April 13, 2015

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A Church Centered on Family instead of Pastors (Life in a Pioneer Church Part 3)

Being needed by others is a drug. It is addictive and intoxicating. When others rely upon you to make their lives work it changes how we view ourselves and the world. Certainly this is true in marriage and parenting, but it is also true in the church.

When I began to explore my call to ministry no one told me about the addictive side of being a spiritual leader. Being singled out as special, as being especially touched by God, it is the best drug I know. (Granted I haven’t exactly had a wide experience of pharmacological exploration.) There is this beast within each of us, an ugly and powerful gremlin we call ego. There are ways of starving this beast or feeding it. What no one tells you in seminary, what no one in the church likes to admit, is that being put  up on a spiritual pedestal and living as a spiritual lord is like feeding your ego anabolic steroids. It can be an addiction that becomes almost impossible to give up.

Having a pastor as a spiritual lord can also be a  comfortable place for the rest of the church. (In bad scenarios it can also be everyone’s worst nightmare.) It reinforces so many bad ideas that allow us to stay in a place of comfort. If some are special, chosen above all others, then we can put ourselves in a different category. If there is a spiritual lord who has a place of privilege, a special place where they alone hear from God, it absolves everyone else from listening to God. Instead they can just listen to the pastor. If the pastor has a vision then no one else need have one of their own.

Being pioneer church, a church that is bringing about life in uncultivated areas, requires a shift away from the pastor as spiritual lord model. It just doesn’t work. You have to decentralize power, vision, authority, and mission in order to do the difficult work of cultivating. A pioneer church is a family of missionaries, not church members following a charismatic leader.

The most joyous part of our shift to life as a pioneer church has been this shift to functioning as a family on mission. The first step in this journey was experiencing life as family together. This meant an inward focus before we could have an outward focus. We had to learn to love each other, share our lives, and own the work of being the church before we could go and plant seeds. It occurred to us that if we couldn’t care for and minister to each other in transformative ways we had little hope of doing so for those outside of our fellowship.

This shift has been life giving and enriching. Never before have I experienced such deep relationships and intimacy within the church. Never before have so many people felt like my family. Never before have my kids had so many people investing into their lives. Never before have I felt more loved for who I am rather than for being a provider of religious goods and services. Never before have I valued the gifts and calling of others in the church so much more than I do my own.

Jesus told his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I don’t think we take this very seriously. Instead we think Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples if you communicate it through a powerful and well planned worship service with the latest in technological flourishes.” Or we might say, “They will know you are my disciples if you have a well run organization with highly skilled professionals leading effective ministries.”

When Jesus came to change the world he did so by forming an unlikely family. He created an alternative way of living that was in and of itself the good news of the kingdom of God. It is time for us to return to the model of Christ and to set aside our own spiritual fiefdoms. So long as we build our churches around individuals we will never unlocked the true missional power of our churches.

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March 30, 2015

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Life in a Pioneer Church Part 2 – Survival of the Fittest

Survival of the Fittest – from Wikipedia, the author of all truth

Herbert Spencer first used the phrase – after reading Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species – in his Principles of Biology (1864), in which he drew parallels between his own economic theories and Darwin’s biological ones, writing, “This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection’, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”[1]

A couple of weeks ago I began a series of blog posts chronicling our life at Duneland Community Church. (You can check out the first post here) We are a Pioneering Church – pushing out into new territory to help life grow and thrive were it has not. This is a hard life and we are learning new lessons all the time. One of the hardest realities of being this type of church is that in an effort to cultivate life in new places you go through a lot of death. At least that is what it feels like. Maybe grief is a better description than death.

As a Christian one of the most painful experiences is being pruned. It is very difficult to have God cut you back, time and time again, until you are strong enough to bear fruit. This is a process Jesus talks to his disciples about in John 15 as he is teaching them about abiding in him. Pruning is a necessary process in growing healthy plants. You have to consolidate the energy expended so that the plant grows strong before it tries to produce fruit.

