing to own up to their anger and explosions. Still others just needed to hear the message for preventive maintenance, I guess.

Many preachers today pride themselves in "letting the Holy Spirit guide them". All spiritual leaders should strive for this. But I find more often than not, that preachers who are not planners claim that the Holy Spirit is somehow more at work in their spontaneity, if you will, than those who plan ahead. It's a cheap way to act spiritual if you ask me. Sometimes I think that preachers who are throwing together messages on Friday night and Saturday aren't waiting on the Holy Spirit to guide them. They are just procrastinating and trying to make it look as if it's something spiritual. I know this because I used to work for someone who wasn't good at planning anything ahead because they "wanted to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work." Whatever! What I am finding is that the Holy Spirit is in the planning. He was obviously in every part of the service today. I am open to God's changes at the last minute and have done that before, but more often than not I find that He's been guiding me all along, yes, even several months ago. I just pray as I plan that His will be done and that He would guide us every step of the way as we look to future service planning and teaching series.

I'm thankful for the comments and stories because they do encourage me. I feel God's accomplished what He's desired through me. I'm simply His slave. I'm committed to do what I feel that God is leading me to do regardless of how people respond, encouraging or not. But today was a special day that God orchestrated at just the right time for so many people that needed it. And to have the affirmation that God is using I'm humbled, amazed, and so glad in my heart.

Now I'm just it again, God! Do it again! (Maybe even next Sunday!)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Strategic Thinking

When you make any decision in life you usually think it through. Well...maybe ony the wise think it through. When you make a decision in haste or without weighing the pros and cons or consequences of that decision, it can always come back to haunt you. I've made those mistakes before. I don't want to be "that guy" again.

It's been bugging me this week as I think about the church today. Do we strategize? Do we think through our decisions and all of their ramifications before we act? Is our mindset on maintenance or forward motion? I feel that this is the worst of times for the church to "rest on her laurels" and not be active for the Kingdom.

Gone are the days when churches could count on the unchurched wandering into our midst based on the vague conviction that they are "supposed to". Without personal contact and repeated invitations (and I mean repeated) the church today cannot expect to see people just flying in the door to meet Jesus. To reach the lost today, church leaders need to think--at certain times and in certain circumstances--like marketing gurus hawking the latest and greatest product. After all, we have the greatest product in the world (God's grace) and people actually need it!

Similar to a missionary on foreign soil, congregations today need to know who their main demographics are and how to strategically reach them. This does not mean that we must blindly submit ourselves to every cultural whim to stay "relevant". But it does mean being more purposeful and serious about communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that are heard, understood, and impressed on the lost.

We must demand more from ourselves, Christians. The status quo church of 1998 is not reaching the lost person of 2010. The principles of the Bible will never change, but the methods for reaching and pricking the hearts of lost people should always change. Look at the example of Paul in the New Testament. He was always leveraging culture and methodolgy to his advantage. We must do the same.

Let us not forget also to do everything with excellence in our churches. Let us demand excellence from our staff, ministers, and elders. Let us strive for high standards in the programs and ministries we produce. Let us aggresively steward financial and spiritual resources. Let us think strategically about the communities we serve and how to reach them. Let us taste like salt that never loses it saltiness and work hard at the gospel. Let us think strategically about our churches and their outreach. And then...let us act!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Big Needle

So, my foot still bothers me from my sports injury this summer. (See the blog from July 2 on Plantar Facia Rupture for more info). Anyway, it's still bugging me so I went to see my real doc this time (not the coverage doctor) just to see if there was anything more that we could do. It hurts especially first thing in the morning and as the day where's on, it seems to get worse. It's just tender all of the time.

So I'm sitting with doctor and he's looking at it and presses on a spot that really tender. He gets up, sticks his head out the door to the hall and calls for Barbara (the nurse) to get a 1 on 1 for Mr. Keller. He then comes back in and tells me he's going to give me a cortisone shot but that he's going to go in from the side of my foot, not straight in from underneath because it's too tender. I'm thinking...what?!

