Thursday, October 31, 2013


So what do we do to make sure our church is here in twenty years...

Go make a bunch of disciples.

Go on the offensive.

Most churches won't do this.  We love to talk about it.  We are all for missionaries in far off places.  We even will go on some short-time mission trips.

But I am talking about an all out effort to reach friends and neighbors with the good news.  I am talking about making this the expectation.  From the elders thru the ministers (better if they were evangelists) and into the members.

Where every member learns from an early age to talk about Jesus in gentle, respectful ways.  Where we live out our faith in radical, courageous ways so people ask us about it.

Everyone would be expected to help disciple our new brothers and sisters.  Teaching them live crucified. Helping them put to death the desires of the old man.  Helping them live by the Spirit in real community.

It would be exhausting and exhilarating.  Our worship time would be a time of renewal and reminder that we believe in the one who died and rose again.  So we could go out and engage the enemy for the souls of those around us.

We wouldn't have time or energy to bicker and fight with each other.  The peripheral things would stay where they belong.

And let's not fool ourselves.  We might lose some members if this was the radical thing that we did.  Some would not do it.  OK.   At least we are losing them because we expect them to do something incredible in this world for Jesus.  Not because we are trying to decide what to do about us.

But this is how you know your church will be here till the Lord comes again.  This is real growth.  Bringing people from darkness to light.  Not from light to a brighter light, a prettier light, or a light that fits us better.

Churches that don't get this may not be here.  In fact, I would say probably won't be here in twenty years.

But those that do ...  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


My church will NOT be here in twenty years if we only play defense...

If you want to ensure the death of your church, then concentrate on playing defense.

And here is how I define defense.  don't lose what is ours.

Sometimes that gets translated into keeping things the way they have always been.

Sometimes that gets translated into worrying about how we can "keep" our own.

So we are afraid to try anything different.  Or we feel compelled to try everything different.

And all the while, it is all centered on us.

Defensive churches focus on themselves.

And here are some of the ways you can know you are a defensive church.

When the great act of faith the church can point to in the last 10 or 20 years is a building program.  Because buildings are about us.  Our image, our needs, our comfort.  And most of those center on the worship center, which is used 10 or 12 hours a week -- and that is probably generous.

When you begin to talk about being under budget and what can we do about it.  Because budgets are almost always about us.  I know there is some benevolence money and some mission expenditure but most of it is about us.  Programs for us, buildings for us, and ministers for us.

When you think rearranging staff -- or hiring new staff -- is the answer.  Is that like rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic?  Because most ministry staffs are about us.  Ministers take care of the church.  Youth ministers, children ministers, communication ministers, senior ministers, etc.  Almost always about us.  Which is why we rush to change them so we don't lose our members to a better staff down the street.

When you think changing things in the assembly will make the real difference.  Better worship.  Better preacher.  And both of those usually mean better than the group down the street which is where our members will go if don't change.

And by the way, I would argue that anyone that thinks what happens in an hour or so per week is the key to our church's future is missing the whole point anyway.

Every time someone leaves, or even more scary sometimes, threatens to leave... it immediately generates a discussion of everything wrong and how to change it.

And be real worried if you get offended by the above.  Or if you have to launch into a vigorous explanation of how even tho you may be doing these things, it is not at all just to keep what we have.

All of these things are not necessarily bad in and of themselves.  But are any of these really the key to the kind of church Jesus will have?

And he will have a church.  Has since he was here last.  Will till he comes again.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Will my church be here in the future?

I hear this question -- in one form or another -- quite a bit lately.

We're shrinking.  We're dying.  Our young people are leaving.  The topic is sometimes Christianity in America.  Or the evangelical movement.  Or my group, churches of Christ.  Or even my local congregation Southern Hills.

But I hear preachers, elders, and members everywhere who seem consumed with finding the key to ensuring that our church is still here in 10, 20, 50 years.

So I have been thinking a lot about that question.

