Mar 29, 2012

What Is a Sanctuary and Where Is It?

"What is a sanctuary and where is it?"

That was the question some of the parents of the Learning Center at the Little Church on the Prairie were asking because their children were performing a musical in the "sanctuary" of the church.

The only problem was these folks didn't know what a sanctuary was.

Maybe they could have googled it. After all, that's what we do now when we don't know what something is.

Try it.

See how it goes. See what you get.

Do an image search of sanctuary. See what you get.

It may be hard for church-going regulars to wrap their heads around this, but to the 90-95% unchurched people in our neighborhood in the Pacific Northwest, this is just a reality.

For folks who grew up in the church, words like sanctuary, the apse, the narthex make perfect sense.

We know what it looks like. We know where to find it.

But to the non-Christian majority in our communities, those words make very little sense.

This is a gross oversimplification, but we can break down our non-Christian majority in the following three ways:

1. The first group of folks are regular church attenders. By regular, I mean these are folks who have been in church sometime in the last four weeks. About 5-10% of our neighbors fit into this category.

2. The second group of folks are those who have been to church. These would be folks who have been to church for weddings, funerals, Christmas services, Easter, or they are folks that used to attend church at one point in their lives but have stopped going to church regularly. This would represent the great majority of the folks in our community.

3. The third group of folks are those WHO DON'T KNOW HOW TO GO TO CHURCH. The thing regular church attenders need to know about these folks is that even if they were to be invited to go to church, they would not know how to go to church. Church is a totally new experience for them.

For instance, if you had a Buddhist friend and they invited you to the temple, would you know how to go to the temple? Would you know where to sit? Would you know if you could participate in everything that everyone else was doing? Would you know what to wear? Would you know what to expect?

Just as most of us would be clueless how to attend a temple or a mosque, there are about a third of the community (about 30% in the Pacific Northwest) who would not know how to go to church.

The ultimate question for our church is, "What are we doing to reach the non-Christian majority with the gospel of Jesus Christ?"

What are the things we are doing to create an environment where the non-Christian majority would feel welcomed and safe to ask questions, have doubts, and genuinely explore Christianity?

Unless we learn how to do that, all of our churches face a future of growing older and continued irrelevancy.

That's a future none of us want.

We have a wonderful opportunity to make the necessary changes now to reach our unchurched neighbors with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Let's do this thing!

Christianese Sayings...The Safest Place to be is Within the Will of God

One of the nicest sayings in Christianese is the phrase, "The safest place in the world is to be in the center of the will of God."

I love that.

I love how comforting that sounds because I really do prefer comfort over discomfort.

I prefer safety over danger.

I prefer the easy life over hardship.

So Christianese sayings like this goes perfect with a faith system that affirms my comfort, my safety, and my well-being.

The only problem with such Christianese saying is that...gosh darn it!...It's not true!!!

Listen to what the Apostle Paul says, "Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned (the old fashioned way of getting stoned with stones not the modern way of getting stoned...), three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at the sea; and in danger from false brothers" (2 Corinthians 11:25-26).

Do you think the Apostle Paul would say, "The safest place on earth is to be in the center of the will of God?"

Listen to what Jesus says, "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:22).

Again, Jesus says, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first...If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (John 15:18, 20).

1 Peter 4:12 says, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you."

Almost every one of the first disciples were put to death for their faith.

Do you think any one of the first Christians who were put to brutal deaths for their faith would say, "The safest place in the world is the center of the will of God?"

Following Christ is not about our personal safety, comfort, and well-being. It's all about Christ.

Having said all that, the craziest thing is that there is truth to the statement "The safest place in the world is to be in the center of the will of God."

The truth of this statement is that for the one who understands that discipleship is not about personal safety, comfort, and well-being, and that following Christ is all about the glory of Christ, for that individual death is nothing to be scared of.

Death is merely a thing.

Death is merely a thing that allows followers of Jesus Christ to enjoy the glory of eternity with Christ.

And as long as we are here on earth, disciples understand that in all things we are to point to the glory of Christ in both the hard times and the good. Suffering and persecution is just a thing. The main thing is the glory of God.

