Category Archives: Books that Changed Me

Confessions of a Bad Servant

My office is in downtown San Antonio. My daily walk from my parking garage to my building takes me right through the heart of one of our city’s gathering places for homeless folks. Years ago, when I first started making this walk, my heart went out to these men and women and I found myself giving to them pretty regularly. Over time, I felt like I needed to develop some “rules” about who I would give to and under what circumstances. If I am going to be a servant, after all, there have to be some parameters. You know what I mean: (1) no money for anyone who smells of alcohol, (2) no money for anyone who is rude, (3) no money next time for anyone who doesn’t seem grateful this time, etc. The list of rules has grown over time.

It has occurred to me this week as I prepare to teach John 13:1-17 that, with regard to servanthood, Jesus not only demonstrated WHAT to do, but He demonstrated HOW to do it. He could have done the foot washing by just standing up, grabbing a wash basin, and quickly going through the motions, but He did not do that. He made it a point to first take on the form of a slave before he even began the work. Far beyond the mere act of serving, He gave us an insight into the attitude of serving, i.e., the condition of the heart of the servant.

Servants do not serve with a list of rules about the condition under which they will serve. Servants do not come to their master with a list of terms for their “service agreement”. Isn’t this what Jesus meant in this passage when He reminds us that “no servant is greater than His master…”? …

Gospel Centered Worldview: God’s Plan for His Church

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Romans 4:18-21

“…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19

This is the next in this series of posts for church leaders about a “Gospel Centered Worldview”, and how we must lead God’s people from that frame of reference. Today, we look at how that worldview informs our perspective on the future of the church.

killing christiansMaybe you heard, ISIS is killing Christians. Social media has raised much awareness of it (which, by the way, is perhaps furthering the terrorist’s agenda more than our own agenda). But, in case your own Facebook page is not exploding with those images and stories, I recommend your checking out (and supporting) Voice of the Martyrs, a ministry which does an amazing job of helping us know how we can be praying for the persecuted church all around the world. I also strongly recommend Nik Ripken’s The Insanity of God for a deeper understanding of the spiritual privilege of being persecuted for righteousness’ …

Pursuing Peace

Tuesday Re-mix:

Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.  Psalm 34:14

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18

dove

I am still thinking here about the very difficult debates raging through the church today over the same-sex issues and what scripture says (or what it does not say) about the issue. It occurs to me that seeking peace with each other around this issue has less to do with WHAT we have to say and much more to do with our HEARTS as we engage each other in this conversation.

Peace can be a tricky thing.  As high a value as scripture makes it, as many times as we are instructed to pursue it among God’s people, the way toward peace and the way toward conflict often move in the same direction.  That makes it tricky.

Peace, you see, is NOT necessarily just the absence of conflict.  As long as people are involved, there will be conflict…there will be disagreement…and there will be hurt feelings.  In the midst of those things, peace does NOT require moving away from each other.  Rather, peace requires moving toward each other.  It requires having difficult conversations…even painful conversations.  Avoiding those conversations may bring a temporary peace, at least it may feel more peaceful for a short season, but the long term result is just the opposite of peace…it is chaos and frustration and complication.

So, the first point here is that “pursuing peace” often requires moving toward the conflict rather than away from it…moving toward the difficult conversation rather than waiting in the wings and allowing the pain to fester over time.  The problem, then, is how to tell the difference between “pursuing peace” and fueling a fight.  Both are …

The Heart of Your Conflict

Tuesday Re-mix:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them.For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23

If you’re a peacemaker, you need to have read The Anatomy of Peace, a publication of the Arbinger Institute. My first time through it,  I also happened to be working through the gospel of Mark in my church’s regular Bible study. As so often happens, both lessons converged for me.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAeF-pGoAxM&w=560&h=315]

By far the most difficult task before me in any mediation of any conflict (church or otherwise) is getting a conflicted party to quit pointing to all the flaws in the other party and to look inward, at his/her own heart and how he/she has contributed to the conflict. So difficult is it, in fact, that when it does happen it almost always represents an important “a-ha” moment in the peace process.

I think that, for people who value the Holy Scripture, it has the power to bring about that kind of reflection. Words like Jesus’ in Mark 7 can cause us to reflect a little deeper than just our surface “position” on a given issue, and rather consider our “heart” and how we have chosen to express that position. The writers of The Anatomy of Peace refer to it as our “way of being” or as a “heart at war” as opposed to a “heart at peace”.

I see it in every conflict. It is not so much a party’s position or stance on an issue which causes conflict to escalate. Our position is external to us. What escalates the conflict (what “defiles” us) is our …

A Timely Haunting

Tuesday Re-mix:

Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.  Acts 11:20-21

In his book, Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley asks a question that has been haunting me for some time now: Who is church for?  Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  Seems like we should be able to answer it without even flinching.  But it is killing me…haunting me.

It is killing me because I know the right answer: church is for the lost and broken world around us…it is God’s one and only plan for reaching, saving and healing that world.  Church, when all the programs and budgets and theological debates are done, is for that world.  That is painful for me to admit because, once I admit that, I know it means I must then look at everything I love and want and do in the church and ask myself whether it fits that purpose…whether it is designed to reach that world.  I think you know where that inquiry will lead.

But that question is killing me at an even deeper level yet.  It is causing me to examine my own heart and ask some troubling questions about my heart’s inclinations and leanings, especially where that lost and broken world is concerned.  With the Lord’s leadership, I have crafted an entire ministry around loving, encouraging and healing the church.  It is my passion.  So, it is easy for me to want church to be for church people…because they are my audience, my market, the purpose for my ministry.  I love pastors.  I love church leaders.  I love church people…and …

A Spirituality of Fundraising

Tuesday Re-mix –

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

This year has been a huge transitional year for our ministry, Christian Unity Ministries. We will always remember 2013 as the year we transitioned from a small, church consultation ministry operated by Blake and a few of his friends in their spare time to a full-fledged, global non-profit organization with a paid staff and active arms operating in churches and denominational entities all over the world. Last year’s budget: approximately $75,000. The 2013 budget: approximately $350,000. That, my friends, is a God-sized transition!

