Let Pagans Play

Dave Ferguson offers this excerpt from the upcoming book, EXPONENTIAL: How You And Your Friends Can Start A Missional Church Movement on his blog:
Many of our artists play in local bands or perform in community theater companies. Since we encourage people at all stages of spiritual growth to use their art for God we have lots of artists who are recruited by other artists and begin doing their art before they become Christ followers. We’re not only OK with that, we encourage it. We have one campus that has been very successful in encouraging people playing in outside bands to come to church and play in the worship bands. They have recruited two entire bands that way. Not to mention that as result of the relationships that have been formed in these bands, a number of people have come to follow Jesus!

Next time you’re in a public place take a look around. If you are in a public place right now, go ahead and take a look. Research tells us that thirty percent of the people you see have significant artistic gifts. That’s 3 out of 10. And sadly enough most of them don’t think they have a place in the church. Yet those are the very people who you need along with your friends to catalyze and sustain a missional movement. So, go over and ask one of them to join you. Now. Seriously.

The Top Ten Mysteries of Life

From time to time in our Sunday messages at Cobblestone Community Church, we'll feature a Top Ten list. This one was featured during our 2008 teaching series, "Ancient:NOW." It's entitled, The Top Ten Mysteries of Life:

10. If oranges are orange, why isn’t the color yellow called “banana?”

9. How do cars know to stop malfunctioning the moment they enter the mechanic’s garage?

8. Why aren’t all financial advisors rich?

7. Why is there no other word for “synonym?”

6. How do they get Teflon to stick to the pan in the first place?

5. The Grateful Dead.

4. Why does time go by faster as you get older? Shouldn’t it do the opposite?

3. Why couldn't the kids on Scooby Doo figure out that the villain was always the person they met in passing at the beginning of each episode?

2. When it rains, why don’t sheep shrink?

And, the number one mystery of life, at least according to me, is…

1. Why is the word “abbreviation” so long?

HELP! I’m Locked IN My Church And Can’t Get Out!!!

Pastor/musician/blogger/artist Carlos Whitacre posted this entry a couple days on his blog. Interesting timing. Last week was the first week our staff began observing fixed on-site "pastoral office hours" at The Loft! Those hours will hopefully increase our interaction with the flock....and will challenge us to work even harder at getting outside the church walls into our community.
When I read the Bible. And I do that once in a while. I watch Jesus, I read about the church, and I see them ministering in their community.
Ministering in their community.
Ministering in their community.
And I don’t think it was just the “community outreach minister” ministering in the community.
As I look at church staffs today and what they do…I would dare say that 95% of their work is done in the cubes and walls of a church building.
I know.
Sunday is coming.
I know.
We have to get ready for Sunday.
I know.
We have hundreds and thousands walking in this coming Sunday.
But guess what?
Wednesday is coming. Thursday is coming. Friday is coming.
When we have to have staff positions created to be “outreach” I think we have broken something.
So if you are media guy…you are outreach guy, worship guy…you are outreach guy, small group gal…you are outreach gal, youth gal…you are outreach gal.
I absolutely think that we should be working a lot more in shared work spaces and such rubbing elbows and working along side those who have no idea who Jesus is.
I think it is time that we spend a bit more times outside the church walls so that the time we do spend in the church walls doesn’t make us secularly retarded.

360° Life

Billy Joe Daugherty's new book, 360° Life (Ten Ways You Can Live More Richly, Deeply, Fully), promises to explore how ordinary people, caught in the midst of difficult, dark, and seemingly impossible situations experience life-altering events as a result of simple faith, and help the reader finally break free from fear, doubt, rejection, and other roadblocks.

After the opening chapter on Resurrection, the chapters focus on:
  • Overcoming Fear and Anxiety
  • You Can Make a Difference
  • The Power of Your Words
  • Courage During Change and Uncertainty
  • Hearing God's Voice
  • What God Thinks of You
  • Rising Above Your Circumstances
  • Second Chances
  • Restoration
  • Giving Thanks.
It is written in a style any reader can understand and identify with, and includes not only gripping illustrations from Daugherty's (and his wife's) story, but also real-life testimonies of people whose experience proves the authenticity of the author's claims.

While there were no great revelations or new discoveries for me, that may just be the strength of the book: it is solid, simple Gospel. And as I read, I sincerely sensed the working of God's Holy Spirit in me.

The story behind the story is also gripping: the book contains an epilogue, written by the author's wife and family, detailing the events that led to Billy Joe's passing from earth to heaven in November 2009.

The book can be purchased directly from www.randomhouse.com. It is available not only in hardcover and ebook editions, but in economical ten-packs, which make it ideal for sharing with people who don't yet know the love of God in Christ. You can also download the book's first chapter here.

This book was provided for review by the publisher, Waterbrook Press.

