Monday, June 8, 2015

How One Golf Shot Changed My Understanding of the Christian Life

The toughest shots are opportunities for great success
A few years ago I was playing a rare round of golf. Because I’m no Tiger Woods (in more ways than one, I guess), I was able to see much more of the golf course than most.

At one point, I found myself off the fairway and behind a few trees. About 15 yards ahead of me was an opening of about ten feet which provided a much more exciting (albeit perhaps not as wise) option than a safe sideways punchout to the fairway.

Don’t Be Distracted By Danger In The Distance

Remembering a trick someone had taught me many years ago, I stood behind my ball and drew an imaginary line from the opening directly to my ball. Then I located a small stick which lay immediately on top of the imaginary line approximately two feet in front of my ball. I locked my eyes on the stick and moved into my address position beside the ball.

From that moment on, I did not look up to see where my ball would lie. Instead, I focused all my energy on being certain I hit the ball directly over the stick.

It worked. Because I was able to hit my ball over a target just two feet away, my shot continued on the right path for many yards. The ball soared out of the woods and came to rest in the fairway just short of the green (what happened after that is insignificant to this story).

Here’s the lesson. Too often we paralyze ourselves with fear because of all the potential danger we see looming in the distance. Rather than focusing on what is right in front of us, we worry about the future, and end up making poor decisions.

Focus On Your 2 Foot Step, Not Your 2 Mile Journey

Psalms says God’s Word is a flashlight for our feet and a lantern for the path. The idea is that we can rely on God’s Word to illuminate the immediate circumstances in our lives, to help us make the right decisions right now. Even if we can’t see the future clearly, we can be certain that if we follow God’s Word today, it will guide us to where we need to be tomorrow.

If you walk through the woods at night with your flashlight focused on the tree 50 yards away, you’ll probably trip over the root right in front of you. If you walk through life with your eyes focused on the danger which lies weeks ahead, you’ll probably trip over the the temptation right in front of you.

Walk With God

Yesterday we talked in church about walking with God. It’s easy to walk by yourself. You can walk as fast or as slow as you want. When you walk with someone else, though, you have to pay attention to their speed. You have to match their stride. The reward for your effort is the opportunity to grow your relationship with the person walking beside you. A walk is an opportunity to talk, to connect, to get on the same page.

God wants us to walk with Him. He wants us to take every step as if He is right beside us… because He is.

Don’t worry about the steps you’ll take next week or next month or next year. Simply pay attention to your life’s next step. Don’t let your fear of tomorrow impede your focus on doing right today.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Here's A Protest And A Campaign I Could Really Get Behind

It cost too much, but the
inspiration was priceless
I might have discovered my special purpose.

I was sipping a s’more frappuccino (which I hadn’t had before and which I found to be just okay), hanging out with Marianne and Emma when I saw a storefront across the street that called to mind visions of pro-life protestors at an abortion clinic. We don’t see them as much anymore (I think the government has clamped down on them), but maybe we could recall their movement just for a moment.

Operation Save-A-Life

I know that’s not a real name. At least I don’t think it is. But you know what it might look like. Lots of people marching in front of an abortion clinic. Carrying big signs, sometimes chanting or singing. They approach young, scared girls and seek to convince them (either through dialogue or literature) not to end their child’s life. Those who show interest are offered “crisis-pregnancy” counseling. For the few who choose to keep their children, systems are in place to provide them the parenting resources they need or to help them find adoptive parents.

It’s a noble pursuit, but it is not often successful. Some wonder if it might be time for a new approach. But this post isn’t about abortion at all. It’s about another evil being foisted on our society by some. This evil literally enslaves people and their families in a cycle of destruction that may not be escaped for generations.

I’m talking about payday loans.

Freedom for Captives

Jesus quoted Isaiah, saying that as the Messiah, one of his priorities was to bring freedom to the captives. This was not just spiritual captivity, Jesus also sought to free people from oppression and control whenever he could.

His followers also embraced this pursuit. The early Christians often pooled their resources to redeem slaves and set them free. Paul told Philemon that he expected him to treat his slave Onesimus as a brother (in other words, set him free).