This is so similar to the process of natural selection that Darwin first observed. Often times a traumatic event will shake up an ecosystem or an animal population, The population will be diminished, perhaps even dramatically. But in a generation or two that event will result in a stronger group, with better DNA, more ready to handle life in harsh environments,

Well it turns out that this process of natural selection or pruning happens regularly in the life of a Pioneer Church. As you push out into new territory it becomes far more challenging for the church family. Sometimes you invest your energies into missions that don’t succeed. You have to expect failure. Sometimes you cut off energy or resources from something that was being somewhat successful or very successful in a limited scope. People grow upset that you aren’t focusing on what they consider to be the most important things.

People will grow tired of being challenged to grow. This will be especially true if they aren’t connected in deep relationships to help foster that growth. Watching others engage in mission feels like judgment if you aren’t relationally connected to what is happening. They will seek out something new that makes them feel connected or valued for doing less.

Some people, who are healthy, wonderful, faithful, or growing, are just going to feel called to something different. Your mission won’t be there mission. With great sorrow and pain you will send them off with blessing to go thrive in different soil. The loss of their presence and support will feel like a small death, every time.

But in the end, as you take stock of those who are left, you find that you are stronger than ever. Your roots run deeper into the soil and your base is stronger than before. The herd has thinned out, but it has also gotten smarter and is bonded stronger. You feel like you have less to work with, but your faith has increased and God has used this to increase your capacity as well.

Life in a Pioneer Church is difficult because you have to learn to deal with failure and grief. But the benefit of all those difficulties and challenges is that you grow in your perseverance and faith. As it turns out those are the two key ingredients to bringing about life in new places.

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March 16, 2015

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high-dive

Plunging into Grace – A Transformation Story

Imagine standing on top of the high dive for the first time. You are scared out of your mind, certain that all that awaits you below is certain death. Sure, you have seen others make this jump hundreds of times, but you are certain it will be the end of you. Your toes curl around the end of the platform, you are searching, racking your brain for a way out of this moment. You look back behind you and there are your friends. They are urging you on, jeering you, telling you to just jump. There is no way back. Resolved to go through with this ludicrous idea you step off the end of the platform and you are falling. Within an instant there is nothing but water, the rest of the world has disappeared. You sink quickly, lost in depths that have long terrified you. But then, just as quickly as you sink you are rising. You burst forth from the water and find that you are alive. Indeed you are alive, but you aren’t the same. Nothing could ever be the same again. Now you are truly alive.

high-dive

Late in the night on March 22, 1995 I stepped off of the high dive and plunged into the depths of grace for first time. It may have actually been early on the morning of the 23rd, it is so hard to remember the details of that week. This I know for certain, the whirlwind of God’s grace, his revival Spirit, touched down on Sunday night March 19 on the campus of Wheaton College. Unlike other storms it wasn’t broadcast in advance. In fact I was caught completely by surprise at its arrival. I was sitting in my dorm room playing cards with some friends. A friend walked into the room and said that he had just gotten a call from another guy on our floor saying that God was doing something powerful down at the World Evangelism Fellowship worship service. We were intrigued enough or maybe just bored enough to drop what we were doing and go check it out.

Stepping into Pierce Chapel that night the very breath I had to speak was taken from me. Walking into the work of God that was taking place rendered me speechless. The Spirit of God was thick, like stepping into a tropical rainforest. The air was heavy and alive. I just came in, sat down and shut up. I began to listen to other students confess their sins, I began to pray, I stood on the end of the high dive and began to look out at the world.

For three more nights, gathered for hours, staying up light into the night, praying with friends, singing, listening, wondering, marveling, trying to understand, I stood there at the end of the high dive, just looking out. Others were taking the plunge. They were dropping off the high dive with humility or cannonballing off with enthusiasm. But I just sat there. I didn’t know what else to do.

