The Path to a God-Given Assignment

God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.

1 Thessalonians 5:24

I’ve learned that the path to accomplishing a God-given assignment is paved with faith.

When you experience fear, face risks, have set-backs, encounter critics and realize frustrations, it’s the faith of knowing the God who called you to the task will be faithful to complete it that keeps you moving forward.  If you are facing the temptation to give up a God-given assignment, perhaps instead of quitting, you need to spend some time renewing your faith in the God who chose you for this assignment.

Have you experienced this firsthand?

Do you need this reminder today?

Friday Discussion: Can a Pastor Be a Politician?

Should a pastor be involved in politics?

or…another question…

Could a pastor be involved in politics?

I’ve often wondered this question…help me think through it today.

Let me explain a little of where this discussion is coming from today.

I’ve been involved in the political process all my life. When I was in elementary school I started following politics any way I could.  I watched presidential speeches, kept up with world, national and local politics, and couldn’t wait to vote.  I worked on my first campaign when I was 16 years old and continued through my twenties to volunteer on campaigns.  I spent a summer interning in Washington, DC for a congressman.

During my thirties I served as an elected official on our local city council and even served as the vice-mayor of our city.  The love of politics has never left me, but my life has changed.  I’ve been called into ministry.  I mostly remain neutral on issues of politics these days.  I still vote, but I’m a silent participant.

While I have no plans to run for anything and doubt that I ever would, the interest in political matters remains in my mind and sometimes I think about what it would be like to be in political office again.  Just to be clear, I’m not asking for permission for me to do anything…I’m just seeking opinions and sharing my story as an example to spur discussion.

I seriously want your thoughts. (I previously discussed this subject in a more general way concerning Christians and politics…read that discussion HERE.)

  • Would it be wrong for me to run for a political office some day?
  • Should pastors stay out of politics?
  • Should pastors be in politics more?
  • What are the advantages?  What are the disadvantages?
  • Could politics be a part of a Christian’s “calling”?

Help me….I’m seriously curious! Plus I love a good discussion…even a politics or religion discussion!

Add your thoughts now!

What Style of Worship is in Heaven?

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Revelation 4:9-11 NIV

About 10 years ago now, my family spent a weekend visiting churches with a group of people from our home church. The church was preparing a long-range plan and one part of that report was to review the style of worship. At the time, the church had a very traditional style of worship and was asking if it should incorporate more contemporary or a blended music.

A few days after out trip, I was sitting with my youngest son having lunch. He was about 10 years old at the time, but very perceptive.  Reflecting on our recent trip, he asked a good question and it was one that helped shape my thoughts at the time. He asked, “Daddy, what kind of worship will there be in Heaven? Will there be one contemporary worship service and one traditional?”

I was stunned.  I had never thought about it. What style of worship does Heaven have? Will we sing praise choruses, or will we use hymnals? Will there be organ music or piano? Will there be a praise team or a choir? And…most importantly…the bigger question…do angels sing?

As I read God’s Word, I can’t really say what style of worship we will have in Heaven. What I can discern, however, is that we will certainly worship! We often come to “worship service” with the junk of life on our minds. When we get to Heaven, there will be no more junk. We will no longer experience times when our hearts are not really into worship. I get the idea that when the created worships the Creator, God will care less about the style of music we sing and more about the devotion of the hearts singing!

We will fall at the feet of Jesus and Worship God! It will be unlike anything we have ever experienced! I don’t know if we will call it contemporary or traditional, but for sure, we will call it worship!

Just curious, what style of worship, worship song, hymn or artist leads you best in worship?  Do you have any opinions/ideas/thoughts about the worship in Heaven?

5 Questions to Unpack a Bible Passage to Teach

Someone asked me recently how I address a Bible passage in order to teach about it.  I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, but I do have a system.  Of course the process begins and ends with prayer, but God has wired me to think systematically, so I need a format that works for me in writing a sermon message.

When teaching on a specific passage of Scripture, I consider five questions about the Bible text:

What does it say? – I usually look at several translations, and depending on the passage, may research the original words if needed.  I want to know what the verse or verses says in a way that I can understand it.  At this point, I attempt to understand the text within the context it was written…time period…location of writing…people to whom it was written.

What does it mean? – I always allow Scripture to interpret Scripture first.  I like to use cross references and word searches for specific words or phrases I may not understand or want to explore further.  At this stage, I want to understand the passage in the context of the entire Bible.

How does it apply it to my life? – Here I’m basically trying to decide how I can apply the truth in the text to the way I live my life…what changes I need to make in my life…how my life should be lived because of the truth in the text.  This is where I use commentaries, or other writings to help me better understand the text.  I want to know how this passage, written so many years ago, has relevance for me today.

How does it apply to others? – Now I ask myself, “How can the people listening to this message apply this text to their life?”  Although a text has only one true meaning, it can have multiple applications in a person’s life.  I try to consider as many of these as possible.  I see part of my job communicating as helping listeners connect the passage to their life, the changes that may need to be made, and how to live out the truth of the text in their life.  Of course, the real teacher is the Spirit of God, but I also know God uses teachers to help people grasp Biblical principles and apply them.

