Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Source of Authority (Part 1 of 3)

In the two prior posts I have attempted to briefly show why “Will I go to heaven?” is the wrong question; however, the intent of that question casts a shadow on this week’s post. Ultimately that question boils down to “Have I done right?” and or “Have I done enough?” The answer however is not about what we have done, it is about what Christ did for us. We could never be right before God without Jesus, which means we can never do enough either. However, just because we cannot do enough to earn salvation, we are not excused from serving because of our salvation. The question then becomes “How do I know what to do?” The answer is clear – we are do what the Bible says.

The previous sentence is easy enough to type (and easier to say), but it is not so easy to do. However, just because something is challenging does not mean it is not right. In this case, the essence of the question might be asked in a variety of ways, such as:
  • “As a follower of Christ, who or what do I obey?”
  • “To whom or what should I submit?”
  • “Where does my allegiance lie?”
These questions are a part of our daily routine, especially apart from religion.
  • “Do I obey the speed limit or drive faster (for whatever the reason)?”
  • “Do I stick to my diet or give into the temptation to eat __________?”
  • “Do I go to work or call in sick because it is such a nice day?”
  • “Do I listen to the advice of ________, or do I just do it as I intended?”

Certainly, many other questions could be added and not all of them would directly put our desires on trial. But oftentimes our desires are the issue! Therefore, we must choose where our allegiance lies, if/how we will submit, and/or who or what to obey. And thus, we are squarely faced with the bigger picture of how our current decisions impact not just the moment, but the future as well. And for the Christian, that means not only on earth, but eternity.

Again, nothing we do, or can do, punches our ticket into eternity apart from our response to what Jesus did for us on the cross. This post is not about earning our salvation, it is about responding to it. Specifically, the idea is about working out our salvation (Philippians 2.12), instead of working for it. The Bible is clear that those who claim faith in Jesus will find themselves serving others (e.g. James 1.22). Although the exact manner of serving, loving, and living a life for Christ may be different for each person, the basic characteristics of that service, love, and life are provided in the Bible. Consequently, for those who are asking questions about God, or how they should live, or if they should serve, etc., the source for the answer is the Bible, not because it is an important book, but because it is the written Word of God.

Next week, in part two, I will further elaborate on why the Bible deserves our obedience, and why it must be our source of authority.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Wrong Question (Part 2 of 2)

Last week, I began by sharing why I believe the question, “Will I go to heaven when I die?” is the wrong question for us to ask. The question primarily conveys an attitude of works – have I done enough to warrant a place in heaven. As I wrote last week, that question does not reflect the Bible’s teachings. We should serve because we are saved, but we cannot work to be saved (Ephesians 2.8-10). This week, I will continue that thought by focusing on three words most Christians, and a large number of people have said – “Thy Kingdom come.”

The real reason that the question above is wrong is that it puts the focus on a place rather than God. A similar understanding is found among most Christians with relation to the church. When the word church is spoken a place comes to mind. For instance, churchgoers often say, “I am going to church.” That expression is meant that I am going to a place, but the church is not a place, it is a people. The same words could be spoken and have a meaning of, “I am going to be with the fellowship of believers,” but it doesn’t. The word “churchgoers” used just above, could likewise mean that the church (the people) are going out on mission, rather than going to a building. But again, the word has come to mean a group of people who go to a place.

Most everyone uses the word “church” to denote a place. Don’t we do the same with a phrase such as “God’s Kingdom?” But God’s Kingdom is not a physical space, or at least not a confined (nor contiguous) space. God’s Kingdom is where God is king; that is, wherever God rules. If we are serious about being with God in a place, then why should we wait until we die? We can be with Him in our current space just as easily as we can be in a future space.

If we tie this thought back to the original question, we may rightly consider that heaven is a place where God rules, so we want to go to heaven. But Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1.15). Jesus came, in part, to bring God’s Kingdom to earth which is evident in the three words from His prayer, “Thy Kingdom come.” The idea is about God’s dominion spreading throughout the earth “as it is in heaven.” In one sense, God is fully in control of all that happens on the earth, but we certainly do not follow His will as perfectly as the celestial beings serving Him in heaven. Thus, our praying the prayer is a statement of our willingness to submit to God’s will here just as we will do in eternity.

Ultimately, “Thy Kingdom come” is not about a spatial relationship, it is about a personal one. Christians often talk about having a “personal relationship with Jesus” but sometimes act as if they are more interested in having a spatial relationship with heaven. Remember, heaven was a part of creation, so God is obviously greater. Thus, a better question might be: If Jesus was not in heaven, would you rather be in heaven or with Jesus? Personally, I will choose Jesus! If He made heaven, and doesn’t want to be there, imagine how much better wherever He might chose must be! (This scenario is hypothetical as Revelation 21 and 22 indicate that Jesus will be present in the new heaven and new earth.)

But while that question may be better, a simplified version of that question is what counts: Do I want to be with Jesus when I die?

If the answer is yes, why wait until you die? Start your life with Him today!

If you need more information on becoming a Christian, you can find many great websites on the web including this one.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Wrong Question (Part 1 of 2)

As a pastor, I have been asked many questions. One question that is pervasive, although it takes various forms, could be simply stated as, “Will I go to heaven when I die?” As the title of this post suggests, I believe that is the absolute wrong question and I will explain why momentarily. However, to provide an answer to the question above, all I can truly admit to anyone is that I cannot know that answer for anyone but myself. 1 John 5.13 states that we can know that we have eternal life, but I cannot necessarily know about you nor can you know about me. We might suspect the answer, but God searches (and knows) the heart. You and I can only see the outside evidence. Certainly, the fruit of faith is important, but just as the fruit we eat can look deceptively good (or bad) it is the inside that truly matters.

