Is The Church A Members-Only Club?

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 to the ‘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.

Background

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.

If we have an inclusive Savior should the churches that follow him have inclusive attitudes? We are called to seek and save the lost and we do that by planting seeds of faith, to allow the Holy Spirit to do its work. Thinks this week of ways to look at your churches ministries and find ways to make what your doing more inclusive.

How to Transform ​Your School into A Missional Community?


At the heart of missional communities is developing deep and lasting relationships. Those relationships used to occur as families came, put their kids in our school and they became a part of our church family. Now people come to put their kids in school and come to church possibly when the children are asked to sing in church. And in my school in Milwaukee, if we didn’t put those musical selections after the sermon, the parents and children would trickle out one by one until most were gone before the message. Getting parents to commit long enough to build a relationship with them is challenging. What can a church and school do? We need to create this community where people live and breathe. It means finding a common issue, a common concern, and a common passion. You may ask what is a mission community? 

“A missional community is a way to organize the church to gather and send groups of people on a common mission (i.e. to engage artists in the city, renew your neighborhood, or help the homeless downtown). Simply put missional communities are a group of people who are learning to follow Jesus together in a way that renews their city, town, village, hamlet, or other space.” -from “Called Together” by Jonathan Dobson & Brad Watson

A New Way to Create Relationships

Before you dismiss this as not your Father’s church. Think back to what Jesus did. He was a master at building deep life-long relationships. What lessons can we take from our Lord to reach our school families? Stick with me through this post. 

Jesus Invited others In

Mark gives us a picture of Jesus’ intentional way of building relationships. “He appointed twelve and called them apostles. He appointed them to be with him, to be sent out to preach,” (Mark 3:14). Mark makes it clear Jesus selected these twelve so he could spend time with them and  build strong relationships with each of them during his public ministry. From those twelve Jesus had an inner circle, Peter, James, and John. He broke bread with them. He shared good times and bad with them. They struggled together, cried together, saw mighty acts of God together they “did life” together. How would this look in your Christian day school? If you had families ready to connect with a group of school parents and together you live life together. You build deep lasting relationships together. It may not look like your typical church but imagine the powerful way God can grow disciples. The hope would be that these communities join the local church, but that will take time. These unconnected people are not former churchgoers coming home, many have never attended church and don’t know what they are missing.  

Jesus Reached Out

People come to our schools for safety but they also come to be a part of a family. They come hoping to form relationships for their children and themselves. Jesus understood every human being needs these kinds of relationships. I have a friend who once told me, “We all long to belong.” Every human wants healthy relationships. In the church we know healthy relationships need the proper foundation, that foundation is Jesus. Paul explains what Jesus models for us in healthy relationships, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”Imagine offering this kind of community to our families. Life transforming ministry, life-transforming relationships, and life-transforming community.  

Some Questions to get you started:

  1. How is a school on mission organized? 
  2. How will we train missional community leaders?
  3. How do we choose a common mission? 
  4. How do we create a healthy culture of modeling Christ-like love? 

Other posts in this series:

This post is talks about making the school your mission.

This post is about a creating a common vision and direction for your church and school.

And this post address the outreach opportunities many church are not taking full advantage of in their own backyard.

All of the posts on this blog were created to encourage the church at large.  If you think it will help advance ministry you are welcome to share and follow the blog.  Have a blessed day.

Is Christianity ​Too Narrow?

Road trip in Europe. Car point of view

This is another challenging question in the Explore God Series, that over 300 churches are tackling in the Chicago area. It has led to some great discussion for believers and seekers alike. This week turns the spotlight on Christianity. This question is uncomfortable because Christians get labeled as intolerant, even at times arrogant. All because we say Christ is the only way. To address this issue, I will examine how Paul approached this issue with an unconnected culture in Athens.

We will begin where Paul lays the foundation for his argument, at creation and with the Creator. First, an illustration describing how Paul carried out his mission work.

Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), the world-famous violinist, earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn’t able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase that beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay, it had been sold to a collector. Kreisler made his way to the new owner’s home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it. Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. “Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?” he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector’s emotions were deeply stirred. “I have no right to keep that to myself,” he exclaimed. “It’s yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it.” Our Daily Bread, February 4, 1994.

When the apostle Paul arrived in the great city of Athens, he did not come as a sightseer, but as a virtuoso of the Gospel. This famous city was the epicenter of religion and culture. But Paul did not see a great city what he saw was a people lost in their culture of pride and self-reliance, sound familiar? Athens was described by one ancient writer who said, “it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens.” Paul walked in the halls of the Jews synagogue and debated the Jews, but had little impact on their entrenched legalistic system. He decided when in Greece do as the Greeks do. Paul took his message to the market (agora) where the men assembled to discuss philosophy or to conduct business. In the South that would be the equivalent of going to the local barbershop and holding court.

