5 Tips for Amateur Prayers Like Me

prayer

Lord, teach us to pray…

(Luke 11:1)

I don’t know about you, but I feel like the disciples. I am still learning to pray. The fact is I have more knowledge of prayer than I have substance and practice of prayer.

Just being honest.

Here are 5 suggestions for amateur prayers…like me:

Be respectful – You’re talking to the Creator God. He is worthy of all our praise. He’s the Holy Father. He puts stars in the sky. At the same time, He paints the belly of a Lady Bug. Never take for granted the privilege of prayer.

Be yourself – Along with being respectful, it is important to be who you are. Don’t attempt to make your words pretty as much as you attempt to make your heart pure. Just as you want your children to be respectful, yet still be themselves, I am convinced God wants that for His children. We are told to call Him “Daddy” (Abba). He wants us to fall in the comfy chair of home in His presence.

Be honest – God knows already, yet He loves to hear His children talk. Just like we do as parents. He wants to know what’s on our mind. We can tell Him if we are angry and still be respectful. Speak truthful when talking to God.

Be open to His voice – Spend intentional time listening, with your Bible open. God most often speaks through the already written Word. But He also speaks through the still small voice like the gentle breeze. Over time…and with lots of practice…you’ll begin to know and hear His voice.

Be consistent – Pray as much as you want and need God’s involvement in your life. How much is that? For me, that’s fairly constant. I pray far less than the need I have for Him. Have a daily routine. Start a prayer list. Do it daily. But mostly, do it as a part of lifestyle more than a part of routine. It’s a relationship. And He’s always with you, so take advantage of the closeness you can have through Christ. If you’re sitting at a stop light…pray. If you think of a friend…pray. If you begin to worry…pray. It can be a paragraph, sentence or a couple words. (I’ve prayed “Help me God!” many times.) Don’t overcomplicate it. Just pray. Talk to God. What a privilege that I can encourage you in this way. (Hebrews 4:16)

Of course, all this begins with a simple belief in Christ as your Savior. That is what makes you His child. If you’ve never believed in the One whom lived, died and rose again three days later…begin there.

What tips do you have for us amateur prayers?

7 Vital Components of Church Revitalization

Word cloud in puzzle shape with self development terms.

As you may know, I recently entered into a season of church revitalization. I’ve done something similar previously in ministry. My first church was similar.

Then I assisted in the planting of two churches (as a senior leader of both) and fell in love with the energy I saw in starting something new. At the same time, I continued to be concerned for churches like the one in which I was raised. The church that has seen better days. I became more convinced that we need new energy in both.

So here I am again. And, this experience is giving me the opportunity, fueled by this platform, to speak not only to church planters (who I still love by the way), but also those who are attempting church revitalization. In the process. I’m learning some things. There appear to be some vital elements for a healthy revitalization to occur.

Granted, the Holy Spirit must show up and God must be glorified. That can admittedly happen with a room of donkeys, but in general terms, working with normal church people (whatever that means :) ) there are components which need to be in place to see a church revitalize.

Here are 7 vital components in church revitalization:

Admitting you need to revitalize – That’s hard isn’t it? Recently a senior member of our church visited another church that has undergone revitalization. She saw the excitement and came back with a new understanding. Her comment to one of our staff members was, “We have to change some things, don’t we? We don’t have a choice!” The church as a whole must come to that level of understanding.

Letting go of right to control - This is what makes or breaks revitalization in many churches. If the “No Change Allowed” sign is hung…or even the “but not that change”…on issues that aren’t even Biblical, then revitalizing the church will be very difficult.

A vision of something better – What’s next for this church? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? There must be a compelling vision, such as loving a community for Christ and clear avenues for people to be involved in reaching that vision.

A history worth revitalizing – This will be the toughest part of this post. There are some toxic churches that seem to have never been healthy. They’ve run off every pastor they’ve called. Many of these churches wouldn’t follow Jesus well either. They are stuck in systems and personal agendas and aren’t going to budge. (I realize that’s a cruel statement, but it’s a sad reality.)