Church of the Week: River Hills Christian Church

River Hills Christian Church, east of Cincinnati off Wards Corner Rd., was designed and built by the same firm (HiFive) that we worked with in the design and construction of The Loft. It was finished before The Loft and enjoyed a larger budget than we had to work with.

Even so, we toured this fine facility at various stages in the construction process, and learned a lot, and benefited greatly from their fellowship and wisdom. I love their spacious atrium with the beautiful views of a pond and woods outside....

And my favorite feature is the fountain--and baptismal--in the atrium! They can actually project baptisms in this place (just outside the auditorium) onto the auditorium screens, live while they're happening! I love that.

Sunday Night Rejoicings

I had a blast today at Cobblestone Community Church....

Loved the new displays in the atrium for VBS and Ichthus. Great job!

I always LOVE meeting new folks, and was once again thrilled to meet at least five families I'd never met before.

God was in the house, again, in our worship. I think the church is really starting to believe the words, "I am FREE!!" At least today they seemed to sing it (and "Healer") like they believe it!

The fourth installment in our "Livin' Venti" message series was a lot of fun, and I was greatly impressed by three young men, Austin, Max, and Davis, who voluntarily ate my special-recipe Krispy Kreme donut, topped with grape jelly, Hershey's chocolate, Heinz ketchup, and Vicious Vic's Habanero hot sauce. Gotta say, Max and Davis stole the show when, about thirty seconds after they took their bite and I continued with my message...they got up simultaneously from their seats and made a quick exit! I hope you're doing okay, Max and Davis. But I hope it made the point. What point, you ask? You shoulda been there. :)

And God was definitely honored in the church's worship today during the celebration of communion. Thank you, Cobblestone, for responding as you do! And thank you Sharla, Aaron, Jeremy, Jason, and Tony for that awesome "Nothing But the Blood" rendition as we celebrated.

Again, I was blessed to pray with some precious people in each of the celebrations, and am remembering them in prayer this evening and throughout this week.

As often happens, numerous people expressed gratitude for the worship and the message today, indicating it hit them right where they needed. But I wonder at the same time if some of us long-time Christians and church-goers struggle with the message of freedom in Galatians. I think we're so accustomed to the church's ways and expectations, that we try to fit Jesus' ways and the Gospel message INTO that mix, and that never works. Our natural tendency is toward legalism and judgmentalism and self-improvement, and the Gospel is counter-intuitive in all those respects. Which is part of the reason it's the GOSPEL, the GOOD news!

A visitor to the church from out of state this morning overflowed with praise for our worship ministry, telling me what I've known for a long time: we are unspeakably blessed to have the worship pastor, worship leaders and musicians we have! No doubt about it. And it's always a blessing, as happened at the Friday night prayer event and this morning's worship, when people effuse about the wonderful servants and prayer warriors and lovers of God in this lovely church. I can only agree and praise God!

All Night Prayer

Words just can't describe the success and blessing of last night's "Armed and Ready 12-Hour Prayer Event!"

Around 100 people gathered from the outset, including folks from seven different churches (I think), as Under Cover, Vernie Strait, Con Brio, the OHOP band, and the Chris Owens Trio rocked our worship world!

The night's efforts were brilliantly planned and seamlessly executed. The initiation of a Healing Touch ministry (under the auspices of our Director of Prayer Ministry, Barbara Johnson) was a great success and blessing to many! About twenty people participated all the way to the wee hours, when after nearly twelve hours of prayer we gathered for food and fellowship in the atrium and departed The Loft a little after 7 a.m.!

Among the many, many highlights for me: the Spirit-drenched worship which left me hoarse but wanting more; the prayer stations for every church in town (pictured below); the testimony of miraculous healing of Mike Johnson's left eye as well as the report of at least one instantaneous healing experienced during the healing prayer time; the careful, thoughtful prayer over every one of the response slips people wrote on last Sunday in our worship celebrations; the prayer session for pastors, with (I think) eight or so pastors participating from four or five different churches; and the "Next Generation Blessing" prayer offered over Con Brio and the youth who gathered, with folks (me included) gathering around the young people and laying hands of blessing on them. And that was only SOME of the blessing!

I am sincerely filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory over the amazing people God has given to me to do life with, to love and to minister with! Honest to goodness, the devotion and passion and kindness and ministry hearts of his people last night gave me a major rush! God is using these saints of his in mighty, mighty ways, to bless each other, to bless others....and me, perhaps most of all.

Armed and Ready

I'm looking forward to tonight's "Armed & Ready 12-hour Prayer Event" to take place at The Loft in Oxford, under the auspices of Oxford House of Prayer, a multi-church initiative hosted weekly by Cobblestone Community Church.

After a fruitful day of work and ministry today (starting with a 10 a.m. staff meeting), we'll be gathering at 7 p.m. for twelve hours straight of prayer and worship, interceding for our city, the churches and pastors in our area, and calling down fire from heaven to excite and ignite the work of God in the "Oxford metropolitan area."