Two main philosophies controlled Athens at that time.
The Stoics were materialistic and almost fatalistic in their thinking. Their system was built on pride and personal independence. Nature was their god, and they believed that all life was gradually moving toward a great climax. We still have that thinking in our society today. People are so committed to nature that they place it in a higher place than human life at times.

The Epicureans desired pleasure, and their philosophy was grounded in experience, not reason. Paul confronted these two extremes in philosophy with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whenever you challenge, the status quo, expect the status quo to push back. The Athenians despised Paul and tried to discredit him by calling him a “babbler,” which means “a seed picker.” Because Paul’s teaching was so foreign to them, the thought he was introducing two new gods when he spoke of “Jesus and the resurrection.”

The Greek word for Resurrection is “Anastasia” the concept of people rising from the dead was not a part of their daily vocabulary. So, it is understandable they assumed this for a proper name of an unknown god. The Greeks led Paul to the Areopagus; their official court also called Mars’ Hill. There Paul preached a great sermon.

Paul respected their culture by commending them for their openness to the divine, “I see that you are very religious.” He used their altar dedicated “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD,” as an object lesson. He used this altar to preach about the True God that they were unaware of His existence. Paul presented in his sermon four great truths about God.


God is the Creator (vv. 24–25).

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. Acts 17:24-25
The Greeks held different theories about creation and even believed in a form of evolution.

Life poses three questions we must all wrestle with the answers to, “Where did I come from? Why am I here? And where am I going?” Science endeavors to answer the first question, of our existence. Philosophy grapples with the second, the question of purpose. But only the Christian faith has a suitable answer to all three.

The Two Differing Views in Athens believed this about the universe:

The Epicureans, who were effectively atheists, believed that all was matter and matter always was. So, there was no creator.


The Stoics said that everything was God, “the Spirit of the Universe.” God did not create anything; He only ordered chaos.
Paul Countered with:

“In the beginning, God!” God made the world and everything in it, and He is Lord of all that He has made. He is not some distant celestial being who is divorced from His creation nor is God trapped by His creation. He is too almighty to be contained in man-made temples. 27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built 1 Kings 8:27! Yet, God is not too majestic to be concerned about man’s most basic needs. It makes one wonder how the great thinkers and leaders of Athens reacted to Paul’s statement about temples, as they are standing on the grand Acropolis were several shrines were dedicated to Athena.

Here is where Paul lays waste to the flawed Greek religious system. The Greeks were convinced that in serving God they could contain God in temples. Paul turns that thinking on its head and says, “God does not live in temples made by man.” In other words, you cannot put God in a box. You cannot contain the power and greatness of God in this tiny temple. He does not serve at your pleasure like some cosmic genie. And to take this a step further, He does not need your service, there is nothing you can provide for God that he does not already have. “Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything.” And here is the final twist, not only does God not need us to serve Him but He, in turn, serves humanity, “since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” This is a radical concept of God is Paul introducing.

It is God who gives to us what we need: “life, and breath, and all things.” God is the source of every good and perfect gift as James points out in chapter 1 verse 17. He gave us life and He sustains that life by His goodness as Jesus points out in. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. It is the goodness of God that should lead men to repentance (Matthew 5:45).
“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentanc
e?” (Ro 2:4).

But instead of worshiping the Creator as we should, the natural response, and glorifying Him, humanity turns and worships God’s creation and seek to glorify themselves. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Ro 1:21–23).

Paul points them and we back the God the Creator and reminds us is rediscovering Him answers the question of where we came from? We were created by the God of the universe. Why do we exist? To give worship and praise to this God. Where are we going? For those who believe on His Son Jesus Christ, to heaven to spend eternity with that Creator.

Christians are losing their power and influence … because they are losing their separateness.- Charlene Kaemmerling

When Robert Ingersoll, the famous atheist, was lecturing, he once took out his watch and declared, “I will give God five minutes to strike me dead for the things I have said.” The minutes ticked off as he held the watch and waited. In about four-and-a-half minutes, some women began fainting, but nothing happened. When the five minutes were up, Ingersoll put the watch into his pocket. When that incident reached the ears of a certain preacher, Joseph Parker, he asked, “And did the gentleman think he could exhaust the patience of the Eternal God in five minutes?” [1]

The world outside of God’s sheepfold is fond of playing this game of spiritual chicken.  “Come on God prove to me you exist.”  As Paul faced the religious skeptics in Athens, he explained a foreign concept to them, the patience of God.  People are familiar with the wrath of God, or so they think, but patience is a concept far from the mind of the skeptic.  In this post, we will cover the final two ways Paul turned their religious thinking on its head and left the learned spinning in their philosophical seats.