Leadership willing to lead change – This is more than the pastor. In many cases, the pastor is only the figure head of vision and change. Change is hard. It requires trusted leaders within the church willing to step up and lead along side the pastor. I wrote recently the difference in trust and popularity as a leader. Read that post HERE and understand the difference. It’s what makes collective leadership that much more important, especially in the early days of revitalization.

The tenacity to weather storms – It won’t be easy. It’s far easier to start something than to try to grow again after a period of decline. Some pastors, leaders and churches have the patience. Some don’t.

A few committed people – You need some people already established in the church who love the church more than their personal agenda. These might be leaders or might not. Many times newer people attracted during times of change don’t have the roots or credibility to do this. As great as they are…and even with them as a primary focus…the church needs longer term people to embrace a new future. These people have to support the pastor, speak up for the changes and create an atmosphere conducive for growth again.

Well, those are my candid observations. They aren’t based solely on opinion, but they certainly aren’t a product of extensive research either. They are derived from hundreds of conversations with other pastors and personal experience.

What do you think?

5 Steps to Discern a Change in Ministry Assignment

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

How do you know when God is closing one door in ministry and opening another?

I get this question a lot and have previously addressed that, but recently I have received it more frequently so I decided to update this post. (I always note that this post is written about my experiences for people who may currently need it.)

Several times in my ministry, first as a layperson and since then in vocational ministry, God has called me to leave one ministry and begin another. It can be a scary place to face the unknown, yet know that God is up to something new in your life. As with most posts I wrote, I share out of my own life experience. That’s the best framework of understanding I have.

I think it is important, however, to realize that God uses unequaled experiences in each of our lives. Your experience will likely be different from mine. There was only one burning bush experience we know about in Scripture. At the same time, there are some common patterns I think each of us may experience, while the details remain unique.

This has been the process that I have experienced as God has led me to something new.

Here are 5 steps in discerning a change in ministry assignment:

Wonderful sweet success – Each time the door of a new opportunity opened it began opening (looking back) when things were going well in my current ministry. In fact, people who don’t understand the nature of a call (and some who do) have usually wondered why I would be open to something new.

Inner struggle – I usually have not been able to understand what God is up to, but there is something in me (and usually in my wife at the same time) where I know God is doing something new. While I do not know what it is, and not even if it involves a change in my place of ministry, I know God is doing a new work in my heart about something. Almost like the king in Daniel 4 who needed an interpretation, I know there’s something out there but at the time I can’t discern it. (I’m glad I have the Holy Spirit though to help me.)

Closeness to Christ – Brennan Manning calls it a Dangerous love of Christ. During the times leading up to a change of ministry assignment I will be growing in my relationship with Christ, usually in new depths of trust and abandonment. Again, looking back and I can see this clearly, but at the time I usually am just enjoying the ride and the closeness to Christ. Many times God is giving wisdom to share with others and (looking back) I can see that some of it was actually meant for me.

Opportunity presents itself – The opportunity often seems to come from nowhere, but with multiple experiences now I can see the pattern that has occurred each time. It is only after these first three experiences that God brings a new opportunity my way. That is probably because my spirit must be totally aligned with His Spirit in order for me to trust the new work He calls me to, because, again, it usually comes as a surprise. I have yet to be completely “ready” for the next step in my journey with Christ, because it always involves a leap of faith on my part, but this process prepares me to be ready to say “Yes Lord…Here am I…send me.”

I surrendered to God’s call – After I receive confirmation in my spirit, review the journey God has had us on, and Cheryl and I agree on where God is leading, I have yet to refuse the next assignment. I have certainly delayedy response, wrestled through the difficulty and comsulted many advisors, but never refused. That does not mean it is easy to leave my current ministry, but it has always been most rewarding to know we are in the center of God’s will for our life.

