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!

Why Plant a Church with Converge?

I was talking with my new friend Chris about church planting at my office this afternoon. And by “office”, I mean the Starbucks I work out of Monday through Friday. I love my Starbucks! (In fact, someone even wrote an article about it and called me “The Starbucks Pastor”!) So there I was at Starbucks, talking with Chris, who is starting a new church in New Brighton, MN.

As I listened to him talk about his church planting journey I couldn’t help but compare his journey to mine. His denomination has not been able to be much of a support to him. After talking for a while, he asked me what I would do if I was in his shoes. First thing I said? “If I were you…I would join Converge and be one of our planters!”

Why would I say that? Why would I tell him to leave his fine denomination and join our small but mighty tribe?

Being a part of Converge North Central has made all the difference in the world in our church planting journey! I love my “tribe” so much! I don’t think I ever felt like I truly belonged until I became a part of the Minnesota/Iowa Baptist Conference (now known as Converge North Central).

So what makes Converge so great?

1. I feel like I BELONG 

The Converge pastors I’ve come to know in our district are super down-to-earth, normal dudes. I love that. They cheer each other on in such an encouraging way. The other church planters in our network are guys I actually like to hang out with. It is a great group to be a part of!

2. Amazing COACHING

I get to be coached by one of the greatest church planting coaches in the world! Dave Reno planted his church 27 years ago. Since then, his church has directly planted 26 daughter churches and his daughter churches have given birth to 8 granddaughter churches. That is truly phenomenal! There are 8x as many people attending a Sunday morning service at one of their daughter or granddaughter churches than attend his church. That shows the incredible power of multiplication!  And I get to be coached by Dave- the “Yoda of Church Planting”!

3. Humble and Supportive LEADERSHIP

I have gone through some really tough ministry experiences. I have made some mistakes and have also endured some really hurtful church experiences. I was ready to give up on the dream of church planting. But then I met Dave Reno and Ben McEachern (my other coach) and the Converge North Central leadership. They have supported me, believed in me, and took a risk on me. I will forever be grateful to Dan Carlson, Joel Nelson, and Mandy Johnson at the district office and Dave and Ben. Not only have they supported and believed in me, they are some of the  most humble and gracious leaders I have ever met.

There are many reasons to plant a church with Converge, but those are the top three that I came up with today. Two and a half years ago I was fertilizing lawns in Madison, WI, and didn’t know if I would ever get the chance to pastor a church. Today, thanks to Converge, I am leading a 15 month old church of 215 people that has baptized 25 people and seen dozens come to salvation in Jesus for the first time. God is so good and he has used Converge to help me in my church planting journey and to fulfill the purpose that God put me here to accomplish.

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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!

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Book Review- The Contemplative Pastor

The pastor’s question is, “Who are these particular people, and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?”- Eugene Peterson

I’m currently in a “wait and see” season of life.  I’ve described it to a friend as feeling like a shepherd with no flock.  Our time at our previous church came to an end in September 2013 and now we are waiting to see where God leads us next.

While I’ve been waiting, I have done a lot of praying and soul searching.  I have immersed my soul in God’s Word and listened to dozens of wonderful sermons from pastors Mark Driscoll (Seattle) and Tim Keller (New York City).

514PsIOYCmLI have also been reading a lot.  One of the books I just finished is titled The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene Peterson.  Peterson, best known for his translation of the Bible called the Message, has also written numerous books on pastoring/shepherding.

The Contemplative Pastor is a really great book that I would recommend for anyone in ministry- but especially for a pastor who has already put in his first decade of service and is looking for wisdom from a pastor who had shepherded his people for decades.

Peterson encourages pastors to embrace “the unhurried life”- to leave room for God to move and to do life with messy people.  He says it this way:

How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?…I know I can’t be busy and pray at the same time. I can be active and pray; I can work and pray; but I cannot be busy and pray. I cannot be inwardly rushed, distracted, or dispersed.

That is such a good word.  Too often, we rush around trying to accomplish great things for God instead of just “be” and live in communion with God’s spirit.

