Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I love music. In fact, I am a new-music junkie. When I was a teenager, I thought the internet was created so that I could just look up new bands all day and listen to music.  I have not stopped this practice now, even though I have been an adult for a long time.  I believe music speaks for a generation and where they are in life and and even where they are with God. This past week, I came across two bands that have been very good for my soul.  Both of these bands are worship bands who speak to my walk with Christ right now.  Good artists are great because they put into words where people are today. 
My ears first caught hear of Young Oceans. This band is from NYC, on the Asthmatic  Kitty label along with Sufjan Stevens and The Welcome Wagon.   They lead worship at Trinity Grace Church, which is a neat church movement in NYC neighborhoods.  This band has words that lift up our Savior in praise and use a airy and simple style that leads my heart right into worship. 
Wayfarer is a band that has captured my headphones and touched my soul.  They are describe themselves this way, "We're Wayfarer from Seattle. We play repurposed hymns and spiritual songs. Modern music, classic words." I love that they respect the depth of old hymns and are making the theology in these songs heard again in a fresh way. 
Music is a gift God has given us, as the church, to write and sing and play and hear theology, to  celebrate our Savior and our new life, and to worship. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How to develop your church into a healthy family

How to develop your church into a healthy family:

Growing up, I have watched several TV sitcoms.  For the most part, these sitcoms all have a level of dysfunction.  Dr. Cliff Huxstable may have been able to keep some kind of health in his family, but most sitcoms had their Homer Simpson or Ray Romano who were leading their homes with great dysfunction (and some love, too, of course!).  

In the life of our churches we need to begin to act more like families, but not the ones headed by Homer or Ray, even though we may have some pastors who act like those characters at times.  We need to truly be a people who understand what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ.  We need to let love and grace be the foundation of our church, which takes out the dysfunction. We want to act like a family of God, in the Kingdom of God.  When churches are healthy, they function at a high level in serving and caring for others.  Healthy churches are much more inviting. And people like to visit healthy churches.  

How to know whether or not you are a healthy church family:

1. Does life together--Churches gather on Sunday morning and worship Jesus, but which is the most important day of the week?  When--besides Sunday morning--do you gather? Do you create opportunities for your church family to get to know each other?  Midweek services, studies, softball leagues, working at soup kitchens or other mission work, and small groups are ways of doing life together.  The church should provide some opportunities, but then do you do life together with those you worship with?  Do you go to ball games or community events with others from your church?  These are great times where you can be an example to those in your community who may want to be a part of a loving church family.  Doing life together needs to be focused on fun, missional, and caring for each others needs.

2. Eating together--As a pastor I have enjoyed many potlucks and carry-in meals.  These meals are more than just showing off who can make the best cheesy potatoes--it is a time of fellowship.  Jesus often did his preaching and discipleship over meals.  This is healthy!  We are a busy people, and studies show that in our own families, we often do not sit down to eat together.  If we do this together as a church, it will allow for us to share food, converse, fellowship, all while doing something we all need to do to live!

3. Pray together--Some of the best church communities I have been a part of have been ones where prayer is at the center.  If I know I always have someone praying for me, I am already that much better off.  For a church to be healthy, there has to be lots of prayer.  Prayer for each other, for the community, for the world, in small groups, praise and prayer gatherings, and praying for vision will form a healthy church family.  

4. Not neglecting the NEW part of the family--too often we can treat people in our congregations like crazy Uncle Bill or ignore the new brother or sister in-law.  We expect them to just jump in and figure out how the church works without help. They easily stop coming to the family reunion, (Sunday worship), because they do not feel part of the family.  When new people walk into your church, they want what you have, so share it!  Let them be part of it!  Do not hesitate! It is what church is all about!  
(I remember when my sister married her husband, my father did not hesitate to get him a St. Louis Cardinals t-shirt.  We are huge Cardinals fans and we did not want him to feel left out, just because he is from Cleveland.  Get people on board quickly!)
I believe the church has to be a family, but one opposite of the world.  We need to live in a healthy way together, so our church is always demonstrating the love of Jesus.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to be a Church All-Star

Shine like a star
The other night was the Major League All-Star game, the mid-summer classic.  I love watching this game, because I love baseball. On this night, the best players in the game today gather and display their amazing talents. The stars come out to play.
We talk about stars a lot in our culture.  It got me thinking: if their was an all-star team for churches who would be on it?  Who are the stars in our churches today?
Sporting our Cardinal All-Stars! 
The stars of the church are the ones who actually make the church what it is.  A pastor can lead--but if no one follows, it doesn't matter how great he or she is.  A star grabs a vision and live it out.  Here is a quote I was reading in one of my son’s books by Peter C. Bjarkman talking about Roberto Clemente being a star.
“A star is not something that flashes through the sky.  That’s a comet.  Or a meteor.  A star is something you can steer ships by.  It stays in place and gives off a steady glow; it is fixed, permanent.  A star works at being a star.”
How to shine like a star for Jesus:
Love your church: When you watch great ball players, you see they love what they do.  You can't help but shine when you love what it is that you are doing.  You cannot be a star if you are negative about life. You need to love God, your life, and your church.
You work at being a star: Being a star is not something that just happens--it takes hard work.  You pray, fast, lead, and share your faith with people.  Ball players have skill, but they are also hard workers.  When you are a star for Jesus, it means you commit a lot of your time and effort being a disciple. 
You let yourself shine:  I loved Bryce Harper’s gold shoes during the All-Star game.  He is a hard working young star, but he let his shoes shine.  I think for us to shine like a star, we need to not be ashamed of the Gospel--but instead, shine brightly for Jesus.  When you do this, people will recognize there is something different about you, and will even want to model who you are.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer Time

