Category: Miracles (page 1 of 2)

Motion vs. Momentum

As a pastor, there is no busier weekend than the one we just completed, a weekend filled to the brim with Good Friday and multiple Sunday gatherings to celebrate the resurrection. There was a lot of motion and activity around special songs, added sermons, and preparations for new guests.

For most pastors, this weekend was the high attendance mark for the year. There were more guests than any other Sunday, and for some, this meant more services than normal. If Easter weekend went well, everyone who served is feeling a bit tired today, depleted from all the responsibilities.

There. Was. A. Lot. Of. Motion.

What we need is an appetite for momentum, which can look a lot like motion unless you peer deeper. Motion is busyness. Momentum is miraculous. Momentum feels like cycling downhill with equal forces of mass and velocity working in your favor. Motion is energy spent, but not always with dividends paid.

Holy Week has always been the means to awaken the saints, to encourage the weak, to confound the cynics and to welcome home the prodigal. The darkness of the cross, joined with the ephemeral hours in the shadows of death, followed by the joyous actualities of the empty tomb is a story that awakens hearts and pulls us toward the deep.

Momentum is a gift from God to us, the extra push to get us off our spiritual training wheels. Momentum is Spirit working with the frailties of our will to engineer a better blueprint for living. Momentum is a cold breeze that makes us more alert, a warm sun on our face pointing us toward vigor. Momentum is a force grueling in its genesis but near unstoppable at its apex.

Motion is our attempt at getting systems right, to make the path easier by preparing diligently. There is nothing wrong with these things as long as the goal is clear. Let us not be so busy doing good things in good seasons that we forget to plant and water the spiritual seeds that bring us real life.

On this Monday, post-Easter, my prayer is for the millions who heard the narrative of Jesus last week to find themselves in a bigger story than any they could have written on their own. My prayer is for all the planned motion to point us toward real momentum, following the Way with renewed passion and strength. May the truth of the resurrection story cause us not to live busier lives with more motion, but to live resurrected lives with legitimate momentum.

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Feet on the Rock, Head in the Clouds

In N.T. Wright’s profound book, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, he writes, “The point of discourse is to learn with and from one another. I used to tell my students that at least 20 percent of what I was telling them was wrong, but I didn’t know which 20 percent it was: I make many mistakes in life, in relationships and in work, and I don’t expect to be free of them in my thinking. But whereas in much of life one’s mistakes are often fairly obvious—the shortcut path that ended in a bed of nettles, the experimental recipe that gave us all queasy stomachs, the golf shot that landed in the lake—in the life of the mind things are often not so straightforward.”

The reason I appreciate Wright’s candor here is that in my experience, those who suppose they have figured out all there is to figure out about God rarely are extravagant worshipers. We don’t chase what we’ve already caught. We don’t seek out what we’ve already secured.

Certainly, there are things we “know that we know” about God—creeds, for example, bedrock issues of faith that simply aren’t up for debate. But aren’t there thousands more things that we still wonder about, things we take strong positions on but in our heart of heart say, “You know, I really don’t know.”

Here’s an image that is helpful to me, a sort of visual goal I keep close by: I want to keep my feet planted on the solid rock of truth, while my head stays in the swirling clouds of mystery—those things I just don’t know about God.

Whether we’re talking about the silencing of women or the ordination of women or whether you can root against the LSU Tigers and still call yourself a Christian, I want to stay open, curious, eager to be swept away by the wonder that is God himself. Feet on the rock, head in the clouds. This is a very good way to live.

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Thankful for 2012

2012 will go down as one of the most memorable years of our lives for many reasons. There was certainly too much violence with shootings in Aurora and Newtown that left scores dead. Our city also suffered through the most destructive wildfire in our history with over 300 homes lost during the summer. Then there were months of political arguing during a contentious election season.

Yes, there was plenty of bad and even horrific news, but I am also grateful for so many amazing things that happened, too.

