Jesus’ Moves The Focus from Internal to Global



Churches naturally have a members-only attitude. The systems and ministries we plan and design are meant for the members. I am not saying that is a bad thing, but it is something to think about when we wonder why outsiders are not flocking to our events.

This reality is only one challenge the church faces. We also have our insider code language and Christianese. Often this language, created over time is specific to each congregation. For example, during church when the pastor sends off the little ones tothe‘Martha Schmidt Room.’ Or invite men to come to join ‘The Sons of David’ group which meets on Wednesday mornings at our usual location. We only add another layer of exclusion. It sends a subtle message this is not for you. At the beginning of Mark chapter seven, this exclusiveness has gone so far Jewish leaders have devised a new man-made law to ceremonially wash the filth of the outsider Gentiles from them to not be corrupted by having contact with outsiders. Jesus refused to honor that law and came into direct conflict with the religious leadership.

Jesus’ response to the Jewish leaders was twofold: the leaders invalidated God’s laws in order to keep their human traditions; and sin is a matter of the heart, not the diet.

So, Jesus explains what does make us unclean.

And he (Jesus) said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”  Mark 7

Jesus would explain the religious leader’s hypocrisy through the practice of “Corban.”  Corban was an Aramaic term for his Gentile hearers.  It was a special offering to God which could remain in place during the giver’s lifetime but could not be used for any other purpose, like caring for their needy elderly parents.  This would be like an irrevocable living trust.

All of this is important because it leads us to Jesus and the two interactions in today’s text. Both Gentiles, both outsiders, both excluded from the minds of His Jewish readers.


Mark’s accounts of the events in Jesus’ ministry is telling. He shows the irony of the religious traditions and how even though well-intentioned, lead believers far from the heart and mind of God. In the miracle performed in the life of the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus tries to right the ship. The healing comes immediately after Jesus overturns the beliefs of what makes us clean and unclean. Much like the titanic shift God makes in the heart of Peter in Acts chapter 10:15-16 through a dream.

The voice spoke a second time, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” This happened three times, then the object was suddenly pulled back into heaven.

There is clearly a veiled parallel between the way the scribes and Pharisees approach Jesus, arrogantly (7:1–23) and the way this woman comes, with unwavering faith (7:25–26).

As Anderson’s commentary notes, the evangelist has set forth Jesus’ emphatic declaration that “the old way of the law is passé.” The story of the Syrophoenician woman “suggests that only on the basis of new insights from outside the pale of Judaism does faith arise.”

Why did Jesus Call her a Mutt?

In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

“Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

Why Is She an Outsider?

A woman in the text is alone without a husband. From that, we can glean that she is a widow or has never married. However, she has a little daughter with “an unclean spirit.” The woman was a “Gentile.” Which is someone of any nationality who was not Jewish? She encounters our Lord with three strikes against her. 1) she is a woman in a male dominant society and a single mother to boot. 2) She attends the wrong church is the wrong religion. And 3) she is the wrong race since “Syrophoenician” was an unsavory racial term. In addition to all those problems now she is bringing to Jesus a demon-possessed girl.

With all those factors working against her, Jesus points out what the crowd is thinking. How dare this outsider, this dog of society come and ask anything of this Rabbi?

Jesus’ response to the Syrophoenician woman has an un-Jesus like harshness that leaves us uncomfortable. You expect a compassionate savior, not a rude one. Jews used “dogs” as a derogatory term for Gentiles whom they regarded as unclean as “muts” searching streets for garbage. It is not the cute little puppy that holds the honor of a family member in many households.  No, this “mut” does not share the family status of a valued child.

The Inclusive Savior

Jesus proves to those watching and listening He is a Savior for the world. Jesus stands in the gap of cultural norms, of religious exclusivity, tradition, and bridges the gap caused by sin.  He is there to help us all no matter our station or position in this world. He is not surprised or intimidated by your situation. In fact, Jesus voluntarily put himself in what seemed to all a hopeless situation when he went to the cross. His victory over death made certain that there is hope for the world and that there is hope for you.

