May 31, 2013

We're On a Mission From God

How did the church become what it is today?

Is the modern day church what Jesus had in mind when he declared, "Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it?" (Matt. 16:18).

Can there be other forms and organisms of the church that is just as valid, if not even more, what Christ had in mind for the church?

At the core of these questions, I am assuming that the primary purpose of the church of Jesus Christ is to proclaim and live into the ministry and the mission of God such that it leads to changed lives.

Jesus told us the primary purpose of the church when he said, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:18).

It's about making new disciples so that God can change the world.

If this is what the church is all about, is the way we're doing church currently the most effective way to make disciples and to bring about transformation?

Are there other ways? Are there better ways to be and to do church than what we are currently doing?

What must the church do and what must the church be about if we are to be about making disciples that bring about transformation?

I certainly don't have "the" answers, but I believe the church must be about at least the following things if she is be about making disciples and impacting the world.

  • the gospel of Jesus Christ must be clearly preached and understood 
    • that God created the world with a plan and purpose; and it was good
    • but sin entered the world through the disobedience of man and the woman
    • that God sent his Son to bring the remedy for sin and rescue man and woman
    • that the life, ministry, death, and the resurrection of Jesus is the only pathway to salvation
    • all who receive Jesus are birthed into eternity
  • the teachings of scripture must be clearly taught and understood
  • the church cannot be about only words but deeds
  • the church is about community - relationships matter
  • the church never existed for its own; the church exists to be about the ministry and the mission of Jesus Christ

As I lead, I don't want to merely do church the way we've done church. I want to do church in a way that produces the greatest fruit.

May 30, 2013

Faithfulness and/or Success

I want my life to matter.

I want my ministry to count.

What do I mean when I say those things?

If I'm honest, when I say those things what I mean is that I want my life and ministry to be a success. And by success I mean success in ways that anyone can count - the size, the numbers, the budget, the scope, etc.

Sure, I know that God has called me be faithful to him.

At the end, God will not ask, "James, how come you weren't as successful as Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, Rick Warren?"

What God will hold me and every servant accountable to is, "James, were you faithful?"

We must each answer that question.

I know all that.

I know that what I have control over is my faithfulness. I know that success is all in the hands of God.

But gosh darn it! I want to be successful!!!

And that's the God-honest truth.

I want to see the ministry of the Little Church on the Prairie thriving and growing, impacting more lives than ever before.

I want to see the power of God transforming lives, families, marriages, and our community.

I want to see those who do not know Christ coming to saving faith in and through his church.

I want to see God at work in my life and through LCOP.

God, I want faithfulness and success.

Is that too much to ask for?

May 29, 2013

Fort Steilacoom Park

Love living in Washington...

What's the Church Smell Like

I am currently reading a book called "Tattoos on the Heart" by Father Gregory Boyle. It's a book about a priest who goes into one of the most heavily gang-infested areas in America with the love of Christ.

The stories of transformation are real and heartwarming. It is well worth the read.

I want to share an excerpt that beautifully illustrates who and what the church can be.

The church that Father Boyle pastors made a commitment that they would stand in solidarity with undocumented workers. So one of the decisions the church made was to use the sanctuary as a shelter for the undocumented workers.

Having undocumented workers was a great idea. But it also came with the particular odor of about a hundred or so men sleeping in their sanctuary every day.

Well, people started to complain.

It was too stinky.

Father Boyle decided to tackle the odor issue in one of his homilies. This is what he writes:

I start the homily one day with, "What's the church smell like?"

People are mortified, eye contact ceases, women are searching inside their purses for they know not what.

"Come on, now," I throw back at them, "what's the church smell like?"

"Huele a patas" (smells like feet), Don Rafael booms out. He was old and never cared what people thought.

"Excellent. But why does it smell like feet?"

"Cuz many homeless men slept here last night?" says a woman.

"Well, why do we let that happen here?"

"Es nuestro compromiso" (It's what we've committed to do), says another.

"Well, why would anyone commit to do that?"

"Porque es lo que haria Jesus." (It what's Jesus would do).

"Well, then...what's the church smell like now?"

A man stand and bellows, "Huele a nuestro compromiso" (it smells like commitment).

The place cheers.

Guadalupe waves her arms wildly, "Huele a rosas" (smells like roses).

The packed church roars with laughter and a newfound kinship that embraced someone else's odor as their own. The stink in the church hadn't changed, only how the folks saw it. 

I love that!

That's the smell of church.

That church smells like Jesus!

May 28, 2013

What's With the Team Preaching?

For those of you who are regular attenders at the Little Church on the Prairie might have noticed that we've had two preachers co-preaching on Sunday mornings.

What's with the two preachers or team preaching?

Here's a simple truth: all people need Jesus.

Nothing will ever change that. People need what only God can give through his Son Jesus Christ.

