Scouting Report

Tonight was our “information sharing” meeting where our Exploratory Team (“scouts”) presented their report after months of prayer, discussion, and data gathering. Essentially, they are recommending that our three churches unite as one congregation.

The presentation came together at the last minute (though we’ve been working on it for a while). Our scouts did an excellent job leading, interacting, and responding to questions and comments, which were sometimes very negative. I am proud of them!

I will post one bit of our devotion from this evening. This was a litany that I wrote this morning that included a part for each team member to read, parts for all the scouts to read together, and parts for the congregation. You may notice that it flows out of the story that we have been encountering in recent weeks (or more accurately, the story that has been encountering us!).

Scouts – At your call, O God, we have gone ahead to check out the land that you are sending us to inhabit. Thank you for entrusting us with this task, and thank you for being with us throughout these many days.

Mary – And now, we return to share what we have discovered and what we believe God is calling us to do. We pray that God will give clear guidance as we share this report with our tribes and as we consider this recommendation in the next week.

Mary – Our tribes, while we indeed see the obstacles ahead of us, we also see God’s power at work and we believe that the Lord is with us. We can go and fulfill the task to which God is calling us!

Janet – Friends, just like our spiritual ancestors, Joshua and Caleb, the land we explored is a wonderful land! And if we obey the Lord, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us.

Jill – The land God is calling us to, is a rich and fruitful land, and God will give it to us! Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the obstacles. They are only helpless prey to us! The Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of anything!

Sam – Seven times — twice at the end of Moses’ leadership and five times at the beginning of Joshua’s leadership — they used the phrase, “Be strong and courageous!” Today, we believe that’s what God is saying to us: “Be strong and courageous!”

Joyce – Be strong and courageous as you seek God tonight and in the next week, asking that God’s will be done, and that God will bless you with clear discernment.

Denny – Be strong and courageous as you consider new ways of worshiping God and being engaged in ministry in our community. Be strong and courageous as you take the next faithful step!

Bonnie – Be strong and courageous as you draw closer to God, being more dependent on him than ever before. Be strong and courageous as you follow with reckless abandon wherever Jesus leads!

Scouts – Sisters and brothers — members of our tribes — we respectfully and humbly submit for your thoughtful and prayerful consideration what we believe God is calling us to be and do. We believe that God is calling us to be a community of authentic Christ-followers to transform this community by making disciples of Jesus Christ!

All – O God, as we sang last Sunday, “Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts. Let us not lift our souls to another … O God, let us be a generation that seeks — seeks your face, O God of Jacob!”

Gordie – And as another song says, “If you ask me to leap out of my boat on the crashing waves. If you ask me to go preach to a lost world that Jesus saves, I’ll go but I cannot go alone ’cause I know I’m nothing on my own. But the power of Christ in me makes me strong!”

Scouts – O God, we are aware of how helpless and powerless we are. But it is only in this state of helplessness and powerlessness that we sense the need to humble ourselves before you. God, in this sacred and scary moment, we yield ourselves fully for your use. Use us in ways that honor and please you most!

All – “Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. May he be given glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever through endless ages. Amen.”

May God’s will be done, and may we hear and respond to God’s leading!

Let’s Conquer the Land 3: Wanted – Joshuas & Calebs

Numbers 14.1-25

I believe this passage speaks very clearly to where we’re at right now. The scouts presented their report, which led to plotting and inciting rebellion by those who wanted to force their way on others. The leaders speak, but then the people want to stone them.

God becomes angry with the people and wants to wipe them out. Moses intercedes for them and God says, essentially, "Okay, but …" God lets them live for now, but because of their rebellion they will not be permitted to enter the promised land.

I love the tremendous faith statement made by Joshua and Caleb …

Joshua & Caleb’s Speech
"The land we explored is a wonderful land! And if the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey, and he will give it to us! Do not rebel against the LORD, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the LORD is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!" (14.7-9)

>>Be Humble
Then Moses and Aaron fell face down on the ground before the people of Israel. Two of the men who had explored the land, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, tore their clothing. (14.5-6)

"The LORD is with us!"

"If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land." (2 Ch 7.14)

>>Be obedient
If we obey the LORD, he will surely give us that land rich with milk and honey. So don’t rebel. (14.8-9, CEV)

>>Be Courageous
Don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the LORD is with us! Don’t be afraid of them! (14.9)

But the whole community began to talk about stoning Joshua and Caleb. Then the glorious presence of the LORD appeared to all the Israelites from above the Tabernacle. (14.10)

>>Be Different
But my servant Caleb is different from the others. He has remained loyal to me, and I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will receive their full share of that land. (14.24)

>>Be Careful
Then the ten scouts who had incited the rebellion against the LORD by spreading discouraging reports about the land were struck dead with a plague before the LORD. Of the twelve who had explored the land, only Joshua and Caleb remained alive. (14.36-38)