I'll be there all night, and I'm expecting great, great things. Please join in if you're able, and pray for us if you're not!

The Top 10 Signs You’re In a Dangerous Church

From time to time in our Sunday messages at Cobblestone Community Church, we'll feature a Top Ten list. This one was featured during our 2008 teaching series from Acts, Dangerous Church. The Top 10 Signs You’re In a Dangerous Church:

10. A pastor meets you in the parking lot and asks, “You got any snakes in that car?”

9. Greeters smile, hand you a program, and then frisk you.

8. Everyone but you is wearing a hard hat.

7. The worship pastor announces, “Everyone clap your hands and sing—or else!”

6. Nursery volunteers all “pack heat.”

5. The youth pastor wears long-sleeve shirts to hide his “prison tats.”

4. Prayer stations have been replaced with First Aid stations.

3. Ushers all wear flak jackets.

2. Every few minutes during worship, someone shouts “Incoming!” and everyone drops to the floor.

And, the number one sign you’re in a dangerous church:

1. Voice heard coming from a staff meeting: “Say hello to my little friend!”

How to Disarm an Angry Person

This piece by Ed Welch, of CCEF (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation) is one of many fine articles on that site:

It is the most difficult of maneuvers. There are no guarantees of success. And the stakes are high. But we have no choice: we must learn how to do it.

How do you disarm an angry person?

The angry person could be a child, parent, spouse, friend, neighbor or counselee. And, of course, we could use a little disarming ourselves sometimes.

It all depends on your preparation. Our most common responses to anger are either fear or anger – responses that have very little potential to disarm anyone. When you retreat or withdraw in fear, the angry person still has the loaded gun, and will keep it handy because the one with the gun wins. All they have to do is brandish their side arms around and angry people get what they want. The cycle never ends.

Following the old fight or flight tradition, others respond to angry people by getting out their own guns. After all, justice demands a fair fight. If the angry person is going to wave a gun, you will wave yours too. The problem here is fairly straightforward: someone is going to get hurt and since the angry person is likely to be more skilled and experienced than you, you are the one who gets shot. And yes, as in the cartoons, you get up to fight another day, but people are still shooting each other.

Your preparation for a more effective confrontation is counterintuitive, as are most of God’s ways. Humility is the way of strength. Weakness is the new unstoppable force. “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). The cross of Jesus Christ changes everything. Satan himself – the angriest in all creation – is disarmed through self-sacrificial humility. The way to be a true human being, in all its strength, is now portrayed clearly in Jesus and is available through the Spirit.

For us, this path begins as we hold loosely to our desires. For example, most of us want something from the angry person – love and respect are high on that list. There is nothing wrong with wanting love and respect, but you would do best to shoot them yourself before the other person does. You will find that you won’t die. Instead, as you put to death the things that you want from the angry person, you will notice—perhaps for the first time—a hint of freedom and even boldness. When you have nothing to loose you can perform some unusual feats of strength.

Think about it. The angry person is screaming about how you are such an idiotic jerk, and if you aren’t as concerned with pleasing people or bolstering your own reputation, you can respond with something other than anger or fear. If the angry person’s pleasure or your own reputation is critical to you, you will be controlled by the angry person. So kill these before the other person shoots. The result is that there is nothing left to shoot, and you are free to speak from a place of weakness and say something like:

“Could you help me to see how I am an idiotic jerk – I will listen to you if you want to talk about it.” (Important note: NO sarcasm).

“What’s wrong?”

Or, you might decide that, at that moment, you can’t say anything to the deranged gunslinger, because you don’t have a clue what to say and the angry person has become an utter, animal-like fool, so you raise the anger incident later. With nothing to loose, your options are endless.

Track the life of Jesus and you will see that he was never angry because of the insults and derision of the religious leaders. He never took the attacks of others personally. That’s what happens when you live to enhance the Father’s reputation, you empty yourself of any interest in your own personal honor and reputation, and you love other people more than they love you. That’s what happens when you know that your Father is the perfect judge, so you don’t have to be the judge pro tem.

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)

Here is how to move forward.

  1. Don’t minimize the destruction of anger. You are getting shot at! Of course it hurts.
  2. You are setting out to learn a disarming strategy that takes humility and love, and this is way over your head. As such, “Lord have mercy on me” is the order of the day.
  3. Remember that angry people are blind to their own anger. They are the last to know that they are killing people. Instead, all they see is that they are right and others are wrong. Assume that they are spiritual lunatics.
  4. Divest yourself of all the things you desire and cherish for yourself. Do you want love? Toss it and keep only the necessities, such as the desire to love. Do you need respect and understanding? It will only be an encumbrance. Get rid of it.
  5. Move toward the angry person in love and humility. Fear runs away, anger attacks. Humility and love move toward. In a surprise attack they blindside angry people with weakness. Your timing will be important. Sometimes you can say something while the gun is aimed. Other times you will wait and speak later.
  6. The person’s anger could have many reasons – you being one. But murderous anger is always wrong. At some point, from your place of love and humility, you will hold up the mirror and help angry people see themselves (Matthew 7:5).

