Category Archives: Uncategorized

Lifestyle of Weakness

 

I’ve recently struggled with judging. When I exert judgement on others, I’m taking a position of strength and casting my “superiority” on others. We can often use the phrase “truth-telling” or “honesty” or “transparency” to justify our strong stance or expression of strong feelings. But think about it — what good comes out of judging? There are Christians littering our wake who are tattered and torn by the “honesty” we freely cast on others. Over and over and over. Don’t misunderstand me — there is a right and wrong (and not always what we’ve concluded) and there are rare times when pronouncing judgement is necessary. But we often do that to people sincerely seeking after God who fail to conform to our expectations of what that might look like.

Maybe I’m rambling, so let me simply state it this way — my new conviction today:

  • Transparency is a beautiful thing when we reveal our weakness to others. It dispenses God’s amazing grace on those who need it most.
  • Transparency is a destructive thing when reveal our “strength” to others. It imprisons people in the bondage of legalism.

I’m always amazed at the ways in which God uses “the weak things of the world to shame the the things that are strong.” God takes our weakness and makes it our greatest strength. We’ve been using the terminology “ministry of weakness” in our missions leadership team recently. All around the world, we see how God is using weak people to do His greatest work.

This principle is true every day in my life, too. God wants to use my weakness, vulnerability, humility, and failures for His glory. He wants to use this weakness to be the strength of my life — so much so that it becomes a lifestyle — a lifestyle of weakness.

 

You Never Know

You never know how God will get His work done. He loves to keep us trusting in Him every step of the way.

So we have this Missionary Summit we’re holding. My fellow team-members have worked laboriously to have a top-notch experience for our home assignment and newly appointed Converge Worldwide missionaries. We want to encourage them, love them up, clarify our partnership, and communicate some essentials. On the night just before we started (last Friday), a monster storm moved through the Washington DC area and created infrastructure havoc. A huge percentage of the city will be without electricity for a week. On our particular site, we’ve had power outages, people stuck in elevators, fire alarms blaring for hours, sprinkler systems destroying our conference rooms, and scarce resources to find food for a group of fifty.

So here’s the result of all of this chaos:

  • Not one complaint has been heard by our missionaries or their children. In fact, I think this has made them feel right at home!
  • The experience has bonded us together–sweating in the 100-degree heat, adapting our schedules, figuring our how to find food, etc.
  • We’ve been powerfully reminded of how little we can control our lives and circumstances — a great reminder for all of us in ministry.
  • We made a connection (because of the events) with a local pastor who has a passion and call to  inner city evangelism and needs a “covering.” I think it may be a divine appointment.

On Sunday morning, after major chaos the night before, our Converge president, Dr. Jerry Sheveland, awoke with a fresh message from the Lord for us. From James 4:13-16:

13 Come now, you who say, “ Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15Instead, you ought to say, “ If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance;  all such boasting is evil.

His points:

  1. When we grasp a false sense of control through our planning, it is evil.
  2. We must plan, but with a dependence and trust upon God’s intervention with a better plan…especially when we simply cannot see the value of it at present.
  3. To plan with an eagerness for God to step in and do what He wants with it.

You just never know what God will do next. It keeps life really exciting…and a whole lot better with Him in charge.

 

One Person Does Make a Difference

A group of us recently worshiped at the First Baptist Church of Para, Brazil (in the city of Belem). This is actually one time that the name really means something–it was THE FIRST Baptist Church of all of the state, Para’, Brazil. It was founded by a member of the Swedish Baptist Churches in the US — the group that is now called Converge Worldwide.

Eric Nelson was a simple farmer in Kansas, but felt called to be a missionary in Brazil. He was not accepted by the Theological Seminary at the time, but convinced that God still wanted him to go. With a radical faith and zeal for the Lord, he left everything he knew to embrace a life he knew nothing about. He arrived in Belem, Brazil in 1891 and began sharing his faith with others, eventually establishing the first protestant church around. Eventually, Eric Nelson became known as the “Apostle of the Amazon” by starting and strengthening churches all along the Amazon basin. He lived on a simple boat and brought the gospel of Jesus to people who had never heard it before. What an impact one man can make when called by God, compelled by God, moved by God and empowered by God.

This godly woman was a friend of missionary pioneer to Brazil, Eric Nelson.