Joshua lived a life of faithfulness to God. At the end of his journey, he challenged the people. Those same words could very well be our challenge today …

"So honor the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped …? Serve the LORD alone. But if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served …? Or will it be the gods of the (people) in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24.14-15)

New Beginnings: Evangelistic Prayer

Matthew 13

Two weeks ago when I was with you we talked about "Our Mission: Saving Souls" and the image of the church as a life saving station. We talked about knowing who we are: sinners saved by God’s grace. Knowing what we are called to do: share the message of God’s saving grace with others. Training for our call: sharing our story with each other (and I invited you to share your story with someone, a family member or friend who is already a Christian, for practice.) Taking action! Sharing with others who need to hear.

Someone came to me after the service, their heart heavy for an unsaved loved one, a family member. One whom they have invited to church many times but the individual has not responded.

Today I’d like to share this passage as a guide for prayer, for ourselves and for others, for those who are saved and those who are not yet saved.

Let us begin by making the scripture that Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6 our prayer:

Lord God,
Open our eyes that we might see;
Open our ears that we might hear;
Open our hearts that we might understand. Amen.

The seed sown along the path
19When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.

First, we are to pray for understanding. If you read something and don’t understand it, it doesn’t stay with you. Therefore our opening prayer, "open eyes, ears and heart."

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4.4

This is spiritual warfare: Satan wants to keep the Word from being heard. He doesn’t want you to hear it today. Because if you truly hear the Word you will be changed, you will be growing, you will be making an impact on your world, and of course Satan does not want that.

We can never approach the Word for mere information, but transformation. God wants to transform our hearts.

Satan doesn’t want unbelievers to hear the Word, because he doesn’t want to loose his people. If someone doesn’t belong to God, they belong to Satan. There is no middle ground, no teetering on the fence. One either serves God or Satan.

Pray for God to break the hold of Satan. Pray for God to open blinded eyes, and deaf ears. Pray for God to soften hearts.

“The credibility of the Gospel depends on caring, loving believers willing to serve.”

Know that your lifestyle speaks. Know that the actions of the church speaks. (acts of kindness, service to others) People do not have to be a member of this body to be helped or served by this body.

“Random acts of kindness aren’t enough.” (Lee Strobel)
Steve Sjogren, founder of Cincinnati Vineyard, speaks of how acts of kindness are spiritual warfare. They are unexpected and they catch people off-guard, their defenses are down and they are pleasantly surprised that someone would do something for them out of the goodness of their heart.

… God’s kindness leads you toward repentance Romans 2.4

The seed on rocky ground
20The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

There is no depth. The challenge is to go deeper in God’s Word. New Christians must become firmly established in God’s Word. All Christians must continue to grow, to go deeper in God’s Word and in our relationship with Christ.

The seed among the thorns
22The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.

Worries, deceit of wealth, desires; in Luke’s account: worries, riches, pleasures. The cares of the world deter fruitfulness.

The root of the original Greek is "to be divided". Do you have a divided heart? Does something that doesn’t count for the kingdom distract you? or pull your focus away from Christ?

Cares: divided, distracted
Lure: deceit, illusion, to cheat
Desire: arises out of the condition of the soul
What cares, lures, desires pull you away from Christ.

The seed on good soil
23But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

Our hearts are balanced. We are willing to be what God created us to be. We embrace the word with obedience. What does a balanced heart look like in my life?
The word is heard, the word is accepted and the product is fruit. How is fruit developing in my life?

humbly accept the word planted in you 22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. or in the KJV,  22But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only … James 1.21-22

1. Survey our own souls.
Repentance and Confession
2. Prayer for those who do not yet know Christ.

“Spirituality …” Day 5

Fridays are half-days in the dmin program at Asbury. And today was very laidback. We began the day, as we did each day, with a time of devotion and worship in Fletcher Chapel. The worship time was a real highlight of the week’s experience!

After worship time, we talked about our final paper (due within the next couple of months), and we watched a video that’s in the process of being produced that talks about holiness in the context of hiking and backpacking up a high mountain in Colorado. The video featured Steve and some of his close friends making their way up to the summit.

Joleen and I left Asbury around noon and got home around 9:00 pm. It’s been a long week and a very long day. I’ll try to get some rest tonight, then spend the day tomorrow preparing for Sunday! And, needless to say, we are really looking forward to a day of rest on Monday, our day off!

It was a great week. The lectures and discussion were meaningful and stretching. Daily time spent in small groups was valuable. Shared meals with friends at area restaurants were nice. And I especially enjoyed and appreciated the international students that were in class with us, representing Nigeria, Ecuador, Nova Scotia/Canada as well as missionaries to South Africa and one on leave (who was in South or Central America, I believe). It’s always refreshing — as well as challenging — to spend time with friends and colleagues in such an intensive environment!

