Monthly Archives: October 2012

How Paul guarded the flock

How Paul guarded the flock, by Gordon MacDonald (Leadership Journal, Fall 2012)

As I made my way through Paul’s letters, I saw, once again, that he was a missionary-apostle (church planter), a theologian, a developer of leaders. But most important, Paul was a shepherd-pastor. He clearly understood—like the shepherd of Psalm 23—the significance of congregational feeding and protection. Here’s how Paul practiced what he preached about guarding the flock.

  • Affirming: quick to identify evidences of God’s work in persons and peoples;
  • Thankful: ready to express gratitude for any act of generosity;
  • Corrective: never reluctant to identify sin and rebuke it;
  • Prophetic: warning of consequences if people were bent on making bad choices;
  • Transparent: unashamed to speak of his own weaknesses and sins;
  • Affectionate: anxious for people to know how much he loved them;
  • Prayerful: frequently praying “aloud” in his letters for people and their needs;
  • Developmental: identifying, raising up those who might become leaders;
  • Observable: presenting a model of the Christ-following life that others could copy.
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Posted by on October 31, 2012 in Leadership, Ministry, Quotes


Avoiding mission drift

This past weekend, the leaders of our church gathered to talk, dream, and brainstorm about the future. It was the first step in developing a 2020 vision. Following that session, I met with one of our boards to talk about the implications for their area of ministry. We proposed some tweaks to the ministry’s mission statement and discussed how to evaluate different areas within their ministry.

The day after these meetings, I sat down to read the current issue of Leadership Journal, Fall 2012. Marshall Shelley, the editor-in-chief, wrote an essay entitled, “The 5 Main Things.” He began by describing a similar experience with his church leaders.

A few weeks ago, our church leadership team went on retreat. It was an important time of refocusing on the essentials, the most important aspects of church life.

“Mission drift” is an ever-present temptation. We get distracted by so many things: pushy people, the demands of running programs, the desire to avoid conflict, financial pressures, new opportunities that are oh-so-attractive even if they’re not at the heart of our calling.

All of them can tempt us to shift our focus on secondary matters just for the sake of expediency. As Peter Drucker puckishly put it: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

For leaders, the never-ending task is “to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Shelley’s essay was a good reminder to remain focused on the biblical goals, values, and purpose we laid out for our church.

The magazine also included the following cartoon. It seemed quite appropriate after the dreams I shared at the retreat.


Marital advice

“The key to a successful marriage is falling in love again and again, always with the same person.”

Wanye Cordeiro, in Sifted: Pursuing growth through trials, challenges, and disappointments

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Posted by on October 30, 2012 in Books, Marriage, Quotes


Sailing with Sandy

Yesterday we came home from church to find our barbecue on the other side of the deck and halfway down the stairs. Not sure if someone tried to take it and dropped it on the way down or if a gust of wind pushed it. Either way, we hoisted it back up, set it on the deck, and locked the wheels.

This afternoon, as the winds of Hurricane Sandy increased in intensity, I watched the barbecue sail twice across the deck, with the wheels locked, mind you. So this time, I chained it to the side rail for good measure.

Ah, the joys of our first nor’easter, hurricane, and “storm of the century.”


Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Chicopee, Home


How welcoming is your church?

In his blog, “Stuff Christians like,” author Jon Acuff tells the following story about a friend who visited Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community in Daytona Beach, FL. The bulletin included the following note of welcome.

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and would up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts . . . and you!

Now that’s an inclusive welcome message! I wonder how many of these folks would be welcome in my church. Something to think about.

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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Church, News stories


When you haven’t got a prayer

You wake up at 3:00am with the name of an old friend stuck in your head. You feel prompted to pray for them. But since you haven’t seen or heard from them in three years, you don’t know how to pray.

Do you rely on prayer #14, “God bless them”? Then again, Ephesians 1 says that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). So that prayer seems a bit redundant. Perhaps you could use prayer #32, “God be with them.” But you remember God already promised to always be with us (Matthew 28:20), so that seems redundant as well.

What do you do when you haven’t got a prayer up your sleeve? How do you pray for someone when you don’t know their needs?

The apostle Paul gives us a model to follow in Colossians 1:9-14 where he prays for a group of believers he never met personally. Paul prays that they will understand what God desires and that they will live their faith.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (ESV)

In verse 9, Paul prays the Colossian believers will be filled with a knowledge of God’s will. He wants them to understand what God’s desire is for them. Several years ago, a book was published with the title, All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. The sad thing is that it summarizes many people’s knowledge of Scripture. Many believers are immature and have never grown beyond, “Jesus loves me this I know.”