So she brings in this huge tube of gel looking stuff with a huge needle. He immediately tells me, don't look at the needle and asks me to look away while he;s doing this and not to watch. I'm sitting here thinking, "What ever happened to a patient's choice?" But you must understand that Snyder and I go way back...he taught my Sunday School class when I was in high school. Great class too!

Anyway, he goes in from the side right away and I'm like, "Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, that hurts, etc!" He keeps telling me to hold still and don't look and that he's almost done. As the injection is taking place, I'm trying not to look and to hold still and everything. But he has to keep repositioning the needle because he's try to shoot this stuff all over the injured area...that now feels even more injured. Pulls the needle back, pushes it in, shoots it up, then down, and then side to side. It was pretty painful. Afterwards he tells me to get my shoe and sock back on and asks me to step on it and asked me how it felt. I could actually feel all of the gel stuff in there. Weird (and I little painful, I must admit.

Anyway, it was painful and I've felt like I had a deep bone bruise the last couple of days, until this morning. When I got up today there was a noticeable difference in my pain and I walked around a long time today with little or no pain. That's pretty good considering I was on my feet for more than 7 hours today between preaching, Sunday School, walking the building talking to people, and our class 101 right after the service this morning. But overall, it felt much better.

He said that my injury will take 6-12 months to fully reheal itself. I can do whatever I can stand in that time and he gave me some stretching stuff that I need to be doing everyday, etc. That's a bummer, but I'm not going to complain because it could be worse, right? I just want my old normal foot back.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Can You Truly Love Jesus and Hate His Wife?

The church is called the bride of Christ throughout scripture. With all of it's faults and blemishes, the church is what God has called on to spread the news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 3:10 says, "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms." The church, with its imperfect people are to be sharing the perfect message of God's grace and mercy. After all, who has experienced this love from God more than us, right?

Sometimes we go through phases of life where we get caught up in negativity about the church. We must understand that this is Christ's bride that we are talking about. Can you love Jesus when you don't love His wife? Can you love God when you don't love the church?

These are questions that we need to wrestle with and we also need to compare ourselves against. Someone once said, "If you find a perfect church, then don't go there. You'll mess it up!" It's true, there are messy people with messy lives in the church, but we are nonetheless, even with every spot and blemish, still loved by God and married into His Son. How can we love Jesus truly if we don't love His bride?

There are some who will say that they can be a "Christian" but not go to church. If there is not some type of Christian fellowship going on, then I think that's a weak argument. How can a person practice the biblical one anothers (love one another, admonish one another, serve one another, forgive one another, bear one another's burdens, pray for one another, etc.) if you have no contact with a body of believers? How could you participate in the Lord's Supper as it states in scripture if you never meet with anyone? How can biblical koinonia (true Christian fellowship of sharing lives) happen if you never associate with brothers and sisters in Christ?

I think, actually, I know that there are many Christians who struggle with the church. Most of the time it's past woundedness from a bad experience where they were hurt or mistreated, or something along those lines. We must forgive and progress and move beyond the past and reengage with God's church. I know that there are many congregations out there that are full of God's love and grace. Every fellowship will have it's warts and blemishes, but God uses the church to accomplish His mission. We just need to be a part of it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Something Fun

So much to catch up on

So, I could sit and type for a couple of hours right now, but I don't have the time. This is a short week for me because I just got back to work yesterday (Tuesday) from a trip to a family reunion in Iowa. The trip was fun and it was great to see and reconnect with ones that I hadn't seen in a long time. The girls were pretty good travelers all things considered and I think that they had a good time as well.

I read some on the trip. If you haven't picked up the book "The Christian Atheist" by Craig Groeschel, I highly recommend it. It is very convicting on many fronts and is really a good read for anyone. You need to check it out if you haven't already.