Death totally loses its sting.

Death loses its power.

And in that sense, the center of the will of God is truly a wonderful place to be.

May we disciples of Jesus Christ be found in the center of the will of God.


Mar 28, 2012

How Stupid is That?

Here's what I've learned about myself in the last week or so. When things get hectic and crazy in my life, instead of praying and journaling more, I shut down.

How stupid is that!

That's not going to happen any more.

I hate it when I do stupid stuff like that.

I choose to turn to God more, pray more, reflect more, read more, and study more when things get hectic.

Mar 21, 2012

Why Not Bring Our Soldiers Home Now?

Let me start by saying I have the utmost regard for our soldiers. This is in no way a statement against our soldiers nor questioning their excellent service to our country or our President.

As a pastor of a church that is close to Joint Base Lewis McChord, we have many current and ex-military families at our church. I have seen up close the incredible dedication and service our men and women provide, and the cost and commitment of their families.

I just had lunch with a couple of chaplains, one, who is deploying to the Kandahar region of Afghanistan where 16 civilians were killed by an American soldier recently.

The President has announced that regardless of what happens, our troops will be coming home in 2014.

The question I have is, WHY NOT BRING THEM HOME NOW?

I ask this question because the Afghans know that our troops will be leaving. It would be crazy for any Afghans to cooperate with Americans or any of the coalition forces. Even if one favored democracy and did not like the Taliban, it would be crazy for any Afghans to cooperate with coalition forces knowing that they will not be there for the long haul to provide protection, knowing that as soon as we leave, the Taliban would retaliate against anyone who worked with coalition forces.

So our troops continue to deploy into a part of the world where they put their limbs and lives in danger every time they step foot on the ground, knowing that what they are doing there currently will not make much of a difference in the long term. They are merely keeping time while coalition forces continue to experience death and injury on a weekly basis.

So, again. Why are our troops there now? Why not bring them home now?

Mr. and Ms. Politicians. If you're going to send our troops in harms way, give them a mission and then leave them alone to get that mission accomplished. Don't tie their hands behind their backs and don't keep changing the rules of engagement to make their work there harder or if not impossible.

If we don't have the backbone to support our troops in that way, bring them home.

Those are moms and dads, those are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters that are doing their duty to serve our country. We owe it to our soldiers and their families to put them in situations where they know what they're fighting for and where there is a clear goal of victory.

When neither the goal or victory can be defined and/or achieved, please bring our soldiers home.

I may be naive. I know I'm not that smart. But I know enough to know that this is an untenable situation for our troops.

As I minister to our troops and their families, I hate the thought of them going into a situation where they are putting their lives at risk for an undefined/unachievable mission. If Afghanistan will be stable and Taliban and terrorist free by 2014, keep them there. But if not much will change from now to 2014, why are we sending them there now?

I pray for the wisdom of our leaders who make decisions of life and death for our soldiers and their families. Our men and women will continue to serve our country and our President with excellence, risking their very lives.

Please, define the objective. And if we can't, bring our troops home.

Mar 20, 2012

Prairie Hall Renewal Project

Prairie Hall Renewal Project

I love change!

I'm all for change!

Just as you're the one changing.

So the story goes.

The Little Church on the Prairie will be moving the Contemporary Service into Prairie Hall starting on Easter. To facilitate the move, we will be having a painting party this coming Saturday.

Should you have any questions or concerns about the upcoming change in the venue of the Contemporary Service, please come join us at the painting party where Pastor Brad and I will be present to answer any questions you might have.

But for now, I will try to answer the two main questions being asked regarding this change.

1. I like worshiping in the sanctuary. Why are we moving the service into Prairie Hall?

As I shared a few weeks ago, I understand that there are some of you who prefer worshiping in the sanctuary. All we're asking for is that you give it a try for three months to see if you might not grow to appreciate the new worship setting.

The reason why we are moving the contemporary service into Prairie Hall is because it is better suited for a contemporary service than the sanctuary. 

We are hoping to create a worship environment where our folks would be happy to invite their non-Christian neighbors and friends to a casual, comfortable, open, and inviting setting where people can explore their faith and encounter Jesus Christ.