Jesus is the Savior (v. 30).

 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  As Paul brought his arguments to a close, he summarized the clear evidence of God’s patience and the power of His grace. For centuries, God was patient with man’s sin and obliviousness.

“This was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” Romans 3:25

Let’s not get things confused here.  This by no means indicates that humanity was not guilty, as You will see below in Romans 1.

For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  Romans 1:19–23.

What Romans 1, does reveal is that God withheld His divine wrath.  Does that fit the narrative of a God who wants to punish all humanity in a whimsical sort of way?  It instead exposes a different side of God that we Christians know all too well; God is a God of love.  In His time God sent a Savior, and now He commands all men to repent of their foolish ways. This Saviour was killed and then raised from the dead, and one day, Jesus will return to judge the world. The proof that He will judge is that He was raised from the dead.

Paul wipes away the prideful Greek culture by calling it “times of ignorance.” With all their knowledge and learned thinking, and being the height of culture, the Greeks failed to find the true nature of God. If humanity just repents and believes, God is ready and will forgive no strings attached.

Jesus is the Judge (v. 31).

 “…because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this, he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:31

There will come a day when God will judge. God has appointed a day of judgment, and the Judge will be His Son, Jesus Christ. Why that should give us comfort is that this is not some distant judge, but one who understands our struggles and our temptations because he has experienced them Himself. For us as believer’s, judgment day is not a day of dread but a time of celebration.   If we trust Christ through faith in His death and resurrection, He will save us.  However, if we reject Him, tomorrow He will judge us.

The people of Athens responded with three different attitudes toward the Gospel. Surprisingly enough those responses are still relevant today.  1) Some people openly oppose the Word, 2) some will mock it and even openly challenge God to prove His existence as in the opening illustration, and 3) some receive the Word gladly and believe. We cannot control the response.  We are not called to, that is all the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit produces faith.

God calls us to be seed-planters and not to grow tired and discouraged.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9

The proof of the pre-eminence of Christ is the resurrection. It is no unknown God but a risen Christ with whom we have to deal. And this Christ has died and risen from the dead for you and for me, and invites us to believe on Him and live forever with him in Eternity.  Does it make sense to the learned, NO?  It is a message and a gift that we receive by faith alone. The Holy Spirit makes the Unknown Savior, Jesus Christ the God of our Salvation.

[1]  Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching (pp. 146–147). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The Word for 2019: Overcome

36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,Romans 8:36-38

Michael A. Guido of Metter, Georgia, columnist of several newspapers writes: 

“An artist in Mexico lost his right hand while working on a statue. But he did not give up his work. He learned to carve with his left hand. His beautifully finished masterpiece was called ‘In Spite Of.’

When life hits hard, it is easy to take the mindset “I need to weather this storm”. God offers more than just survival He assures us that the difficulties of life are working for us and not against us. God permits trials to come that we might use them for our good and His glory. A better word would be conqure. God is closer to us when we go through the difficulties of life. Not just to get through the struggle but to come out victorious.

God gives us the power to conquer (Rom. 8:37). We are “more than conquerors,” literally, “we are super conquerors” through Jesus Christ! He gives us victory upon victory! With Christ on our side, we do not fear life or death, things present or things to come, not angels or demons, because nothing in all of creation can overcome us. Jesus Christ gives us the victory. Meyer says, “A holy arrogance of victory in the might of Christ.”[1]  

The victory promised by Jesus comes without conditions attached. There is no “If you do this, God will do that.” This has become a popular stance in Christianity. This security in Christ is an established fact, and we claim it for ourselves because we are in Christ. Nothing can separate you from His love. Believe it, rejoice in it, make that your firm foundation. You are more than an overcomer, you are a conqueror. 

Prayer.

Dear Father,

When the waves of life are beating me down and I feel like I am just trying to survive remind me of your promise. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.[2]Dear Father, you made us be more than conquerors. Use us for your glory and to advance your kingdom. In Jesus name. Amen.


[1]Wuest, K. S. (1997). Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament: for the English reader(Vol. 2, p. 149). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

[2]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:8–10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Does Your Church Have a Vulture or a Hummingbird Culture?

lightstock_101322_small_byrene_haney

Both the hummingbird and the vulture fly over our nation’s deserts. All vultures see is rotting meat, because that is what they look for. They thrive on that diet. But hummingbirds ignore the smelly flesh of dead animals. Instead, they look for the colorful blossoms of desert plants. The vultures live on what was. They live in the past. They fill themselves with what is dead and gone. But hummingbirds live on what is. They seek a new life. They fill themselves with freshness and life. Each bird finds what it is looking for. We all do.  Steve Goodier, Quote Magazine, in Reader’s Digest, May 1990.

