Some Thoughts on Church Security

Ten years ago, our church suffered through its darkest day when a gunmen came on our property, opened fire with an assault rifle, killing two of our teenage girls, injuring others, before taking his life in the hallway. This Sunday, I was taking a special guest to our memorial site to tell her the miracle story of our healing, when the news broke that another church in South Texas had just experienced the same horror.

A military trained man with an assault rifle with the intent to kill unarmed people is almost impossible to stop. No amount of training could have prepared that tiny church in Texas for this evil. We’re now living in a violent society where even small town America and small rural churches are not insulated from assault.

Church security was something I never heard discussed while growing up in North Louisiana. Guns were plentiful, but there seemed to be no threats to our safety in the sanctuaries of my youth. Today, the world has changed and violence is seemingly always at our doorsteps.

The sad reality is that every church should have a strategy to protect its members when they gather. We had a great plan on December 9, 2007 that saved scores of lives and today, we are even more prepared. In fact, our church may be the safest public gathering place in our city. We take it seriously.

We have learned some valuable lessons. First, every church should hire at least one uniformed police officer to be visible in the main lobby and parking lot. Every Sunday, there is a police car parked in front of our church. These off-duty officers are paid by us to be present. They are now our friends and we see them as part of our vital team each weekend. Most crime studies show that criminals can be deterred by the physical presence of the police on property. If local police are not available, hire a very visible security guard.

When we first employed uniformed police, people were concerned that church would feel unsafe, but actually the opposite has happened. So many people have personally thanked me for having the officers present, because it is so reassuring. That is a huge testimony to our local police and sheriff’s department, who both have stellar reputations in our community.

Because we live in a military town, we’re able to recruit and train dozens of men and women to serve our church as volunteers. They spend all week protecting our nation and they love serving their church the same way. They dress in plain clothes, but walk the property during our worship services, serving our people.

We live in a state that allows most people to carry concealed weapons and to carry openly if they choose. We discourage our members from bringing guns into the church. In fact, if we know someone has a weapon, we escort them out to their car and watch them put it away. We have plenty of trained and qualified people who are appropriately armed, so extra weapons are not necessary and can actually cause more harm should there be a violent episode.

We train our team to be watchful and diligent, but not obtrusive or aggressive. In fact, most of the 10,000 or so people who attend our church are not even aware of the security team, other than noticing a police car out front.  We are a church, not a sports stadium, so we do not have metal detectors, and we are not checking handbags as people enter.

Most of the violence that happens in a church is a spillover of some sort of domestic issue. Families target one another at church because they know they can be found at a certain time and place each week. Our pastors are sensitive to families going through divorce or some type of custody dispute with their children. If there’s a problem at home that could affect our church, we alert the police officer on duty. Many times, that officer has diffused conflict before it ever turned ugly and violent.

With all this attention to violence and securing our worship space, we have made sure that we have not lost our innocence along the way. We are not fearful, but we are wise. We are not downcast, but we are watchful. We gather every week, to pray our songs, to sing our prayers and to learn the Scriptures. We have chosen to forgive those who wish us harm and to bless those that speak evil against us.

Church is a holy gathering of imperfect people. People wrestling with mental health and those struggling with relationships come through our doors every day. Our security team makes it possible for them to find hope and healing in a very safe environment.

 

 

 

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The Miracle Story of New Life

The Fruit of Faithfulness: A Decade of Hope for Colorado’s New Life Church

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Bored Churches and Dragon Fireworks

My heart, O God, is steadfast;  my heart is steadfast;
    I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre!
    I will awaken the dawn.

Psalm 57:7-8

I remember exactly where I was sitting when I prayed the prayer that changed my life. On a friend’s ranch in southwest Arkansas, watching the muddied waters of the Saline River pass in front of me, I told God I was bored. It was rainy and cool, but lightning did not strike me. In fact, my prayers were met with deserved silence.

There was no reason for my stupor. My pastoral work was challenging and rich with relationships. The church where I served was reaching the lost, growing really fast, empowering leaders and giving me opportunities to serve all around the world. It seems selfish, now, for that prayer to have ever escaped my lips. God responded a year later by sending me to Colorado, on the adventure of my life. I’ve never prayed that prayer again.

We’re called to be faithful in the ordinary, but we’re not meant for lethargic living. Instead, we are Hobbits needing an adventure. When Tolkien wrote his masterpieces, the Hobbits were cast as a careful tribe of people, pious in their work, committed to their privacy and suspicious of anything that seemed disorderly or unpredictable. They were comfortable, well fed and far from any enemies that might disrupt their worshipped routines.

Bilbo Baggins is the most famous of the Hobbits – middle-aged, fond of his pipe and in love with leisure. He was certainly not thinking about killing dragons, and recovering the lost treasures of Lonely Mountain.  The wizard, Gandalf,  invited him out of his boredom and to the surprise of everyone, Bilbo followed him and discovered giant spiders, angry Orcs, and a Middle-Earth that he never imagined existed.

