Loyalty in Friendship

Oreius

Several years ago I was in a movie theatre watching the first Chronicles of Narnia.  I was prepared for a powerful gospel presentation at the end of the movie, but I was unprepared to find myself breaking down crying during mid-movie.

During an epic war scene, Peter, the eldest child and high King of Narnia, led his righteous army into battle but had to order his forces to fallback because they were clearly being overtaken.  While he was bringing up the rear of his brigade his horse was shot out from underneath him.  When he finally gained his composure and rose to his feet, it was too late to run, the enemy was upon him.

That is when my favorite scene begins.

A great Centaur named Orius, half horse-half man,  who was second in command to Peter, witnessed him falling and leaped forward to face the enemy.  In an act of self-sacrifice to protect his King, the noble warrior charged countless soldiers that were about to destroy Peter.  One by one, he wreaked havoc on his foes, until he came to the evil Queen who was surrounded by scores of dark warriors.  Certainly knowing the impossibility of victory, but driven by his fierce loyalty, he single handily attacked an adversary who was far greater in power than him.  The scene ended with the wicked Queen stabbing him and the stout-hearted Orius being turned to stone.

Watching this I broke down.  The Bible says, “greater love has no man than this, than a man lays down his life for a friend”.  That night I began to ask myself, would I lay my life down for a friend?  As I began to ponder this thought and begin shaping it into a question in my prayer life before God, it changed to the question.  “Am I a loyal person?”.   I thought about the movie and I realized I was impacted not by the main character, Peter, but Orius, a supporting character.  This became another great question to ask myself.  “Do I always have to be the main role or can I be a great support?”

I think many people spend time thinking about their desire to have great friends.  I wonder however, how many people spend time thinking about how they can be a great friend to others.

Tonight I am flying back from working with some ministry partners who are transitioning from a ministry they have been doing for a long time. I am realizing how fast seasons can change.  Jobs change, locations change, organizations change, but one thing can endure for as long as we live on this earth and it is friendship.  I might not ever go back to the city where my friends worked.  I might not ever sit in a board meeting talking about strategy for the church they led.  But one thing I hope for, is that wherever my friends live, and no matter what they do, we will stay connected.  Loyalty is the glue of friendships.  I hope that at the end of my life I will be remembered by my friends as one who was loyal to them.   I pray that the people around me will see me as an “Orius” for them.

“Orius” for them.

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Let’s go fishin’

My son and I had the thrill of deep sea fishing off the coast of a Mexican Island recently. Since I have been fishing my whole life I didn’t have high expectations to catch many fish. My experience has been that on many fishing excursions the fish are the winners and I go home empty handed. You can imagine my elation when we filled our boat with a big catch.

When Jesus first called His disciples he said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. Fishermen catch fish. If they are not bringing fish in they are not doing their job. And if fisherman don’t do their job we are all going to feel it. We won’t have fish on our tables and they won’t be able to provide for their families. Simply put, we need fishermen to bring in a catch.

Jesus brilliantly used the analogy of fishing for men as His first description of the disciples role in the kingdom because if we ever stop bringing in the new catch the kingdom stops advancing.

Church growth experts tell us that the average church loses eight to ten percent of its parishioners each year due to normal circumstances, ie… job transfers, going away to school, changing churches. Even the churches that retain their members the best are not immune to this constant hemorrhaging. Therefore, if a church is not continually gathering new people it is actually going backwards. In order to be healthy churches have to grow!

After working with numerous churches, i don’t believe I have met a pastor who doesn’t want to gather new people. But why does it happen for some and not for others?

Let me give you a few keys for gathering new folks which I have seen work in growing churches:

  • Prayer: Churches grow when a staff continually prays for new people to come into the church. New growth is a continual point of intercession for me as a Lead Pastor.
  • Leading by inviting: If the leader invites people it will become a cultural norm. A lead pastor must always see himself as a gatherer. Studies show in churches of under 150 a lead pastor is the primary gatherer in the church. Here is a small list of people to invite to a church: Neighbors, all service people (mailman, cable man, plumber, anyone that comes to your home), children’s school friends and their families, friends from children’s sport teams, waiters, and store cashiers.
  • Invitation cards: Our church passes out thousands of invitation cards. It is easy to hand someone a card with a map and service times on it. Having small post card size cards always on hand with a attractive pictures and a compelling statement are easy ways to remind us to invite people.
  • A great website: This is where you need to be willing to invest time and money. Most people are now looking at a church website and even listening to or watching a sermon before they ever walk through the doors of a church. See Kendall Laughlin’s Church Web-strategy work (click here to download).
  • Gathering events: We continually do events like a free Halloween Harvest Carnival, or a free Easter Egg Hunt, or a free Car wash. I think you noticed the word “free”. All these events are ways to bless the community and allow us to invite new people to be a part of our church family.

