Spirit Formation

I wish I could show each of you the journals, napkins, and scraps of paper. Everything was memorialized in Mead notebooks and gathered in Peechee folders (you’d have to be born before 1985 to know what those are!). What was captured in print became a testimony to the grace of God and the power of the Spirit in my young life.

What I’m referring to are a pile of songs and poems written down during my teenage years in Wisconsin. Dozens and dozens of lyrics, rhymes and scripture to song – many of which will never see the light of day but sure were key to my spiritual formation.

I wasn’t trying to be the next Poe, Thoreau or even Bono. I was just responding to what was wildly stirring in my heart shortly after
having an amazing encounter with the Holy Spirit at summer camp.

And oddly, I didn’t connect the two experiences together until years later when I compared the date of when I was baptized with the Holy
Spirit to the date of the first song I wrote. They were in the same month and year. Something unlocked in me in the summer of 1983. Something radically shifted. Something supernatural unfolded and it affected everything! Not only did I begin to write songs and poetry but I was worshiping more passionately (less embarrassed), sinning
less (just a tad!), loving my parents and brother better (you can ask them), serving more aggressively and telling others about Jesus with
more intention.

Now let’s be clear: I was a Christian. Loving God and growing. Going to heaven without a question. But…what happened on that August evening was a distinct moment subsequent to salvation. I was baptized with the Holy Spirit according to promise of Jesus as described in the pages of the Bible. I couldn’t explain it fully but I knew I was different: empowered and passionate.

The dusty, wide-rule notebooks don’t lie. They may be stained with ink, sweat and…time, but they are still breathing with life and vitality, joy and love, questions and answers. The Spirit breathed into those pages and He continues to breathe into us today. Let’s open our hearts together (like blank journal pages) and see what the Spirit freshly imprints upon us. I believe it will mark us…form us…change us…forever.


Pea Soup?

No, actually it was thicker than that. It was more than campfire chili. The kind of chili that has everything, including the kitchen sink, jammed into it. You know the kind: thick and dense.

That was the kind of fog I drove through a few days ago. After picking up my son from middle school youth group, we began the trek up Eola Drive to our rented home. There came a point in which the world closed in around our minivan. It was tangible and it was freaky. A heavy layer of fog descended and boxed us in – you could almost cut it with a knife. Now, I’ve driven through fog before. It’s tough and you really have to pay attention, but this was different. It was so thick that I literally could not see but a few feet ahead of my vehicle. I tried the high-beams, the low-beams and the no-beams. Nothing worked. I crawled my way home under a canopy of confusion.

Sometimes life feels a bit like this. You and I can often struggle through things without a lot of clarity. Other times our emotions become clouded with sin and dysfunction. Slowly (and somewhat undiscernably) a fog can settle over our souls.

Isaiah 9:2 speaks of a “people walking in darkness…those living in the land of the shadow of death.” This is a kind of spiritual fog in which we can’t seem to find our own way. We are lost and confused and we need the help of a Savior to lead us through to safety.

The FOG can be representative of three huge areas in our lives: unforgiveness, selfishness and ingratitude. I believe we need to cut through that FOG…here are some ways how…

1. Forgiveness.
Maybe some of your relationships have been foggy with unforgiveness. Have you let things go on and on without addressing anger and bitterness? Do you have people in your life that you may need to extend forgiveness? The Bible challenges us: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” I think the most effective way to cut through the fog in our relationships is to be quick to forgive. Is that something you may need to do today?

2. Others-ness.
I know this isn’t a real word, but it sure captures the essence of how we can cut through the fog of selfishness. Philippians 2:3 says to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others betters than yourselves.” When we give priority to the needs of others, then we are aggressively cutting through the fog of our own selfishness.

3. Gratefulness.
When is the last time you cut through the fog of ingratitude with a simple word of thanks to the Lord? Thank Him for your life, family, job, church and friends. We have so much to be thankful for, don’t we? When we express thanks to the Lord it has a way of cutting through the fog of our lives. We are able to see things clearer – our perspective changes for the better.

What other areas of fog do you deal with?

Two Tents

I’m writing this blog from a tiny “puddle-jumper” airplane – up around 30,000 feet in the air. It’s a beautiful morning as the sun is coming up over California, and soon, Oregon. Without question, my trip home to Salem is much better than the trip down to California. Not only did I have to blaze out of the 11 am Sunday service quite abruptly, but I then drove with great focus (ie: fast) to the airport. Then I ran through the terminal to get to my gate just on time…or so I thought…unknown to me, my flight had been delayed. There was no way I was going to make my connection in Las Vegas and get to a 6 pm event in California! I quickly switched airlines and destination airports…twice. Finally, with sweat on my brow, I jumped onto a California bound airliner and settled into the only remaining seat next to a young lad and his grandmother.