Understanding How to Support The Important Men in Your Life

TD Jakes makes some good points about encouraging the men in your life.  To balance out that video here is a biblical reminder of the leadership role men play in the family.

Loving Leadership

Like Christ, Ephesians 5: 22-29

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 5:22–29). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

  1.  Paul describes more than simple authority, he defines the nature and scoop of said authority.
  • Like a physical head; supervises nourishment, care of the body.
  • Doesn’t run off on own. Constantly concerned, aware.
  • Dedicated to providing for your wife’s benefit, the model is Christ love for the church. You put your wife’s well-being and her safety above your own.  This is the testosterone gene kicking into full gear.
  1. Wives cannot submit to someone who she does not trust and believe he has their best interest at heart.  And the word submission means to yield ones will.  It does not put the wife on a lower level than her husband.  They are still one flesh, they are a ministry team. Understanding this makes submission easier, though never easy. Cf. Isa.40:10-11.
  2. Should generate love in return, Rom.2:4, I Jn.4:19.
  3. Misunderstandings:
  4. Such love guarantees a wife’s love and submission. Cf. Christ.
  5. Husband’s authority contingent on his Christ-likeness, I Pet.2:23 3:1.
  6. Excludes commands, I Cor.14:37 (Some afraid to exercise authority).



Jesus Models How To Pray For Other People


Prayer is such a difficult spiritual discipline.  We often find ourselves with our heart in the right place but the words to say come with lots of difficulties.  I found this illustration funny.

A mother listening to the evening prayers of her sleepy little daughter is astonished and amazed to hear the following:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

And when he hollers let him go,

Eenie, Meenie, miny, mo.”

—Balance Sheet[1]

As we continue to go deeper into this series on prayer, it seems only fitting to take a look at one of Jesus’ most famous prayers.  This prayer in John is referred to by many as Jesus’ High Priestly prayer found in John 17.  Over the next two weeks, this will be our focus.

This prayer was for special people. “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me because they belong to you”(v. 9).  In reading this beautiful prayer through, one big question comes to minds; Who are the people described as “them,” or as “they?” Who are these favored individuals?  Those who share a Savior’s prayers and are recognized by a Savior’s love?  Who have their names written on the stones of his precious breastplate? Who have their characters and their circumstances mentioned by the lips of the High Priest before the throne on high? The answer to that question is in the words of our text.

The people for whom Christ prays are an “unearthly people.” They are a people somewhat above the world.  “They are not of the world.”  Just like our Savior, not of the world.  They were a people set apart for a holy purpose which we will get into more next week so stay tuned.

A Prayer for Security – (v. 11-13)

Now I am departing the world; I am leaving them behind and coming to you. Holy Father, keep them and care for them – all those you have given me – so that they will be united just as we are. During my time here, I have kept them safe. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold. “And now I am coming to you. I have told them many things while I was with them so they would be filled with my joy.

This section is unique because it is the only place in the Gospel of John where we find Jesus using the term “Holy Father.”   One Bible scholar, Darby, suggests that Jesus uses this term because he wants God to watch over us like a Father would.

I love that image of an Almighty God with all his power and might watching over each of us with the affection of a loving Father.  That should give us a great sense of peace and calm.  When all else around us is uncertain and at times scary, we have a Father protecting us, with a never sleeping watchful eye.

For those asking the question, “But some Christians under attack and have not some died? Where was the Almighty God when those atrocities happened?”

The prayer is not that God would stop evil from ever happening to Christians, it is to protect them giving into the darkness around them.  Jesus expresses this in his request, “Holy Father, guard them.”  Christians are in direct contrasts with the world which is unholy.  The request for God to protect or guard is in harmony with God’s will. We see that God defends the disciples against all unholiness while they are still in the world. God is holy in that he is absolutely separated from and actively opposed to all sin. God seeks, by his grace, to save men from sin, to separate us from the world and keeps us set apart for himself, separate and holy. Jesus prays to the Father, “…guard them in your name, which you have given me.”