Finally, sometime in the middle of the night on Wednesday night, having sat still, not knowing what to do as the hurricane force winds of the Spirit changed the complexion of the world around me, I got up and got in line at a microphone. I don’t remember this part of the story, I don’t remember making a conscious choice at all. But soon I was there, standing at at microphone, in front of thousands of my closest friends. My toes curled around the edge of the board, I wasn’t sure if I could make the jump. I was sure death and judgement awaited me. But seeing no alternative I stepped off into the nothingness and began to fall.

I stood there and I began to talk about the real me. Much of my life up until that point had been lived in fear of discovery. I portrayed a certain image to the world of who I was. But I lived each day in fear that my parents, my friends, my teachers, and most of all God would find out who I really was. When they did I was sure it would end in rejection and pain. But as I spoke the truth about who I really was, plunging deeper and deeper into the dark waters, something began to happen. I began to rise, I broke through the surface and found that I had landed in the grace of God.

Coming out of this time of confession I was surrounded and embraced by my friends. Those were such good friends. We were so young, I was 18 at the time, none of us older than about 20, but they were dear to me. They prayed for me, they embraced me, they loved me. They had seen the real me, heard the worst that I had to offer and they loved me still. How much more did I discover the love of my Heavenly Father that night. That night he told me that he had loved me all along, fully aware of who I was. He had just been waiting for me to take the plunge into his grace and discover who he really was.

That week, 20 years ago now, changed the course of my life. Each day since has been an exploration of God’s grace. So now I spend my time encouraging others up onto the high dive, urging them to the edge, exhorting them to take the plunge and discover life anew.

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March 4, 2015

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Life in a Pioneer Church

Pioneer – noun

1.a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others.
2. one who is first or among the earliest in any field of inquiry,enterprise, or progress:

pioneers in cancer research.
3. one of a group of foot soldiers detailed to make roads, dig intrenchments, etc., in advance of the main body.
4. Ecology. an organism that successfully establishes itself in a barren area, thus starting an ecological cycle of life.
Let me tell you about life in a Pioneer Church. I love all of these definitions of pioneers because they all tell a bit of the tale of life in a Pioneer Church. (This is the first of several posts I am writing on life at our church) The one I like the most is the definition from ecology. An organism that successfully establishes itself in a barren area, thus starting an ecological cycle of life. That is a wonderful perspective on the life we are enjoying together at Duneland Community Church. Newgrowth
It started about 4.5 years ago. When I arrived at DCC back in the fall of 2008 it was a triage situation. I came in to stop the bleeding and help the church get back on its feet. Two years in that bleeding had stopped, the church was starting to regain its strength, and we faced an important question. What type of church do we want to be? That question consumed most of the our focus for about a year. We wrestled with our view of the world, we prayed, we listened, we talked together, and we emerged with a clear vision. We are investing everything we have into becoming a church the other 2/3.
Who are the other 2/3? Well sociologists tell us that in the US about 2/3 of the population have no interest in stepping foot into a church building. As Alan Hirsch has said ,”No matter how sexy you are at your sexiest, they aren’t interested.” What must mission and church life look like in order to establish life in such a barren environment? How can we see kingdom life, the best life- abundant life, emerge in such a difficult and hostile environment? Well that is what we committed to trying to find out.
We committed to something really important in this process.  We are willing to fail in our efforts to be a church for the 2/3. We don’t have a Plan B. 
So 4.5 years later we are just beginning to see signs of life emerging in barren lands. One of our missional communities is cohosted by a wonderful couple, who are practicing Buddhists, and run the local coffee shop. At a joint Mardi Gras party we threw with them at their coffee shop one of our pastors found himself sitting at a table of teenagers, of various religious backgrounds, discussing all their spiritual questions. This was an incredible opportunity to speak truth and exhibit grace to a group that have little to no interest in ever stepping foot in the front door of our building. Such a scenario was unimaginable when this process began.
There is the guy who encountered our church because of an incident involving bowling shoes. (That is a great story) He arrived at an uncertain moment of his life, emerging from crisis. Now he has found a missional calling heading up our team of runners that are raising money for clean water projects in Africa. (Yeah Team World Vision!) To his own disbelief he will run the Chicago Marathon for the third time this year to support this work, he is in a leadership development huddle, and he is helping others find their mission. A church that was wounded, unhealthy, and without much life has now had over 2 dozen people run a marathon for clean water projects. That is bringing life to dry and arid land literally and metaphorically!
When an unfortunate incident took place at a local school involving youth, cell phones, and poor decisions, the school reached out to us to help provide some education and service opportunities for students. Why? Well we are the best known group in our community when it comes to fighting sex trafficking. People are well aware of our work with Free The Girls and our effort to educate our community about the local and global horrors of Human Trafficking. In a moment of uncertainty, in an area where no one knew had to proceed, they called upon the only pioneers they knew to help guide the way.
Much of what we have tried has failed. We have planted seeds that have been choked out by weeds, that have been eaten by birds, and some that emerged for a brief moment before dying out. But an all out commitment to pioneering is finally bringing about lasting growth in previously barren land. Each new sign of a life is a blessing of unimaginable joy. It is a testament to the faith, the sacrifice, and the endurance of a beautiful group of Pioneers. Life in a Pioneer Church is much harder than we believed it could be, but it is also far more rewarding than we ever imagined.

