Monday, January 26, 2015

"Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for Him."
Mark 1:3
This is the mission John the Baptist was given. He was to make the path easy and clear for people to get to Jesus.
Shouldn't that be our mission as well? We should not put up all these walls for people to maneuver around in order to see Jesus. It is not a maze to get to Jesus. It is a straight path. We make it much harder than it should be both for ourselves and those we connect with everyday.
We need to live life in such a way that people can easily see Jesus.
Do your actions make it difficult for people to see Jesus? Do you have expectations of people based on your own traditions that make it hard for people to know Jesus? Do you always make sure people know what you are against instead of what you are for? Which can paint a negative picture of Jesus.
Do you live a life filled with grace and mercy before judgment?
The religious leaders in Jesus' time made it difficult for people to know the Messiah--Jesus. They made it so difficult some never knew him.
If we live in such a way as to prepare the path for Jesus, if we make straight paths to him then maybe more people will come to know Him.
If we can just get out of the way and let Jesus do his stuff He can change the lives of those around us. We have to trust Him to do the work. We have to put the burden on Him. Our role is to clear the path and make it easy for people to see Jesus.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Tension in Forgiveness

Sunday in our series "Unbroken" we talked about forgiveness.

It is a word we like when we need it. And when we need it, we almost expect it.

We don't like it as much when we have to give it. And when we have to give it, we don't think someone should expect us to give it.

Here is the problem. If we are not willing to give it, then we should not expect it when we need it.

Even from God.

At lease that is what Jesus said: "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Matthew 6:14-15

It doesn't mean we have to hang out with that person or even trust that person anymore. It means we are going to move on and not let bitterness and hatred creep into our being where it consumes us night and day. We are not going to let it get to the point of hatred and revenge.

Forgiveness is freeing both to the forgiver and the forgiven.

It is a spiritual issue for both the forgiver and the forgiven.

If we want peace we need to ask for forgiveness and we need to practice forgiveness.

The verse of the week at Northwest is Ephesians 4:32:

     "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgive each other, just as Christ forgave you."

This is one of the hardest teachings in the Bible. Yet if we are going to live like Jesus, we need to learn to put it into practice.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Perseverance and Getting Better

Congratulations to The Ohio State Buckeyes and their National Championship win last night.

I have to admit, I did not think they could do it. Sorry to all my Buckeye friends. However, I am thrilled that there was finally a playoff (even though it needs to be expanded to eight) where the number four team had a chance to win it all. A true National Champion decided on the field. Finally!

So how did Ohio State get there? I have a one word answer, "Perseverance."

I got to witness OSU's only loss this season when the Hokies from Va Tech came to the Horseshoe and beat the Buckeyes. I did not expect that to happen I only hoped it would happen. I believe that was the beginning for Ohio State and their journey to the championship.

They had to go through that loss in order to get better. They already were facing the lose of their starting QB Braxton Miller. Then they go up against an athletic, physical and fast defense in Va Tech with their second string QB J.T. Barrett. They had four new guys on the offensive line that had not jelled together yet.

After that loss the Buckeyes had to mature and get better. They did. They made it through the rest of the season without losing a game and into the Big Ten Championship. This trip was not without adversity. In the Michigan game J.T. Barrett went down with a season ending injury. Now they would be starting their third string QB Cardale Jones.

That same week the team had to deal with the loss of a teammate. They spent some time in mourning while preparing for the Big Ten Championship. When they hit the field they pounded Wisconsin, beating them so badly they ended up in the top four. This sent them to the first college football playoff.

Nobody outside the OSU faithful gave them a chance against Alabama. They won. Then they had to face the high powered offense of Oregon. They were underdogs again and again they proved everyone wrong outside the OSU faithful. They are the National Champions in the first ever College Football Playoff.

And they got there through perseverance and a desire to get better.

So congratulations to The Ohio State Buckeyes!

The verse of the week is a verse we used this past Sunday when we talked about "Perseverance" in our "Unbroken" series. It comes from Romans 5:3-5:

"We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;   perseverance, character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."