2. What about Fellowship?

We will continue to have the regular fellowship times as we've always had. Prairie Hall will have many different gathering sections.

                There will be a comfy sitting area around the fireplace with couches and chairs on a nice rug.
                There will be round tables with chairs as we currently have set up along the windows in Prairie Hall
                There will be standing coffee tables for which people can gather to talk and greet each other along the wall and in the hallway right outside Prairie Hall.

In the hallway outside Prairie Hall, there will be information tables for ministries, bible studies, and activities of the church. 

Please join us in prayer as we work together to build the type of church where God can minister even more new people.

Thank you all for your continued investment in the awesome ministry of Jesus Christ at the Little Church on the Prairie!

Pastor James <><

Mar 19, 2012

"Coffee Out" Group - Israel Testimonies

The folks who went to Israel shared their testimonies and showed slides at the church today. It was good to hang out with the "Coffee Out" folks at lunch to reminisce and just to be together.

We named ourselves the "Coffee Out" group because that's the way our tour guide referred to restroom breaks as "Coffee Out" times. There's a time for coffee in, and then every needs to coffee out. The name kind of stuck.

This was my second time to Israel and I can tell you I am already ready to go back. There is so much to see.

Here's how I describe what the time in the Holy Land is like.

As a pastor I get to do quite a few home visitations. I love doing home visitations.

It's at people's homes that I get to see the pictures, how they've decorated their homes, the paintings on the wall, the things that people treasure, the smells, the sights. All these things help me to get a better understanding of the person. The more you hang out with someone, their surroundings, their smells, their sounds, their lives become more evident to you.

It's like that with the Bible and the Holy Land. As you walk the very grounds upon which God chose to enter into the history of the world, as you smell and see the sites of the places where Jesus walked and where the church was birthed, you can't help but get a deeper understanding of who God is and what his story through Jesus Christ was all about.

I hope that many of you who are reading this will have the opportunity to go and "taste and see" for yourselves what the "Coffee Out" group experienced.

The Little Church on the Prairie will be looking at getting another Holy Land tour going in the next year or two. If you are interested, please let the office know.

Mar 17, 2012

The Tragedy of Getting Used to Something Tragic

At any typical Presbyterian gatherings you can pretty much predict who's not going to be there: a bunch a folks who are in their 20's to 30's, bunch of folks who are racial ethnics.

There was a time when the best entrepreneurs, the best thinkers, the most gifted ones used to look at the church as the place to which they can give of their best selves in order to make the greatest difference.

Those days are long gone.

These days, we're just happy as a peach if we get any young people to darken the doors of our churches.

And the greatest tragedy of this is not that these folks are missing from the life of the church. That's bad enough.

The greatest tragedy is that we have come to accept this reality as the norm.

And that's a tragedy.

What happened? Where did we go wrong?

Growing old is a part of life. That's what happens. But that's what happens to individuals.

When institutions get old, they die.

The church and the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ is unlike any other institution. The church is supposed to take the same message of the good news of Jesus Christ - that he lived, he died, and he rose again - and share that in such a way that new generations take hold of this story as their own story.

Because of the ageless truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the church doesn't ever have to get old. In fact when churches get old, they die. And should a generation of churches get old and die, that's an absolute tragedy.

I suppose a dissertations could be written on this subject.

But here's where I would like to start.

I would love it if the church started looking at the aging of the church as an unacceptable future, and commit to doing whatever it will take to reach those who are currently not being reached by the church.

As long as we're open to where God is leading, God can change our world through a church that's willing to go wherever he leads, and do whatever he asks.

Mar 16, 2012

Redefinition of Marriage - A Total Game Changer

Sitting at an airport lounge at LAX waiting for my flight home after having spent the day at the West Coast Fellowship Gathering.

There were about 350 folks gathered at Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach. I was surprised at the number of people who showed up to the regional gathering. I guess I was expecting fewer people since there was a gathering in Orlando that was so well attended just a few months ago.

It was your typical Presbyterian Church gathering - more older folk than younger, about half and half men and women, about a third being under 40, a sprinkling of Racial Ethnics.

What differed and what was so refreshing was the content.

