From the Cutting Room: Luke 4

We are currently working our way through the book of Luke at my church. This past Sunday we dove into Luke 4. The problem was that there was too much information that I wanted to share so I had to cut a bunch of stuff from my message! Here’s a little bit that didn’t make the cut:

As we dive into Luke four, we get this amazing snapshot of the temptation of Jesus Christ. Jesus was tempted. He was really and truly tempted! That tells us that temptation itself is not a sin. Satan has lied to some of us and we’ve believed that just because we’ve been tempted, we’re already defeated. That’s not true! Jesus was tempted and did not sin. We too can face temptation and experience victory instead of defeat.

Thomas Brooks, a Puritan author, wrote a book called Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. What a great name for a book! I’m thinking I should write a book called Precious Remedies for Church Planters Facing Discouragement. Anyways- Brooks uses this amazing analogy. He says that temptation is nothing more than bait on a hook. All the fisherman out there will get this! When you are fishing, the goal is to reel that fish in. You will use whatever bait that you think will work the best to catch that fish.

Satan will come to you as he came to Jesus and he will bait your hook with whatever it is that will be the most tempting to you: food, sex, money, security, comfort, whatever it might be. Whatever it is, he’ll use it to bait his hook. His entire goal is to give you whatever you so desperately want so that you take a big bite of the bait, so that the hook gets embedded in your mouth. Then the the Devil can reel you in toward death. The problem is that people ignore the hook and only focus on the bait.

See, Satan, if he came to you and said, “I would like you to experience divorce or gluttony or obesity or drunkenness or drug addiction or ruined family relationships due to gossip or bitterness,” no one would bite down on that hook! No way! But our enemy is crafty. He finds ways to bait those hooks with whatever it takes to get us to take a bite. 

Satan will use use things that all of us would agree are “good things” as bait. We can guess from the tactics that the devil uses that perhaps Jesus is struggling with what it means to do God’s will and bring about His purposes. The first temptation is not only personal but has a social justice slant: Will Jesus’ ministry be one of turning stones to bread to meet people’s physical needs? That’s a good thing, right? Feeding people and taking care of their physical needs?

The second temptation has a political angle. Will Jesus submit to the rulers of the world in order to achieve good for the people of this world? Don’t the ends justify the means? It MUST be ok to overlook a politician’s character flaws because they promise to help move forward our political agenda, right?

The third temptation is religious. Will Jesus win over Jerusalem and the Jewish people by works and miracles, thus avoiding the terrible scandal of death on the cross? It would be a whole lot easier to avoid all that blood and substitutionary atonement talk! A good religious show is much easier to market! 

The devil will often tempt us with good things that get in the way of our true purpose. Feeding hungry people and meeting people’s physical needs? That’s great! Bringing justice through political religious coalitions- good stuff! Supernatural signs- great! But all were distractions from Jesus’ primary purpose. He came to live the life we could not live, to die the death we should have died, to pay the price we owed so that we can be saved from the CURSE of sin and welcomed into a COVENANT relationship with God our CREATOR.

The serpent didn’t temp Eve in the garden with the temptation to be like the devil. The serpent tempted Eve with the offer to be like GOD.

Are there good things that the devil is using in your life to distract you from your true purpose? Are there things that the devil is using as bait to get you to swallow a hook that he will use to reel you in to certain death?

With Jesus’ help- you can RESIST temptation! You can experience victory and freedom!

Feeling Overwhelmed?

overwhelmed-graphicReal Life Here: I’m so very tired. And I’m so very tired of sick kids. (Honestly, I’m just a little tired of my kids). And yet…

And yet, at the same time I feel so incredibly grateful for the many, many blessings is my
life. We suffered through 3 years of infertility and multiple miscarriages, not knowing if we would ever have a child, let alone 3 kids! And now we have been blessed with 3 amazing kids!

12472782_10101698954324820_5749570881580611229_nYes, they are exhausting. Yes, having three kids 5 years old and under consumes ALL. YOUR. TIME. And energy! But they are still such a blessing. And I love each one so very much. Just look at those adorable faces! (Just please start sleeping through the night kids! In your own beds!)

I look around our beautiful suburban home and think how quickly it goes from clean and organized to looking like a disaster zone. And yet, I’m so incredibly grateful for this house God has provided for us. Our first “real home” in our marriage where we don’t have to share walls with someone! A beautiful home with tons of space to host small groups, leadership meetings, and newcomer lunches. I’m so thankful for this home and all the ministry we get to do in it.