Church of the Week: St. Mark's Syrian Orthodox Church

My most recent trip to Israel (January 2010) included a visit to a church I had never before discovered. It's the Syrian Orthodox Church (and St. Mark's Convent) in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Located on the northern slope of Mount Zion, St. Mark's stands on the ancient site of the home of St. Mark the Evangelist (Acts 12:12) according to a 6th century inscription, discovered in 1940. The inscription, shown below (in the lower frame, with the English translation above it), reads, "This is the house of Mary, mother of John, called Mark. Proclaimed a church by the holy apostles under the name of the Virgin Mary, mother of God, after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven. Renewed after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in the year A.D. 73."

As the site of the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, this church is also the possible location of the events of John 20:19-29 (the church lays claim to being the site of the Last Supper, but this is unlikely). The site was visited by many ancient pilgrims from the West as well as the East: the Bordeaux Pilgrim in AD 333, St. Cyril of Jerusalem in 348, Silvia the Spanish nun in 385, and many others.

We entered this church in the company of our tour guide, Nader (below), who is a Syrian Orthodox Christian, and was raised in the Old City and in this church.

The small chapel of the church is ornate, and adorned with many ancient relics, one of which is a highly venerated painting of the Virgin Mary that was (according to local tradition) painted by St. Luke himself!

Below the church are stairs leading to the remains of the ancient home, where John Mark, the writer of the second Gospel and traveling companion Paul and Barnabas, once lived.

Sunday Night Rejoicings

Today was one of my favorite Sundays ever.

First, on my drive to The Loft early this morning, I was praying and listening to the Gospel XM radio station, and the first song, as soon as I turned on the radio, contained a prayer for breakthrough that echoed the prayer I had prayed just a moment earlier. The second song contained the phrase, "I will not be dismayed," which was a phrase from my morning prayer time, and the third song corresponded to the message I was preparing to preach from Galatians 1:11-24, on "Free to Change!" God knows he has to hit me over the head to get through my thick skull, so he had to be extremely obvious in speaking his gracious blessing to me this morning.

God was in the house at Cobblestone Community Church in a mighty way, working through Under Cover and their leading of the songs, "I am Free," "My Chains are Gone/Amazing Grace," "Deep in Love/Oh, How He Loves" and "The Heart of Worship." Under Cover is a powerful weapon in God's hands, and today was no exception. Jamie's leadership of "My Chains are Gone" was beautiful, the Spirit was glorious, the people's singing was awesome. And, of course, I can't help but be overwhelmed with blessing and gratitude at the way my son, my boy, leads "Oh, How He Loves!" God is using him and I'm so very grateful.

I loved speaking the third message in our "Livin' Venti" message series on Galatians 1:11-24, "Free to Change." What a beautiful response from the people of God as they brought written prayers forward to the front during the response time, asking God to change them.

I got to personally welcome four or five new couples or families to the church and give them a red welcome folder. Also got to pray with some precious souls, and always love that.

A beautiful "afterglow" happened following today's celebrations, especially after the second celebration, when people hung around at the front of the auditorium for prayer and fellowship. I love it when people are praying and crying AND LAUGHING! What a blessing. I've been hoping and praying that becomes a much more regular thing. It's happening.

Our Peru mission team was due to arrive home this afternoon after a fruitful and blessed time of ministry and construction and fellowship in Arequipa with our friends Don and Christie Latta. I know they had a great time, and tasted alpaca, ostrich, and guinea pig (and, I hope, granadilla)....but I cannot wait to hear how God blessed them and used them. I want to hear updates on Don and Christie, on Gianni and Giannina, Luis and Yvonne, Fio, Hebert, Ponchita, Juan Manuel and his family, Natalia, Reuben, Jack, and more. Such special people.

And excitement is growing to a fever pitch for the "Armed and Ready" all-night prayer event that will take place at The Loft this Friday night! What a blessing that is going to be, with multiple churches, pastors, worship teams, and many saints of God planning to participate. I'm praying for God to blow our minds and hearts and to blow the lid off the church in this area, uniting us and IGNITING us! It's gonna be awesome. I hope you can come. It grieves me when my precious friends and flock miss out on such mighty winds of joy and blessing as we've been experiencing and as I'm expecting this Friday evening and Saturday morning! Don't miss out!

Pastoral Complexity

From the excellent blog of Tod Bolsinger comes this post, entitled "The Problem with 'Going Pro'":

What do Wayne Gretzky, Bart Starr, Isaiah Thomas, Ted Williams and many, many pastors have in common? They were once great players who became woeful coaches.
I know, it’s an interesting tidbit about the superstar athletes, but what does this have to do with being a pastor?

