Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tomorrow morning I'll continue our current sermon series, "Questions Jesus Asked." This week's question lies in the middle of a famous miracle story, the feeding of the 5000: "What do you have?"

One aspect of the story is the issue of how to respond to staggering need (20,000 hungry people counting women and children, who, in that culture "didn't count" so weren't included in the numeration of 5,000 men) with insufficient resources (a little boy's lunch).

Studying for the story has brought depressing thoughts about the overwhelming suffering in this broken planet we call "home."

Today's mail brought an opportunity to send a note to Fred and Diborah, two African (Ghana) children we have the privilege of supporting. The communication included the following story:

“She was only four when genocide swept across her native Rwanda. ‘We fled our home. It was in the night.’ Her family was captured, and she saw her mother clubbed to death. Her siblings were also murdered. ‘They struck me on my back, but I did not die. I just lay there. I could not stand up, because my back was broken.’

Alice survived. But she was shattered in body and spirit. Her family was gone. She had little hope for a decent future.

By age 14, she was trapped in a ‘job’ that included abusive sexual exploitation. Her innocence was sold for 500 Rwandan francs—less than a dollar.

By God’s grace, Alice managed to escape. Thanks to help from generous friends like you, she was able to survive and go to a school to learn how to be a tailor. She graduated with the highest marks in her class. Taken in by a Christian family, she also turned to the Lord. ‘My faith has helped so much. Before…I lived in loneliness. I lived in self pity. Because of a Christian ministry I have been much blessed. I feel my future is good.'

And yet, her happiness is tinged with sorrow. [Alice says] 'I know there are many street children who are suffering and others living in households who do not have a happy life. I wish those children could be cared for.’”

Reading that reminded me how incredibly blessed I have been, growing up in "Disney Land" (the USA) where I have been pampered and insulated from a degree of suffering all-to-familiar in other parts of the world.

"Forgive me, Lord, for my ignorance and indifference. Help me to know how to place my limited resources in Your hands to multiply help to those in need. Help me to bring little glimpses of renewal into this broken world so others can see pictures of Your coming kingdom at the restoration of all things. Help me to give bread to the hungry as well as introducing the Bread of Life (John 6)."

Friday, January 25, 2008


Last year I read three different books with a form of the word "simple" in the title. Hmmmmm, does that reveal something deeply significant about me or about that time in my life?

All three books deeply impacted me, though the theories are still a long ways from becoming practice to the degree I desire.

This week David sent our pastoral team a quote from The Orchard Church. It really resonated with me. So, here it is:

"One of the things we value here at The Orchard is simplicity. We don't just say that, we really DO keep things simple here.

So what does that look like for us?

Well it means that we pretty much stay focused on a handful of things we know we can do well and consider anything above that "bonus." For example, we don't have a lot of the "ministries" and "programs" that you'll find at most churches (i.e. men's ministry, women's ministry, classes out the whazoo, etc...) I'm certainly not saying that having these programs are bad or shouldn't be done in some churches - they're just something we've decided we're not going to do here at The Orchard.

Here are a few reasons why simplicity rules at The Orchard:

We'd rather keep people freed up throughout the week to engage missionally in the community around them and to gather in small groups. (Instead of keeping them inside the walls of the church three or four nights a week.)

We're not interested in having programs JUST to have programs. If we're going to offer a class, environment, etc... we want to make sure that it is a STEP TOWARDS something else. (See Seven Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley.) On a side note - the only people who WANT a gazillion programs are churched people. And that's not who we're trying to reach. I NEVER get asked by an unchurched person why we don't do women's ministry.

By keeping things simple, it allows us to maintain a good amount of "asking equity" from our volunteers. Since we don't have to maintain numerous programs and events throughout the month, it keeps our volunteers fresh and focused on what's most important. This is especially helpful when it comes to things like FUEL - our monthly leadership gathering. I'm convinced that the reason we don't have a problem getting our leaders to FUEL is because we aren't asking them to be at numerous other meetings throughout the month IN ADDITION to this one!

Keeping things simple allows us to pour a good amount of resources, time and energy into the things that we are most passionate about and consider to be missional priorities. So instead of doing a hundred different things poorly, we are able to do a handful of things very well. It communicates to EVERYONE what is most important.

Being simple helps clearly define what we will and will not do. This is beneficial all the way around! For example, because of this, staff meetings can stay focused on what they need to be focused on instead of wasting hours having conversations debating and going back and forth as to whether or not we should or shouldn't do a particular ministry or program. Does it mean we don't come up with new, innovative ideas? Of course not! But we don't add just to add. It's always strategic and directly tied to the mission - or else we don't waste time talking about it.

Now, with all that said, let me also say that keeping things simple is not always easy. It requires a lot of "NO's", tons of vision casting and lots of reminders as to WHY we value simplicity. It also requires a willingness to recognize that this is just one more reason why The Orchard isn't the right church for everyone. And that's ok!

How about you? What does simplicity look like for you?"