1. Pam, Abram and Callie are healthy and we love each other.

2. We planted a thriving church in Fort Collins, CO. with our friend Aaron Stern.

3. Our church paid off over $3million of debt.

4. I met Eugene Peterson and I think he liked me.

5. The Mayans were wrong.

6. We leased our first apartment complex to house homeless single moms and their families.

7. Our downtown campus opened at Easter and is doing well under the leadership of Glenn Packiam.

8. Participated and partnered with ministries around the world that saw over 3 million people accept Christ.

9. I survived Disney.

10. We opened our first Dream Center in Swaziland.

11. I released a book called Sons and Daughters

12. We gave away over $300,000 of relief supplies to Waldo Fire victims.

13 We started a Sunday night service led by David Perkins where hundreds gather for worship and prayer.

14. Students from around the world are studying in our School of Worship, the Kings University and our Desperation Leadership Academy.

15. Miracles are happening every week in the lives of women who receive treatment at our free medical clinic.

This list could go on, for sure. I am so thankful that even in the midst of bad news, good news was breaking in all around us. God was with us. This I know.

What are you most thankful for in 2012?

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Paying Off Debt While Not Standing Still

A New Lifer recently asked why we were hiring staff and opening Dream Centers when we had so much debt to pay off at the church. It is a good question that deserves a candid response.

I explained to them that our church could not stand still and ignore the needs of our church family and the city in which we live while waiting to pay off the debt. In fact, that is the very dark nature of debt. It paralyzes it’s victims, disabling them from their primary purpose. I ‘m not going to let that happen at New Life. I do believe the mountain of debt will be removed from our church, but in the meantime, we can begin to fulfill at least part of the minstry call to our city and world. I am convinced God will reward us for taking faith steps now, instead of waiting on the sidelines until we are debt free.

It is a delicate balancing act for sure. We always want to be wise when expanding ministry, careful not to add to the burden of debt by over-expansion of staff or ministry properties. In our case, we have taken a low risk or debt free approach when opening the women’s medical clinic last July and with the recent pursuit of an apartment complex for homeless single moms. We are applying for some promising grants and have been blessed with some private donations so that we can not only pay cash for the projects but can operate them with excellence. Even the new downtown campus that opens Easter Sunday was acquired with a low risk, very affordable lease that made perfect sense to me and the elders.

At the same time, the challenge for all of us at New Life is to give above our tithes to the Move the Mountain campaign so that we can do more in our city in the years ahead. We are taking small steps today so that we can take giant leaps later.

As for the number of staff, we are basically at the same level we were three years ago. The recent hires were all replacements for staff that left for various reasons, which is normal attrition for a team our size.  I am very thankful God has sent us super capable reinforcements because the future growth of ministry is bigger than any of us can possibly imagine.

We will move the mountain of debt and we will pray for wisdom as we venture cautiously but courageously into the new places. This I know for sure – God wants us to do both, trusting Him to provide every step of the way.

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Praying With a Singing Voice

Not long ago, my worship was radically changed, for the better. It was not because I was listening to better music or singing more songs, instead it was because of the way I sang the songs. Rather than singing just words on a JumboTron screen, I began to pray with a singing voice.

This is not a new idea by any means. For the past 2000 years, followers of Christ have sung songs that were rich in theology and they did so with the idea that the songs were psalms that were meant to be prayed. I just feel many of us may have lost this somewhere along the way as music and songs have been reduced to a “set” or a “list”. It’s what we do before the really important stuff like preaching and teaching happens. It has become a warm-up when it was meant to be the fire.

What if the song list became a prayer list? What if worship pastors paid attention and called attention to what God was doing among the people and then responded with selections that guided the congregation into prayer, reflection, and declarations of truth? Suddenly the fellowship is not a crowd waiting to be wowed, but a spiritual force praying in unity for what God is doing on the earth at that moment, at that very time.

I imagine more people would arrive early instead of showing up halfway through the “opening act.” Worship pastors and senior pastors would be required to meet and pray, and then listen. Then maybe, the song list would become prophetic anthems, speaking encouragement, comfort and strength to followers who are desperate for a cup of cold water.

Let’s arrive early for the next gathering intent on singing only words that we really believe. Let’s trust that praying in unity with a singing voice really matters.

