Posts Tagged ‘spiritual’

Breakthrough Prayer

October 2, 2017

Do you believe prayer makes a difference?  Most church people would answer, “Yes”.  If you have gone to church for a while, you are probably used to hearing prayers said in a worship service, a Bible study, and a small group.  You are probably used to church meetings that open and close with prayer.  You are probably used to praying before you eat a meal.  You are probably used to praying for loved ones who are sick or for families whose loved ones have died.  But, do you really believe that prayer makes a difference?  Do you remember a prayer that you prayed that was answered?  Do you remember a person or a situation that changed because of prayer?

In the most popular devotional book of all time, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “Prayer is not a normal part of the life of the natural man.  We hear it said that a person’s life will suffer if he doesn’t pray, but I question that.  What will suffer is the life of the Son of God in him, which is nourished not by food, but by prayer.  When a person is born again from above, the life of the Son of God is born in him, and he can either starve or nourish that life.  Prayer is the way that the life of God in us is nourished.”  So, do we treat prayer as a snack – something small that we take every now and then when we feel like it?  Or do we treat prayer as a meal – something we have to have a couple of times a day, so that our bodies won’t break down, but can become stronger?

Sue Kibbey writes about a kind of prayer called Breakthrough Prayer in her book Floodgates.  Breakthrough Prayer is not just a prayer class, a prayer committee, a prayer meeting, or a sermon series on prayer.  It is when God’s people join together in an intentional prayer movement across all ages to simply and repeatedly pray, asking God to break through in new and miraculous ways.  We pray for breakthroughs in our personal lives, in the lives of our fellow church people, in our church as a whole, for God to use us in unimagined new ways for Christ, and to break through anything that has been holding us back, including resistant thinking and negative attitudes.

The simple focus is to pray for God’s Holy Spirit to break through anything that is holding us captive, so that we can boldly move forward and fulfill God’s intention for why we exist as part of Christ’s Body on earth.  Breakthrough prayer is asking God to do new works and new miracles we cannot do ourselves.  It is a prayer to ask God to open our hearts and our minds to what we do not expect, and move us beyond what we tend to resist and close ourselves off from.  It is a prayer for God to open a door to transform us and our church without any limits or restrictions.

Sometimes when we pray, we feel that God is present.  We sense His Spirit and we know He is there listening to us and speaking to us.  Other times when we pray, we feel nothing.  We ask God to speak to us, and all we hear is silence.  We ask God for a sign, and we don’t see anything.  We listen for God, but we don’t hear anything.  The truth is that God is equally present and responsive to us in both situations.  God is with us when we realize it and when we don’t.  God is present whether we can feel Him or not.

So, this month, we want to encourage everyone to try praying a Breakthrough Prayer.  What is one area where you would like to see God breakthrough in your life?  What is one area in our church life where you would like to see God breakthrough?  What is one part of our community where you would like to see God breakthrough?  Let’s pray expecting to see God do something.  When you see something happen, don’t keep it to yourself.  Tell someone else.  We don’t pray in order to control God or manipulate God, but in order for us to be open and responsive to what God might want to do in us and through us.  Let’s make ourselves available to God.  Let’s open our eyes to see if God might choose to do something new.




Where Did We Come From?

August 7, 2017

Do you ever remember a time when you were little and you went to your parents and asked, “Where did I come from?”  If you are a parent, have you ever had one of your kids come to you and ask, “Where did I come from?”  If so, what kind of answer did you get?  What kind of answer did you give?

A lot of us have asked this question.  We start asking this question when we are little, and some of us keep asking it after we grow up.  It is basically a question of identity.  Behind this question, we are asking, “Who am I?  What am I like?  Who are my parents?  How did my parents get together?  What kind of people are we?  What are we known for?  Where did we come from?”  There is a whole avalanche of questions that comes as we try to figure where we belong, where we fit, and what our place is in the world.  These questions are foundational for our identity and self-image.

