Thursday, May 26, 2016


At some point today you have made preparations. Maybe you are reading this blog as you are waiting for something to occur. The preparations have been made, but you are waiting for whatever it is to be realized. I can relate - especially this week.

This week our church is hosting Vacation Bible School. Living in a small community, the four churches in town combine together causing a synergistic effect to reach the children in the community. As with any major church event, a great deal of planning and coordination must occur. That is especially true when bringing multiple churches together. But the unity during this week has been astounding, and despite the constant threat of (and some actual) rain, virtually everything has happened without any glitches. God has provided everything we have needed, and I thank Him for His provisions this week.

The theme this year is based upon exploring a cave (CaveQuest from Group). Given the dark nature of caves, the emphasis (especially the songs) has been on Jesus being the light of the world. It was the dark nature of the world over 2000 years ago that brought Jesus into the world then. The Jews were crying out to God for the Messiah to be sent. So, God sent the Messiah - Jesus, but not before sending another to first prepare the way. That was the task of John the baptizer, to prepare the way for Jesus. Specifically, he preached a message of repentance (to turn from the old life) so that they people would be ready to respond in faith (to turn to God). (See Mark 1.1-8.)

John's coming was a part of God's plan (preparation) to prepare for people to find the light of the world. While our task this week is far different (and less difficult in many ways) than was John's, we also prepared in the prior weeks to share with people (the children) about the light of the world that can provide the hope, the courage, and the direction we need in our lives. And it is His love and power that make it all possible.

May we each be prepared to give a defense of the reason for the hope that we have within us (1 Peter 3.15). For all who have the hope of Jesus within you, may be not hide the light, but rather shine it brightly so that others may turn to the light and escape the darkness around them as well.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Gospel According to Mark

While I have been busy reflecting on my call to ministry nearly fifteen years ago, I have begun preaching a series through the book of Mark*. I use my terms carefully both here and in the title. In the Greek, the name of this "book" is Kata Markon. Kata is a word that means "according to" or "down from." So essentially, this "book" is Mark's account of the gospel. But whose gospel? According to Mark, the gospel is belongs to, and is about, Jesus Christ.

That is how Mark begins his gospel. In fact, Mark uses the same phrase (and the same word from the Greek version of the OT – the Septuagint) that is used in Genesis 1.1. "The beginning..." or "In the beginning..." Mark is showing this is a new beginning. Jesus brings with Him a new understanding, and a restoration of what has been corrupted. Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) that the Jews have long awaited.

This series will reflect on the Jewish nature of the Messiah. Who Jesus was and what He did should have been much more evident to the people of His day, but most were either too busy, were looking for something that Jesus wasn't, or simply didn't care. Ultimately, that sounds a lot like many people today. But the gospel is still relevant today and can still impact people today. So, that is part of why I will reflect on Mark's version of the gospel over this next year. You can find the modified sermon notes on the church's blog called Bread Crumbs (, and my personal reflections here. Personally, I am a few weeks behind because of my other reflecting, but I will catch up over the next few weeks.

I have said this many times over the past several months, but ultimately the cause for this study is:
If we are to place our faith in Jesus, we should better understand the faith of Jesus.

*If you want to know why Mark was the choice for this series (rather than, say, Matthew – which was written to a Jewish audience), click here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Reflecting at 15 Years - Leave

This post is the last of my reflections on the first fifteen years since I was called to ministry. Technically, the timing is still a little over one month away, but this past Sunday was my fifth serving in my current church so the timing seemed appropriate now.

Essentially, these reflections have been based upon the discipleship process I use - to learn, to live, to love, to lead, and today's post, to leave. In fact, that is why we must disciple others as we are discipled. We must learn, live, and love, but as we do, we must lead others because one day we will leave.

Now you may be thinking about a pastor or staff person leaving a church, and that is a part of it. But we all leave. Either we quit, we move, or we die. And that is why we must lead - and particularly lead well. The question is will the work of ministry thrive after you? What is most important to those who remain will continue, but will it continue well? If Jesus had to leave, then none of us are irreplaceable, no matter what we might want to think from time to time. People have come and people have gone long before you and I and will continue to come and go long after we are gone - unless, of course, the Lord returns.

So the question is not if we will leave, but when. And that means we should be preparing (discipling) others to carry on the work after we are gone. A quick survey of Scripture shows the best leaders did this (Moses with Joshua, Jesus with the disciples, Paul with Timothy, Titus, and many others). And certainly God was instrumental in keeping His story going, but if it wasn't for Joshua continuing the mission, would we know Moses? The disciples were charged with sharing the story of Jesus. Timothy was charged with passing on what had been passed to him.

You may think, "Well those are biblical characters, I am just me." But how many generations of "just me" people have brought us to the point we are today. And that is why we must lead before we leave. This is one of the most important lessons I have learned since that day many years ago. We had just left a church a few months before for reasons that were very real, but that I will not divulge. But less than two years after my initial call, we were called to leave the church we were then attending as I was called to (bi-)vocational (youth) ministry in Buckner, Mo. After serving there for eight years (to the day), I was called to pastor in Fairfax.