One of the highlights of Iowa trips besides seeing family is our trip to the Dutchmen's Store in Cantril. The Dutchmen's store is run by Mennonites that make their own handspun goods and candies. The candy is the best. They don't have turtles this time of year, but when they make them in the fall and winter...they are the best ever! The girls like to get their gummy stuff and it's all sod in bulk. Great place to visit. They are so reasonably priced and they have some items that you wouldn't find anywhere else. Cool deal.

So, I'm back to the church and heard how great this weekend was. We worshipped at Stockport Christian Church, our home church from long ago. Great people there and a great minister. Their congregation runs about 35-45 weekly and when Grandma Keller and her 19 showed up, we nearly doubled attendance. It was great. Sweet fellowship with the believer's there, great time of worship and communion, and a good message. I heard the same happened here at Oakwood. Tracy Morris preached (one of our elders) and I heard from many that all went well. It's great to be able to be gone a week or so and know that all is well and in good hands. We have a great team of staff and elders here at Oakwood.

So, back to reality and the 110 degree heat index. Looks like toward the beginning of next week we might get a break from all of this. That would be great. The last church league softball games are tonight. I'm planning on playing, even though the heal is still tender a bit. I'm hoping to go but not reinjure or set myself back. We'll see what happens!

There it is. Everything in my head (or at least mots of it). Hope this entry finds all readers reading the Word of God everyday and growing in understanding of who He is and what He wants from us. Blessings on all that pursue Him!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

2 Peter 2

1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 5if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 8(for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. 10This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority.

Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; 11yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. 12But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.

13They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 15They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—a beast without speech—who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness.

17These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. 20If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud."

This past weekend I taught about angels, demons, and spiritual warfare. I read this passage yesterday and thought it was interesting on many levels, but especially some of the comments on angels in this passage. As for the rest of it, a stiff warning about false teachers, which are many in the world today. In a future blog, I'd like to write about my theory of going astray in teaching, which I think that many will find interesting. Remember, Satan is crafty and deceptive. He is going to try everything he can to get you off base in life and with God. Be aware. Be alert. And don't get off track. Reread verses 17-22, paying close attention to 19-21. Let the Holy Spirit convict where He wills and be open to God speaking straight to your heart. Keep the faith!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Everyone Has A god

Believe it or not, idolatry comes naturally to all of us. Why? Because we were made to worship, we must worship, and we will worship. Even as nature abhors a vacuum, so does the human soul. The human soul always will find an object of worship, either on the shelf or on the altar or in the mirror or in heaven. But we will find something to worship, because we are all idolaters.

Maybe we don't give these gods the names they were once given, like Dagon or Baal or Zeus or Thor, but they are gods nonetheless. An idol or false god is anyone or anything that takes the place of God in our lives. And know this: everyone has a god...even atheists.

When someone comes up with their own version of God, that is worshipping a false god as well. Making statements like, "Well, I don't believe in a God who would. . . ." is creating your own god, and that is idolatry. Anytime we find or fabricate something to worship on our terms, think idol.

The Bible warns us, "Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God's place in your hearts" (1 John 5:21). Whoa. Notice that John says "anything". John knew well the war for our worship and how many would struggle with things of this world taking the place of God in our hearts.

But why would we worship an object or a thing or something else instead of the true God? Because in our minds, it gives us control. I counsel and preach and help people, I see control issues everwhere. Why are some church members chronically negative about the "changes" in the church? Control. Why does your mother-in-law meddle and try to cause conflict in your marriage? Control. Why does your boss have to be so "bossy"? Control. Why does someone give you the silent treatment after a disagreement? Control. Why do some people stop giving to the local church when they don' like something? Control. Why is there so much conflict on the PTA board at school? Because it's all about control. Why do we worship what we want, when we want, and how we want? It's about control.

An idol or false god is whatever you get excited about, whatever you are passionate about, and whatever you choose to pour your mind's attention and your heart's affection toward. People get excited about a lot of things in this world. They may not call these things their gods, but in effect, that's exactly what they are. What is the focus of your life? That, for all practical purposes, is your god.