I am not sure my job as an elder is to ensure that my congregation is here in the future.  I do think it is my responsibility to get my flock, the souls in my care, to heaven.  But I am not sure the only way to do that is to make sure my congregation is still here.

Increasingly I hear this question asked in really unhealthy ways.

It is sometimes asked in a very selfish way.  Is church the way I know it going to be here after I am gone -- or when I am old?  So you better stay the same.

Or it is asked as a scare tactic.  If we do not do ___(fill in the blank)______________, we won't be here in the future.  So you better change.

Let me assure you that the church will be here until the Lord comes to take his bride home.

It will survive.  It may look different.  After all, I don't think the people in Acts that might have asked this question would recognize much of what church today looks like.

And if the Lord does not come in the next 2000 years, I am confident none of us will recognize much of what it looks like in 4013.

But it will be here.

And some things will be the same.

They key to our survival is to figure out what has to stay... and what is not that important.

So I am going to share some of those thoughts over the next few posts.

In the meantime, start thinking about you believe is the way to ensure your church is still here in the future.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Well Done ACU Class of '73

We were like many young college kids.  We were going to change the world.  We were going to make a difference for Jesus.

And it has been 40 years.  I know because we just had our Abilene Christian University class of 1973 Reunion.

It was hard to even register for the event at first.  I kept checking the website link and wondering who all the old people were.  It was my class.

The event was fun.  And bittersweet.

There was some pain and sadness in the room.  Several of our classmates have died.  But sweet because most of them were Christians so they are enjoying a much better reunion.

Lots of us were celebrating 35-40 years of marriage.  But several shared the pain of divorce and shattered dreams.

The guys all looked old.  Most of the girls did not.  Marsha especially enjoyed pointing to me that she was younger (she was a whole 2 years behind us in school).

But here is what struck me about that night.

We were at a table with 4 other couples.  Just at our table there were three elders.  There was a preacher.  There were two couples heavily involved in medical missions in hard places.

At the next table, there was another elder and another preacher.  And another person involved in a project that makes a difference in women's lives overseas.

There was a missionary at the table next to that one.  The same table where one my classmates has three children in full-time ministry.

The table next to that had another classmate who provides medical services for underprivileged families.  

One of my classmates has taught two of my grandchildren.  She was a great influence in their lives.

Several of my classmates have children now grown with families of their own that worship where I am an elder.

It made me realize something.

We did it.  We made a difference.  We are still making a difference.  People all over this world know Jesus because of what we have done.  Because of what we are doing.

So well done ACU class of 1973.

I am proud to be part of you.

To God be the glory.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


How I decide who to help first...

I have a very clear set of priorities as to who I help.  I do not believe everyone in need is on an equal footing when I decide who to help.

My family comes first.  God says that I am worse than a non-believer if I will not take care of my family.  That is my obligation and responsibility.  They come first.  In fact, according to I Timothy 5:8 I have renounced my faith if I do not care for my family.

They come first.

Second, I help my church family, my fellow Christians.  We need to do good for everyone but especially those in our Christian family. That is what Paul says in Galatians 6:10. So if people are in need, I work first to see that my physical family is taken care of, then my next priority is to see to my spiritual family.

Then after these two priorities, I try to help my fellow man.

So this is how that works out in real time in my life.

Let's imagine that my wife's parents need their yard mowed (they are not able to do it themselves), and I also know that one of our church members had surgery and their yard needs mowing.  And my church is doing a major house remodel in one of our poor neighborhoods.

And I have time Saturday to work.  Which one do I do?

I am doing my in-law's yard first, my church friend's yard second.  If I have time and energy left, I'll help with the neighborhood project.

If a tornado strikes Abilene and I have time and money to use in clean-up, I am taking care of my family first. That's what Christians do.  Then I am going to work to ensure all of my church families are helped.  Then I will start in on the neighborhood and community needs.

So if you think I am saying that some people are more important to me than others... you are right.