There are two different forms of the word “keep” used in verse 12.  One meaning more “I preserve” the other meaning more “I guarded”.  Jesus is only reminding the Father:

“While I was in the world, I guarded them as a means to their preservation.  Now I am no more in the world, and I come to you, Father to preserve them in your name.”

You almost see this from a parent’s perspective.  You raised your children, kept them safe.  Now they are about to go off to college leaving the safety of your house.   You guarded them while they were with you.  Now you are asking God the Father to protect them because you can’t do it anymore.  That is the essence of what this prayer is capturing.  “Lord, watch over the ones you have placed in my care. I can no longer protect them.”   We see in this prayer the loving heart and concern of our Savior, Jesus Christ. What an abundant blessing our prayers lives could be if we prayed for others with the compassion of Jesus.


[1] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 1044). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

Other blogs in this series on Prayer:


Three Steps to​ Become a Leader Your People Love to Follow

lightstock_401639_medium_byrene_haney I learned early on as a leader that being popular cannot be my end goal. The nature of leadership means you must make the tough call, the courageous hire, the unpopular firing, and the willingness to stand alone. If my goal at the end of the race is to just be loved I won’t have the boldness to do what is right for my flock or my organization, my ministry, even my family. During the leadership summit, Craig Groeschel asked an insightful question, “How do you become a leader that people love to follow?” This post is the fruit of that presentation.

So how do we become leaders that people love to follow?

There was a Forbes article. In that article Employers and employees were asked the same question, “What do employees need from a boss to become better?” Surprisingly, there is a big disconnect between what bosses’ think is important and what their employees expect and need.

The bosses were focused on 2 things.

  1. Better at finances
  2. Better at technology


Employees said 2 things…

  1. Leadership: Where are you taking me?
  2. Emotional Intelligence: How are you treating me?

Craig Groeschel said, “As a leader, there is a big difference between being respected and being popular. You may be popular if you are respected, but you will never be respected if you are only popular.”

If you have a desire to be the kind of leader your people love to follow you must create a culture that allows your people to flourish.

Three Things You Feel Under a Good Leader

  1. You feel valued

Often the issue with creating value in people is seeing them as God created them. We miss the true gems working alongside us. Here is a great illustration.

A story is told of a man who loved old books. He met an acquaintance who had just thrown away a Bible that had been stored in the attic of his ancestral home for generations. “I couldn’t read it,” the friend explained. “Somebody named Guten-something had printed it.” “Not Gutenberg!” the book lover exclaimed in horror. “That Bible was one of the first books ever printed. Why a copy just sold for over two million dollars!” His friend was unimpressed. “Mine wouldn’t have brought a dollar. Some fellow named Martin Luther had scribbled all over it in German.” – Our Daily Bread, June 7, 1994.

Craig Groeschel shared one way he shows value to his staff, Gold Star Friday. Every Friday, Craig gives members of his team little “gold stars” to let them know they are appreciated.

  • Appreciate people more than you should and then double it.
  • Some leaders will make you think that they are really important, but the best leaders will make you know that you are important.

Are you the kind of leader who undervalues your team? Are you missing the rare talent right under your nose?

  1. You feel inspired

There is a big difference between inspiration and motivation. While motivation is pushing people to do something they don’t want to do. When you inspire your team, you are drawing out of them what God has already placed there. Workers who describe themselves as inspired are twice as productive.

Key learnings from Craig, “Humility inspires. Pride discourages. Follow-through inspires. Be a leader who consistently does what you say you will do. Centered Leaders: The presence of a centered leader inspires. A centered leader is secure, stable, confident, guided by values, driven by purpose and obsessed with vision. Passion transforms a job into a calling. When passion meets inspirations, an obsession is born.”

  1. You feel empowered.

Empowering leaders know how to unleash the best in their team. You bring out the best in your teams and get higher performance through empowerment, not command and control. “You can have control, or you can have growth. But you cannot have both.” Leaders need to learn to delegate authority, not just give people more tasks. Allow your people ownership of the ministries they are tasked to oversee and sit back and watch your people soar. Give them freedom, allow them to fail. We celebrated failure in my congregation. Through failure, we grew and developed trust, and had no fear of innovation.

