Monday, October 30, 2006


What gives you confidence? Is it doing a good job at something? Does it come to you after you have won something? Or does it come when someone believes in you, even when you don't believe in yourself?
God believes in you and me, even if we don't believe in ourselves. Why? Because God created us, and knows what we are capable of doing; especially if we are empowered and guided by God. Ephesians 2:10 tells us: "For we are God's workmanship, created to do good works in Christ Jesus..." We are created to do good works.
Today I finish my series on Reggie McNeal's book "The Present Future." I hope this series has provoked new thoughts in you about your life, about how you play an important role in the church, and about how the church needs to find new ways to interact with the culture. In today's blog I want to talk about the difference of thinking that churches are developing people for church work, verses understanding that churches are to be shaping people to make a difference for Jesus Christ in the world.
The problem with the first way of thinking, is that when people come to church, if a church is concerned about developing people for church work, then they feel used and limited. This last summer I was an assistant coach for my son Tyler's baseball team. I didn't want to be the head coach because I couldn't always be there, and because there were many meetings that the head coach had to be a part of. In this experience it made me realize that in the church we often ask people to be involved in work that they have no interest in. They come wanting to do something special for God, and get bogged down in busy work.
However, if we are shaping people to make a difference for Jesus Christ in the world, then they are set free to do the work God's leads them to do. This may very well be something for the church, but this something is going to make a difference for the Kingdom of God, not just for the church. It helps people to use the giftedness that God gave them. And as they start to see where God wants to use them, and that God has called them to do this work, then they have confidence to do it because they understand God has confidence in them.
The other thing that happens is that we stop seeing the church as a building, as a fixed point, and realize that the church is people. When we understand that the church is people, then we also realize that when we go out into the world, the church is going out with us. This too gives us a lot of confidence, since we are not alone in our going out. This also causes many more opportunities for the church to be effective, because the church is encountering people for Jesus every day, as the people of God are encountering others.
So we need a missionary mindset, because we understand that the mission field is all around us. As a missionary seeks to understand the culture, language, and needs of the people around them, so we too go out needing to understand the culture, language, and needs of those around us. We can't communicate with others using church language, but rather we need to just simply share with others the important ways that Jesus has impacted our lives, and the difference that makes in the way we live and love and share and care. It is about developing a heart that cares for people in the midst of their struggles and pain and lostness.
When we are involved in dealings of drudgery, then we have little energy, enthusiasm or confindence. But when we are at work in ways that God has designed us to work, we will have a great amount of confidence, energy, enthusiasm, and creativity. Let us seek to have a bigger picture of what the church and our lives are to be about. Tell me what you think (

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Future

The picture on our right shows a group of people planning. We think it is important to plan, especially for the future. But the problem with planning is that if our predictions are off, then our planning will be off. Planning can be good because it gets our minds thinking about the future, but there is a better strategy. As Reggie McNeal says in his book The Present Future, "The better (and biblical) approach to the future involves prayer and preparation, not prediction and planning.
Why? Because God wants us to pray and to prepare for His intervention. It is not about what we want to happen, or what we think will happen, but rather about being prepared to live out God's will, and help to establish God's Kingdom. So instead, the tough question is: "How do we prepare for the future?" And to prepare, we need to have the goal of being in partnership with God.
To be ready to be in partnership with God we need to seek out God's vision for our lives. Vision is what inspires, motivates, and energizes people. People will get committed to vision. Vision gives content to our lives and our message. Vision helps to reduce the number of decisions we have to make, because we can filter everything through a vision statement.
When we have a genuine vision, it helps to create a sense of significance in what we do. When we view that what we do has significance, especially significance for God, then others will see our sincerity, and be motivated by it. But we have to understand that we do not invent vision.
So how then is does vision come about? It comes about by cultivation. We need to know that it is God who has the vision, and we are seeking to discover it. So it is not about being a visionary, but about being one who seeks the mind of God. And to do this, we need to listen to our heart. What is it that excites us? Empassions us? What causes you to lean forward in your seat when someone is talking? This usually is usually the area where God is calling us to get involved.
But the way the vision will ultimately be tested is whether or not it is supported by the values of God. If our vision is not supported by what God would value, then it is not God's vision for our lives. "Vision is the seed, values are the soil." The soil has to support the seed. And our vision also needs to be supported by the values that God would want us to have (concern for the lost, hurting and poor; a forgiving heart; unconditional love...)
But how do we know what our values really are? Values are demonstrated by behavior. You can say you have a certain value (like concern for your spiritual growth), but if your behavior doesn't show this concern (meaning you don't read your Bible, you don't go to church regularly, your friends don't see Christian behavior), then this is not a true value.
So we must seek to practice our values so they will shape our life and our vision. As we live out our values, we will prepare the table for the vision to be lived out. Reggie McNeal says: "I am convinced that the reason for much burnout, lack of commitment, and low performance in our churches directly related to the failure to declare the clear results we are after." We must be clear about what our goals are in our vision. Only then can we know we God is directing us. When we know where God is taking us, then we can prepare ourselves to live this out.
Do you know your values? Do you have a vision for your life? Does your church have a clear vision? Do you even think any of this is important? Tell me what you think (