(Check back next week for part 2 of Life in an Pioneer Church)
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January 20, 2015

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The Day My Faith Mattered

Ten years ago today the world as I knew it was shattered. It is a testament to my privileged and protected upbringing that some of what shattered that day remained in place until I was 28 years old. That day, however, changed everything about me. It reshaped my faith, it altered the course of my ministry, and it redefined my calling. (As I write about it, however, I do so with a serious caveat. My life was greatly effected by the death of a dear friend, but his death left behind a wife and three amazing daughters who lost far more than I did. I never focus on its impact on me without recognizing how insignificant its impact on me truly is in comparison. )

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOn January 20, 2005 I lost my dear friend, mentor, and pastor Raegan May. In the decade since then I have reflected on this defining moment of my life over and over again. Unsurprisingly God has used what could have been the worst moment I experienced and has reshaped it into the absolute bedrock of my faith and ministry. (5 years ago I wrote a letter to Raegan about his impact on me. You can read it here)

Until that day in NC when my place of refuge became a crime scene there were whole sections of scripture that had no relevance for my life. I would read the Psalms and hear the writers lament about loss, cry for the defeat of their enemies, or ask God for justice and the words would bounce off of me without meaning. Conceptually I understood the Psalmists perspectives, they just didn’t matter to me. The moment joy was ripped from me and replaced with anguish scripture came alive.

The faith that had sustained me for 28 years proved inadequate for what that day and the months and years that followed required of me. The faith of a privileged, healthy, well educated, comfortable pastor was replaced with something far realer. Thanks be to God! The faith that had brought me to that moment was woefully inadequate for the calling God had actually placed on my life. I needed more capacity, more transparency, more trust, and so much more Jesus than I had ever known.

Ten years ago today I found myself as a 28 year old youth pastor trying to wrestle with grief and anguish while also feeling 1923830_24113141011_9809_nspiritually responsible for a congregation of hundreds of people who just lost their spiritual leader in unthinkable circumstances. I no longer had the energy necessary to be a husband and father. So God stepped in and sustained me. I didn’t have the courage to be a messenger of tragedy to so many, so God strengthened me and gave me the words. I didn’t have the faith required to keep showing up day after day and sit in my office 8 feet from where my friend died and to kept grinding away at a job that had suddenly lost its joy. But each day God met me in that office and whispered his love for me. No part of me wanted the responsibility of preaching the Word of God each week in Raegan’s church, to Raegan’s people, standing in Raegan’s chancel, but each time I stood up in front of those people his Spirit took over. He spoke for me when I knew no words. His love flowed in and through me to give hope where I had so little.