But let me turn towards the primary reason for this post. In fact, 1 John 5.13 provides evidence for my statement about going to heaven being the wrong answer. You might not see it at first, and if so, it is because of a definition that many have entrenched in their minds. The verse says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” Do you see the answer now? If not, let me clarify.

Eternal life does not begin when we die – it begins when we “believe in the name of the Son of God.” Now that doesn’t mean we know the name Jesus, it means we have faith in the name and all that He represents. But the point here is that we have life when that faith begins, not when we die. Thus, when we ask, “Will I go to heaven when I die?” we are really saying, in some fashion, “Will I get to enjoy all God has promised once I die?” (More specifically, many people are asking “Have I done enough to get to heaven?” but that is a worse question, in my opinion, and deserves another post altogether.)

The reason that the earlier question is the wrong one is that Jesus has promised to be with His people always (Matthew 28.20), and sent the Spirit to guide us throughout our lives as Christians (John 14.16-17; 15.7). Furthermore, those who follow Jesus are children of God (1 John 3.1-2), and that benefit begins on earth...we need not wait for heaven.

I realize of course that this earth is not what heaven will be. Problems we face while living on this side of eternity will disappear completely on the other side. But that fact is true of eternity, not of heaven. Heaven is a place and may represent our concept of eternity, but heaven was created, just as was the earth. Thus, we need not focus on “going to heaven” we need to keep our focus on God, not a place we might idolize by our desiring to be there.

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves if our goal is to be in heaven or to be with Jesus. The two need not be mutually exclusive, but, I fear, for too many people heaven is the greater goal. For me, I do not care if I ever go to heaven and long as I am with Jesus. Eternity for me is about being with a Person, not being in a place. In Part 2 of this two-part series (next week), I will elaborate on this idea further.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Revolutions and The Reformation

Most individuals, including Christians, have a very limited understanding of The Reformation. I am certainly not an expert on the causes, the events, nor even the outcomes of The Reformation; however, I have studied each of those components in the past, and, particularly this year, have grown to understand and appreciate them so much more. Because the 500th anniversary of Luther’s infamous nailing of the 95 theses being celebrated next month, it is certainly fitting that our church, like so many others across the world, are teaching the primary principles (the 5 Solas) of The Reformation and other aspects of it as well (e.g. important people). But, make no mistake, the central theme of The Reformation was Jesus Christ.

The purpose of The Reformation was not to cause a revolution against the Church. A revolution is typically characterized as an attempt to overthrow an oppressive government or ruling system. Many such instances exist in history such as America fighting The (American) Revolutionary War against an oppressive England. Although many factors must be considered, taxation without representation was a strong theme – representing a type of oppression for the colonists. America’s success against a foreign power led to other revolutions such as The French Revolution (which was an internal fight against the tyranny of the monarchs). These, and other revolutions, usually begin with a group of revolutionaries taking up arms and fighting for their (perceived) rights. Sometimes, as in the American and French Revolutions, the revolution was successful. Other times, they were not. (Click here for a list of various revolts in history – you may be quite surprised at how many there have been.)

But the Reformation was not about bringing progressive change; rather, it was about restoring what had been – a re-forming of the Church to what she once was.* Luther and others were not seeking to overthrow the Church, they were focused on calling to attention some erroneous practices of the Church. The result was a branding of heresy against many of these individuals which led the Church to seek to destroy these ideas and, if necessary, the men who espoused them. Thus, the difference in ideals between most revolutions and The Reformation may begin with the direction of intent. Most revolutions seek change from without (e.g American colonies against England), while reformers wanted to make changes from within (Luther was a Catholic priest, for instance).

* Progress is typically considered positive change although what is defined as positive may be interpreted differently by various individuals or groups. To regress, on the other hand, means to go backward.

The Reformation was about making positive changes by returning to the past. It may have seemed like regression to some, but what one perceives to be the focus dictates their reality. The reformers focus was on the Bible (solus Scriptura), so going back to a previous time was not to regress. Instead, it was meant to capture what was best from a previous time and move forward based upon that reality (progress). The religious leaders, on the other hand, focused on the Church, so going back was a threat to their leadership. Thus, any return to the ancient past was regression.

The ultimate point here is that The Reformation was not meant as a true revolution. Many who lived in the 1500’s may have seen it as such, and some today may believe the same. However, a study of the two words shows a great difference in purpose and in process. Certainly revolutions may be necessary at times, and perhaps (PERHAPS) the world may have eventually revolted against the Church in Rome had the reformers not been successful in their efforts (at least, as successful as they were, however you might consider it). 

But a revolution was not necessary and a return to the past did occur for many thousands of people. It was a return to the past that undoubtedly changed the projected future. As we adhere to those same principles today (sola fide, solus Christus, solus Scriptura, sola gratia, and sola deo gloria), we can continue to reform our future as we serve a King against which no revolution will prevail.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Disciples, Equipping, and Priests

One of the most amazing truths in life is how the Bible fits so well together. I am aware that some passages seem to contradict one another, but I have a high view of God and the Bible, so my view of those differences are we lack the proper understanding; God did not make a mistake. Many examples of God providing understanding to humanity at some point are evident. For instance, many towns/cities that are mentioned in the Bible are discovered by archaeologists after it has been deemed that the town simply “could not” have existed. More to the point, the Bible itself shows God revealing further understanding over time (consider the “mystery” Paul mentions in Ephesians 3.3 – the mystery referring to Jesus being God’s plan for redemption.)

Why do I mention how well the Bible connects to itself? Let me answer that by providing a key thought made by Jesus, by Paul, and by Peter.

Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples...” (Matthew 28.18)
Paul: “And he equip the saints for the work of ministry...” (Ephesians 4.11-12)
Peter: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, ...” (1 Peter 2.9)

How do these three statements relate? Well, a biblical understanding of the priesthood must include those who do ministry. According to 1 Peter, which alludes to Exodus 19.5-6, all of God’s people are priests. The Exodus passage is given prior to the distinction of the Levites being the designated tribe from which priests were called. Peter’s letter makes this clear as well – all are priests. While this idea may seem foreign in a culture that thrives on specialization (which certainly includes ministerial staff), the truth is that the Bible is clear that we are all to serve God, and, therefore, the term priest should not be reserved for paid clergy of any, or all, denominations.

And yet, some people are called to a higher position with the Church. Paul’s words remind us that God has called some to lead the church in a special way (as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers per Ephesians 4.11). This leadership is to equip others to do the work of ministry. That is, these leaders are to prepare people to be serve God in a variety of ways. If we connect this idea to the previous paragraph, then these leaders are to equip people to be...priests. Most might initially think this is the work of a theological school, or even a monastery, however, the Bible is clear that the work begins within the context of the church.

So, church leaders are to equip others for the work of ministry (while being involved in the ministry as well). What is the work of ministry? Jesus made this abundantly clear in the last words recorded in Matthew's account of the gospel - make disciples. Effectively, the idea of equipping is certainly in sync with making disciples and making disciples is certainly a big part of the work of ministry that the saints are to do. So, the leaders make disciples of others who will then make more disciples. Some of those new disciples will become leaders who will do more equipping and more disciples will continue to be made.

By combining the terminology from the prior paragraphs, the following is a reasonable summation:

    All Christians are to serve God who has called these servants His priests. These priests 
    are to make disciples which simply means helping others what it means to be a priest 
    for God. Some of these priests will be specifically called by God to lead others in a way
    to ensure people are being prepared (equipped) for the task of ministry – that is, to 
    make disciples. 

While not all may be called by God to be a specific kind of leader, all Christians are called to lead, because as we serve as priests, others will be watching. And it is these others who need to be led to know who Jesus is, what He has done, and ultimately how to serve Him as a priest themselves.

Again, the Bible fits together perfectly. Many other instances exist, but as I preached this past week on the idea of God calling a “new” priesthood at the beginning of The Reformation, my mind was stirred to consider the thoughts I have shared here. As a pastor, many look to me (expect me) to serve in a way that they cannot. Because this idea has become so ingrained in (church) culture, I understand the premise, but if I/we clearly understand this teaching of the Bible, we must all do our part, and I must lead that process so that, ultimately, all will be serving as the priests of God we are called to be.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Idea of Hope


The word hope evokes many thoughts – most of which concern our immediate situation. Currently, many in the Houston area hope to be able to return to their homes soon while many in Florida (and the Caribbean in general) hope that the next hurricane (Irma) does not cause immeasurable damage over the rest of this week or so. On a less magnificent level, we hear the word hope used about gifts (I hope I get ...), sports teams (I hope my team wins), and other aspects of life.

In the previous paragraph, all uses of the word "hope" were as a verb – which I would guess is how the word is used 90+% of the time. But to what end? Frankly, it doesn’t matter how much one hopes for, or about, anything, it is not hope that will make it happen. Perhaps, what is necessary is skill, work, time, or some other idea, but to say I hope is really a replacement for saying “I wish” and wishing something to be true does not make it so.

However, humans absolutely need hope. But as I have used the word here it is a noun. And that is where the idea of hope excels. Again, we may hope (verb) something to be true, but that will not make it so. True hope (noun) on the other hand, is what allows us to press on when the storms of life come our way whether the storms are literal (as in a hurricane) or figurative (as in diagnosis of a disease, etc.). When we have hope (noun), the question becomes in what is our hope (noun) based.

Living in the world, and not of it, requires us to place our hope in matters beyond this world. While hope is different than faith, both are intertwined. Christians are to place their faith in Christ whose return Paul calls “our blessed hope” (Titus 2.13), not because we wish (hope as a verb) for it to come true, but because it certainly will happen in God’s timing as He has promised. It is that promise that should prompt us to remain hopeful (full of hope, noun) even as the world around us may seem to be falling apart – an idea represented by the phrase post tenebras lux (after darkness, light).

Life does bring challenging times. The people in the Houston, Texas area know that to be true right now. The people in Florida are bracing for similar destruction. Sometimes the catastrophe comes completely unexpectedly (e.g. a health issue); sometimes it is reasonably forecast (e.g. a storm), but regardless of how bad the challenge is, hoping (verb) changes nothing. On the other hand, prayer can. Why? Because authentic prayer is a revelation of where our true hope (noun) is found.

So, by all means, have hope. Encourage others to remain hopeful in whatever the circumstance. But don’t hope for the situation to be better, pray for God to do something – even through you – to make it better. Perhaps, your efforts can help bring others to the true hope found in Jesus.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Curveballs and Humility

This past Sunday I preached a message on 2 Samuel 24. In the passage David orders a census, realizes it was sinful, is offered a choice of punishment, and eventually worships after paying for the right to do so. (You can read the message here or listen here, if you like.)

The reason for the idea of the curveball relates to the idea that David effectively threw himself a curve – things were going well, but he decided to place his trust in the size of Israel (and specifically the valiant men who could wield a sword) instead of God. We all make decisions that seem reasonable at the moment only to discover later that we have erred greatly in our understanding or calculations of some matter. For David, his error cost 70,000 individuals their lives. David’s remorse AND repentance kept the situation from being worse, but for the families of those 70,000, life would never be the same. Fortunately, David’s overall response was one of humility, and therefore he was honored by God – not only in the act of sacrifice, but in making the place of sacrifice the future site of the temple.