How can I communicate so they will understand and apply it to their life? – The final question is perhaps the hardest step for me, but equally important to the other steps.  I want to teach in a way that appeals to different learning styles in the room, captures and holds people’s attention and engages them in the message enough that they will consider the message even after the message is delivered.  The real win for me is not when people enjoy a message as much as when they are willing to make changes in their life to live it.

Now obviously, once you do something many times you start to form habits and so I don’t always think through these questions consciously, but basically this is the process I go through each time I preach.  Also, it should be noted (because if I don’t someone will for me) that this entire process should be done in a spirit of prayer.  My end goal is that God would use my limited abilities to communicate His truth.

Preachers, what do you do differently?  What commentaries, programs, or websites help you the most?

Also, just curious, what style or method of preaching engages you the most? Is it through illustration, humor, visuals or simply reading the Bible aloud?  (or something else)

Scripture Memorization, Week 1

For years, I had a practice of committing Bible verses to memory. Over the years, I probably learned hundreds of Bible verses.  I literally “hid God’s Word” in my heart.  Whatever the excuse, I haven’t made that a part of my spiritual disciplines in the last few years.  I think it’s time to bring the habit back and this time I want to invite you along.

Would you commit to memorizing one verse with me a week in 2011?

Here’s how this will work.   Each Saturday I’ll post a new verse.  You can write it on an index card to carry with you…or put it on your refrigerator…at your bedside…or maybe write it with an erasable marker on the mirror where you get ready each day.  Whatever it takes to see it consistently throughout the week.  You should recite it many times.  By the end of the week you’ll know the verse and we’ll start over again the next week.  Is it a deal?  Are you up for the challenge?

Here’s the first verse for us to memorize:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23

Please leave me a comment that you are accepting this challenge.

(Feel free to email me…or comment…with suggestions of verses.  I’ll try to keep them simple enough to memorize, but helpful, stand-alone verses.)

5 Characteristics Needed to be a Church Planter

Recently I posted a funny video about what it takes to be a church planter. Want a laugh? Watch it HERE. I decided it might be a good idea to share what I really believe is necessary to be a church planter. Church planting is a difficult, but rewarding assignment in ministry. All pastors and planters should operate under a calling of God, but it does appear to me that there are some unique qualifications for church planters.

From experience, here are five characteristics I believe it takes to be an effective church planter:

Love of risk – There is an entrepreneurial heart in most church planters I have met. Church planters love things that are new, changing and growing. They have an entrepreneurial spirit about them, embrace change readily and get bored with status quo. This characteristic can bring it’s own problems, which leads to number two.

Willingness to be patient – Notice I didn’t use the word patience, even though that’s part of the fruit of the spirit all believers should be developing. Effective church planters are willing to be patient for God to do His work. The balance between these first two is a constant challenge, because church planters are wired for growth, but effective church planters develop a good plan, surround themselves with the right people, and then wait as God works.

People who believe in you – Church planting is not to be a lone ranger activity. Without the structure of an established church, church planters must depend on people to help develop ministries and systems. Effective church planters learn to rely on volunteers for success and are willing to share leadership and responsibility with others to plant the church.

Healthy family life – Church planting is a family activity. If a planter wants to be effective, he or she must have a healthy family life. Ministry is tough, so this is true for all ministries, but church planting, because of the unique uncertainties and risks involved, places additional stress on a marriage and family. Effective church planters begin with and maintain a healthy family life.

Close walk with God – Church planting will test a person’s faith many times. Church planting is not always popular in some church communities and can make a planter feel like an outcast in the church community. The risks involved and the waiting process challenge a planter. Church planting, like all ministries, is an act of faith and requires constant communication with God. Effective church planters continue to build and draw upon a strong relationship with Christ throughout the process of planting.

Again, many of these may not be unique to church planters and are possibly shared by others in ministry, even in many secular settings, but my experience as a planter of two churches leads me to believe these are critical needs for a church planter.

Are you a church planter? Have you ever considered church planting? What would you add to my list?

A Strong Message to the Church

This passage spoke to me this week. Pastor, imagine if God had you stand on the front steps of your church and deliver this message as people entered your church Sunday morning…

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD : “Stand at the gate of the LORD’s house and there proclaim this message:

” ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.

Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

” ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”-safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?

But I have been watching! declares the LORD. Jeremiah 7:1-11 NIV

How would your people respond to that message?

25 Statements of Jesus That Will Change Your Life

Recently I read one of these statements of Jesus and I couldn’t go any further in my reading.  I realized in that moment, that although I had read it perhaps hundreds of times, I often take the statement for granted.  It made me think about the many other truths Jesus shared which are life-changing.  I decided to put a list together.  Perhaps some of these will be meaningful to you.  Read through the list…memorize a few of them (you probably already have many of them)…let them soak deep into your heart and mind…then allow God to penetrate your life with truth.