It is so easy in a struggling church to focus on what is dead and dying and to feast off that diet. It is easy for churches experiencing declines in attendance and income, to become defeated by what they see.  You begin to look around, and all you see is what was.  There is often so much that is not working around us that the church loses sight of the blossoms.  In this post, I pray that I can point you to the blossoms, to what can be, to desire to seek a new life cycle for your ministry.  In doing so, I want to give you three things you can do the change the perspective of your congregation.

1)    Have an attitude of Confident Sacrifice.

 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

There is a powerful parable contained in this little verse. Jesus in the Gospels understood the mindset of the ordinary people who made a living through the labor of their hands. Knowing how important that livelihood was to them, he chose his illustrations to connect with their everyday experiences. The people understood that any new life (harvest) was the result of dying (sacrifice) seeds. Jesus used this everyday part of life to connect this to His death and resurrection for the salvation of the world. But there is more. The statement that if the seed does not die but “remains alone” or unplanted implies the tragic condition that the harvest will never come to fruition.  The connection for the church is; unless we have the confidence to get out of our comfort zone and plant seeds of the Gospel, the harvest will be significantly hampered. You may be thinking, “But it has been so long since we were actively planting seeds, is it too late? Are our seeds still alive?”  You will find comfort in this story.

Some years ago, a vase hermetically sealed was discovered in a mummy-pit in Egypt, by the English traveler Wilkinson, who sent it to the British Museum. The librarian there, having unfortunately broken it, discovered in it a few grains of wheat and one or two peas, old, wrinkled and hard as stone.  The peas were planted carefully under glass on the 4th of June, 1844, and at the end of thirty days, these old seeds were seen to spring up into a new life. They had been buried probably about three thousand years ago, perhaps in the time of Moses, and had slept all that long time, apparently dead, yet still living in the dust of the tomb. —Gaussen 1.

The power of God’s Word never dies, but it will accomplish its task.

2)    Kingdom selflessness

Every young student knows of Isaac Newton’s famed encounter with a falling apple. Newton discovered and introduced the laws of gravity in the 1600s, which revolutionized astronomical studies. But few know that if it weren’t for Edmund Halley, the world might never have learned from Newton. It was Halley who challenged Newton to think through his original notions. Halley corrected Newton’s mathematical errors and prepared geometrical figures to support his discoveries. Halley coaxed the hesitant Newton to write his great work, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Halley edited and supervised the publication, and financed its printing even though Newton was wealthier and easily could have afforded the printing costs.

Historians call it one of the most selfless examples in the annals of science. Newton began almost immediately to reap the rewards of prominence; Halley received little credit. He did use the principles to predict the orbit and return of the comet that would later bear his name, but only AFTER his death did he receive any acclaim. And because the comet only returns every seventy-six years, the notice is rather infrequent. Halley remained a devoted scientist who didn’t care who received the credit as long as the cause was being advanced.

Others have played Halley’s role. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less.” Barnabus was content to introduce others to greatness. Many pray to uphold the work of one Christian leader. Such selflessness advances the kingdom. – C.S. Kirkendall, Jr.

It is with this kind of selflessness that we love as Jesus loved.  He placed the needs of others above himself.  He gave His life as a ransom for the world.  We have this same love of Jesus living in us.  Remember Jesus promise, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12

3)    Risky Faith

Do not follow where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.- Source Unknown.

To have this Hummingbird attitude, we need have the courage to go where there is not a path, to blaze a trail where none may have walked before.  People outside of God’s grace are not easy to deal with at times.  There are times when you will run into the brokenness of their lives – failed relationships, messy life decisions with horrible consequences, which led to loneliness and distrust of others.  You may run into a boatload of emotion and pain.  Risky faith will be required.  New life is not possible without death.  The sinful old man needs to drown in the waters of baptism and faith created by the work of the Holy Spirit.  He won’t die quickly. He will not go down without a fight.  A risk is required, but the reward is worth whatever the risk.

I pray this will give you a new hopeful spirit and keep you thinking. Be encouraged God is not done with you yet!.  Just keep those wings flapping.


1.Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 1146). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

One Church, One School, One Direction

My ministry has only known churches with a Christian Day School. My ministry has also only known churches and schools operating when I arrived either with opposite ministry goals or with adversarial relationships between church and school. It was heart-breaking to walk into churches and see a situation where the pastor not only did not pour his heart into the staff and students but would undermine their work. Or I would see teaching staffs reject attending the church and some would even refuse to speak to members when they crossed paths. In those situations, there are few things needed to change this toxic culture.