Best quote on this by Craig Groeschel, “If you don’t trust your team, you’re either too controlling or you have the wrong people, either way, the problem is yours to solve.”

Developing an Environment Where Your Team Trusts You


This leadership lesson is a part of an ongoing set of blog posts, “Lessons I have learned from The Global Leadership Summit.”

“If you do not have trusting teams, you have a group of people showing up to work lying, hiding, and faking.” Simon Sinek

In Simon’s talk, he used the example of an employee who loved his job. He asked him why he loves his job because his supervisor would come by and ask how he was doing. At the same worker’s other job his boss would also check in but to make sure the job was being done right and if it was not done right he would be sternly corrected. The second supervisor did not create a safe, trusting working environment. He sent a message to employees screw up and you are gone. In that setting employees work to keep their jobs, they lie, hide and fake customer satisfaction.

Do You have a Team or Scared Employees?

If you want to move your organization forward and have an environment where innovation is encouraged, workers are engaged, and people love coming to work, you must develop trust. This trusting culture is important in the church. Imagine what your church will look like if you create a setting in which the Holy Spirit can flourish and the saints work toward true consensus, where ideas are freely exchanged, new ways of doing ministry are explored and the leader/pastor does not just acquiescence but is the leader you are excited to work alongside. A culture where there is a sense ‘this is our ministry’, not that I am working for the pastor.

One of the greatest coaches in my lifetime was Bear Bryant. He was an innovator. This is his philosophy about teamwork.

“I’m just a plow hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm down others, until finally, they’ve got one heartbeat together, a team. There are just three things I’d always say: If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.”

A simple formula to develop a trusting culture is by making your organization a safe place to fail. If you really want to put innovation on steroids then celebrate failure. At the summit I heard this quote, “You will learn more through failure, than through success, if you acknowledge the failure and learn from it.”


Other posts on Leadership.



When You Struggle to Find the Right Words: Pray The Bible


When I take the time to marvel at the power of God in my life, I am in awe.  God speaks to me through music.  In the intimacy of my headphones and a great song or hymn, God pours love and mercy into my heart.  So I thought about sharing with you a spiritual discipline; praying the Scriptures.

Through the lyrics of the song, “Word of God Speak” by MercyMe, God spoke to my heart about prayer through the power of music.


I’m finding myself at a loss for words

And the funny thing is it’s okay

The last thing I need is to be heard

But to hear what You would say

Word of God speak

Would you pour down like rain

Washing my eyes to see

Your majesty

To be still and know

That you’re in this place

Please let me stay and rest

In your holiness

Word of God speak

Praying God’s Word

Why would we want to pray God’s word? I think the songwriter hits the nail on the head.  There are just those moments in life where we just can’t find the phrase.  It is possible in those moments that we are hurting.  We can be so beaten down by the world that there is nothing in our heart to bring before God.  There are no words, only pain.  In those moments we know we need his strength, his healing, but we are emotionally and spiritually empty.  We need God to speak to us.  We need to hear a word of hope.  Our soul needs to be reminded of his majesty.  That broken spirit needs just to be still and know that he is almighty and sitting on the throne.  In those moments why not read the words of the author of creation?

Your prayers are never stronger than when you are praying the Scriptures. The writer of Hebrews in chapter 4, verse 12 says, “God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions.”  God’s words are powerful.  Whether we are reading them or using them as our basis for prayer, why not tap into the powerful promises of God?

To comfort you, know this dear one, not only does God hear our prayers. He vows to answer them when those prayers are in line with His will.

Benefits of Praying the Scriptures

Praying the Scriptures will increase your spiritual development. As you pray God’s word, you begin to see and hear how God acted and answered other followers.  As you see God in action, you learn that He is faithful.  You see the faith stories of those who trusted the Almighty.  Those stories provide us with an inner peace and confidence in the love and protection of God.  The Bible is filled with the testimonies of many people who saw God appear in their lives and provide for the needs.