Peterson also encourages pastors to really love their people and to take time for them.

Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it’s only for five minutes.  Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time.  Only in that ambiance of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance.  Speaking to people does not have the same personal intensity as listening to them. The question I put to myself is not “How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?”

Wow.  Convicting.

If you are in ministry or if you feel like God has given you the spiritual gift of shepherding, I would strongly encourage you to pick up this book.  It will stretch and challenge you and help you on your journey to becoming more like our Great Shepherd- Jesus.

 

EL

Building Legos, Building Children

I sat on the floor with my three year old son, surrounded my thousands and thousands of little LEGO pieces.  “Wow!”, I thought to myself, “this is a pretty daunting task!” We were attempting to rebuild my X-Wing LEGO starfighter from 1999.  The problem was that the X-Wing pieces had been mixed in with thousands and thousands of other loose pieces.  Bummer.

It requires a LOT of patience to build something like that!  You need to keep your eye on the instruction book while at the same time keep an eye on what you are building and never lose focus of the end result- that you are trying to build something special.

As we tried to put that spaceship back together, I realized something.  Raising kids takes a lot of patience too! As my wife and I parent Joshua and Rebecca, we need to keep our eyes on our instruction book (the Bible) and also keep an eye on the unique children we are raising.  We also need to remember that we are doing something special here: we aren’t just trying to raise good, moral kids.  We want to raise kids that become adults who are passionate followers of Jesus.  Adults who are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do Kingdom work.  Adults who use their gifts and talents to help make disciples who make disciples.  Adults who become godly parents themselves someday and continue this great heritage of faith that my wife and I inherited from our parents.

But today, its enough to acknowledge that raising kids takes a TON of patience!  We may not have all the pieces… but its OK.  God is helping us form and shape these little angels/monsters into beautiful works of art.

Its enough for today.

Success! We did it!

Success! We did it!

How Exercise Can be a form of Liturgy

liddell-chariots-daughter“God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”- Eric Liddell

Well, God didn’t make me fast, but I still feel his pleasure when I run.  It all started about 5 months ago.  I was tired of being the FAT DAD, so I decided to make a change.  I started exercising 6 days a week and changed my eating habits.  In addition to lifting weights, I started swimming laps and running outside.  The first time I tried swimming laps, I could only do one little length of the pool at a time.  I had to stop and catch my breath so I wouldn’t drown! Now, I can swim a half a mile without stopping (35 lengths).  When I started running, I could barely make it to a half a mile before I needed to stop and walk.  This past Saturday, I ran 9 miles without stopping.

I love that I am WAY more healthy than I was 5 months ago.  But even more than that- I love that I have discovered a whole new way to connect with God.

There is this idea in the Bible that we can breathe God in.  The Hebrew word for God’s spirit is Ruach.  It means “breath” or “wind”.  We see in the beginning of our story that God breathed his ruach into Adam to give him life and spirit.  In Ezekiel 37, God tells the prophet to speak to a valley of dry bones, and those old bones received God’s ruach and they come to life.  After Jesus rose from the dead, John 20 tells us that he breathed on his disciples and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

When I run or when I swim, there is a definite rhythm to my breathing in and my breathing out.  As I sweat and strain to push myself, I breathe out my sorrow and my sin.  I breath in God’s Ruach– his Spirit. I exhale my anger and self-righteousness and I inhale God’s grace and peace.

God is not distant from us.  He is near.  He is present.  He is breath.

He breathes out, and we breathe in; this breathing in and breathing out is life.” (Messages Given to the Working Saints, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)

I would love to encourage you to get physical with your worship.  And as your exert yourself, breathe out all your pain and hurts and breathe in God’s healing and forgiveness.  I have a few Psalms that I have memorized that I recite to myself as I run or swim.  Its another way to center myself and to refocus on God.  If you have never connected physical activity with worship- give it a try! Even today- take a walk and enjoy the beautiful Fall colors.  And as your breathe in and out, breath in God and his life and spirit.