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Two Rivers Rising

In my Sunday morning message this past weekend, I used the illustration of two rivers to describe my beliefs about the end times. One river is the natural world in which we live and the other river is the kingdom of God. Both rivers are approaching flood stage and they are side by side but flowing in opposite directions. Soon, it will be impossible to stand in both because the current in each river will be too strong.

Those that choose to stay in the world’s river will be swept away by worry and fear and will eventually need a rescue. Those of us longing for the coming kingdom will be swept away into a life of wonder and risk. I believe the world will become more and more broken while the church, the body of Christ, will rise up as a spotless bride, a witness to a world needing answers and truth.

During the Colorado summers, we get to enjoy world class rafting on the Arkansas River. At the height of the snow melt and subsequent runoff, the strongest rapids are stage 4 or 5, which are the fastest two categories. To survive, you need an experienced guide and even then it is always dangerous and sometimes fatal.

I see danger ahead in the world’s river. The global financial mess has no easy answers and I suspect there will be riots on the streets of most countries when entitlements can no longer be funded by bankrupt governments. Wars in the Middle East will not subside anytime soon and natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis will continue to wreck humanity.  All of this could cause us to tremble with fear, especially if you are in the wrong river, on the wrong boat, with the wrong guide.

But I am hopeful – hope filled today. The kingdom of God is breaking in all around us, if we could just look with spiritual eyes and listen carefully with spiritual ears. Notice how often in scripture, Jesus told his followers and the crowds that those with eyes to see would see and those with ears to hear would hear. The changing of the spiritual seasons should be as easy to spot as the changing of the natural seasons.

I want to lean in right now and listen. I want to focus my eyes on the things God is doing and not let my heart be troubled. I want both feet planted in the right river, in the right boat, headed in the right direction, with the Holy Spirit as my guide. This may be too mystical for some who are reading, but sometimes prophetic pictures a like a kaleidoscope, creating multiple colors and shapes that can be seen differently by each person.

The two rivers are rising, the kingdom of God is arriving and the church is becoming pure through testing and trials.  We are blessed to be here on earth in this season as a witness to it all. May we be constantly alert, ever courageous and always prayerful.

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Take Us Back to Wonder

The mysteries of God are not meant to frustrate us. Instead, what we don’t know about Him should call us back to a place of wonder and worship. We must continue to seek Him, to pursue Him and to discover new things about the character and nature of a God who loves us more than we can ever imagine.

If we ever believe we have God figured out, we will simply worship our theology or ideology. We will worship our image of God and slowly, over time, we will lose our enchantment of Him. Our dogmas would become our idols and we would immediately reject anyone who does not agree with our authoritative opinion.

Not long ago, someone complained to me that we are writing too many new songs and that we should just stick with the familiar tunes. That would be disastrous! We must write new songs and keep exploring and explaining to ourselves and to others what it means to know our fascinating Father. To be content with only the old songs would cause us to lose our wonder.

Journey with me and let’s keep pressing into His nature, His character and His love. Let’s turn our questions and disappointments into fuel for the furious pursuit of a God who thinks better than us and has plans far better than we have imagined or supposed. Worship is best when our wonder has not waned.

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Fear No Evil – Chapter Eight

I am posting some short excerpts from Fear No Evil , which releases in a few weeks from Zondervan. This is from the chapter where I talk about the redemption we have experienced as a fellowship and what we have learned about grace along the way.

The proceeds from this book will help support the Dream Centers we are opening here in Colorado Springs. If you want to pre-order click here.

In Mark 10:15, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Interestingly, as Jesus spoke those words, he did so with a bunch of little kids on his lap. The text says that people from the surrounding areas were bringing their children to Jesus so that he could bless them, but the disciples thought it was a waste of their master’s time. They rebuked the parents, and Jesus, in turn, rebukedthem. “Let the little children come to me,” Jesus asserted, “and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Then he gathered the children into his arms, put his hands on them, and blessed them.