Going through that season of loss shaped me for my calling in ways that 7 years of schooling and a lifetime of studying scripture never could. My faith mattered that day. In the face of death my faith was real. In a time of weakness God showed me His strength. Strange as it may seem, looking back on that day now, all I can feel is thankfulness. I am thankful for my friend Raegan who loved me and helped me to see the love of God in new ways. I am thankful for God’s grace that is still being poured out in abundance on an amazing family I dearly love. I am thankful for the pain. I can still access still if I want to, I can go back to those moments of shock and horror and feel now what I felt then. But doing so is tempered with love. God has demonstrated his love to me in such abundance since those days that I cannot remember the pain without remembering the joy.

So on this day of remembrance I give thanks. This is the day my faith became real to me. This is the day of Gods’ love sanctifying me through pain and loss. This is when the rest of my life, a glorious and blessed life, truly began. I miss my friend, I grieve for him still, but I know that he too is transformed now by God’s grace. Thanks be to God.

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January 12, 2015

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25 Reasons to Stop Attending Church on Sunday Morning

I am the master of the obvious. I can tell you what has already happened almost instantly after it has happened. I am not sure that qualifies me as a prophet or merely as a person with 5 senses. So here goes, I am about to drop some knowledge on you. People are going to church far less than they used to. (By that I mean weekly morning worship services, I won’t get all pastoral on you and tell you that you can’t go to church, you are the church and that is part of our problem).

Are you stunned? If you are stunned it is probably because you only rarely show up to a worship service and therefore you have no idea, you show up occasionally and just think you only attend on the down weeks, or you go to a handful of megachurches who continue to grow inspite of or in cause of the decline of other places. (No snarkiness there, just being honest.)

After years of battling this reality I have decided that maybe my weekly attendance, as required by being paid to be present, should be curtailed. Maybe the take a year or two off, go once a month, or show up at Easter and Christmas folks have it right. Maybe I am the nut for wanting to be in worship with my church family as often a possible. So here are the best 25 reasons I can come up with for why you should stop going to church on Sunday Morning. (These may or may not be based on actual conversations with real life people)

25. Have you tried to get out of the house to church with multiple kids, dressed up, early on a weekend? it is stupid. It will take the Jesus right out of you.

24. NBC is now showing the English Premier League on Sunday mornings. You can now watch football before you watch football.

23. Every time I show up for a worship service they ask me for money.

22. You don’t like karaoke and modern worship is close enough.

21. Germs! People at church are always so friendly trying to shake your hand and give you hugs. Think of the germs people!

20. Other people’s kids – Sometimes you barely want to be around your own children.

19. Announcements – How often have you ever left a worship service thankful for announcements?

18. Joel Osteen – He is on t.v. in your home, he is always smiling, and he won’t call your house

17. Balance – Life is so busy, between soccer games, work, Bible Study, volunteering for your kids, hosting parties, and you know sleep and stuff, we all need some balance. If you start skipping church you can still keep doing all that other stuff.

16. Weight Loss – Church is always filled with donuts, pastries, muffins, and food that people want to give you. If we stop going to church we can eliminate at least one day a week at the gym and still break even.

15. Preachers – Over educated Jesus freaks who speak at you for 30 minutes at a time, need I say more?

14. You have a hard enough time living up to your mother’s expectations. So why add in the expectations of being part of a church family. All those expectations about caring for others, investing in their lives, serving, and praying, who needs that?

13. It is cold outside. Why leave your house?

12. it is beautiful outside. Why be stuck inside all morning when the weather is so nice.

11. It is cloudy. Clouds bum me out, I need to find something fun to do so I can feel better.

10. It is raining. (See reason 13 for more details)

9. Soccer matches – My child has a .0000008% chance of getting a $1500 a year scholarship to a Division 2 college, you have to make whatever sacrifices necessary to chase that dream.

8. Comfort! I don’t want to change who I am and the pastor is always challenging me to be more like Jesus. It makes me tired.

7. I’m an introvert. Church is made for extroverts, I mean there is even a time scheduled for greeting people. I hate that. I go to the bathroom or search through my purse the whole greeting time.