There was and is a genuine sense of change in the air.

What is crystal clear is that churches that are gathering for these meetings are done doing church the way we've been doing church in the PC(USA).

Even a few months ago, there were quite a few churches who were saying they were content and happy to do church right where they were and didn't see the need to change something as dramatic as a denomination affiliation.

That's changed.

With the recent decision of the Board of Pensions to extend benefits to domestic partners coupled with the expectation of the debate and possible change over the definition of marriage at this year's general assembly, the rules of the game have dramatically changed.

When the PC(USA) opened the door for gay ordination, we became one of a few Western Denominations that allow gay ordination.

Should the PC(USA) redefine marriage, we become one of the most liberal denominations in the world.

That decision would be a radical departure from the church of Jesus Christ of the past 2,000. That decision would represent a clear schism of the PC(USA) from the global church.

What we need to take account is that the 2.1 million members of the PC(USA) represent a tiny percentage of more than 80 million presbyterians world wide 2.3 billion Christians world wide.

That move would solidify PC(USA)'s insistence to depart and break away from the global church and the Christian church of the last two millennia.

In essence, this move would be a total game changer for churches like the Little Church on the Prairie and other evangelical congregations.

That was clearly evident in conversations with people who gathered at the West Coast Fellowship Gathering.

Something is in the air.

Many recognize that the PC(USA) is nearing a line which, if crossed, is a place evangelical presbyterians cannot and will not go.

Mar 15, 2012

Equipping Youth to Transition from Childhood Faith to Adult Faith

Why do young people leave the church?

Why does the current church in the US lose almost 80-90% of the youth who graduate from our youth programs?

How many more generations of youth will the church continue to fail before we make changes that will produce different results?

Why are youth who were active in our youth programs stop going to church as young adults and why do so many eventually stop believing in God all together?

Church used to be an intergenerational experience.

In fact, it's more true to say that spirituality used to be an intergenerational endeavor.

In generations past, as youth would transition into young adult life, he/she was typically surrounded by older adults (uncle Bob, auntie Grace, grandpa Jones, grandma louise, etc.).

And when youth were transitioning from childhood faith and as they were encountering adult problems and were faced with transitioning to adult faith, it was the older adults who the young adults would turn to for wisdom and guidance.

In today's generation, one of the things missing from our youth in their transition into adult faith are the spiritually mature adult figures they can turn to.

So our youth are left to fend for themselves. And at best, they turn to one another and to popular culture to help them make sense of the challenges of life.

Without the presence and guidance of mature spiritual adults who have walked this journey, our youth are totally vulnerable and are unable to transition into adult mature faith.

One of the greatest gifts today's church can offer to our young people is not more isolated ministries catered to their demographic, but opportunities to develop meaningful relationships with people outside of their generation. And if the church can help foster such relationships, all the generations would foster greater spiritual vitality.

How is your church encouraging and planning to help foster meaningful intergenerational relationships?

Mar 14, 2012

How the Church is Failing Our Youth and What We Can Do About It

Almost all churches in the US struggles with reaching youth and young adults.

Even churches with fantastic youth programs see a huge drop off of youth who graduate high school and move into adulthood.

One of the things that the church has been saying for decades is that we've got to pass the torch of leadership from one generation to the next so that the church of Jesus Christ will continue strong into the future.

I don't think this is the best analogy of what the church is called to be.

Passing on the torch is akin to passing on responsibilities of the church to the next generation and to abdicate from their lives. I don't think abdication is what God had in mind when he's talking about passing on the faith to the next generation.

Another way that churches have been "passing" the torch is for the older generation to hang on to power and responsibility as long as possible and then pass on the leadership torch at the last minute possible to whoever is left.

But by then two to three generations of people have been skipped over because those who would have taken on the mantle of leadership for those generations have left the church.

By the time the torch is passed on, those who passed on the leadership torch are too old to continue leading, and those holding the mantle of leadership are too young to know what to do with it.

Perhaps a better way to think about leadership in the church is to think of the church as an organic body.

Cultivating intergenerational relationships is one of the most important ways in which the church can develop flourishing faith in both the young and the old.