This pioneer missionary’s life is not so far removed from us. We also had the opportunity to meet a woman who actually knew Eric Nelson. When she was a girl in her early teens, Pastor Nelson would often stay in her family’s home when in Belem. She told us about his simple life, his uplifting personality, and his undying fervor for the Lord. Yes–Eric Nelson is not an idealistic legend, but a radical nation-changing leader.

I was reminded of how much God can use one sold-out person to impact our world. I’m still convinced that God is searching the earth for people who are gripped by God and gritty for God. Eric Nelson sure was. I want to be that, too.

 

Leadership Matters

I had the privilege of speaking at Heartland Church in Indianapolis yesterday morning…four times. Darryn Scheske is the lead pastor of this thriving multiplying church. Heartland began 10 years

Pastor Darryn Scheske of Heartland Church, Indianapolis

ago with a handful of people meeting in Darryn and Loree’s living room. They couldn’t even get Christians to buy in initially, so they built relationships with unbelievers and led them to Jesus. The core DNA of Heartland is one of “making disciples.” This was obvious in my experiences today. What a thrill to see God at work still after 10 years, five church plants, and growing from nothing to thousands. And they have a vision that is far greater still—one that includes “multiplying transformational churches.”

As I talked with Darryn between worship services today, I was intrigued with his strategic approach to growing a strong multiplying church. They don’t do traditional small groups anymore. “I don’t like what they produce,” Darryn said. Instead, they have a culture of leadership. They identify people who are willing to grow and go all out. They invest time, energy, and resources into these people…by the hundreds. The idea is that when they produce a great leader, he or she will gather people around them. This is where lives intersect, usually in settings and activities of service.

Beautiful.

I’ve been talking with my International Ministries Team for some time about creating a culture of leadership among our missionaries on the field. Today only confirmed that direction. Christ-like leaders produce what Jesus produced:

  • People of great influence
  • People of vision and passion
  • People who serve like nobody else
  • People who are relentless to do something great for God

If we could get a hundred more of those kinds of ministers in key places in the world, we could see some serious God-honoring impact.

Why not?

Let My Life be Used…

Beautiful Tallinn, Estonia

I’ve been in the Nordic-Baltic region of the world for the past week. Susan and I have experienced some amazing places and wonderful people. We are here with Bill and Arlie Ankerberg as our leaders…people who have invested so much of themselves here for years already. They have established strong friendships and have built invaluable trust with leaders in these Scandinavian nations. There are two big wins in this trip for me:

  • I get to learn from a man I deeply admire (Bill Ankerberg). He is characterized by generosity and getting God’s work done through meaningful relationships.He is a master at both. I have been truly inspired by “his way.”

    Arlie and Bill Ankerberg
  • The Nordic-Baltic Initiative provides a timely opportunity for me to learn how to do missions another way. The old paradigm rarely succeeds anymore. Especially in this environment, missions must be done through strong partnerships, respecting the good leaders of the nation, and being a servant to those that know best here. In my early season as Executive Director of International Ministries of Converge Worldwide, this is an invaluable course in ground-breaking missions strategy. We don’t have it figured out yet, but have an prime opportunity to do just that.

    Myself along with Pastor Siim of Oleviste, Bill Ankerberg, and Helari Puu.

I am humbled by the calling that God has placed on my life. What a rare privilege to be a part of bringing the gospel to people all over the world. I know that if I do my job well, many will come to faith in Christ that otherwise would not. On the other hand, if I am lax and choose a mediocre path, the consequences are dire. Oh–how I want to be faithful.

I want to be more like the great missionary, Paul, when he stated, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)

So Lord, help me to be faithful. Help me to learn to contextualize missions for today. I want to be an instrument in the hand of the Master. Let my life be used to “finish the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus.”

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

God intended the ephod to be a very good thing–to remind the priests of their God-given responsibilities as they entered His presence. Exodus 28 describes the ephod in descriptive detail — everything from the kind of material and stitching that was to be used to what should be in the pocket placed over the heart of the priests. All of this was meant to give the priest every opportunity to accomplish his role in an effective and God-honoring way.

The ephod was worn by the priests especially when they were seeking direction from the Lord. When a difficult decision was to be made, the Urim and Thummin (a black and white stone) were the indicators of a “no” or “yes” from the Lord as they retrieved a divine answer from their garment pocket. This was one of God’s ways of speaking plainly in those days when they didn’t have the benefit of the Holy Spirit’s voice as we do today.