Many people who have been adopted, struggle with this.  Even when their adopted parents are great people, even when they get adopted into a loving family, there is still something inside of us that wants to know who we are, who our parents are, and what that means for our lives.

I think these are the same questions that the Hebrew people were asking 6000 years ago.  I think the reason that the Book of Genesis was written was to answer these questions:  Where did we come from?  Who are we?  What is our identity?  The Book of Genesis is one of the most important books in the Bible.  As the first book in the Bible, so many of the themes that run throughout the scriptures begin in Genesis.  People often say, “If you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where you are going.”  There is a lot of truth to that.  Knowing where we have been, knowing our history, and knowing how the world began, are key to knowing where we are going.

The Book of Genesis provides us with the pictures and the stories that are foundational to our lives and to our faith.  These are stories that shape us, that make us ask hard questions, and that stimulate our imagination.  If we can understand what the true stories of Genesis are trying to teach us, we can be strong people of character, with a mature faith, that can weather the storms of life.

This month, we are beginning a new message series, at the Northside Community Church in Terre Haute, and at the Emmanuel Methodist Church in West Terre Haute, called “Stories from the Beginning of Time”.  We are going to take nine weeks to look at these important, foundational stories from Genesis 1-11.  What are they really saying?  What do they mean?  And what difference does this make for us today?  I would like to invite you to join us as we take a look at these old, old stories in a fresh, new way.

Genesis is where it all begins.  It’s where the story of earth and outer space begin.  It’s the story where the plants and the animals begin.  It’s the story of where human beings begin.  It’s the story of where our relationship with God begins.  Once we have a good understanding our how we began, a lot of other things will begin to fall into place.


The Advent Conspiracy

November 30, 2016

A lot of people look forward to the Christmas season each year.  And each year, a lot of people are let down.  Instead of being the enjoyable season we see on TV, it has become a time of the year that is hurried, rushed, busy and stressed.  What happened?  How did it get to be this way?  In order to change this, a number of people and churches are discovering a movement called the Advent Conspiracy.  The Advent Conspiracy asks the questions, “Can Christmas still change the world?”  The Christmas story is a story of love, hope, redemption, and relationship.  So, what happened?  How did it turn into stuff, stress, and debt?  Somehow, we’ve traded the best story in the world for the story of what’s on sale.

How did the Advent Conspiracy get started?  It started in 2006 with five pastors who started to imagine a better Christmas practice for their own communities.  Today, the Advent Conspiracy is a global movement of people and churches resisting the cultural Christmas narrative of consumption.  These churches are choosing to celebrate Christmas differently by Worshiping Fully, Spending Less, Giving More, and Loving All.

1)Worship Fully.  It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift up a song to God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.

2)Spend Less.  Quick question for you: What was the one gift you remember getting for Christmas last year? Next question: What about the fourth gift? Do you remember that one? Truth is many of us don’t because it wasn’t something we necessarily wanted or needed. Spending Less isn’t a call to stop giving gifts; it’s a call to stop spending money on gifts we won’t remember in less than a year. America spends at least $500 billion dollars during the Christmas season, and much of that is joyless and goes right onto a credit card. By spending wisely on gifts we free ourselves from the anxiety associated with debt so we can take in the season with a full heart.

3)Give More.  I know what you’re thinking. “Wait, didn’t you just say I should spend less, and now you are telling me to give more? What gives?” The most powerful, memorable gift you can give to someone else is yourself. And nobody modeled this more than Jesus. So what does this look like for you? Tickets to a ball game or the theater? A movie night? The main point is simple: When it comes to spending time with those you love, quantity might be important, but quality is what’s really important.

4)Love All.  It all boils down to love. Love from a savior. Love to a neighbor in need. By spending just a little less on gifts, we free up our resources to love as Jesus loves by giving to those who really need help. This is the conspiracy a few churches began ten years ago, and has since grown to an international movement where thousands of churches have raised millions of dollars to love others in life-changing ways. It’s not that there’s something wrong with the shopping mall—it’s that the better story is about loving all.

