Permissions > Restrictions

Here in WA State we are undergoing more restrictions as COVID numbers are on the rise. Though these are arguably necessary, they are negatively affecting small businesses, grocery shopping, church gatherings, medical treatment, and much more.

My wife and I co-lead our missional faith community and we also work at a very busy grocery store in town. The latest restrictions are causing many in our community to go back into the ‘panic shopping’ that we witnessed last Spring. So, we are feeling all the craziness first-hand.

Thankfully, I was able to spend some significant time reflecting on life and scripture this morning (admittedly for the first time in over a week). And as is always the case with God, he kindly gave me a powerful reminder.

Whatever I speak, write, and post becomes my reality. Those actions (choices) define what is truth in my life. Like it or not, I can’t argue with that.

Let me share with you part of a reflection I wrote in my journal today.

Focus: Acknowledge the circumstances around you without adding to the negativity. Speak optimism & hope whenever possible.

This was big for me. It’s so easy to fall in line with the copious amount of pessimism and chaos in our world today. Allowing myself to simply blend in with the norm of that noise around us doesn’t lead to anything helpful. I don’t know if it’s possible to add white noise to white noise, but this is not what I want to be about.

Hence the title of this post, ‘Permissions > Restrictions.’ We don’t really have many choices in our daily lives when new COVID restrictions are placed on us. But we do have unlimited PERMISSIONS available to us. What do I mean?

You and I have an incredible opportunity to stand out, to be a loud sounding ‘gong’ in all this negative white noise. And it’s so rare right now that people will absolutely notice when we choose to react to negative circumstances differently than the vast majority of our surrounding society.

This does not mean that we ignore facts or act like COVID, politics, social unrest, and financial stress don’t exist. These things are very real and affect real lives. But another very real truth is that we have a loving God in Heaven who offers us wisdom, power, direction, and comfort for the times we live in. And God has given us each other. I honestly don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have my faith, family, and community.

So….I’m making a declaration on my own personal attitude, my own behavior. For the remainder of November and all through December I will be making a conscious (imperfect) attempt at inserting optimism into conversations with others. The same goes for the thoughts that go on in my mind.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please drop me a comment below.  

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“Taking the Church’s Biblical Pulse”

(This is a continuation of an  article I wrote for Light and Life Magazine’s January issue)

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Most Churches have a degree of illness in them.  It’s to be expected…Church is comprised of flawed people.  Now, we really can’t talk about Church health without utilizing the Bible.  I know we ‘say’ that, but do we regularly compare our Church health to Biblical principles?  Let’s take a look at what I believe to be 5 key issues that make up the foundation of a healthy Church.

1) People Before Task Lists –  Jesus instructed us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39), not to put our ‘To-Do’ lists before people.  Life gets busy for all of us.  Tasks and errands affect everyone.  If we are not careful, however, we will get all of our boxes checked off but miss the hungry soul that crosses our path and not even know it.  This is what I normally refer to as Spirit Awareness.  I am constantly finding myself praying daily for the Holy Spirit to grab my attention when I am about to have an opportunity to plant a seed for the Kingdom.  If I do not ask for this I am typically not going to look for it.

2) Scripture Before Comfort –  This one is so uncomfortable, yet singlehandedly kills Churches.  When a fellow believer needs to have an unhealthy aspect of their life addressed, Ephesians 4:15 encourages the Church family to speak the truth in love, not ignore it in hopes that the issue will magically disappear (because it never does).  And if there is an offense or sin between believers, Matthew 18:15-17 clearly tells us how to go to the individual and take care of it.  Note, texting or sending them a direct message on Facebook does not count.  Trust me, even if Jesus had an iphone in his day I am pretty sure he would say what he had to say to your face and not drop subtle hints on your Instagram account.

3) Lord Before Pastor –  I realize this one might be a bit sensitive for some folks,  but it is right there in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:3).  We are to have no other gods before Him.  Did you know that the use of ‘gods’ here could translate “person of greatness or power?”  Lead Pastors are in this category.  This does not make them bad people, but Churches often place their Pastor on a pedestal so high (unintentionally) that they become the focal point of who is leading the Church instead of God.   Here is a tough question.  If your Pastor left your Church (circumstances aside) would it continue making an impact for Heaven without skipping a beat, or would it completely implode?

4) Sabbath and Prayer – There are seasons when we simply must rest.  Jesus modeled this with his disciples saying, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:31)  This applies to us as individuals as well as to the Church.  Might I suggest that it is O.K. occasionally for the Church to shut down ministry for a week of prayer?  Our church does this three times a year.  During a week of prayer we strongly encourage (all but mandate) all Bible studies, groups, student ministries, and outreach events to cease.  We then ask the congregation to join us in prayer and worship each night at the Church.  

