church planting

The Parable of the Plug

If you have ever been to my house, you might have noticed the small little “coffee nook” we have. Actually, I think it was meant to be a desk area, but that wouldn’t work for more reasons than one, so a coffee nook it became. For close to five years this nook has seen plenty of action and served us well during times of fellowship, Bible studies, and entertaining friends—providing a gathering spot for those late nights where good times demanded a little extra caffeine.

If you looked close enough in the corner of the nook you will find a single plug that once supplied the power to our coffee brewer. This little guy worked hard for several years as our church grew from our living room to where we are today. He was an important and necessary conduit that for all practical purposes helped launch a church. He was faithful. He didn’t complain about the late nights that we asked him to put in. He had a purpose and we used him often.

One day, our plug decided to hold some things in. It started slowly. Little by little he began to not put as much energy and commitment into his ministry. He started to hold onto some of the energy meant to freely flow through him. He started to get hot when we tried to use him. We should have seen the signs, but for whatever reason we didn’t. We were busy trying to go after the vision and thought we were all on the same page. We had no idea the little guy was holding back, not letting go of some things, and getting hot all about it.

Eventually this type of behavior led to the plug’s destruction. It stopped the flow of that which he was designed to transfer and caused him to overheat, which eventually led to a meltdown (literally). He became dangerous and destructive to all those around him, even melting the cord closest to him. Therefore, we had to stop using him. We didn’t want to, but to do so would put too many people at risk.

Where is the plug now, you ask? Oh, he still hangs out isolated in the corner of the nook. The fellowship he once helped foster and encourage has moved on though. To this day, he still can’t seem to let go of some things although he has cooled off. He often still thinks about the good ol’ days, but his pride won’t allow him to let go of the past—his plastic is too warped and hard. So there he sits … alone, melted, and unusable.

Note: This parable was inspired by an illustration I shared in a recent message on Ephesians 6:10 and how it was written in the context of relationships.

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No Good. Know Best.

Good ideas aren’t bad—they are by nature good. So why is it that I find myself saying “no” to so many good ideas?

I think it’s because I understand that not every good idea is the best idea when it comes to ministry. Good ideas can easily derail mission, and therefore waste much time and energy. You see, sometimes “no” can ultimately release the freedom to say “yes” to what matters. Having a clear ministry focus and vision will keep mission driving the church rather than a random good idea.

One of my favorite examples of this is in the book Confessions of Reformission Rev by Mark Driscoll. Let’s just say it involved a Brethern family, a couple kids that played hand-bells, and a church in the heart of Seattle trying to reach young men in their twenties. Classic!

Read the story on Google Books here (p62-63).

At Praise Chapel Chicago, our vision is WIN – BUILD – SEND (evangelism, discipleship, and church planting). Thus everything we say “yes” to should ultimately enhance this vision in the context we are in. If not, then it just isn’t worth our time pursuing.

When satan pulls an intervention

Three years into church planting and I can clearly see patterns in the way satan attacks a young church (yes, I believe in a literal devil and demonic forces).  I have known these patterns to be true throughout my Christian walk, but lately they just seem so much more obvious.

Recently, we called a 3-day fast at the church.  Lives started changing, there was a stirring in people’s spirits, and new believer’s were excited!  We concluded on a Friday night after prayer meeting with great expectation and passion for Jesus. That was close to a month ago.

Since then some good people have given into compromise, others have lost their passion, and one has even stopped attending service all together.  Don’t get me wrong. The church isn’t in despair or anything, but because we are a church with vision the enemy attacks not so subtly.

So, what exactly happened? Well, there is an old saying that goes like this, “New levels, new devils!” and more often than not it rings true. People sometimes fail to realize, or simply refuse to recognize, that they are in the midst of a spiritual war—a battle for their very soul.

Ephesians 6:10–12, “A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Look at it this way. When a person is not really living for God, or maybe as a Christian Atheist, the devil really has no reason to wage war against that person. They are simply not a threat. (Though the devil still might choose to mess with an unsuspecting hypocrite if pushed –> Acts 19:13–16.

But when a person begins to align their life with the teachings of Jesus, when they begin to go to prayers meetings and fast, when they put away selfish desires and allow themselves to be filled and led by the Holy Spirit—watch out because the devil will sneak in and try to pull a spiritual intervention (lights dim and the curtain opens)…

As Committed Christian arrives home after a late night prayer and worship  at the church, he opens the door, and there sit his old friends satan and his crew.  A somber chill fills the air.

“Christian we need to talk. Sit down, would ya?”

“What’s this all about?”