In the aftermath of Gideon’s great victory, he wanted to honor God by making an all-gold ephod. He was “improving” on God’s design. He meant well–this was a symbol of God’s leading in this unforgettable victory. Though meant for good, however, it became an idol. We read in Judges 8:27, “Gideon made it into  an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household.” What was intended for good became something really ugly.

There are golden ephods all around us.

  • A home we intended to use for God has become a god of our own making
  • A job in which we wanted to honor God has become an intoxicating source of prestige and power
  • A ministry we’ve invested in has gripped our passions for many wrong reasons
  • A friendship we intended for good has become bands of bondage keeping us from God’s plan for our lives
  • A few material things has “mushroomed” into a lifestyle of consumerism that mocks God

Any golden ephods in your life — those things that were meant to be beautiful, God-honoring, and good? Maybe you’ve tried to improve on God’s plan and it’s become a snare.

It’s time again to claim God’s good and dump the bad and ugly. I dare you…

 

#6 Truth Learned: Laughter is Good Medicine

This is my last post as Pastor of Edinbrook. In fact, I’m writing as the minutes wind down on 2011, which marks the end of one era of my life and the beginning of another. But I will never be the same for having served at Edinbrook Church for nearly 16 years. This is the sixth of 6 Truths Learned as I draw the curtain on my pastoral ministry.

The last Truth Learned may seem a little shallow, but it proved to be life-giving for me through the years–and I think, for our Eteam too.

#6 Truth Learned: Laughter is good medicine. It lightens the load, is attractive to seekers, and provides strength to persevere.

I laugh a lot. I find humor in people, every day events, animals, mistakes, and you name it. Laughter has actually enabled me to not take myself too seriously, release stresses that would have hurt me, and enjoy life.

One fairly famous pastor once said that humor has no place in preaching. Contrary to that, I found that when I had fun while communicating truth, people caught what I was trying to say. It also encouraged our church to stay real. There are lots of things that God gave us to enjoy.

I’ll never forget the late afternoon that Mark Thurston and I thought we were all alone in the church. We started a wrestling match (this happens from time-to-time) and soon found ourselves panting and wrestling on the floor of the church office. Suddenly, the door of the office opened, a woman we didn’t know opened the door, looked with horror at the two of us–one on top of the other–and said, “Oh my. This is not a good time.” She walked away and, as far as we know, we never saw her again. Mark and I have laughed so many times at this stupid little event. We can’t change it, so we might as well enjoy it.

How about the time the Sunday morning fire alarm went off. We were just about to collect the offering when the alarms went off through out the building. Every one needed to exit until the Fire Department gave us the green light to re-enter. Of course, the entire first service would miss the message I was convinced God wanted us to hear. With 800 people in the parking lot, I called them all together, stood on a bench and preached my sermon. And had lots of fun doing it! By the way, in my 16 years of ministry here, no other sermon elicited more emails, notes, and feedback than that one. And it was good feedback, too!

I’ve learned to laugh at myself, as well. I do lots of stupid things. I’ve decided I might as well face it, humble myself and enjoy my goofs (at least, if they’re not too serious). One that really stands out is the time I wiped out preaching. In the former worship center, someone removed a section of the stage on a particular Sunday morning. I didn’t realize it, however. I was preaching like crazy, moving here and there. Suddenly, I stepped off the stage and totally bit the turf! I was as shocked as everyone in the congregation. I got back to my feet, up on the stage, and stated, “Well–that hasn’t happened before!” We all had a laugh on that one.

The proverb tells us that “laughter is good medicine.” Research has actually shown that laughter releases stress, produces endorphins (which make us feel good), and that happy people live longer.

I’ve also had so many comments from unchurched people over the years that Christians often turn them off because they’re too serious. I’ve never been accused of that.

#6 Truth Learned: Laughter IS good medicine.

Thanks, church!

It’s 11:59PM. Happy New Year. God bless you all. I love you!!!!

#5 Truth Learned: Owners or Consumers?

In my last week as pastor of Edinbrook, I am reflecting on my journey as your leader. I’m sharing a “Truth Learned” each day this week–-insights I have gleaned through my 16 years as pastor of this WONDERFUL church.

Our me-centered American culture has deeply affected our Christian faith. It shows up ALL the time in church-life. About 8 years into my pastorate at Edinbrook, I realized that a watershed choice needed to be made. This is the essence of truth #5…

#5 Truth Learned: I needed to decide whether we would be a church of consumers or owners.