Today, I’m the pastor of a thriving congregation in one of the most beautiful cities in our country. The economy is booming, our team is fun and my family is on the front row every Sunday, serving the imperfect church and loving God with me. One recent Sunday morning, the congregation seemed sleepy and the sermon flat. It seemed we were getting bored with the same success that had stymied the Hobbits.

One of my favorite scenes in the Tolkien sagas, is Gandalf arriving at the retirement party with some fireworks. With a wave of his wand, fire-inspired Dragons went flying through the air. A predictable and safe party was suddenly upended by the uproar of pyrotechnics. I’m not for fireworks in church and I’m certainly not advocating hype to serve as some kind of false fuel. It seems, though, the role of pastor is to sometimes awaken the congregation, like a Gandalf, with some well-timed fireworks.

We can never berate, but we should correct, rebuke and encourage. (2Timothy 4:2) We should awaken the sleepers! We cannot allow boredom to seep into our souls. If pastors are shepherds, we should often guide the flock to green pastures and sometimes over troubled waters. Bored pastors lead bored churches, and bored churches are the Shire, where adventure and  faith take a back seat to the status quo and a debilitating comfort.

 

The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

Romans 13:11

 

 

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Are We In Revival?

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?

Psalm 85:6

I grew up in churches that were always praying for revival. We had “Revival Services” every year which usually meant a guest preacher came to town and we went to church every night for a week. We spent hours singing, kneeling at the altars and we anointed ourselves with enough olive oil to start a forest fire. If revival tarried, it was not for a lack of praying, attending, repenting and fasting. For some reason, the revival we were hoping for never seemed to last. It was always “close, but not quite here.”

Maybe it was our definition that was a bit off. The word ‘revival’ was never used by Jesus, Peter, Paul, James or John.  They certainly saw a church that was prone to lethargy and they prayed for a renewal of the Holy Spirit. I suspect the early church fathers were constantly fanning into flame the gifts of the Spirit, but what they really wanted was Christ. They instinctively knew if Jesus was central, the Holy Spirit would always be near.

They encouraged people to make room, every day, for more of the Holy Spirit. They wanted daily rains, not torrential floods. They wanted to be full, but not gluttonous; hungry, but not downcast. They wanted the gentle rain of the Spirit to fall every day.

Today, in our self-focused, experience saturated church culture, we seem to want a revival that may not be good for us, or even Biblical. We want the book of Acts experience, minus the 20-plus years of waiting. No, the book of Acts did not happen in a week’s worth of church services. Luke’s stories happened in multiple cities over a 20-year span, marked by the immeasurable suffering and perseverance of saints who cared little about the personal experience, but longed to be counted faithful.

At 50 years old, I’m more aware than ever of my need for the person, power, and presence of the Holy Spirit. I’m aware that I can grow cold and stale in my efforts to follow Jesus. I need constant renewal and a constant infilling of God’s power, grace and mercy. But, I’m also weary of chasing the mirage of a modern revival, probably created by own imagination or even spiritual boredom.

Maybe I’ve been chasing an experience that’s not good for me. What I need is daily bread and less hype. What I need is more silence and less noise. What I need are listening ears and fewer ultimatums. What I need is to meet God on his terms and less demands that He meet me where I want to find Him. 

For the past 20 years, in the multiple cities where I’ve lived, I’ve witnessed the sick be healed, sinners find salvation and the poor being rescued. I’ve been in countless gatherings where the Holy Spirit has been miraculously present. Maybe, I’ve been living in revival all along, but am just now getting the eyes to see it.

 

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The Essential Church Podcast

We’re really excited to announce the launch of what we’re calling the “Essential Church Podcast.” For years now I’ve been wanting to create a platform to talk regularly and openly about all of the massive, important issues that local church ministry leaders face on a daily basis—things like worship, preaching, creating a discipleship culture, ministry to our communities, and much more.

Well, now we’ve got one: The Essential Church Podcast. Each week we’ll be sitting down with ministry leaders both inside and outside of New Life to talk about what we’re learning about church life and leadership. We’re doing this NOT as “experts”, but as fellow practitioners in the ongoing kingdom effort that is the local church. Our desire is that your own ministries will be helped and strengthened through it.

We hope you’ll listen in each week. You can follow us on Twitter (@essentialchurch) and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (look up “Essential Church Podcast”). You can also go to our website: www.TheEssential.church where we’ll post episodes, show notes, and all kinds of other cool resources.

If you find any of our conversations helpful, please share them around the web and/or leave a good review for us on iTunes. It will help more leaders just like you find our podcast.