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I could've been killed

Driving to Grand Rapids this morning to make a hospital visit on one of our LIFEGroup members, I was moving with the traffic (under 70 mph) on what appeared to be a dry road (I-96)when suddenly everyone in front of me was slowing down rapidly (I later learned that there was an accident around the bend ahead).

I touched the brake and discovered I was now on ice. Careful brakework didn't solve the problem and it appeared I might not be able to stop before my front bumper arrived in contact with the back bumper of the car in front of me.

I eased onto the shoulder so if I wasn't able to stop in time I could ease up beside the car rather than raming into his trunk.

Unfortunately, the shoulder was not plowed wide enough for my car to fit without my left tire going into the snow. Immediately, the snow grabbed my car and yanked me downward into the median.

As I sailed into the median at perhaps 50 mph, instantly my windshield was totally covered with flying snow so I could not see anything. After traveling a little ways and holding the car somewhat straight so as to not roll, I realized that I could be about to emerge on the other side of the median into the path of approaching traffic. A head-on-collision was not high on my "to do list" so at that point I decided to turn my wheel so that moving through the median sidewise could slow and stop the car.

I was very much aware of the automatic response of asking God for help -- the prayer wasn't fancy -- probably a little like Peter's when he began to sink into the Sea of Galilee after his brief walk-on-water experience. "Help, Lord!"

Thankfully, He did and I stopped in the median's deep snow -- but only a short distance from emerging into the oncoming trafic. I was very much aware that I was a few yards and a few seconds from what could easily have been a fatal head-on-crash.

30 minutes and a $75 tow job later I was back on the road . . . grateful that God hadn't wanted to end my earthly journey quite yet. Not because being with Christ isn't "better by far" (Philippians 1), but because I'm not eager yet to stop investing in the people I love and in the ministry to which I've been called.

Thank you, Lord.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

We're all mixed bags.

Recently I read a book someone recommended to me and was profoundly impacted by it. It was just what I needed! It was well-written, amazingly insightful, Biblically sound, and so helpful! I have already recommended it and purchased and passed on numerous copies to others.

I ordered a second book by the same author and once again was deeply blessed. I've recommended it to others and purchased half a dozen copies to distribute.

I ordered a third -- it was very good, but the themes didn't connect as much with where I was in my journey. None-the-less, I appreciated the fresh insights into the Biblical story.

I ordered #4 -- this author really hooked me.

Wow! I could hardly believe it was by the same author. It reeked with sarcasm and negativity. It was brutal and harsh in its judgments on other believers and painted large segments of Christianity with broad strokes of horrendously ugly shades--even using coarse language to describe Christian brothers and sisters. It was full of logical fallacies, and, in my opinion, gross ignorance and perversion of the Scriptures and church history.

Could this be the same author who had so blessed me?

Yes. We are all "mixed bags" -- made of dust (Psalm 103:14) -- fallen and depraved dust. Yet, we are made in God's image, and the worst of us display moments of His beauty shining through.

Should I throw this author out the window because I have found one book with which I have profound disagreement? No! Even in it I must remain open for what I can learn and need to hear. And even if my negative evaluation of this book is accurate, it does not cancel the profound value of the others.

"Lord, help me to balance grace and truth. Help me to judge as I want to be judged. Help me to set aside the bones and enjoy the fish."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ticking People Off

Every Monday, I get an email from (by Todd Rhoades). It seems specially designed for pastors who, after Sunday, need to be restored, renewed, and revisioned.

Today, he wrote about a book by Oren Harari entitled, The Leadership Secrets of Collin Powell.

Former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is quoted as saying, "Being responsible sometimes means ticking people off." Todd observes: "Sometimes when you're a responsible leader, people will not like what you're doing. Sometimes people will get quite angry. Unfortunately, in a church leadership setting, many times this means that people will get so angry they will leave the church."

Again, he quotes Powell: "Making people mad was part of being a good leader. As I had learned long ago, an individual's hurt feelings run a distant second to the good of the service."

The author writes: "Leadership can't be a popularity contest. Trying not to offend anyone, or trying to get everyone to like you, will set you on the road to mediocrity. Why? Because leaders who are afraid to make people angry are likely to waver and procrastinate when it comes time to make tough choices. Leaders who care more about being liked than about being effective are unlikely to confront people who need confronting. They won't challenge the status quo. And inevitably, by not challenging tradition, they hurt both their own credibility and their organization's performance."

Rhoades concludes: "Clearly, in ministry work, peoples' feelings are important. But the work God has called us to do for the kingdom is equally important. Many churches are deadlocked in tradition and will never change because there's a group of people whose feelings (or even sins) will never be confronted...As effective leaders, sometimes being responsible means ticking people off."

Ouch! Wow! That's tough! Especially for someone with my temperament which wants to make everyone happy. "Can't we all just get along?" I'm sure there are some who would not believe that is my temperament, but rather have suggested I am manipulative, self-seeking, insensitive, and high-handed. Ouch! Lord, help me to be open to what I need to learn.

