Month: December 2011

Guaranteed Predictions for 2012

I know this sounds a bit bold, but I can absolutely guarantee what will happen in 2012. Guaranteed. No doubt in my mind.

1. The Mayans will be proved wrong. No one knows when it will all end, especially the Mayans. There will be a 2013.

2. We will elect a president.

3. 50% of Americans will immediately not like the president elect.

4. New Life will pay off a load of debt and the poor in our city will be served better.

5. The Broncos and Cowboys will both watch the Super Bowl from their couches.

6. I will lose weight or wear out an elliptical trying.

7. I will read more books than any other year of my life, including my college years.

8. You will read my new book that releases in September. (Shameless plug)

9. I will not wear a suit and tie on a Sunday morning at New Life.

10. I will get an angry email from a Mayan.

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The Howdy that Saved a Life

Almost every Sunday, I encourage New Lifers to find someone they have never met and introduce themselves. It is probably the most important thing we do as a church family besides the Sacraments and the Scriptures. A few Sundays ago, a New Lifer turned around and met a man for the first time and probably saved his life.

This man had planned to take his own life by driving off a cliff later in the day, but decided to come to New Life beforehand to give God one more chance. When the New Lifer met him at the end of the gathering, he was obviously distraught. Instead of ignoring the man’s pain, the New Lifer prayed with him and introduced him to one of our pastors who took him to an office and met with him for about 90 minutes.

He was a totally different person after that time and assured us he was content to live now and would resume seeing his therapist, which he did, because we checked. All of this, because a New Lifer turned and said hello. Sometimes ministry to people is so simple – look at them, listen to them and care about their stories.

Several times in Paul’s letters to the churches, he encouraged them to greet one another with a holy kiss. The kissing part does not go over so well in Colorado, but the greeting part sure does. If church is an assembly of believers who belong to the same family, then sincere greetings should be a big part of the family gatherings every week. If not, we will become the cold “sit, listen and leave” church.

Not every handshake and introduction will save a life, but every close friend I have today started with one of us introducing ourselves and asking some questions. For some, this is super scary, for others it is not. No matter the nervousness, it is a powerful part of the local church becoming a close family and is proof to a distraught world that there is a place for them in God’s healing home.

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We Are Family

My family and I came from Texas to pastor New Life Church over four years ago, not knowing anyone in the congregation except the members of the search committee. Each Sunday, I would look into the faces of thousands of strangers, wanting desperately to be known and to know them and their stories. It was the loneliest time of my pastoral journey.

But then something happened this past summer. We became a family, after four years of intentional plowing. I realize it takes a long time to become old friends. It cannot be rushed, programmed or forced. It simply takes time. I have wondered in the past few months how does a church become a family assembly instead of a gathering of strangers? What is the ground that must be plowed in order for family roots to take hold and ultimately blossom in the local church?

1. Families know how to disagree

This does not sound warm and fuzzy does it? But it’s true. Healthy families have learned to honorably disagree and to defend the unity that is so critical for the long term strength of the home. I see people every week that have disagreed with me, but have decided to persevere and forge a friendship despite our differences. This is why I believe church families and marriages are so similar. No one can stay married if they always need to be right. Great marriages and great church families have learned to love while they are fussing and are quick to offer forgiveness and grace.

2. Families celebrate and mourn with one another

Healthy families embrace the rhythms of each other’s lives, rejoicing when the others are rejoicing and mourning when the others are sad. This past Sunday, I learned of a dear New Lifer who had just been placed in hospice because of cancer. Later, a despondent single mom asked me to pray with her for her prodigal son. Minutes later, a sweet grandmother told me her daughter, son-in-law, and all their children had just decided to follow Jesus. She had prayed for them for 13 years. I was sad, then I rejoiced. That is family.

3. Families make room for new arrivals

When babies are born, the family celebrates the new arrival. No one is sad because more room has to be made at the dinner table. The same is true with healthy church families. They are always ready to welcome the new arrivals at the table. I refuse to apologize that New Life is a large church. I know it can be overwhelming at times to walk into a big building full of strange faces. Believe me, I know. But I have also found that if I simply give it time, people will embrace me if I make room for the embrace.

4. Families serve one another

Healthy church families are keenly aware of the needs all around them. In the early church, it was said “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34). What a beautiful picture of family surrounding each other, embracing the broken, and giving generously so that everyone has an advocate and hope.

I am most grateful to belong to a family that can disagree and still love, celebrates and mourns with each other, makes room for the new arrivals and is quick to serve and bless. We are a growing family. Amen.

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Should Everyone Be Treated the Same?