You can live a stress-free life if you will only just pray.  When you pray you are turning the situation over to God. You’re taking the situation out of your hands, and laying it in His hands. You’re releasing it to God.  There are no more capable hands to place our cares in other than the loving arms of our savior.  The one who cared so deeply for us that he gave his life for you.

Other posts in this series on Prayer:


TED Talk: Build a Tower, Build a Team

Tom Wujec presents some surprisingly deep research into the “marshmallow problem” — a simple team-building exercise that involves dry spaghetti, one yard of tape and a marshmallow. Who can build the tallest tower with these ingredients? And why does a surprising group always beat the average?

A Leader Needs to Know when to Motivate and When to inspire Their team?



As a leader, what is your goal?  To motivate your team or to inspire them? Life is not an either/ or and there are only a few absolutes. Sometimes you learn to live life in the grey area.  At times your team needs a jump start and it is your job to motivate them. Teams get stuck, they have tasks they have to push through and times when your team has low morale. Other times things are going along just fine, but to take your team, ministry, or organization to the next level you need to release your team to soar. A leader in that position is inspiring his team to be innovative, be daring, soar.

The Motivated Team.

First, a definition, motivation is defined as having the general desire or willingness of someone to do something. “Keep staff up to date and maintain interest and motivation” As a leader when you need to motivate your staff, then you will focus your time and energy trying to get your staff reengaged and interested. You are trying to get them to do something they may or may not be interested in doing. This illustration will help visually describe motivation.

Marguerite Bro tells of a minister who took his little child to a circus. She writes,

“The clowns were particularly good and the last one of them was a little fellow wearing a very wonderful high hat. While he was bowing elaborately to a dignified woman, his hat fell off and an elephant sat on it.

“The clown gestured wildly at the elephant, but the beast sat still. He waved and shouted again and again, but the elephant never budged. Angrily the clown stepped behind the elephant and kicked with all his strength and hopped away with a sore foot in his hands.

“Then, frantic with anger, the little clown turned back to the elephant and tried to lift him off the hat. Defeated and in complete despair, the clown sat down and started to eat peanuts. The elephant was interested in peanuts and got up, ambled over, and begged for one!”

That was a powerful illustration for that minister. He realized that he’d just witnessed a spiritual object lesson: You can’t accomplish anything for God by crabbing and kicking at the world (or your spouse, child, neighbor or co-worker!). -Morning Glory, January 12, 1994.

Motivation is like trying to get the elephant to do what you want when you want it. Too often we treat our team as the clown did with this elephant. We view our team as people who should bend to our will. Three quick ways to motivate your team.

  1. Communicate clearly

You should communicate with them often. Every Monday morning, I connect with the team. The goal is to see if there are things happening in peoples’ lives I should pray for or any issues that might affect their work I can help them navigate. I would love to speak with them face-to-face but we are usually deployed. Your staff needs to know you value them, and communicating with them is the best way to show your appreciation for their hard work and sacrifice.

  1. Model It

Don’t do as I do, do as I say. I heard that growing up. You can’t expect your team to work hard or behave in a different way if you don’t model the behavior. If you show your excitement about the ministry milestones, your kingdom co-workers will get on-board and work to achieve those ministry goals. Positivity is infectious — but so is negativity – especially in the church.

  1. Release Them

Give your team more input about how they do their ministry. Ask for their input and get suggestions on how they can improve their areas of responsibility. Most teams have gifted people with innovative ideas, but they may not share them with you unless you specifically ask them. If you want to empower and motivate your people, you need to take their suggestions and implement it

Motivation gets you over the hump while inspiration allows you to soar. – Keith Haney

The Inspired Team

Inspiration should be as the green of a fertile meadow on a warm evening after rain: a rich soil from which a breathtaking fragrance rises in a spiral of color. Inspiration can be chiseled like an antique dagger, or rough as a block of prime matter in the mind of a philosopher. It can caress you like a woman or hit you with the punch of a prizefighter. Inspiration is the certitude that, out of nothing, something is going to happen.—Serge de Gastyne, “Inspiration,” Music Journal

This gives you something to ponder. More on how to inspire a team next week.