6. I’m an extrovert. I want to talk back to the preacher the whole time they are preaching. My spouse keeps telling me to stop making jokes about what the preacher says.

5. My spiritual life is private. God just wants me to be happy. He never says anything about being connected to others or sharing in communal life. At least I don’t think he said that. Or at a minimum I don’t want him to say that.

4. Netflix – How can you go to church when they just added all 7 seasons of Friends to Netflix? The weekend should be devoted to binge watching t.v. shows from the mid 90s

3. Jesus never went to church on a Sunday.

2. God is love, he will love me whether I go or not.

1. The Associate Pastor is preaching.

Of course this wouldn’t be complete without at least one reason to continue to gather with other believers in worship each week. Corporate worship is an anchor for community life, spiritual growth, and mission without which we grow comfortable in our own ways of thinking and living, regardless of how they line up with God’s desires for us.

January 2, 2015

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Less is More – The Theme for 2015

Years ago I realized that New Year’s Resolutions had a tendency to be counterproductive for my life. Too often I would make a resolution that felt like a black and white, either/or, decision and I would feel like a failure when I ultimately failed to hold to its absolute nature. Generally life change is an up and down reality for me, so I have, for the past decade or so, adopted themes for the year. Generally my themes have helped to guide my decisions and rhythms. Or at least that is what they are supposed to do.

My theme in 2014 ended up being “I am running”. This was a very literal theme as I spent the year training for a marathon, but it was a spiritual and emotional theme as well. I arrived at the end of 2014 feeling very much the same way I felt at the end of my marathon. I was spent, hurting, limping, and ready to rest. After a nice week off with my family and some good time reading and reflecting I am finally feeling whole again.

One of the biggest things God has taught me this past year is that he is the Lord of the Harvest. This is not a new truth to me, but I often have to prove something multiple times, in painful ways, before I realize just how true it is. Spiritual fruitfulness is a direct result of learning to remain in Christ. This is the lesson Jesus teaches his disciples in John 15. Apart from Christ they can not bear fruit. A kingdom harvest is only ever the result of God at work through us, We can not will it or make it happen by our own efforts, no matter how clever, extensive, or frantic they are. Kingdom breakthrough comes at God’s time, by God’s means, when his people are obedient and prepared.

The Word of God for me heading into 2015 is all about diving deeper into the power of abiding in Christ. The best way I know to name this is Less is More. So here are my goals for 2015. I am going to spend less time trying to be clever, stylish, witty, or impressive as a means of bringing about growth for our church. Instead I will point people increasingly towards the good news of Christ. I will trust more that the Cross is sufficient to change lives. I am going to spend less energy chasing people. I was deeply wounded on a personal level by people who left our church, simply gave up on church, or lived very distracted lives in 2014. My natural reaction to this type of pain is to chase new people or try to show those other people they were wrong. I will work really hard to not repeat this cycle this year, whatever may come. Instead I will spend more time with the absolutely committed and sold out members of our DCC family.

Finally, I am going to lead better and lead differently. I am trying to lead too many different aspects of our church. I am going to give up ownership of things that others can do and instead invest more heavily in the tasks that most require my specific attention. I will led our leaders more intentionally and work to empower and release them in mission. As part of this leadership shift I will also lead myself better. i will take better care of my body and soul and work less. That will show up mainly through some spiritual retreats and some time away by myself.

So here is to 2015. I am encouraged and excited about this New Year and all that God is going to do. I can’t wait until 2016 when I can look back at this year at the breakthrough God has brought and to simply give him the praise for it all. God is faithful and his word endures forever. Amen.

November 17, 2014

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The Command We Refuse to Keep

We are pretty good at ignoring the commands of God. Sometimes it is passive ignorance and sometimes it is very active. If we are honest with ourselves most of us will readily admit that we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are trying, but we know we are still growing in this area. Most of us feel good about not murdering anyone recently, although Jesus’ version of this command (where we can’t even hate people) is a bit tougher to keep. But, of all of the commandments God has given us, do we as Christians actively dismiss and ignore any of them more than the command to keep the Sabbath?