There are seasons where new people come in to the church like a trickle and then there are occasions where they come in like a flood. I must remember that the Lord is the one who brings the increase. When there is an increase I want to thank and praise Him. But let us never forget that as fishers of men, we always need to be fishing.

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Try receiving before giving this Christmas!

This Christmas I want you to focus more on getting than giving. Before you accuse me of taking the message that the retail world is trying to propagate at Christmas time hook line and sinker, hear me out. I know that BMW has told us that they are not just making cars any more but actually manufacturing joy. And if you get one you will have the same glee that the people in the commercials exude. I am well aware that Starbucks is claiming to have put happiness in a cup with their holiday beverages. I know that Kay Jewelers is heralding the answer to increasing Christmas season, marital bliss with their charm bracelets and popular chocolate diamonds. But being gifted with one of these commodities is not at all the path I am promoting to a joy filled holiday.

Charities, churches and good-deed-doers are espousing a different message. Give. They tell us that the more you give the more joy you will have this Holiday season. I believe this is partially true. But I have also witnessed people who have had this modus operandi for years and yet they seem to finish the Yuletide season more tired than joyful.

How can this be? Because giving alone does not guarantee a joyful return on your sacrifice. Many a time the people that purpose to make the Christmas season all about giving end up frustrated. They place their hope in giving the “perfect” gift. Or perhaps they put their joy in the response of the recipient. Often when their gifts are given, the recipient does not express the enthusiasm that the giver was hoping for and then there is a huge disappointment. The scenario can even be more bleak if the recipient of the gift feels pressure to have a certain response, but can’t seem to manufacture it. I have been on this end with loved ones, and it is not a fun place to be. I can tell when a person giving me a gift has an expectation for me to put on a “thankfulness performance”. You see giving done in the wrong spirit, can actually extract the joy in a situation.

Or take for example the “holiday saint” that focusses on serving the poor. But in their heart they have a martyr complex. As they watch others gallivanting around going to parties, shopping and engaging in less altruistic endeavors, they are bitter. They think, “Why am I the only one feeding the homeless, sending money to Africa, and visiting convalescent homes?” Now of course I would never discourage these things. Quite the contrary! I want to do more for the poor this year than I have ever done before. But take it from someone who has been there. When you are doing these things with bitterness in your heart, you certainly won’t be filled with joy.

So what is the alternative? Try really receiving this Christmas. This whole Christmas thing started with a prophesy. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” These beautiful words are found in the ninth chapter of Isaiah. And it gets better than that. As you continue to read, you actually learn the description of the gift of this child. He is a Wonderful Counselor. That means he can walk you through your hardships and trials of life. He is a Mighty God. That means he can heal your body, and bring a miracle in the midst of your most impossible situation. He is the Everlasting Father. Your huge need for love and covering will be totally met in his embrace. And He is the Prince of Peace. No longer do you have to feel hounded by anxiety, worry and despair. Let his massive sword strike down your foes and his presence flow into your being bringing tranquility. I try to begin everyday in the Holiday season meditating and relishing in the tremendous gifts that I received when Jesus came to earth.

I bet you that if your main focus this Christmas is to receive from God, in the end you will overflow with more gifts for others than you ever have in your life. Remember you can only give what you have. So this Christmas get ready to receive!

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Finding Your Calling

As a pastor I spend a good deal of my time meeting with people who are trying to discern their life calling. After numerous discussions I have found that several thoughts have been helpful in discerning direction.

First of all, it is important to know that most people’s major life contribution comes between the age of forty to sixty. Here is a basic summary of the life time line of a believer who lives out a life calling (this is adapted from Bobby Clinton’s work, leadership professor from Fuller Seminary). From Birth to eighteen are known as the sovereign years. Meaning we did not pick the family we were born into, the town in which we were raised, or our economic or ethnic background. These distinct qualities were sovereignly decided for us. A person’s twenties are focussed on character development. Who are we when no one is looking? We must pass the tests of faithfulness, honesty, and purity among other value tests. Our thirties are the skill development years. Although we begin learning at an early age, it seems that the skills that we will use for our significant life contribution are instilled and sharpened in that season. And then for most people, their major life work and contribution will be made in their forties to sixties. From one’s sixties until the end of life are what as known as the legacy time period, in which we spend the majority of our time passing on what we have learned to the younger generations.

So why start a dialogue on life calling talking about the decades life? I have found that it really takes the pressure off a twenty year old, when they are told, “God is currently more concerned with your character in this than your contribution.” By understanding what God is doing in someone’s life in a certain decade we become more focussed on “becoming” rather than “accomplishing”.