When Church Traditions Are Dangerous?


You probably know there are jokes about different Christian communions — Baptist jokes, Catholic jokes, and yes even Lutheran jokes. More often than not, they’re told by members of that church body to other members. Lutherans are known for being traditional in its ways of doing things. So, “How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer is, “Change? We can’t change my grandfather donated that lightbulb when the church was dedicated.”

While most of these jokes are a harmless reminder not to take ourselves too seriously. There is an underlying reality that often isn’t funny, our attitudes toward change. Our jokes about religious traditions point humorously, to the danger of taking traditions to extremes and how those extremes can be unhealthy. I share this with a church I was working with, “It’s not a good idea to sit in the dark because you can’t bear to get rid of your tradition-hallowed, but burned-out, lightbulb.”

The Background of the Text

In Mark chapter seven Jesus tackles two important questions about the Gentiles. “Does interaction with Gentiles defile the Jews?” (Mark 7:1–13) And a question you can insert for any group not a part of our tribe “are the Gentiles less Important than the Jews?” (Mark 7:24–37).

For the point of brevity, we will limit the discussion to Mark 7:1-13.

Jesus was being taken to the woodshed (as they say down south) for violating the Sabbath traditions earlier in Mark 2:15–28; 3:22–30). He had received an official visit from the scribes and Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious ruling council. Because of His early infractions, he was being closely watched to see what others lines He might cross. In Mark seven it violated their tradition of the ceremonial washing of hands. I mentioned earlier that some traditions are dangerous and hurtful. This hand washing falls into that category. This ritual had nothing to do with hygiene; it was purely ceremonial to get rid of whatever defilement the Jews accidentally picked up from the Gentiles or Samaritans.

Nothing Against Tradition.

Let me be clear, I have nothing against traditions per se. Heck, I have some of our family and would hate to see those broken. Traditions go off the deep end when it has more authority than the Word of God. When we get to that point those firmly held ceremonies are wrong. Colossians 2:6-8 warns us against man-made traditions. 6 So live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him. 7 Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. 8 See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.

The formula that leads us astray is laid out by our Lord and Savior in Scripture. If you fear that your traditions, ceremonies, your practices have strayed from what God requires or desires below are keys indicators from Jesus’ interaction in Mark seven.

  1. We lay aside God’s Word (v. 8).

8 “You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.” Mark 7:8

  1. Then we reject the Word (v. 9).

9 Jesus continued, “Clearly, you are experts at rejecting God’s commandment in order to establish these rules.”

  1. And finally, we rob the Word of any power in our lives (v. 13).

13 “In this way you do away with God’s word in favor of the rules handed down to you, which you pass on to others. And you do a lot of other things just like that.”

 Things had gotten so far out of control, so far from what God intended that the man-made traditions, not God’s truth, control the lives of God’s people. The Pharisees could rob their own parents of help by hiding behind their traditions!

Jesus exposes the Jews’ hypocrisy; He also exposed their hearts. “14 Then Jesus called the crowd again and said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. 15 Nothing outside of a person can enter and contaminate a person in God’s sight; rather, the things that come out of a person contaminate the person.” The Jews were not made unclean by coming in contact with Gentiles, what defiled them came from within. Like us, what defiles us are our own sinful hearts. As King David points out after his issues with infidelity in Psalm 51, no amount of washing on the outside can remove defilement on the inside. “Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!

When the church or our religious traditions place a heavy emphasis on following rules we open ourselves up for the danger of robbing God’s Word of its power…the power to set us free by the work Jesus has already done for us. We make faith about US not about HIM!  Jesus wanted to focus the hearts of the people back to the cross, back the what He had done to set them free form the expectations of the Law, back to grace.