In my last post, I reflected on the complexity of being a pastor and the toll it often takes on leaders. In this post, I want to offer another piece of Pastoral Complexity: We are mostly confused about our calling. That is to say, we often become pastors without realizing what the job really is.

Most of us who end in the pastorate do so because someone experienced our ministry skills and encouraged us to consider it as a vocation. In short, most of us were about the best lay leaders in our churches, organizations or missions and somewhere along the way someone heard us teach, heard us pray, saw us at a bedside or were part of a successful ministry program that we headed up and they told us that we were so good, that we should “go pro.” (And most often, was mostly about “preaching”. If you could preach or teach the Bible better than most, then it was assumed that you were called to be a pastor.)

And so what did we do? We headed off to “professional ministry school” (i.e. “seminary”) or took a job on a church staff with the assumption that now the only thing that was going to change was that we were going to be PAID to do what we used to do as a VOLUNTEER. (And, really, what’s not to like about that?) On top of that, once we got our “professional association card” (i.e. “ordination”) we then became the resident “pro” for all kinds of wonderful and meaningful family and community “religious events” (like weddings, baptisms, funerals, invocations and such). For most of us, this seemed like it would be the best possible world. Our friends and family were proud of us, our home churches affirmed us and we now got to be paid (ok, not much pay, really, but the “ego perks” were nice) and “freed” to “do ministry full-time.” We were now expected to be the resident “pro”, the “star player”, the “free agent” who brought the “home team” great results.

But… there is one really big problem. Being pastor really isn’t about being the star player. It’s really about being a COACH. When you get ordained, you don’t get on the playing field, you go to the bench. You are not the “resident professional Christian” but the leader of a community of mission.

And that leadership calling is very, very different than most of us expected.

When you become a pastor, your domain is away from the stadium lights and cheering fans and off to the “practice field” where you, in the words of Paul, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). And let’s face it, many of us who are quite gifted at teaching, preaching, counseling and care are just not all that good at “equipping the saints” for teaching, preaching, care and mission. Like Bart Starr or Isaiah Thomas, we are much better at taking the ball into our own hands than we are at leading a team of players.

For many star athletes, however, perhaps the hardest parts about the adjustment from “player” to “coach” however are the things “away from the field.” Deciding who “plays” and who doesn’t, managing conflicts, developing strategy, motivating players (who are sometimes pretty unmotivated) and making personnel decisions for the overall health of the team. Many famous athletes who were great in the game wither under the criticism of the press and the second-guessing of the fans, and grow weary of the “drama” of the locker room and front office.

In the same way, when most pastors are interviewed about the hardest parts of their job, they talk about how seminary didn’t prepare them for strategic planning, conflict resolution, organizational leadership and staff supervision, (let alone personnel issues, building projects, and administering preschools and the like.)

Even more, this “equipping” and “coaching” ministry is often much more about conflict, change management, and attending to a relational “system” than it is about teaching the Bible or training eager lay people to “share their faith” or serve others. Again, most pastoring (at least in congregations) is far more about LEADERSHIP than anything else. And that is pretty different than what we signed up for.

FansIf that wasn’t enough (and this is where it gets really complex….) The REAL players…the laity, would mostly rather that we DIDN’T coach or lead them either. Most lay people, truth be told, don’t want to be players, they want to be “Fans.” They want the “Pros” to do the ministry. (That’s why they sent us to seminary, isn’t it?). They don’t want to suit up and take the field any more than we want to go to the bench and coach them.

And so…soon, we all fail. Before long the “coaches” start just asking to play (like pastors who only want to preach and teach and do visitation, you know “real ministry”) and the “players” become spectators. And the mission of a community of God’s people who are seeking to live out the Kingdom of God is really what gets benched.

Of course, there are some “players” who become great coaches. And that “adaptation” is what I want to write about next time.

Beautiful View at The Loft

How many churches in the world have a beautiful view like this out the front door of the church?

Someone Always Has to Spoil It For Everyone Else

The Last Ten Books I Didn't Finish

Once upon a time, I felt obligated to finish every book I started. Even if I lost interest within the first few pages.

Thanks to intensive therapy, I gave that up awhile ago. But I still faced a problem. I keep a record of the books I read; I couldn't possibly invest 20 or 30 pages into a book, only to set it aside....without somehow recording that I had at least given it a shot. You understand, right? Please say yes.

So I simply added a new notation to my annual reading record, a simple mark that would indicate books I never finished, and didn't plan to. Now, keep in mind that there will be some fine writers on the following list, and even some fine books. Sometimes I stop reading because a book is boring, but sometimes it has more to do with the mood I'm in or the sort of reading experience I was expecting. So please, no nasty letters. And please don't tell the estimable Max Lucado that he's on the list; he knows people. So, having said that, here's the last ten books I didn't finish:
  • Jerusalem, by Karen Armstrong
  • Making Stress Work for You, by Lloyd Ogilvie
  • Cure for the Common Life, by Max Lucado
  • Two Days Longer, by Beth Lueders
  • Hideous Kinky, by Esther Freud
  • Time's Arrow, by Martin Amis
  • Cloudsplitter, by Russell Banks
  • Rabbi Jesus, by Bruce Chilton
  • Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  • The Power of One, by Bruce Courtenay
What about you? What was the last book YOU didn't finish?

