Year in Review: Our Top 10 Posts

We published 112 posts in 2012 (including this one). According to blog statistics, the 10 posts listed below were the most viewed. The busiest day was May 10, the day we published 4 Strategies to Transform The United Methodist Church. That post, and three others below, were related to the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, which took place in May.

Visitors to the blog came from 110 countries, with most coming from the United States, followed behind the United Kingdom and the Philippines.

Here are the ten most-viewed posts written in 2012 …

  1. Task Management App: 2do

  2. General Conference and the Transformation of The United Methodist Church

  3. 5 Takeaways From Preach Better Sermons

  4. 4 Strategies to Transform The United Methodist Church

  5. United Methodists Prepare for General Conference

  6. Celebrating 3 Years With Sarah

  7. John Wesley’s Fear for the Future of Methodism

  8. The Circle Maker 1.0

  9. A Prayer for General Conference

  10. The Circle Maker 2.0 (see 5 Takeaways From “The Circle Maker” for full list of posts on The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson).

Thanks for reading along in 2012. I look forward to blogging in 2013!

Merry Christmas!

We hope you had a nice Christmas, and that you are continuing to celebrate the birth of Christ. Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a season. And, the reality of Christ’s birth is relevant every day!

We have enjoyed celebrating Christmas this week. Both of our churches celebrated Christmas Eve candlelight services. The kids, who usually attend Mommy’s church, came to Centre Grove, thanks to Grammy & Pappy. It was fun having them there.

In my prayer after the sermon, I intentionally prayed Psalm 86.11, which has been our family’s memory verse in recent months. On Christmas morning, after opening presents and eating breakfast, I asked the kids if anything sounded familiar in my prayer after the sermon. Ethan immediately said, “Teach me your way, Lord,” which is the opening phrase of the verse (“Teach me your way, Lord, so that I can walk in your truth. Make my heart focused only on honoring your name”).

Christmas Day was certainly exciting as the kids opened gifts and played with new toys. Of course, that means we got to play, too!

Christmas is God’s Rescue Mission!

John 3.16-17 sums up the purpose of Christmas …

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (CEB)

Christmas is God’s rescue mission to save the world!

The language of rescue and salvation is prominent throughout the Christmas story. The angel said to Mary, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Luke 1.31, CEB). To Joseph, the angel added, “you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1.21, CEB). Jesus came to save and rescue!

Mary’s Song is filled with rescue imagery …

With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. … He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors … (Luke 1.46-55, CEB)

After the birth of John the Baptist, his father, Zechariah, regained his voice and spoke a prophetic word, filled with the language of rescue …

Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house, just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago. He has brought salvation from our enemies and from the power of all those who hate us. He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and remembered his holy covenant, the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham. He has granted that we would be rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as we live. You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. You will tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace. (Luke 1.68-79, CEB)

On the night Jesus was born, angels appeared to shepherds, and said …

I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke2.10-11, CEB)

Our Savior came to rescue us from our sins. Christmas is God’s rescue mission to save the world!

When Jesus was 8 days old, his parents presented him at the Temple. Simeon was there, and after speaking with Jesus’ family, prayed …

Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word, because my eyes have seen your salvation. You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples. (Luke 2.29-32, CEB)

The prophet Anna, an 84 year-old widow, was also there. Scripture tells us she “approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2.38, CEB)

Christmas is about God’s redemption. It’s a story of rescue. Christmas is God’s rescue mission to save the world!

After talking about this in my Christmas Eve sermon, I shared two items on my Christmas wish list: 1) everyone in attendance will be rescued, and 2) everyone will become part of God’s rescue team!

God doesn’t want “anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives” (2 Peter 3.9, CEB). Once rescued, we become part of God’s rescue mission to save the world!

Have you been rescued? Are you serving on God’s rescue team, part of God’s rescue mission to save the world?

Prayers for the Church: Urgency

The church needs a sense of urgency!

Each week, I’m posting a prayer for the Church. So far, I’ve prayed for awakening and transformational leaders. The Church also needs a sense of urgency (I wrote about urgency yesterday in Eschatological Urgency).

O God, we are your hands and feet in the world. Thank you for inviting us to participate in what you are doing in the world!

Thank you for entrusting us with the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ. Let your message and your truth be like a fire in our bones.

Forgive us for our apathy, for taking you and your mission for granted. Help us make the most of every day and every opportunity. Help us to be committed, devoted, disciplined, and intentional.

Help us to be in tune with you so we can follow the leading of your Spirit. Give us wisdom and courage. Help us to engage the world in risk-taking mission and service.

Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, O God, our consuming fire! Empower us to be your witnesses—your hands and feet, and a voice of hope—in the world!

As we actively, obediently engage in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, give us fruit, fruit that will last! And may it all be done for your glory and your glory alone. Amen.

