Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Spiritual Disciplines for success

Much of what is considered "success in life" is determined by the discipline an individual practices or develops over time. There are literally no "overnight wonders" when it comes to success. This is true in literally every aspect of life from education to exercise, good nutrition to drugs and alcohol, to our handling of money and keeping out of debt.

Spiritual disciplines are exactly the same. The Bible encourages us to exercise healthy spiritual disciplines in order for us to enjoy the life God has given to us and protect us from evil influences. (Romans 12:9-12)

Spiritual disciplines may be confused with spiritual legalism but they have completely different motivations and entirely different outcomes. Legalism can be defined as excessive spiritual and moral rules that are imposed by a religious system that impugn our religious liberty. On the other hand, spiritual disciplines are those practices that the individual chooses to follow in order to correct, mold or perfect his or her moral character.

These spiritual disciplines don't make us right with God; we don't get right with God by the good things we do but through faith in Jesus Christ. Spiritual disciplines however do make us more like Jesus as He regularly practiced them all as well.

There are at least seven spiritual disciplines that are found in the New Testament. All of these are activities that when practiced and perfected enable the believer to become more like Christ - - ultimately the single most important definition of success in life.

The spiritual disciplines include:

* Service (Voluntarily meeting the needs of people)

* Prayer & Fasting (Two similar activities that elevate our relationship with God)

* Chastity (Includes modesty and a proper respect fo God's plan for sexuality)

* Stewardship (An understanding that God is the the owner of all things)

* Study (Equipping ourselves with practical, useful and Godly training)

* Community (Cultivating a life that is shared with other believers)

* Simplicity (Voluntarily maintaining margin in our lifestyle)

If you are interested in becoming the person that God wants you to be, the journey starts with these spiritual disciplines. Your quest can start with some very simple questions, "What do I believe God is calling me to do that I'm presently unable to do?" and, "What are the disciplines that I need to develop in order to be used by God and grow in my faith?"

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Daniel Fast

"And when you fast, don't make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth that is the only reward they will ever get.ˇBut when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face.ˇThen no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.ˇ(Matthew 6:16-18)

One of the most important and yet one of the least understood, and least practiced disciplines is a spiritual fast. Notice that I am using the words, "spiritual fast" as there are many that practice a partial fast to detox or fast from selected foods for health benefits.

Jesus assumed we would fast. The Gospel of Mark records that Jesus was asked about his disciples and their apparent lack of spirituality compared to John the Baptist?s disciples or the Pharisees. He replied that there would be a time (when he was taken from them) that we would fast.ˇHe also gave the instruction in Matthew six above regarding the proper way to give, fast and pray ending with His giving us the Lord?s Prayer.

There are a great many reasons to fast. Personally, I think the best reason is to develop a spiritual discipline that places dedication to the things of God above the cares and comforts of the world.ˇAt the same time I?ve learned from experience that I?m not very good at a total fast of more than a day.

One of the interesting fasts that I?ve come to recommend is called the ?Daniel Fast?, so named for Daniels words during his time in exile with Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego: "In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled." (Daniel 10:2)

The Daniel Fast is primarily eating fruits and vegetables, legumes (primarily beans and peas) along with nuts.ˇPeople on the Daniel Fast typically fast for 21 days (Biblical example set by Daniel) and since there is no shortage of food, it?s relatively easy to fit in with the rest of society without anyone thinking that you are starving yourself.

During the fast, the objective would be to be especially attentive to the things of the Lord. Typically you can embrace an enhanced time of bible reading, prayer and even extended time of just being silent before God.

Join me; give it a try for 21 days starting the first of the year.ˇLet?s see what God may have to say to us.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Christmas Story

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is watching "The Christmas Story" with Ralphie being told by his mother that he's going to "shoot his eye out" and his brother Randy struggling to keep up with his bigger brother.

This time of the year, it's good to remember the true Christmas Story. It's more than a family tradition as it's the celebration of the birth of the most influential person in the history of the world.

The best way to understand the true Christmas story is to read it in the Bible. The first couple of chapters in the books of Matthew and Luke have the entire account: Mary and Joseph, no room in the inn, the shepherds, angels and magi. The account of Christ?s birth is presented simply and factually, giving only enough of the essential information for a basic two-fold purpose. John 20:31 gives us this two-fold purpose where it says, ?These have been written that (1) you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that (2) believing, you may have life in His name.?