I learned a great deal serving in Buckner and have many friends there to this day. But I did not do enough to prepare for my leaving. I did far more than nothing, but I should have done more. And, in that case, I knew for months that I would be leaving, I just didn't know exactly when or where and by the time I did know, it was too late to put a system in place.

So, now in Fairfax, I am preparing others for some point in the future when I will leave. I have no sense that such a time is anywhere near. It may be twenty years or it may be two. I don't know and I don't care because God has called me here and here I will stay until He calls me elsewhere. (To date, I have not initiated conversations with the places I have served, nor do I plan to do so. He has taught me to let Him lead in this so I don't look for openings elsewhere or send resumes, so I truly try to wait upon Him to know both the when and where, both within the church and in my teaching.)

All of that said, I day is coming when I will not longer serve as a pastor in Fairfax. And thus, I must lead with that in mind. A great deal of joy exists in the process of helping others to find their callings and fulfill it. But challenges exist as well. But ultimately, this is about leaving a legacy. How will I be remembered? Will my time have helped or hurt the church? I tell students in a class I teach that our goal as a minister should always be to leave a church in better shape than you find it, and ultimately to attempt to leave it for the next pastor/minister the way you would hope to find it when you arrived. The latter may not always be possible, but how we leave a church says a lot about our true intentions. 

And that is why focusing on "How will I be remembered?" is not the ultimate goal. How will Christ be honored in my leaving is a much better question? Is the ministry better prepared for the future after I depart than when I arrived? Have others been equipped to fulfill their service in ministry? Have others been given opportunities to test themselves in their understanding? This is what Jesus did before He left. It is what I must do before I may leave if I am serious about fulfilling my role as pastor.

The notion of preparing others for my departure is one important part of my learning. I now must better live it, in part because I love my church. Therefore I must better lead those who are members of this fellowship of believers and those who are a part of the periphery. For my Master left me this charge and will return one day to see what return I have to offer Him. (Matthew 25.14-30). May I be faithful to discipling others in each step of the journey in order that I may hear, "Well done good and faithful servant" (Matthew 24.21, 23).

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Reflecting at 15 Years - Lead

The fourth post in this series represents the next step in the discipleship process for me. The first three are to learn, live, and love. To learn can benefit others, but is ultimately for, and about, us. To live requires us to do something, and can be for others, but often starts as us just beginning to do something. To love is about us doing things from the aspect of joy and for the benefit of others. But none of these ideas represent a full transference of ourselves into another. Yes, love can, and IS needed, but Jesus said to make disciples and that requires, according to His words that we teach them to obey everything He has commanded.

Obviously, teaching and learning are intertwined. And to fully realize Jesus command to “Follow Me” means that we are living, in part, while we love. And Jesus said that loving God and loving others were the two greatest commandments (Mark 12.29-30), and then added a third (a new commandment) to love one another (John 13.35). All of these are a part of being disciples. But to make disciples, we also must lead. Or as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11.1)”.

So the four step in the process is to lead. As a pastor, an educator, a parent, a husband, etc., I am called to lead. But true leadership isn't for my benefit, it is for the benefit of others, and most importantly, for God. That is what it means to make disciples – to help others better know themselves in the context of knowing God, so that, in turn, they might make disciples as well by learning, living, loving, and leading others.

The problem is that in too many churches (and in all of life), the Pareto Principle is in play. You may not have known the name, but you are, perhaps, aware of the principle. Applied to a church, the principles suggests that 20% of the church does 80% of the work, gives 80% of the money, etc. But the Jesus principle is that 100% of His people are each to do their portion of the work (i.e. be the body of Christ) which means 100% of the people are involved in making disciples. And, I have yet to find the “Escape Clause” in the Bible.

Yes, including and involving others makes it more difficult to do certain tasks. But while that is true initially, over time, having more people involved means that more people are available either to help or to fill-in when others can't. And involving others might bring fresh insights as well. Furthermore, as we lead (make disciples) we realize how little we truly know (which is not the “Escape Clause”), which actually leads US to go back through the cycle as we learn more, live out what we now know, loving others as we do it, and then leading others. To me it seems that the Jesus Principle far outweighs the Pareto Principle.

Thus, as I approach the end of my fifteenth year of ministry, one of my goals for the next fifteen years is to help others break free of yielding to Pareto and take hold of following Jesus and more of His principles. After all, so many individuals have invested in me, how can I not do the same for others?

To do so, is a matter of paying something forward. But ultimately that benefit is not for me, nor for others, it is for God. And He has already made all of the payment that needs to be made! So, my doing is not because anything needs to be done. Rather my doing is in thankfulness for what He has already done – for as Christ proclaimed, “It is finished!”