One of the most painful transitions, it seems, is the one going on in me…the transition toward becoming the visionary leader this new organization now requires. And, just to get very specific here for purposes of this post, I am thinking primarily about the transition into becoming a leader in matters of money and fundraising. Anyone who knows me very well at all, knows that I have simply never been very passionate about fundraising. I have long recognized the eternal truth that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And so, it has always been easier for me to just avoid talking (or thinking) about money rather than having to delve into any theology concerning …

From Whom All Healing Comes

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.  Mark 14:43-46

trusting_vFINALloRES

My ministry brings me into contact with a good number of people who have felt wounded by the church.  God seems to have given me the awesome assignment of being an encourager and exhorter to those people.  I co-authored a book with Debbie Taylor Williams aimed specifically at the pain of these same dear friends: “Trusting God’s People…Again”.  It is on my mind this week, because I will be speaking from it the next two Sunday evenings at my church.

Being hurt by the church is by no means a unique experience.  The statistics of those who feel injured by the church are pretty overwhelming!  But the pain itself, the feelings of betrayal by God’s own people…those feelings are definitely unique to these circumstances.  Being hurt by the church is just not comparable to any other pain…not really.  It is a deep and lasting pain of being wounded by the very place which should be the safest place in the world for us.  The healing process, therefore, is likewise pretty profound.

The good news is this: the One administering the healing from this pain knows all about it from personal experience.  That makes a big difference!  Here is the way I describe it in the book:

THE NATURE OF PAIN / THE PROCESS OF HEALING

Like physical pain, emotional or spiritual pain can be incapacitating.  When your leg is broken, no matter how much you want to walk on it, no matter how important walking might be to you, you simply cannot do it.  A healing process must take

Bonhoeffer on the Benefits of Confession to One Another

Tuesday Re-mix –

As Christians, we have been given only one mechanism to deal with sin in our lives: confession.  There simply is no other means of prevailing over sin.  Confession is our only hope.

Much of what I understand scripture to teach us about confession comes from my old friend, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  So today I will not bore you with my words; rather, I will challenge you with his.  Take a minute to let his words (from Life Together) about confession of our sins to one another settle in your heart.  Here was a man who understood some things about the transforming power of community.

Breaking Through to Community

In confession the break-through to community takes place.  Sin demands to have a man by himself.  It withdraws him from the community.  The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.  Sin wants to remain unknown.  It shuns the light.  In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person.  This can happen even in the midst of a pious community…

The expressed, acknowledged sin has lost all its power…It can no longer tear the fellowship asunder.  Now the fellowship bears the sin of the brother.  He is no longer alone with his evil for he has cast off his sin in confession and handed it over to God…Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Breaking Through to the Cross

In confession occurs the break-through to the cross…Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation.  It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is

From South Africa with Love – Week 3

I am currently in South Africa with a team of trainer/facilitators from my ministry. For the names of the team members and our respective schedules, click here.  Please pray for us!

For my Thursday posts during this time away, I am featuring thoughts and writings from one of my favorite South African pastors/writers, Andrew Murray, who pastored churches in South Africa from 1850 – 1917.  Two of his works which I have loved are Abide in Christ and With Christ in the School of Prayer.

That Your Joy May Be Full

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11

“Abiding fully in Christ is a life of exquisite and overflowing happiness.  As Christ gets more complete possession of the soul, it enters into the joy of its Lord.  His own joy, the joy of Heaven, becomes its own, and that in full measure, as an ever-abiding portion.  Just as joy on earth is everywhere connected with the vine and its fruit, so joy is an essential characteristic of the life of the believer who fully abides in Christ, the heavenly Vine.”  A. Murray, Abide in Christ

It is striking, really, in almost every place I have been in the world, how different God’s people look from everyone else.  No matter where I go, South Africa, Ukraine, Romania, or right here at home, there are smiles on the faces of God’s people.  But wander outside the walls of the church onto the streets, and that is just not true.  Because the world is a dark place and this life has a way of stealing our joy.  But God’s Spirit is the great replenisher, and the more I abide in Him, the greater my joy.

Since

From South Africa with Love – Week 2

I am currently in South Africa with a team of trainer/facilitators from my ministry. For the names of the team members and our respective schedules, click here.  Please pray for us!

For my Thursday posts during this time away, I am featuring thoughts and writings from one of my favorite South African pastors/writers, Andrew Murray, who pastored churches in South Africa from 1850 – 1917.  Two of his works which I have loved are Abide in Christ and With Christ in the School of Prayer.

So You Will Have Power in Prayer

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” John 15:7

“Prayer is both one of the means and one of the fruits of union with Christ.  As a means it is of unspeakable importance.  All the things of faith, all the pleadings of desire, all the yearnings after a fuller surrender, all the confessions of shortcoming and of sin, all the exercises in which the soul gives up self and clings to Christ, find their utterance in prayer.  In each meditation on abiding in Christ, as some new feature of what Scripture teaches concerning this blessed life is apprehended, the first impulse of the believer is at once to look up to the Father and pour out the heart into His, and ask from Him the full understanding and the full possession of what he has been shown in the Word.  And it is the believer, who is not content with this spontaneous expression of his hope, but who takes time in secret prayer to wait until he has received and laid hold of what he has seen, who will really grow strong in Christ.”  A. Murray, Abide in Christ

In the mid-1980’s,