So, what do you think?  Can we conspire together?  Can we get together and come up with a more significant, more meaningful way to celebrate Christmas?  It’s not enough to say “no” to the way Christmas is celebrated by many.  We need to say “yes” to a better way to celebrate Christmas.  If we intentionally devote more time and energy to Worshiping Fully, Spending Less, Giving More, and Loving All, we can make a difference in our own lives, in our families, and in our communities.  And if we make a difference there, it will begin to spread all over the world.  Today, thousands of churches are conspiring to celebrate Advent differently.  With each new person, and each new church, we end up making a far bigger difference than we ever thought was possible.  This year, let’s celebrate Christmas by joining the Advent Conspiracy.

(For more information, check out



What are the Big Rocks?

August 1, 2016

There’s a story about a teacher who took a glass jar into his class and filled it with big rocks.  He asked the class if they thought the jar was full.  They said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  He then poured some small pebbles into the jar around the big rocks.  Then he asked the class, is the jar full now?  They said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  Then he poured some sand into the jar.  Then he asked the class, is the jar full now?  The class said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  He then poured some water into the jar.  He asked the class if the jar was full now.  They said yes.  He asked them, what is the moral of this story?  One student said, “No matter how full your life is, you can always squeeze more things into it.”  He said no.  The moral of the story is:  if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in.

The point is that we have to make sure we have the most important things in our lives first.  It’s easy to get busy doing so many good things, that we don’t have time and space in our lives for the most important things.  If we don’t get the most important things right, we won’t get the rest of our lives.  What are the Big Rocks for the Christian Church?  What are the most important things for us to focus on?

We believe that our Big Rocks are the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.  The Great Commandment is found in Matthew 20:37-40, where Jesus says Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus says Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you, for lo, I will be with you always, even to the ends of the earth.

When we put the Great Commandment and the Great Commission together, we see that our Big Rocks are Loving God, Loving our Neighbor, and Loving our Neighborhoods.  These are the three big areas of focus for our ministry.  We want to help people come to Believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior for the first time and then to spend a lifetime growing deeper in their knowledge of God.  We want to help people Belong to a community and a purpose that is bigger than all of us.  Loneliness and isolation are the great social dysfunctions of our time.  We were all created with a sense of belonging.  And we want to help people Bless their neighborhoods and serve the community where we live.  We have been saved to serve.  We have been Blessed to be a Blessing.  We call these three Big Rocks:  Believing, Belonging, and Blessing

These are our Big Rocks – Believing (spiritual growth), Belonging (relational growth), and Blessing (missional growth).  Some people think that the Big Rock is numerical growth.  But, churches that make numerical growth their Biggest Rock, often do not grow spiritually, relationally, and missionally.  However, churches that focus on spiritual growth, relational growth, and missional growth, often discover that God is causing some numerical growth to happen as a result.  We do want to reach more people for Christ.  But, numerical growth typically follows spiritual, relational, and missional growth – not the other way around.

This month marks the beginning of a new school year here in Terre Haute.  It also marks the beginning of my second year “back home” as a pastor in this community we love.  Kim and I are delighted to back in the Wabash Valley again and we are grateful that God has led us to be a part of this community.  I have a lot of hope for this coming year.  I believe that God is doing something in our churches and in this community.  I believe that if we keep our eyes open, we will see many opportunities for ministry and new doors that will open for us to make a difference in people’s lives and in our community.

I want to invite you to join us for another important year of ministry.  I don’t know what God is going to do, but I believe He is going to do some significant things, and I want us to be a part of His mission on earth.

These are our Big Rocks – Loving God, Loving our Neighbor, and Loving our Neighborhoods.  We call these three rocks Believing, Belonging, and Blessing.  We want to help people grow spiritually, relationally, and missionally.  Please pray for me.  Please pray for our church.  Please pray for our community.  Pray that we can stay focused on what is most important – our Big Rocks.  And pray that we will be open to all the ministry opportunities God brings our way.