Rebuild Trust

If you are in a situation where the church and school co-exist in the same space but are miles apart, you need to rebuild trust. Past hurts and sinfully behavior have built a wall of protection around the individuals, boards and the staff. Until you can address this hurt and start fresh moving forward together will be virtually impossible. The history of past hurts will always creep up in meetings, in decisions, and inaction. The starting point is having those critical conversations.

Here a sample of what process looks like.

  1. Lead with the truth. It is always easier to be empathetic and genuine when you speak plainly and truthfully. …
  2. Be authentic. Don’t try to be anyone but yourself. …
  3. Collect your thoughts. …
  4. Pace yourself. …
  5. Get perspective. …
  6. Avoid full stop words. …
  7. Be brief. …
  8. Focus on the issue, not the person.

You can find more details on this in the link below.

Putting this in a Christian context, as a church and school practice Matthew 18.
15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. 16 But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. 17But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. 18 I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 19 Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”

The key to any conflict is the end of this verse when you gather to solve any conflict Jesus is there amid your conversation. Focus on Him.

Refocusing Ministry

Once you have dealt with any elephants in the room, now comes the hard part. You might think the first one was the hard part. In my experience, the hard part is moving ministry from what is comfortable to what is courageous. Where is God leading us? What is His vision for his ministry? With vision the most important thing to keep in mind is vision is always bigger than us, then our abilities. Vision is always God-sized! It moves us to rely on Him to accomplish because God gets the glory. Vision also is based a discontentment with doing ministry as usual. It forces us to look around and say we must do better, we must trust God more, we must use our gifts more effectively. Moving a comfortable church and school to that level is difficult. I will leave you with this quote and these questions to share with your leadership team.

“What is a vision? Where do they come from? Visions are born in the soul of a man or woman who is consumed with the tension between what is and what could be. Anyone who is emotionally involved-frustrated, brokenhearted, maybe even angry about the way things are in light of the way they believe things could be, is a candidate for a vision. Visions form in the hearts of those who are dissatisfied with the status quo…Vision carries with it a sense of conviction. Anyone with a vision will tell you this is not merely something that could be done. This is something that should be done. (From Visioneering, Andy Stanley)

Questions to process:

  1. What is our ministry heading?
  2. On what do our current members and school families base their identity?
  3. What can we do better than 10,000 other churches/Christian Schools?
  4. What are we supposed to be doing?
  5. Where is God making us into?

If you decide you need to form a vision team.

  1. If we need a vision or planning group who will make-up the team?
  2. Who will assess, determine, articulate the vision?
  3. Will there be a formal process to affirm or approve the vision?
  4. Who will facilitate the process?
  5. What are our process model and related vision process?

[1]https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-managing/leading-with-the-truth-how-to-handle-crucial-conversations/article22638542/

The Word for 2019: Love

42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you. Law of love 43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you. – Matthew 5:42-44 Common English Bible (CEB)

In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.” – Our Daily Bread, February 14.

The Greek for love gets lost in the English translation. We have reduced it down to this squishy emotional word that gets thrown around too casually. “I love Ice Cream.” “I love that show.” “I love football.” That is until the referee blew that call that cost my Saints a shot at the Super Bowl. I digress.  Love in the verse above is a much more robust word. It has way more depth when it flows from the mouth of Jesus. Jesus uses an extreme example in our minds, “love your enemy?” Is that love or setting ourselves up for more abuse? Jesus explains to us love transcends hate, love is tough, love puts the needs of others even our enemies about our wants and desire. When my reader picked the word love I thought what an awesome but impossible goal. Yet, what an opportunity to spend a year trying to model Christ at His best, transformational relationships grounded in love.  

Prayer

Dear Lord,

The world today often shouts hate. Give us a heart to speak in love. When our enemies mock us with lies and surround us with darkness, help the light of your love to shine even brighter. When our relationships are broken, and we have been betrayed or rejected, help us replace pain with love. May Your Holy Spirit fall fresh on us when our souls are depleted, filling us with Your power and love. We know Christ dwells richly within our hearts through faith. We pray that you would strengthen our roots and establish our lives firmly in His love. Let us be people who lead with love. In the name of Jesus our loving Savior. Amen.

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

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What I am not going to do in this post is to minimize pain and suffering and provide simple Christian platitudes like, “All you need to do is pray.” Or hang on because this too shall pass.” 

I am not going to tell you that your situation will get better if you have found or are blessed with enough faith. God doesn’t play games with us, He doesn’t operate the way the world works. 
What I will do is show you how God answered this question for Job. Before we dig into his story I thought this quote it might serve as a backdrop, a foundation, to start the journey of discovery.