“Me and the boys, well frankly, were concerned. We haven’t seen much of you lately.  You’re always at the church or praying in your room with the door closed.  We’ve even noticed you have been skipping some meals lately. You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd. We just feel, you know… it’s time for an intervention.”

“Seriously, satan?!?”

“Yeah. No more church for you buddy.  From now on we are just gonna have to give you some excuse that you can’t go. And prayer… fugettaboutit.  You need your sleep.  You work hard. Don’t worry, we are gonna make everything easy for you to come down off your spiritual high and face reality. We will take it slow, but don’t worry—we will be with you every step of the way, just hanging around to make sure you don’t ever fall down that slippery slope of, ugh, Christianity again.”

To the discerning Christian, the strategies and interventions of satan are obvious in this type of scenario.  When the devil shows up right after we decide to live all out for God, commit to a volunteer ministry or perhaps a 3-day fast, we should see right through it.

Matter of fact, the next time the devil pokes up his ugly mug after you invite Jesus deeper into your marriage, family, relationship, or life just tell him to “go to hell” where he belongs.  Don’t worry, it is Christ-like to tell the devil that—Rev 20:10.

Ephesians 6:13-18 (NLT), “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

If you find yourself getting closer to God remember to stand strong and stay on guard.  The devil might just be waiting in your car, home, or office for the right moment to pull…  an intervention.

How to respond when I feel mistreated

Luke 10:27, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ “

Loving people is not as easy as it sounds. People can be grumpy, hateful, backstabbing, greedy, prideful, quirky, accusatory, snarky (love that word), or just plain MEAN, but that doesn’t give us reason to return the favor.

2 Timothy 2:23–26, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

Jesus calls us the “salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). We are called to live out the message of the Gospel as we function as divine ambassadors to those around us. In likeness of Jesus, this could mean speaking boldly against the accepted norm or possibly allowing someone to nail us to a cross.

So, how then do we know how God wants us to respond in different situations?

The answer lies in the objective foundation of Scripture. Therein, we find loving others may mean praying for them (Matt. 5:44), asking for or giving forgiveness (Col. 3:12-14), confrontation (Prov. 27:5), or submission (Eph. 5:21). What to do in different situations may vary, so that’s why we not only need the Scriptures, but also the Holy Spirit.

The Scripture guides us. The Spirit leads and empowers us.

One caution when dealing with difficult people or situations is to guard against bitterness and resentment. When we are on the blunt edge of gossip, slander, hate, backstabbing, church divisions and factions, etc… It is fairly easy to give into the bitterness, turn inward, or lash out in defense. At such times, I’ve found the greatest release is to take Jesus example (Luke 23:34) and simply forgive and pray for God to bless those that hurt me.

It’s hard to hear God’s direction in a situation when resentment or bitterness dominates us. Prayer and forgiveness release us to hear the Holy Spirit clearly, which in turn helps us to respond Christ-like in any given situation.

Church Planting with Bob Ross?

Recently, I was trying to help out my daughter Olathe with some math homework. I was taught a certain method of reaching the answer. She, on the other hand, is learning several methods of reaching the same answer. So naturally when she asked me for help it became frustrating for both of us. Let me explain…

For me it was frustrating because I knew what the answer should be and the method I was taught to get to that answer, but that wasn’t what the teacher wanted. If I persisted to teach her my way, she would not actually get a good grade because she needed to show her work through a different method.

On the other hand, it was frustrating for her because she needed help. Since I wasn’t there in class to hear the method she was supposed to use, I had to try to draw it out of her and then work with what she was telling me, which I was more than happy to try.

As a church planter I often find I don’t know how to accomplish everything the Lord requires of me. Many times I want to ask Bob Ross how to paint a “white, puffy cloud” when God really wants me to learn how to paint a storm in abstract. If all I ever do is paint by numbers, will I ever really learn how to paint? In the end, I might have a decent painting, but never a skill to paint an original masterpiece.

Maybe God is more interested in me learning to hear His voice rather than some easy answer to church growth.

When it comes to church planting, there is no shortage of advice, but there just might be a shortage of church planters that rely on the Spirit to show them the next step.

Glean all you can from other church planters, books and blogs but ultimately take “good notes” in the class of the Holy Spirit and learn how to get the methods and answers needed directly from Him. Then as you receive or hear advice from others, you will be able to sort out the methods that God might be calling you to attempt in your context. The rest… respectfully decline.

Swimming with the Sharks

They say a shark will only grow size proportionately to the aquarium it is put in. That means a mature shark in a small aquarium might never grow bigger than several inches.