But in too many churches, we have intentionally isolated the generations from one another through our own programing and thereby robbed from our youth and young adults the richness of spiritual and life wisdom of older adults.

Instead of serving and equipping our youth to become mature Christians in the faith, we have robbed the youth of the wisdom that they desperately need to navigate the uncertain waters of life with spiritual wisdom and guidance.

What the church ought to be doing is encouraging and developing opportunities for meaningful intergenerational relationships.

It's not that everyone has to do everything together. It's that the church ought to be intentional about creating and fostering opportunities for meaningful relationships to develop amongst the generations so that the wisdom of faith and spirituality can be passed on from one generation to the next.

Mar 13, 2012

Dissing Grace

As part of my daily reading of the Bible, I am going through the book of Numbers.

Book of Numbers?

Come on. Even the title of the book sounds boring. You've got to really love God to work your way through books like Leviticus and Numbers.

But as I was reading through the Book of Numbers, I came across one of the clearest teachings of how God's grace and God's holiness works.

Often times, we see these as opposite things. But God is both gracious and merciful, and God is absolutely holy and just. And they are to be held together.

In Numbers 14, Moses sends out the 12 spies to check out the Promised Land before the Israelites enter it. The 12 spies report back to Moses and the people that the land is indeed a land flowing with milk and honey, but the land is also filled with giants and there's no way they can conquer it.

So the people start whining and complaining saying that Moses should have never brought them out of Egypt, that things were so much better in Egypt.

Remember, they were slaves in Egypt!

But this wasn't the first time the people complained. They had been whining pretty much the entire trip.

By this time God is fed up and he tells Moses that he's going to put an end to all their complaints by wiping out the people. But Moses pleads for mercy and God relents.

Listen to how God's grace and holiness work together.

Moses says, "The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished" (Numbers 14.18).

God says, "Not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times - not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it (the Promised Land)" (Numbers 14.22-23).

God forgives sins. That's grace. That's mercy.

But no one who treats God with contempt will see God's promised land. That's holiness. That's justice.

God forgives because he is a gracious God, but there are consequences to contempt. The people who treated God with contempt died in the desert never seeing the Promised Land. They existed, but they never thrived.

I think that's true of people today. When we "diss" God and treat God's goodness and grace with contempt, God will forgive us but we may never experience the bounty of God's goodness. We end up surviving rather than living.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to just survive. I want to thrive! I want to be in a context where my church is thriving, where my family is thriving, where God's power is being demonstrated day in and day out.

I hate just surviving.

The key is dissing God. Don't do it. We diss God's grace and hold that which is holy in contempt, when we treat our sins and God's call to righteousness lightly.

Don't do it.

Live life right.


Choose God's best.

Mar 12, 2012

A God who Saves Souls but Can't Change the World???

The modern day church in America has little issues with a God who saves souls.

But because of our "sophistication," "education," our "wisdom," our arrogance and our audacity, what we have problems with is believing that God can change our world.

So instead of tackling problems that would alleviate the suffering and the misery of the many people on planet earth, we settle for merely "sharing" the gospel.

Instead of engaging in ministries that demonstrate the kingdom of God present here and now because Jesus ushered in the coming kingdom, we gather to meet weekly content to sing our songs and hear about a God who once used to impact the world.

Instead of engaging in spiritual warfare with the prince of darkness through prayer and good deeds, we gather in groups to study prayer and spiritual warfare.

All this, when in actuality, God calls the church of Jesus Christ to SHARE the gospel by participating in the ministry of the one who declared, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the port. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4.18-19).

It's time that we stop with our small dreams of growing human institutions and start dreaming dreams of being a part of a church that is in the business of establishing the kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven.

That as long as there is a Christ-believing person around, that they settle for nothing less than changing the very world that God has placed them in.

That the church today lives into Christ vision for the church when he declared, "Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."

Mar 11, 2012

Frankly My Dear, You Can't Be Trusted...But Neither Can I

We have heard most of our lives that when facing tough decisions, we ought to do what our hearts tells us is right.

As we saw in yesterday's post, that's terrible advise.

God says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3.5-6).

