Archive for November, 2013


Advent Bulletin Graphic

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Check out our new worship bulletin graphic that we’ll be using for Advent. It is an original design by one of our talented members, Mark Marturello. Mark has served as an illustrator for the Des Moines Register for 25 years. Thanks Mark!

Categories : Advent, Christmas
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Ministry Decision Filters

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Every church and its leadership is faced with choices. There are multiple decisions that are made every year that impact the future direction of the congregation. This weekend in worship I shared three questions that should serve as filters for every decision we face.

Filter #1: Are we being faithful to Christ and His Word?
I am a homeowner. After work I go to my house. Sometimes my wife and I will invite people to come to our house. But its really not my house. Every month I get a letter in the mail from my mortgage company that reminds me that they are the true owners of my residence. Though they rightfully own my house, I have a responsibility to care for it. I fix things that break. I pay for utilities and cut the grass. I decorate, furnish, insure and even pay taxes on it.

With that in mind, it’s not my church. It’s not your church. It’s not even our church. It’s Christ’s church. Sometimes we need a Vince Lombardi, “this is a football” kind of reminder of whose we are. I get that we will refer to the church as “my church,” but its good for us every now and then to stop and reflect on who really owns the Church.

Filter #2: Are we being faithful to the great commission?
Churches have invested a lot of time and energy to nuance and wordsmith elaborate mission statements that can be printed on the back of a business card or articulated on an elevator ride. They pursue brands, logos and icons that accompany the mission statement and serve as visible reminders of why they exist. All of that is to be commended as long as it reflects the great commission. Jesus did not delegate to us the responsibility of figuring out why we exist. Its his church and we must passionately pursues his mission and purpose for it. If anything we do does not reflect the great commission it should be viewed with suspicion if not altogether invalid.

Filter #3: Are we acting in the best interest of the whole?
Patrick Lencioni wrote a helpful book about silos, politics and turf wars. In it he describes the dangers that come upon any organization that operates independently versus interdependently. The desire for everyone to win and for everyone to be happy is completely understandable. But sometimes that’s not possible. Sometimes churches have to make decisions based on whats best for the whole, even if it comes at the expense of one or more parts.

Last year I led our church to make a change in our staffing structure. The decision allowed us to virtually double the time investment in our youth and children’s programming and at the same time freed up tens of thousands of dollars that could be reinvested in ministry. Unfortunately, not having an additional full time clergy on board increased my personal workload in the areas of pastoral ministry and administration. The decision I led the church to make was not best for me personally, but it was the right decision and the best decision for the whole.

There may be additional questions that serve as possible filters for ministry decisions. But I think these three are a good start. What filters do you have in place?

Categories : Church, Leadership
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One of the first disciplines I developed in pastoral ministry was record keeping. I use a special book to record every wedding and funeral that I officiate. It has blanks that ask for specific items of information as well as extra lines for me to write any additional thoughts. For some reason I have recorded the age and cause of death for each person whose funeral I’ve conducted. As I prepared this particular sermon I spent some time looking through those pages. I’ve conducted funerals for people of all ages who have died from various causes including disease, accidents, combat and murder. This review made two immediate impressions on me. First, death is no respecter of persons. It does not discriminate according to age, race, gender, status or wealth. Death knows no prejudice. Second, we will all experience death. Our resources may prolong our lives but they will not prevent our deaths.

Among the great philosophical questions of life is, what happens when I die? The answers are varied. Some believe that death is the complete annihilation of life. There is nothing on the other side of death. Another view is that at the time of death we are reincarnated into another living being. Similarly is yet another position that believes that when we die our lives are absorbed into creation, giving energy to the wind, the waves, the trees and so forth. Gaining recent popularity is another view that the world is filled with disembodied spirits who have died but gone no where in particular. They continue to dwell in the material world and can be contacted through mediums.

But what is the Christian view? Where do followers of Christ find hope in the face of our greatest fear?

The biblical answer to death is resurrection. If you take the time to read the eleventh chapter of the the Gospel of John you’ll find the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Just prior to that miracle, Jesus engaged Lazarus’ sister Martha in an important conversation.