And then there’s the church. Being a Church Planter means going to bed every night with things left undone on your to-do list. Starting a church is a lot like starting a new business or non-profit- there are ALWAYS more things to do! But as exhausting as church planting can be…man- I am so THRILLED that I get to do it!

This is what I was put here on this earth to do!

I feel like my whole life was a training ground that prepared me to do this. And everyday, I thank God that I get to do this.

So yes, today I am tired and overwhelmed and feel like a failure as a dad and a husband, but I know that God’s got this. When I am weak, He is strong.

If you are tired and overwhelmed and feel like you are not measuring up as a spouse or parent or at your job, I want to encourage you to know that

YOU.

ARE.

ENOUGH.

Don’t strive so hard. God’s got this. God’s got YOU! Count your blessings and maybe take a nap. Or get another cup of coffee.

Get your hopes up.

Rejoice in HOPE, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12 (ESV)

Joseph, Dreams, and Getting Out of a Pit

josephI’ve been thinking a lot about Joseph this past year or so. Not Joseph, the adopted dad of Jesus. No, I’m talking about Joseph- the arrogant, young leader who had a vision from God.

You probably know the story: Joseph shared his God-given vision with those closest to him and what happened? He ended up in a pit. That’s when his dream died. Then things went from bad to worse.  He was falsely accused and he ended up in prison. I would bet all my guitars that he started questioning God’s plan and started doubting the vision that God had given him. He was in a dark place. A hopeless place.

But you know what? God was there. God was there in the pit. God was there when he was falsely accused. God was there in the dark place of that prison. And God had a plan.

You know what I think? I think Joseph wasn’t ready yet for the vision God gave him. I think Joseph was arrogant and he needed some time for God to do a work on his heart.

 So there was the birth of a dream. Then the death of a dream. Then God did what only God can do. He re-birthed that dream in Joseph.

God had a plan for Joseph’s life. His timing was just WAY different from what Joseph probably thought was going to happen! God used Joseph in a powerful way to bring salvation to people far from God. And out of those circumstances, a people of God was formed.

So if you are like me, and you’ve had the birth of a dream and then faced the death of that dream- take heart. God is there with you. God is here with me. His timing and is ways are probably just a lot different from what we expect!

God is in the business of re-birth. Of resurrection. And even now, in that pit, in whatever hopeless situation you find yourself, God is there. He gives life and hope and purpose. We just need to trust and wait on our God. Its not easy and we will struggle and doubt- but God was and is and will continue to be faithful and true to His word. And you know what? That’s great news.

 

 

EL

Book Review: 7 Lessons for New Pastors

Before we can make any plans for the church, we must know the sheep well.  Take every opportunity to become familiar with members of your church. Don’t rush into your action plans too quickly. – from the book 7 Lessons for New Pastors, page 96

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Matthew D. Kim wrote this helpful book after his first year as a senior pastor.  Since I believe that God might be leading me to be a senior pastor, I thought it would be a good idea to do some reading on others’ experiences as new senior pastors.

Dr. Kim offers 7 good tips for new senior pastors.  The first couple chapters are about making sure you are called to be a pastor and the importance of finding the right church.  Then he moves into how to acclimate to the pastor’s life and gives some good tips on creating good habits.  Dr. Kim shares that the most important habit for a pastor is a strong prayer life.  He says: Prayer is priceless in the life of a pastor. It is the glue that holds everything together…Without prayer, we lack God’s love and power. Without prayer, we will be empty on the inside and have nothing left to give our parishioners. Without prayer, we cease to be pastors (page 53).

Chapter five is about how to develop your leadership skills.  He gives some good ideas on how to create and cast vision and the importance of developing leaders.  He shares that to be effective, learn to develop leaders and delegate responsibility…the church should be able to thrive without us.  That is the proper test of whether we have produced quality lay leaders (page 83).

In chapter six, Dr. Kim shares some great tips on how to love your congregation. He says: ministry is people. It is people that make the calling of ministry valuable and worthwhile (page 93). It is so easy to lose sight of that.  To get caught up in doing stuff and to forget that its all about people.  Dr. Kim shares some great ideas on how to get to know your congregation and to really get to know their stories.

And finally, in chapter 7, Dr. Kim shares his advice on how to be ready for when the unexpected happens.  What to do when tragedy strikes.  What to do when you get unusual and unexpected requests. And how to resist unexpected temptations.