How then should we respond to the modern phenomenon of payday loan corporations which essentiall enslave people. They do not chain them or kidnap them, but through easily available loans and impossible interest rates they place the desperate (and often their families) into life-long servitude.

According to the PEW research group: 
The chains of impossible interest
  • Twelve million American adults use payday loans annually. On average, a borrower takes out eight loans of $375 each per year and spends $520 on interest. 
  • Lenders usually charge about $15 per $100 borrowed per two weeks (391 percent Annual Percentage Rate or APR). 
  • 69 percent used it to cover a recurring expense, such as utilities, credit card bills, rent or mortgage payments, or food. 
  • Payday loans are due in full on the borrower’s next payday; yet if the borrower cannot pay off the full loan plus interest, she pays a fee to extend the due date, or pays back the loan but quickly takes out a new one to cover other expenses. The loans do not amortize, so this payment does not reduce the loan principal owed. For example, a person who borrows $400 for a $60 fee for two weeks would have paid approximately $480 in fees after renewing the loan for four months, but would still owe the original $400.

Jesus’ Kind of Protest

Jesus would be angry about this. I'm pretty sure Jesus is angry about this.

Remember when He threw over the tables in the temple and drove people out with a whip? Those were the payday loan sharks of his day. Jewish people would travel great distances to worship in the temple, but the “religious leaders” declared nothing could be sacrificed that wasn’t purchased in Jerusalem. Since these men had a corner on the sacrificial market, they could charge whatever they wanted.

And they did. They preyed on the desperation of others to amass great fortune for themselves. Jesus shut them down.

I think Jesus would like us to shut these money changers down. I think maybe we can learn how to do it from our pro-life cousins.

Who’s In?

I see three critical elements necessary to make this work: 
  1. loving protest 
  2. immediate assistance 
  3. ongoing mentoring

I’m not sure sign boards and picket lines are the ideal vehicle to bring the payday loan industry to its knees. Furthermore, I’m not convinced someone seeking a payday loan would be inclined to speak with a sign-waving protestor. But perhaps they would give an ear to someone who gently approached them just before they entered the store. Your presence will likely be far more effective than your picket.

We need a protest of presence, not another picket line

When someone arrives at a payday loan store, it doesn’t matter why they need money. Whatever tough luck they’ve experienced, whatever bad choices they’ve made are in the past. At that moment, they’ve decided to turn to their last resort; and unless someone intervenes, they will mortgage their future to salvage their present. For this reason, any attempt to help this person must include an offer of immediate assistance. Whether you offer them the full amount they need, partial assistance or sit down with them to find other creative solutions; to not meet their pressing need is to force them into that store and into the cycle of financial slavery.

The vast majority of people who visit a payday loan store once, will visit again. Even if you bail someone out once, odds are, they’ll be back if something doesn’t change in their life. More than any gift of cash or credit, what that person needs is someone who will enter into their life and provide ongoing financial mentoring. Whether you connect them with a class, introduce them to a counselor or take on the role yourself; this is the level at which true lasting change happens. Mentoring is the escape hatch from the downward spiral of financial crisis.

Are you in?

Here’s your checklist: 
  • Recruit friends to join you in front of a payday loan store once per month (down the road you can go more often or share the load with others) 
  • Raise enough funds that you’ll be able to provide people with daily necessities if you have opportunity (be prepared to partner with local food pantries or other services if possible) 
  • Find a financial mentoring curriculum you can use with those who are willing (Dave Ramsey’s material will work as will Crown Financial. Use something simpler if you have access or can create your own). 
  • Set a date when your team will hold their first “Protest via Presence”. 
  • Choose a location. Do some research and find out where the busy payday loan stores are (have a backup plan in case you are asked/forced to leave) 
  • Go (don’t carry cash. If you have opportunity to talk with someone, have them meet you somewhere else. You don’t want to foolishly open yourself to harm) 
  • Here’s your opening line if you need one: “hi friend, before you go in there would you be willing to consider some alternative financial solutions? I have some resources at my disposal and I’d love to see if I can help.

Send me a message if you’re ready to go

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Is Door to Door Evangelism The Church's Best Idea Ever?

Matthew, Mark and Luke all record a story of Jesus sending out His followers with instructions to spread His good news. Each time, the details of his instructions differed slightly but one element always remained the same.