A special word to the spouse:

Cheryl has never been “ready” to leave friends in our current ministry, but she has always lined with me in knowing God was calling us to a new work in our life. I wrote about that tension from the spouse’s perspective HERE.

Have you shared these experiences? What other experiences have you had that have led you to step out by faith into a new adventure with Christ?

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

I’ve been listening to Jadon Lavik’s version of the song below a lot lately. It’s speaking to me. What insight a pastor from 1757 who penned this hymn had even today into my heart.

I’ve made bold the parts which speak to me most (and made super bold the line which rocks my world).

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God

He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be

Let that grace now, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love

Which phrases speak to you most?

Rebuking Jesus

He was openly talking about this. So Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” (Mark 8:32)

I read this recently and laughed. LOL in fact.

The innocence of Peter here. The verses before tell us Jesus was teaching that He “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days.” (Mark 8:31)

Peter didn’t like what he heard. It wasn’t right. It didn’t seem fair. Or proper. Or probably even Biblical to him at the time.

So, Peter took him aside to rebuke him.

(As a side note, I’m glad Peter took him aside to rebuke him. I’m glad he didn’t blast Jesus in a group setting. I know some church people who could learn from Peter on that one.)

Imagine though. Peter rebuking Jesus.

He didn’t like what he was hearing…he didn’t like what Jesus was saying…the direction Jesus was leading…so he offered a bold rebuke.

Wow! That’s almost funny to me.

Peter, the disciple Jesus had recruited, the understudy…the former fisherman…rebuked Jesus. The Master. The Savior. The Creator. The King.

Following Peter’s rebuke, Jesus turned to rebuke Peter. Unknown to Peter…or at least not understood at the time…Jesus had a plan. Already. And, once again, Jesus had the final word

But then the focus of this post changes. Because then there is you. And me.

Have you ever rebuked Jesus?

Ever wanted to?

Be honest.

Has Jesus ever allowed something you thought was unfair? Or improper? Or maybe not even Biblical as you would determine it?

You expected more from Him. You thought, because of His love for you (which is greater than you can imagine) that He would use His power (which is greater than you can imagine) to interrupt time and intercede on your behalf. You thought after all you had done…for Him…as a person. (That hurts to say if it is true, doesn’t it?)

You thought He would write a better story with your life. You thought He would have responded differently than how He has responded.

So, you took Jesus aside and rebuked Him.

Or maybe you were afraid to be that honest. But, if you were honest…really honest…Jesus’ response to your life has disappointed you. Inside, if we could examine your heart…or mine…your reaction to Jesus’ plan was a rebuke. (Maybe you should be that honest. Peter was.)

Don’t be afraid to be honest with God.

As you offer your rebuke, however, learn from Peter’s experience. Remember you may not know or understand, but Jesus has things under control. He has a plan. Already.

As He did when talking to Peter, He will have the final word in your life.

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.” (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

The Greatest Must Be A Servant

Grandmother & Granddaughter Playing at Home VII

The greatest among you will be your servant. Matthew 23:11

I have fond memories growing up of a sweet, older lady who worked in our church nursery, watching children while the parents went to Sunday School and worship service. She had a quiet disposition. She was easy to love. I remember wanting to hug her every week. She diligently changed diapers, wiped noses, and cleaned up toys after toddlers emptied the toy boxes. She never complained, she just did it. She was loved by all who knew her.

As far as I know, she never had her name announced in a church service. She didn’t serve on committees, have a building, or even a room in the church named after her. From what I knew where she lived and she didn’t appear to have a lot of money. She was just a simple lady, with a lot of class, and a whole lot of love. I have a suspicion that if she had ever had a need, someone in the church would have easily come forward to meet it, because she was a princess among people.

What was special about this lady?