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” —C. S. Lewis

If you have never read it, I would invite you to read the entire book of Job.  But for our short study time, I will plunge ahead in the book to chapter 38. By the time we get to the 38th chapter of Job, he’s fed up.  He has come to the limits of his patience with God. Job has gone through a season of loss that would sink even the strongest believer.  He has lost everything from all his possessions to his dignity. Job has no material possessions and on top of that his health is now an issue. Job’s wife left him, and all he has left are a few friends if you could call them that.   Now, these so-called friends show up to pay Job a visit.  Have you ever noticed that when things are going bad that the misery seems to pile up?  With, almost comedic-like timing Job’s friends appear on the scene at his lowest point and begin placing responsibility for every misery right at Job’s diseased feet. Wow, Satan doesn’t let a crisis go to waste.

Now, this situation could have been more bearable if Job had God by his side providing him cover and comfort.  However, in Job’s life, God appeared, absent.  Have you been there?  I know I have.  In those moments you seem to be going through the Valley of Baka and God seems uncharacteristically silent.  What Job wanted, what we desire is for God to draw closer during those moments of agony but God appeared to be hiding. The God around whom Job had built his very purpose for living, seemed like he was in stealth mode. We discover Job sitting on a pile of ashes, scraping his sores with a broken piece of pottery, Job cries out with anguish at the deepest hurt of all, the silence of God.

The Uncomfortable Questions the Book of Job Raises

The book of Job raises some difficult questions.  The kind of issues Christians want the answer to but are afraid to ask or even spend too much time contemplating.  Questions like: “Does faith matter if we are going to suffer like Job does?”(Job 1:9) “Why does God tolerate suffering?” “Why do good people suffer while it appears that the people who deserve punishment prosper?”

The Cross Examination

While the book leads us to these questions, God elects not to answer them.   God’s response to Job is to cross-examine him. “God is paying Job the greatest compliment that a teacher can give a student.  Instead of giving him answers, God only asks questions.  Instead of stating conclusions, God presents only the facts.  Induction, not deduction is God’s method of teaching.  God shows how much He cares for His creation by refusing to violate Job’s freedom or insult his intelligence.  He gives him assorted facts and counts upon him to make the connections” – McKenna

1 Then Yahweh answered Job out of the whirlwind (Hebrew: searah),

2 “Who is this who darkens counsel

by words without knowledge?

3 Brace yourself like a man (Hebrew: geber),

for I will question you, then you answer me!” JOB 38:1-3.

When Job demands an audience with the Almighty, I am not sure he really expected Him to show up.  But Yahweh does! He answers Job directly.  God answers Job “out of the searah“— the whirlwind or windstorm.  In the early portions of the account, Job feared that God would crush him “…with a storm” (9:17)—or that God would overwhelm him with great power but it is not Yahweh’s purpose to crush or to overwhelm Job but to instruct him.

God makes Himself known to us today still. The Ancient One speaks through the sacred writing of the law and the prophets.  He makes himself known through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ who is the Word made flesh and through the scriptures.  He makes Himself known through the humble preaching of faithful orators.

The cross examination begins with God asking Job the question, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (v. 2).  Job came with the idea that he was seeking enlightenment from God.  He was not prepared to have the tables turned on him.  Never the less God bombards him with a series of questions that he cannot answer, but these questions will serve to give deeper insight into the depth and scope of God.  

“Brace yourself like a man“ (geber) (v. 3a).

Whenever we decide to call out God, we should be ready for the answer.  The word geber suggests something more than an ordinary man.  The Almighty is challenging Job to gird up his loins like a manly man. To gird up one’s loins is to pull up the bottom of the robe and tuck it into the belt.  The purpose is to free the person from the constraints of tight clothing to enable the person to move freely, to work or to fight without restriction. God is challenging Job to prepare himself for the confrontation. Brace yourself like a man of action, a doer, a warrior.

“…for I will question you, then you answer me” (v. 3b).

In chapter 13, Job challenged God, “Then call, and I will answer; or let me speak, and you answer me.”  Job wanted God to explain to him what sin he had committed to bring this misery on his household.  He could not understand why he was suffering. Have you been there?  Where you just need to know the reason for all the things that have gone wrong?

I remember 2015 like it was yesterday.  One setback and loss after painful loss.  It was a faith shaking year.  Job must have felt that if I just know what I did to deserve this then maybe I can accept my fate and move on.  But now Yahweh turns the tables on Job.  He does not give him an answer to the “why” instead it is Yahweh who will do the questioning and Job will do the answering. Probably not the satisfying response that Job needed, but there is a lesson in this for us.  Here is the first exchange.