What’s the Big Deal about Easter?

March 1, 2016

What’s the Big Deal about Easter? In our American culture of today, Christmas is a bigger holiday than Easter. Thanksgiving is a bigger holiday than Easter. Halloween is a bigger holiday than Easter. For some, the Super Bowl, the Indy 500, and the Daytona 500 are bigger than Easter. For some, the first day of deer hunting season is bigger than Easter. Many people don’t even get a day off from work for Easter. Some people think it’s just a kids’ holiday where you talk about the Easter Bunny, go looking for eggs, and eat chocolate. (Where did those things come from?) For some, it’s just a day to go out to eat. What are we missing? What’s the big deal about Easter?

In his book Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright, he says that when Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, he rose as the beginning of the new world that Israel’s God had always intended to make. Jesus brought heaven to earth. In biblical thought, heaven is not a long way from earth. In the Bible, heaven and earth overlap and interlock, as the Jewish people believed they did above all in the Temple. Heaven and earth are not like oil and water, resisting one another and separating themselves out. Heaven and earth were always meant to co-exist.

The view from the Jewish Bible is that heaven and earth are twin halves of God’s created reality, designed eventually to come together. Suppose that what has kept heaven and earth apart all this time is that the human creatures who were put in charge of the earthly part of this creation had rebelled, rejecting God’s rule over them, desiring to rule themselves. We wanted to “call our own shots.” This landed us in a hole we couldn’t dig ourselves out of. We became addicted to sin, and couldn’t break free. We knew if we couldn’t break this addiction, it would eventually kill us. But, we couldn’t figure out how to undo the damage we had inflicted upon ourselves. We were stuck forever, with no hope of parole, no time off for good behavior, no anticipation that the future would be any better. We were caught in an endless downward spiral that we could not stop. We were dying.

Suppose then, that the creator God had finally come in person to set us free from the addictive power of sin. Suppose that God sent His Son to stop our downward spiral, lift us out of our hole, and put us back on sturdy ground once again. Suppose that the power of sin and death was broken, hope was restored, and the original purpose of creation was fulfilled after all. That is what happened when Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Easter was the birth of the new creation. The power of sin and death that had tyrannized the old creation had been defeated, disabled, and overthrown. Jesus launched the new kingdom of God in power and glory on earth as in heaven.

Jesus let loose a new power in our world – the power to remake what was broken, to heal what was diseased, and to restore what was lost. The kingdom that Jesus inaugurated strangely, mysteriously, and partially during his public career through his healings, feastings, and teachings was now unveiled in a totally new dimension. Jesus is the prototype of the new creation.

This new creation overflows with the power of love. When Jesus meets his followers on Easter morning, they are sorrowful, ashamed, and anxious. He calls them by name. He tells them not to be afraid. He explains what is going on. He deals with them individually. There is a love, a deep, moving, warmth that goes out from Jesus. This love is strong, powerful, life-changing, and life-directing. The new creation has begun.

The old creation lives by pride and retribution. I stand up for myself, and if someone gets in my way, I try to get even. We’ve been there, done that, and got the scars to prove it. Now there is a completely different way to live, a way of love and reconciliation and healing and hope. It’s a way many people have never tried before. It’s a way that has been as unthinkable as – well, as the resurrection. That’s the point. Instead of building walls to keep people out of the new creation, Jesus builds bridges and invites everyone to come in. Jesus has ushered in a new world, a new reality, a new creation.