Throughout the scriptures, God had made known through His prophets and messengers that a Messiah would come. All of the events of Jesus' birth took place exactly as recorded hundreds of years earlier. Over 700 years prior to the scene recorded in Matthew, the prophet Isaiah recorded, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" or "God with us" (Isaiah 7:14)

The prophet Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah and ministering to the people of Israel during the reigns of King Jotham (750-731 BC) King Ahaz (736-715 BC) and King Hezekiah (715-686) said that the Messiah would be born in the city of Bethlehem , again over 700 years before the actual recorded birth of Jesus.

The birth, death and resurrection of Jesus is perhaps the most widely reported and historical event of all time. At this time of the year it's good to be reminded that it's in believing this simple Christmas Story that we may have life in His name.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Intersections of Life

When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. (Isaiah 37:1)

Most historians are of the opinion that Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, was not like his evil father. He re-instituted many of the cultural aspects of the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

King Hezekiah’s spiritual life however was going to be challenged. Instead of a just being a kind but primarily secular king, He would quickly find the faith of his ancestors. The King of Assyria had sent armies to Judah and had defeated all of the fortified cities of Judah. A large army was camped now against Jerusalem and Hezekiah feared for his life as well as his people.

King Hezekiah’s response is understandable. When we are pressed and no longer can look to our own capabilities or even the help of our friends or armies, we turn to God.

Hezekiah knew about God so he knew to Whom to turn.

People often turn to God when they are at the end of their rope.

God answered Hezekiah's prayer and he answers our prayers when we find ourselves at these "Intersections of Life" as well.

I once heard that an "Intersection of Life" can be defined as "an intersection of my plans with God's will".

Sudden sickness, life-threatening circumstances, financial hardship etc., all qualify as "Intersections of Life". Just like King Hezekiah being confronted by an army, we turn to God as our provider and only possible help in a time of need. Fortunately, these intersections are often used by God to turn our hearts back to Him as well.

In good times as well as bad, God is our help and our provider. God encourages us to seek His help at these and at all times. In the Bible it says,

"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)"

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Nine Fruits of the Spirit

In Galatians 5:22&23 the Apostle Paul lists nine fruits of the spirit. These fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These fruits of the spirit are the virtues that are and should be produced in every Christ-follower.

These nine gifts are important not only to show evidence of a Christ-centered life but also are uniquely important internally, externally and in the church. These nine gifts may be looked at as three groups of three (3 X 3 = 9) and while all of the gifts are in sharp contrast to the behavior and attitudes of those that are self-centered and self-directed, they can also be seen appropriately as three different crops or groups:

Fruits 1-3 (Love, Joy & Peace): Internally Directed Fruits

These three fruits produce great benefits within the believer. Love is said to fulfill the law. Joy is needed when we experience difficult times and trials. Peace is the demonstration of the serenity of God and provides the tranquility and internal presence that allows us to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Fruits 4-6 (Patience, Kindness & Goodness): Externally Directed Fruits

These three fruits provide great benefit in dealing with others. Patience is that value that embraces time and allows it to be used wisely in dealing and being tolerant of others. Kindness is putting on God’s love and offering His grace and mercy to others. Goodness is the ethical quality of moral excellence that keeps the believer from reproach and provides a Christ-like reputation in the community.

Fruits 7-9 (Faithfulness, Gentleness & Self-control): Church Directed Fruits

These last three gifts, while so valuable in the life of the believer, are particularly the fruits that need to be cultivated for the benefit of the local church. Faithfulness is a virtue that is necessary in the careful stewardship of God’s resources. Local churches rise or fall based on the stewardship of resources that have been made provided for ministry. Gentleness is the wonderful combination of strength and meekness; and church leaders need gentleness to allow correction to be received and applied. Self-control may be the last but possibly the most important. While extremely beneficial for the individual, self-control checks and brings under control those particular behaviors that often divide, and ultimately lead to the sin of arrogance and divisiveness that will destroy the work of God in the local church.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Identified with Christ

I just had the glorious opportunity to witness the baptism of eleven students. One of the things that we always try to do is to meet with them individually and ask them a very simple question, "why do you want to be baptized".

The thing that is cool with this question is there is no "right" answer. There are actually many possible right answers. Some students answered that they are being baptized, "out of obedience, because Christ said to believe and be baptized". Others mentioned that they wanted to identify with Jesus through baptism, or they wanted to be a witness to their family and friends. I like it when they say that they want to remember this moment as the big turning point in their life.

All great answers.

One of the things I admire the most about these students is their willingness to be identified with Christ despite the immediate identification with other Christians.

It's likely natural that if one thinks of Christ, they think of His followers. Christians are not always the best examples of Christ-likeness. It would be so more appropriate to be identified with Christ. Gandhi is reported to have said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

The Bible says that when we are baptized, we identify ourselves with Christ both in His death and in His resurrection.

