Category: Church Stories (page 2 of 3)

The Birth of a Sermon

Sundays come around with an alarming regularity. That is the truth. For most pastors, the most discouraging day of the week is Monday when they realize they must craft another sermon for the following weekend. Thankfully, for me, I have discovered a rhythm of study and preparation that takes a lot of the weight off me.

My study week begins on Monday when I read through the text for the following Sunday. My goal on Monday is to read the text as if it were my first time. I hope to read and hear these sacred and ancient stories with new eyes and hears and not with the senses of someone who already knows the details and ending of every story. I believe the Scriptures are continuously articulate and all of us can hear and understand if we are listening.

Tuesday morning, I meet with a small study team that helps me explore the differing theological viewpoints of the text. We challenge each other and talk about different commentaries written by scholars like NT Wright, John Stott, William Willimon, Lloyd Ogilvie, among others. This meeting launches me into my morning of study and prayer that wraps up around noon.

After more study and prayer on Wednesday, I try to have a rough outline ready for a late morning meeting with a sermon prep team that is made up of a diverse group including men, women, young and experienced. At the beginning of the meeting, we pray and then I try to give the big ideas of the message in 5-10 minutes. After I finish, there are three rules:

1. They can give me any feedback they want. I would rather hear that the sermon is off base on Wednesday than on Sunday afternoon.

2. I do not have to take any of their advice. I would, of course, be foolish not to listen and consider all of it, though.

3. If I do take their input, they get no public credit from the stage on Sunday. I tell them their reward will be in heaven.

A meeting like this requires that pastors get over a great deal of insecurities and really allow for honest conversations that will only help us communicate to a multi-generational audience more clearly.

Thursday mornings are set aside for more study and prayer, with the goal of having a mostly finished outline by noon that I can submit to our team. I love that I still have two days for the message to simmer like a good stew. Hopefully, when Sunday arrives, the message is a good meal.

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What I Learned from a Fire

The most destructive fire in the history of Colorado is still burning as I write this post. Thankfully, our valiant fire fighters have most of it contained and many homes that were once threatened with devastation are now safe.

Last week, I watched in awe as gale force winds drove the flames over a ridge, through a canyon and into several neighborhoods across the freeway from our church. Lives were lost, over 350 homes were consumed, and people’s live were spun into chaos. As we scrambled as a church to meet the needs in our city, I learned some important truths.

1. People had already made up their minds to serve

Before I made any appeals, the church community in our city had already mobilized on numerous fronts. People immediately opened their homes to evacuees, taking the pressure off the local shelters. Food banks recieved record donations, animals were transferred to safer pastures, and the fire fighters were inundated with supplies to make their monumental task more bearable. People were not waiting around for me, they were already in action as soon as the needs were known.

2. The big church can be a big family

One of the first things we did as a church staff was to contact people and families in the affected areas. To our surprise, almost all of them had found homes with family or friends, many of them New Lifers taking in other New Lifers. The big church had become a big, welcoming family. Later in the week, we received tractor-trailer loads of food and much needed supplies from Thomas Road Baptist Church and Gleaning for the World. They sent it to us because that is what church families do for one another.

3. Joy can come out of the ashes

This past Sunday, a CNN reporter asked me before the morning services what I expected the mood to be in the New Life gatherings that day. I told them there would many people mourning the loss of their homes and there would be widespread concern for the fire fighters safety. But, I told the reporter there would also be a lot of joy as we worshipped together. I was right. There were those mourning and all of us were concerned, but there was joy amidst it all because we have overcome so much in the past and we were convinced of God’s faithfulness in the days ahead. Joy can come from ashes, and it did.

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Pop Quiz – How Well do you Know New Life?

As a former high school teacher, I love to give pop quizzes. From time to time, I give one to our staff to test them on how much they know about the church where they work. The results are always very surprising and reminds us that we have to communicate clearly and constantly, especially since we are a part of a large and growing church family.

Take the quiz below and see how many you can answer without looking at your computer for help. And no peeking at your neighbor’s quiz, either. I am watching!


1.       What is the title song for the new Desperation Band album?

             Answer: Center of it All

2.       What are the Sunday morning service times at our Downtown campus?

Answer: 9am and 11am 

3.       How many years have we had the Desperation Conferences?

            Answer: 10 years

4.       Who leads our children’s worship choir?

           Answer: Amanda Ferrin

5.       In the recent Legends and Misfits sermon series, which one of these three WAS NOT discussed?

a.       Daniel – Answer

b.      Nehemiah

c.       Moses


6.       As part of our mission statement, what three words do we use to communicate our goals for each New Lifer?

            Answer: Worship, Connect, Serve

7.       Freely Give and Freely Receive is this weekend. What local inner city ministry are we partnering with for this ministry event?

