Lean into the Lord

Henri Nouwen says “the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act.’”

I think the Christian’s most important move is to step aside and give God the proper room to do what He does best. You see, we are completely dependent upon Him. We may not realize or accept it, but that doesn’t deny its reality. Everything we have comes from Him.

Consider the air you breathe.

Did you produce that in and of your own strength?

No. It comes from the God of the Universe.

The Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the men of Athens was simple: “For in Him we live and move and have our being.”

He even quoted some their famous poets in saying, “We are His offspring.”

Our lives are often marked by independence and a renegade spirit, but this shouldn’t be the case in the Kingdom of God! Our high calling is one of submission and servanthood. Our strength comes from above and can only be made active as we approach God in humility and contriteness of heart. Let’s push aside our pride and create space in which God can act!

Let’s continue to be dependent upon the Lord. Let’s lean into the Lord for HIS wisdom and strength.

A People Not Yet Created

In my devotions I read Psalm 102. There was one particular verse that really jumped out to me, as a matter of fact, it shook me deeply.

Psalm 102:18 says “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.”

A people not yet created.

That is amazing foresight.

So often, we talk about the NEXT generation and that’s wonderful and all, but too often we are just referring to anyone younger than US. For example, I’ve often thought of young adults, teenagers and elementary students as the NEXT generation. But, when I read Psalm 102:18 I was called up short on that definition. That is not the NEXT generation…that is the NOW generation!

Let me illustrate: currently our Foursquare denomination is wrestling with the realities of an aging ministerial, because the average age of our pastors in America is 56 years old and nearing retirement. Recently, I was in a series of high level denominational meetings where someone remarked that my involvement and voice in those particular meetings was representative of the “youth of our movement.

Now, I appreciated the sentiment (who doesn’t want to be thought of as young), but I politely had to interject with this: “Folks, I am 40 years old, and if I embody your definition of the YOUTH of our movement, then I think we just discovered a big part of our problem.”

Silence ensued.

Those that we tend to think of as the NEXT generation really are the NOW generation, which means we need to discover who actually is NEXT. I believe Psalm 102:18 tells us: a future generation; a people not yet created.

Loved ones, my heart is constantly burning with the vision of my faith and the organizations I lead being alive and ever-changing to embrace a people not yet created.

Together, can we have that kind of foresight?

Don’t You Remember?

Muse on this question.

“Don’t you remember?”

This is the question that Jesus asked his disciples in Mark 8. It came on the heels of two HUGE food distribution efforts. One was for a group of 5000 men (see Mark 6) and the next was for a smaller group of 4000 men. By most estimations the groups were 2-3 times larger than reported due to the inclusion of women and children. In both cases Jesus proved himself to be a miracle-worker. His batting average is perfect. Of course, isn’t that what you would expect from the Son of God?!?

After feeding thousands (and healing a possessed girl, a deaf/mute man, and oh yah…walking on WATER), Jesus and his disciples retreated to a boat ride on the lake. Shortly after disembarking, the disciples realized they had brought only one loaf of bread with them for the journey. This was clearly not enough for a day on the water.

What would they do? Where will they go? Who gets to eat?  Who goes hungry?

Questions. Questions. Questions.

Then there was one from Jesus “Don’t you remember?”

He didn’t stop there:  Don’t you get it? Is your heart hardened? Can’t you see or hear? Don’t you remember when I feed five thousand and we had a bunch of left-overs?  Don’t you recall when I fed four thousand and we had basketfuls of pieces to pick up?
“Don’t you remember?”

  I need to confess that I have a short-term memory. Do you?  Are you like me and so easily forget the past blessings of the Lord when current challenges present themselves?  It’s so common for us to watch the Lord move in powerful ways one moment then fail to trust him the next.

5000:  Fed and happy.
4000:  Full with left-overs.
Boat full of disciples with one loaf of bread between them:  Help! We’re gonna die!! All hope is lost!!!

Jesus must shake his head at the obvious display of unbelief and distrust…both then and now. Has God taken care of you in the past and yet you wonder if he will continue to moving forward? Have you given of your tithes and offerings watching how he “opens the floodgates of blessings” and yet fear grips you this month with your limited funds? Did you thank God for the food on your table last night but aren’t sure if he’ll sustain you tomorrow and the next?


“Don’t you remember?”
I believe that the power of anticipation is fueled by the practice of reflection. When you remember what God DID it builds a sense of excitement for he will DO!

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

Recently I was reading Luke 18 in my daily devotions. Jesus told a parable about a widow that wouldn’t leave a judge alone. He taught this parable to show his disciples (that’s us, by the way) that they always pray and not give up.

If you have your Bible nearby I encourage you to read Luke 18:1-8 and notice a few things along with me.