This perseverance and getting better thing doesn't just apply to football, it applies to life.

Have the courage to persevere and get better--it could change your season around and make you a champion.

Let's Go Hokies!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The focus for 2015 at Northwest is "Make it Better" (You can listen to the teaching at ). So in the spirit of  "Making it Better" I am going to make an effort to blog more often. Not long blogs, but things that relate to what is going on at the moment. For example, in an effort to make staff meetings better we are going to have a verse of the week. Something we can focus on through the week as a team.

The first of the year comes from Isaiah 43:18-19:

         "Forget the former things;
          do not dwell on the past.
          See I am doing a new thing!
          I am making a way in the desert
          and streams in the wasteland."

I had a high school coach who used to say, "I don't read yesterdays news."

We can't. We can't dwell on just what has happened in the past. Whether it is positive or negative, we can't dwell on it. We can learn from it and remember it. But we can't let it consume us to the point where we don't keep living for the next day.

We need to look to the future and figure out how we are going to change past failures or how we are going to do better at past successes. Let God lead us and do a new thing in our lives and in the life of the church.

How are you going to be better this time next year?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Principle of Being Present

God has really been teaching me something about encouraging, leading and discipling people. I would like to say I already knew the principle. Maybe I did, but it has never been revealed so clearly and in so many ways than over the last nine months.

It is the "Principle of Being Present."

Often we think of supporting people and ministries as making sure they have the resources to function. It terms of church planters, missionaries or even ministers in your church we think if we make sure they have enough to live on and money for them to sustain ministry for a period of time that is enough.

It is not enough. What they need more than anything is for people to be present in their lives. Not present in the sense that you are watching every move they make, lording over them. But present in the sense that you are walking with them and sharing in their ministry and the vision God has given them.

I had been spending some time with a church planter we support in Ohio and then took a trip to work with a missionary we support in Puerto Rico. They had the same tired look on their face. And in both cases serving beside them changed their whole perspective on what they were trying to accomplish. It seemed to give them a renewed spirit in a way that a check in the mail wouldn't.

We received this from the missionaries report card after our visit last October which confirmed this principle: "I don't know of a single missionary who is satisfied with the results of their effort. The vast majority worry constantly if the churches back home think they are failures. Missionaries put out newsletters that they hope will 'satisfy' the probing eye of the church leaders back home. This may be why the average ministry on the field of the average missionary is only 18 months. (I might add in ALL denominations too). You might want to consider asking questions that minister to the field missionary."

He's right. The only thing I would change is the word "minister" to the word "encourage." And the way to encourage in a way that brings resurrection is to be present. This is what Jesus did right? He became flesh and dwelled among us to bring life. He didn't just mail in a check. He didn't stand over us and watch every move we made. He encouraged us to live a life that reflected the image of the Father. And he did it by being present. The way to lead people be followers of Jesus is to be present in their lives.

Where did Christianity switch from being present to standing on the sidelines pointing out everything that is wrong with culture without investing time reflecting the image of Jesus?

You know this being present thing works when it comes to being a parent too. Some parents think that if they just give their kids everything (even if it means never being around) then they have done all they can do to raise good children. What kids want more than stuff is for you to be present in their lives, encouraging them and walking with them through life.

It works in the business world as well. The manager that encourages and empowers those under them will see greater results with out destroying their spirit. Abraham Lincoln had a habit of visiting the troops during the civil war. He very seldom called people into his office, instead he went to spend time with them on their turf.

If we really want to become a church that makes disciples it is imperative we learn the principle of being present in the life of those we are trying to disciple.

How can you be present in some one's life today?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Complaining is not a Strategy

I was watching the 60 Minutes interview with Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon. I was interested in the segment because of the possibility of "drone delivery" in about 30 minutes. After watching the segment I am convinced they can deliver books in 30 minutes better than Dominos used to deliver a pizza.

While watching the interview something Jeff Bezos said caught my attention. Charlie Rose was talking to him about the ability for Amazon to disrupt the old way of buying books because their margins are so small they could drive people out of business. Bezos said this, "You know, people can complain about that, but complaining is not a strategy."