This is why Easter is a big deal. The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t just mean “It’s all right. We’re going to heaven now.” No, it means the reverse. It means that heaven has come to earth and made earth into a new creation. It doesn’t just mean “So there is life after death”, even though there is. Easter means so much more than that. Easter means you can live a beautiful, wonderful kind of life now both before death and after death. Death has lost its power over you. It will still hurt when it happens. But, now instead of being a painful end, death becomes a temporary phase that we pass through as we move on to an even better kind of life with God. Easter speaks of a life that is neither ghostly or unreal, but solid and definite and practical. Though the Easter stories come at the end of the gospels, they are not really about the end of the story. They are really about the beginning of the story. The beginning of God’s new world. The beginning of the kingdom. The beginning of a relationship that we can now have with God. A relationship that Jesus initiates for us. A relationship that will grow. A relationship that will never end. We can now experience an unconditional, never-ending love that sets us free to be who we really are, completely unafraid, healthy, honest, strong, and pain-free.

That is why Easter is a big deal. Easter changes everything. Reality has now been altered for all time. Some people will experience this new reality and some will not. If you will step out in faith, believe in Jesus, agree to follow his directions for your life, give up what he tells you has been holding you back, and join with others who are journeying with him through life, you can begin to experience this new reality. Your life can change in ways that you can’t begin to imagine yet. The world becomes a better place than you have dreamed. Jesus gives you a future that you can look forward to, that no thing and nobody can ever take away from you. Don’t miss it. Easter changes everything. Easter is a big deal.

What is the Getting in the Way?

February 1, 2016

What is getting in the way of your relationship with God? When you look at your life, can you identify anything that is keeping you from growing closer to God? Are you aware of anything that keeps dragging you down? Is there some persistent temptation that keeps tripping you up?

Going back to about 325 AD, the church decided to come up with a special time in the year to encourage people to eliminate the bad habits in their lives, and focus on developing spiritual habits that would draw them closer to God. They came up with what is now known as the season of Lent. Lent is the forty days (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter Sunday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word “lencten” which means “spring”. The season of forty days was based on the story of Jesus in Matthew 4 where he goes into the wilderness for forty days, and defeats the temptations of the devil, which prepares Him to begin His ministry.

Based on this story, Lent was designed to be a time of fasting and repentance. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. It is a time of self-denial, moderation, and the forsaking of sinful activities. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism.

The day before Lent begins is called Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras. People saw it as their last chance to party before beginning a long season of fasting and celebration. On Mardi Gras, some people engage in the very activities that the Bible calls us to turn away from. This actually makes no sense, if one is really serious about giving up what is getting in the way of a closer walk with God.

The first day of the Lenten season is called Ash Wednesday. It is called the Day of Ashes because of the practice of rubbing ashes on one’s forehead in the sign of a cross. The words from Genesis 3:19 are spoken: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” While the Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday, it does record accounts of people in the Old Testament using dust and ashes as symbols of repentance and/or mourning (2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Job 2:8, Daniel 9:3). The practice of rubbing a cross on a person’s forehead with ashes is a physical sign that a person is turning away from sin and identifying with Christ.

Many Christians will make personal vows of abstinence during Lent, which could include anything from eating candy to meat to junk food. Some will choose to abstain from sex, alcohol, TV, or the internet. While some choose to stop doing what they shouldn’t, others choose to start doing what they should. Some people will choose to volunteer in their community or work for social justice. Some will choose to spend more time in prayer and reflection. It is a time to focus on eliminating what is keeping you from growing closer to God and developing new spiritual habits that will strengthen your faith.

It is an opportunity to change what we ought to change, but have not. Lent is about becoming. Lent is about doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now. Lent is a summons to live life in a new way, a better way, a healthier way.

For some, Lent had become an old tradition that they didn’t understand or had lost its meaning. But some are re-discovering it as helpful spiritual practice. We live in a culture that celebrates excess, breaking rules, and being selfish. We live in a culture that encourages selfishness, no self -control, and the pursuit of pleasure. But, some have found hedonism to be lacking, unsatisfying, and full of empty promises. Some have been hurt, abused, and damaged in the process. Some are recovering the call of the scriptures to turn away from the hollow temptations of the world which do not satisfy the deepest longings of our souls. Some who are looking for a better way are returning to a spiritual approach to discover what is missing.