Our violation of this command can actually be a source of pride! We pride ourselves in working ourselves to death. We wear our weariness and exhaustion as badges of honor. This is especially true of pastors. So many studies have shown that pastors are some of the worst Sabbath violators. Burnouts and moral failures abound in the world of Sabbath breaking pastors. But this is a problem for most Western Christians, not just those who work on Sundays. We have no margin in our lives. We don’t take care of the first things first. We have a tendency to push soul care, body care, and time with God  to the margins of our lives instead of making them the foundation of abundant life.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been reminded, in my own life, just why Sabbath is so important. This has been an especially demanding season of my life. My job has me spinning a lot of plates. I go back and forth between discipling leaders, trying to push our church into new missional frontiers, connecting with people new to our community, trying to improve our facility, leading a staff of multiple part time people who function on very different schedules, preaching, shaping our worship services. pastoral care, seeking out those who have fallen away from our fellowship, trying to get people stuck in ruts unstuck, maintaining the technology necessary to run our church and about 15 other tasks. Oh, and I just trained for a year and ran over 700 miles so I could join in the great adventure of running the Chicago marathon with my people.

In addition to all of that I volunteer my time and energy as president of the board for Free The Girls, I volunteer as a Frontier Leader for 3D Movements discipling other pastors and leaders, and I am working with our district superintendent to help churches that need revitalization. At home I have been working hard to help Gretchen as she has taken on graduate school for the next three years to pursue a new career. This has me in charge of homework quite a bit of the time, running kids around to appointments, doing more laundry than I have ever ventured to do and in charge of feeding our family for the great majority of each of the 3 meals each of us eats each day.

Here is the thing, I read that list and it seems impossible and ridiculous, but honestly it doesn’t feel that way. I am a very high capacity person and of all the things I listed I consider it a great joy that almost all of them are part of my life because I am passionate about them. God has entrusted me with a tremendous amount of responsibility. I hope and pray that those responsibilities have continued to expand because I have proven faithful with the responsibilities that he has given me thus far. But, with all those responsibilities the primary focus of my life has to be Sabbath. I can only be responsible for my church and family if first I care for myself. Over the past couple of weeks I have had some extra Sabbath and It has shown me just how important Sabbath is. With proper rest lately, I have realized that I am actually pretty worn down right now. I have recognized struggles in my spirit that I didn’t know where there. I have gained quite a bit of perspective on where I am and what God is calling me to do. Most importantly, I have heard my Father say to me over and over how loved I am regardless of what I do or don’t do. My identity comes not from keeping plates spinning, feeding my children, or being an abolitionist. My identity is secure in my Father’s love for me.

That is what Sabbath does. It gives us space so that we can be reminded of God’s truth. Sabbath keeps us grounded. Sabbath gives us strength for the work God gives us. Without Sabbath we can’t possibly do the work of God the way God intends us to. Without Sabbath we are ignoring a basic rhythm of life with God so by definition we end up being out of step with God. So let me encourage you today to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Make time with God, care for your soul, care for your body, true and blessed rest, the first priority of your life. Without it we have no hope of discovering abundant life in Christ.

November 10, 2014

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When In Doubt Pick Up Your Cross

From Luke 9 – Then he (Jesus) said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Everyday there is an ad on Facebook, a tweet from someone I follow, or an email that arrives in my inbox promising me ministry breakthrough if I just get this book, attend this conference, start this coaching, or subscribe to this website. There is a magic bullet being peddled at all times to all pastors. I am so hungry for kingdom breakthrough that I fight the urge with these products, or as I think of them -magic bullets, to put my trust in them. I want to be effective in my ministry. I long to see the power of God manifest itself in our church family. But this morning i was reminded that whenever we are in doubt about which way to move forward, how to experience the power of God, or what strategy we should is best for our mission, we need only turn to one place. We need only ever turn back to the cross, pick it up, and follow Jesus.