Question: are there more effective ways to communicate Jesus to our generation? Is preaching in a lecture style the only way to "preach" Jesus?

The pastoral staff at LCOP are convinced that lecture style teaching is not the only way, and perhaps not even the most effective way to communicate Jesus to our generation.

Here are the goals for our preaching at LCOP:

  • discover better ways to communicate Jesus
  • discover more effective ways to communicate the truths of God in a way that leads to life transformation

While we search, experiment, and discern more effective ways to "preach" Jesus, we want to be crystal clear that our intent is not novelty or just innovating for innovation sake. Novelty gets old real fast. And Innovation is only useful when it is useful.

What we want our preaching to be about is communicating Jesus was faithfully and effectively as possible. We'll do whatever it takes to do that.

The emerging generations learn best through communication/dialogue rather than through lecture. The pastors of LCOP want to model communication and dialogue in our preaching.

We covet your prayers and thoughts as LCOP seeks better ways to reach people for Jesus.

For the glory of God!

Pastors James, Brad, and Cheryl

May 27, 2013

Don't Underestimate the Power of One

Don't underestimate the power of one.

  • In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England
  • In 1649, one vote caused Charles I of England to be executed
  • in 1776, one vote gave America the English language instead of German
  • In 1845, one vote brought Texas into the Union
  • In 1868, one vote saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment
  • In 1875, one vote changed France from a monarchy to a republic
  • In 1876, one vote gave Rutherford B. Hayes the United States presidency
  • In 1923, one vote gave Adolph Hitler control of the Nazi party
  • In 1941, one vote saved the Selective Service System just 12 weeks before Pearl Harbor
The power of one. 

May 25, 2013

The Daunting Task of Pastoral Leadership

Image Borrowed from
The pastor's task is daunting. Consider the demands:

  • Show us what God wants
  • Tell us what God wants
  • Lead us to God
  • Feed our souls with Godly nourishment
  • Help us to learn how to grow
  • Grow the church
  • Increase the budget
  • Be engaging
  • Be more reflective
  • Be more scholarly
  • Be more relevant
  • Speak the truth with love
  • Preach sermons that connect with teens, singles, parents, divorcees, grandparents, retirees, those who are struggling with pain and guilt, those who need a kick in the pants, those who don't believe in God, those who don't know the Bible at all, those who teach the Bible, etc., etc., etc.,
  • Etc., etc., etc.,
If you think you can do these things, you are already deceived.

Pastors, keep the main thing the main thing. Read through the following sentences slowly and let it sink in.

Only Christ can change hearts. 

Our job is to point people to Christ. 

Jesus is the head. 

It's his church.

We are his servants.

Rest in these truths.

May 24, 2013

Vandalism or Opportunity for Ministry - That's the Church

I recently read an article online that points to who the church can be.

The picture on the left was what greeted the Rev. Thomas Broad and the members of Grace Episcopal Church in rural New York one morning.

Someone had vandalized their beloved church building.

How would you and your church have responded and reacted to this act of violation and vandalism?

I love the way Grace Episcopal Church responded.

They took the question, and more importantly the person who might be hurting, seriously that they looked beyond the vandalism.

Sure it could have been someone who just wanted to be snarky. Sure it could have been someone who was playing a cruel joke.

But what if someone was really hurting?

How should the church of Jesus Christ respond?

I love what Grace Episcopal Church did.

They used their own church building to proclaim a word of truth and grace.

I love it!

That's the church!

May 23, 2013

Stinky, Messy, Dirty...Yup That's the Church

The church is a lot like the Noah's Ark.

Sure, the ark must have had its glorious moments, but I imagine that most of the time the ark was an overcrowded barn that was stinky, dirty, crowded, hot, and did I mention stinky?

There were animals all over the place pooping, peeing, eating, sleeping, bleating, roaring, croaking, know...being animals.

  • The tiger's over with the lions taunting them about how the lion may be the king of the jungle but the tigers are the king of the ark
  • All the animals and Noah's family complaining about the hippos and elephants because they eat way too much, poop way too much, pee way too much
  • The wolves are with the sheep looking for the perfect opportunity to "invite" the sheep for dinner
Living conditions for Noah and his family couldn't have been pleasant.

Tempers must have flared.

There had to have been arguments that needed mending, squabbles and confrontations that needed healing.

Even with all this, you wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else. Because if you were, you were dead. The ark was the only place on earth where living creatures lived...unless you were a fish.

That's the church!

Sure, the church can sometimes be messy, dirty, and smelly.

Why? Because the church is made up of people like you and me!

Because people like you and me make up the church, there's bound to be some flare ups and some misunderstandings. There's bound to be times when arguments get heated and relationships need to be mended.

But you know what? The church - for better for worse - is the body of Christ and it is the only vehicle God has given to humanity to carry on the work and the ministry of Jesus Christ. find yourself going through a rough spot in ministry and in your church life?