A bonus post on worship to connect with Millennials,

TED Talk: How Urban Spaces Can Preserve History and Build Community

Landscape architect Walter Hood has explored this question over the course of an iconic career, with projects ranging from Lafayette Square Park in San Francisco to the upcoming International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina. In this inspiring talk packed with images of his work, Hood shares the five simple concepts that guide his approach to creating spaces that illuminate shared memories and force us to look at one another in a different way.


The Church Has Its Warts on Public Display


8Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8

This summer the church has been in the public eye. Not for the good it does, nor the lives that have been transformed by the power of the gospel, nor the missionary work it is doing domestically and abroad. No, the church is in the news for the public wrongdoing of some prominent ministries. Willow Creek and the accusations on its founder and former Senior Pastor Bill Hybels, and the Roman Catholic church for accusations of sexual misconduct by hundreds of priests to thousands of victims in Pennsylvania. I am not writing this post to gloat or pile on over the downfall of other ministries and I pray many of my readers will not fall into that trap either.

First, when any church is in the news for wrongdoing, the unbelieving world does not distinguish between church bodies, all they see is the church not living up to the strength of its convictions and OUR collective witness is harmed.

Second, I was on the campus of Willow Creek last week and they are determined to press on. I admire their resolve and commend them for their heart, but I also see a hurting community that has been rocked by this scandal. So, not only do they have my admiration they have my prayers.

Lessons to be learned from these events. 

  1. Guard Your life and practice

It is important that every congregation guard not only their doctrine (foundations of their faith) but also their Christian life and practice (public witness.) When a church leader falls it damages the church universal. No matter the names on the marquee we are all part of the larger body of Christ.

  1. Deal with sexual misconduct.

“A man on staff with Chuck Swindoll got sexually involved with his secretary. The church chose not to handle it in public, but rather to deal with this privately. The next year, 17 marriages of senior leadership people in the church broke up! Paul is clear that when a leader sins, he/she needs to be publicly rebuked so that others will be warned away from the same sin.”

Jack DeWolf, in a conference on conflict resolution in Spokane, WA, April 30, 1994.

  1. Don’t lose sight of the real victims in these cases.

In any of the situations, we hear about there are two sets of victims. Those who have been harmed by their accusers and those whose trust has been damaged. I am not lifting the second group over the first nor putting them on the same level. Those who faced the actual offense have a long road to recovery and they need our prayers. The members of the church also face a long road to recovery. Any church or church body that does not deal with that hurt is missing an opportunity to fix a broken trust, that could have an eternal impact on people’s faith life and the life of the congregation.

Dear Lord,

Our Church Universal is struggling with its witness to the world. We lift up those who are leading, those who are exhausted because they are being stretched so far. We pray for all church leaders, guard them against the attacks of the evil one. Help them identify those blind spots, those character flaws that the evil one will attack. Raise us Lord an army of prayer warriors to keep the church and its leaders in daily prayer. We pray for worship leaders, teachers, greeters, and other leaders. Lord, feed your church with the Word of God and may that Word of God also bring about healing and reconciliation. I lift up the Willow Creek family and the Roman Catholic Church and all others that have had events that have caused some to stumble and cause hurt to others. I pray for strength for the ones that are left grieving so much to keep the church running. Be with them, Father. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen


How Do We Keep Our Youth After Eight Grade?



Take a journey with me back into time.  Now for some of you, this trip will take a lot longer.  Think back to the day after your high school graduation.  Once all the parties had ended, you and your classmates then began the process of discovery.  Questions abounded about the next chapter in our lives.?

Why Did You Abandon Me?

For some who had already made a decision as to which college, if any, was selected, their arrangements for that transition were in full swing.  For others, life would be filled with uncertainty and desert wanderings.  At some point, many of us, over time, would find our way, discover our path, and settle into a career.  Many would start a family and build a new community.  But those years after high school where difficult.  The post-high school years were filled with much change and loss.  There were lost friends, loss of community, and loss to some degree of innocence.   It was a shock to the system to leave the relative safety of high school to find yourself thrust into the world now labeled as a young adult.