My family, my church family, my neighbors.

Feel free to share how you prioritize helping others with your time and money.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


I do not have to help everyone who asks...

I don't think I am the only one that wrestles with what is the appropriate way to help people in financial crisis. It is an especially difficult thing if they are part of my community of faith.  I passionately believe that we are obligated to take care of each other.  And I we take care of our needs before we worry about those in the world.  We help everyone, but especially we help other Christians.   And by the way, that is one of the great ways to reach people... they see how Christians provide for each other.

We have had a number of members who have needed help with house payments, Dr. bills, utilities, food, etc.  I love that we have a box in our foyer that we use to collect funds to help each other.  I give regularly to it.  We have fed people, made utility payments, house payments, and let people live with us.  So we believe in helping people.

But I have come to accept that it is OK to not help certain people.  Here are those that I do not help.

The person who will not work.  I don't mean can't work.  I mean won't work.  They cannot find a job that is suitable, or that fulfills them, or that they like, or that pays them what they deserve.  My church is full of people that go to jobs like that every day.  So can those in need.

"But I can't find a job that pays enough."  OK, we'll help make up the difference in what you need.  But not if you aren't trying.

Those of you who have known me a long time will remember the time in my life when I mowed yards, roofed houses, and delivered phone books to feed my family.  So I have decided I do not have to help the man who won't work.

Or the family who wants someone to stay home with the kids.  I love Moms who want to work at home.  Just don't think I am obligated to help you maintain a standard of living beyond what a one income family can afford.

And yes, Marsha stayed home with the kids till they went to school and then she taught school for 25 years.

If you live in a house clearly beyond your income level, I am not obligated to keep you in it.  I have given spiritual counsel to families that involved selling their house and "moving down".  Some have taken that advice.  I was happy to help in the transition time.  Others have refused.  I am obligated to make sure my brother has shelter, not that he lives in his dream home.

I have offered to swap houses with people who thought they were about to lose their homes.  None of them have taken me up on it.

And yes, we have lived in the same house for almost 30 years and it is paid for.

So here is my point.  If you are in need, I have to help you.  But not if you will not work, or have to maintain a standard of living far above what you make.  And do not ask me to help you with what God has given me if you refuse to do what I did.

No one has to live like me.  Just don't think I have to help you.

Feel free to respond.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Gary Cleveland is home

I wrote last week about my friend Gary and his cancer.  He went home yesterday.

Our relationship actually started when a group of young married couples from Southern Hills met in our living room almost 40 years ago to talk about planting a church in the Midwest.  We did not all go but eventually two couples from Southern Hills went to Oshkosh, WI.  They were joined in that work by Gary and Deb Cleveland.  Gary had been preaching in the Midwest and they wanted to be part of what God was going to do in the Upper Midwest.

I helped Gary and Deb get support through the Duncanville Church of Christ.  In fact, my Dad was the elder who met with the Clevelands and shepherded them thru the process.

Gary has been preaching at Oshkosh ever since.  Tremendous influence all over the Midwest.  He and Deb have been a great team for the Lord.  Working with marriages, leading people to Jesus, mentoring young preachers and their wives.

I got to reconnect with them last year at the Upper Midwest Preachers Retreat.  Gary has been one of the organizers for several years and invited me to speak at the retreat and at the Oakhaven church in Oshkosh.  It had been 30 years since I had spoken in Oshkosh.

Great time.  We talked about Gary's cancer.  He was in remission.  We praised God.  Talked about kids and grandkids and ministry.

Shortly after that, Gary's cancer returned.  He, Deb, and the Drs. at the Mayo Clinic fought it.  They were covered in prayers asking for healing.

God did not answer the way I wanted.  But He answered.  He delivered Gary home.  Through it all, Gary was resolute, faithful, a living witness to God's love, and an example of what it means to know this world is not my home.