Idols...everywhere. Everyone has a god. My prayer is that you'd find the real thing.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Thought From My Retreat

I was sitting at breakfast one morning at the retreat I went on in June. Amy and I were always sitting at tables with other people and this morning was no different. It was a great way to get to know people, so many times you sat by people you didn't know to try to mix it up.

One morning while at breakfast a thought provoking statement was made. Now you must understand that these are all Sr. Pastors and their wives from various churches all across the U.S. Anyway, one of the other pastors at the table made this statement:
Sometimes it's easier to give birth than raise the dead.
Now what do you think he meant by that? Weigh in and leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Backsliders Anonymous

Anyone can backslide. No one usually plans on doing it. But it starts with making little compromises that lead to big compromises. And next thing you know, you are not in a place you should be. You are headed the wrong direction. The Bible even tells us one of the signs of the end times is that some will depart from the faith (see 1 Timothy 4:1). It could happen to any believer if precautions are not taken.

I would even suggest there are people who are backslidden and not even aware of it because they don't understand what the term "backslide" means. It is a biblical term. In Jeremiah 3:22, God says, "Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." And Jeremiah 2:19 says, "Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will rebuke you."

If you are thinking, well, I don't really know that I have actually backslidden, then here is something to think about: The Christian life is one of progression. It is one of growth. And it is one of constant change and betterment. Either you are moving forward as a believer, or you are moving backward. Either you are gaining ground, or you are losing ground.

I like to think of the Christian life as a climb. If you are climbing up a steep hill in your car and you stop, your tendency is to roll back, maybe even just a little bit. You know, like putting your car in park and it rolls back until it engages. But you know as well as I do that you can't just park on a steep hill. Many times you must use the emergency brake to stop the backsliding, and if you let off the brake, you'll continue the backward trend. It is best to keep moving ahead in forward motion. Just the act of stopping your progression begins to move you backward.

My fear is that this is what's happened to many Christians today. They decided to stop and not go any further. Now they are backsliding and are trying to ignore it. It's hard to ignore when you see them though! I like to make fun of people as they age sometimes. I think that everyone can look at their parents and see this. When it comes to fashion, it's like a progression. Styles change and people change with them. But is seems like as you age you are more resistent to change. Some people were riding the fashion train and they decided, I'm getting off right here and not going any further. It's funny in clothing but sad in Christianity. I believe that there are many today that decided that they are not going any further because they are comfortable where they are. And now...they are in backslide mode.

My question today is, are you moving forward? If you are not, then you are potentially backsliding. And if you are not where you once were, then you are slipping away down the hill. That is why we need to take practical precautions, because anyone can fall away. Anyone can depart from the faith. It doesn't matter how long someone has been a Christian. It doesn't matter how much of the Bible they have memorized. It doesn't matter if God has used them in ministry. Anyone could fall away. And the moment we begin to doubt that is the very moment we are taking a step toward it.

"Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will rebuke you. Know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing that you have forsaken the Lord your God, and the fear of Me is not in you," says the Lord God of hosts."
— Jeremiah 2:19

Monday, July 12, 2010

Stir It Up

Yesterday I taught on the Holy Spirit. I'm in a series called "Uncensored Truth" where we are looking at truths about the core of Christianity. Who is God? Who is Jesus? Is Jesus really the only way to heaven? Is God's grace enough? Who is the Holy Spirit? What about angels & demons? And so the list goes on etc.

I was personally blessed by the responses yesterday. It seems that the visual illustration with the milk really brought it home for many people. My goal is always to stir it up in people on Sunday's so that it provokes thinking and changing at home all week.

I used an illustration with milk, actually borrowed it from our children's lady. It really helped some people to understand what God's Spirit wants to do in their lives. The Holy Spirit is called the guide, the counselor, the helper, the aid. Most people want that in their lives, but they don't allow the Spirit's prompting and leading in their hearts.