Here are 25 statements of Jesus that will change your life:

“Take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37)

“Go and learn what this means ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13)

“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2)

“Ask and it will be given to you…” (Matthew 7:7)

“If the Son has set you free you are free indeed” (John 8:36)

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30)

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

“You are the light of the world”  (Matthew 6:14)

“Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

“The greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)

“Take heart, it is I.  Do not be afraid.”  (Matthew 14:27)

“I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:7)

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  (Matthew 19:26)

“If you love me you will obey what I command” (John 14:15)

“Your give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37)

“A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit” (Matthew 7:18)

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8)

“This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me.” (Mark 7:6)

“You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8)

“Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink…” (Matthew 6:25)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do to them” (Matthew 7:12)

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  (John 6:29)

“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

I realize some of these can be misunderstood if out of context, but the fact remains these are things Jesus said and He is Truth, so every word has life-changing value.  I wonder, if we really understood the magnitude of these words of Jesus and believed them, would it change the way we lived our life?

Which of these do you most need to apply to your life today?

There are many others…what would you add to my list?

7 Suggestions for Planting a Church in a New Community

I was recently asked for any suggestions I have for planting a church in a different community from where you currently live and know. There is a group of 25 plus people who are leaving the comforts of home in California traveling to the state of Idaho to plant a church. I love that kind of faith.

If you don’t know, Grace Community Church is my hometown, so I am very familiar with our community, but I planted a church before this one in a city in which I didn’t know anyone well, so I have some experience in this area. Still, as I thought about these suggestions, I really believe they are shared for any church plant (perhaps even any church.)

Of course, these are given assuming you have a clear calling as to where you are to plant, but here are some of my suggestions for planting a church a another community. There are probably hundreds of others, but these were the first 7 that came to my mind:

Learn the culture – Every city, every village, and every group of people have their own unique identity. What matter’s most? What do they celebrate? Where do people live and play?  What do they do for fun?  What’s their language?  What are the traditions unique to this area?  What history do they value?

Learn the market – Are schools an option for a building? Is the community in a growth mode or a declining mode? What are the major problems, concerns and needs of the community? Who are the leading employers?  What are the demographics?

Learn the competition – Before you get too excited…it’s not other churches. It’s anything that has the people’s attention you are trying to reach besides a church.

Buy Into the Community – Immediately find ways to get personally involved in the community with volunteer investment. That could be through the Chamber of Commerce, schools, festivals, etc.  Give back…believe it or not, that gets attention.

Have a prayer team – There should be a group of people praying for this community, the church plant, and the leaders on a daily basis. Who are those people?

Develop patience - It is harder than you think it will be. It just is. Church planting…really any ministry…takes a tremendous toll on you physically, mentally and even spiritually.

Protect your family – Just as church plants are stressful on the planter, they are equally challenging for the planter’s family. This may be especially true in a relocation, since much of their support system is being replaced. Protect your family by discipling your time and not losing them as your primary focus. As much as possible, involve them in the work so they understand it’s value and get to share in the rewards.

Church planting is tough, but like all actions of faith and obedience, God uses the sacrifices to reach hurting people and change their life for His glory.

Planters, let me hear from you…what would you add to my list?

Gayle Haggard on Grace and Forgiveness at Catalyst #Cat10

Gayle Haggard told her humbling story about her husband, Ted Haggard’s moral failure. You probably read about it…( #UnderStatement) If you haven’t, you can read more HERE. Most of us can’t imagine finding out that our husband had a secret life as Ted Haggard had. As a pastor, I can only imagine the trauma that went through his family, his church, and his personal life.

Gayle threw out so much in a short time that I decided rather than do a commentary I would share some of her statement that caught my attention most:

This is my moment to confess aloud to the whole world what I really believe and who I have confidence in…

My relationship with my husband, the church, even my family was at stake, but this is my opportunity to reveal what I really believe.

I was challenged, did I have the courage to do the things Jesus teaches us to do? I really do believe He will never leave us or forsake us… I believe that we do not abandon when the going gets tough. It seems like everybody I counted on was failing me.

God was telling me to love and He was telling me to forgive. The implications would be hard, but I was determined to live out the faith I had claimed to have. What good is forgiveness if you don’t bear with one another and forgive as the Lord forgave us?

I became the “sinner” for staying with my husband by the judgment of the church.

The evidence of our faith is shown by what we do when we face our greatest trials.

A great test of faith is how do we respond when another person sins.

Even though I was shocked at the nature of my husband’s sin, I was not shocked that he sinned.

There is not one city in America where the number of people attending church is increasing.

The church appears to not know how to model what we preach.

The world watches when we have a scandal and wants to see how we respond.

We are no better or no worse than any other human…but we have been redeemed.

I would hope as a church we would be able to grasp the real meaning of the Gospel.

Sharing my story has brought many others to share stories proving to me the church is often not the safe place to share the real struggles of life. (She went on to say the world seems to forgiven easier than the church.)

Gayle offered a sobering reminder to us all of what grace and forgiveness looks like. I plan to buy her book Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in My Darkest Hour.

What about you? Can you imagine offering the kind of forgiveness Gayle has had to offer her husband? Give me your thoughts.