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life.e Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God” (John 11:21-27, NLT).

Following that conversation Jesus proceeded to raise Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus’ resurrection would serve as an illustration of resurrection for those who would witness it an for us as well. Like Martha, we believe that at the last day when Christ returns we will experience resurrection. But what happens in between? Like Jesus, Lazarus was in the tomb for a few days prior to his resurrection. What was going on during that time? What happens to us between death and resurrection?

The Bible does not offer a specific passage that outlines the answer to that question in one sitting. Like much of our theology, its pieced together from various Bible verses like a puzzle. As a Christian, I understand death as the separation of body and soul. I further believe the soul goes immediately into the presence of God at the time of death. Passages like 2 Corinthians 5:8, Philippians 1:23, Luke 23:43-26, Acts 7:56-59, and 2 Corinthians 12:1-7 provide some indication that at death we are immediately ushered into God’s presence. Beyond those core convictions, what happens between death and resurrection remains somewhat mysterious. The good news for Christians is that we don’t have to fully understand death to be free from the fear of death. We can still make every day count and live it to the fullest as we pursue God’s purposes and plans for our lives.

Categories : Hope
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One of the leaders of the organic church movement is Neil Cole. You may or may not be interested in the organic church, but here are some quotes from his most recent book that could be beneficial to any tradition.

“It is time to abandon the domestic faith of suburban consumer Christianity to live a life of risk for the love of a Savior who left heaven to live among the poor and marginalized people of a backward and oppressed nation.”

“If what we have been doing for the past hundred years hasn’t produced a movement yet, why on earth would we keep on doing what we have been doing?”

“When a church starts to accumulate things and hold on to them as prizes worth defending or preserving, they will quickly find that their affection and provision is not found in Christ but in the maintenance and management of possessions and property.”

“Any church that is in competition for a market share of a finite constituency in a given target population is propagating a business rather than a body.”

“Much can be accomplished by creating new wineskins and allowing them to coexist with the old. Wine is meant to be spent, not kept forever. Once wine is gone the old skins are to be tossed aside. The value is in the wine, not the skins. Life never comes from the structure. If we never create new wineskins for the fresh wine we will eventually run out of the wine. Old wine is valuable, and Jesus never wants to spill a drop, but without creating new wine there will never be old wine in the future. It’s the wine that is valuable to God and has the power to change the world.”

“Your church is only as good as its disciples.”

“Death is more than an important idea for discipleship—it is absolutely essential. Without a death, there is no disciple. Without dying to self, we do not have life within us…without death, you cannot have resurrection.”

“A dead leader is a dangerous leader. Such a person has nothing left to lose. No personal glory is at stake. No rewards. Ambition is dead. There is no agenda but what is asked of the leader by Jesus. A dead person has no possessions to protect. You can’t even really tempt a dead person; corpses feel no pain and have no lust. Dead people do not get their feelings hurt or feel offended by what has been said or not said. Once we pass through death, what else is there to fear?”

“Think about it: if your sermon was going to catalyze a revival, wouldn’t it have happened by now? Pastors have been preaching every Sunday for hundreds of year; it is now time to obey all that Jesus commanded, not just talk about it.”

“We believe with all our hearts that a church that is overtly generous with all the resources it has been blessed with will always have enough to do whatever God has called it to. We also believe that greater resources come to the churches that are generous. A generous church is one that Jesus will want to increase and multiply. A greedy church is one that He will not want more of.”

“A leader who is no longer haunted by the far of insecurity leads from a place of incredible strength. When one’s ego is not wrapped up with performance, one will have the courage to make right decisions that may or may not be one’s best interests.”

“Usually, if it is organic, it will not cost money. We often say that it doesn’t cost a dime to make a disciple; it only costs your life. Pour your life where there is health, and let it multiply and spread so that the life pervade the church body…Water the green spot and let it spread.”

Categories : Books
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How Not to Be “People Watched”

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Almost everyone I know enjoys “people watching.” It’s become one of our nation’s favorite past times. Have you ever wondered if you were the focus of other’s people watching? What can people like you and me do to make sure that we are never the object of other’s people watching? Recently my daughters and I composed a working list of do’s and don’ts to make sure that we are never the fodder for the growing amusement. Hopefully some of these suggestions will help you prepare for Christmas shopping this season.