Job 38:4-7  – WHERE WERE YOU?

4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?

Declare, if you have understanding.

5 Who determined its measures if you know?

Or who stretched the line on it?

6 Whereupon were its foundations fastened?

Or who laid its cornerstone,

7 when the morning stars sang together,

and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

These verses picture the master artesian, Yahweh, at work in the creation of the earth.  God points out to Job the creation of earth order to show Job his limited understanding.

God reminds Job and us that we were not consultants in the earth’s measurements.  We had no part in stretching a line on the earth to ensure that the foundations were precise.  Job had not seen the foundations sunk or its cornerstone laid.  That whole process is a mystery to Job.  In short, God’s message to Job and us is, “I got this.  You may not agree with the way things are being managed, but you don’t understand the bigger picture.”

The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” —Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

God combines science and theology here.  Think of it this way.  “For every actionthere is an equal and opposite reaction.” – Newton’s Third Law of Motion.  The statement means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. Your life is not happening in isolation.  We tend to only focus on what is happening to us, not the impact our reaction may have on the lives of others. Maybe just maybe you suffering and pain isn’t just about you. It could be you are impacting others for the kingdom or you are being prepared to be used by God to be a beautiful person proclaiming the mysteries of God in a unique way from your life’s experience. Something to ponder.


[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Job 38:1–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.


Is Your School Missing An Outreach Opportunity?

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When my ministry began in Milwaukee our Christian day school was just embarking on a new chapter in our educational adventure.  Seven years before my arrival on the scene the state of Wisconsin passed the school choice bill.  School choice was: “Pioneering educational freedom: The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was created in 1990 to provide educational freedom and choice to low-income parents in Milwaukee who did not have the financial means to send their children to private schools.  Grassroots growth: as the first school choice program in the nation, Milwaukee is a pioneer in educational reform. Beginning with seven schools and 300 students, the program reached its 15,000-student enrollment cap in 2005. Bipartisan legislation begun with a grassroots effort increased the enrollment cap to 22,500 and introduced standardized testing and accreditation requirements for schools.”[1]

Sounds like a great program, right?  Who would not want equal educational opportunities to all families? School choice was not without its detractors and even its abusers.  However, the greatest threat to our church was the attitude of the families whose kids attended the school before.  These were not bad people nor unchristian people.  The concern became one of safety.  All of a sudden, we were adding a foreign element into our once small, contained, safe school environment.  Our Lutheran trained teachers were not used to the kind of developmental issues we were suddenly facing, nor the discipline issues.  One by one we lost more and more tuition-paying customers replacing them with school voucher students.  We got all kinds of reasons for why they were pulling their kids out but, in the end, the culture and environment changed. It was no longer as safe.

The importance of a safe environment.

I covered this issue in a previous post but want to revisit the safety issue.  It is the number one issue for parents.  For those current parents and for future prospective ones as well.

The Barna research says,” A safe environment is the most essential feature when choosing a school for parents of both current (98% essential) and perspective (94%) Christian school students. Safety can mean anything from a toxin-free building or a padded playground to bullying prevention. However, it can also include “cultural safety,” such as feeling safe to ask questions or express doubt, learning to work through differences or a general sense of belonging and respect.[2]

With our new students, we struggled to regain our footing when it came to safety for our current parents.  For the prospective parents, our school was a huge upgrade over their previous public school situation.  But that issue of safety was one we continued to work on improving.

The Mission is coming to our Front door.

In August of 2017 Illinois made history with the passage of a Tax Credit Scholarship (TCS) program. This law which passed with both houses of the legislature under Democratic control has enacted an educational choice program. The law has the highest scholarship funding cap ($100 million) of any first-time TCS program.

Empower Illinois is based on a simple notion: every child has just one chance to get a great K-12 education; there are no do-overs. We seek to empower community members to assist parents to choose the best school for their child.

We support access to great public and private schools and educational opportunities. [3]

The question is how do we make use of the opportunity God has placed at the front doors of our churches engaged in Christian day school ministry?  One thing we need to do is overcome our fears.  Our fears can lead us to miss the opportunity to see these families as a threat to our need for safety vs seeing them as families who share a common goal, they too want to give their children every opportunity to grow and develop in a safe and loving environment.  Our schools offer that kind of safe, loving, and nurturing environment that after all is why we chose them.  Imagine seeing this as a mission opportunity to reach people and families that normally could never afford to take advantage of what you have worked so hard to build.  You have the opportunity to be salt and light those in need of grace and love.

This is our calling! 

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45, NIV).