Humility is such a difficult trait. Human pride (especially male pride) is consuming at times. This is especially true in the world of sports. Every athlete wants to make the heroic play and conversely, no athlete wants to be responsible for letting the team down. I have many images flooding my mind right now of various plays in all sorts of games where a player gets “beat” and looks for an excuse. Perhaps the official should have called a foul/penalty...perhaps a teammate should have helped...perhaps a coach made the wrong call, etc. While these excuses can be made in most any sport, baseball is an especially interesting game.

Baseball is a team game which is individually based in so many ways. Unlike a running back in football who must have the help of the quarterback (to execute a proper hand-off) and the offensive line (to block), a baseball player at the plate cannot (let alone does not) rely on anyone else to get a hit, draw a walk, etc. And yet, that player’s individual performance affects the team, just like a running back’s does or any other position from any team sport. While all sports have a way of humbling even the best of athletes over time, not having anyone to blame but oneself is mostly unique to baseball among team sports.

And because of that, baseball is often said to be a humbling sport. I can think of few instances that better exhibit this fact than when a pitcher unleashes a quality curveball to a batter that is expecting a fastball. If you have witnessed this moment in a game, you will see the batter react in any number of ways with buckling knees or swinging like a five-year old being among the most prominent reactions. Oftentimes, a strikeout pitcher will save this pitch for two strikes, and after “bending one” in for strike three, the batter simply walks to the dugout knowing they have been bested. It is this exact moment that reveals a bit of humility.

The previous two paragraphs could be true of any level of competition from age twelve, but consider a professional athlete. If we just consider baseball, approximately 800 people on earth are on the rosters of the Major League Baseball teams. 800 people out of over 7 billion people worldwide (that's one in ten million, not one in a million!). These athletes are the cream of the crop and do not like to be humiliated (of course, some are not very humble at all). But, in a given moment, you may see even the best of athletes tip the cap to someone else who is better, even if only in that moment. It is this humility that can actually cause someone to train in order to excel in future situations.

The events of 2 Samuel 24 were near the end of David’s life. He did not have many future situations. But the humility he showed to Someone (that is, God) who was (is) better can serve to help us excel now. We all make plans – some of which are good, and others which are not. But life throws us curveballs all the time. And sometimes, those curveballs are due to our own choices. Yet, the curveballs that stymie us are not a surprise to God at all. Thus we must humble ourselves to Him who is better because He truly has our best interest at heart (1 Peter 5.6-7). Just as David humbled himself before the Lord, we must too. Just as David eventually listened to the council of a trusted leader, so must we. And just as David worshipped when the Lord intervened, so must we.

For as Jesus said, when we humble ourselves before God, He will lift us up. But if we seek to exalt ourselves, we will indeed be humbled (Matthew 23.12, paraphrased).

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Stuff, Desire, and the Love of God

As I look around my office right now, I realize I have a lot of stuff. And, at present, that stuff is only partially organized. One semester has wound down, another is beginning. One season of the church has ended, and a new focus is about to begin. Plus, as I have recently mentioned, I have begun a new initiative to train pastors internationally. So, my desk (and extended desk) have piles related to various aspects of ministry – church, seminary, and training – as well as some personal notes here and there as well.

But looking past the papers, I see knickknacks such as a bobblehead bear with a golf ball and a few penguins in various decor from the days where I exclusively used Linux (the mascot is a penguin). I have a few momentos of my days playing baseball, a few pictures of my family, a set of headphones, a flashlight, and other stuff. Really, I have a lot of stuff. And that is just one part of one room. Behind me I have a ton of books on a bookshelf and I have continuously worked to fill those shelves with book I have read this year. I spend a lot of money on books and stuff. (Stuff must be a technical term, I am using it so much!) Oh, and, of course, I am typing this blog on my computer which has six books holding up a monitor with a few post its on it. Plus the keyboard, mouse, mouse pad, speakers, and general office “stuff” like pens, tape, kleenex, etc all of which is atop a desk which has a chair for me to sit. Just stuff – and a lot of it.

Why am I seemingly rambling about the stuff around me? This past week my friend, Reggie, preached a sermon entitled, The Love God Hates.” His primary text was 1 John 2 which, in part, speaks of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, or as the ESV renders it the “pride of possessions.” Now, I don’t think many of us would list a pair of scissors as one of our prime possessions, but the fact is, that everything I see around me is something that was purchased (either with money or with time – as in something made). Reggie’s point was that we often put our focus on what the world offers (stuff like computers and books) rather than God. When we do lose focus, we not only distract ourselves from God, but we alienate ourselves from Him as well.

Of course, none of the “stuff” I have mentioned is necessarily bad. After all, how could I blog without a device connected to the internet (i.e. a computer, phone, tablet, etc.). How can I learn if without reading (and the Bible is one of the books on my desk – actually the one closest to me). As has often been expressed in similar manner, “it is not that we have stuff, it is if the stuff has us.” Reggie’s words on Sunday were a good reminder that we must be on guard of what we truly desire because even the stuff we have is not really ours (or won’t be someday). That great new phone – it will one day be trash. That new outfit – it may be out of style before long. That new car – it will sit in a junk yard several years down the road. After all, it is just stuff.

As humans we love stuff. But humans are not stuff. We are of value – not always to one another, but always, ALWAYS to God. The Bible makes that abundantly clear. And what is more amazing is that while humans usually discard stuff we no longer “love” because it is used or broken, God loves us because we are abused and broken. Romans 5.8 is one of the best verses in the Bible because it shows that God is not just another god. He is a “But God” kind of God. “But God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). God values us over all of the stuff He made. And He loves us even when we value our stuff over Him.