Answer: Springs Rescue Mission 

8.       Pastor Brian Newberg’s daughter, Tami, just married a man from what country?

           Answer: Egypt

9.       We opened our first Dream Center last July. What is its ministry function? What happens there?

           Answer: It is a medical clinic for women

10.   Approximately, how much debt have we paid off to date through Move the Mountain?

Answer: $1.3 million


Name the three US cities where we have planted churches in the past four years?

Denver, Austin, Tx, and Fort Collins

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Everyone has a name that is personal and a story that is important. To remember their name and to hear their story shows respect and communicates value. At New Life, names and stories matter and that is why you will see a lot of Twitter and Facebook posts using the hashtag #TheirNamesAre

Social media is a great tool for celebrating the many people we meet each week through the ministries of our church. You are invited to join us, following a few simple guidelines. First, don’t publicly share any embarrassing or personal information that should be kept private. Second, it is a probably a good idea to ask them permission to post their story or info if you are unsure.

So, starting this weekend, introduce yourselves to some new people, ask their names and listen to their stories. These “chance” meetings might be the highlight of your worship this week and may open the door for new friendships and ministry.

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Great Guests with Good Manners

From time to time, I get the honor of speaking at other churches and frequently I have guest speakers at New Life. Over the years, I have seen a few guests with some terrible manners while most, thankfully, had great habits. These are my six rules for being a great guest with good manners.

1. Finish on time.

This is a big one, especially for those of us who have multiple services in a day. Ask the pastor when he wants the microphone back and make sure he gets it earlier than requested. It is good manners.

2. Dress for the culture

I always ask how the pastor dresses at his church and try to dress similarly. As long as it’s not an 8-button suit with a mustard colored shirt and purple tie, I can normally blend in pretty well.

3. Don’t purposely create any messes

It is certainly ok to bring strong and challenging messages as the guest speaker, but I will be gone on Monday and they have to live there and return all the emails and phone calls. I call them the “blow in, blow up and blow out” guest speakers. I am there to add to what God is doing, so I usually don’t tackle topics that are best taught by the pastor who lives among them.

4. Let others sell your stuff

Trust me, there is nothing more nauseating than someone pitching their stuff when they should be teaching the Scriptures. I actually had a guest once who demanded that he pitch his book because he said he sold more that way. He has never been invited back, which brings me to number five …

5. Don’t make any demands

Go to be a blessing and love and shepherd them the way their pastors do each week.  Where I stay, the amount of the honorarium or what brand of bottled water I prefer is inconsequential when compared to the people hearing the message. I do not have guests who make ridiculous demands. Period.

6. Learn from their team

One of the joys of getting to visit other churches is the inside access you get to their staff and volunteers. Ask them questions, spend some time and learn from them. In fact, most of my good ideas have been stolen over lunch after speaking somewhere. I feel better now that I have confessed.

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Awkward Conversation Starters

I talk to a lot of people as a pastor and it’s almost always a pleasure. However, I can usually tell when a conversation isn’t going to go so well when it begins with any of the following phrases.

1. “I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but …”

Interpretation: “I actually know that I’m going to be rude, but maybe it won’t be as painful if I smile the entire time.”

2. “I know you are really busy, but …”

Interpretation: “Nothing on your schedule is as important as what I’m about to say. Cancel whatever is next, because I am taking this slot.”

3. “This is going to sound weird, but …”

Interpretation: “I have rehearsed this over and over, but I still sound weird, even to myself. However, even my own weirdness will not prevent me from sharing this with you.”

4. “You probably already know this, but …”

Interpretation: “You think you know, but I really have more insight and you need to hear it from me to get the facts straight. This is gossip, but I am going to present it as a prayer request.”

And finally, one of my all-time favs:

5. “I forgive you even though you did not know you hurt me.”

Interpretation: You made me mad, I realized I was wrong, but I still want you to know you made me mad, even though you did nothing wrong. Do you feel better now?

Thanks for letting me have some fun. People are mostly great, even when they stumble with words. What are some of your favorite, but awkward, conversation starters?

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A Beautiful Transition

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

1 Corinthians 15:55

As a pastor, I have been at the bedside of many people who were dying, but last night I witnessed one of the most beautiful transitions from life to eternity that is possible. To respect the privacy of the family, I will not share names, but the wonderful lady who passed away was really special to me for many reasons.

Over four years ago, on my first Sunday as pastor at New Life, I met her at the front of the church. She was with her husband and she was sick with cancer. I prayed with her that day and on most Sundays thereafter. Every week, I could always count on her to be waiting for me after the 9am service, holding a tiny bottle of oil, and a heart full of faith for her healing.

There were seasons where she would rebound with full strength, ready to engage life once again. She was a grandmother and an artist who painted beautiful flowers on porcelain plates that now adorn her modest home. One year, despite the cancer, she helped paint the stage set for our Easter production. She also loved to sing, especially at church with her family and friends around her. Then, the cancer returned, this time attacking her lungs and throat, robbing her of the singing voice we all loved.

A week ago, I was at her home and she was writing personal notes in a huge stack of Valentine’s Day cards for a myriad of family and long time friends. She spoke of her kids and grandkids, her frail voice still strong with hope and encouragement.