Imagine that same feeling but after eighth-grade.  You have finished your spiritual journey, or so it seems.  Youth experience a sense of loss after confirmation.  When I asked some people who work with youth, what is the most significant challenge they face in youth ministry.  Here are some of their responses.

  • “The biggest challenge I think we are facing is that students see confirmation, and here at St. Mark’s, communion, as the carrot at the end of the stick. It’s that “graduation type” thing that they have to do, and once it’s done, they think the engagement with the church is over. We’ve been working hard on finding a way to build relationships between our confirmation age students and that post-confirmation to help those younger students see a reason to keep engaged. That reason simply being an authentic Christ-centered community with their friends and peers.”
  • “The primary challenge is meeting the individual’s value for long-term faith development. Parents are a factor in the long-term development. There has been a perception of confirmation equating to spiritual achievement. Many parents, who experienced the process, buy into the need for their child to make this rite of passage. However, for the student and the parent alike, I believe confirmation has failed to instill the value of individual long-term faith development. Our congregations are perpetuating the value of cheap grace through its inability to step away from the programs and focus the programs on personal, individual faith development.”
  • “Post confirmation, even pre-confirmation in a small rural town here, a smaller congregation – we have about ten middle-school age youth from a variety of schools, and this is a struggle. Parents are somewhat engaged, but the youth are disconnected.   Some seem tired from their schedules with school/sports; we have spent a couple of years now studying this and considering how to keep them. We are looking at engaging them in the whole church instead of separate activities,

preparing them for larger events such as servant events or youth gatherings by connecting youth to adults for longer relationships; exploring and planning how to start mentoring relationships. And exploring how they build relationships through confirmation.”

What the church is experiencing with youth today is the same way I felt after confirmation over 40-years ago.   What I missed during my most challenging time of transition was, my church.  My church, after confirmation, abandoned me.  There was no room for my friends and me.  There were no programs for us, and I just assumed after the instruction that I was a mature disciple ready now to take on a leadership role in God’s kingdom, the problem was there was no position nor opportunities to lead.  No one showed us how to refine, develop and use our God-given gifts to serve God and His kingdom. The church sent an unmistakable message, “You are the future. It is our time now!  Your time will come. Come back, when you are all grown up.”  Sadly, one by one my confirmation class attendees dropped out.  Some I have not seen since eighth-grade.  I get the sense from when I visit churches that this feeling was not my reality alone.

We Need a Shift from Ministry as Usual.

If you have followed my blog long enough, you know that I can’t leave you feeling all of this is hopeless.  What needs to happen is a shift from ministry as usual. We need to see confirmation as a process, not a singular time anomaly. What is the way forward?  How we view youth and their role in the kingdom now, will determine how we can stop the backdoor losses.  Here are some titanic shifts in thinking my readers have suggested.

  • “Post High school groups: Many of the groups I have developed and facilitated always seemed to miss the mark. The groups would feel forced, unoriginal, and not authentic. With that said, there was a strong personal commitment to make the group more than what really it was proving to be. This age group was found to be more engaged in doing. Many of my best volunteers have come from this age group. This age has a desire to experience a lived-out faith rather than a talked about faith. In this age group, I have also found some of the deeper conversations about how faith is applied to our daily walk. This has happened in a relational way that is limited by group process.”
  • “At Lord of Life, we confirm young adults when they were ready and not in a large group of eighth-graders. My last Sunday there I “confirmed” two high school students who shared their testimonies. Doing it this way meant we had “confirmation” on an ongoing basis through the year.  It is a great witness to members! By doing confirmation as a group (eighth-grade), we often make an assumption that all are ready and that this is a terminal point in their Christian life when in reality it is only the beginning! Specific ministries are always necessary since discipleship is a life-long process.”


It’s all about relationships.  What keeps youth and their parents engaged in the life and ministry of the church is authentic, meaning relationships, first with their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and then with His saints.  We were built to live life in a community.

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