Congrats students!

Monday, November 02, 2009

“Called-Out” of the church building

reprint from The Tennessean 10-31-09 , by Ken Behr

Since we often see many churches in every community and on nearly every corner it would be easy to assume that many, if not most, of the people we meet are Christians.

Recently, I was recalling how when I had the opportunity to travel in Europe, I enjoyed visiting the old Gothic churches that are common there. I loved the architecture with the stained-glass windows, the beautiful and graceful arches and the carefully fitted stones. I could imagine what it would have been like in times past to hear the church bells and witness literally all of the villagers come and fill up these old cathedrals to worship God.

Sadly, today these old churches and cathedrals in Europe are mostly empty. They have become tourist attractions, and the tiny congregations can no longer afford the upkeep and the churches have become wards of the state.

Here in the United States, church attendance has also been declining as a percentage of the population while at the same time many new and larger churches have been built and are thriving. I believe one of the main reasons for the decline is that people think of the church as a building. It is not. Buildings are primarily stone, wood, iron and plaster. The Church is and will always be the people.

The word translated "church" in the New Testament Greek is the Greek word "ekklesia," which is a combination of two Greek words: "ek," which means "out," and "kaleo," which is the Greek word for a "call" or a "calling." Therefore the church as defined by the New Testament is actually about those that are "called out."

If we are "called out," what are we called out to do?

Perhaps an example is in order. Recently, we received a phone call from a woman who was desperate as she was being evicted from her home and had found a new place to live but needed somebody to help her move. She didn't need to come to "church," she didn't need instruction on finances, she needed four guys who could help her move. We met that need and enjoyed being "called out."

It's easy to fall into a comfortable routine of weekly services, meetings and gatherings for adults, the youth and children. At the same time, being called out means that we need to become a catalyst for change in the hearts of the people. Once we embrace the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have a calling and a mission that extends way beyond our local church building. It is in the local and extended community that we have the opportunity to minister to people both spiritually and physically. We are to live a life of compassion for all people and provide the opportunity for reconciliation.

The primary example for a life of compassion, forgiveness and redemption was none other than Christ himself. Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, who despite the enmity that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles, crossed that ethnic and religious divide with compassion to help someone who was left half dead.

When we understand that we are called out, petty differences in the way we worship or the type of music that is played in our congregations and denominations should largely fade away and we become partners in this ministry of reconciliation and transformation.

As called-out ones, we are to have the compassion to offer forgiveness to the sinner, embrace those who society has cast out and offer hope to those who have been abused. Those who are called out don't judge as much as they offer a ministry of reconciliation. Our lives are to be transformed so that we no longer seek to benefit ourselves as to benefit our neighbor. The transformation is to take us from being selfish to being selfless.

When we are truly transformed by the power of the Gospel, we are called out of the buildings that we call churches. It is in our local and extended community that we find our calling.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Looking for Patterns

There are people that make their living just looking at patterns. On Wall Street, technical analysts discover and then exploit patterns in stock and bond prices. They discover correlations between the timing in the corrections in the marketplace and security prices that become resistant at certain strike points.

What is interesting about these patterns is that often they are unexplainable....they just "are". However, ignoring these patterns produces results that are contrary to the results that were intended, but which are totally inline with the patterns that have been established.

Patterns are found all through society. We sometimes think of these patterns as 'trends' but they are likely more predictable and have more social impact. For example (and to the point) in the last twenty to thirty years what we thought were trends were fully developed patterns that affected most of our lives. Families have become much less traditional with fewer people deciding on marriage, more marriages ending in divorce, fewer children raised in two-parent homes, and traditional parenting roles being transfered from mother and father to other care givers and impersonal institutions.

As a person that belongs to a traditional church you may have accommodated some of these societal changes but you are likely still holding on to very traditional methods to minister to these individuals and families. Assuming that children have traditional homes with two parents and that the mom is the stay-at-home caregiver not only alienates all of those children and parents that don't fit the pattern, but also decreases the effectiveness and the ministry of the local church.

People that attend church today and in times past do so to a great extent because they have needs that they find the local church able to meet. This was true in the 60's and 70's where most churches were centered on the family and provided safe environments for children and teens.

Today, our churches need to be just-as-relevant and continue to meet the needs of the redefined family as well as the non-traditional parents and caregivers. We have updated our technology since the 60's and 70's and it's time to update our ministries.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pastors grow congregations via satellite broadcast of worship

By Bob Smienta; reprint from The Tennessean 10/22/2009

It's just before 11:30 on a Sunday morning, and at a nondescript strip mall on Main Street in Hendersonville it's about time for church.