Sometimes the best answers are the oldest answers. Sometimes the wisest path is not the new path that no one has ever walked, but the most ancient path, that millions before us have found to be the way to go. Sometimes under layers of dead tradition, we discover a lively, vibrant, healthy lifestyle that leads us back to the truth, and we wonder why we have missed it all these years.

Sometimes what the world presents to us as fun is really just destructive sin that rips apart people’s lives. The Bible continually calls us to open our eyes to see the truth that God puts around us every day. The scriptures keep inviting us to open our ears to hear the voice of God that speaks to us every day. God’s Word keeps nudging us to turn away from what is ruining our lives, and turn to habits and practices that actually give life.

Lent can help us do that. It’s an old idea that is becoming more relevant all the time. If you have never paid much attention to Lent, this might be the year to take a look at it. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 10th. If you are looking for an excuse to cut something bad out of your life, and start something good, this is a good time to get started.

God With Us

December 1, 2015

Life can be confusing. Sometimes the path we walk can be scary. At times, life can feel as dark and as cold as a winter’s night. Some people feel like they’re alone – they feel like no one is smiling down on them, no one is looking out for them, and no one really understands who they are, how they feel, or what they are facing.

Strangely enough, for some people, the Christmas season is when they feel the most alone. Maybe it’s the crowds that surround us. Or maybe it’s the Norman Rockwell expectations we have that this year all the family will be together, everyone will get along, all the past will be forgotten, and everything will be just perfect – like a Christmas card.

Maybe it’s the time of the year. You step outside into the night near Christmas, and it’s dark and cold and quiet. The air is heavy, the sounds are muffled, and the only thing you hear is your own heart beating. A lot of people, deep down, feel alone. And for some reason, it can be worse at Christmas.

There are many reasons that a baby named Jesus was born into our world. But, one of the most important ones was so you would never have to be alone at Christmas. He was born so you would never have to face a dark night, or a cold world, or a lost cause alone. He was born so you would know there is someone who is looking out for you and smiling at you, someone who understands you, someone who knows your fears, someone who remembers your sorrows, someone who believes in you, and someone who dreams for you. There is someone who knew you before you knew yourself, and no matter where you’ve wandered or what you’ve done, he wants to walk through this world with you.

Why is there a Christmas? Because God didn’t want you to ever be alone. In the Old Testament, God made a promise. Isaiah 7:14 says, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Emmanuel – which means God with us.” Throughout the Old Testament, the people believed in God. They always believed in God above us. When they sinned, they believed in God against us. And when they did everything right, they were able to believe in God for us. But not God with us. Not in the way they needed Him the most.

Not with us like a mother or a father is with a child. Not with us enough to understand what it’s like to be human, a little speck in a huge universe. Not with us enough to feel what it’s like to be one soul against the world, to give your best and see it do no good, to give your heart only to be rejected, to cry at night because those you love are hurting and you can’t take their pain away. They couldn’t believe that God was with us, not like that. So they always wanted someone between God and them: A Moses, a priest, a prophet.

But God wanted to be more than God above us, or God against us, or even God for us. It was in the heart of God to be God with us. It was in his heart to be God with you, so you would never have to be alone – not on Christmas, not on the best day of your life, and not on the worst day of your life: so that what God promised through Isaiah came to pass. The virgin Mary was with child. She gave birth in Bethlehem. The child was named Emmanuel – God with us. And we call him Jesus. That story is true. It has not been made up. It actually happened. And if you ask Jesus today, He can come into your life, and be with you, so that you never have to be alone again.

(Thanks to Rob Renfroe for inspiring this post.)