The cross is for us not only a means for salvation but the very entry point for life in the kingdom of God. Here at the cross, when we pick it up and carry it, we are taking on the very lordship of Jesus over our life. We are submitting to Jesus as our king. We are declaring that we will do things Jesus’ way because he is our king and because we are living in his kingdom. The cross is our way of understanding life as servants to King Jesus.

So when in doubt about what is next we simply return to the cross, pick it up, and follow Jesus again. We surrender ourselves once again to Jesus as king. We surrender our egos, our fears, our burdens, our sin, and our control in order to live a Jesus life. As a community we come again to a place of obedient surrender in order to experience the power of Christ. It is through the cross that Jesus conquered the powers of the this world. It is through the cross that Jesus conquered death and sin. It is through the cross that God made Jesus king. So when in doubt we pick up our cross again and follow Jesus.

There is no magic bullet or strategy for becoming a powerful and effective church. There is no magic bullet for becoming holy. There is no strategy or sermon series or new program that will suddenly unlock kingdom breakthrough. There is always, only, ever, for us the cross. We come back to it each day, we pick it up, we declare Jesus king and us his followers. We step out in obedience to die to ourselves once again and to trust that in death we discover life. In weakness we are made strong. In humility we are glorified. In service of the king we are made free.

There is only way forward in service of the king and that is walking the path of Jesus. Our only way forward is the cross.

November 3, 2014

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When the only answer I have is Jesus

There are a slew of jokes were the Sunday School teacher asks the students a question and there is some various form of response where the kid answers “It sounds like a _____ (squirrel, rock, Santa Claus, the President, etc.) but I am going to go ahead and say Jesus.” The default answer in Sunday School was always Jesus.

I think I have finally reached the point in my ministry when the only answer I have is Jesus. Yesterday marked 6 years as the pastor of Duneland Community Church. I offered my reflections on our time together in a State of the Church Address. The underlying theme of the message was essentially this: I have nothing more to offer my congregation other than Jesus.

It has taken 6 years for me to get to this point. Coming in as a 31 year old who was serving as a lead pastor for the first time I felt like I had a lot to offer DCC. I could see a church whose finances were in shambles, had little vision, wasn’t developing leaders, had little going in worship/children/discipleship/youth ministry, and just needed a shot in the arm. I knew what I could offer in those regards. Looking at the church I knew that an organizational overhaul would inject life. If we could just fix these issues we would begin to thrive.

I was partly right. We have worked hard over the last 6 years to fix those issues and we have had some great results because of it. But, the major results we are longing for, the God sized breakthrough that we are expecting and praying for, that hasn’t happened yet. It turns out that I am not clever enough, cool enough, or a big enough force of personality to accidentally or intentionally build God’s church. That is a good thing. From the get go I have worked to build a church around something other than myself. Well, we have been pretty successful in that regard. Six years into my hopefully very long tenure at DCC, however, we are still facing battles that I figured a bit of good leadership and hard effort would easily overcome. Turns out build a really amazing church focused on being a family on mission to the world is a long, slow, and exceptionally difficult process.

So as I begin this next segment of my pastoral ministry I am left with only one answer. Jesus promised to build his church. All the hope we have as a church rests in who our Father is and what he has promised us. I am not the answer to the biggest questions. This realization at first was a bit of a punch in the stomach because it felt like a failure. Increasingly, however, it feels freeing and wonderful. I am not the answer. I am not smart enough, cool enough, or gifted enough to do the work of growing the Kingdom. All I can do is be obedient, work hard, and trust in God for the results. Thanks be to God! That is good news for me, for our church, and for the world.

So when people ask me about the future of our church I will share with them our dreams, how we are trying to be obedient, and testimonies of God’s love at work. Most all, though, I will point them to my Father and his amazing power at work and I will give them a simple answer. All our hope for the future is in Jesus.

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