Immediately I looked for something to write that quote down: "Complaining is not a strategy."

The first thing I thought of were all the complaints I hear from people in "the church world." Most people who complain offer no alternative, they use the power of the complaint to get their way. When you give in, guess what they do next? They find something else to complain about until they get their way. Complaining can be a strategy, if leaders give into the complaint.

Next I thought about myself. How often do I complain about something? More often than I would like to admit. But Bezos challenged me in that one statement, because he is right, "Complaining is not a strategy." When he said that I thought of Amazon's competitors. His statement was either going to make them mad so they complain harder or it was going to challenge them to get better. It was almost like he was saying, "Come on, don't complain, compete. Because healthy competition brings out the best in people."

So, I should not complain about things not going my way. I should see it as a challenge to do things better. I should see it as an opportunity to plan a strategy to get better and create a movement that makes a higher impact in the world.

For those who always complain let this be a challenge to you "STOP IT!"  (I need to hear this as much as anybody. Just ask Rhonda. She says something to me all the time when I say something to a ref at a basketball game.)

For those who lead others, here is you challenge "STOP IT!" Stop letting people who complain change the direction of your God given vision and values. A lot of great movements have come to a halt because a leader let complaining become a strategy in their organization.

Disclaimer: It is not complaining when you stand up for something that is right. The difference is when you look at your motivation. Is it motivated by narrowly focusing on one's self or is it motivated by pointing out something that could be destructive to the culture? Constructive criticism is not complaining.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Resurrection God! Restoring God!

Man, I hate when God keeps trying to get your attention and teach you something that really messes with you. Maybe this is why I have not written a blog in such a long time. Maybe he is trying to focus me on something I need to deal with in order to serve Him better rather than just trying to come up with the next blog.

Here is the deal. I want to make sure the next half of my life ends well and contributes to the kingdom. I believe God has given me experiences in the first half of my life in order to prepare me for the last half. I just have to discern where it is he is leading me.

Well over the last several months something is becoming more clear to me. He is teaching me something I believe is not only life transformational for me, but can transform the church in which I serve. I also believe it has the potential to impact other places in the world.

A few years back I listened to a podcast from a church in Portland, Oregon called Imago Dei. The teaching from Rick McKinley that day was called, "Mustard Seed Kingdom." In it he taught the concept that God is a resurrection God, that he could bring life to that which is dead. He is a restoring God who wants to bring hope to the lives of those who have no hope. He also taught it starts out small and God makes it grow to make a bigger impact than what we could dream.

Recently I have not been able to get this out of my mind especially in some of the things and people I am involved with in Tallmadge, Cleveland, Zimbawe and more recently Puerto Rico. Then I go to the ReChurch conference at The Creek in Indianapolis and there is a clearer confirmation toward some of my thinking. I get a book they suggest and it gives more confirmation.

Here is the short version of what God is teaching me. In order to bring resurrection, restoration and change we have to support those who need new life both in their ministry and in their individual lives. And here is the kicker to my thought process-just sending money is not the support that gives life. It may help temporarily, but support requires that we are present in the lives of people.

Real restoration and resurrection occur only when we are able to speak into the hearts of people or a ministry. Spending time to understand where they are coming from and discipling them to follow Jesus. Giving them lasting hope through development not dependence. I am starting to think that through some of our generosity we are teaching people to be dependent on monetary gifts from others rather than being dependent on God.

I know it takes money to bring change in some circumstances. But money has somewhat become an easy fix for those who have the resources to be generous. I am just saying your presence in the life of that person relationally is probably more important than just sending a check. Sometimes generosity requires a person to be generous by being present.

The most generous person I know gave up everything so we could have a restored life and resurrection. So we could have hope. And the Bible says this about Him: "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." (John 1:14)

He was present. He came in the flesh which means he came physically. And then He dwelt among us, living as we live, experiencing the culture we live in and serving us while serving with us. He taught us how to live in such a way that through Him we could bring hope, life and encouragement to people and places that need resurrection and restoration.

Where do you need to be present today to bring a little resurrection and hope?