Don't be surprised.

That's ministry.

That's the church.

May 22, 2013

How Many Books of the Bible Can You Find?

I received the following puzzle from a friend a while back. It drove me crazy trying to find the books of the Bible. Can you find all 30?

There are 30 books of the Bible in this paragraph. Can you find them? This is a most remarkable puzzle. It was found by a gentleman in an airplane seat pocket on a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Keeping him occupied for hours. He enjoyed it so much he passed it on to some friends. One friend from Illinois worked on this while fishing from his john boat. Another friend studied it while playing his banjo. Elaine Taylor, a columnist friend was so intrigued by it she mentioned it in her weekly newspaper column. Another friend judges the job of solving this puzzle so involving, she brews a cup of tea to help her nerves. There will be some names that are really easy to spot. That's a fact. Some people, however, will soon find themselves in a jam, especially since the book names are not necessarily capitalized. Truthfully, from answers we get, we are forced to admit it usually takes a minister or scholar to see some of them at the worst. Research has shown that something in our genes is responsible for the difficulty we have in seeing the book in this paragraph. During a recent fund raising event, which featured this puzzle, the Alpha Delta Phi lemonade booth set a new sales record. The local paper, The Chronicle, surveyed over 200 patrons who reported that this puzzle was one of the most difficult they had ever seen. As Daniel Humana humbly puts it, the books are all right there in plain view hidden from sight. Those able to find all of them will hear lamentations from those who have to be shown. One revelation that may help is that books like Timothy and Samuel may occur without their numbers. Also, keep in mind that punctuation and spacers in the middle are normal. A chipper attitude will help you compete really well against those who claim to know the answers. Remember there is no need for a mad exodus, there really are 30 books of the Bible lurking somewhere in the paragraph waiting to be found.

May 21, 2013

Our Attitude and the Sovereignty of God

Image Borrowed from
Did you know that airplanes have attitudes?

As an airplane is making its preparations for landing, one of the most important things for pilots to consider is the airplane's attitude.

The airplane's attitude refers to its position in relation to the earth's horizon. Here's what we know. The horizon isn't moving. If the airplanes position is off with the horizon, and the airplane is going to make a safe landing, the pilot must pay attention to the airplane's attitude so that it's in alignment with the earth's horizon.

If the airplane were to come in with its nose too high, it will slow the aircraft too much and it will stall the plane. If the airplane's nose is to low, the plane will come in too fast and will bounce and go out of control. If the airplane comes in with either of the the wings too high or low, well, it's not going to be very pretty.

The plane's attitude has a lot to do with whether the airplane will make a safe landing or whether the landing is rough, or whether its a crash landing.

For the most part we see God's will and sovereignty as comfort and a blessing. But what we fail to realize is that God's will and sovereignty can also be a burden.

You see, God's sovereign will is a lot like the horizon. God's will, will be established. God's sovereign will isn't about to change just because we think it ought to.

Whether God's sovereign will for our lives is a blessing or a burden depends on our attitude to God's will.

If we are fighting and resisting God's will and continue to insist that we live life "my way"...well, good luck with those landings.

It's so sad to see folks who's lives are littered with people that have been hurt as a result of those who insist on living life, "my way."

But if we are willing to change and adjust our lives and our selves to God's horizon, God's promises are sure to be a blessing.

It all depends on our attitude.

So, here's the million dollar question: which will it be for you?

May 16, 2013

Shame On You Abercrombie and Fitch

I don't own any Abercrombie and Fitch clothing. I guess I'm not cool enough.

The CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch said, "In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong (in our clothes), and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."

Well Mr CEO, I will be having a conversation with my kids and we will exclusively get rid of your clothing and promise never to buy your brand of clothing ever again.

My money will be spent exclusively at anywhere besides Abercrombie and Fitch.

May 15, 2013

Emus, Kangaroos, and the Little Church on the Prairie

Emus, kangaroos, and the Little Church on the Prairie...

Can you guess what those three things have in common?

You see, emus and kangaroos share a common characteristic - neither can move backward. If an emu, with its three-toed feet, tries to go backward, it falls over. The kangaroo is similarly challenged by its long tail.

That's why the Australians incorporated these two animals into their nation's coat of arms. Always forward, never backward!

I love that!

That's the church!

That's our church!

We too have been called to move into God's future for us. Our history can teach us and we must learn from our history. But no one's future is there. We are building on our history but the promises of God for the Little Church on the Prairie have yet to be fulfilled.

The church has been called to move forward into God's vision.

Emus, Kangaroos, and the Little Church on the Prairie...

Makes perfect sense to me!

May 14, 2013

Unfinished by Richard Stearns

I just finished Richard Stearn's new book, Unfinished.