Matthew 10:11 says: “Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.”

Mark 6:10 says: “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.”

Luke 5:5–7 says: “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.”

The principle is very clear. Find a house. Stay there.

I don’t think this negates the efforts of those who evangelize door to door or those who engage in street preaching. I do think we should recognize that those methods are not necessarily the primary evangelistic method recommended by Jesus.

Jesus’ Plan for Sharing the Gospel

Jesus wanted his followers to meet people and develop relationships with them. He wanted his followers to share their life with people, to eat with them, to enjoy time with them. He wanted his followers to engage the highs and lows of life with people; to work through the regular struggles of every relationship. Very clearly Jesus told his followers, “Don’t move from house to house.”
Sadly, the longer they are part of a church, most Christians gradually lose all contact with the outside world. They fill their lives by going house to house with other Christians. There are few or no persons of peace in their life which means they have few or no opportunities to share the Gospel with those who most need it. This was not Jesus’ plan.

Find a Person of Peace

I wonder how difficult it would be to find a person of peace today? Who is that one person with whom I can build a relationship? Who is that one person who will welcome me into their life even though they may not share my beliefs? How might that relationship change me? How might it change them? How might it change the world?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

5 Character Traits of Successful People

How do you measure success?

If you are chasing material gains, accumulation of wealth and property, fame or accolades of those around you; you might not ever be successful. You cannot necessarily control all the factors required to achieve these goals.

But if success means loving relationships, peace and calm, ongoing contentment or a sense of fulfillment; success is not out of reach for you. Proverbs has much to say about living a successful life. Today, I grabbed five ideas about success from Proverbs 12.


They are teachable
"To learn you must love discipline, it is stupid to hate correction." (Proverbs 12:1)
Everyone makes mistakes, everyone is wrong sometimes. True friends will correct you and set you on the right path. But if you aren't willing to be corrected, you'll never grow as a person.
They work hard
"A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies has no sense." (Proverbs 12:11)
"Winning the lottery" is not a formula for success. Hard work might not lead to obscene riches; however, hard work will keep food on your table and a roof over your head. If you spend your whole life comparing yourself to others and wishing you could have what they have, you'll wind up poor. You'll have no sense, and no cents.
They listen well
"Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others." (Proverbs 12:15)
No one knows everything. We all have much to learn if we are willing to listen. Even people who we perceive as less than impressive may have valuable lessons to teach us if we will hear what they have to say. Those who grow are always widening their knowledge base. The best way to do that is to listen to as many people as possible.
They tell the truth
"Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed." (Proverbs 12:19)
The hidden secrets of those who bend, twist and otherwise modify the truth are eventually revealed. Throughout history, many have climbed high on the scaffolds of lies, only to fall far when their false words collapse underneath them. No matter how difficult it may be in the moment, future success is the result of telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
They are optimistic 
"Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up. (Proverbs 12:25)
Underachievers spend a great deal of time worrying about things they cannot even control. Successful people focus on what they can control, and they find positives in every situation. Learn to view people in the best light possible; assume their motives are good; believe a good outcome is around the corner. Choose to bring light rather than darkness into the world.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

10 Things I Want My Children To Know About Life

On May 10, it seems fitting to publish 10 Proverbs from Proverbs 10. These particular wisdom sayings are each lessons I want my children to live by.


  1. Tainted wealth has no lasting value, but right living can save your life.
  2. Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich.
  3. The wise are glad to be instructed, but babbling fools fall flat on their faces.
  4. People who wink at wrong cause trouble, but a bold reproof promotes peace.
  5. Wise people treasure knowledge, but the babbling of a fool invites disaster.
  6. People who accept discipline are on the pathway to life, but those who ignore correction will go astray.
  7. Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.
  8. Lazy people irritate their employers, like vinegar to the teeth or smoke in the eyes.
  9. The way of the LORD is a stronghold to those with integrity, but it destroys the wicked.
  10. The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice, but the tongue that deceives will be cut off.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The eHarmony Model for Church

Several years ago, a dating web-site ran a commercial offering five matches for those who signed up for the first time. When we first saw this commercial, Marianne astutely pointed out, "They must not have much confidence in their process if they are giving you FIVE matches..."