I’d like to make an observation here. Unlike their grown-up counterparts, children are always ready to receive a gift. Always. If there is a kid in your life, then try this experiment today: offer that miniature person something in exchange for nothing, and just see what he or she does. I’ll tell you what they’ll do. They will take the gift! They may not stop to say thank you, but I assure you they will take the gift.

Contrast that with how adults behave when offered something for free. Certainly there are exceptions, but many adults feel a wave of guilt sweep over them when they are forced to simply receive with open hands. But this is exactly the posture God would have us hold, where the kingdom of God is concerned.

Last February, a giant box appeared on our doorstep, addressed to my kids. Without even glancing at the return address, I knew exactly who it was from: the grandparents. Valentine’s Day was less than a week away, which meant yet one more excuse to lavish my children with gifts.

As Callie and her brother tore into the goods, she looked up at me with dancing eyes and said, “Dad! We hit the jackpocket!”

I thought about correcting her—“It’s jackpot, Callie”—but I knew her attention was elsewhere and wasn’t returning anytime soon.

A few weeks ago, they hit the “jackpocket” again as Easter neared. Another box on the doorstep, another ten minutes of parental harassment, two sets of eyes dancing. “Can we open it, Dad? How about now? Pleeease? Can we open it now? “And as the fake-Easter-grass confetti covered every possible surface in our house, I thought, “This is exactly how God wants us to be.” He wants us to behave in his presence like children, who receive with open and thankful hearts.

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Every Story Matters

What is your story? What has God done in your life lately? Would your story be encouraging to someone else if they heard about it? Would your story build someone’s faith and give them the courage to keep praying? Most likely.

A couple of Sundays ago, a man named Dale told his story to our entire church. He had been homeless and alone until he met a New Lifer while walking downtown one Saturday afternoon. They became friends and fast forward a few weeks, Dale accepts Christ, finds a place to stay, and makes New Life his new church family. He lost wife about a year ago, but she diligently prayed for Dale to follow Christ, even as she lay on her death bed.

Sitting in the crowd that Sunday was a young Air Force airman whose wife was praying for him to make the same decision. At the end of the talk, he came down to the front and prayed with one our team. After the gathering, he found me outside and told me when heard Dale’s story, he knew he needed to change his life. It was a story, not a well crafted sermon, that made the difference.

In the age of Twitter and Facebook, we seem to talk about ourselves too much already, but I do believe an inspiring and authentic story can still change people. When God does something in our lives, we should tell others when we get the opportunity.

At New Life, we are working harder at telling all the amazing stories we hear each week. So don’t be surprised if someone holds a camera in front of you because we all need to hear it. Stories really do matter and your story can change lives.

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Awe, Adventure and Advocacy

On Sunday I talked about three words that will define our path at New Life in 2011 and beyond. These are more than just words that start with the same letter, these words are a map and compass for the way we will pray, the way we will make decisions and the way we will use our time and resources.

1. Awe

New Life has always been a fellowship that welcomes the presence of God in worship. The songs that have been birthed from this place are sung around the world, but the awe I am talking about is not just about songs or a set of musical charts. Awe literally means “fearful expectation” or an awareness that God desires to invade our natural worlds with His supernatural strength. I believe the gatherings at New Life this year will be filled with the awe of thousands of people who really hunger for God to be with us and to change us.

2. Adventure

Adventure does not happen in the safe bubbles of life in which most of us live. Adventure is for those who have surrendered themselves to live a life that is full of mystery and sometimes, great risk. God is calling us out of our comfortable places and into the uncomfortable realms of faith. God does want to encourage and comfort us, but He seldom allows us to remain static. God will nudge all of us this year to take some risks, to maybe fail, but for sure, to move forward.

3. Advocacy

God is a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, and sets the lonely in families. (Psalm 68:5-6). In other words, God is an advocate. God sent Jesus to be our advocate, to provide us something that we had no ability to provide for ourselves. Therefore, our story should be one of advocacy for those around us who cannot help or defend themselves. The widows, the orphans, and the poor need the church to stand alongside them, to defend them if necessary and to provide for them when able.

This is our clarion call as a fellowship of people at New Life. Join us on the journey and let awe, adventure and advocacy lead us forward.

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