The young boy was quite active (and I know active ’cause I have three boys!). He was moving and shifting – always turning around to look at and talk to his parents in the seats behind him. This wasn’t a big deal until the drinks were served. He ordered hot tea first and then on the second round he got a glass of Coke. For about an hour those drinks sat precariously perched on the edge of his little tray…with his arms and legs moving wildly…papers and crayons shuffling around…twisting and turning. Now this wouldn’t have been a big deal except I was dressed to the nines, in full suit and tie, all ready to jump off the plane and be a part of a momentous event involving many highly esteemed dignitaries of our Foursquare family.

So there I restlessly sat. I could not relax. Wig-wam, tee-pee: I was two tents – get it, too tense?!? Every sudden move by Boy Wonder caused me to flinch and compulsively reach for the glasses before they could be dashed into my only set of clothes. Now, this story would be so much more dramatic if something legitimately had happened but alas, I made it to LAX without incident…and that’s the point of my story…

• How many times to we allow fear to rob us of our peace and joy?

• Why do we let the unknown drive us into worry and compulsion?

• How much of our life is shaped by unfounded fears – wasting time and energy?

You know, the Bible encourages us to not worry about tomorrow, because today is all we have. Live it. Don’t let fear control it. Let the boy play. Let the drinks spill. What’s the worst that can happen? So often we allow worry and fear to shape and control us rather than placing our full trust in the Lord. Today, perhaps you are facing something that is producing fear and worry in you. The situation may not change but our response to the situation can – we can hold tightly to the Lord – the one who says, “Do not fear, for I am with you.”

Essential Church


What do you think of Shaw’s comment? Is the church vital and essential? Is it the only movement on the earth that represents Jesus? Thoughts?

Change Required

It has been said that only a baby with a wet diaper likes change. Without a doubt change can be difficult. Starting a new job, playing with a different team, or experiencing the physical and emotional changes that come with growing older can all be a struggle.

For example, I have just moved to a new state and took on a new job…in a nutshell: huge change. I just assumed the lead pastor role at West Salem Foursquare Church. After 16 great years at another church, my wife and I sensed a change in our hearts, and so we leaned wholly into God – who, by the way, is strong and sure in times of flex. With this new assignment there is so much excitement, and yet with it comes so much change…and that can be intense. Intense for my marriage, my kids, both churches and for me personally. Often we would rather have things stay the same for as long as possible to minimize the adjustments and the corresponding season of awkwardness.

God is all about change though. The Bible calls us to “repent and turn” (Acts 3:19) and demands that we become a “new creation in Christ “ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are even challenged by Jesus to be “converted and become as little children” (Matthew 18:3) in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Perhaps my favorite biblical example of change is found in Saul/Paul in the Book of Acts. The road to Damascus can be called the “highway of change” – both as a place and as a prototype of conversion. When Saul was knocked off his horse, he experienced the initial point of spiritual change. The ripple effects are visually found in the scales falling from his eyes, his baptism, the regaining of his strength and the subsequent season of learning and ministry (see Acts 9).

Alan Roxburg in The Sky is Falling writes, “On the road to Damascus, his [Paul] world was radically undermined. The experience literally blinded him, and that blindness was a metaphor for his sudden separation from his world framework and liminality. It was in that state that this defender of Judaism had to trust the very people who, up to a moment before, had been his sworn enemies. What emerged…was a new man – Paul the bondservant of Jesus Christ.”

What we see in the Apostle Paul could not have been possible without significant change. Change was, and continues to be, required. Change is good. Change keeps us fresh. It cultivates a dependence upon God. It sure keeps things stimulating, rather than life-less and boring (and who really wants life to be that way?). It’s important to commit to an ever-growing, ever-changing and ever-blossoming relationship with the Lord.

Here are some “change concepts” that I have considered (and ask those I lead to consider)…
• Listen to a different style of music for a month.
• Read the Bible out in the middle of an open field or empty parking lot.
• Sit in a different place at church next weekend.
• Eat some food that have never tried before.
• Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know
• Go on a short-term missions trip or a vacation to a new area of the world.

Change is good. As a matter of fact, it is wonderful. Jesus went to the cross so that we could experience the greatest change of all…salvation…a change of heart.

A Kid Named Mitch

I’ve heard it said so many times (and I’ve been one to say it from time to time as well):  “If this entire event was for just that one person, then it was totally worth it.”  Down deep though I have to admit that I haven’t always felt like that.  When a great deal of energy, time, money, and emotion has been expended and a single person comes to know Christ or a very small group shows up it can be deflating. Pastors and leaders will often put a nice spin on it by saying, “Well, praise the Lord, it was worth it for that one soul!” but then walk away shaking their heads wondering why they gave so much for so little response. 