For us, we might therefore consider aquariums a wonderful place to swim if it weren’t for the following small details…

1. We were made for bigger things: There is no way this 190lb man is going to fit in a little fish tank, but many times I find myself trying to live in the safe box I create. Why? Because that’s where there is no danger…. no risk. The sharks are small and can’t really hurt me there. The problem is we were never made to live in little aquariums. We were made for a life of adventure and risk. When we don’t take risks, we can’t exercise our faith. Without faith, we can’t please God.

2. Aquariums are fake worlds: Treasure chests, plastic seaweed, even the way in which the water receives oxygen is contrived. When we submerge ourselves in a world of fake surroundings, we don’t face the realities of life, which essentially cause us to grow. It takes resistance to build muscle just as the hard realities of life in this world cause us to grow spiritually. Look at all the great men and women who became great through their struggle, not by pretending it didn’t exist.

3. There’s no room for anyone else: When we live a life of safety, we are become concerned with ourselves as numero uno. We are always looking out for our own best interest. What do fish in an aquarium seem to look forward to most… food! Feed me, feed me! All the while, they are probably looking over at the fish stuck on the glass saying, “Thank you Lord, I don’t have to suck algae and stare out that glass!” In actuality, at least the algae sucker is looking out instead of in.

4. The outside world looks distorted from inside the aquarium: Just how sometimes we see fish distorted from certain angles, I imagine they look out and see some pretty intimidating things. I think of Joshua, Caleb and the other spies checking out the Promised Land. When the other spies came back, they said they saw giants and they felt like grasshoppers in comparison. Typical safe, selfish, aquarium living. Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, saw the same thing, but they were living a life of risk. They had a different perspective and realized things aren’t what they appear. They weren’t going to let their lives be ruled by what things looked like from inside the aquarium.

The deep calls.
Tony Morgan wraps it up in one powerful quote. Read it here.

Discovery Changes Everything

I have been thinking a lot lately about the art of discovering. Discovery is when you realize the existence or potential of something that already existed. It might be that old song a person recently heard for the first time and now plays over and over again on their iPod. It might be that book that was pulled out from the shelf that just can’t be put down. It could simply be discovering the joy in the loving arms of your child, parent or spouse.

On a greater scale, when we discover the divine in the natural we can rest in the bigger picture that God is in control. Take for example the inspiration of Scriptures. The inspired Word of God wasn’t declared inspired by man or a committee… it just is what it is – INSPIRED. We can only discover or recognize that fact. When we do, the inspired Word of God comes alive to us because our perspective has changed. We now realize it is more than just a book of stories – it is God’s communication with man. This changes everything. God is in the details.

As a Christian, I am learning to discover that God has created, ordained and purposed things around and in me long before I choose to recognize them.

This happens all the time in our relationships. Sometimes, as Christians, in the midst of disagreement with a spouse or when the kids act up, it is easy to forget that they are a gift from God. When we do this, we sew strife. We take the gifts that God has given us for granted as they get lost under busy schedules or selfish ambitions. However, as we begin to rediscover God at work in our relationships, our perspective changes and we find joy and wonder in those we are close to. This changes everything. God is in the details.

Lastly, we can discover God in the midst of confusion, pain, or frustrating circumstances. He has been there all along, but maybe we haven’t taken the time to notice because it seems so crazy.

Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. -Genesis 25:21-24

Rebekah’s pregnancy was a result of Isaac’s fervent prayer. God answered this prayer, and I am sure this fact was greatly rejoiced over at first. After a season, though, Rebekah felt the strain and the stress of something that wasn’t quite right. I wonder if she was thinking to herself, “If this is an answer from God… what the heck is going on?”

During the strain of a situation it can become easy to forget all that God has done. For Rebekah that moment was pivotal to her endurance in faith. She could have chosen to become bitter at God, forgetting that her situation was an answer to prayer. But, in grand style, the scripture says she went to inquire of the Lord. She knew God was in it and if she could only discover what was going on she could rest in the Lord. God did in fact answer her and she endured this stressful pregnancy until the 9-month season was over.

God is in the details. The art of discovering God and His will can be likened to that book that has been sitting on your shelf for ages. Often you’ve looked past it, sometimes even despised that it takes up so much space. Then, one day you decide to open it and discover a story that invites you on an incredible journey. You grab a latte and sink into that big, comfy chair by the fire. No matter where this story takes you, you are captured. Though conflict arises, you read on knowing that the author is taking you somewhere and this changes everything.

All the while you wonder, “Why didn’t I discover this book a long time ago?”