In the parking lot, volunteers welcome latecomers with cups of free coffee. Inside a converted office suite turned worship space, a countdown clock on a video screen reaches zero, and the band breaks into song.

Within seconds, the Rev. Craig Groeshel appears on a video screen, beaming his satellite message to the crowd, because he is almost 500 miles away in Oklahoma.

Welcome to"> — one of the biggest churches in America.

Nearly 27,000 people attend's 13 locations, known as campuses, scattered from Arizona to New York. Headquartered in Edmond, Okla., is the second-largest Protestant church in the United States, according to Outreach magazine. It's also one of 2,000 multisite congregations that use satellite technology to unite worshippers meeting in different locations.

Church leaders say multisite congregations are the wave of the future. But critics fear this approach turns churches into mega-chain worship centers void of the personal relationships that church members build with one another and their pastors.

Multisite campuses like the one in Hendersonville function a bit like chain store retail locations. The central office provides all the content, from Groeshel's sermons to the Sunday school materials, which are shipped in every month.

The central office also handles all the money. All the donations go to the church's main offices in Oklahoma, where all the bills are paid. The main office hires all the staff and makes decisions about how the church is managed.

That bothers Thomas White, who teaches theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, not far from another campus. He believes local congregations should govern themselves.

"You forfeit local church autonomy and you forfeit your congregational polity with all of the decisions and money going to the main congregation," he said. "And the different congregations never meet together so you don't know each other. You can't pray for each other or lift up each other's burdens."

White also wonders about the wisdom of having one preacher speak to many locations, rather than having a preacher for each church. At most multisite churches, the same preacher speaks at every campus, either by satellite and video recording or by traveling from site to site.

Each site has a group of campus pastors who lead Bible studies, mentor and pray for church members, organize community service projects, conduct weddings, baptisms, and funerals — all the normal pastoral tasks but preaching.

Church plugs in

The Hendersonville campus began as a small congregation known as Church Unplugged. Kacie Frazier and her husband, Brandon, now one of the Hendersonville campus pastors, were two of the founding members. The church struggled with 50 members.

After merging with in 2006, the congregation grew to 430, with hopes of growing when they move into a new place at the former Indian Lakes Cinemas building next year.

Frazier said the campus still has the feel of a small church, with the bonus of Groeshel, a megachurch preacher, and the resources of a larger congregation. It also has a "come as you are'' approach to church. "I like that my tattoos can show, and nobody will look at me and say, 'She must not know the Lord,' " Frazier said.

Scott Thumma, a professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary, says that multisite churches can succeed because they draw on both the strengths of small churches, where everyone knows one another, and the quality programming of megachurches. "These folks feel like they are involved in a small, intimate congregation when in fact they are part of congregation of thousands," he said.

Pastor Ken Behr, who leads the Hendersonville campus doesn't mind not having to preach each week. Behr is a former Ford Motor Company executive who also served as the head of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. He came to because he wanted to serve in a small congregation.

Not preaching, he says, frees him up to build relationships with church members and to recruit new volunteers. It takes about 100 volunteers each week to run the Hendersonville campus.

"Typically, a pastor delivering a message has to put in about 20 hours of preparation, to do it right," he said. "I can spend that 20 hours meeting one on one with people or leading a group — it's a much better use of my time.''

Campus pastors like Behr are one of the reasons multisite churches like work, Thumma said. Because they're not worried about sermons or about big picture planning, campus pastors also are able to focus on welcoming and getting to know newcomers. That's important, because Groeshel ends every sermon with an invitation for people to accept Jesus.

When that happens, the campus pastor works to integrate the new believers into the life of the church, often by mentoring them or helping them join a small Bible study known as a Life group.

A steady stream of newcomers has fueled growth of Lifechurch, which began with a handful of people meeting in a rented dance studio in Oklahoma back in 1996.

"We are reaching a lot of people who don't know Christ," Groeschel said. "When this happens, those new Christians still have many friends who aren't followers of Christ. The new people are often highly motivated to share what they've experienced with their friends."

Churches save money

For a large church, having multiple sites makes economic sense. Once a church gets to several thousand members, there's pressure to build larger and larger worship spaces, with costs running in the millions.

That has led some other churches, like Crosspoint Church in Nashville, to move to a multisite model. Crosspoint, which draws about 3,000 people on weekends, has campuses in Nashville, Dickson and Gallatin, and plans to start a new campus in Bellevue.