Top Ten Worst Things To Do With Your Tax Refund

From time to time in our Sunday messages at Cobblestone Community Church, we'll feature a Top Ten list. This one is appropriate for tax season: The Top Ten Worst Things to Do With Your Tax Refund.

10. Send it to a wealthy Nigerian government official who contacted you via email and is asking to move millions of dollars into your bank account.

9. Hide it all under your mattress, and put one of those security signs in the yard that says, “No money hidden under the mattress.”

8. Solid gold pants for the whole family.

7. Two words: Grand Victoria.

6. Wire your refund out of the country because you got something from a friend’s email that said, “Help, I lost my money and credit cards and need you to send me money right away.”

5. Buy a new set of clothes for your dog. He’s already wearing clothes, folks. It's called fur.

4. Buy the boxed set of William Hung’s Greatest Hits

3. Two words: Trader’s World.

2. Buy every clearance package of Easter Peeps you can find.

And the number one worst thing you can do with your tax refund:

1. Ask a politician to watch it for you.

Agnes's Birthday Party

And all God's people said (or SHOULD say), "Amen!"

The Servant Leader

The Servant Leader, by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, is a beautifully-designed book from J. Countryman, a division of Thomas Nelson. Its 125 pages, richly illustrated, offer an easily digested overview of the authors' themes of servant leadership and situational leadership. It is obvious from the design that this book is not intended, like many leadership books, to be plowed through and underlined and annotated; it is more conducive to thoughtful meditation over a longer period of digestion.

While parts of the book (such as the couple pages on solitude and prayer) are more basic than I'd like, there are still some helpful insights and welcome reminders for any leader, whatever his or her level of accomplishment or spirituality. I found especially helpful the authors' list of seven reactions people have to change, and the tactics leaders can employ to ease the pain of change. The book also offers a useful introduction to Blanchard's Situational Leadership concept.

If you're looking for depth or have already read numerous Blanchard books, look elsewhere. If you haven't yet read much of Ken Blanchard's work, or if you're looking for a devotional approach to the topic of servant leadership (or a perfect gift for someone in leadership), you'll love The Servant Leader.

Church of the Week: The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, Jerusalem

The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, on the slopes of Mount Zion in Jerusalem, is one of the most beautiful churches in the world, and certainly one of the most well-thought-out. Its name (Gallicantu is Latin for "cock's crow") and location mark Simon Peter's triple denial of Jesus on the night of his arrest and trial.

A Byzantine shrine dedicated to Peter's repentance was erected on this spot in 457 AD, but was destroyed by Muslim invaders in 1010. The chapel was rebuilt by Crusaders in 1102 and given its present name. After the fall of Jerusalem, the church again fell into ruin and was not rebuilt until this structure was erected in 1931. Today a golden rooster protrudes prominently from the sanctuary roof in honor of its biblical connection, and th spot is also believed to be the location of the High Priest Caiaphas's house (according to the Pilgrim of Bordeaux in his Itinerarium Burdigalense, "...going up from the Pool of Siloe to Mount Zion one would come across the House of the Priest Caiaphas").

The church is an amazing blend of contemporary lines, art, natural elements, and antiquity. All have been brilliantly fused together to create a superbly designed masterpiece which make it far more than an ordinary house of worship.

The building is entered through wrought iron doors covered with a bas reliefs in which Jesus appears (the figure in blue) pointing his finger--in relief--at Peter (the figure in red) AND at the observer standing outside the door, while his other hand holds up the number three, indicating the moment when Jesus told Peter he would deny the Lord three times.

Inside, the main chapel is just glorious, with an amazing mosaic of Jesus, bound, standing trial in the house of Caiaphas...very likely on or near this very spot.

On the lower level is another chapel, which encloses what may have been the courtyard of the high priest, and in one corner of that chapel a portion of bedrock has been left open to sight, because it is believed (and certainly possible) that this is the spot where Peter warmed himself by the fire...and denied his Lord, an incident recorded in Mark 14:66-72, and depicted in a sculpture nearby:

On a still-lower level is a hollow in the rock foundations of the church, which may well be the prison in which Jesus was confined on the night of his arrest and trial.