Yesterday's blog was about why trusting in our hearts with something as important as our lives is a bad idea.

Today, I want to convince you that our lives are so important that we can't even be trusted with our lives.

Most of us believe and act as if no one knows what's best for us like we know what's best for us. And this includes God. We may say that we trust God and believe that God knows best, but in the way most of us go about living our lives and making decisions, we make it crystal clear that we believe we know best.

Here's how it usually plays out.
  • God, I know what you said in the Bible about not being unequally yoked (not marrying an unbeliever). But you don't understand, God. You don't know him/her like I do. I know what my heart is telling me and I know that he/she is the one for me. 
  • God, I know what you say about being truthful and honest, but you don't understand how my industry works.
  • God, I know what you said about sex outside of marriage. But you don't understand. God, this is the modern world and we don't live in the stone ages any more. Things are different now. And if you only knew how things have changed, you too would understand.
Listen. When it comes to our reasoning and understanding and God's clear commands, God's commands trumps our understanding every time because God is God, and he knows best.

If we would truly grasp this one simple truth, we would avoid such heartache for ourselves.

Life is too precious, too important to trust in our own understanding. God created us. God knows best.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

These aren't my words.

These be God's words. And God guarantees his promises.

Mar 10, 2012

Don't Listen to Your Heart

When we're faced with a difficult decision, most of us have heard all our lives something to the extent, "Listen to your heart. Just trust your heart. Do what your heart tells you is right."

That's TERRIBLE advice!!!


That's terrible advice because it's simply not true.

Our hearts are sometimes right, but our hearts have been terribly wrong about some other things.

The only way we can be sure that what our hearts are telling us is right is in hindsight.

For instance, there was a time when my heart saw my wife and told me "She's the one."

And then, some time later, particularly when times are hard, that same heart told me, "Maybe she ain't the one."

And as things get even harder in marriage as it sometimes does, my heart told me, "Maybe you should look for another one!"

I can't trust something as important as my life and marriage to a heart that's inherently untrustworthy. That would be crazy to listen to my heart.

Our lives are way too important to trust something that's inherently not trustworthy.

God tells us that he has a better way - a way that's guaranteed to lead to fantastic decisions every time.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3.5-6

God says, don't trust your heart. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. And after we have entrusted God with our hearts, God tells us to lean not on our own understanding but to acknowledge that God is God in all our ways.

So here's how this works.

Even though my heart may tell me one thing, even though my own understanding seems to confirm what my heart is telling me, I am going to trust in God with all my heart and acknowledge that his way is better by doing life his way.

Your lives are way too important to entrust to our hearts or even to ourselves.

The best pathway in life is to trust in God with all our hearts!

Mar 9, 2012

Accountability - Without it, We're Toast

As soon as an individual says "Yes" to Jesus Christ, he or she is placed in a family called the church of Jesus Christ.

Saying "Yes" to Jesus necessarily means saying "Yes" to the church.

The scriptures are clear - Jesus is the head of the church and the church of Jesus Christ is the body of Christ.

It is simply impossible to say "Yes" to Jesus apart from being ingrafted into the family of Christ.

There are no lone ranger Christians.

Don't take my word for it. Check the scriptures.

There's a reason why God places us in family.

It's in the context of the family of Christ, called the church, that we learn how to love, serve, give, forgive, and mature.

We learn how to be Christians first in the context of a family that understands where we have come from, who we used to be, and who we continue to struggle to be. It's a "safe" place for us to learn to be Christian. And as we get better at being Christian, we can then take our practice out to the world to share with others.

We are put into a family because everyone of us needs accountability. Because, given the right situation, everyone of us is capable of any sin. We need each other to hold us accountable.

When we are left to our selves, we are sitting ducks to temptation.

We need each other.

We need the church as much as we need Christ.

We need the church to be the church as God intends so that folks can grow and mature in their faith in an environment where it's okay to fail knowing that we will be encouraged to do better next time.

We need the church to be that church. 

Mar 8, 2012

Why Jesus Wasn't a Very Good Christian According to Prosperity Gospel

Joel Osteen is the pastor of the largest congregation in the United States. I have no issues with the man selling millions and millions of copies of his books. 