I won't be at the funeral Saturday.  I'm going to be preaching down in Houston.  Gary will like that.

So another preaching buddy has gone home.  But he leaves a legacy of faith.  He inspires me to keep telling the story.  And I'll see him again.

Till then...

Thursday, October 03, 2013


God, Gary, James, and me...

I have two good friends who were recently diagnosed with cancer.  Serious, end of life kind of cancer.  The kind would require God's healing.

James is part of my local church flock.  Gary and I have been preaching buddies for almost 40 years and recently got to reconnect over a week long preacher's retreat.

James is around 50 and Gary around 60.

James had no idea he had cancer till he went in for a routine physical.  Gary had already survived one bout with cancer.

Gary and James have both been covered in prayer all over the country... and all over the world.  Marsha and I have prayed constantly for God to heal both of these friends.

This week the Doctors told James it looked like his cancer was in remission.  See you in three months.

This week the Doctors told Gary he had just a few weeks left in this life.  Nothing else we can do.

Same God.  Same intense prayers for healing.  Right now it appears there are two different answers.


So let me share a few things I am learning from my two friends.

We live our faith in different ways.  Sometimes we witness to the power of God's healing in this life. Sometimes we witness by demonstrating our belief that their is more to life than this world.

Both of my friends were testifying to God's faithfulness before they got their diagnosis, during their treatment, and after they got the news.  Both of them.

I am not God.  I wonder why there were two different answers to my prayers.  God could explain it, but he doesn't have to.  Because he is God.  And even if he did, I might not understand it.  I might try to convince him to give what I want... that my preference is better than whatever grand scheme he is orchestrating.

So I marvel at the faith of James and Gary.  And of their wives, Teri and Deb.  And their kids.

And I realize more and more that this world is not my home.

I hate Satan and the fact that we live in a fallen world.

I love that God wins anyhow... even over death.

And I will live forever with James and Gary.  For all I know, I may the first one to get to heaven.  And when we are all there, I am going to introduce James and Gary.  They have a lot in common.

So I will cherish the time here with people I love.  I will keep telling everyone I know the story of Jesus.

And I will use the story of James, and the story of Gary, to invite people to join us.

God thanks for healing James.  And I still ask you to heal Gary.  But I do know that all of us submit to you. We love you.  We praise you.  And we look forward to the day when we all live together forever with you.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013


Your work is your mission field

Work is your witness.  It is where you get to live Jesus in a world that does not know him.

Work is your ministry.  It is a place where you can help people:  either directly as part of your job, or by making connections who need a helping hand.

Work is your support.  God provides for your family and for Kingdom work thru your employment.

But your work is also very much your mission field.  I think this directly relates to the first two points especially.

Work is where you meet and connect with people who do not know Jesus.  As you become known for your faith, you will have opportunity to pray for people.  You will be a person asked for advice when difficult life situations arise.

As a believer, you may be asked to make sense of the senseless things in this world (natural disasters, tragic accidents, horrible crime and sin).

You may be challenged to defend or explain your lifestyle.

As Peter wrote:  be ready to explain your hope.  People will ask because you are different.

Always do it with gentleness and respect.

Some people will not hear.  Others will not believe.  Many will want no part of what we live.

But there are seekers in this world who will hear.   They may not even know what they are looking for... but they know something better must exist.

I believe there is a reason why you are working where you are.  It may be for resources.  It may be for a position of influence.  But it may be because the Holy Spirit works to connect non-believers with believers. And in our culture, I believe he does that thru our work opportunities.

So when you go to work be excited with the anticipation that this is the day you might get to share Jesus.

You get to go to a mission field every day.

You are fulfilling the commission Jesus gave us to be out in the world making disciples.

You are the true missionaries and evangelists of our time.

You are the answer to the prayer of Jesus for more workers to reap a harvest of souls.

Pray for the opportunity.  Pray for the courage to speak.  Pray for the right words -- the right story to tell.

Go make disciples in your work world.

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