Well, I’m back on Sunday and we will continue with our series on Numbers 13-14, "Let’s Conquer the Land!" This Sunday, we’ll take a closer look at two important people of faith in this story — Joshua and Caleb. They were men of faith, courage, and integrity, even in the face of unfaithfulness and rebellion!

Wanted: Joshuas and Calebs!

“Spirituality …” Day 4

Every class I’ve taken so far has been an excellent, growing and transforming experience. I’m grateful for that! Every class has been different, and complementary of one another. And all are somewhat tiring.

This class, though, with its heavy introspection and focus on sin (and holiness) has made this an even more tiring class. Not only have we been physically challenged, but we’ve also been emotionally and spiritually challenged as well. And that’s a good thing!

There’s too much to share at the end of each day, but I’ll post one quote here. One of the books we read for this class (which we talked about a little today) was Rebuilding Your Broken World by Gordon MacDonald. It’s a book that I think everyone should read, and I especially consider it required reading for every pastor!

As the title indicates, it’s a book about rebuilding one’s broken world. And whose world has not been broken?

Well, here’s a quote from page 161 …

“ … repentance is not a one-time act; it is actually a spiritual lifestyle. To live in a constant state of repentance is to acknowledge that the heart is always ready to drift into wrong directions and must constantly be jerked back to control. This is not a call to morbid introspection that is always on a sin search, putting ourselves down. But it is an honest recognition that the inward part of us is inclined toward rebellion and disobedience against our Maker. And it will always be that way until the end of time.”

I like that. Repentance is "a spiritual lifestyle." Humilty is required if we’re going to follow Jesus with reckless abandon!

“Spirituality …” Day 3

Another good day, focusing on "the spirituality of leading" here in Wilmore, KY. We continue to enjoy our time here. This class is very diverse – people from all over the nation and some from around the world, representing various cultures. It’s good to return to a multi-cultural environment!

This is also a larger class than normal with 25 students. I believe that’s due to the fact that this class fit in two different degree tracks – leadership and spiritual formation.

And that’s a good thing (the double focus, not so much the class size). One of the things I need to nail down this year is an idea/topic for my dissertation. The main idea I’ve been toying around with is "spiritual leadership." That’s probably too broad, so I’m trying to develop some ideas/topics within that broad category. I’m hoping to get some direction about this, this week.

Saying "yes" to God
This has been a significant theme this week. We must continually say yes to God. Am I saying yes to what God is calling, or am I saying no? Am I going to have the courage to lead this church where it needs to go?

“Why are pastors experts on the Truth and dropouts on the Way?” That’s a question Eugene Peterson asked in his book, “The Contemplative Pastor,” which is one of the most influential books I’ve read in my life (early 1990s). In other words, our talk and our walk must agree!

Finally, Joleen and I invited classmates to join us in watching a movie in Lexington, KY last night. We went to watch the End of the Spear. It’s a well-done movie with a great message. One of the lessons from the movie is that if you live with reckless abandon (such as Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and the other missionaries demonstrated), the greatest fruit from your life will come after you are gone from this world. I may say more about the movie later when I get more of an opportunity.

“Spirituality …” Day 2

Morning devotions have been excellent. Yesterday’s devotion centered on Psalm 16 (the goodness of God and the importance of seeing God as good), and today’s grew out of Mark 4 and the story of the seeds that fell on four different kinds of soil.

Though all of us have preached from this text, we were challenged to not view the discussion on this text as "preaching material," but to address it personally to ourselves. We talked about three negative words – cares, lure, desire – and one positive word – good soil.

After lunch (each day this week) we are spending time in small groups ("climbing groups"). Today’s discussion was about how cares, lures, desires divide and distract us, personally. Then we discussed what it would look like for our lives to have good soil.

A question that seemed to be related, for me, was the question, "What’s fueling the engine of my life?" That’s a tough question. What leads us to do what we do? What’s driving us?

One of the phrases that has struck me was one of the first things Steve said on Monday morning: "This week, we will be under illusions of purity and piety."

It’s easy for pastors to allow themselves to be put on pedestals by other people who somehow believe pastors are exempt from temptation and sin. And the real trouble comes when pastors actually believe that stuff!

As I wrote earlier, much of this week centers around the seven deadly sins.

  • Pride
  • Envy
  • Avarice
  • Slothfulness
  • Anger
  • Gluttony
  • Lust

Finally for now, there was a section on crises (plural). Steve said, "God loves me enough to allow crises to occur in my life. God gives these crises to stretch us." He said, "The crisis will either drive us away from God’s grace, or toward it."

Crises can lead us to deeper dependence on God. They do not have to be the focal point of my life.

Steve asked a challenging question, "Am I going to opt for the goodness of God in this fire?" In other words, Am I going to continue to believe that God is good regardless of what is occurring in my life?

More later.

