I was able to buy back my old domain so I set up a blog there on the off chance I actually write some more.

I’m really planning on it.



The Gospel in Practical Sermons

Yesterday I began a sermon series about prayer.  More specifically, how to pray the way Jesus prayed and taught.  I get a lot of questions about prayer and I sometimes hem and haw in answering because I am not satisfied with my own life of prayer.  I took a seminary class called “Life of Prayer” and while the books we read were great, my prayer life didn’t see much movement toward Jesus during that semester.  That took a few more years and I’m still not satisfied.

I think my dissatisfaction in prayer is shared with a lot of church people.  I suspect that if I asked 10 people in church how they felt about their prayer life, they would hang their heads, kick some dirt on the ground, and say things like, “I don’t pray enough.”  I get that.  I’m the same way.

Now, the problem with preaching a series on prayer, fasting, Bible study, solitude, or any other spiritual discipline is that people will automatically begin to size themselves up and their view will often come down to one of two feelings: pride or shame.  They will either hear that they are doing “enough” or better than others and thus feel pride, or they will hear that they don’t pray long enough, effectively, or powerfully and feel shame.

Pride and shame are two sides of the same anti-gospel coin.

So, how did I keep my church and myself from missing the point when it comes to the practical lessons in prayer?

State the gospel up front.  Let them know that our salvation is from God because in order to reconcile sinful humanity to himself, Jesus the God-man died an atoning death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, was raised on the third day in an event that defeated death which gives us not only a hope for a life beyond the grave but also a transformed life here and now through the power of the Spirit.  We are not saved because of how well we pray and we are not condemned because of how poorly we think we pray.

Remind that spiritual disciplines are about grace and joy.  We don’t pray to impress God.  We don’t impress God.  God loves us so we pray to communicate with the One who loves us more than we could ever imagine.  Prayer isn’t about getting in God’s good graces.  It’s about receiving grace and joy in communicating with our loving Father.

Finish with the work of Christ.  No matter how much we beat ourselves up over our lack of spirituality, Romans 8:1 does not say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who pray for at least an hour everyday.”  It does say “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  We aren’t accepted by God on the basis of our performance in spiritual disciplines nor are we rejected by them.  Our acceptance is based in Christ, not on our performance.  We need to get over it.

I’m looking forward to seeing how these next few weeks shape up and pray that my folks experience the grace of God through Jesus Christ in amazing ways through gospel-oriented preaching.

My Friend, Michael Spencer

Read this In Memoriam first.

I’m not ready to say good bye or talk about my feelings yet about my friend who just died.  Part of it is not having words.  Part of it is I feel selfish thinking about my feelings when his wife and kids – all truly, truly, wonderful people – have just lost a husband and father.

I began writing a lot of stuff about how we met and how our friendship grew.  I’m saving that for me right now because I am selfish.  He was a good friend, an inspiration, a counselor, and a guy who really knew how to laugh at the stuff worth laughing at.  I’ll both treasure and miss that.

I read through about five years worth of E-mails last night.  I don’t delete anything from G-mail, so there’s a couple hundred between Michael and I in there.  I didn’t remember writing this, but I am glad I did write it.  He knew and that gives some peace to me.

I don’t say stuff like this enough, but I love you.  You’re the only person on the internet that I’ve ever met in real life who has taken time for me, who has counseled me in ministry, and has gifted me in amazing ways.  Honestly, you make me feel like Silas.  Or maybe I should say Barnabas because I want to be an encouragement to you in all of this as well.  As you struggle with doubt I do not want you to doubt this – you have mattered in my life for the important things and your influence on me is influencing others in my preaching and teaching.

Not only that, but I believe more fiercely in the resurrection than ever before and a lot of that confidence has come from the Lord through Michael Spencer.  I can’t wait to see him again.

Twitter Inspiration – Grace

I’m thinking about doing a series of posts based upon tweets I have marked as “Favorite” on Twitter.  I did this once a few months ago and am still grateful for the lesson I learned in reading a 140 character post.  So I think I’ll go for it again and try to reflect on what I’ve learned – I’ve definitely got plenty of material as I mark at least 2-3 tweets a week as “Favorite”.

This post comes from runner, blogger, pastor, and soon-to-be author Joe Thorn:

If there’s anything my depraved heart did not want to read, this ranks in the top ten.  It would be easy for me to slide right past the truth of this tweet  because I don’t know the grumpy guy in that coffee place.  I could get theological and philosophical and say, “Yeah, bro, you should probably repent of that attitude.”  It would be easy for me to just move on by.  Except that the person “grumpy guy” represents is everywhere.

What if I reframed the note to self in these ways?

  • Your wife needs grace, not rolling eyes.
  • Your daughter needs grace, not a sigh and a “Just a minute.”
  • Your angry church member needs grace, not a flip rebuttal.
  • The guy asking for help needs grace, not a look that communicates, “Not this again.”

