Month: June 2009

The List

Last week, I asked 1500 pastors and leaders who attended our Ascent and Enter conferences to make a list of leaders from local churches or ministries who were at least 60 years old, still had passion for Jesus, loved their spouses and had raised children who also followed Jesus. Most of us had a short list.  Instead, many of us knew many leaders who had fallen away because of moral failures or complete burnout.

My heart breaks for my fellow leaders who have fallen and I am not pointing out their failures so they have to revisit their shame.  I believe in the power of the Gospel to restore and redeem all of broken humanity, including fallen leaders of churches. The church is still learning how to restore those who have fallen, and the fallen leaders are still learning how to submit to imperfect churches. For sure, both the fallen and the leaders who have not still have a lot to learn.

Why can’t we make the list before turning 60? I like this age because most people over 60 have become empty nesters and their entire body of work can begin to be evaluated. Do their kids still love the local church or have they become irreparable cynics because of what they have seen at home with their own parents or what they have witnessed behind the scenes of the local church?

At 60, any fissures in the leader’s marriage have already been exposed. Did the leaders have an affair with their work as ministers or did they choose to love their spouse the way Christ loves His bride?  Does the spouse still love the ministry or do they have deep resentment for what ministry stole from their marriage?

At 60, if a leader has neglected their private relationship with Christ, it is or soon will be evident to the public. Has the leader simply read the Bible to prepare for the next talk or is the leader still fascinated by the mysteries of Scripture and finds life from the Holy Spirit when it is read?

At 60, a leader either loves people more than ever or has found ways to completely blockade himself from any real relationships with those whom he is assigned to shepherd. The idea of meeting with people, performing a wedding for a young couple or speaking at the funeral of a dear, departed saint is either an ever growing passion or a necessary evil.

So, in 18 years, when I turn 60, I will write another blog to answer these questions for myself. I hope to make your list if someone asks you the question I asked last week. I am grateful I don’t have to do this with my own strength because I am certain I would miss the mark. I am thankful for Scripture, for the Holy Spirit, for my best friend, Pam, and for a circle of trusted friends who are cheering me toward the finish line.

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The Tribe of Church

The first members of the first church birthed by God and led by the apostles in Jerusalem understood the idea of living in a tribe. Most of the first followers were Jewish and members of one of the 12 tribes of Israel. They understood tribal customs and traditions, most knew the land boundaries that had been established by Joshua, and most of them understood the importance of protecting the sacred distinctions and language given to them.

Tribe was a part of their ethos and that is one of the main reasons the early church survived and even thrived under intense persecution. Relationships, customs and the bond of family only grew stronger once they became followers of Christ and began living life in the tribe of the local church. After intense debate, they were even willing to include the Gentiles into their tribe which helped spread the message of Jesus around the entire world.

We tend to think that family and tribe are the same, but they are not. Tribes are made up of families who choose to live together, honor the same customs, speak the same language, and protect the interests of one another. Tribes are ruled by councils made up of trusted representatives from numerous families.  Families are definitely the cells, but the tribe makes up the total body.

I realize we have to fix the family or we will never live in a tribe.  Parents are supposed to teach us about God and about living in unity with each other and with other families.  If all the families are fractured, there is no hope for a healthy tribe.  Marriages must be strengthened, a biblical worldview must guide us in our homes and we must teach our children that no one person is the center of the universe. Only then can tribes begin to emerge out of the local fellowships we call churches.

I love the tribe that is emerging at New Life.  We are breaking free from our independent, self-focused existence and starting to live in tribe. We have declared our absolute dependence on God and our need to live in authentic community.  Our tribe believes Scripture is a light for our path and a lamp for our feet and we believe if we pray and live free lives, we can change the world.

 

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Rated PG-13 Church

Church talks are too safe and too sterile many times. I think pastors and leaders should regularly talk about the awkward topics that are mentioned in the Bible like money and sex.  For the most part, church leaders have avoided these matters and consequently, the two issues that wreck most marriages and most families are sexual issues and financial issues.