“Spirituality …” Day 1

As I wrote yesterday, Joleen and I are at Asbury this week for a class on "The Spirituality of Leading." Dr. Stephen ("Steve") Martyn is teaching this class, and our first day was a great day.

We began our time (as we will every day) in Fletcher Chapel, a small worship space designed for small groups. It set the tone for the day and for the week.

Steve said during that worship time (about this week) something like, "This will be an academic experience. But God strike me with lightning if that’s all it is!" His hope (and mine!) is that it will be a deeply transformational experience for us all!

Much of our focus this week, as I wrote yesterday, will deal with what the church has historically called "the seven deadly sins." I’ll list them and say more about them later.

The main thing from today, for me at least, is that the pastor/leader’s highest calling is NOT to be a pastor. A pastor’s highest (first) calling is to be a disciple. Now I know that sounds elementary, but it’s amazing how many of us forget this (or at least stop living as if that’s the case)!

For example, Steve noted that out of his seminary graduating class, only about 6 or 7 of them (out 26, I believe) are still in ministry. Many of those who dropped out were the victims of self-inflicted moral collapses. Sad.

The purpose of this class seems to be to address and focus on the spirituality of the pastor’s life. I’ll try to include some quotes in future posts, so be sure to check back again soon!

The Spirituality of Leading

Hello. I’m reporting from Wilmore, KY tonight!

Joleen and I are here this week for our sixth class, "The Spirituality of Leading." It looks to be an excellent class; in fact, this is the first class that caught my attention when we began looking at school catalogs back in 2003.

I will *try* to do some blogging this week, offering thoughts and reflection on what I’m learning here and, more importantly, on what God is doing in my life! It looks to be another transformational week. (Let me just insert here a word of gratitude to God: I am grateful that God led us here and that every class, so far, has been a tremendous experience!).

This morning, we attended the worship service at Southland Christian Church. Currently, they’re averaging 8,400 people per weekend (in four services) — to put it in perspective, we were in a worship service which had more people than live in all the local communities in which we live and serve!

As we drove out of the parking lot today, I said to Joleen, "It’s good to be in a setting like this occasionally simply to expand our vision and perspective!

Southland is in the middle of a really cool sermon series called "iGod" (building off the popular iPod). Today’s sermon was "iThoughts," which dealt with our thought life.

Incidentally, the message was a perfect lead-in to this week’s class! Most of our pre-class work has related to the spirituality of Christian leaders. A large part of our reading, writing, and reflection has been about the "seven deadly sins," especially how they are manifested in our own personal lives.

FYI, Joleen and I are both planning a sermon series during Lent on the seven deadly sins. We trust it will be a transformational time for us all!

Well, I hope to write more as the week progresses. Check in from time to time as you get a chance!

Let’s Conquer the Land 2: Obstacles & Opportunities

We began a new series last week to help us prepare for our upcoming, momentous decision. As we’ve been saying, the wrong question is, "What can we do to survive?" That will always lead us down the wrong path!

The question we need to be asking (after, "God, what is your will for us?") is, "What’s the best way to make disciples of Jesus Christ?" It’s not about survival; it’s about the mission! That will involve putting aside personal feelings, attachment to a building, and the quest for survival.

Read Numbers 13.21-33

What happened?
The scouts saw how difficult the mission was; they saw the obstacles! Ten scouts were convinced that it was NOT possible. They said, "We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!" And because of their report, the Israelites wanted to quit and die in the wilderness; some wanted to go back to Egypt!

But two scouts, Joshua and Caleb, saw the obstacles in light of God’s power! They saw the opportunities before them. Caleb said, "Let’s go at once to take the land. We can certainly conquer it!"

What obstacles are you facing in your life today?

The words of an old gospel song come to mind …

Got any rivers you think are uncrossable?
Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through?
God specializes in things thought impossible.
And He can do what no other one can do.

What obstacles are we facing?
We, as a charge, are facing obstacles today, too. Where will we worship? What will happen to our buildings? Will we survive? What about unity? Will we lose our individual identity?

Well, when we face obstacles, how should we respond?

“I assure you, even if you had faith as small as a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Jesus, Matthew 17.20)

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. (Hebrews 11.1)

You must choose what you will focus on. Will you focus on the obstacles or the opportunities?

"I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me" (Philippians 4.13, NLT). The CEV says it this way: "Christ gives me the strength to face anything."

"Shortcuts don’t pay off in the long run." (John Maxwell)

I agree with D.L. Moody, “If God is your partner, make your plans big.”

It will involve stepping out of our comfort zone and taking risks.

“In order to be true to what I read in the Scripture, I have to take risks.” (Don Bubna)

The good news is that God will walk with us through every obstacle. You will never face any obstacle alone.

God says, "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."

The question you have to answer for yourself today is …

How big is your God?
Is God bigger than your obstacles?