Paul prays the Colossians will be filled with a knowledge of God’s will. The word, “filled,” pictures a ship laden with cargo ready to leave port on an ocean voyage. It is filled to completion. The word also carries the idea of control (Ephesians 5:18). When we are filled with anger, we are controlled by anger. When we are filled with alcohol, we are controlled by that substance. When we are filled with a knowledge of God’s will, it should transform our lives. That leads to Paul’s second request in verses 10-14, that the Colossians would live their faith.

In Scripture, knowledge always has an ethical dimension. What we believe should impact how we behave. Knowledge of God and his will should change our lifestyle. Paul goes on to describe four characteristics of a lifestyle that pleases God—fruitful service, growing knowledge, patient endurance, and a thankful heart. Paul closes his prayer by giving three reasons for giving thanks—we share in Christ’s inheritance, we were rescued from danger, and we are forgiven.

The next time you feel prompted to pray for a friend, family member, coworker, or acquaintance, pray that they will know and understand God’s will for their life, and that the knowledge will help them to live in a way that gives glory and honor to God. Pray their lives will be characterized by fruitful service, growing knowledge of God and Scripture, patience with people and circumstances, and that they will give thanks for what God has done for them.

(This sermon was preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA on 10/28/12. To download a copy of my sermon outline, click on the link.)


Developing a 2020 vision

This morning at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, we held a mini-leadership retreat. It was the first step in developing a 2020 vision, or what we hope to accomplish by the year 2020. I explained that vision helps us know what direction we are going in and how to get there. In addition, vision helps us know what to say “Yes” to and what to say “No” to.

I began by sharing my observations about the strengths and weaknesses of the church. I went into that discussion with a fair amount of trepidation as to whether or not my assessment was correct. Several said that my observations were accurate and spot on. I then laid out our biblical goals and core values, taken from Acts 2:42-47, Ephesians 4:11-16, and Acts 13. I also introduced a new way of looking at our purpose statement and path of discipleship.

We spent some time discussing where our various boards and committees fit into the process and what each one contributes to our goals.

Possibly the biggest “Ah ha” moment came when I shared a demographic study of the region within a 10-mile radius of the church. We have a population of 461,736, 38% of which have no faith involvement. We live in a significant mission field.

In light of what we believe and where we are going (vision and values), and in light of where we live (demographics), we then brainstormed how we can become more effective in reaching our goals. Now we will take time to pray about which goals God would have us to pursue.

I ended the session by sharing my personal dreams for FCBC. Whether or not they become goals and reality is yet to be determined. But they are my dreams for the church.

By 2020, we will . . .

  • Be a church of 500-1000 people (since there is no evangelical church over 500 in the  region, this will take God’s power to accomplish)
  • Half of our growth will come through evangelism—new believers
  • Plant 2-6 churches—locally (1-3) & internationally (1-3)
  • Adopt 1-2 unreached people groups and see a church planted among those people
  • Have at least two annual short-term ministry trips for adults / both domestic and international (I stressed adult trips because the youth are already doing them)
  • Increase the length of our worship service from 60 to 75 minutes
  • Strong small group ministry – 1/2 to 2/3 of all adults in small groups; strategy for discipleship
  • Children’s & Youth ministries will be the strongest programs in the church; they will be central in attracting and reaching the community; the nursery will be the gem/jewel of the building in order to communicate to young moms that we care for their children
  • Become a regional center for church-based theological education
  • Internship program
  • Train and raise up our own staff

Learning it’s ok to be me

Last night, I spoke to the men and women who attend First Central Baptist Church’s Celebrate Recovery program. I shared how God used 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 to teach me I no longer needed to wrestle with feelings of inadequacy.


For much of my life, I wanted to be someone else. Growing up, I always wanted to be my brother, Paul. He was 14 months older and six inches taller than me. He was musical, athletic, and outgoing. In college, I wanted to be like my friend, Mike. He was popular, friendly, and drove a cool sports car. In grad school, I wanted to be like one of my mentors, John. He was a gifted writer, popular speaker, and very creative. Then I wanted to be like Phil, a gifted teacher. I spent 14 years working with a gifted administrator and leader, Tim, and wanted to be like him as well. I wanted to be like these men because I didn’t think I was good enough.