That list could get a lot longer.  The people on it could be on the receiving end of a lot of graceless looks, sighs, and comments, but that’s not the kind of person God has called me to be.    I’ve been dealing with Romans 12:9-21, especially the second half of v. 10 “Outdo one another in showing honor.”  What exactly does that look like?  I think it looks like a loving and kind response to the grumpy guys and gals in our lives – the kind of response that is prepared for in the training room of grace: our prayer closet and our desk.  I spent 20 minutes walking around my neighborhood not too long ago asking God to help me love my enemies and then praying for them by name so that the next time I have an encounter with them the grace of God is abundant and the prideful, ego-inflating response is gone with the rest of my sin.

Who are the grumpy guys in your life?  Are you praying for them?

Administrative Woes

I have a low tolerance for non-mission critical tasks.  Maybe Jesus wants me to learn patience and perseverance through these tasks but I really hope not.  One of the things that drives me up the wall is the way we track people.  It’s not the tracking that makes me crazy, it’s the method.  I do not find the software we use to be particularly helpful in this regard because it lacks simplicity.

Here’s what I need to be able to do simply.  Simply is the operative word if you haven’t figured that out yet.  I don’t want to nor do I need to spend hours learning how to use another system.  I need an intuitive program in the cloud.

What I need church software to do simply:

1) Attendance.

  • Input attendance from communication card
  • Input information requests from communication card (want info on baptism, membership, serving, etc).
  • Input volunteer offers from communication card (want to serve communion, work with children, etc).

The last two would be even better if I could get a weekly E-mail report after the data has been entered.

2) Financial

  • Input giving information
  • Input commitment information
  • Print giving reports both quarterly and end of the year statements that comply with the IRS

3) Communication

  • Ability to send mass e-mail
  • Ability for receivers to unsubscribe
  • Ability for me to see who has unsubscribed

The software I’m currently using probably does these things, but as the only pastor and only full-time worker, it’s a complete waste of time for me to spend the necessary time learning how to use what I have to it’s full potential.  I need an intuitive program in the cloud.

Any suggestions?

Repost from the BHT

I shared this earlier at the Boar’s Head Tavern.

The Ghost(s) of Ash Wednesday Past

I don’t know if anyone has ever had the weird experiences I’ve had on Ash Wednesday but I had another one last night.

When I was 18, I went with some school mates to the Catholic Church across the street from our school. I thought getting ashed would be cool so I kneeled, stood, sat, and genuflected as best I could. When it came time for ashes, the classmate next to me said, “You can’t go up there. You aren’t Catholic.” I was steaming mad so I stomped out and went back across the street to our cafeteria for breakfast. One of my friends asked me what was wrong so I told her. She said, “Come with me to our Ash Wednesday service. I’m Episcopalian. We’ll let you do whatever you want.” I never knew what a broad statement that would turn out to be. The evening ended with my best-friend and fellow Methodist nearly spitting the wine back into the common cup because “It’s NOT grape juice.”

In my first church, I helped with my first Ash Wednesday service in 2004. I waited till the morning of to burn the palm fronds. At 6 AM before a 6:30 AM service, I could not get the palms to catch fire. I needed an accelerant. The only thing that was available was a can of WD-40. Worked like a charm. We have the service and use these truly greasy ashes that will prove difficult to wash off. A young woman who has waited her turn stands before me. Being inexperienced, I had no idea that I should use my fingers to hold back a person’s bangs as I smudge their forehead. So, this very blonde woman spent the rest of the day with a huge black streak in the middle of her bangs. It probably took days to get it out.

Last night, this seasoned pastor started imposing ashes on foreheads. It was like clock work until I very nearly Benny Hinned a lady with static electricity. The pop was loud, too. We both shook it off and went on until another lady came up and ZAP! I got her, too. It ended up happening one more time. I’ve never done that before. If static electricity were more powerful, I bet a revival would have broken out.

Update from the Road

We are *hoping* to return to the US tomorrow after several days visiting my wife’s family in Spain.  I say that we are “hoping” because of all the gross winter weather back in the states.  I think we’ll be able to make it, though.  Instead of snow, we got to hang out on the southern coast of Spain this week and got this family picture by the Mediterranean Sea.

I’ve been able to not only enjoy our time in Spain with our family but also to get a lot of reading and writing done.  I’ve also started the process of pre-writing some essays for this blog which will hopefully have its own domain this spring.

While we’ve been gone I’ve been able to keep up with my friend, Michael Spencer, whose book you can now pre-order at Amazon.com.  Michael was recently diagnosed with cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy.  I hope you will pray for him and his family.  He’s been one of the biggest influences I’ve had in my walk with Jesus and in ministry.  Here’s his most recent post called Real Apologetics.

Speaking of influences, here are a few of my favorite posts from my seminary professor, Lawson Stone, in his 365 Day photo blog.  They are all good, but I like these the most:

The Improbabilities of Grace

Not Afraid of the Dark

(Second) Birthday

Morning Person

Preventing the Morning