1. Dress your age.
Among those that caused us to take a second glance were those who chose not to dress age appropriately. Of course there are those who dress a little old for their age, middle school kids, and such. But the most noticeable were those who dressed a little young. Honorable mention to women who dress like their adult, married daughters.

2. Wear your size.
I am savvy enough to know that the clothing industry has waved their magic wands to change sizes to lift shoppers spirits, although I still don’t understand how someone could be a size zero let alone a double zero. But let’s be honest. Just because you can button it or zip it doesn’t make it right.

3. Mix in a parenting class.
Toward the top of the leader board are those are challenged by their children’s behaviors in public. Anyone who has kids or had young kids know that shopping with kids can be challenging. Babysitters are not always an option. But seriously. They’re your kids. Watch them. No one else is. While I’m at it let me take a moment to address a personal pet peeve. Please don’t sit your diapered child on the check out counter. Especially in a fast food restaurant. You’re putting your kid’s unchanged diaper precisely where the cashier is going to place the food I will put in my mouth.

4. Use your indoor voice.
You’re not at a football game. You aren’t out of doors. I struggle with this one because I’m a loud talker, so I have to constantly check my volume. Yes, even when I’m speaking on my cell phone.

5. Wear a belt.
This is self explanatory.

6. Stay awake.
I appreciate the fact that department stores put comfy chairs in the women’s section so weary men can find a respite amidst the racks and racks of clothes. Please enjoy the comfy chairs, but stay awake. Guys like me have a hard time keeping daughters like mine from taking pictures of you with your eyes closed and mouth agape.

7. Check the weather.
When it’s 22 degrees outside, no one thinks you’re tough when you wear shorts with or without the UGG boots.

8. Don’t touch stuff.
If you touch stuff you run the risk of knocking over entire displays and everyone will look at you like they did me in Michael’s not too long ago. No matter how cool or graceful you try to look, you’ll be perceived as a klutz. And no one is going to buy the loudly spoken explanation about the defective arrangement of said items.

9. Don’t overreact to sale prices.
While good sales are to be celebrated, use caution with your level of exuberance lest those around you confuse your gasping with a potential health crisis.

Those are nine tips that will help you avoid being the object of others observations.

Categories : Humor
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Jesus’ audience did not anticipate the twist in the plot. They had no way of predicting the kind of reception the prodigal would receive from his father. Jesus’ portrayal of the prodigal’s father was significantly different than their understanding of Jewish fatherhood. The prodigal’s father had been looking for him, and when he saw him he ran–something no Jewish father would have done. When he caught up with him he embraced him and kissed him.

As the prodigal began his rehearsed speech the father began to give instructions to his servants. He told them to bring four important things.

The first item the prodigal was handed was a robe. The robe would have been more than a fresh change of clothes. According to Numbers 15:37-40, the robes that they wore were adorned with tassels that would remind the wearer to “remember to obey all the commands of the Lord instead of following their own desires.” When he was given the robe, the prodigal got his faith back.

The second item the father instructed to be given was the ring. The signet ring was used to imprint was seals on financial documents. When the prodigal received the ring he was given his fortune back.

The prodigal was then given shoes. In first century culture, only family members wore shoes. Servants went barefoot. When he was provided shoes the prodigal got his family back.

The final item the father had the servants produce was the fatted calf. In Jewish culture, when one person offended another person the offended party would say, “let’s have fatted calf.” Having fatted calf was an act of reconciliation where the offended party pledged to never speak of the offense again or allow anyone to take up his offense. It was a gesture of grace and forgiveness. When the fatted calf was brought out, the prodigal got his father back.

The father didn’t use words to express forgiveness. He demonstrated forgiveness. He behaved in a forgiving way. Jesus told this story to communicate what our heavenly father is like. He’s not a father like we’ve ever known. He loves, he looks, and he runs to us when we take the first step home. You may feel like you’re in the far country. You may even feel as though your life is so far removed from God that you can’t come home. Nothing is farther from the truth. The father is waiting and watching.