One of the scriptures that I tackled in my teaching yesterday was Ephesians 5:18 which said, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." Many people associate erratic behaviors with the Holy Spirit. They site this verse and sometimes reference to "being drunk in the Spirit" or "slain in the Spirit". Weird behavior is not one of the fruits of the Spirit. What Paul meant here is that just as you act differently when you are under the influence of alcohol, so you too should act differently when you are filled with God's Spirit. Perhaps you've seen people who get really bold when their drunk on wine and they do things that they normally wouldn't do. Paul is saying that if we allow ourselves to be "under the influence" of the Spirit of God, not wine, that the Spirit will also give us boldness and help us to do things that we would not normally do.

As we tackle thoughts of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives, Paul also gives us a list of what the "fruit" of being "under the influence" of the Spirit is like. Galatians 5:22-23 states that fruits (evidences) of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the eveidences of a life that allows the Holy Spirit to work. Is there evidence of the Holy Spirit being at work in your life?

Be blessed by study of God's Word and be a blessing to others by sharing your faith this week!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What Have We Done To Our Kids?

My wife is at church camp this week with my oldest daughter. The 3rd & 4th graders on the trip have been an eye opener to my wife. She has been challenged by what she's experiencing. I have several stories that I could share, but let me tell you just one.

As they are arriving at camp, Amy is trying to be friendly and get to know some of the girls that she doesn't know very and make sure they feel secure and welcome. In the course of conversation, she encountered a little girl who stated that she lives with another family member. Amy asked about mom and dad and the little girl said that her mom was in drug court and when she got out of trouble that she was going to fight for custody of her. What struck Amy is how just matter-of-fact this 8 year old was about her situation. Dad is uninvolved. Wow...what are we doing to our kids?

I believe sincerely that normalizing sin is one of the devil's greatest tools in the war for our hearts. If he can convince the next generation that divorce, drugs, sex, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, adultery, etc. is normal, then the next generation will walk right down these paths. Their childhood memories are of courts & custody battles, drugs and rehab centers, mom or dad having "sleepovers" with the opposite sex, (or the same sex today!) just watching adults behave badly. It breaks my heart and my wife's heart that kids are all too often having to deal with the consequences of their parents behaving badly. What are we doing to our kids?!

The world needs the Savior now more than anytime before. We need to pray for this generation of kids. Pray that this generation of parents too. I'm reminded of this scripture: 1 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." We need that!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Plantar Fascia Partial Rupture

Sounds interesting, right? Well, not when you are suffering with it. It appears that at the Wednesday night church softball league game I hit a base just right when rounding 3rd and partial ruptured (tore) some of the ligament. The plantar fascia or arch ligament is a band that runs from under the heel to the front of the foot. A strain or rupture to this is quite common. A plantar fascia strain might result from one single traumatic incident or may gradually occur over a period of time. In my case I hurt it just barely a week ago and doc thinks that I just went all the way this time.

I suffered through the night last night and did not sleep well at all. Got up this morning and went to the doctor's. When I finally got to see the doctor (why are they always so slow?!), he asked me all of my symptoms, etc. I told him that I had looked it up online and that my own diagnosis I thought I had a plantar fascia strain or rupture. I could tell he was impressed and he examined the foot and pressed on a few places. Then he hit the place where the pain is so intense that I nearly kicked him in the chin. After the exam and some advice and a prescription, he said, "Your diagnosis was correct." That was pretty cool. Thank God for the information superhighway!

I'm on some good medication now called Lortab. It's good stuff. Reminds me of some of the pain medication that I got when I broke my femur when I was a kid. Kind of seems like it just makes you feel good and warm all over and makes you act like you don't care about much of anything. I was talking to a friend about it tonight and he described how addicts struggle in terms that I had never really thought before. Alcohol, drug use, huffing, etc. just numb the pain of life for a while. It feels good and is an escape from the moment. The problem is that you live for the next time you can feel that way. Addicts wake up the next morning and their problems and pain are right there again. So they go and seek another hit of something to numb the pain. The cycle is hard to break and in many cases deadly. That's why the doc and pharmacist make such a big deal out of these things. They can be very addictive I guess. After taking a couple, I can see why.