The God of the Bible deserves our affection. The God of the Bible deserves our devotion. The God of the Bible deserves us – totally and completely. You and I have a lot of stuff around us, but let us never lose sight that whatever we may have or hope to have in this world cannot begin to measure against how much God longs for us to be with Him.

Before this post leaves your mind, take a moment to look at the stuff around you. Take a moment to identify your stuff by name, then label all of it collectively as “stuff.” Finally, make the choice to realize that your stuff can be good, but it should never be your god because our stuff can never love us like the true God can and has. Let your desire before for God, not for stuff. If you and I will commit to desiring Him, our desires will eventually become God’s desires. And when our desires match His, He has promised to fulfill all of those desires for our sake and His glory (Psalm 37.4).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

How Big Is My God?

Being a pastor has many elements to it, but one biblical responsibility is to equip others for the work of ministry. One way I do this is to allow others to teach from the pulpit in what I call Teaching Moments. These “Moments” provide a link to what I am teaching and may provide further context or perhaps have an element of devotion. However, beyond these “Moments” I try to provide a few opportunities each year for others to preach even when I am present. I know many churches do this, but most churches that are single-staff churches do not. Yet, by providing this opportunity, one other individual is away preaching at other churches as much or more as he is present at ours. Another individual has grown a great deal as well, and is stepping into new ventures because of it.

It seems to me that two periods during the year find me away from the pulpit for a period of weeks. One is just after Resurrection Sunday and the other is August.  During these times, I take some time to reflect on my own preaching, but also to learn from others. On August 6th, I was challenged in our service to consider How Big is God? That was the sermon title, and the answer is that “the answer is unknowable because God is immeasurable” (Rick Sons). But the concluding idea was not really about how big God is, but how big is my God. As I return to reflecting on sermons in this blog, I thought this was a good sermon to consider.

This blog is entitled fotonni which is a reversal of the phrase, “in not of.” If my God is truly big (to me), then I should be willing to live, in, not of, instead of chasing this world. The series I finished last month on my vision, mission, strategy, and steps, is designed to keep me focused in that direction, but I am far from perfect in following my own sequence. However, my God has “grown” a great deal over the past twelve months which is largely reflected in the most recent posts on what is next for me.

Three days from now will be one year since I departed for my first international mission trip. Being in my mid-forties, this is late for engaging in this way, and although I believe my reasons are sufficient for having not gone before, they are merely excuses. Our family has long supported missions financially, including specific missionary families, and children through various organizations. Additionally, having received theological instruction at a seminary for over a decade, I am certainly aware of the need for missions and have a grasp of the history, theory, and practice of missions as well. I have also been on more than a handful of mission trips within the United States, so I was not ignorant of missions – nor of what God can do to a person on such a trip.

But...having gone to Kenya, my world has truly enlarged over this past year. Some of that is geographically, but most of that enlarging relates to what (or is that where?) God is calling me to do (go). When I left for Kenya, I knew I would be going into the "bush" to talk about Jesus, but I knew my main responsibility was to train pastors. Those few days have now shaped a new organization as I have mentioned in my last couple of posts. My thoughts now are not just related to training pastors in Kenya (although I look very forward to continuing to doing that), but in locations all around the world. Who knew that one little trip could have such a tremendous impact? 

Ok, yes, God knew. And that is why I know my God is big. It is also why I say He is growing. Not in a literal sense, of course, but to me. I have a high view of God, and my recent series on vision, mission, strategy, and steps should indicate how I desire to live my life according to that high view. But as I continue to learn more about Him, and more about what He wants me to do, I must decide if I will follow my desires, or follow Him. Ultimately, I must choose to follow Him because only He knows where I am going.

How big is my God? Big, but not yet big enough. As John the baptizer said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3.30). As I make John’s mantra my own, I will truly begin to see how big my God really is!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Next...(Part 3)

Over the last two weeks I have revealed what I will now be professionally pursuing in addition to pastoring and teaching as an adjunct. Week 1 was painted in broad strokes (here) while I got more specific last week providing the name of our new organization and a brief overview of why the organization now exists (here). Both posts come immediately following an extended look at my process for evaluating what I pursue, how I pursue, and why it matters. The purpose of this brief series of posts (ending with this one), is to show how PTC fits into the overall process. I completed part of that discussion last week moving from the bottom (Steps) up (to Strategy), and will complete that look this week by putting PTC in context of my Mission and Vision.


Several weeks ago, I reviewed each of the four aspects of my Mission statement. In review, my mission is to:
  • Love Jesus and submit to Him in order to serve others – beginning with my family.
  • Grow in my knowledge and understanding of God and His will for me.
  • Trust His provision.
  • Externalize my faith, in part by, teaching others and encourage others in their relationship to Christ so that they will then disciple others.

PTC fits these extremely well. First, the goal of PTC is to train pastors and church leaders who are in areas which may prevent them from having opportunities to receive training in traditional ways. Thus, we must go beyond the normal means of providing training, which requires us to not only provide information, but to make the presentation possible. This will require grand efforts in many cases and a good deal of money and coordination among many people who will be necessary to accomplish this task.

Second, making disciples is undoubtedly a part of God’s will for all who follow Jesus. The question is how to do it. Without a doubt, I believe God has positioned certain people and instances in my life over these past couple of years to lead me to the development of PTC. I must continue to seek what God would have me do, but for now, I know that includes the context of PTC.

Third, this organization will be non-profit (paperwork is currently being reviewed). To not only provide the coordination for training, but also the physical equipment needed in these remote places, will require a great amount of financial resources, time, and energy. As for the time and energy, I must cling to Colossians 1.28-29 personally. As for the financial, I must allow God to move the hearts who steward the “cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50.10) to provide the necessary resources PTC needs to make this opportunity a reality.