Eschatological Urgency

In my last post, Eschatological Hope, I stated that the eventual return of Christ gives us hope to face whatever we might encounter in this life, and that our focus must simply be to be ready for Christ’s return.

As I noted, eschatology is the study of end time events. Jesus certainly talked about end time events. Once, while leave the Temple area, he said…

Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another! (Matthew 24.2).

His disciples asked when these things would happen, and the rest of the chapter is filled with Jesus’ response. But, the purpose wasn’t to give us a complete schedule of events but to challenge us to stay ready and alert.

Jesus concluded …

So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected. (Matthew 24.42-44).

Be ready. Be alert. At all times.

In the first century church, there seemed to be a sense that Jesus could return anytime. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians …

We don’t need to write to you about the timing and dates, brothers and sisters. You know very well that the day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. … All of you are children of light and children of the day. We don’t belong to night or darkness. So then, let’s not sleep like the others, but let’s stay awake and stay sober. … Since we belong to the day, let’s stay sober, wearing faithfulness and love as a piece of armor that protects our body and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (1 Thessalonians 5.1-2, 5-8)

Believing that Christ could return anytime should create a sense of urgency. Jesus told his disciples, “While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work” (John 9.4). In other words, don’t delay. Make the most of the time we have.

While we’re waiting for the return of Christ, we should be driven by a sense of urgency—urgency for mission. In Jesus’ last moments with his disciples, he told them …

It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1.7-8)

Our focus shouldn’t be on figuring how end time events will play out. Christ is coming again, but we don’t know when. In the meantime, our focus must be on being witnesses of Jesus Christ and fulfilling our God-given mission.

Interestingly, the Bible ends with a promise and a prayer. Jesus says, “I’m coming soon,” and John responds, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22.20). That’s the prayer of those who eagerly await his return and are actively engaged in his mission.

Jesus is coming soon. And we have much work to do!

Eschatological Hope

Eschatology is the study of end time events.

Few areas of scripture are more hotly debated, and perhaps misunderstood and misused, than parts than deal with end times events. Stuff can get off-the-wall pretty quickly.

Some faith traditions talk more about eschatology than others. For example, it’s not a big focus in The United Methodist Church, at least not compared to the tradition I grew up in. Some people are “pre-trib” or “mid-trib,” while others are “post-trib,” or even “pre-wrath” (terms used to describe the timing of Christ’s return in relation to the “great tribulation”).

But like most areas, some balance is a good thing. We shouldn’t necessarily ignore the end times, but we shouldn’t be preoccupied with them, either.

The return of Christ is the most important part of end time events. Immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven, angels appeared to the disciples, who were left staring into the sky, and said …

Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1.11)

The eventual return of Jesus gives us hope.

When the Apostle Paul described the return of Christ, particularly in relation to the Christ followers who have already died, he concluded, “So encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4.18).

The return of Jesus encourages us and gives us hope to endure whatever we face!

Jesus once told his disciples, “nobody knows when that day or hour will come” (Mark 13.32). And, just before his ascension, Jesus informed his followers, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1.7).

We don’t need to know how all of the events will play out. We just need to be ready for Christ’s return.

I Am Not Invincible!

When I hit the wall several months ago, I remember reminding myself during a time of prayer, “I’m not invincible.” At the time, I was pushing it pretty hard, physically (doing 30,000 steps/day as part of a 21-day national Virgin HealthMiles challenge). And, basically, I had been living on adrenaline, because that’s the only way I knew how to live.

Last Friday, which marked six months since the beginning of this journey, I found myself repeating the phrase, reminding myself, “I’m not invincible!”

I’ve been feeling much better over the last four to six weeks, so much so that I allowed some of my old habits (not resting enough, not playing enough, not disengaging enough, etc.) to creep back in. So, I experienced a relapse last week (at the time, I was doing some major troubleshooting on the blog when I should have been resting).

In his book, Leading on Empty, which I’ve written about (see “Leading on Empty”), Wayne Cordeiro warns readers to beware of relapses. So, I should’ve known better.

I have to be intentional about taking care of myself. This is harder to do when I feel well, physically and emotionally. I have to remember that an improvement in my physical and creative energy levels is not an invitation to push the limits. I need to pace myself. No one can continue to push it for long before eventually hitting the wall. And, once you hit the wall, it takes some time to fully recover. I have to keep reminding myself, life is a marathon, not a sprint.

And I am not invincible!

Prayers for the Church: Transformational Leaders

The Church needs transformational leaders!

Last week, I began a series of posts praying for the Church. The church certainly needs awakening. It also needs transformational leaders.