I immediately thought that this was a wonderful demonstration of the way some people view church.

Eharmony is built on the idea that their thorough analysis of every person almost always leads to compatible relationships. Unfortunately, from time to time they discover people for whom they don't have a match. Rather than suggest a match which falls below their standards, they choose to apologize to that person and say, "We can't hook you up right now."

Apparently, other dating sites take a different approach. They have the philosophy that if they throw you into as large a pool of people as possible,  you're certain to find a match. Unfortunately, a lot of people spend a lot of time pursuing a lot of relationships with a lot of people with whom they DON'T have a lot in common. The more unfortunate result is that a lot more feelings get hurt and a lot more people are rejected by actual people they have invested themselves in (rather than a computer with whom they have no relationship).

I see a lot of churches that take the second approach. They create as many programs and "ministries" as they can, trying to meet the needs of every niche market that might possibly exist. Unwilling to ever say "no" to anything, they continue to multiply activity and in the end the real point of church is lost as people come to understand the "church" as a place that is made for THEM to have THEIR NEEDS met. And if the church doesn't meet their needs, they move on.

I don't think the church should ever reject anyone (so that's where the analogy with eharmony kind of breaks down). But what I really like about Eharmony's philosophy is that they are able and willing to maintain their standards and their singular focus, even if it might offend people. I would love to see more churches who were willing to say, "We're about worshiping God and making disciples, period." Of course what every church would say that. But to really mean it, the church needs to be willing to say, "So if the most important thing to you is something other than that, you'll need to look elsewhere."

I'm not saying that all the other things churches do (potlucks, sports leagues, scrapbooking, super bowl parties, etc.) are bad. In fact, many of these things are helpful and can really meet the some of the needs people feel. BUT THEY SHOULD NEVER DISTRACT FROM THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.

If people within the church do these "extra" things and make them happen, great! As long as it isn't at the expense of the true focus of the church and as long as there isn't an expectation that these activities are tied to the identity of the church. The singular focus of the church must always be on Christ and pointing people to Him.

All that to say... I don't think it's such a bad thing that EHarmony rejects people. In fact, I think it's a good thing. And if I were single, and looking for a dating service, I'd pick Eharmony because of their demonstrated commitment to doing what they do well.

I await the angry comments from scrapbookers...

Monday, May 4, 2015

Harmony Is Impossible Without Diversity

Christ came to restore man’s fellowship with God. His death provided the necessary atonement to bridge the gap, and thus upon his return to heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to begin gathering a people who would fellowship with God through the sacrifice of Christ. Of course, we call these gathered people "THE CHURCH!"
Fellowship is central to God’s story and to the formation of the church. It should not surprise us that the very first time the followers of Christ gathered together, the central theme was fellowship. More appropriately, we could say the central theme was a “SHARED PASSION” which united them in true fellowship.
Acts 1:14 says, “they all joined together constantly in prayer…”
The word “together” is the focal point as it describes not just their activity, but the nature of their activity. The idea being communicated is that these people had “one shared passion”. They were joined together by the thing about which they were most passionate.
Have you ever thought about what passions drive you? In most churches, many of the passions driving people are very rarely shared, and when they are, those passions are more likely something beyond the church and God (sports, hunting, music, crafts, family, etc…).
While our shared passion for Christ and the lost is the glue that holds us together. We should remember that sharing a passion does not mean we must share everything else. There is much room in God's tent for us to share our passion with others and still have many differences.
Acts 1:14 points out the “glue” that held the early church together (their shared passion) and it also describes the unique make-up of this group of Jesus people.
  • First, in verse 13, are listed the 11 remaining apostles.
  • Then in verse 14, we are told that they were joined by the women, by Mary, and by his brothers.
  • Verse 15 tells us there were approximately 120 people.
This group is unique because of their diversity. Many in the group were Galileans and fishermen. However, also there were also city-folk and even powerful, wealthy people like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. This diversity even existed among the twelve disciples (Simon the Zealot, Peter the fisherman, Matthew the tax-collector).
This group is also unique because of the importance given to women. It was not common in those days for women to receive equal billing with men, yet Luke (the author) makes it clear that the women mentioned were equal contributing members of this gathering.
We cannot look at a verse without recognizing the clear encouragement to embrace our diversity, to reject oppression, and to engage in active fellowship with all people who make the body of Christ. Remember Paul’s words in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Whatever differences you may have with another believer, the one thing you share (Jesus) is far more powerful!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Should Your Church Be Listening to The Profit or The Prophets?