I must remember that Jesus did not hesitate to "tick people off" with the truth and by exposing their hypocrisy, deceitfulness, and lack of comprehension of the way of the Kingdom and the cross.

One of my hindrances is that I know that I am not Jesus and that I, like everyone, have a proclivity for self-deception (Jeremiah 17:9) and often nurture a lack of self-perception. After all, a "blind spot" is, by definition, a "BLIND" spot -- i.e. a flaw I cannot see.

People with a temperamental bent like mine (which includes both a strength and a weakness) often promote a "culture of niceness" in which ticking people off feels very wrong. As suggested above, it can really contribute to mediocrity.

Of course, the pendulum may be swung too far the other way, and often is by those whose temperament is more confrontational than conciliatory.

May God help me to self-perceive and, guided by the Holy Spirit, to be fearless about integrity and truth, even when it is offensive. I must fear offending God far more than offending people.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Forgiven! How incredibly freeing!

What does it mean to be forgiven?

My O.T. reading today in Jeremiah 50 uncovered a great illustration in the future restoration of God's covenant people, Israel: "In those days...declares the Lord, search will be made for Israel's guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare."

To be forgiven is to have no remaining record of one's sin. Wow!

I'm so grateful!

God calls on us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

If this means that I eliminate all evidence of their wrongs (real or perceived) against me, I will need God's grace to make and maintain that commitment.

A related challenging issue relates to wrongs which are not merely personal (which I must forgive) but which fall into the category of crimes against other individuals, or institutions, or society --wrongful actions which go beyond personal offenses.

What is personal, I must forgive -- erase the record. What is civil or social I must release to God and to those He has ordained to deal with such (e.g. Romans 13).

I have sometimes briefly thought (this is undoubtedly the suggestion of my sinful nature) how gratifying it will be someday to receive God's vindication where I have been wronged. Then sanity returns and I recognize that in His presence, I will undoubtedly be so overwhelmed by a new comprehension of His grace and mercy in MY life, that I will not desire nor find any pleasure in anything but God's grace and mercy in the lives of others as well.

I am so thankful for the forgiveness Jesus provides.
The metaphor of the church as the Body of Christ "extends the incarnation through time."

That is one conclusion Philip Yancey makes as he reflected on a pre-Reformation debate between theologians Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus.

Believing that baptizes all of life with astounding worth. Whether carpenter or teacher, I continue Jesus' mission on earth.

How tragic that I settle for much less -- not so much in what I do, but in my awareness of what it means, and thus, how I carry it out.

How does Jesus want to change the world through me today?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Philip Yancey is one of my favorite authors. The most recent book of his I read was "Prayer." His gutsy honesty and depth are refreshing. He has great insights. CT on line included a piece he wrote about "A Believer's To Be List." It's really worth reading:

The same CT included an article entitled "What Evangelism Isn't." I wouldn't put it on a parr with the above, but it's also worth a read:

Saturday, January 05, 2008

One of my 2007 goals which I met and exceeded (that doesn't happen very often!) was a targeted number of books to read. My reading took a different turn than usual as I dipped into a number of novels...partly, I'm confident to escape pain into a world of fantasy. Imagination is a wonderful gift from God.

But most of the books were not fiction.

Thanks to Dan Lenz for suggesting A TALE OF THREE KINGS by Gene Edwards, and my bride's not-so-gentle-encouragement, "you HAVE to read this book TODAY," I "ate the whole thing" in one day. The timing of it's message was providential -- convicting, healing, insightful, affirming, revealing . . . It would probably not be as impactful (is that a word?) to someone not experiencing some of what we were at the time.

I followed up with another book by Gene Edwards (I've now read four by him but was as enamored by all), PRISONER IN THE THIRD CELL. Wow! For those whose lives include lots of disappointment and a sense of "where-is-God-when-you-really-need-Him?", this one is really helpful.

Books are great. Shouldn't be a surprise as God chose to use a book (a book of books) to tell His story so we could frame our existence and live as people of hope in a very broken world.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

This Sunday we will begin our new Sunday morning series which is a study of "Questions Jesus Asked."

In my Bible reading this morning in Mark 6, I came on another of the hundreds of questions Jesus asked: "What do you have?" In this face of a huge mob of hungry people, Jesus' question challenged His disciples to check their available resources.

As with us, their resources (a little boy's lunch) were woefully inadequate to meet the need, but sacrificed to the mission, Jesus multiplied their impact both to fill stomachs and to picture the coming kingdom/restoration when the Promised One will return and restore the ruined creation to its original perfection. Hunger will be banished.

Jesus' question, "What do you have?," reminded me of a note I recently saw which I had written some time ago in the front of my Bible:

"If you have household assets exceeding $61,000 then you are among the richest 10% in the world. If you have assests exceeding $500,000, you are among the 1% -- which numbers 37 million people. The bottom half of the world’s adult population have 1% of the world’s wealth."

As another modern prophetic voice reminded me, I "live on an island of luxury in an ocean of need."

May my heart be tender to how God wants to change me, and my hands open to share what He has so graciously given.

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” 1 Timothy 6:17-19