Categories : Hope
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The story of the prodigal son is familiar (Luke 15:11-32). There was a man with two sons. They lived with their father, working on the family farm. One day the younger son approached the father and asked for his portion of the inheritance. We know an inheritance as something that is transferred upon the death of the benefactor. In so many words, the son was saying, “I wish you were dead.” The father agreed and divided the portion to his son. The son gathered his belongings and left, never looking over his shoulder. He went to a distant land and wasted all of the money on wild living. I think its interesting that the father let him go. He could have rightfully said no. Or he could have said, you can go if you will but I will not under write your venture. But he didn’t. He divided the estate and allowed him to leave.

We talk a lot about the prodigal’s behavior, but we cannot ignore what was in his heart. I believe his heart arrived in the distant land long before his body did. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Jesus said, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evils things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45, NLT). Be careful what you allow to dwell in your heart, because sooner or later you will act on it.

While in the distant land, the son ran into two simultaneous tragedies. He ran out of money and ran into a famine. When the money was gone, he began to starve. He found a job working for a farmer who sent this young Jewish man into the field to feed the pigs. And no one gave him anything. The thing about sin is that it will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay and cost you more than you want to pay.

At his lowest point the prodigal “came to his senses.” Look at what he did: “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ So he returned home to his father” (Luke 15:17-20, NLT).

Here are three things he did that we can do when we come to the end of ourselves.
1. He accepted responsibility for his life. He owned his stuff. He didn’t make excuses nor blame others for his choices.
2. He acted with humility. He was willing to return at a lesser role. He didn’t make demands, set conditions or have expectations.
3. He took the first step. He returned home to his father, with no assurance that his father would receive him.

Tomorrow I’ll finish this series with the surprising plot twist that would have shocked the audience. In the meantime, remember that you’re never too far to come home and its never too late to come to your senses.

Categories : Hope
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The boss of a big company needed to call one of his employees about an urgent problem with one of the main computers. He dialed the employee’s home telephone number and was greeted with a child’s voice, “Hello?” It was a quiet little voice. Feeling put out at the inconvenience of having to talk to a youngster, the boss asked, “Is your Daddy home?” “Yes,” said the small voice. “May I talk with him?” the man asked. To the surprise of the boss, he replied, “No.” Wanting to talk with an adult, the boss asked, “Is your Mommy there?” “Yes,” came the answer. “May I talk with her?” Again, the little voice said, “No.” Knowing that it was not likely that a young child would be left home alone, the boss decided he would just leave a message with the person who should be there watching over the child. “Is there anyone there besides you?” the boss asked the child. “Yes,” said the child, “a policeman.” Wondering what a cop would be doing at his employee’s home, the boss asked, “May I speak with the policeman?” “No, he is busy,” said the child. “Busy doing what?” asked the boss. “Talking to Daddy and Mommy and the Fireman,” came the answer. Growing concerned and even worried as he heard what sounded like a helicopter through the ear piece on the phone, the boss asked, “What is that noise?” “A hello-copper,” answered the tiny voice. “What is going on there?” asked the boss, now alarmed. In an awed voice, the child answered, “They just landed the hello-copper” Alarmed, concerned and more than just a little frustrated, the boss asked, “Why are they there?” Still whispering, the young voice replied (along with a muffled giggle), “They are looking for me.”

Is it possible to sin to such a degree that God will not forgive? Is it possible to go so far beyond the reach of God that we can never return to Him? Is it possible for us to stray and wander to the point that God quits looking for us? Can we come to the point where God gives up on us? Even though you attend church and even though you seldom miss, you may secretly wonder deep down whether or not you have done something that has caused God to give up on you. If not, chances are high you live with someone or work with someone or know someone who feels that way.

For the last two weeks I’ve been posting about hope and how to find hope when we come to the end of our rope and when we come to the end of our strength. This week I want to share about how we can find hope when we come to the end of ourselves, and there’s no better passage for us to study together than the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15.

Categories : Hope
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