DISCLAIMER: I have what is likely an unhealthy and irrational dislike for the idea that "churches are businesses." I've heard all the arguments (they have buildings, pay staff, take out loans, etc...) and I find them terribly un-compelling (not really a word, I know). While some elements of church-life may resemble business life, that does not mean churches are businesses. Business exists to accumlate wealth (only ineffective businesses disagree with this). The church exists to give itself away. The two ideas are mutually exclusive.

That being said, I think church leaders have much they can learn from business leaders. I have learned an immense amount from friends who are extremely successful in their businesses. However, I would never try to "run a church" the way they run their businesses. Successful leadership is the ability to learn from others without copying everything they do.

Shark Tank and The Profit are two business-oriented television shows have recently become extremely popular. I love both shows because they provide insight into the human condition. I also love them because they provide an opportunity to watch wisdom (and often folly) in action. There is much to learn from these types of presentations.

Marcus Lemonis (@MarcusLemonis) is The Profit. He is a self-made millionaire who invests in businesses to enable them to turn around. On every episode of his show he relies on his three fundamental principles to empower his partner's success. He demands they focus on PEOPLE, PROCESS and PRODUCT.

The Three P's Of Church Success

For a while, I'd watch The Profit and think about how I might apply it to church leadership. I wrestled with what the three P's of church life were.
  • Who were our people? Were they the people in the seats on Sunday? Are they our staff? Are they the people of our community who we are trying to reach?
  • What is our process? Is it how we connect people to small groups? Is it the "assimilation" process we use to move people from their first visit to being a committed member? Is it how we communicate or how we budget? Is it the way we challenge people to become faithful givers?
  • What is our product? Is it our Sunday morning service? Is it the Gospel? Is it our small groups? Is it the offering?
I found myself unable to create a reasonable application of Marcus' principles to the church.

Then it hit me. The church is not a business. Church success is not measured like business success.

So I began to think about what three principles I might use to pursue church success. If I could alliterate them, it would be even better. Here's where I settled. Church success is somewhat about the three M's.

The Three M's Of Church Success

Our Message
Everything must begin with our message, which is really quite simple. "The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world."

Our Ministries
"Ministry" is a churchy word which refers to the "stuff we do." Our ministries ought to reflect our message. Because the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world, what are we doing? How are we interacting with the Father? How are we reflecting the Son? How are we revealing salvation to the world. I fear that the ministries of many churches become overly complicated and complex because the church's have not maintained their focus on the simplicity of our message.

Our Members
My church doesn't have an official "membership." Yet we still call people to be committed to our local body of Christ. Ultimately, a church must have some understanding of what they are doing with the people God has entrusted to them. How are they forming them? How are they caring for them? How are they releasing them into the world for mission?

This is obviously not comprehensive. It's kind of a jumping-off series of thoughts. I'd be interested to hear what others think about this... Feel free to comment.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Weather Devotionals: It's Cold Outside

Today it is cold.

But not as cold as it was this winter.

There is snow in the air.

But not as much as there was this winter.

No matter how bad today is...

It could always be worse.

It will get warm again.

You can be forgiven.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Weather Devotionals: The Sun is Shining Again

Today we are thankful for the sun after days of constant rain.

We are reminded that the storms of life always end.
They are replaced by the bright light of a new day spent in the Son.

Though we may be drenched and cold from the trials of life, 
We will be warmed and comforted by the love of our Savior.

Monday, April 20, 2015

You Cannot Blaze The Future While You're Obsessed With Preserving The Past

I find it intriguing...

Christians come in all different sizes, shapes, models, etc... We are from different places, we have different backgrounds, we vote differently, we dress differently, we eat differently.

The one thing that unites us is that we are a people who are not defined by our past, but rather by our future.

Thus, I find it intriguing...

So many churches are far more concerned with preserving their past than they are with blazing their future.

Perhaps this is why they lack unity? When you minimize the one thing that should hold you together, you are bound to come apart.