I announced this weekend that I would be tackling both topics in the next several weeks as a part of my new sermon series on Proverbs and even cautioned parents that the talk at New Life on Sunday, June 28th would be rated PG-13.  The topic I will tackle on the 28th is one that many parents have yet to discuss with their young children, so I wanted them to know before they came that Sunday morning.

PG-13 does not mean that I will use crude language to communicate the Gospel or that I will use inappropriate illustrations or anecdotes during a Sunday talk. The rating is based on the subject matter. Scripture does not avoid the delicate topics of sexuality and money and neither should we as church leaders. The challenge is to discuss these issues in a public forum like Sunday morning without offending people with language or illustrations that could be viewed as salacious.

I will do my best to avoid the unnecessary clutter of carnality, but I am also determined to speak the truth of Scripture so that all of us can begin living free lives and enjoy all that God created for us, including blessed finances and healthy sexuality.

I don’t think every Sunday should be rated PG-13, but I am ready to talk about the issues we are all facing in our journey to live like Jesus in a world that looks less and less like Him. Money and sex will be discussed at New Life without apologies and with great grace for the listener.  Awkward moments can be learning moments if we have the courage and maturity to listen, discuss and change where needed.

 

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The Letter

I just read the sad news of another prominent pastor who had to resign because of a moral failure. The church website has the letter that was read to the congregation this past weekend. Those letters are becoming too common.

 

In November 2006, a similar letter was read at New Life and we are still feeling the pain today. I understand that leaders will always disappoint us to some degree and I certainly know I am not immune to the same temptations. I just pray I never have to write that letter.

 

There are three ideas that govern my heart and to date, have kept me from disqualifying myself as a husband, father and pastor. First, I love the God who redeemed me and I do not want to disappoint Him. The more I discover His grace for me, the less I want to sin.

 

Second, I love Pam and am grateful for the covenant relationship we have had for almost 20 years. She is a treasure to me and I cannot imagine having to tell her about my failure. It would be too painful to look in her eyes.

 

Third, I do not want another man to raise my children. One of the saddest songs I have ever heard is a Toby Keith tune called, “Who’s that Man Living my Life?” It tells of a man who parks his pickup across the street from his old house and watches another man play outside with his kids. The pain of watching Abram and Callie living with another man is enough to keep me from doing something stupid.

 

I hope we read fewer letters written by fallen pastors to disappointed churches. My prayer is that all of us live open and honest lives, submitted to real authority, so we can move the Kingdom forward and write fewer apologies.

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Get off this Beach!

In the movie, “Saving Private Ryan”, the German army has pinned down the Allied forces on the beaches of France and the soldiers are forced to hide behind anything that offers protection from the barrage of artillery fire. All around them, soldiers are being cut to pieces by machine gun fire and then the character played by Tom Hanks says something that is really profound. He tells them, “We cannot stay here. We must get off this beach! We are dead men if we stay here!”

At first that must have seemed odd to the soldiers who heard him. It is natural as humans to stay huddled in the safe place and not charge ahead in the face of uncertainty and danger. I think many of us are huddled on the beach right now, taking fire from our enemy who wishes to steal, kill and destroy us. God is giving us a clear command today – “Get off the beach! Take the land!”

I don’t see myself as a survivalist. I don’t spend much mental energy thinking about how to protect what I have. I like to see myself as the captain who is encouraging his troops to charge forward.  However, for the past several months as the economy has teetered on the verge of collapse, many of my conversations with friends have been about survival and not advancement. I am not sensing a great deal of fear in my friends and I have not discovered much fear in my own heart. What is missing is the raw faith to believe for God’s provision and blessing when everything around us is being shaken and in some cases, overtaken.

God needs us to reclaim the lost vision that has been taken from us. We need to start dreaming again and ask for the bold plans that will take us to the new ground. We cannot stay in neutral. We cannot stay hidden behind false shields on the beach! We must get off the beach and engage the enemy of our faith. We cannot make decisions out of fear. We must believe the truths of Scripture and put them to the test.

The soldiers in World War II did not stay on the beaches of Normandy. With great courage and tremendous sacrifice, they charged ahead and liberated France from the tyranny of the Nazi regime. As followers of Christ, we have all the weapons we need to rout the enemy and take the land. But first, we must get off this beach!

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