The hole in the roof may have been the only entrance and exit in Jesus' day, in which case he would have been lowered and lifted to and from the place with ropes--a possibility which is portrayed in one of the mosaics on the church's exterior (below):

On the north side of the church is an ancient staircase, from the Herodian era, that leads to and from the Kidron Valley:

It was very likely a well-traveled passage from the upper city to the lower city during the time of Jesus, and thus is almost certainly the path Jesus and his disciples took on their way to Gethsemane, and on the way back to the city after his arrest. Both scenes are depicted in sculptured art plaques flanking the steps:

The richness of this site to the believer and Bible student just boggles the mind. Here, the high priest lived. Here, Jesus and his disciples walked to the Mount of Olives. Here, Jesus was brought back to the city after his betrayal and arrest. Here, Jesus faced his accusers. Here, he was imprisoned for part of a night. Here, Peter denied his Lord. Here, Peter himself, along with John, was later imprisoned (Acts 5:19-42). The contemplative Christian could spend a full day here, reading and pondering the Passion of our Lord.

The lovely Robin and I have visited this church four times so far, most recently in January 2010.

Sunday Night Rejoicings

This was a beautiful Sunday at Cobblestone Community Church.

What a blessing it was for me personally to welcome to church this morning one of the families I met on yesterday's "flower seed giveaway" outreach.

God was in the house, again, working beautifully and mightily through our worship team, Under Cover! I LOVE hearing the church singing "My chains are gone, I've been set free!"

It's only the second day of our "Livin' Venti" message series--and FIRST in the book of Galatians, and I'm already totally stoked by the study of that New Testament book. We studied chapter 1, verses 1-10 this morning, and I can't wait for NEXT week!

What a sweet response from the church again during the prayer time following the message.

And what a thrill to dedicate three children in today's celebrations, Stefanie Munanu (in the 11:30 celebration), and then also Joshua Gibbons and my own granddaughter, Calleigh McCane, in the 10 a.m. celebration! I held it together pretty well, I thought; my voice only quivered slightly while praying for Calleigh!

After church, Aubrey and Kevin and Robin hosted an open house for Calleigh at home, and it was such a delight to share that time with family and friends. Thank you to all who joined in!

I have been praying for our mission team in Arequipa, Peru, to meet God in the city church this morning and the pueblo church this evening. I sure remember doing so, last year (especially in the singing of "Dios Manda La Lluvia"). Praying also for John and Andrew's speaking and sharing this week, along with their construction efforts.

Turning Good Things into God Things

Saw this great post a few days ago on the Ministry Best Practices blog:
Mark Driscoll looks at idolatry and applies it especially (though not exclusively) to those in ministry. He defines idols as good things turned into God things—which is a bad thing. (or as I have heard Tim Keller say, idols are turning 'good things' into 'ultimate things')

Driscoll shows that idols lie to us by presenting themselves as Saviors and mediators who can give us identity and make us righteous. But in reality they dishonor God and destroy people.

Driscoll asks 11 questions about ministry idolatry in particular:

  • Attendance idolatry: Does your joy change when your attendance does?
  • Gift idolatry: Do you feel that God needs you and uses you because you are so skilled?
  • Truth idolatry: Do you consider yourself more righteous than more simple Christians?
  • Fruit idolatry: Do you point to your success as evidence of God’s approval of you?
  • Method idolatry: Do you worship your method as your mediator?
  • Tradition idolatry: What traditions are you upholding that are thwarting the forward progress of the gospel?
  • Office idolatry: Are you motivated primarily by God’s glory or your title?
  • Success idolatry: Is winning what motivates you at the deepest level?
  • Ministry idolatry: Do you use the pressure of ministry to make you walk with God?
  • Innovative idolatry: Does it matter to you that your ministry be considered unique?
  • Leader idolatry: Who, other than Christ, are you imaging?

Twenty Questions for Preachers

When we were first starting Cobblestone Community Church, I would host an occasional "speakers' breakfast," in an effort to train home-grown speaking talent for our teaching ministry. In developing the material for those informal workshops, I drew up a checklist of twenty questions that I asked each speaker to use to evaluate his or her planned message. It remains a mental checklist (though more intuitive for me than mechanical) that I try to apply to my own speaking. Here are the twenty questions:

 Do I grab the listener’s attention as soon as I start speaking?
 Does the talk start where people are (with their culture, needs, problems, issues, questions)?
 Does it come on too strong, too fast?
 Am I teaching the listener something he didn’t already know?
 Am I communicating what God says, not my opinions?
 Have I included an introduction of myself and words of welcome to the listener?
 Have I included a re-statement somewhere in the talk of either Cobblestone's mission ("loving people into life-changing encounters with God") or distinctives (community-oriented, student-friendly, seeker-aware, outward-focused)?
 Have I offered an elementary (but not condescending) explanation of the text that will help even a Bible newbie find it without feeling stupid (as well as avoidance of "church lingo" as much as possible)?
 Have I revealed anything of myself in the talk without revealing anything inappropriate? (so much the better if it’s vulnerable, self-effacing, and/or winsome)
 Do I interact with my listeners in the talk (e.g., mentioning people’s names, asking for responses, etc.)?
 Have I included humor?
 Am I being realistic instead of shallow? Will my listener believe I understand what he’s really going through?
 Have I touched (not manipulated) my listener’s emotions?
 Is my talk focused enough (instead of rambling)?
 Have I played a part in meeting a felt need?
 Is the “solution” I propose realistic? Life-related? Biblical?
 Does the structure of my talk logically lead to the conclusion/application?
 Have I left out anything important, crucial?
 Have I given clear application for both a seeker and a Christian that answers the question, "OK, what am I supposed to do with this information now/today/this week?”
 Have I made reference to how my listener can find further help (e.g., prayer counselors)?