"For us, the multisite model means we are able to be really good stewards," said the Rev. Pete Wilson, pastor of Crosspoint. "We reach a lot of people, while spending less money. The days of the sprawling 100-acre campus, with 10,000 people on it at a time are over."

Back in Hendersonville, the multisite approach has won at least one new fan. Rick Shown and his wife weren't sure they would like the church, and they only visited because their daughter invited them. Shown liked the sermon, which stressed that people — not a building — are what matters in a church.

"We were skeptical about the video at first, but it works," he said. "I'd be willing to come back”

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Most churches make the claim that "Everyone is welcome". However, many of the churches that I've visited make it pretty clear that everyone, doesn't necessarily include everyone.

James, the apostle, and half-brother of Jesus gave the church this instruction, "My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality" (James 2:1). In other translations, the same verse is translated, "don't be a respecter of persons", or don't be a "snob" (Amplified Version).

It's difficult to say that everyone is welcome in the church when we are disrespectful of those that don't look like us, talk like us, have similar education, or may have difficult economic circumstances.

Jesus however demonstrated his love for these people. Jesus went out of his way to be with and embrace the sick, the lame, the blind, the beggar, sinner, prostitute and outcast. If Jesus loves these people, I need to love these people too.

The instruction we are given in the second chapter of James is clear that we are not to treat people that have money, or power, or influence better than others. We are not to show the poor the door, or intentionally exclude them from events. I think the instruction also applies to those that are socially awkward, terribly shy and unlovely.

We have developed code words for these people in the church. Words that are acronyms like "EGR" for Extra Grace Required. While the sentiment sounds polite and even grace-filled, often the actual result is that these people are too often rejected, avoided and shunned.

God has always had a heart for those that are mistreated. Perhaps we need to discover the same heart.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Church as Charity

One of the things that we want to encourage in the church is the idea of compassion or charity. Charity is the old French word “charité," which was derived from the Latin word for precious affection and loving-kindness. Hence the translation in the New Testament of the Greek word "Agape" for love.

Where Christian charity abounds, the Lord abounds. However, at the same time, the local church can quickly become distracted from the primary mission of reaching the lost, preaching the gospel and making disciples.

It’s not unusual and actually welcomed when the local church is approached because of a charitable need. Churches typically establish benevolence and “good Samaritan” funds for these particular needs and love to encourage individuals within the church (also known as the “body of Christ”) to identify these needs and meet them either themselves, within their family or within their small group. When a need is identified and that need is met, ministry happens.

The local church however, is not a charity to the extent that a longer-term need for housing, clothing, education, counseling, employment can be successful provided. While some community minded churches do a pretty good job at meeting some of these needs and organizing ministries that are equipped to handle these community requests, special purpose ministries and nonprofits are best equipped and more single minded in this regard. The body of Christ or the Church with a capital “c” extends these charitable ministries through specific ministries and nonprofits as the Lord provides.

Staying focused on the primary ministry focus of the local church: preaching, teaching, reaching the lost, creating disciples, creates churches that are beacons to the lost and serve their communities best.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Generous Church

It’s interesting that often one of the definitions of church success is measured in the size of its buildings or the number of people that attend. If that is true, then this definition of church success is based on how generous people have been to that particular church.

Let that thought sit in your frontal lobe for a minute. If the church has lots of money then isn’t it the generosity of the people that have created the magnificent buildings, gleaming auditoriums and lush park-like settings of many of our churches?

So what does a “Generous Church” look like?

It may be hard to define but I have some ideas of what it is not. Most likely, generous churches don’t see themselves as an oasis in the midst of a hostile and threatening environment. They don’t have a fortress mentality nor create a “Christian” version of every athletic, educational and social program that the world offers. Generous churches don’t consume 95% of all their funds on salaries, benefits, church buildings and programs.

When I was with the ECFA, I visited a large church that was proud that they gave 10% of all of their funds to foreign missions. The only problem was that if you included the debt that the church was also stacking up, they were actually spending more than 120% of all of their income on themselves.

I think that likely a generous church would be people that understand that they are to be salt and light in that hostile and threatening environment. True generosity happens in the church when we understand that the resources we have all been given, including our time and our financial resources, don’t really belong to us; they are to be available when a need is identified and when individually, or corporately, we have the ability to meet that need.

A generous church is staffed by people that don't run ministries but develop people. Their objective is not only to give them a spiritual makeover but to find the very heart of God in everyday compassion for others.

The Real Virus Is Fear

There is a virus that is attacking and ravaging this country but it is not Covid-19.   It is fear.  This fear is being spread by people ...