It wasn’t her position. It wasn’t her bank account. It wasn’t her connections. (She probably had more power by popularity, but she wasn’t the type to ever use it.) It wasn’t even her abilities. There were others who might have been more qualified, at least on paper, than she was at her work.

As I reflect on her, I think she was special because of what was in her heart. She treated everyone the same; with love and grace. She had a servant’s heart. It wasn’t what she did. It was who she was. She loved people and so she wanted to give them the best of herself.

When I think of this verse I think of her…and many like her. She was great among mankind, because of her servant’s heart.

What defines your greatness?

Are you great, because of the standards set by society, or are you great because of the love within your heart?

In God’s Kingdom, greatness is never greater than when defined by a servant’s heart.

Does that describe our hearts today?

Whom do you think of when you read this verse?

My Sobering Time with Rick Warren about His Son Matthew

Rick and Ron Edmonson

Over the last few days, my Internet world has been inundated with news about the death of Rick Warren’s son Matthew. When I got the word Saturday, my heart surely skipped a beat. I have grown to love Rick. I don’t know him well, but I have had the privilege of being with him numerous times and found him to be genuine and deeply concerned for the well being of anyone who he meets. He’s definitely a pastor’s pastor.

I debated sharing this story. I don’t want to appear to sensationalize the issue. It’s getting enough attention. After reading numerous negative stories about Rick, his family, and Matthew (I honestly don’t know why anyone would choose a time like this to personally attack someone), I asked permission from one of the leaders at Saddleback to share my experience with Rick concerning his son Matthew.

A couple years ago, I had the awesome experience of visiting the inner workings of Saddleback Church. I was asked, along with a couple other pastors, to help them think through some of their online presence ministering to pastors. (One way Rick wants to end his ministry is by using his influence to bless other pastors. They have made Pastors.com a tremendous free resource.) It was an incredible trip. I had been to Saddleback, but on this trip, I got the complete behind the scenes tour. I was in the green room before Rick spoke. I got to hang out many from their staff. I left even more impressed with the depth of their ministry. Any rumor or thought someone has that they are a “watered-down” Bible teaching church is clearly wrong. I can vouch for that.

Rick Warren, the infamous, bigger-than-life, founding pastor was there. He was very engaging to all of us and made us feel extremely welcome. Most of our time was spent with other staff members, but Rick was intentional about spending time with us. If you are a pastor, I promise, you will never get close to him without receiving a bear hug.

The last afternoon we were there, Rick called a couple other pastors and me into his office. I could tell he was dealing with something. He wasn’t as jovial as he normally is. He closed the door and told us he needed our prayers. He told us that few knew what he was about to tell us and asked that we be willing to keep it confidential. (I haven’t shared it with anyone until now.)

He then told us that his son Matthew had struggled with a deep depression all of his life. They had done everything they could for him. They had sought advice from experts. He had seen doctors and counselors. Obviously, they had prayed constantly. Nothing worked. To protect Matthew, Rick had shared with very few people about Matthew’s mental illness. I can understand that as a parent.

Matthew was a great young man, with a huge heart and a deep love for people. It’s obvious from my experience he inherited at least part of that quality from Rick. Matthew loved Christ. He loved his family. For whatever reason though, Matthew couldn’t shake the depression. He, therefore, never found or realized his ultimate purpose in life. Imagine the irony of that. The son of the author of Purpose Driven Life couldn’t find his purpose. It reminds me that there will always be things in life we cannot understand.

Rick wanted us to pray, because Matthew had made some recent threats against his life. It wasn’t the first time he had done so. He had been doing so well lately, but it was obvious Rick was taking this current threat very serious. (As any parent would and you always should with any suicide threat.) Rick was deeply troubled and concerned and asked us to pray for his son.

Rick doesn’t know this, but I have prayed for Matthew almost every time I thought of Rick since that day. If I saw Rick’s tweets, I said a prayer for Matthew.