One of my friends from the church texted me tonight and made the comment, "Sunday's message could be pretty interesting if you are on Lortabs." Too funny. Actually the doc told me that depending on my behavior and reaction to the medication, that I may not want to take one Sunday morning before preaching. Then again, it might make a memory, right?!

In all seriousness I'm feeling a little better today. I pretty much stayed off of the foot all day until a trip to Lowe's tonight. When I got home it was hurting pretty bad. Couldn't take another pill till later. Just got to stay off of the foot as much as possible for the next several days and take it easy for a week or two. Needless to say, I can't play softball next week, but may be able to play in two. It's a bummer, but I always have to remind myself that it could be worse. Because you really could be.

We'll see what preaching on a Lortab is like this weekend!

Don't forget to celebrate freedom this weekend as we do the fireworks thing and spend time with family and friends. Freedom is so great, but is never free. What a great nation we live in. Praise God for that!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Could Be Awkward

Too, too funny. Love those kids and their questions!
(If you still don't get it, Solomon had concubines, not porcupines!)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Traits of a Real Friend

Amy and I got to go on Bob Russell's couples mentoring retreat last week and were so blessed by the week away. As we "break" from the church and the ministry we find our spirits encouraged and refreshed and our vision renewed. It's good to get away and get some perspective on ministry. One of the things that I've known for a long time but that surfaced again at the retreat was that Christians, and maybe especially Christian leaders, need some real friends in their life. We need people that we can be real with and "let it all hang out". We also need these friends to tell us the truth about ourselves and to encourage us with understanding and love.

Here are 4 traits needed in a real friend: (from Solomon and his wisdom in Proverbs)

1) A real friend will always tell you to truth. (Proverbs 27:6) Even if they think it will hurt you, a true friend let's you know how things really are. No fluffing it. They bring reality to light. Every person needs that. Do you have someone who will tell you the absolute truth?

2) A real friend will stick with you through the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Proverbs 17:17) Yes, there may be times of disappointment and roughness in your relationship, but a true friend sticks with you. You know that they have your back no matter what and that they will always be there. We all need that and desire that, right?

3) A real friend shares your same values and connects with you deeply. (Proverbs 18:24) Your real friends will share your values. You will also be able to talk to them on a deep level. There are 5 levels of communication: cliches (how are you? fine.), facts, opinions, feelings, needs. A real friend is someone who you will allow to know your opinions, feelings, and needs. You may be in denial about it, but I believe every person needs at least one real friend to connect with on a deep level.

4) A real friend will help you with difficult decisions. (Proverbs 27:9) Godly counsel from a good, trusted friend is worth so much when you are facing a tough decision. So many times we choose the quick, easy, less painful way than the right way that God desires. A real friend will help you make the right choices and walk you through them.

If you are reading this and thinking, "I have no one in my life like this," then find someone. Open yourself up to a Christian brother or sister and grow into a real friendship.

There was a man who came to me at one time who was in a lot of trouble. The law was involved and it was one of those cases that if he made one more mistake, then he was going to have to do jail time. In describing his "friends" to me, I realized that this man had no friends at all. I painted a picture of what a true friend looked like and asked him if there was anyone in his life like that. He said no, not really. He went onto say, "If I had someone like that in my life, I don't think I'd be in so much trouble." Very true. Remember, bad company corrupts good character. (1 Corinthians 15:33)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Staff Relations

And to those of you that have noticed that I haven't blogged in some time, well, you're right. Just been busy and was gone to a conference with my wife for a week. Now we're back and I'm full of it! So, hang on...and read this week. I should put up some thought-provoking entries.

Keep the faith, live the faith! -Eric

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Benevolence & Mercy

Have you ever been in the awkward position where a homeless person asks you for money? Not the one that you just drove by, but the person that actually comes and asks? You know that you have a $20 bill in your pocket, but you're not sure if you should hand it over. Truthfully you're thinking..."If I only had a $5". Perhaps you decide to give the $20. You walk away wondering, "Did I really help that guy or did I just buy a night's worth of booze?" Or...maybe you looked away or just ignored him. Then you have that gnawing guilt, thinking "I could have parted with that money. He needed it more than I did."