After understanding the decades of life. There are several indicators that when converged together seem to be point towards a general life calling. The first indicator is revelation God speaks directly to us. A clear example was God speaking to Gideon that he was a mighty warrior, even when he was only a little farmer. Then God told him he would defeat the Midianites. This was certainly a dramatic call, but I find that God gives some people a very specific call. A less directional word that didn’t necessarily deal with vocation, but certainly a calling of identity was Jesus telling Simon that he would now be Peter or Cephas meaning “rock”.

The next indicator is words other believers have spoken over you. A clear Biblical example of this was that Samuel the Prophet, spoke over David that he would be king. Many times God uses the church to call out giftings and calling in us. I try to write down any word that someone gives me that resonates with my spirit.

A third indicator is what you are passionate about. Another way to say it, is what gets you excited and makes you want to act. Is it orphans, is it business, is it building things. What do you do, that when you are doing it, you are in your sweet spot. You might have the thought, “I was created to do this”.

Lastly, what do the wise people around me believe is my calling. The book of Proverbs says “He who walks with the wise is wise”. Because God loves you, he will place mature, godly people that surround you, wisdom for your life. Seek their counsel for discerning God’s calling on your life.

Most importantly, we must remember this, Psalm 16 says that God has assigned our portion and our cup, surely the boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places for us. God has your best in mind. He wants to bless you and bless others through you!

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The further away I go, the clearer I see!

As my family drives through the California countryside I continually point out deer off in the distance. My wife is always commenting that my vision is so good, as half the time she cannot see what I am looking at. She squints and tries to make out the object in the distance. This is a common phenomenon in life. The further away something is, the harder it is to see. Conversely we have all had times when we were squinting at something in the distance, but as we moved closer it came more and more into focus.

I have found the exact opposite is true for me as a church planter. Often the closer I am to a situation, the more blurry it is. Unfortunately this is how it can be with my church and my mission. At times I feel that I have become so entrenched in the daily life of my church that my vision has become dull, diluted and small. This naturally seems to happen due to endless administrative details, umpteen pastoral crises, and numerous, tiring, routine meetings.

I spent the last two weeks in a remote part of the Amazon Basin. After flying into Lima, Peru, we took another flight to Iquitos (a city which is only accessible by plane or boat). Upon arrival in Iquitos we went to a primitive shipyard, where we hopped on a barge. After tying in our hammocks, which would serve as our sleeping quarters, our seats, and our dining area we settled in for a 29 hour boat ride. At midnight the barge banked in a pitch dark, tiny village, where my missions team hopped on a small boat with a thatched roof to navigate through crocodile infested waters, in the blackness of night. It was during the next few days walking among thatched roof huts, and listening to rhythmic jungle drums playing in tiny amazon churches where I could feel that my vision was coming into focus again. In fact maybe clearer than ever.

The vision: preaching the news of Jesus to people that have never heard… starting churches that transform lives. Making disciples. And living out the Bible. Nothing new, nothing complex, but crystal clear.

And with that vision came a re-stoking of a fire in my heart that perhaps had grown colder in the past weeks. But sitting out underneath the brilliant southern constellations, I could feel the sparks fanning into flame!

The lesson I am learning… when I go to the nations… I begin to see clear again. How ironic that I need to go thousands of miles away, to have clarity of vision at home. Perhaps that is just one more reason that Jesus told all of his disciples to “Go into all nations…”

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Seeds Can Take Awhile to Grow

A seed goes into the ground. It seems to disappear. Day after day you look and…nothing. Until one day there is life…

Probably at no time of the year are more people going to be invited to a church event than at Easter. Without a doubt Easter Sunday is the “Superbowl Sunday” of the church world. All over America pastors are attempting to inspire their members to invite people to church. I will of course join the ranks of pastors imploring their people to sow invitations broadly. As I am convinced that we have the best news on earth, and as I have seen how many peoples lives are absolutely changed through the church, how can I not be a champion of this cause.

But what I know is that many times pastors, church leaders, and small group leaders can be very discouraged when they have tried to launch a big invitation campaign and there is not near the showing they wanted at that particular event. In fact, this discouragement isn’t just relegated to big events, but can fall upon anyone that is trying to bring in no people to a gathering. I have seen an interesting phenomena this week, however that God seems to be highlighting that I have to talk about.

At our college service this week, we had 5 people attend who said they had seen a billboard advertising our service. The interesting fact is, that the billboard has been down for over 6 weeks. Another young woman came who had never been to a church service in her life, when I asked her why she came, she said someone had given her a flyer weeks earlier. Furthermore I had a couple show up for the first time at my small group that I had invited 8 weeks ago. I had just written them off as people who would probably never attend.

Often we get discouraged when we invite people to something, and they don’t respond the first time. This week, however, I am struck by the power of the seed. Although we can’t see it, that invitation implants like a seed somewhere deep within the person. At the right time, so often, it leaps into bloom. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow”. Our responsibility seems to be spreading the seed. It is God’s responsibility to make it grow.