The Race Begins

August 3, 2015

I love sports. I love them. I started running cross country and track when I was in the 5th grade and I still run 5 miles a day, 5 days a week. I grew up with the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati in the 1970s. I watched Secretariat win the Triple Crown. When I graduated from Terre Haute North High School in 1979, I watched Larry Bird lead Indiana State to the NCAA basketball championship game vs. Magic Johnson and Michigan State. I moved to Detroit in 1991 to pastor a church there right after the Pistons had won back to back NBA titles, and I lived there when the Red Wings won a Stanley Cup. When I lived in San Diego, I watched Kawai Leonard play for San Diego State University before he helped the San Antonio Spurs win an NBA title. I love March Madness. I play fantasy baseball and fantasy football with my two sons. I love sports movies like Moneyball, Remember the Titans, Sea Biscuit, and Hoosiers. I love the competition, the hard work, the drive, and the determination. I love the struggle to overcome obstacles and push yourself and your team to succeed. I love it when the gun goes off to start the race and when the runners cross the finish line.

Today, I am beginning a new race. My wife Kim and I have felt called to move back home to Terre Haute, Indiana, to join what God is doing in Vigo County. I started today as the new pastor of the Northside Community Church across from North High School in Terre Haute ( and as the pastor of the Emmanuel Methodist Church in West Terre Haute, about a mile north of St. Mary of the Woods College. It feels like my younger days when I would line up at the starting line, with energy and anticipation running through my veins, waiting for the gun to go off.

Sports are a metaphor for the Christian life. We see references in the Bible that describe following Jesus to running a race. For example:
• 1 Corinthians 9:24 says, “Do you not know that in a race, all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”
• Galatians 2:2 says, “I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.”
• Galatians 5:7 says, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?”
• 2 Timothy 4:7 says, “I fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
• Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” And
• Ecclesiastes 9:11 says, “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong.”

Athletes spend more time in practice than they do in their actual games. They know that if they want to succeed in their games, a lot of training is required. They have to eat right. They have to get enough sleep. They have to take care of their bodies. They have to run and lift weights. They have to develop skills and hand-eye coordination. You can be born with all the athletic talent in the world, but if you are not willing to practice, if you are not willing to work hard, you won’t become a great athlete. It takes a lot of perseverance, persistence, and determination. You have to keep going even during those times when you feel like giving up.

The Christian life is the same way. Just as athletes must go through physical practices, Christians need to go through spiritual practices. Spiritual practices include things like scripture, solitude (prayer), Sabbath, stewardship, service to the community, hospitality to the stranger, and fasting. If we want to be strong Christians, we have to develop our spiritual muscles every day. This is not always easy. Some days, we feel tired. Sometimes, we get discouraged. Some months, we just want God to do everything for us. Developing our spiritual muscles is a daily discipline. It means denying ourselves things that would weaken us, in order that we might reach our potential and become stronger. It means developing certain habits and disciplines that are not flashy or sexy or that will gain us a lot of attention. It means staying focused on the prize, the race, and the goal that God has set before us. It is not always easy, but it can always be rewarding.

So, I am lining up at a new starting line, ready to begin a new race. I am eager to see what this race will be like, how it will unfold, and what the Holy Spirit will do before we cross the finish line. I would like to invite you to begin this race with me. If you live in or near Vigo County in Indiana, I invite you to come this Sunday, August 9, to the Northside Community Church at 9:00 am or to the Emmanuel Methodist Church at 11:00 am. And I’ll be there most every Sunday morning after that.

When you first start running, it’s hard, because your muscles aren’t used to it. But, after you’ve been running for a long time, it becomes natural. Your body begins to do it even without thinking. Our journey with Jesus is the same way. When you first begin, it’s hard. It can feel awkward and unnatural and tiring. But, after you’ve developed your spiritual muscles, it becomes natural, and you run the race without even thinking about it.

The starting gun goes off this Sunday morning. The race is beginning. I would be honored if you would run with me. I have a sense that this race is important. I believe this race matters. I believe something significant is going to happen in this race. And I would love to have you running with me.

The God Who Surprises Us

February 2, 2015

Some people don’t like surprises. Some people like to know everything that is going to happen before it happens. Some people like to be in control. Some people think that there are only bad surprises. Some people are planners and work long, hard hours to try to predict the future and guarantee events that have not happened yet.