You see, what Rick also doesn’t know is that I’ll never forget that moment. It made a lasting impression on me. It was surreal. It was heart breaking. Rick was a “bigger than life” pastor in my mind. He was wildly successful in his career. He was humble, genuine, and took a personal interest in me. I probably mistakenly believed that Rick never dealt with the personal issues and struggles most of us outside the limelight live with everyday. I know that’s not true, but we tend to forget everyone has a story they are living…some of it will be good…some of it not so good. Even people of faith have days of despair. All of us have questions without answers. More than anything, however, that moment was a demonstration to me that no matter how powerful a figure you are, no matter how influential you become, you’re always vulnerable when it comes to your children.

Rick Warren wasn’t the pastor of a mega-church that day. He wasn’t the best-selling author of “Purpose Driven Life”. He wasn’t the internationally known church leader who knows presidents and kings of nations. Rick was a dad. Simply a dad. A great, big, loving, and tenderhearted dad with puppy dog tears and a situation he could do nothing to change. In that moment, I also witnessed first hand that Rick was fully surrendered. Fully dependent on God.

I don’t understand the term “mental illness”. I don’t understand depression. I know it is real, because in my ministry I have dealt with it many times. I don’t understand many of the physical ailments of our day. I don’t understand why Matthew struggled so long. I don’t understand why Rick and Kay had to carry…and will carry for a lifetime…the pain in their hearts over their beloved son. I don’t understand.

But, I know this. Rick had fully and completely surrendered his son to Christ…then and obviously now. And, even today, Christ is in control…of Rick…of Matthew…of you and me.

I’m praying for you Rick. Thanks for showing me the true love of a dad. Just imagine how much God must love us!

Picking Political Battles … Winning the War

Shouting

I continually have well-meaning believers who want me to get more involved in the political debates of religion and culture. And, sometimes I do. There are certainly battles to fight. Big battles. Human slavery. For one example. Ridiculous. Let’s end it now.

For the fights I choose I vote. I speak to representatives in government when I can. I’ve written letters…even letters to the editor in years past. I’m actually friends with a few people in government. Numerous people. And, I’m not afraid to use my influence where I feel it is most effective.

Plus, I realize some people have a specific calling to fight the battle on “capital hill”. I admire and support them in their calling. I actually know of few of those “called” elected servants personally. In fact, I once served in an elected office. I firmly believe followers of Christ need to take active roles in civil affairs…in the world.

Most of the time, however, I feel like I have a higher calling these days. Higher for me. And, I’ve got to live out my calling, as you do yours.

Sometimes as believers though, I think we need to learn the battles to fight and the ones to let go. It seems to me that many believers (people) are always looking for a fight. Some, it seems to me…if I’m completely honest…are especially looking for the fight about the issue they care about most.

I wonder, however, if we should choose our battles more carefully, knowing that ultimately the outcome of the war has already been decided. Our mission now is the Great Commission. We are to make disciples. That begins with telling our story. It seems to me it is harder to get people to listen if we are always fighting with them. Sometimes it seems our argument is louder than our message…our ultimate message.

Getting people to hear about Jesus seems more important than making sure everyone complies with our view of morality. Yes, our Biblical view of morality. If they knew Jesus…He does a pretty good (really good) job of making people more holy. (I realize that’s the simplistic view. But, I’m a pretty simple guy.)

It’s a consistent battle for me…an internal battle…whether to get involved publicly or sit this one out and pray.

Recently the words of Paul from 2 Timothy encouraged me in this realm.

Keep your attention on Jesus Christ as risen from the dead…according to my gospel. 2 Timothy 2:8

But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. 2 Timothy 2:23

“instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 2:25

I realize I won’t please everyone when I don’t fight the battle of their preference. I even realize some who read this will assume I’m refusing to speak on “their” issue. That’s okay. Being misunderstood sometimes isn’t that bad.

Because, I’m picking battles carefully…

And, celebrating the winning of the war!

What do you think?