And of course, if you have any suggestions about topics you’d like for us to cover or people you’d like for us to interview, please let us know!

Can’t wait to share this with you.

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10 Years at New Life

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:3

 

Ten years ago, Pam and I loaded up a car with our two kids and a few pieces of luggage, and left our families and close friends for a two-day drive to Colorado and New Life Church. Three weeks later, we were chosen through a vote to be the new pastors of a church that needed healing.

This week, two close friends jokingly questioned my mental aptitude when I chose to leave a great church in Dallas/Fort Worth for a messy one on the Front Range. I told them the biggest miscalculation in the move was the loneliness. My first Sunday, I stood in front of thousands of strangers, preaching a message to a people that wanted to trust me, but in time. Pam and I were alone in a sea of people we were called to lead, wondering if we would ever feel at home. The risk was not failing in front of everyone, but succeeding while all alone.

The two friends who were needling me this week have stood alongside me this entire time, encouraging me when I wanted to quit, and helping me when the way forward was not certain. As I’ve reflected on the past decade, I could talk about the churches we have helped plant, the Dream Centers we’ve opened in our city, and the new congregations that have flourished in the past few years. But all this happened because of the miracle of relationships.

Unity is the unicorn of our culture – often discussed, but never seen. People divide so easily, so it’s an enigma for the world to see the people of God form into a tribe, church and a family. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit these past 10 years that has allowed New Life to thrive.

It was not a tricky leadership model, a charismatic personality on stage, or strictly following a systemic church growth model. New Life is making disciples today because a group of people made a decision to stay steady, to love one another, forgive one another, overlook one another’s faults, and encourage one another.

For the past 520 Sundays, we have met to pray, to worship, and to hear the Scriptures. We have chosen simplicity over gimmicks and relationships over personal preferences. Along the way, we have fallen more in love with Jesus and his sometimes flawed church. We have chosen the path of sincere relationships over the quick fix, a long obedience in the same direction. Now, we are ten years into the journey, alone no more.

 

 

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Three Reasons I Still Take Notes in Church

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Luke 8:15

For as long as I can remember, I’ve taken notes when someone is teaching me. It started in high school, was sharpened in the college classrooms at Louisiana Tech and continued when I was learning to be a journalist, where my first beat was the local commissioner’s meetings. I would sit in hours of parliamentary discussions, looking for one 30-second sound bite to be used on the evening news. Taking notes and paying attention was not optional.

When I became serious about learning the Scriptures, a pen, paper and my Bible were always with me in church, because I knew I would forget most of what I heard by Wednesday morning. If Sundays were going to be valuable, I had to write things down to really grow up. So, no matter who was teaching me, I took notes of all that was said. I wrote down every Scripture passage and tried to go back and read those Scriptures again the following week.

In Luke’s gospel, mentioned above, Jesus described the four types of soil that represent the common conditions of the human heart.  The path, the rock, the thorns and the good soil are all mentioned. The seeds that fell on the good soil are the only ones that produced a good crop.

Verse 14 describes us if we do not take notes – The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.”

The Message Bible says “who seize the word and hold on no matter what.” I confess that I’ve heard some amazing insight that I’ve not written down and I’m certain I’ve forgotten most of it. Good seed had been sown, but I didn’t seize it and hold on, no matter what.

Today, I still take notes for three very good reasons:

1. Taking notes helps me have conversations with others about the sermon. This is the essence of discipleship – the speaking words of Scripture have to become embedded in our listening ears and spill out of us in unhurried conversations with others. In these Spirit-formed conversations, we challenge, encourage and shape one another. Discipleship is a lifelong pursuit of wisdom.

2. Taking notes helps me focus. There’s so much competing for my internal space during sermons and writing notes disciplines me to pay attention to what’s most important. This is why I usually do not take notes on my smartphone. It’s too easy to get distracted.

3. Taking notes shows respect for the teacher. I know how hard it is to preach and I respect anyone who has prepared and prayed so they can teach me. Taking notes shows my teacher that I’m ready to learn. I promise, teachers teach better when people are leaning in with pen and paper in hand.

Let’s not sit in the crowd with our arms folded, assuming that we’ll remember everything that’s being said. Let’s hear the word, retain the word and by persevering produce a good crop. Let’s grow up together by paying attention to what’s being said, right in front of us.

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The Blessings of a Long Life Dad

Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers …

1 Corinthians 4:15

 

This morning I sat in a local cafe, eating breakfast with my son, who has just finished high school. We talked of future college plans, the challenges of his first job and pancake choices. Over his shoulder, in a private room, was a group of elderly veterans chatting loudly, laughing at familiar jokes.

There was an American flag in the middle of two round tables that had been pulled together.  Most of the men wore black baseball hats with military insignias. The youngest was a man in his late 50’s, I suppose. He seemed like the guardian/leader of the group, interrupting the chatter only once to read some minutes of last month’s meeting. What else he said, I do not know.

