Month: March 2012

Paying Off Debt While Not Standing Still

A New Lifer recently asked why we were hiring staff and opening Dream Centers when we had so much debt to pay off at the church. It is a good question that deserves a candid response.

I explained to them that our church could not stand still and ignore the needs of our church family and the city in which we live while waiting to pay off the debt. In fact, that is the very dark nature of debt. It paralyzes it’s victims, disabling them from their primary purpose. I ‘m not going to let that happen at New Life. I do believe the mountain of debt will be removed from our church, but in the meantime, we can begin to fulfill at least part of the minstry call to our city and world. I am convinced God will reward us for taking faith steps now, instead of waiting on the sidelines until we are debt free.

It is a delicate balancing act for sure. We always want to be wise when expanding ministry, careful not to add to the burden of debt by over-expansion of staff or ministry properties. In our case, we have taken a low risk or debt free approach when opening the women’s medical clinic last July and with the recent pursuit of an apartment complex for homeless single moms. We are applying for some promising grants and have been blessed with some private donations so that we can not only pay cash for the projects but can operate them with excellence. Even the new downtown campus that opens Easter Sunday was acquired with a low risk, very affordable lease that made perfect sense to me and the elders.

At the same time, the challenge for all of us at New Life is to give above our tithes to the Move the Mountain campaign so that we can do more in our city in the years ahead. We are taking small steps today so that we can take giant leaps later.

As for the number of staff, we are basically at the same level we were three years ago. The recent hires were all replacements for staff that left for various reasons, which is normal attrition for a team our size.  I am very thankful God has sent us super capable reinforcements because the future growth of ministry is bigger than any of us can possibly imagine.

We will move the mountain of debt and we will pray for wisdom as we venture cautiously but courageously into the new places. This I know for sure – God wants us to do both, trusting Him to provide every step of the way.

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10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me 15 Years Ago

This is what I taught today to our New Life staff. It is a list of things I wish I had known when I started on this journey as pastor. This would have saved me a lot of pain, for sure. Read my list and then add some of your own.

1. Sheep bites can’t kill me, but the gnawing will make life miserable a few days each year.

2. No matter how hard I try, I will always be tempted to measure my success by attendance numbers.

3. The best thing I can do to build and grow God’s kingdom is to be myself and not compare myself to others.

4. It takes a long time to become old friends so nurture and cherish the old friendships God has given me.

5. I will only have as much spiritual authority as I am willing to submit to myself. Independence will destroy me but there is power in submission.

6. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Challenge people to go deeper even when the message is unpopular.

7. My brain will always feel like scrambled eggs on Sunday afternoon so don’t make any major decisions until Tuesday morning.

8. Some people will only trust you after a really long time of proving yourself and another group will never trust you no matter what you do.

9. Don’t feel guilty about taking a Sabbath. It was not a suggestion.

10. I will never regret spending time with my family instead of saying yes to a church meeting that someone else could lead.

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Putting in the Time

“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

God can instantly do many things for us, but most often the work of God involves waiting, patience, perseverance and a span of time. It’s a lot like physical conditioning. We all want a magic pill or some belt to wear while sleeping, when in fact, it actually takes time, perspiration and intentionality. There are no shortcuts or drive-thru lines with God or for our mid-life bellies. We have to put in the time.

Now that I am in my 40’s, I have paid a lot more attention to my health. I exercise six days a week, usually here at home. Most days, I do not feel motivated or excited about the elliptical experience or the weight machine, but out of discipline, I put in the time. I know that if I eat less fried food, and more green and orange stuff, I will feel better and live longer. Day by day, week by week, over the course of time, I will feel the benefits, but not always instantly.

As Americans, we tend to lean toward the instant, just-add-water methods of health. We want our fitness like we want our food – packaged and ready right now. In fact, most of us would probably starve to death if our driver side window ever broke. We worship microwaves, but God tends to lean toward marinades.

It is only in the last 50 years that Americans have lost touch with this idea. Our ancestors understood the process of food production and were less bothered when a restaurant actually cooked the food after it was ordered instead of retrieving it from a rack under a heat lamp. Waiting was not seen as a curse, instead, the chasm of time actually allowed people to relax and talk while others cooked and served. It was treat to get a reprieve from kitchen duty.

The crop Jesus mentioned in the above verse came only after someone had plowed the soil, planted seed,  waited patiently for the rain, diligently pulled the weeds and then was willing to wait patiently for germination. Waiting on the unseen takes faith and that is exactly why God does not always give us the answer in an instant. He wants us to put in the time and then trust Him when His work is seemingly invisible.

We must allow due time and space for worship, working, and unhurried conversations with those we love. The way to the harvest is most often in a waiting room and less often on a freeway. I cannot guarantee flat bellies for everyone, but I can guarantee that God is always faithful, especially to people who are willing to persevere.

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