Joleen and I have always endeavored to be transformational leaders. Transformational leaders seek to help the churches they lead experience new life and to become more active in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

A few years ago, I wrote a prayer for transformational leaders, which I posted last year. As I noted then, I wrote this prayer in my journal at the beginning of our second year in Clearfield, and I continue to come back to this prayer again and again.

I also mentioned this prayer earlier in connection with the Matthew 28 Initiative. Matthew 28 was simply a catalyst, a process to help a church accomplish a lot in a short period of time. With or without the Matthew 28 Initiative, and certainly beyond it, we will continue to endeavor to be transformational leaders. It’s what God calls us to be!

Well, this prayer continues to evolve over time. Here’s the latest version …

O God, give us clean hands and pure hearts, hearts like yours, and break them for what breaks yours!

Give us strength. Be our rock, our firm foundation. Provide us with the spiritual grounding we need for the life ahead. As we build our lives on Christ, the solid rock, develop your character in us!

Give us favor with the people you call us to reach and the people you call us to be in ministry with, especially the leaders and influencers in our churches.

Give us wisdom to lead well, and discernment to sift through all of the distractions in order to focus on those things you call us to be about.

As we navigate the journey ahead, give us patience and persistence to stay the course in the midst of the challenges and obstacles that will arise during the slow-going work of transformation and revitalization.

Give us courage. Help us to follow you, even when it’s hard!

And as we serve you faithfully, give us fruit for our labor!

Through your leadership in our lives, expressed and lived out in the places we serve, create communities of faith that will be engaged in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

Lord, raise, equip, and empower transformational leaders for the work of your Church. Amen.

5 Benefits of Journaling

I was a 19 year-old college student when I sensed God calling me into full-time ministry. Shortly afterward, I transferred to a different college and changed my major, and my life focus, from engineering to ministry.

While I was finishing up my last two years of college, working on a Bachelor’s degree in ministry, I spent time in the library reading about great preachers from the past. There were two things that struck me about them: 1) they spent a lot of time in prayer, and 2) they tended to journal. I’ve always tried to emulate these two practices in my own life.

Of course, John Wesley was a meticulous journaler. W. Lee Spottswood, one of the preachers who preceded us in this area (and in this conference) 150 years ago, whom I’ve written about here and here, journaled. Currently, I’m reading through Francis Asbury’s journal (I blogged here and here).

On September 27, 1989, I started a journal and I’ve been journaling ever since. For the first several years, I journaled pretty intensively. In 1994, I switched from writing in a three-ring binder to typing on a computer. Amazingly, in the 23 years I’ve been journaling, I’ve written nearly two million words!

While I’ve continued to journal, it has been sporadic at times. However, I recommitted to the practice of journaling after hitting the wall six months ago (I wrote as many words this year as the last five years, combined) Incidentally, I switched from journaling on a laptop to an iPad. Journaling has been a helpful practice over the last six months.

Here are five benefits I’ve experienced from journaling …

  1. Journaling helps me process stuff.
    A journal is a safe place to write out what I’m thinking and feeling.

  2. Journaling gives me a place to write out prayers.
    I’m not sure I do this enough, but I am trying to write out more of my prayers nowadays. A journal is a good place to write out what I’m saying to God.

  3. Journaling helps develop writing and communication skills.
    This was a big deal early on. In high school and college, I really didn’t like English, so I’ve always felt like I had to come from behind in writing and communication. Journaling helped.

  4. Journaling provides a record of experiences.
    Our memories are not perfect, so recording events along the journey is important. Writing it down means I can remember it later. That said, I’ve never been very good at reviewing my journal. But, at least, it gives me the opportunity to do so.

  5. Journaling helps me grow as a follower of Jesus.
    As a practice that helps me process stuff, pray, and reflect on life experiences, journaling is an important part of my discipleship strategy.

If you journal, what benefits have you discovered?

Prayers for the Church: Awakening

I am beginning a series of posts, praying for the Church. Once a week, for a while, I plan to offer a prayer for the Church, each focused on a specific area. First up is awakening.

O God, thank you for your Church, your hands and feet. Thank you for inviting us to participate in what you are doing in the world!

Thank you for entrusting your Church with the good news of Jesus Christ. Help us to be good stewards by embracing and embodying the gospel in the world!

It’s imperative, Lord, that your Church be fully alive. So, please awaken your Church. Help us to be more devoted to you, and give us a sense of urgency for the mission you’ve entrusted us with.

Where your Church is thriving, let its life, energy, and passion be contagious for the rest of the Church. Where your Church is persecuted, give courage and stamina. Where your Church is apathetic, light a fire. Where your Church has lost its way, restore it. Where your Church is obstinate and disobedient, do whatever it takes to reclaim it.

When your Church experiences awakening, we will worship you with all of our hearts. We will love people, especially the least, the lost, and the lonely. We will take risks, embrace change, and do whatever it takes to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

Awaken your Church, Lord! Amen.