Finally, the aim of PTC is to train others who will then train others. That is the essence of the Great Commission, and that is the ultimate purpose of PTC.

So, the focus of PTC is well-established within my personal Mission Statement. And, as I have previously stated, fulfillment of my Mission moves me closer to my Vision of becoming the man God has called me to be.


I do not pretend to be anywhere close to whom God would have me to be. But I know that I move closer when I am obedient, and as I mentioned above, I have no doubt that my engagement in PTC is a step of obedience. It is also a step of faith. The combination of obedience of faith are also an expression of love towards God. Thus, I fully believe that being a part of organizing and leading PTC will be one of the most rewarding endeavors I will experience. It will likely also be one of the most challenging which is why I believe the timing is right. I have learned a great deal about myself in completing my doctoral work. I have learned a great deal about others in the process as well. Additionally, I now know better what it means to lead a church, teach others who lead churches of all sizes, and am learning how that fits into the global context.

By looking back over the past couple of decades I can see how God has been preparing me for this venture. My learning has been expedited over the past few years and the context of that learning is more apparent to me now as well. While I still have far to go to become the man God desires, I certainly see His guidance in preparing me for the present, and I know He will be with me going forward as well.


So that is a brief look at how PTC fits within my overall approach to life. It is exciting to do something you love and be invigorated by a calling to change course a bit even as I approach fifty years of age. I watch so many people who seem to go through the motions. My personal prayer is that I do not come to that point and that is why I have developed a comprehensive process to help guide me and make sure I stay true to where I believe God is leading me.

While I do hope you will continue to engage with this blog each week in the years to come, I also hope you will find yourself checking in on the work of PTC on the company blog which will begin the week of Labor Day. The blog will be hosted on our website at Until then, keep reading here where next week, I will reflect on the big God I serve.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Next...(Part 2)

Last week, having concluded my series on how the 4L Model of Discipleship fits my Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Steps, I hinted at what my next venture includes. That venture is named Pastor Training Community (PTC for short).

PTC came to mind last year when I returned from Kenya. Having been a part of a team who trained over 100 pastors in 4 days in two different locations, the question became how to consistently train without having to be there physically. As I mentioned last week, many organizations around the world exist to share the gospel and train indigenous leaders. But no single organization can reach them all. Thus, PTC is seeking to do our part to train a part of the nearly two million pastors who need training worldwide. Our primary focus is to train pastors in remote locations, many of whom may be considered underprivileged.

My focus here is not to elaborate on PTC, but rather to show how this venture fits into my overall plan. If you wish to follow the happenings of PTC, a new blog will begin there in September. You may access the blog through the website. Additional social media outlets include Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can find PTC at:

Website –
For Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, please search for "Pastor Training Community" and if you see this logo, you have the correct account.

As for how PTC fits my plans, let me briefly comment based upon each component of my overall process starting from the bottom (Steps) and moving to the top (Vision). To keep the post relatively brief, this week, I will focus on the Steps and Strategy. I will conclude this short series of posts by comparing the launch of PTC with my Mission and Vision.

LEARN – I am realizing each week how much I have to LEARN. I currently lead a church and have owned a small corporation before, but I have never organized a non-profit organization. Beyond the logistics of effectively leading the organization, because the primary task of PTC is to train pastors and church leaders around the globe, constant learning will be required to understand how to adapt the training to the people we will serve.

LIVE – The entirety of this venture is to LIVE what I know to be true. I must love God, love others and be a part of those who make disciples of all nations.

LOVE – If I am successful in the LIVE step, it should be because I am doing so with LOVE. I know I deeply care for the people I met in Kenya last year and presume the same will be true of the other places that God may send me.

LEAD – Training others abroad also requires me to LEAD those who are serving here. Over time, many of the daily/weekly responsibilities will be executed by others, but I must never lose my focus to LEAD.

LOVE – Again, this venture starts with my desire to serve God which requires loving God and loving others. PTC has already required a large sacrifice of time, and a modest amount of money to date, it will require much more in the coming weeks, let alone the years ahead. Of course, these sacrifices pale in comparison to the sacrifice Jesus made for me, but I doubt I would consider the sacrifice worth it if I did not love God and was learning to better love others.

EXERCISE – Discipline will be very important. Spiritual discipline because this venture is primarily focused on the spiritual aspects of life and ministry. Financial discipline (personally and for PTC) in order to accomplish the goals I/we have. Physical discipline because to travel to various places will require a body that is healthy.

ACTION – This relates to LIVE in the Steps portion. I know what I am to do (generally, and in this case, I am learning specifically), so I need to be doing what I know to do.

READ – I have been reading a great deal about a variety of topics this year, but much of the reading centers on leadership, and non-profit principles. Additionally, as I mentioned in the LEARN Step, I have so much to learn in general, that reading will be a constant – and that reading must include the Word of God.

NURTURE – One of the core values of PTC is to train leaders. Of course, PTC was founded to train pastors abroad, but the full measure is to make sure all individuals associated with PTC are nurtured in their faith and life to become leaders in their own right.

So, that is how the practical part of the process – my Strategy and Steps – relates to the launch of PTC. Next week, I will clarify how I see this new venture relating to my Mission and my Vision statements.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


Last week I concluded a series on how I view Vision, Mission, Strategy, Steps and specifically how those steps (the 4L Model of Discipleship) apply to the process and allow integration. Having a vision for one’s life (let alone for one’s business, church, organization, etc.) is important, but many visions lack a plan for execution. My process does not guarantee that I will always do everything right or even know what to do, but my Mission does provide a filter to make sure I have the right focus and then I can implement a Strategy and the appropriate Steps. So, what’s next?