A bit of context here. What does the phrase “least of these” mean? It is often mistranslated.  It does not mean that these poor souls are of less value than others.  Jesus is not promoting some hierarchy of worth as far as human values are concerned.  He does not lift the wealthy and self-sufficient to the top, while the poor or the materially and financially dependent are at the bottom of the totem pole.

The phrase “least of these” is better translated as “however humble” (New English Bible). The least of the brothers and sisters of Jesus are those persons who are vulnerable. They are the socially, psychologically, or economically disadvantaged, such as the sick, the poor, the mentally and physically disabled. Jesus cares about the needs of the poor. As God brings the poor, the parents in need to our doors, Jesus says, “Whatever you do the humble among you, do you it for me.” 

Questions to get the ball rolling.

How you will make use of the opportunities God is placing at the doorsteps of your school?

List barriers to school and church participation faced by those in the community here.

List key opportunities to meet the needs of those in the community here.

Give the characteristics for the last 20 who visited and enrolled at the school. Why did they choose your school?

[1] https://www.chooseyourschoolwi.org/history/

[2] https://www.barna.com/research/parents-look-christian-schools/

[3] http://nidlcms.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Empower-Illinois-Overview.pdf

Here is the previous post referenced above.

Four Ways to Move Your Ministry from Comfort to Courage

This post is the second of a two-part series for the church on how to overcome compliancy. 

1.     Avoid routines.

Compliancy is never something we seek, it sort of happens to us.  We get into comfortable routines and those routines become a way of life and we forget how to stretch our ministry wings and fly. This illustration is a prime example.

Ronald Meredith, in his book Hurryin’ Big For Little Reasons, describes one quiet night in early spring: Suddenly out of the night came the sound of wild geese flying. I ran to the house and breathlessly announced the excitement I felt. What is to compare with wild geese across the moon? It might have ended there except for the sight of our tame mallards on the pond. They heard the wild call they had once known. The honking out of the night sent little arrows of prompting deep into their wild yesterday’s. Their wings fluttered a feeble response. The urge to fly–to take their place in the sky for which God made them–was sounding in their feathered breasts, but they never raised from the water. The matter had been settled long ago. The corn of the barnyard was too tempting! Now their desire to fly only made them uncomfortable. The temptation is always enjoyed at the price of losing the capacity for flight. – Jim Moss.

Take the time to examine the routines you have as a church and ask the tough questions: Are things or customs clipping our ministry wings? Have certain practices prevented us from taking bold chances for God?

2.    Ask for feedback. 

Without guidance, a people will fall, but there is victory with many counselors. Proverbs 11:14

This proverb follows a pattern of proverbs “imprudent action brings disaster / prudent action gives security.” [1]The writer gives advice about seeking feedback or wise counsel because a leader can fritter away valuable resources.  How many leaders can you think of that surround themselves with people who only agree with them and those kind of so-called friends drag them into a foolish decisions. 

3.     Reward employees and volunteers.

I often wonder why we seem so afraid to reward those who serve so faithfully in the church?

Maybe this illustration gives us some insight. 

One morning I opened the door to get the newspaper and was surprised to see a strange little dog with our paper in his mouth. Delighted with this unexpected “delivery service,” I fed him some treats. The following morning, I was horrified to see the same dog sitting in front of our door, wagging his tail, surrounded by eight newspapers.

I spent the rest of that morning returning the papers to their owners. – Marion Gilbert, Reader’s Digest, February 1994, p. 12.

Is it possible that if we reward people for their service they will work harder, expecting more even more rewards, is thatispossible?  Is it also possible that people will lose sight of why they are serving and serve only because of the honors bestowed on them?  The other real danger is people will stop serving because they don’t feel appreciated.  Those faithful staffers and volunteers could become disillusioned by the lack of acknowledgment of their service.  Yes, I know God notices, but it would not hurt if the church honored those who sacrificially give of their time and talents. 

4.    Strike a balance

We live in a day in time where our society lacks balance.  It forces you to pick sides, there are no longer gray areas. Beliefs and traditions are not wrong unless they lead us away from God.  The push to be missional is not wrong unless it forces us to compromise the truth of the Gospel.  Our confession and mission must co-exist.  You cannot be confessional and not also be missional. You cannot be missional and not be confessional.  If you are confessional but not missional then what Paul wrote in Romans 10 is on full display, “14 So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news.”

And we cannot preach a message that is not found on the truth, as Paul also warns in 1 Corinthians 16, “13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.”  

The church has never been more needed, but not a compromising, trendy church.  A strong confessional, mission-driven church. One which stands firmly on the truth and God’s word and preaches Christ boldly to an unconnected world.  Now is not the time to sit and be comfortable, it’s time to live out our calling. 


[1]Garrett, D. A. (1993). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of songs(Vol. 14, pp. 125–126). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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