Costa Rica Report, Part 2

Yesterday was our first official “work day” at the Abraham Project.  (Read more about this trip HERE and HERE.) Everyone has their own assignments, but mine today was helping rebuild a fence. It was a long task. I’m not accustomed to working with my hands, but this was kind of fun.

The best part was the connections I made with people in my church who worked with me. These men can sling a hammer, but they can also talk about life. One on our team is several years older than me. I’m gleaning from him this week. One statement he made, “I’ve learned it’s not as important what you do as how you do it.” That was in regards to things like building a fence, but I’m certain there are some life applications as well.

Another blessing this week…I have to get out of the country to receive this one…is that I’m going all day without checking emails, or receiving phone calls and emails. I did get back to the room to find 65 emails waiting for a reply, but the break was good…and needed!

This trip is turning out…as every mission trip does…to include me receiving more than I am giving.

Do you ever find that serving others gives you a greater blessing than the ones you are serving receive?

Costa Rica Report, Part 1

This is my first trip to Costa Rica.  We are here to support missionaries Jason and Kerby Haprst, who gave up careers and left our church to join the Abraham Project here in Costa Rica.  (You can read their story HERE.)  Sunday I was privileged to speak at  Lighthouse Community Christian Church, where it’s Pastor Jorge Gomez first had a vision for the church and the Abraham Project.  I love watching big faith and action come together and this is certainly such an example.

If you have never experienced worshipping in another culture and language, I highly recommend it some time.  I stood in the back of the room, waiting for my part of the program, and I was literally moved to tears.  I’ve had this blessing many times in other countries, but I never get tired of getting what must be a glimpse of Heaven, when every nation joins together in worship of our God.

Pray for us this week as the work of the team begins.

Have you ever worshipped in another culture or language? Tell me about it.

Scripture Memorization, Week 2

Last week we started memorizing Scripture together. (Read that post HERE.) It’s something we will do every week this year. A new verse will post each Saturday. Over 50 people said they were doing this based on the comments and then another 50 or so told me on Facebook, Twitter or by email. (You can still join in…whether you comment or not…but I’d love to hear that you will.) We have some people eager to learn God’s Word this year! How awesome is that?

Memorizing Scripture can be made easier than you may have thought. As I said last time, writing it down helps. Write it somewhere you will see often. One Twitter friend took my suggestion and wrote it on her mirror. Another (read his suggestion in the comments from last week), is going to make the verse the background on his phone each week. I love creative ways to do this! Please share them if you have more ideas.

Last week’s verse was:

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

How did you do last week? Could you recite it if you had to?

This week our verse is:



I have seen this verse applied so many times in my life. In spite of the bad decisions I make…or sometimes even the good ones…in the end…God has a way of getting me where I need to be in life. He’s got the whole world in His hands…including my life.

This week, place this verse in your mind, let it sink into your heart, and allow God to impress you as He gently guides your life through the maze of this world.

Have you seen how God has shaped your path over the years?

Again, let me know if you are accepting the challenge to memorize these verses.

3 Suggestions to Make a Good Speech or Sermon Great

One secret to effective speaking is to learn what not to say…

Don’t give everything you’ve got in a message.

A standard joke is about the young preacher giving his first message. After he has studied hard and has lots of information, he can’t help but share everything he’s got. One key, however, to an effective message is when the speaker learns what to say and what not to say. The “what not to say” is perhaps the more important part. I’m not an expert speaker, but for me, the best part of my sermon message preparation is after it’s written, going back and cutting parts of it to tighten up the talk.

Here are 3 suggestions to make a good talk great.

Be intentional to say the right things – It’s easier just to throw everything in the talk. Deciding the right thing to say takes more effort, but makes the talk better.

Honor people’s time - Let’s face it. People are busy. They get bored easily. They check out before you make your final points. Understand this and you’ll keep their attention long enough to say what you need to say.

Leave them wanting more - It’s always good to leave your audience with an anticipation, rather than looking at their watch.

Unless you and I are exceptional communicators (the kind of communicator who is better than they even think they are), then we need to learn how to trim our messages, leaving the best parts and cutting the fluff. We will be more pleased with your results.

Have you sit through a speech or message that went too long?

BTW, what do you do when you get bored listening? Do you sleep…check your phone…doodle? Seriously…I’m curious…  (Grace Community Church peeps need not reply…Ha!)

(Pastors, there’s still time for this Sunday!)

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)

Preparing for a Better Year…Sermon

Sunday, at Grace Community Church, I spoke about the need to grow as believers if we want to be more like Jesus at the end of 2011.  We had a smaller crowd, because of snow and ice on the roads, but I sensed God had who He wanted there to hear this message….at least live…you can catch it here…

You can listen to it HERE.

If you watch or listen to this message I’d love to hear from you…

What does the sign of Christmas say?

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Luke 2:11-12 NIV

One thing I have learned about Bible verse: a verse usually has more than one application.  As I have read the Christmas story over the years, I have become intrigued by the phrase “This will be a sign to you”. A sign of what?

Well, after careful study, I’m certain I can apply this verse in multiple ways.

Obviously, the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger was a sign to help the shepherds recognize Jesus. When a child is first born, sometimes clothes just don’t fit.  It would not have been unusual for a newborn to be found wrapped only in a blanket. Though there could have been many babies, even newborns in Bethlehem that night, there probably weren’t many in an animal’s feeding trough.

Also, the sign of the baby could have been the angel’s way of saying, “this will prove that I’m telling the truth.” I’m quite sure shepherds out in a lonely field at night, might have some doubts about what they had seen and heard. It could be a situation where one would say to the other “I didn’t see anything if you didn’t see anything.” Seeing the baby would insure they had indeed been visited by an angel.