Some churches don’t like surprises. They spend endless hours in talking and meeting and planning and don’t seem to ever get around to the doing part, but at least they don’t ever get surprised. One of the consequences of this is that some churches feel stuck. The only things that happen are the same things that have been happening for the last 20 years. People go to church every Sunday without any expectation of meeting God, that something new could occur, or that God might show up. Some churches have drawn down their bank accounts of hope so low, that they get back a message every Sunday of insufficient funds. Without realizing it or being conscious of it, they have developed a culture of hopelessness. Their recent experience has persuaded them their church life will not get better, will not improve, and that they will continue to live a life of quiet desperation.

For whatever reason, some churches have forgotten that the God of the Bible is the God who surprises us. God shows up in the most unexpected places. Miracles happen that could not have been predicted. Outcomes are altered that could not have been guessed. Things that look like they are dead or dying amazingly come back to life. Who would have guessed?

In Scott Sundquist’s book Understanding Christian Mission, he writes:

“No one predicted the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Few people imagined that the violent apartheid social system in South Africa would end without great violence or even civil war. No one imagined that China would become the most competitive free market in the world, while remaining a communist country. No one (at least no one in the ecumenical movement) dreamed that Christianity and other religions would remain so vital into the twenty-first century. No one dreamed that the twentieth century would be the century of both ecumenism and Pentecostalism. Finally, no one predicted that Christianity would recenter outside of the West within one generation: between 1965 and 1990. The global developments (and many more) came about suddenly, quietly, and with little warning. Christianity, in the midst of these global transformations, was showing a new strength, resiliency, and adaptability.”

The God of the Bible is the God who surprises us. Who would have guessed that Abraham and Sarah could conceive and have a child when they were 100 and 90 years old? Who would have guessed that Moses, after murdering a man and having to flee his country to save his life, could return 40 years later as one of Israel’s greatest leader? Who would have guessed that David could defeat Goliath? Who would have guessed that an old woman like Elizabeth could give birth to John the Baptist or that Jesus would be born out of the scandal of a young woman named Mary who became pregnant before she was married? How many in Israel guessed that Jesus would not come as a military or political leader? How many would have guessed that Paul would do a 180 and go from persecuting the church to leading its first great missionary expansion? Who saw these things coming? I don’t think there were many, if any.

The church in North America today needs to remember that the God of the Bible is the God who surprises us. Our ways are not God’s ways. We walk by faith and not by sight. God shows up in the most God-forsaken places. The Holy Spirit falls on people we would not normally imagine. What is holding the church back is not the lack of power of God. Often, we are held back by our lack of missional imagination. We have lost our ability to have visions and dream dreams. We complain that our culture or our denomination is holding us back, but in fact, we are often the ones holding ourselves back. It is our own mental maps, our own lack of imagination, our own fear of failure, or our own church culture, that prevents us from discovering and participating in the exciting mission of God going on in the world today.

As financial advisors regularly tell us, past financial success is no guarantee of future financial performance. The same is true in the church. Past ministry experience is no guarantee of future ministry performance. God is on the move. Jesus Christ is alive and well in our world today. The Holy Spirit is at work in people’s lives and in the communities around us. Sometimes, it just takes getting out of buildings, and getting off of our campuses, and moving back into our neighborhoods, to discover what God is already doing there. Sometimes we have to take off our blinders, read scripture with a new pair of glasses, and start looking at our world with a new set of lenses. God is doing something new. God is inviting us to join in the new things He is doing in our world. Can we learn to see it? Can we learn to hear it? Can we take some wise risks and take a chance to participate in a way of doing ministry for the new culture we live in today.

I believe that great things are ahead for the Church of Jesus Christ. I think the future is full of ministry opportunities that we have not even begun to imagine yet. I believe God’s Holy Spirit is actively at work to redeem people and communities with the good news of Jesus Christ. I believe God is inviting us to be a part of this exciting mission of God. I hope we don’t miss it. The God of the Bible is the God Who surprises us.