Monday, October 23, 2006

What is Spiritual Growth?

In this series on Reggie McNeal's book "The Present Future," we have talked about the church finding ways to go out to reach people, instead of waiting for people to come to the church. In this way, I believe we are living the example of Jesus, who regularly spent time outside of the synagogue and dialogue with people. This is important as well to help transform the community we live in, since we will have a better understanding of the needs of the people and the community. So the church in the 21st century should be seeking to find ways to connect with others.
Above we have 2 pictures. One is the picture of someone raising their hands in worship. The other is the picture of a cross. When you think of the idea of spiritual growth, there are many different ideas that come to mind. One is singing song of praise to God. Another might be the symbols (like the cross) that connect our mind with thoughts of God. A third idea might be reading the Bible to grow in knowledge.
Reggie McNeal, in chapter 4 of his book, challenges the church to get beyond trying to make people into good church members, and start to move people into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. He proposes that if this relationship becomes alive to people, then it will transform their lives to begin to live as God is calling them to live. So the emotional, physical, relational areas of our lives are all part of our spiritual growth. If we are not emotionally healthy, then we will struggle spiritually. If we are not physically healthy, then we will struggle spiritually.
The questions we should be asking is: What percentage of the people in my church grew to be more like Jesus last year? How is God at work in my life and the lives of others in my circle of friends and family? These questions lead us to a much different place than the question: Am I a good church member? And they are more valid questions, because it isn't about being good church members, as much as it is being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. And if we are growing to be more like Jesus, then we will be a faithful follower.
Another important avenue for us to follow as Christians, is to have a coach or mentor. We all know someone who is more mature in their faith than we are. How wonderful it is to have a person like this to help coach us along (and keep us accountable) in our journey of faith. A coach or mentor is someone who seeks to help you continually discover and live out the plan God has for your life. In this way, we are experiencing meaning and purpose in our lives, because we are living as God has created us to live.
Spiritual formation is about seeking to have a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, and seeking to live out who God has for us to be. When we do this, we will experience spiritual growth, and make an impact in our world for God. Tell me what you think (

Thursday, October 19, 2006


In my last 2 blogs (Growth and A New Reality) I have been commenting on Reggie McNeal's book "The Present Future." I have found this book to be challenging and helpful to our church in this time as we seek to minister in our community in the 21st century. Today I would like to look at chapter 3 in the book.

(The Queen Mary in Long Beach)

In chapter 3, McNeal talks about "A New Reformation." This new reformation is taking the church closer to the world; not theologically, but physically. And to do this, we need to change the perspective we have about doing ministry. For so long we have tried to train people to be able to do the work "in" the church; to give them church jobs to do. And that worked okay as long as the people wanted to do the jobs, and people were coming to the church to hear about Jesus.
But things have changed, and people aren't coming to the church the way they used to. We are now living in a society where our faith has become individualized, and the church is no longer the primary place that people seek answers for their faith questions. So we have to take a new tact, and that is to become missionaries.
Now, when I say "become missionaries," you might think about going to another country. But this is not the case anymore. Missions work needs to be done in our own communities, because in each community (especially Long Beach) there are many cultures (not just ethnic, but cultures within the different age groups as well. So, as we think about missions, we need to think of it in terms of "community transformation."
How do we connect and become part of our community? How can connecting with the community help the Kingdom of God? When I say connect with the community I don't mean to become like the culture around us. Again, we are not to change theologically, just practically. We need to find ways to share Christ's life-changing message with the way we live and love in our community. As we touch lives, and people change, our community will be transformed.
To do this we need to explore the needs of the community and build our ministries and churches in a way that connects with the community's needs. We have to remember why the church exists, to impact the world around us. We need to remember that we are commissioned by Jesus to reach out to the lost and hurting, and build people up around us. In one sense it is a new reality (as McNeal says), but in another sense, it is not, because it is really what Jesus did when He was here on the earth. What do you think about this? Tell me what you think.