1.  The Plea
This widow had a particular plea: “Give me justice against my adversary.” In other words, “HELP ME!” How many of you have prayed that kind of prayer? I know I have. “Help” prayers are very common – perhaps the most common of all prayers on this planet. And I don’t think God minds it. He asks us to bring him our concerns, worries, and fears. He’s big enough to handle our stuff.

2.  The Passion
I’m always impressed with this woman’s passionate approach to getting justice. She was a real “go-getter!”

What are you passionate about? What makes your heart beat and your voice sing? Perhaps it’s your family, physical fitness, a hobby or upcoming event. Those are all wonderful things, but I ask you this question:  Are you passionate about Jesus?

3. The Persistence
The Judge said some pretty wonderful things about the woman: “This widow keeps bothering me…she will eventually wear me out with her coming!” One might think that these comments are less-than-flattering, but I see them as a badge of honor. She was a persistent person and got the results to show for it.

Notice the word “eventually” in the Judge’s statements. Eventually means possibly, someday, not now but perhaps soon. We tend to think of “eventually” like a child thinks about “maybe” from the mouth of a parent. Parents toss the word “maybe” around all the time in answer to our persistent children. Frankly, we know how frustrating that word is our to kids, but it’s SUCH A GOOD WORD (am I right?)!

Do you ever hear a “Maybe” from the Lord? Rather than quit, perhaps it’s an invitation to persistently and passionately keep praying.

Do give up. Keep knocking.  Jesus encourages us in Matthew 7:7 to:

“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”


Ministry of the Minister

“What does a pastor do all day?”

“Don’t they only work a couple of hours on the weekend?”

I giggle when I hear these questions for two big reasons:

1.  Because of the sheer amount of hours I work each week.

2.  Because pastoral ministry indeed operates with a level of mystery as it deals with matters of the heart and soul.

Doing the work of a pastor could very well mean a number of things to a number of people. For some, it’s pastoral counseling with a parishioner or preparation for a sermon. For others it could be thoughtful mediation or reflective study. For me, my “work” often involves reading my Bible, writing, brainstorming for upcoming teachings, biblical counseling, and vision-casting for our leadership team.

I think often about my pastoral role. I am consistently musing on what “doing my work” means. I write whitepapers and blog about it often, but much of what I write is rarely shared with our congregation. Pastoring can be like making sausage. We like sausage but not everyone wants to see how it’s made!

However, based upon my reading of Acts 14:19-23, and its focus upon Barnabas, I want to expound a bit upon the “Ministry of the Minister.”

I love the New Testament character of Barnabas. He is an underdog. He is lesser known than his buddy Paul, which is why I like him so much.

Acts 14:19-23 (ESV) But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Go back and reread the passage and notice the bolded phrases. These phrases constitute a very clear, and progressive mission of pastoral leadership: the ministry of the minister.

1. Preach the Gospel

2. Make many disciples

3. Strengthen the souls of the disciples

4. Encourage disciples to continue in the faith

5. Prayerfully appoint leadership

Undoubtedly, pastors do so much more than these five things…I know I do! Sadly, I often liken myself to a cruise director, like Julie McCoy on The Love Boat, running around trying to keep everybody happy and smiling. But the problem with the ‘cruise director’ concept is that it turns The Church into a pleasure craft complete with every creature comfort; a spiritual smorgasbord or hedonistic hideaway of sorts.

That, however, is NOT the purpose of The Church.

Instead, we are to be a lifeboat or a battleship. We have a huge and honorable mission. The pastoral calling is to serve The Church in this clear and compelling mission:

 To preach the Gospel: The Apostle Paul told the church in Galatia that he was “entrusted with the Gospel” (Gal. 2:7) and then to the church in Corinth, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). Pastoral leaders must preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen again. That is our mandate.

 Make many disciples: The result of the preaching of the Gospel is not just that people would have heard, but that they would believe and obey. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 is that we would “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…teaching them to observe all that I [Jesus] have commanded you.” Our clear and compelling mission at West Salem Foursquare is aligned to the Great Commission: Making More and Maturing Disciples.

• Strengthen the souls of the disciples: I have a wonderful friend and spiritual mentor that would often ask me: “How is it with your soul?” This is a good question that gets right to the heart of the matter: our souls. Pastoral leaders concern themselves with the soul and seek to see it strengthened in the Lord.

• Encourage disciples to continue in the faith: Life is hard. God is good. The task of pastoral leadership is to connect the two: Life and God. We serve as a Barnabas, whose name means ‘Son of Encouragement’, to disciples that are sojourning together in Christ. The ministry of the minister is to encourage (which means to put courage into) believers to continue in the faith. In other words: don’t give up. Finish well!

• Prayerfully appoint leadership: Paul and Barnabas were going from city to city appointing elders in the churches. The word elder is interchangeable with overseer, bishop and pastor. With prayer and fasting, they would recognize and release key people to lead and govern the ministry of the local church. This is the role of modern day pastors as well. We still are to recognize and release people into leadership ministry. Ephesians 4:12,13 tells us that we are to “prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

There it is again. Our clear and compelling mission: Making More and Maturing Disciples.