In Acts 3, we find Peter and John in a similar situation. A physically handicapped beggar asked them for money. By this time in Acts, a lot of people probably knew Peter and John. There was probably some serious pressure on them as all of the eyes around them looked to see how they would handle the needy man. Peter responds by saying, ""Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you." He then declares healing for the man in Jesus' name. Right then the man stood up, the people gathered to see the miracle, and Peter preached the gospel.

Did you notice something? Peter did not give the beggar money. He didn't contact the church office to ask them help the man financially. He did nothing more for the man than declare his healing. Would Peter be criticized today by our churches for not meeting the man's needs? The man asked for money, but Peter pointed him to Jesus through healing in His name. Surely this guy was broke, he needed food, clothes, shelter...but all Peter did for the man was get him back on his feet.

This man's only source of income was his begging. His only job skill and resource was begging. He used that handicap to make a living. Suddenly, he loses the selling point, his excuses are gone. What will he do now?

I believe that in this passage we find an answer to what Christians are to do in showing biblical mercy through benevolence. Many times we as followers of Christ, tend to react to need with relief rather than doing something that will help turn a life around. I think that we try to alleviate our guilt more than we try to alleviate poverty in someone's life. Giving someone money won't always help them. In fact, sometimes it makes things worse.

The beggar asked Peter for money. Let's be honest, most of us would have thrown a couple bucks his way and walked on feeling satisfied that we had helped him. But did we really? The guys real problem was that he couldn't walk and gain employment because of his condition. Even more than that, the guy needed a Savior. His problem wasn't financial brokenness, or a physical brokenness, but rather spiritual brokenness. He had a desperate need for the Gospel message to be preached and for his heart to see Jesus proclaimed.

Unfortunately much of what we do in "church benevolence" is focus all of our efforts on meeting the physical needs by handing out food, money, clothing, or stuff. Don't get me wrong here, those are not bad things to do. In fact, more Christians should be more benevolent. But it can't stop there. Jesus beckons us to "make disciples". To go and baptize them and teach them to obey everything that He showed us. So, what can we learn from Peter in Acts 3?

First, identify the real need. Many times this requires us to step back and identify the real obstacle. This man needed more than money. He needed his legs healed. Someone else may need education or help through an addiction or simply decent employment and the means to find it. Some may need to be shown another way to live life. They are repeating destructive patterns of behavior that were modeled for them their whole life. We need to find the need and the obstacle and pray about how to really help.

Second, help them help themselves. The materially poor don't need a handout. They need you helping them do for themselves. The handout is a means to an end. An old saying goes, "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." Ask yourself, "What can I do to help this person get on their own two feet that they can't do for themselves?" Find a way to help overcome that obstacle. Be a friend. Help them find work. Help ready them for a better way in life.

Third, share the Gospel. Isn't that what it's really all about? There is nothing more powerful than the Good News of Jesus that can change a life. Sometimes God allows people to get to rock bottom and down and out so they are desperate for a change in their miserable existence. God is giving you an opportunity to help change an eternal destination for someone. Are you making the most of that opportunity?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Move That Bus...Er Steeple

Our steeple was moved off of the crown of our main church building today. We are getting a new roof and the steeple had to go. Good thing too as there was rotting wood beneath it from all of the water flowing around and underneath it. Hopefully all of this will put a stop to our leaky roof! PTL! We had a 135 foot crane come and pull the steeple off today. It was pretty cool. We had quite an audience for it. Even the Enid police department came and watched. So, now the steeple is laying on the ground beside the building. Plan is to repair all of that roof and replace the rotting frame and fix the steeple (it needed paint real bad) and then put it back up. We are going to spray it with rhino liner truck bedliner stuff instead of painting it. That will take care of the hail damage problem, prevent conduction from lightning strikes, and make it where we won't have to try to figure out how to paint it. Hope you enjoy the pics!