We live in a society that puts a high value on justice and everyone being equal. That’s fine for personal rights and liberties, but I do not think everyone should be treated the same on a church staff. We are all unique people with different callings, different skills and different functions. All of us are valuable parts of the body, but all of us are not kneecaps, therefore we cannot be treated the same and still live up to our potential.

On our team here at New Life Church, we have men and women who fill different functions. Some are adminisrators who need to be in the office Monday thru Friday 9am to 5pm in order to fulfill their very important roles. This is a matter of function, not status. Because I allow others to arrive at different times and on different days is not because they are superior or more important, it is a matter of function.

I believe one of the reasons many churches have a hard time attracting highly creative people is that we force right brain people to live in a left brain world. Most churches are run by studious left brain people who have a hard time living alongside people who do their best work late at night or alone in a coffee shop.

All of us should have the same character convictions and the same steadfast love for Jesus and his church. Everyone should have clear expectations, be evaluated regularly and  be expected to fulfill their assignments.  These are non-negotiable. What is negotiable are schedules and primary responsibilities. What seems unfair to people with a strong sense of justice may actually be a source of life to another. All of us want to be productive and fruitful for God, but not all of us can do it the same way.

My goal as pastor is to find out what God is doing in each person on the team, encourage them greatly, provide safe boundaries so they can flourish, encourage experimentation, learn from our failures and celebrate our wins. Some of those wins will happen in the predictable left brain world and some will happen in the seemingly chaotic world of the right brainer. Either way, we win.

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Reflections – 4 Years Later

It’s been four years since a young man came on our campus on a Sunday morning, killing two of our young girls and injuring others. Four years ago. Some days it seems like it all happened just yesterday and on others, it seems a distant memory.

So much healing and redemption has happened since that cold, snowy morning in December of 2007. We have planted churches, launched missionaries all over the globe, opened Dream Centers, and seen hundreds come to Christ. We have witnessed a church family literally rise from the ashes and emerge from the valley of the shadow of death.

Often, I go to the two rock benches in our parking lot and sit between the two towering Blue Spruce trees and read the scriptures on the memorials. It is on the very spot where the shooting occured and is now holy ground at New Life.  Stephanie has inscribed on her bench verses from Psalm 30:11-12:

“You have turned my wailing into dancing; your removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”

On Rachel’s bench is the beautiful reminder from Philippians 4:6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Both scriptures had just been written in their respective journals not long before their lives tragically ended. Most Sundays, I see their parents standing and worshipping with the rest of our New Life family.  They are such an inspiration to me and to others. Their wailing has turned to dancing and they  have a peace that is transcendant. I imagine Stephanie and Rachel are smiling.

We have healed but are still healing; we are broken, but getting stronger. We have a scar from a story that is tragic, but our future is super bright. God has been near to us every step of the way, nearer than any of us could have ever imagined or believed four years ago. I am thankful for hope and the keen awareness that something good, even great, awaits us in the not too distant future.

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Four Levels of Generosity

I believe most Christ followers want to be givers, not just consumers. Most want to be free from the love of money and to be seen as generous with their time, their abilities and their monies. Becoming this type of person takes time and intentionality, plus lots of obedience and some measure of faith. In my experience, I believe there are four phases of giving and generosity.

1. Tippers

These are people who give the leftovers of their money. This level requires hardly any faith and is motivated primarily by guilt or duty. They are typically inconsistent, giving only when prompted by a pastor at a church, or by an appeal on TV. If they have money, they will give a portion, but the amount never stretches them out of their comfort zone and always makes “sense”. Almost 90% of people in most local churches are in this group.

2. Tithers

These are people who set aside the first 10% of their income to give to the local church. This is a huge step up from the first level, because some faith now enters the equation. These people believe that God can do more with the remaining 90% if they are willing give the first. Tithers typically give consistently and seldom have to be prompted or “motivated” to give. They give even when it seems risky or when not giving would ease another temporary financial burden.

3. Givers

These people have discovered the joy of giving and are now on the lookout for opportunities to bless other people. While still tithing, they give even more to ministries, single parents, missionaries, and struggling neighbors. These people are super budget conscious, intentionally living below their means and setting aside money now, to give later. They love to hear about dreams and ideas to build the Kingdom. They’re never offended at being asked to give because they see it as a privilege and as worship.

4. Extravagant Givers

These people are radical about their giving. This is an elite group that is willing to give everything. They carry the same faith as the widow seen by Jesus in the temple giving all she had to live on. They completely believe that God owns it all and they are just stewards. They are prayerful and wise about their giving, but will not hesitate to give large percentages if God speaks. This group prefers anonymity and will ask a lot of really good questions because they need details. They take their time getting to know ministry leaders and only give when they see high levels of accountability and integrity.

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