First let me begin by saying that what is next does not replace what is current. I am still called, in part, to serve a church and to lead the next generation in an institutional setting. Thus, I will continue to serve as pastor and teach as an adjunct when given the opportunity. However, my calling changed slightly late last summer. Instead of serving a church, I believe my call is to serve the church. Instead of leading the next generation of church leaders in an institution, my call is to serve the next generation of church leaders.

Either of these changes has many possibilities to fulfill that calling. Both ideas coalesce in many different ways. The current generation of church leaders has a plethora of opportunities from which to grow – books, conferences, video training, etc. While any of those may be in my future, the current plan is to begin providing quality training pastors in remote areas of the world. Many people have done this over the last few centuries, and many are doing this today. Many individuals leave everything behind to serve as missionaries, literally heeding Jesus’ command to make disciples by going.

But that is not my calling. As I mentioned, while my calling has expanded from serving a church to the church, I do not sense God leading me away from my current responsibilities as pastor. And while leading the next generation of church leaders has expanded related to the where, I believe that my role as an adjunct at the seminary allows me to equip many leaders every year who will equip far more people than I could every fathom. Thus, I will stay where I am and do what I currently do, but I will be adding another aspect by training others. More importantly, I, and a few others (through a new organization), will be coordinating the efforts of many individuals who will train church leaders, Lord willing, from all parts of the earth.

In Acts 1.8, Jesus said we must continue to expand the mission field. Over these past few years, I have personally expanded mine. First, we left a church in the town in which we lived (our Jerusalem) to minister in a nearby town (our Judea). Then we moved a couple of hours away to realize our Samaria. And now,the intention is to be engaged in training the nations by going to the ends of the earth (at times, physically, but constantly through the use of technology).

So, what’s next?

I have planted the seed in this post. Next week I will share how this new venture fits within my overall process and fill in the details including the name and website of our new organization (PTC, what we call it for short). You can then follow the story of  PTC on its own blog, while I carry on this blog with a focus on living in, not of, the world.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Using 4Ls, Part 25 – Conclusion

Six months ago, I began this endeavor to record my thoughts related to the 4L Model of Discipleship. The series was in response to a question and as I began to develop the ideas for this series, it became apparent that I needed to approach this topic in a more complete manner than originally thought.  I had no idea at the time that I would be concluding this series 24 weeks later, but having done so I know that I have not only communicated the overall approach more comprehensively, but in doing so, I have learned more about myself and am more convicted about my overall understanding of my Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Steps. (A complete list of all posts in order – including a basis from Scripture are included at the bottom of this post.)

As I have stated (or hinted) throughout this series, the Vision is what you see (or will see) when you accomplished your objectives (reach your goal). One’s Vision may change, but seeing what is before you impacts what you do (or will do) which is my understanding of Mission. How the Mission is accomplished is directed by a Strategy which includes individual Steps (tasks, etc.) along the way. For me, the Steps are the 4Ls – Learn, Live, Love, and Lead.

As I now conclude this final post in this series, I have hopefully provided ideas not only on how each of the components fit together, but given proof that we can never perfectly accomplish our purpose on this side of eternity. Thus, as I finish the series, I begin to focus on what is next – not only for the blog, but in my life.

So, what is next? Well, for this blog, for now, I will return to (primarily) sharing personal reflections on my sermons or other lessons. However, before I do that, I have one major announcement to make. I have hinted at this announcement for a couple of months, but now a few necessary pieces are in place to make the announcement, which is truly about what is next for me in a professional sense.

But the announcement deserves a post (or two) of its own, so it must wait until next week. All I will say for now is that I am excited about the direction God is leading and it definitely fits within the scope of all I have written here over the past six months.

Until next week...

Prior Posts:
4L – Matthew 4.19 –
4L – Matthew 28.19 –
4L – Spiral –
4L – Vision –
4L – Mission –
4L – Strategy –
4L – Steps –
4L – Learn –
4L – Live –
4L – Love –
4L – Lead –
4L – BackUptheSpiral –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Love) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Exercise) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Action) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Read) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Nurture) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Summary) –
4L – HelpFulfillMission –
4L – HelpFulfillMission (Item 1) –
4L – HelpFulfillMission (Item 2) –
4L – HelpFulfillMission (Item 3) –
4L – HelpFulfillMission (Item 4) –
4L – ParentheticalPost –
4L – Becoming (Vision) –
4L – Like God (Vision) –

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Using 4Ls, Part 24 – Like God

In this penultimate post for this series, I come to the heart of this entire process. Everything I have written over the past six months related to the 4L Model of Discipleship has one goal in mind – to be more like God. My Vision states that in a practical way – focusing on what He wants from me. My Mission relates goals which I believe, based upon Scripture, move me towards that end. My Strategy are the means to reach those goals, and the Steps (the 4Ls) are the individual components which execute the pieces of my Strategy. Again, all of this is to make me more like God.

For the sake of clarity, let me begin by stating that although I am to become more like God, I have no misconceptions that I am to become (a) god. The intent of my statement is to capture what has been lost. Humans were made in the image of God (Genesis 1.26-27) and certainly still reflect characteristics of God. However, the perfect nature of God was lost for humanity in Eden. It was offered anew through the second Adam through Jesus’ work on the cross and resurrection from the tomb. But the offering of salvation must be received by us. When we receive the gift of God’s grace, we are in a moment made righteous through (and in) Christ, but we are not yet fully and completely perfect on this side of eternity (Philippians 1.6). It is through God’s continued offering of grace that we become more like Him as we wait for Jesus to return (Titus 2.11-13).

As I mentioned last week, becoming more like God has two important aspects. Only God knows what He is truly like and therefore He must guide our “becoming.” That is, as imperfect beings, we cannot become perfect on our own because we do not truly know what it means to be a perfect Being. Thus, God must lead us in our becoming more like Him. This is the crux of the imitation in Ephesians 5.1 where our imitating Him allows God to mold us as He wishes.