Watching them, I was reminded that long life is a real blessing. I hope their families cherish them and not take them for granted.

This afternoon, I attended a funeral for a very good man in our church. He died at 51, leaving behind a wife and two teenagers the same age as my own. Cancer came early to his body and robbed him of his old man years. His wife is strong and brave, and their two teens are sturdy, steadfast. They will miss their dad and husband.

Long life is not a guarantee. As we walk into another Father’s Day weekend, let’s be thankful for aging fathers. Let’s remember to call them and linger in unhurried conversations. The Scriptures tell us that old men dream dreams. Let’s listen to them as a gift.

Sitting in the cafe this morning and in a funeral this afternoon reminds me of the important role of honorable dads in our lives. Every minute is a treasure and every moment is an inheritance. God bless dads!

 

 

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The Full Armor of God – Ephesians 6:10-17

This is a portion of my sermon notes from a recent message at New Life. Many asked for the list of confessions and prayers I gave in the message.

To listen to the entire message or any in the series, go here.

Ephesians 6:10-17 NIV

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

 

 

This is not a laundry list of things to do, but truths to declare!!

 

Belt of Truth

 

I believe God will lead me into all truth with the ever-present help of the Holy Spirit.

 

Breastplate of Righteousness

 

I believe God is setting things right in the world because He’s setting things right in my heart.

 

Feet fitted with Peace

 

I believe God has given me peace and I want to tell others about this peace.

 

Shield of Faith

 

I believe that no weapon formed against me will prosper. (Isaiah 54)

 

“God never said the weapons would not form; He said they would not prosper.”

 

Helmet of Salvation

 

I believe I’ve been saved by grace and I’ll be kept by grace.

 

Sword of the Spirit

 

I believe praying the Scriptures is powerful because it’s the very breath of God.

 

2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is God-breathed …”

 

 

It is not about what we can do, but what Jesus has already done!! What we believe is always more powerful than what we do.

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A Peculiar People

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, 

a peculiar people … 

It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him who has called 

you out of darkness into his amazing light. 

1 PETER 2:9, 10

Christ followers today are in a quandary. We have allowed ourselves to be caught up in a me-too tailspin in which we devote our attention, our energies, our money, our very lives to fitting in with the world around us, even as we are left unfulfilled by the pursuit time and again. There in the tailspin, we fall prey to the beliefs that if we can just get that role at work, that leg up on the competition, that admission of wrongdoing from the person who harmed us, that coveted car or primo-neighborhood house, that “in” with a certain influencer, that thing—whatever it is—then (and only then) will our search be concluded. Then, we will be satisfied.

At last, we will be fulfilled.

In our quiet moments of solitude, rare though they are, we suspect there might just be another path to the deep-seated satisfaction we seek. But it’s only a suspicion … we’re not entirely sure the alternate path will pan out … and so we plow ahead, heads down, hearts racing, hair pretty much on fire, climbing and clawing, declaring and demanding, refinancing and remodeling, determined to get there—wherever “there” happens to be this time.

Soon enough, we’re exhausted … again.

Soon enough, we’re frustrated … again.

Soon enough, we’re contorting ourselves once again in a futile attempt to scratch the soulish itch that still we cannot reach.

WE’RE HARDLY THE first culture to wallow in this wearisome, demoralizing mess. Down through the ages, in every culture and era the world has ever known, our temptation in this life has been to see how much we can get, and also how much we can get away with. This two-pronged pull is what motivated the world’s most powerful governments to fight for more power still. It is what spurred on the slave trade—in ancient Egypt, in the Roman Empire, and in North America alike. It is what has been behind every war that’s ever been waged around the globe. It should come as no surprise that when the human heart is itchy, entire people groups live itchy too. Is there any relief to be found?

Long before this predicament presented itself, this issue of our chasing something that could never be caught, God had in mind a solution—a way that would lead us to long-sought satisfaction, a way that would get that annoying itch scratched. He would rally a people to himself and ask them to live “set-apart” lives. He would declare them beloved sons and daughters—whole, holy, handpicked. He would empower them with his Spirit, equipping them to live lives of impact and patience and grace. He would plant a craving for divine light in their hearts, which defeats darkness in all its forms. He would give them a mission to change the world with these traits and would accompany them each step of the way, along the path he himself said he’d make straight. A “peculiar people”—that’s what he’d call them.

Strange. 

Odd. 

Unusual. 

Belonging exclusively to Jesus Christ. 

Stand-outs. 

Revolutionaries. 

Deniers of self. 

By definition, ones who don’t fit in.

 

These are my shaping thoughts for a new book I’m planning to write soon. The working title is Peculiar, Embracing the Oddities of a Christ-Oriented Life. 

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. 

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