This last weekend we had so much snow fall and ice covered the roads to such a degree that our church that averages 1300 in 3 services was a like that of a small group Bible Study.  At the 9 am service, I was literally “preaching to the choir”. For one brief moment I wondered why I put so much time into my sermon and if we should just huddle up, sing Kumbaya and go home. But then it happened…

I remembered a youth meeting about 20 years ago

and a kid named Mitch.

I had been cranking for a couple days on a killer teaching, some silly games, worship and a powerful altar call.  Then kids started calling into the church office saying they couldn’t make it that night for youth group (homework, sick, sports, no ride, etc. etc). I was bummed.  When 7 pm hit only one kid walked into the youth room. His name was Mitch. I pasted a smile on my face, made some small talk and waited a bit to see who else would show.  Nobody did. Just Mitch.

The Holy Spirit did something in me that night that shaped my ministry in those early years and continues to govern how I function.  The Spirit spoke inaudibly yet so clearly: “If you don’t value this child of mine with the best of your energy I won’t give you any more.”  I took a breath and started the most important youth meeting of my life. As I wrapped up a passionate message and prayer time with Mitch, I knew I had been obedient and that the heavens were smiling.  As Mitch heading out the door to his parents car, he said to me:  “Thanks Pastor John, this was a really great night. I’m glad I came.”

From that night I on something happened in that youth group. It grew. No actually, it grew a lot.  The lessons learned on that night were amazing. I am so thankful for them.

So, as I stood this last weekend in a huge auditorium before a smattering of brave folks with 4-wheel drive, I thought of Mitch.  At the altar call time, I fully expected no responses to my overt Christmas salvation message. On Saturday evening there was one. One Sunday at 9 am there was one.  And at the 11 am there were three.  Thank you Jesus.  It WAS totally worth it.

Signs of a Lukewarm Pastor by Craig Groeschel

Give some consideration to what Craig Groeschel, in his blog calls Signs of a Lukewarm Pastor:

A lukewarm pastor:

• Prays as much, or more, publicly than privately.

• Is almost exclusively dependent on others’ sermons to preach than directly hearing from God.

• Cares more about his church than The Church.

• Preaches about evangelism but doesn’t practice evangelism privately.

• Tolerates and rationalizes unconfessed sin.

• Preaches for the approval of people rather than the approval of God.

• Is overly sensitive to criticism.

• Harbors bitterness and unforgiveness.

• Reads the Bible to prepare sermons but not for personal devotion to God.

• Is jealous or critical of someone else that God is blessing.

What a list. Without question, there are a couple here that will convict even the best of Christians. Yet, it’s important for us as leaders to do inventories such as this in order to determine our “heat level”. Are we lukewarm? The Book of Revelation speaks to that quite clearly. We do not want God to spew us out!! Let’s work to be red hot in our relationship to Jesus and in our effectiveness in ministry.

Any thoughts? Feedback?

DMB & Tribes

I remember the moment so clearly. Years ago I was sitting in a car with a buddy of mine from Canada. We had just come from lunch and he wanted to play me a song on his car CD player.  It felt like I was in the Brady Bunch…just listening to the newest tunes on Greg Brady’s record player. My buddy said, “You’ve got to hear this band.” What proceeded out of the speaker system captured me.  It was a song by an eclectic, self-named group:  Dave Matthews Band. I had never heard of them before and certainly had never heard a rock band use violins and woodwinds. It was magical.  I never forgot the moment. It was the start of my journey in the DMB tribe. 


Years later, my wife and I and two other couples (some of our best friends on the planet) took a long road trip to The Gorge. The Gorge is a premiere concert venue in the middle of Washington State. Each Labor Day weekend thousands of DMB followers flock to The Gorge for a weekend of music and togetherness. It was surreal. Pure devotion unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any church service (and I’ve been in quite a few of them). They didn’t have FANS they had FOLLOWERS. They were a part of the DMB Tribe – perhaps recently or perhaps since the beginning…regardless, they were followers. 


This morning I was sitting in my truck before grabbing some coffee and I began to read the notes on the inside artwork of a Dave Matthews Band greatest hits CD.  In it Steve Morse, a reviewer with The Boston Globe, refers to himself as a “longtime DMB believer”. A believer.  Hmmm.  Believer.  Not just a listener. Not just a fan.  This guy is a follower. And so are many thousands of others.  DMB has a Tribe of Followers.


How can the church learn from this?  How can we have people become interested in the claims of Christ and in His agency on this earth: the church, but then see them move closer and closer to the things of Jesus and become His followers? How do leaders create an environment in which there are seekers and followers? 

Any thoughts?  Let me know.