On the other hand, we must do our part in becoming like Him. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul uses the idea of walking several times. I claim Ephesians 4.1 as my reminder to walk as I have been called by God to walk. Claiming the reminder does not mean that I walk successfully all the time. Far from it. But the idea of walking means that when I trip and fall, I am to resume walking.

Thus, as I walk, and God molds, I begin to become more of the man He wants me to be – that is, more like God. The challenge, as maturing Christians will attest, the more time spent becoming like God, the less I feel that progress is being made in that direction. Again, I fully realize that I will not fully achieve my Vision in this life, but even as I know I am growing as a follower of Christ, I find myself succumbing in areas that I should have overcome. I believe that as I grow closer to God my sin is being further exposed, and ways that I hid my sin (from myself, not from God) is becoming more evident to me. If this is true then as more sin is exposed, it may bring discomfort (i.e. sorrow/grieving) in one sense, but joy in another as I realize God is continue to mold me to become more like Him - the very goal I seek, whether I realize progress is being made or not.

This series is now almost complete - even as I have much to learn and do towards becoming the man God desires. Next week, I will conclude this series before making an announcement about what God is leading me to do now. Then, in August, I will return to the traditional Bread Crumb posts – with personal reflections of on my weekly messages.

Prior Posts:
4L – Matthew 4.19 –
4L – Matthew 28.19 –
4L – Spiral –
4L – Vision –
4L – Mission –
4L – Strategy –
4L – Steps –
4L – Learn –
4L – Live –
4L – Love –
4L – Lead –
4L – BackUptheSpiral –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Love) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Exercise) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Action) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Read) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Nurture) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Summary) –
4L – HelpFulfillMission –
4L – HelpFulfillMission (Item 1) –
4L – HelpFulfillMission (Item 2) –
4L – HelpFulfillMission (Item 3) –
4L – HelpFulfillMission (Item 4) –
4L – ParentheticalPost –
4L – Becoming (Vision) –

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Using the 4Ls, Part 23 – Becoming

After twenty long weeks, this series of posts returns to the the top of the spiral – my Vision statement. All of the posts between then and now have related to the support for the Vision – my Mission (objectives), my Strategy, and my Steps (the 4Ls). All of those pieces are what allow me to achieve the Vision. As a reminder, my Vision is:

To be the man God has called me to be. (Ephesians 4.1; Ephesians 5.1)

To be that man is a process – again, a process that includes Mission, Strategy, and Steps. But until that process is complete I am a work in progress. That is, the work has begun, but is not yet complete. As Paul wrote in Philippians 1.6, the process will not be completed until Jesus returns. I know that. I understand that. But that does not mean that I am to wait for that day and do nothing. Rather, sanctification is a process by which we partner with God. It is only a holy God that can make us holy, but as God has designed it, we must do our part too.

A State of Becoming

Thus, we are in a state of becoming. Again, “to be” the man He calls me to be is not my business. It is His. Only God truly knows what He wants from me. Only God knows what He has called me to be. And only God can make me into that person. Paul’s charge in the verses I have selected for my vision contain one verb that requires me to be active (walk, Ephesians 4.1) and one for God to do the work (be imitators, Ephesians 5.1).

The book of Ephesians can be split into two distinct parts. Chapters 1-3 are What to Believe and Chapters 4-6 are How to Live. Thus, after Paul shares principles about the truth of the gospel in the first half of his letter, he shifts his thinking to how to live by exhorting the believers to “walk” according to their beliefs. The word “walk” is translated from a Greek word which is in a verb tense that requires us to be active. That is, I am to do my part in walking according to what I believe or as the modern term suggests, to “walk the talk.”

On the other hand, in Ephesians 5.1, Paul instructs the reader to be an imitator of God. Here, the verb tense is one where the reader is passive. That is, as the reader imitates, God is the one who is really doing the work. The verb is about the reader (imitate God), but the action is done to the reader, not to God. Thus, the more we imitate God, the more He makes us more like Him.

When combining these two ideas, we see that the process of becoming the man God has called me to be requires me to act (walk as I should) and to be acted upon (as I imitate God). As I stated above, only God knows what He wants for me so it is only He who can truly shape me. But as I do my part (walk), I can trust He will do His part because it is He who called me.

Achieving the Vision
God already sees what the “completed” Andy will look like. I do not. But my Mission, Strategy, and Steps are all designed to help me “walk” as I should. Each of these aspects is built on Scripture which, as I apply to my life, should help me to better imitate God. I realize I will not fully achieve my Vision on this side of eternity, but I assure you what I “see” is already a vast improvement on who I was in the past. The process continues, and will continue as long as I am on this side of eternity. And while I will never achieve my vision, ultimately it is what I receive from God that matters. I will be completed as a gift from Him just as my salvation and calling were also received as part of His grace.

Next week, I will go a little further with this concept and focus on what I believe becoming that certain man means for me.

Prior Posts:
4L – Matthew 4.19 –
4L – Matthew 28.19 –
4L – Spiral –
4L – Vision –
4L – Mission –
4L – Strategy –
4L – Steps –
4L – Learn –
4L – Live –
4L – Love –
4L – Lead –
4L – BackUptheSpiral –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Love) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Exercise) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Action) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Read) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Nurture) –
4L – HelpMeLEARN (Summary) –
4L – HelpFulfillMission –
4L – HelpFulfillMission (Item 1) –
4L – HelpFulfillMission (Item 2) –
4L – HelpFulfillMission (Item 3) –
4L – HelpFulfillMission (Item 4) –
4L – ParentheticalPost –