Perhaps another, even deeper, meaning by the phrase, “this will be a sign to you” points to the real meaning of Christmas. I did a little research. The Bible uses the term “a sign” several times. Gideon asked for a sign that God was talking to him (Judges 6:17). David requested a sign of God’s goodness.  (Psalm 86:17). The first rainbow was a sign of God’s covenant (Genesis 9:12). Circumcision was a sign of being God’s child.  (Gen 17:11) The Sabbath Day was a sign of God’s Holiness. (Ezekiel 20:12) God uses signs to teach us and guide us!

Now I know that’s pretty deep this Christmas Eve, but let me leave you with a question: What is the sign of Christmas? The baby Jesus…wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger…. What does it all mean? What is the real meaning of Christmas? I really don’t intend to answer the question for you!

I have a strong feeling, deep within my heart, that at Christmas, God was sending us a sign; the greatest and most important sign of all times. Have you discovered and read that sign this Christmas?

What would you think the sign of Christmas would say?

Unwrap Christmas – Gift of Life

When Jesus spoke again to the people He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Merry Christmas!

This week we have unwrapped some of the real gifts of Christmas. (If you missed any of them, see the suggested links on this post.)

When we think of Christmas, we might think only of the baby that was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a feeding tray. We often forget that the child grew. Jesus grew to be a man; a sinless man who would bear the sins of the world, be beaten and hung on a cross, placed in a borrowed tomb, and rose to life on the third day.

Jesus came, not simply so that you and I might have new life, but that we might enjoy it to the full! One of the gifts of Christmas is that you and I are no longer doomed to a mediocre existence! You and I, the children of God are no longer confined to the darkness! We have victory through our Lord Jesus Christ…the Light of the world!

Child of God, if you are still living in darkness; if you have not began to experience the joyous Christian life; if you are still moping around in your sorrows; if you haven’t yet discovered that this really is “good news”, then you haven’t finished opening all the presents of Christmas! There’s still one left under the tree!

Open them all this Christmas! Tell Jesus thanks for bringing you peace, joy, forgiveness, love, and yes, the fullness of life this Christmas!

Unwrap Christmas this year!

What is one practical way you could help yourself (and others) experience the true meaning of Christmas this year?

Unwrap Christmas – Gift of Love

For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  John 3:16

This might not be part of the Christmas story you share with your family as you sit around the fireplace, but maybe it should be!

As we unwrap the gifts of Christmas this year, we can’t help but mention God’s love. It was because of His great love for you and me that we even have a Christmas to celebrate!

When God created the heavens and the earth, the world was a perfect place. Man was in union with nature. Man had a committed relationship with his Creator God.

Then sin entered the realm of mankind. Sin separated man from God. What once was a perfect relationship was scarred forever. Men and women were subject to death, because of the plague of sin. Mankind could no longer reach a Holy God.

But then there were those two words…”but God!” But God so loved (insert your name here) that He gave His one and only Son! God threw a smelly birthday party, decorated with hay and attended by the local barnyard animals, overseen in the starlit night by a simple carpenter and his teenage wife to be. At the center of the celebration was a baby, helpless, yet powerful, weak, yet strong, unknown, yet to be the most popular figure to ever walk along the earth.

God loved you and me so much that He was willing to give up His son for a while, that the penalty for sin might be paid on a cross.

The greatest gift of Christmas is the love of God that brought us Jesus!

Dear friend, won’t you today accept His gift of love? Regardless of who you are, what you’ve done, where you are from, or how desperate you feel, you can know right now that God, the awesome Creator, has a real, intimate, and deep love for you!

Now that’s a Christmas present!

Do you feel loved by God today?  What does that mean to you this Christmas?

For more in this Unwrap Christmas series, read HERE, HERE or HERE.

My Top 5 Books This Year – Book Giveaway

Winners of the my favorite book giveaway:


Jason Stewart

Congratulations…They each get their choice of one of my five favorite books of 2010!

Thanks for reading my blog this year!

I usually read tons of books each year, but this has been a relatively slow reading year. Still, I read some books this year that greatly impacted me, perhaps becoming some of my favorite books of all times. In fact, I believe in them enough that I want to share them with you and give a couple away this Christmas.

Here are my top 5 books for 2010. I will give two of them away to random readers of this post. (Details below…you can click on the name to read more about each one.)

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller – This is perhaps one of the best looks at the story of the Prodigal Son I have ever read. If you have been a believer for very long, this book will challenge you in how you live out your faith.

The Grace of God by Andy Stanley – Andy is one of my favorite speakers and authors. He has a way of communicating truth in an understandable way and he does this brilliantly with the vital issue of grace.

Linchpin by Seth Godin – This is a simple book, but it is oh so profound at looking at how our work environments, careers, and the way we accomplish things is done these days.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – This is not a new book, but I had put off reading it. I read it on the plane to Africa this Summer and shortly into the book I was mesmerized. Gladwell will challenge your thinking of why some succeed in life and others may not.

Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne – I had the opportunity to spend some time with this author this year and I can’t believe I had not been closely following his work previously. This book is full of nuggets of how to make teams work well.

Here’s how you can have an opportunity to win one of these books:

  1. Comment on this post with your favorite book of 2010…or one you would suggest I read.
  2. RT or Share this post via Twitter or Facebook.

I will choose two random winners tomorrow and mail you a copy of your book of choice from the list above.

Thanks for being a reader of this blog this year!