By default, a church will be a church of consumers. Our human nature pushes us this way (“It’s all about me”) and our American culture reinforces it (“You have a right to have what you want”).

As a result, church-goers naturally:

  • Look for churches that meet their own needs rather than obeying Christ’s commands.
  • Think they should have music, programs, and services that make them happy.
  • Want the church to serve them more than them serving the church.
  • Give of their resources when it’s convenient or in a way that doesn’t severely affect their chosen lifestyle (that’s why the American “Christian” gives an average of 2% instead of the Bible’s stated 10%).
  • Would like things to stay the way they’ve had them.

This me-oriented Christianity flies in the face of everything that Jesus taught us about following Him, however. Philippians 2, for instance, states that we are to have the attitude of Jesus who “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the form of a bond-servant.” A true Christ-follower is completely selfless. They live their lives for The Great Cause of drawing people into relationship with the Living God. Unfortunately, the minority of Christians actually get this or live it.

I made a decisive choice that I would rather have 5 sold-out followers of Jesus rather than 500 who are playing church. This meant that my teaching and challenges and expectations would change dramatically. It meant that many consumers would be unhappy with the new directions and choices we made. It meant that lots of nice and good people would walk away because they were no-longer getting what they wanted.

This is exactly what happened. This is exactly what needed to happen. BECAUSE it’s not about us.

It’s all about Jesus and His call on our lives. OWNERS GET THIS!

Owners are ready to do whatever it takes since they’re not in it for themselves. These are the ones who are ready to give their lives for the cause of Christ. Owners know:

  • If not them, who?
  • If not now, when?

Jesus created owners when He poured His life into the disciples. Consequently, they changed the world. And so will Edinbrook, because we are now a church with a lot more owners than consumers.

The sifting process was difficult, painful, and absolutely necessary.

#5 Truth Learned: I needed to decide whether we would be a church of consumers or owners. I’m SO GLAD I chose the latter…

He Will Be Our Peace

The Old Testament is filled with prophetic passages in which God is declaring judgement upon His people. Their waywardness has pressed His patience and His holiness commands a response. Every time I read these foreboding passages, I’m reminded of how life is always best when lived in obedience to God–especially as one of His children.

We have such a passage in Micah 5. In fact, the chapters and verses the precede this give a very dark picture of Israel’s future. Chapter 5:1 states:

Marshal your troops now, city of troops,
for a siege is laid against us.
They will strike Israel’s ruler
on the cheek with a rod.

With that final warning, the motif totally changes. Suddenly, we see hope, grace, providence, and God’s amazing plan expressed.

2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clanst of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”

3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.

4 He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.

5 And he will be our peace

Here, in the midst of darkness and a foreboding future, God brings light and hope and peace. The messiah is promised DESPITE their waywardness. In the depth of Israel’s sin, God assures the wayward nation that He will STILL provide a redeemer. No matter how dark things have become, God assures His people that the Light of the World will still be sent. In the midst of chaos and despair, “He will be our peace.”

Nothing has changed with God. No matter what life is like for you, no matter how far you have wandered away, when life feels out of control and hopeless, He declares to us again, “He (Jesus) will be our peace.”

Don’t miss “Peace is Here” this Sunday. Invite everyone you can! It’s going to be an AWESOME day!

Creativity and the Christian

Of all people on earth, Christians should be the most creative. I truly believe this because we are not only created in God’s image (who is first presented in the Bible as the Creator), but we are children of God. Children take on their parents’ characteristics, after all.

That’s why I am so thrilled about the creativity that’s been happening at Edinbrook the last few years. There are more artists emerging than we ever knew we had! They’re producing songs, drama, paintings, creative expressions of worship, dance, writings, poetry, and more. Creativity is beginning to ooze out of our church more all the time — an indication that we’re becoming more like our Heavenly Father, the Great Creator.

Yesterday evening was just one more example of God’s Spirit at work among us. The Namesake Band presented a first-ever at Edinbrook — a CD Release Concert entitled, A Group Called. With songs all originating with Edinbrook artists, feverishly led by our worship pastor, Chris Atkins, we were blown away by amazing songs of worship and praise — new songs that honored the Lord. As I sat through the concert last night, I couldn’t help but be amazed at what God is doing with us.

It’s rare. It’s exciting. It’s God-honoring. It’s quality. It’s only the beginning.

Of all people on earth, Christians should be the most creative. It’s really fun to see that becoming a reality right in our midst.