Good for him. I have no issues with the man being on television and the radio. I have no issues with him for leading the largest congregation in the US.

Where I do take issue is with what he is preaching under the guise of Christianity. 

I know that hundreds and thousands of people are helped through his messages. And thank God for that because God can work in a myriad of ways. But just because someone’s on Christian tv, or their books are in Christians bookstores doesn’t make their teaching right.

Mar 7, 2012

An Irrational Sense of Destiny...What's that About?

There is a cry in each of our hearts and a longing in the human soul, when we get quiet enough or when we get alone enough, and when we get un-busy enough – there’s something in you and there’s something in me that can’t help but ask, “What is it for? What does it mean?”

And no matter what we do, and no matter what activities and toys we acquire, and no matter what we achieve, we can’t shake it. 

We all have an irrational sense of destiny, that we were created for a purpose, that there is ultimate meaning to this thing called life.
·      Every one of us longs to create a better life, a better future, a better us.
·      And when we surrender these dreams of living out our God-given destiny, we find ourselves drowning in despair. 

Because when we stop dreaming, we start dying.

Friends, you and I were created for a purpose. 

Our lives are supposed to count. 

How we live our lives matter. 

Your destiny lies in the heart of God. 

You were put here on the planet earth at this time, in your particular circumstance, so that God can love the people in your life. 

Live into your destiny.

Mar 6, 2012

Our Inhumane Humane World

The Little Church on the Prairie started a new sermon series this past Sunday based on Philip Yancey's book, Jesus I Never Knew.

Many church going people are often surprised once they start encountering the Jesus of the gospels because he is so much not like what we thought Jesus would be. The Jesus of the gospels is so much more radical, gracious, forgiving, threatening, demanding, loving, alive than we imagined.

But that's just it. One of the greatest task of modern day Christians is to unlearn what we think we know about Jesus so that we can encounter the Jesus of the gospels.

In the book, Jesus I Never Knew, Yancey quotes Malcolm Muggeridge in one of the most poignant critiques of our "humane" modern day society:

Malcolm Muggeridge observed that in our day, with family-planning clinics offering convenient ways to correct "mistakes" that might disgrace a family name, "It is, in point of fact, extremely improbable, under existing conditions, that Jesus would had been permitted to be born at all.

"Mary's pregnancy, in poor circumstances, and with the father unknown, would have been an obvious case for an abortion; and her talk of having conceived as a result of the intervention of the Holy Ghost would have pointed to the need for psychiatric treatment, and made the case for terminating her pregnancy even stronger.

"Thus our generation, needing a Savior more, perhaps, than any that has ever existed, would be too humane to allow one to be born."

(Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus: the Man Who Lives, p. 19).

Mar 5, 2012

Why We Put on the Armor of God

"We put on the armor of God not to be prepared in case Satan attacks, but we put it on to march into his territory with plans to attack and rescue souls from his domain"
- Rena a missionary in Brazil.

I don't know who Rena is but she is a STUD!!!

I love her quote.

When Peter confessed Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus declared that upon that truth he would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.

Too often, it's the churches that builds walls and gates to insulate itself from the influences of the world. Too often, it's the church that retreats into its enclaves while the rest of the world is left on its own to fend against the schemes of the devil.

That's the wrong posture.

Mar 4, 2012

It's a Family Home not a Boarding House

I have four children.

Three of them are teens.

Enough said.

Prayers appreciated.

Really, it's not bad. I have great kids. But even with great kids, there are times when daddy's got to put his foot down.

I need to make crystal clear that I am not their landlord.

I am also not just some nice guy who provides room and board and whatever else the kids may need when they need it.

I am not their bank.

I am their dad.

Mar 3, 2012

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

"Who do the people say I am?" asked Jesus.

The disciples replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

"But what about you? Who do you say I am?" asked Jesus.

Who is Jesus?

A great teacher?

A great leader?

A great shepherd?

I find it interesting that the New Testament never talks about a single physical trait of Jesus. We have no idea what Jesus actually looked like. Every single image of Jesus, all pictures, all depictions are just guesses at what he might have looked like.