In recent years, a few things have changed (for example, instead of either mission statement or distinctives, we try to include in every message a mention of our mission statement or discipleship strategy, which is summarized by the words "seek, share, serve"). But overall, the questions still serve pretty well.

So what questions would you add or subtract? Or revise?

God is Still Good

"God cannot give me a bad gift." The story of Zac Smith from NewSpring Media on Vimeo:

The Story of Zac Smith from NewSpring Media on Vimeo.

I Could Preach on the Beach!

Hey, if my church could get in on this technology, I could preach from Myrtle Beach! Or Gatlinburg! Or Las Vegas, BABY!!!!

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect

I was genuinely pleased with Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, the newest book by John C. Maxwell, the prolific author, speaker, and leadership expert.

Having read many of Maxwell's books, I sometimes find his writing approach to be highly formulaic, but this book, while it still clearly shows his penchant for outlining and organizing and alliteration, was surprising and rewarding. It's not particularly profound, but then Maxwell never shoots for profundity. He readily admits that his speaking and writing smack of practicality, and perhaps none more than this. The issue for any leader or speaker who picks up this book should not be, "Is this totally new information?" but rather, "Am I doing it?" And the book is filled with practical perspectives and tips for anyone who wants to improve as a leader, teacher, or speaker.

The book is organized into two parts, Connecting Principles and Connecting Practices. Each chapter ends with a section called, "Connecting With People at All Levels," which breaks down the chapter's content into bullet points to apply to one-on-one, in a group, or with an audience. I didn't find those sections particularly helpful, but I'm confident that many readers will.

Most importantly, as someone who speaks scores of times every year, to thousands of people, I picked up pointers I expect will improve my effectiveness, immediately...and permanently.

This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Church of the Week: The Garden Tomb

Today's "church of the week" is not a church, per se, but it is a place I have worshiped deeply on four different occasions, and it's appropriate for this first Monday of Easter.

About 100 yards from the site that is sometimes called, "Gordon's Calvary," after a British officer and amateur archaeologist who identified a skull in the side of a cliff (the place of Jesus' crucifixion was called, "Golgotha," which means "place of the skull"), the bottom half of which is obscured by recent construction for a bus station, though the eyes of the skull are still clearly visible....

...is the Garden Tomb, discovered in 1867. Though this place is almost certainly not the actual tomb of Christ, I tell folks who travel with us is that it is a great site to worship and meditate on the resurrection of Jesus:

Inside the door, which bears a plaque asserting, "He is not here; He is risen," is a rock-hewn bier, where apparently someone had once been buried. The rest of the tomb was never finished:

The lovely Robin and I most recently worshiped here--we sang "In the Garden" and "He Lives," read Luke 24:1-9, and shared communion--this past January:

It's a lovely place to worship, with many nooks and private arbors for gathering.

My Lord, What a Morning!

Oh, what a beautiful morning! Cobblestone Community Church's Resurrection Sunday 2010 started with a sunrise celebration on the front porch of The Loft, where 58 of us gathered to sing and share in a memorable Easter meditation by Pastor John Johnson, which he concluded with a reading of John Irving's "Seven Stanzas for Easter." By 7:18, the sun was up, and we concluded with the Easter refrain ("He is risen!," "He is risen indeed") at 7:19! The timing couldn't have been better.

After the sunrise celebration concluded, we joined together in an amazingly well-cooked and well-organized pancake and sausage breakfast, spearheaded by the able and efficient Roy Long and Chuck Long families!

Once the meal concluded, the fellowship continued as the saints pitched in and got tables and chairs moved to new locations in plenty of time for the morning's next events.

While worshipers filled the auditorium for the 10 a.m. worship celebration, our InMotion children's ministry hosted an Easter egg hunt for nearly a thousand Easter eggs our volunteers had prepared.

That's my daughter-in-law Nina and grandson Miles above, snatching an egg from the branch of a tree. More than a hundred children and volunteers participated in the morning's excitement.

Once again, the worship at The Loft was outstanding. It was such a joy to welcome so many new families and folks, invited by Cobblehead friends, who discovered what we've known for some time now: God is at work among the Cobblestone family! We broke our all-time attendance record as a church with an attendance of 645 for the morning! And what a sweet and sensitive response to the message and to the worship team's awesome rendition of "Garden," during the response time. It all went by a bit too fast, but I loved every minute of it, and most importantly, I believe our Lord enjoyed it, too!