Monday, October 16, 2006


In our world if we see a large group of people in any one place we think something important is happening; numbers mean significance to us. And that is the challenge for the church of today. Our desire is to get bigger; to have growth.
In my last blog I started my 5 part series on Reggie McNeal's book "The Present Future." Our church is using this book as a study for how our church can do a better job serving God in the 21st century. In this first part I talked about how "we live in a new reality, and the question in this new reality is: how is the church called to reach the people in our community?" I also talked about the challenge of how people aren't coming to the church like they used to.
So today, I want to think about this idea of growth. How important is it for the church to grow in numbers? While I believe it is important for a church to grow in numbers, it is even more important for the church to grow in faithfulness and commitment to God's work. Often times when a church grows, the new members it receives are people who have left one church to come to this new church. That might seem like church growth, but it isn't kingdom growth.
What do I mean by kingdom growth? Well, there are many in our world who aren't Christians; who don't know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. As we share Jesus with others, and they come to accept Jesus and ssek to live for Jesus, then they become part of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus said in John 1:12 "
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."
Reggie Mcneal says in chapter 2 of his book that the wrong question is "How do we grow this church?" And the tough question is: "How do we transform our community?" Because more than being a member of a church, people need Jesus in their lives!
I do believe that being a committed part of a church body is important, and I do believe that worship with other believers is important. But I also understand that in the community our church belongs to, there is the challenge of getting people to regularly come to church. So our church is seeking to find ways to go out to where people are at and seeking to love them and share Jesus with them. Hopefully, by doing this, their lives will be changed, not so that they can become a member of the church, but so that they can help transform the community they live in and the kingdom of God.
Are you going through this challenge? Do you have some thoughts on this subject? Let me know.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A New Reality

I am currently going through a series on the book "The Present Future," by Reggie McNeal at our Monday night Bible Study. This has been a wonderful challenge to read and to walk through with my congregation. Over my next couple of blogs I would like to make some comments about some of what McNeal has to say in his book and about the church of the 21st century.
It doesn't take my reading this book to know that society has changed in its view of the church. Just the fact that there are more people that don't go to church on any given Sunday than do is information enough. People have so many choices of how to get their spiritual nourishment from television to the internet. On top of this, seeing how so many in our society have become more individualistic, shows a lack of desire to be a part of a regular church fellowship.
So we live in a new reality. And the question in this new reality is: how is the church called to reach the people in our community? I have been at my church now for almost 8 years, and this whole time I have had this sense that we need to do church different. I believe we need to go outside the church walls more. It is easy to live within the confines and safety of the church, but then we lose out on having a real impact on our world for Jesus. Beyond this, we limit our opportunities of sharing the love of Christ with those who need to experience it the most.
As I look at Jesus' life and ministry, I see Jesus going out. There are very few passages in the New Testament where Jesus is in the synagogue. More often we see Jesus walking along the path, at a wall, or in someone's house. Jesus encountered people where they were at, and dialogued with them according to their background (i.e. he talked one way to farmers and another way to fishermen).
So does this mean that we need to do away with meeting in our church? NO. Their is still great meaning to worship and fellowship in Christ's name. This is an experience that can never be achieved individually. But it does mean that we need to not sit back and wait for people who don't know Jesus to come to us. WE MUST GO TO THEM! So I am challenged, and I am seeking to challenge my congregation to build relationships with non-believers, and even more, to seek to love like Jesus loved with no strings attached. We need to live and love like Jesus did. Only then do I believe that we can start making the impact God wants us to make.
Tell me what you think.