And to boot, most of the images of Jesus are what he couldn't have looked liked.

Jesus was a Palestinian Jew. He would have looked like any other Palestinian Jew that lived in the area.

Alan Hirsch says that if we have a misconception of Jesus, it would be better for us to be atheists.

If our understanding of Jesus is wrong, it would be better if we didn't believe at all...

You see, a misunderstanding of Jesus is incredibly dangerous. Because a misconceived Jesus then is used to support all kinds of things that Jesus of scripture could not be about.

Our church history is littered with unspeakable atrocities that the church committed in the name of Jesus...The crusades, the witch hunts to name a few.
Not only does a false understanding of Jesus lead to unspeakable atrocities, but a false understanding of Jesus is often times used to support our lifestyles and our proclivities rather than transforming our lifestyles. 

So how can we know the true Jesus? Go to the Jesus of scripture. Examine the gospels. Let the gospels teach us who Jesus is.

Let Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John teach us again who Jesus is.

Mar 2, 2012

So, What's Keeping You?

I find it interesting and sad that in church circles we seem to treat church growth as an exception to the rule rather than the norm.

When we hear of some church growing we want to know what they did and how they did what they did to get the church growing.

It seems to me, as I read the New Testament, that church growth is assumed...that churches and Christians would be about the ministry and the mission of Jesus Christ, and through sharing the gospel new people would come to the faith and grow to be disciples who share the faith with others.

Am I getting that wrong?

Living things are, by nature, things that are growing and maturing. That's normal.

Not growing is abnormal.

When there's no growth, something is wrong. 

When it comes to the church we're asking the wrong question if we're asking, "What will help my church to grow?"

The question we should all be asking is "What is currently keeping my church from growing to its full potential?" and then be about the business of getting rid of all the hindrances to what a healthy church should normally be doing...GROW.

It's the same with our spiritual maturity. We ought never stop growing. Spiritual maturity should always be happening.

When we stop growing, something is not right.

The question we ought always to ask is, "What is keeping me and my church from growing to our full potential?"

So what's keeping you?

Mar 1, 2012

Masters of Self Deception

From time to time, we all look at ourselves in the mirror in our underwear. 

Come on. Admit it. You know you all do it.

Now, what do you see?

When I look in the mirror, I see a handsome guy that’s in pretty good shape. I know what some of you are thinking – yeah, you’ve got a shape all right. 

Now, that’s not nice. 

Do you know what I see? I still see the twenty-one year old me who used to have a 30 waist and weighed 50 pounds less. Sure, now, there’s a little more padding here and there, and there’s a lot more of me than there used to be. But, in my mind, I still think I look pretty good.

But its plain as day! The reality is I now have a 38 inch waist and I weigh 50 pounds more than I used to. And I know this truth and I have all this information, but my mind and heart still sees what it wants to see.

But the thing is you see me and the mirror sees me as I really am – a short stocky Asian dude. 

Notice I didn’t say fat because I’m not fat and I don't want to talk about that anymore.

We are masters of self-deception. 

We all suffer from it. That’s why when you see a guy at Walmart with his two-year-old screaming and he yells at the kid, you think to yourself, “Boy! That guy’s got an anger problem!”

But when you’re at Walmart with your two year old and you scream at your kid, you think to yourself, “Boy! My son is out of control.”

Masters of self-deception. 

Until you and I get honest with ourselves about who we are and where we are, we’re never going to get to where God wants us to be.

Here’s how Jesus put it in John 8:32, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

We’ve got to start with the truth. We’ve got to start with where we are and who we are, if we’re ever going to start figuring out how we’re going to get to where we and God want us to be.

This is how grace works. You all know the great hymn, Amazing Grace. 

Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

The only way we’re ever going to experience God’s grace to break free from our past failures and past undesirable outcomes and experience God’s transformation, we must first acknowledge, I’m a wretch, I’m lost, and I am blind.  

Because until we come to a point where we can acknowledge our lostness, our blindness, our wretchedness, we are not yet ready to surrender to God's plans. And surrender to God is absolutely necessary to start living life God's way. 

Are you ready to stop being deceived and ready to grow? 

Let's do it God's way.