Another way to look at it is found in Luke 14. This parable is about a rich man having a banquet. The message is clear. Jesus portrays God as the party giver. Our role is merely the servants rapidly passing out invitations. When people reject the invitation they aren’t rejecting us, but God’s party. As I think of inviting people to church in this manner, it makes me a lot more confident. I am just passing out “party invitations”. At some time or another, someone is going to remember they got the “party invitation” and many of them, when they are ready, will come.

The simple law of numbers is this, the more invitations we send out, the more people that can come to a party. In the same way the more seeds a farmer sows, the bigger the crop. So let us go sow broadly. You never know what a seed can do!

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My Fight with Foolishness

“God, why would you have me do this?” As I stood, trembling and feeling nauseous, I forced my mouth to open. “Excuse me everyone here in this restroom!” I said loudly. “Oh no”, I thought, “I just said ‘restroom’ instead of ‘restaurant’.” It is challenging enough to stand up and preach in a public place. But to stumble over your words and look like a total fool adds insult to injury! Somehow there was grace to push past this humiliation and continue my message, even as all kinds of inquisitive eyes stared at me.

I wondered what these people were thinking. I probably looked normal enough. An average man in his thirties, dressed like any other typical Californian. For sure I wouldn’t fit the bill of a normal street preacher: cheap suit, fiery eyes, angry look, and megaphone in hand. I tried to smile and let compassion fill my eyes. I spoke of God’s love and his desire to answer prayers. Finally, as I sat down, I let out a deep sigh of relief. “Whew… the act of utter foolishness was over”.

Then, as it so often does, something powerful happened. A woman walked up and put a note on our table and said this if from my friend that is waiting outside. The note read, “ I need to talk. I am struggling with suicide.” There it was! The answer to my question to God. “Why would you have me do this?” Clearly, one of his little children was desperate. She needed to know there was hope as she sat in the restaurant that day. I suppose she wasn’t planning to go into a church. So God coordinated for one of his “people” to offer hope in a very strange and awkward way right where she needed it.

I went outside and talked with this woman. We prayed together. We solidified her understanding of salvation. We bound the demons attacking her. I gave her counsel on how to fight. When she left me she had a fresh glimmer of hope. I walked away, once again blown away by how God cares for people.

But with this kind of amazing testimony why does it continue to be so hard for me to step out in foolishness?

1 Corinthians 1:27-29
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
Foolishness, is such an important key to unlocking the kingdom of God. Clearly God resists the proud. He uses those who are humble. He chooses those who know their need. Those who are desperate for him and dependent on him are his chosen instruments.
I have experienced the fruit of foolishness time and time again. I even teach foolishness. Yet I find myself continually resisting foolishness. Why? Because it goes against everything I have learned my whole life. From the time I could walk and talk I have been taught to present myself in a polished manner. “Tuck in your shirt.” “Do not say ‘ain’t’.” “Use gentleman manners.” “Don’t wear that, you look like a red-neck.” “Sit up straight.” “Dress for success.” “Get the best education.” “This will be good for your resume.”
In retrospect, like a dog sent to obedience school, I have been conditioned to be a portrait of “worldly wisdom”. Now it goes against everything in me to listen to the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. Especially whenever he tells me to abandon my dignity and do something that people will think is foolish.
As I have thought about my internal battle to submit to a foolish lifestyle I have identified three things have helped me toward this goal:
First- A community of people committed to the same end. Just as nothing is harder for me than doing things alone, so nothing brings greater comfort to me than a band of people who are committed to the same cause. When I hear of others making radical choices, preaching in public places, giving their possessions to the poor, and moving in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, my heart is strengthened to press onward.
Second- Studying the lives of Jesus and Paul reminds me that I am in good company. The Son of God did not come in an impressive manner, but as a poor peasant. I have to daily remind my soul, which craves to be respected, impressive, and dignified, that the Saviour I am seeking to immitate received quite the opposite. Paul said that the apostles were a spectacle; they were the refuse of the earth. I have to keep pounding this into my mind. If I long to yield the power and influence of the great men of faith, I too will suffer.
Lastly- The gift of walking in supernatural power and witnessing the transformation of people around me. As I learn to submit to the Spirit’s prompting he pours out His Spirit. Moving in the power of the Spirit is not only thrilling, but it satisfies my longing to make a difference in this world. In my own strength I cannot save a soul, heal a broken body, or deliver someone who is tormented. But endowed with the power of the Spirit, all of these endeavors become normal.
Perhaps this war between worldly wisdom and foolishness will be waging within me for the rest of my days. But today, once again, I say “Yes Lord, I will step out in foolishness when you call me”.

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