Adding to my struggles were the people who told me I wasn’t good enough. Tony said I would never make it in ministry because I didn’t have a pastor’s heart. The church I grew up in did not want to ordain me because they didn’t consider Christian Education to be real ministry. When I was working on my doctorate, the dean of the seminary said I would never complete the program because I didn’t have what it took to do doctoral work. (Tony and the Dean later apologized and admitted they were wrong and misjudged me.)

As I have cataloged on previous occasions, I was fired from my first ministry. While I had not done anything wrong, neither had I done enough right and the church wanted to make a change. They told me I wasn’t a leader, but left me to figure out what that meant and how to correct the flaw.

Two years ago, I lost all my hair due to illness and stress. Today, I don’t recognize myself when I look in the mirror.

For much of my life, I wanted to be someone else. I wanted my brother’s height and musical ability; Mike’s popularity and sports car; John’s ability to write; Kent’s ability to preach; Phil’s ability to connect with an audience; Tim’s ability to plan; and my own hair.

I never felt I was good enough. I was told I wasn’t good enough. I was fired because I wasn’t good enough. I felt like God made a mistake in how he wired me.

In 2001, I was introduced to 2 Corinthians 3:5-6.

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

The NASB uses the word, “adequate”; the NIV uses “competent”; and the ESV uses “sufficient.”

There are three key phrases in these verses that helped change my perspective about myself. The first one is, “Not that we are adequate.” People were correct. I don’t have the natural ability to accomplish anything. I’m not enough.

The second phrase that helped me is, “our adequacy is from God.” God has given me exactly what I need to be successful in life and ministry.

The third phrase that changed my perspective is, “who also made us adequate.” In addition to giving me what I need, God has made me adequate. God said, “You are enough. You are sufficient. You are competent. You are adequate. I didn’t make a mistake.”

For the first time, I realized it was ok to be me. I didn’t have to be someone else.

I still struggle with insecurity at times. But I know those are the lies of the enemy. And I have to remind myself what God said about me. He made me adequate and has given me what I need to be successful in life and ministry.

Whatever challenge you are facing tonight, (1) Admit that you are not adequate. You don’t have the skills, resources, ability to change your situation. (2) Trust God to give you the resources you need. He can give you enough grace and strength to succeed. (3) Trust God to make you adequate.


Is war between Israel and Iran imminent?

Book Review: Israel at war: Inside the nuclear showdown with Iran, by Joel C. Rosenberg

Is war between Israel and Iran imminent? Was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu correct when he told the U.N. that Iran would have nuclear weapons by next spring? Is the crisis in the Middle East heading to a point of no return? Have the major players already crossed that line?

Author Joel C. Rosenberg tackles these tough questions in his latest offering, Israel at war: Inside the nuclear showdown with Iran. Published as an e-book, it reads like a cross between front page headlines and Bible study. Like all of Rosenberg’s books, this one is well researched and documented. Because it is so current, it comes across like a State Department briefing. The reader has the same information government official hold in their hands.

Reading through the book, you have the sense that the tension in the Middle East is heading towards an imminent clash. War seems to be a foregone conclusion. However, Rosenberg injects a note of optimism by closing the book with several Bible passages from Ezekiel. While the human actors and governments are busy rattling their sabers and shouting their rhetoric, God is ultimately still on his throne. Nothing will proceed until he gives the ok.

While I enjoyed the book and was challenged by it, I was disappointed in the quality of the e‑book. There were several errors in the formatting. It gave the appearance of being written quickly and rushed into publication. While the headlines are changing rapidly, the publisher could have taken more time to ensure the formatting and layout did not become a distraction and hindrance to the reader.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Tyndale Blog Network book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Books


#TGCNE12 – Breakout 2

“We dare not despair” was taught by Collin Hansen

Revival in Scripture

Remember – Joshua 24

Rejoice – 2 Samuel 6 – don’t expect everything to go well in revival

Repent – 2 Chronicles 34

Resolve – Acts 2 – spread the revival through evangelism and sharing

Do what Scripture commands—preach, pray, sing, serve, love

Be the church

In revival, we don’t seek extraordinary experience, we seek an extraordinary God

You can’t have a revival without a recovery of Scripture and a remembrance of what God has done.

Nostalgia is deadly to the faith; thinking the past was perfect.

If God can work in 18th century NE, he can work in any time


Heaven was on the minds of everyone

God blesses us with revival in sudden, unexpected ways. Revival often ends in the same way. Attacks come during revival.

Lasting effectiveness of 1st Great Awakening—increased evangelism to Native Americans; helped create America; renewed preaching to African-Americans

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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Church, Scripture, The Gospel Coalition