All in all, I thought this was a great book that would be beneficial for anyone who is moving into a senior pastor role.  Check it out.

Book Review: Comeback Churches

An incarnational church functions as the “body of Christ” because it represents the presence of Christ in a community. – Comeback Churches, page 6

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I believe that every church is planted with the desire to be an incarnational church. However, over time, many times churches get “stuck”.  They operate in a way that is meaningful only to those already in the church while those in the community look on in bewilderment.

Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson did a study of 324 churches who were stuck and then made the turnaround to become “Comeback Churches”.  These were churches that had experienced 5 years or more of plateau or decline and then experienced significant growth (10% growth each year) and started seeing at least one person baptized each year for every 35 members.  So a 350 person church would see at least 10 people baptized each year.  Their book, Comeback Churches, describes the common steps these 324 churches took to turn things around.

I feel that God is leading my family and me to an established church, rather than going down the path of planting another church.  Most likely, it will be a church that has been plateaued or declining for the last few years.  As such, I found this book to be a tremendous help! Not a page went by where I didn’t highlight some good insight.  If you are at a church that needs to make a comeback, I highly recommend this book! Check it out!

EL Read More

Book Review: Making Room for Leadership

have been called a bull in a china shop…on more than one occasion!  A friend, hoping to help, handed me this book to read…about four years ago.  To be honest, at that time I wasn’t ready to openly evaluate myself and how I used my physical presence to influence others.  I was defensive and thought, “well, this is just who I am!”

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Well, I finally got over myself and decided to read it.  In her book Making Room For Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence, MaryKate Morse asserts that we all take up space in a room (not just physically) and the way we use or don’t use our bodies in group settings influences others. She shares that most of us are unaware of the ways we use our bodies to influence others.  I would wholeheartedly agree with these ideas!

As I read this book, I reflected on my past.  I worked with someone who would use his body and physical presence to dominate the room and to force everyone else into submission. He referred to this as “powering up”.  It was incredibly intimidating and created a very tough working environment.  It wasn’t until I was out of the situation that I realized how emotionally damaging the working relationship was to me.

I do not want to lead like that.  MaryKate Morse talks about “shadows” and “sponges” in her book. I have come to the realization that on the scale of being a “shadow” with no presence or a “sponge” who soaks up all the physical space in a room, I am much more like a sponge.  I am who God created me to be BUT I can learn to me more like Jesus who used his power and influence to empower the marginalized and to stand up to those who are abusing their personal power.  I can learn to temper my big presence to help create safe environments that help others find their voice and to feel free to participate in this great endeavor of spreading the good news of the coming of God’s Kingdom.

This is a great book that would be very helpful for both “shadows” and “sponges”.  If you are someone who people ignore and you don’t feel like you have a voice, grab this book and learn how to appropriately gain influence and to partner with what God is doing.  If you are more like me, and tend to soak up all the space in a room, read this book and learn how to be more aware of your surroundings and how to help others feel safe and to share your influence and power.  God has a plan for ALL of us and he wants us ALL to participate in his great redemption story!

EL

Excited for the Future

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Every January, I look back to the last couple of years and I get excited about what the future might hold. Here’s some highlights from the past couple of years:

  • 2010: our son Joshua is born after 3 years of infertility!
  • 2011: we move from Colorado to Wisconsin, help start a new church, and I start a new job as a church planter with Converge/Baptist General Conference.  We also experienced our third miscarriage that summer.  Lots of ups and downs.
  • 2012: our daughter Rebecca is born– and we spend 10 days in the NICU due to her born not breathing.  But God healed her and she is doing great!  I also finished my Masters of Arts in Theological Studies and Kristin and I record an unplugged Christmas album.
  • 2013: I decide to get healthy and then lose 40 pounds.  We leave the church we helped plant and work with Converge/Baptist General Conference to try to figure out where God is leading us next.

Well, this January is no different.  In fact, with the season that Kristin and I are in, I am all the more looking ahead with great anticipation to what the future holds!  Most likely, the next 6 months will find us in a new city, a new house, and a new church and job for me!  That’s a lot of changes that we know will be happening this year!!

I know in my head that God is sovereign and that he has the whole world in his hands. But its not easy to believe with my heart. Its an intentional act of faith to trust him and to believe that he will continue to take care of us and will lead us to the right place for our family.  I pray that God will continue to lead and direct us while we are waiting in this desert place.