Trampoline Springs and Flesh Wounds

First a question and then a story:

Question:  How flexible are you?

Story:  Awhile ago, after Denise and I got back from serving at our regional middle school camp, I went out to the backyard and began jumping on the trampoline in order to burn off some excess energy. Normally after a week of camp I have little to no energy left, but I had just had my 3rd cup of coffee and even downed one of those nasty energy drinks that you turn to in times of desperation. So…I was…amped. And also, most importantly, we had experienced such an amazing time in the Presence of the Lord that I was hard pressed to settle down any time soon.

Thus…the trampoline.

As I bounced up and down, I rejoicingly remembered the handiwork of the Lord in students lives, and was so deeply aware of the beauty of the blue skies, the cool dusk air and thoughts of my family. At the time I was thinking about our oldest son heading to college, turning 40 and the last season of life in Salem, Oregon.  I was thinking about how grateful I was for Jesus, my wife, kids and church family.

All this was rolling through my heart and mind as I went up and down on the trampoline.

Then it happened.

Without warning.

Like a bullet in the blue sky, one of the metal trampoline springs broke and shot through the air directly towards me.  I was in mid-air descent when the shrapnel honed in on me. With a whizzing sound much like that of a gunshot, the spring sliced the air and then grazed the side of my right bare foot. Thankfully it was “only a flesh wound.” There indeed was blood, but nothing a bandaid couldn’t handle. As I, with dramatic flare, replayed the events to my family, I was keenly aware that the whole situation could have been much worse.  In other words, I do not have a gaping hole in my chest or one less eye.

That’s my story.

Now back to my question:  How flexible are you?

Over the years we have had to replace various springs on our trampoline. Over time the springs become brittle, rusty and eventually break. The intended purpose of the spring is to give flexibility to the trampoline, but time has a way of compromising that effectiveness. Occasionally the springs need to be replaced.

What “springs” need to be addressed in your life?  Are there areas of your heart that have gotten rigid, rusty and brittle? How spiritually flexible are you? When is the last time you have made a significant change?  Are you making new friends, sitting in different seats, worshipping in fresh ways or learning new skills? Consider reading a different version of the Bible. Try new foods or coffee blends. Serve in a different ministry for a short season to see how it fits.

How flexible are you?

My prayer today is that God would replace hard and brittle “springs” in us so that we are increasingly effective for seasons to come.

Consider Ezekiel 11:19-20 “And I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them. And I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances, and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.”

Change is Gonna Come

I recently read some of the top ways to know you are growing older. I still feel relatively young at 41 years old, but I find myself agreeing with many of these descriptions and seeing a little bit of myself in them.

How to know you’re getting older:
• You know all the answers but nobody asks you the questions.
• Your back goes out more than you do.
• You’re 17 around the neck, 38 around the waist and 106 around the golf course.
• You turn out the lights for economic rather than romantic reasons.
• Your mind makes contracts that your body can’t meet.
• You look forward to a dull evening.
• Everything hurts; and what doesn’t hurt, doesn’t work.

Time marches on.

Things change and so do we.

The world is spinning and changing so fast that the average person is incapable of really keeping up with it. All of this makes me so very thankful for the unchanging nature of Jesus. The Word of God tells us that “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Not only is this the scriptural motto of Foursquare churches worldwide (and found on the back wall of the WSFC Auditorium), but it’s our source of stability and security right here and now.

We will always find ourselves in seasons of change, but the constant point of reference we have is in our firm foundation; the rock that will not move: Jesus Christ.

Change is inevitable and Jesus is incredible.

Knowing this will help you grow older. It’s an important thought to remember when you discover that the little old gray haired lady you just helped across the street is your wife!

How to Lose 100 Pounds in 2 Hours!

How to Lose 100 Pounds in 2 Hours!

If you read this ad would you pay attention?

A while ago I was given one of those daily calendars. It has a different church bulletin blooper on each day. One of the bloopers caught my attention.

“Our church will present a series of classes on various subjects throughout the month of March. The classes offered include: ‘How to Lose 100 Pounds, from 7-9 PM Monday.’”

Many would show up if it meant losing 100 pounds in only two hours! Everyone wants a quick fix to our physical conditions. But it just doesn’t work that way. Neither does it work that way with our spiritual condition.

1 Timothy 4:8 says “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

No one can promise instant results because Christianity is an on-going journey.

Eugene Peterson calls it “the long obedience in the same direction.” If you are struggling with unresolved issues in your life or if you are anxious for a life-change then I encourage you to“go to the Lord” and allow him to work the process in your heart.

Forget the quick fix.

There is no magic pill that can be taken in order to bypass hard work and discipline. Commit yourself for the long haul and trust that “he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it…”