Mars Hill in Grandville

It seems that every year I am not sure if I will like summer or not, and every year I instantly fall in love with it.  There is nothing like drinking lemonade on the back patio and listening to music as the summer shines down.  Summer is a season of relaxing and enjoying the company of friends.
Summer is also a time where we can choose to grow closer, or be pulled away from God.  Even though summer can be relaxing, often the relaxing things we do begin to replace our time spent with God in study and worship.
When I was a kid my family went on many vacations throughout the summers.  Even thought we were on vacation, my parents always had planned out which church would we be attending on the Sunday mornings during our trips.  I remember me saying, “are we really going to church?” and my parents in unison saying, “We never take a vacation from God.” This instantly put me in my place, and has made a great impact on my walk with God!
That one sentence has shaped me for the rest of my life.  Even though it's summer, and it is a busy time of relaxing, don’t take a vacation from God. I believe that summer is always a great time of growth. We watched growth happen on the mission trip, we will see growth when kids go off to camp, and we will watch growth happen at Vacation Bible School! Let your summer with God be one where you choose to continue to grow in him, and continue to love others even though your schedule changes throughout the coming weeks.
Let this summer be, The Summer for Jesus!
What can you do to GROW this summer while relaxing: 

How to keep moving with God throughout the summer. 
Mars Hill in Grandville
1. When you are out of town on vacation, visit a church.  Every year my family goes to Michigan and we go to Mars Hill in Grandville outside of Grand Rapids. It is refreshing because it is a change.  When you visit pick up bulletins and other materials to take home and show to your pastor.  This can help in comparing and help your church also move forward.  

2. Pick a good novel with Christian themes to read.  The novels on my reading list for the summer are "The Hobbit" by JR Tolkien and   "The Comedians" by Graham Green.  This is a relaxing way to get good Christian perspectives and conversations going during the summer.   
3. The last thing is to intentionally help out at your church.  Do not let your church take the summer off.  Help with your mission committee or do a mission project in your community with your church.  Go to camp with the youth or help out with your church's Vacation Bible School.  Be involved this summer do not just sit back and wait till fall.  
If church is to be a movement, it will never take a break from growing in the love of Jesus Christ.  For when we grow in love with Jesus we begin to share the love of Christ with others.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

4G Grace

4G Grace
So often we feel like we have been caught up in the "baggage" of the past. You know what I’m talking about: a bad relationship, bad decisions, divorce, and even tragedy. Some hold on to that baggage--and sometimes actually display that baggage as a backpack, strapped on--and carry it everywhere you go. Eventually, the backpack defines who we are; and inevitably, you are known as the mess that is in the backpack.

You have a life that is all wrapped up into the mistakes you've made, and the things that have separated you from God. You have to ask yourself: is this what I want from life? Do I want to be defined by the mistakes and the pains of my past? Or do I want to be known by something else?

Let me tell you something: Grace is beautiful. There's a reason for the song being called "Amazing Grace."  Grace is what allows us to have a new beginning. It is what allows for us to have that baggage--that backpack--taken off of us and forgotten forever. No longer do we need to be defined by a past that is full of mess and sin. Grace makes us new.
Grace has to be in the DNA of the church, if it is to be a movement. There will never be a perfect church (I don't care how many people go to your church. I don't care how many athletes or famous people say that you are the best preacher or best congregation.) "Perfect" is unattainable for us, and that is why grace is essential in the heart of the church if it is moving, healthy, and going forward with the message of Jesus. Grace is what makes the church move without holding on to mistakes and what-ifs.

"All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that's the end of it.  Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life--a life that goes on and on and on, world without end."
(Romans 5:21 NIV)

4G (God and Human relationship)

4G #4
“The YES of the Kings' grace now allows humankind to respond with our own YES that accepts his invitation. When our own YES echoes God's YES, we join his kingdom and joyfully accept our role as the body of Christ in its kingdom mission.  We live out this acceptance in both our individual and our corporate efforts to see kingdom justice brought to all.”

As we live in awe of the King's grace, we can't help but want to serve him.  This is how God intended it to be.  He wants us to be so in love with Him that we only live for him.  Every action we take is an action that is for Jesus. 
So the question we have to ask ourselves, if God has given us grace and we have new life, then there must be something beyond this.  God didn't come to earth and give grace just for the sake of showing his power. There is a reason behind why He did it. 

The Great Commission is why we have received grace.  We have been called to go into the world and share the love of Christ with others.  When the Church is a movement, this is the only focus.  It is not an organization concerned with casseroles and organ music, it is concerned about making disciples. That is the filter for a healthy church.

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:16-20

Saturday, June 2, 2012

4G #2

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"
(Genesis 3:6-11 NIV)
Adam and Eve had it made.  They were walking with God in the garden.  They were living the line in the old hymn, "and he walks with me and talks with me."  Yet they turned from something that was good, and because of this they felt guilt.  Because they sinned, they felt guilt, which turned into sin. 
As we look at Adam and Eve's story today, we can call them fools. They had it so good and still did not follow through.  But couldn't we say this to ourselves, too? 
Hebrews 5 says, But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” In our bias we think we can discern right from wrong with our own consciouses, but this is not true.  Only with God’s help!  People who are mature in Christ have the ability to discern right from wrong. When we look into this passage there is much that leads up into it.  A mature person is one who fasts, prays, and knows the Word of God.  If these things are not in your life on a regular basis, then you will have a hard time knowing right from wrong. 
Guilt carries with it a heavy burden that keeps us moving forward in Christ and so keeps the church from moving forward in Christ.
Guilt is what we feel when we have done something that is wrong. It leads to fear, and fear is what keeps us from living for God.  When we are in this position, we need a savior.  If we are to be a church that moves, we cannot let guilt keep us from accomplishing our goal of transforming our community to be followers of Jesus.