This is one of the best books I've read in a while. I will be asking the session, staff, and my congregation to study this book.

Whereas Stearn's first book was about meeting the hunger needs of the world, Stearn's second book is about meeting the hunger needs of every human being.

Read it. 

May 11, 2013

I Hate That Church Too

For most Americans the problem isn't with Jesus or God. For most of the folks I know, the problem is with the institutional church.

For those who are not part of the church, the problem they have with the church is really with what they perceive to be the historical institutional church.

You know the church...
  • that gathers every Sunday to sing about Jesus and God, but who go out spewing hatred and bigotry
  • that talks a good talk about peace and changing the world while doing nothing outside their walls to improve anything in society
  • that preaches that God loves the world but still supported the institution of slavery and the Jim Crow laws in the South
  • that continues to pour its money in building bigger monuments to itself while neglecting the poor, the lonely, the neglected in society
  • that is filled with people who pray "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" all the while seem to be living for bigger paychecks and the newest toys.
I have a confession to make. I hate that church too!

And the good news for all of us is that that's not the church of Jesus Christ. 

The mission and the purpose of the church of Jesus Christ is to reconcile the world to himself. The church is supposed to embrace the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ, to transform this world into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, to be the body of Christ that enfolds all his children into his fold.

Richard Stearns says, "When the church imitates the words and deeds of Jesus it echoes the Kingdom yet to come and holds out hope to a hurting world." 

That's the church I love.

That's the church we are doing our best to become.

Will you join me in being this church?

May 10, 2013

Loser? God Doesn't Make Losers


  • at 7 he and his parents had been forced out of their home.
  • at 9 his mother died and as a result he never finished grade school, let alone high school or college.
  • at 23 he started a business that failed. Then he tired politics and ran for office...and failed. He was hired then fired. He applied to law school and was rejected.
  • at 24 he borrowed money to start another business that failed. He then spent the next 17 years trying to pay off the debt.
  • at 26 he got engaged, but his fiancee died before the wedding.
  • at 27 he had a total nervous breakdown and spent six months in bed
  • at 29 he tried politics again, running for his state legislature, and lost.
  • at 31 he tried again and lost.
  • at 34 he ran again and lost.
  • at 37 he ran for congress and won. But two years later, he lost his reelection bid.
  • He had the bad judgement to run for the US Senate twice...and lost both times.
  • He then sought his party's nominee for Vice President...and failed.
  • at 51 he had the audacity to run for the President of the United States...and won.
Who is this man? Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States.

Why didn't he quit? Because God doesn't make losers.

"My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure" - Abraham Lincoln.

May 9, 2013

Where Are You Going?

It's been over three years since I've moved to the state of Washington.

Even though I haven't lived in the Dallas area for four years, every once in a while I still get a call from my dad who asks, "James, how do I get to _______?"

It's interesting he doesn't call my sister who still lives in Dallas. He calls me. Maybe that's because my sister never answers her phone. She thinks her phone is just a toy to play games on. Anyways, she never answers her phone. I know. Very annoying, but I digress.

So when my dad gets lost, he still calls me.

The conversation usually goes like this.

Me: "Dad, where are you trying to get to?"
Dad: "I'm trying to get to H-Mart" (H-Mart is a huge asian grocery store).
Me: "That's great. Now can you tell me where you are?"
Dad: "I don't know."
Me: "You don't know? Then I can't tell you how to get to H-Mart because I don't know where you're lost."
Dad: "If I knew where I was lost then I wouldn't have called you!"

After a few minutes of trying to figure out where my dad's lost, I usually ask him to ask someone near by tell him where he is.

You see, that's the thing. In order to get anywhere in life, you need to know at least two things: Where you are and where you are headed.

Those two things make all the difference in the world. Should you know one without the other, you are still hopelessly lost.

What's true about directions is also true about lives.

Unless you know where you are currently, and unless you know what your destination is, you're lost. It doesn't matter what road you take. You'll end up running around aimlessly.

And that's how most people live: paycheck to paycheck, job to job, relationship to relationship, etc.


Then one day, they realize they haven't gone anywhere. They haven't made anything of their lives.

And for some, it's too late. They've messed up too many lives. There are too many hurt people strewn about along the way.

But, if you're fortunate enough to have discovered you are lost, count yourself blessed.

If you are smart, before you make any more decisions about your future, the first thing you will do is to figure out where you are. Then ask yourself where you are headed. What is your destination? What do you want your life to be all about?

And if you are wise, you will let God who created you tell you who you are and what you were created for. And you will do everything in your power to become who God created you to be. And you will be called wise.

And, you wise ones - you who know where they are headed - you will be called "happy and blessed."

May 7, 2013

Disciple Making Christianity vs. Decision Making Christianity

I came across the following in Richard Stearn's new book, "Unfinished" on p. 58. 

I can't write it any better. 

So, here it is.