Monday, October 09, 2006


About a week and a half ago my wife and I saw the movie the illusionist. It is about a magicician (Edward Norton) who in the turn-of-the-century Vienna uses his abilities to secure the love of a woman far above his social standing. I found it to be an entertaining movie. Overall the acting was good, and the story line was suspenseful. It had a couple of interesting twists. With a PG-13 rating it was fairly tame by movie standards. But even more than the movie itself, the real intrigue for me was how people were so captivated by the illusionists' magic. Each night he would perform to a packed house.
What is it that drew the people to come and see him? I believe the answer was they were curious to see what he would do next. At first his illusions were physical (i.e. making an apple tree grow from a pot in seconds, or keeping someone from being able to lift a sword off the ground). But then his illusions go to the spiritual. Eisenheim the illusionist apparently summons spirits (including the spirit of Sophie, the woman he loved), leading many to believe that he possesses supernatural powers. This mystery of the power they believe he posseses is what draws them to the theatre each night.
What many forget (or don't know) is that people were drawn to Jesus for many of the same reasons. There was a great mystery that surrounded Jesus. People wondered how it was that the simple son of a carpenter could heal the sick, make the lame walk, or feed 5,ooo plus people with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. But the difference between Eisenheim the illusionist and Jesus is that Jesus' power was not magic; it was real. Jesus' power flowed from God. Jesus' actions were all designed to help people to understand that the way to heaven was through faith in Jesus, the Son of God.
There is another wonder here as well. And that is that God wanted us to see and understand the mystery of God and life. In the book of Colossians, chapter 1, verses 25-27, we are told:
"25...the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." This wonderful mystery is that Jesus Christ, through faith, can live in you and me. And by His living in us, we can know the will of God and can have access to the power of God; the power that is designed to bring glory not to ourselves, but to our creator, God.
I believe that there are too many things in this world that deceive us into thinking that we are following the right path. I believe there are too many illusions that satan puts in front of us to keep us from seeing and understanding that life in Christ is the most profound and meaningful life we can have. If you are feeling a bit lost, seek Christ, who doesn't trick us with illusions, but brings us into full understanding, and then leads us forward into the life we were created to have. What do you think? Let me know.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Your Mission and the church

On Monday I talked about the importance of knowing what God's mission for your life is. God has a plan for our lives, and until we figure it out, we will lack real direction and purpose. God has given us special gifts to be used for things other than our own benefit. We are told about these gifts in the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12. But there is an important point in this chapter that we need to understand, and that is found in 1 Corinthians 12:7- "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." The purpose of the gifts we have is so that we can use them for others; and the primary place we are called to use them is in the church.
Often people think of the church as a building, or an organization, or an institution, but in short it really is the people of God gathered together to worship God and do the work of God. (For a much more thorough understanding of this Rev. Mark Roberts, of Irvine Presbyterian Church is doing a series on the church on his blog; The church is very important. It has been designed by God to provide a place for fellowship, support, challenge, and
ministry. But even more, it is the best place where people can discover and use the gifts God has given them.

God has given us these gifts and calls us to open them up, discover what they are, and then share them with others. In this way we not only bless the lives of others, but bless our own lives as well. When you give yourself away, you will experience the joy of the Lord in your life. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.
So I want to encourage you today, if you don't know what your gifts are, to seek to discover them soon. You can find online spiritual gifts tests (for ex., or you can talk to your pastor, or you can read 1 Corinthians 12 and seek God for understanding. If you do know your gifts, what is keeping you from using them?
As we use our gifts, not only will others benefit, but the church will benefit, you will benefit, and even more, God's kingdom will benefit. Tell me what you think. God bless.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Your Mission

Did you know that God has a mission for you? It is true, God has a mission for each one of us! The challenge is to figure out what that mission is. I know that life brings us many forked roads where we have to make a choice of which way to go. But if we have a sense what our mission is, then we will be better prepared for that decision when it comes.
So, I'm sure you're thinking, how can I know what my mission is? Our church has been working this year with a group called Church Resource Ministries. This group has helped us to walk through what God has for each of us in our lives. At the end of this training, we were able to write out a vision statement for our lives. My vision statement says this: I invest myself in my family, and a church which engages itself in a culturally diverse community, to motivate them to know God, be committed in service, and faithful in character.” Since I have this statement clearly before me, I am able to know the direction in which I am to be headed. Even more, whenever I reach a fork in the road, I have a guide to help point me down the right path.
So how can you find your mission? The simple way is to ask yourself this question: "What am I passionate about?" As you answer this question, it will help you to know how God has formed you, and what God has for your life purpose. For example, in the book of Exodus, you see that Moses is passionate about his people being mistreated and in slavery (Exodus 2:11-12). God ultimately uses this passion to send Moses to free the Israelites from their slavery (Exodus 3ff).
When you go through life unsure of your mission, you will seek after many things and allow yourself to stray after this and that. You will lack focus and direction, and spend your energy in wasteful ways. So my challenge to you today is to try to write out for yourself a vision statement; a simple statement that expresses your passion. Then write out a few specific goals that could help you start to achieve this vision. And know that as you do, God will use you in wonderful ways, and lead you down the path designed for you. I will write more tomorrow about how our mission can and should connect with the church. Tell me what you think.