5) Keep everything in the light – In other words, do not lead the Church via top secret Board meetings and ‘off record’ one-on-one talks with people who have personal agendas.  Likewise, avoid ignoring problems of gossip, infidelity, and other compromises of the faith within the Church.  Address these issues head on and with everyone involved once you become aware.  When evil is brought into light it cannot thrive away from darkness (Eph. 5:13-14).

Healthy Churches make greater impact for the Kingdom of God.

Is there anything you would add to this list?  What are some examples of solid Church health that you have seen?

Comments are welcome below, or you can leave me a voice message HERE.  God bless.

* Credit:  The majority of these principles come directly from our Operational Values at Christ Community Church, compiled by Rev. Keith Cowart.

We’re going to skin our knee on Ministry Work

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Sitting on the side of the road next to my bike, holding my scraped and bloody knee.  This is a scene that has been etched in my memory.  Not because of one isolated incident, but due to how many stinkin’ times I ‘biffed it’ trying to do something impressive (stupid) on my bike.

Remember when you were 7…8…9 years old?  Did you ever skin your knee or elbow on the pavement?  It only takes a moment thinking about it to vividly remember the pain and emotions of the moment.

I’m not sure why this is one experience that just happens to be almost a ‘right of passage’ through childhood.  But it is….not for all of us, but for most.
Recently, I received my Ordination (transferred from previous church) as a Minister in the Free Methodist Church.  Sure, I’ll now be able to officiate weddings and funerals in GA.  But this is a mile-marker much bigger for me.  The reason?
I’ve skinned my knee on the pavement of ‘church hurts’ too many times to count over the last 22 years.  My Pastor even suggested that I was suffering from a form of PTSD during one of our early talks!  When my family moved to GA 3 years ago, my wife took a Children’s Ministry position in our current church.  At that point, I pretty much saw myself lying on the scolding hot pavement, holding my skinned knee, and determined I’d never ride ‘that bike’ again!  I had not lost my faith in God…..just my faith in the Church!
Now that God has brought me out of that pity-party of suffering, I realize that last statement was ridiculous!  We can’t have a relationship with Jesus and reject the Church…His bride.  It simply doesn’t work!  I’m incredibly blessed to be serving again on staff at a church.  Now, I realize that I may scrape my knee again in the future.  I’m OK with that now….really.
Look at this…
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I (Jesus) have overcome the world.   John 16:33 (NLT)
In this passage, Jesus is specifically talking to his disciples about the impending troubles they were about to endure following his death.  But for me, it has taken on a very specific encouragement.  Here’s my paraphrase as it relates to the topic.
While doing ministry work you will have many seasons of pain, dysfunction, and sadness.  But never forget, I have power over these things.  Stay the course.
Let me share my definition(s) of church with you.
church – simply a community of believers learning how to do life and faith together.  We all vary in maturity, hurtful experiences, and resilience to life.
Church – the holy, pure ‘bride-to-be’ of Christ.
That said, my past wounds have been caused by the church & some of my own doing.  Hear me loud and clear on this.  We have not be attacked, hurt, defiled by the Church!
Can I share my conclusions with you?
– Kingdom work is messy.  Accept it and dive into it!
– God’s call to partner with Him is greater than the speed-bumps we will come against along the way.
– Our rewards are in Heaven.  We will experience few (if any) while here on Earth.  It’s not about the benefits. 
– No matter how bad, painful, or ridiculous our negative experiences in church work have been (will be) …..Jesus’ physical ministry experience was worse!  

If you find yourself lying on the side of the road reading this blog, I pray you find encouragement.  The numerous miles of riding down the road with the wind flowing through your hair should not be completely taken away from you due to a handful of scrapes and bruises.  


May you find healing, joy, and purpose in all that God has planned for you. 

How have you moved forward in ministry work?  Join the conversation below.

Take the Lid Off Your Church

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Recently, I had the opportunity to be part of the preview team for the launch of Tony Morgan’s new eBook on leadership.  I highly suggest you become familiar with Tony’s ministry and resources…if you haven’t already.

In ‘Take the Lid Off Your Church,’ Tony Morgan does an unbelievable job of packing 32 ounces of leadership caffeine into a 4 ounce gulp of practical ‘how-to’ insights for leading today’s Church.  Have you ever wondered if it was possible to turn negative conflict into health?  Have you ever prayed for “unwavering unity” in your staff?  Tony encourages us that these, and many other positive attributes, are both possible and achievable.  He addressed how to be strategic in finding and hiring church staff….as well as how/when to let them go.  
Of all the different leadership resources being published every year, this is hands-down one of the top must-read eBooks of the decade!  
One quote that really stood out to me is, “Without trust, there is no hope for a church to move forward.”  This is a  bold claim.  Read this eBook today, then see if you agree with him.  As a pastor who has experienced much negativity and unhealth in the Church, I challenge you to really implement the leadership practices and models in this eBook.  If you do, I promise your ministry will not be the same.
Question:  If your church leadership is in need of a change somewhere (and we all usually do), do you know what it is and what to do about it?