At the hospital, on her final night with us, her children and husband gathered with a few of us friends around her bed and we sang “Amazing Grace”. Her breathing relaxed and within minutes a transcendent peace filled the room. Her family wept, but they were also very aware of their mother’s victory. She was no longer suffering and most assuredly, she was now singing the joyful songs of heaven. It was a beautiful transition for a dear saint of a woman, one that I will never forget.

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Guaranteed Predictions for 2012

I know this sounds a bit bold, but I can absolutely guarantee what will happen in 2012. Guaranteed. No doubt in my mind.

1. The Mayans will be proved wrong. No one knows when it will all end, especially the Mayans. There will be a 2013.

2. We will elect a president.

3. 50% of Americans will immediately not like the president elect.

4. New Life will pay off a load of debt and the poor in our city will be served better.

5. The Broncos and Cowboys will both watch the Super Bowl from their couches.

6. I will lose weight or wear out an elliptical trying.

7. I will read more books than any other year of my life, including my college years.

8. You will read my new book that releases in September. (Shameless plug)

9. I will not wear a suit and tie on a Sunday morning at New Life.

10. I will get an angry email from a Mayan.

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The Howdy that Saved a Life

Almost every Sunday, I encourage New Lifers to find someone they have never met and introduce themselves. It is probably the most important thing we do as a church family besides the Sacraments and the Scriptures. A few Sundays ago, a New Lifer turned around and met a man for the first time and probably saved his life.

This man had planned to take his own life by driving off a cliff later in the day, but decided to come to New Life beforehand to give God one more chance. When the New Lifer met him at the end of the gathering, he was obviously distraught. Instead of ignoring the man’s pain, the New Lifer prayed with him and introduced him to one of our pastors who took him to an office and met with him for about 90 minutes.

He was a totally different person after that time and assured us he was content to live now and would resume seeing his therapist, which he did, because we checked. All of this, because a New Lifer turned and said hello. Sometimes ministry to people is so simple – look at them, listen to them and care about their stories.

Several times in Paul’s letters to the churches, he encouraged them to greet one another with a holy kiss. The kissing part does not go over so well in Colorado, but the greeting part sure does. If church is an assembly of believers who belong to the same family, then sincere greetings should be a big part of the family gatherings every week. If not, we will become the cold “sit, listen and leave” church.

Not every handshake and introduction will save a life, but every close friend I have today started with one of us introducing ourselves and asking some questions. For some, this is super scary, for others it is not. No matter the nervousness, it is a powerful part of the local church becoming a close family and is proof to a distraught world that there is a place for them in God’s healing home.

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We Are Family

My family and I came from Texas to pastor New Life Church over four years ago, not knowing anyone in the congregation except the members of the search committee. Each Sunday, I would look into the faces of thousands of strangers, wanting desperately to be known and to know them and their stories. It was the loneliest time of my pastoral journey.

But then something happened this past summer. We became a family, after four years of intentional plowing. I realize it takes a long time to become old friends. It cannot be rushed, programmed or forced. It simply takes time. I have wondered in the past few months how does a church become a family assembly instead of a gathering of strangers? What is the ground that must be plowed in order for family roots to take hold and ultimately blossom in the local church?

1. Families know how to disagree

This does not sound warm and fuzzy does it? But it’s true. Healthy families have learned to honorably disagree and to defend the unity that is so critical for the long term strength of the home. I see people every week that have disagreed with me, but have decided to persevere and forge a friendship despite our differences. This is why I believe church families and marriages are so similar. No one can stay married if they always need to be right. Great marriages and great church families have learned to love while they are fussing and are quick to offer forgiveness and grace.

2. Families celebrate and mourn with one another

Healthy families embrace the rhythms of each other’s lives, rejoicing when the others are rejoicing and mourning when the others are sad. This past Sunday, I learned of a dear New Lifer who had just been placed in hospice because of cancer. Later, a despondent single mom asked me to pray with her for her prodigal son. Minutes later, a sweet grandmother told me her daughter, son-in-law, and all their children had just decided to follow Jesus. She had prayed for them for 13 years. I was sad, then I rejoiced. That is family.

3. Families make room for new arrivals

When babies are born, the family celebrates the new arrival. No one is sad because more room has to be made at the dinner table. The same is true with healthy church families. They are always ready to welcome the new arrivals at the table. I refuse to apologize that New Life is a large church. I know it can be overwhelming at times to walk into a big building full of strange faces. Believe me, I know. But I have also found that if I simply give it time, people will embrace me if I make room for the embrace.

4. Families serve one another

Healthy church families are keenly aware of the needs all around them. In the early church, it was said “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34). What a beautiful picture of family surrounding each other, embracing the broken, and giving generously so that everyone has an advocate and hope.

I am most grateful to belong to a family that can disagree and still love, celebrates and mourns with each other, makes room for the new arrivals and is quick to serve and bless. We are a growing family. Amen.

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