Category Archives: Worship

Five Major Challenges Facing Churches Today

While the universal Church of Christ is as strong as ever, many local churches in the United States are struggling. Mainstream denominations are in decline. Up to 48% of pastors experience burnout or depression so severe that they decide to leave vocational ministry, according to Beliefnet.com. Localities are rocked by scandals at churches. Longstanding congregations split over leadership and theological differences. It can be difficult to lead a local church. And many top pastors feel isolated or insecure in their positions.

In our fast-paced world, many Christians struggle to figure out what it means to follow Christ and impact the world in their current culture. I know that I have had my own challenges with discovering this path for my life. A lot of people talk about discipleship. But actually shepherding people in authentic discipleship to Christ can be difficult.

Steve Saccone in Protege: Developing Your Next Generation of Church Leaders, wrote, “Four critical things that church leaders continually struggle with are burnout, moral failures, irrelevance to the surrounding culture and division within.” These are certainly four crucial areas of concern in local churches and the reason why many fall apart.

But I think this book missed one of the biggest weaknesses facing churches today. And that is appearing to be successful by putting on attractive programs and services while failing to accomplish the main mission of preaching the Gospel, which is to make disciples of all nations. Worse than having no mission is for a church to have the wrong mission. The reason is that churches with no mission with die a slow death. They will not really impact the future discussion of what it means to lead a local church. But a church with the wrong mission may grow and attract a lot of people while the real aim of Christianity is ignored. Spending lots of time “doing good” can be a distraction and lead to a great delusion if churches are not oriented around the truth of the Gospel, the power of the Holy Spirit and the mission that Christ gave His Church.

Discipleship first requires evangelism. And evangelism usually starts with meeting people’s needs, relating to the unbeliever and sharing the good news of Christ. But the focus should not be on just meeting physical needs or attracting large crowds of people. Our good works must be accompanied by the Gospel or else we have withheld the greatest gift we have to offer.

Are you busy doing good but failing to do what is best? Are you really on mission and in alignment with God’s command to the Church? Christian leaders need to worry more about succeeding in what doesn’t matter than failing in what the world values and is less than God’s ultimate mission for the Church.

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Where is the Gospel?

More than any other book in a long time, Gospel Centered Discipleship by Jonathan Dodson has really challenged how I look at what it means to be a Christian. And it has led me to rethink some of my practices when it comes to discipleship.

Dodson wrote, “Knowingly or unknowingly, everyone puts something in the center of discipleship.” For some people it is church activities while others focus on missions or following religious rules or observing rituals and liturgy. It can be easy to focus on leadership development or thinking of discipleship as merely leading a small group or a book study. Some see discipleship as primarily a personal thing while others believe it is best experienced in community.

At the center of discipleship should be Jesus because He is the one we are to follow and worship with our lives as Christians. Dodson’s premise is that many people have only a partial view or understanding of the Gospel. Some focus on forgiveness of sins and redemption while others believe in and practice the ability to be free from the grip of sin and temptation. Still some are dedicated to studying the life of Christ in the Bible and following His example, and yet they ignore the importance of the Holy Spirit. Dodson wrote, “Without the Spirit, we are powerless to believe the Gospel of Jesus , but those who are in Christ have the most powerful motivation for discipleship present in them — the very Spirit of God.”

So I have really started to ask myself, “What really is the Gospel?” And when I encounter a situation or choice to make I am asking, “How can I see the Gospel in action by how I think or act to a given situation?”

Quite simply the Gospel is the story of God redeeming, restoring and liberating humanity and the world from the impact of sin and death through Jesus, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit to the glory of God. It is ultimately about freedom and reconciling fallen humanity to a right relationship with God.

So in your life, if you are a Christian, you should be thinking how you can respond and act in ways that bring the Gospel to whatever situation you encounter. Where is the Gospel? It should influence our words, actions and thoughts as followers of Christ. It is not just a message about Jesus 2,000 years ago or merely doctrine to be affirmed in church. It is a lasting truth and present reality that impacts our lives and the world every day.

In future blog posts, I plan to cover more insights from Dodson’s book and hope to share my journey to more meaningful and intentional discipleship.

His Image, My Image

“Who am I?” has become the question that shapes our world. Most people are on a search to discover their own unique identity, and this is especially true of adolescents. Young people are apt to try lots of things to discover their passions, giftings, preferences and values.

When it comes to the issue of identity, I believe there are four different kind of people from a Biblical perspective.
• Those who don’t ever really think much about their identity.
• Those who are defined by everybody else around them.
• Those who look only within and still find something missing.
• Those who have a healthy self image founded in Christ that reflects their own unique callings and giftings.

Many smart people say that the key to this process of finding your identity is to look deep within to find the true you. And while this advice sounds good, it is missing something very important if God exists and He created each one of us. We are asking the wrong question. Looking deep within is just as wrong as looking around to everybody else to discover the real me. The best question to ask is, “What does God say about me?”

Since God is our Creator, only He can give an accurate estimation of our worth and value. Only He can ultimately answer our longings for acceptance and love. We are made in the image of God, which means getting to know God will help us discover ourselves. If you are a Christian, think of this another way… Jesus Is My Self Image!

Noted theologian and author, C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.” While there is nothing wrong with seeking the opinions of others or looking within to explore issues of our life, these are limited in their effectiveness to answer our deepest questions on our journey for self discovery.

“Having a healthy self image is not the ultimate goal. Knowing Jesus in all His fullness is,” wrote Josh McDowell, Christian apologetics expert and author in His Image, My Image. Developing a healthy self image is the byproduct of chasing after Jesus and discovering just how wonderful He is.

I love what Corey Russel, author and iHOP-KC leader, said, “There is a whole generation running around asking, ‘What is my identity? What is my calling? Who am I?’ God says if we would just seek to know Him we would discover who we are…You want to know who you are – Go after Jesus. You will run right into yourself.”

Unfortunately, too many people are defined by lies that they have believed. These may be statements made by others or our own assessment of our failings and “negative” traits. These thoughts may be inspired by demons to rob us of the true identity we have when we see ourselves as God sees us. If we are defined by a lie, we will never know the real us!

Your identity development does more than just affect your self esteem. Our sense of identity is a lens that impacts how we look at the world and ourselves. If you have a healthy self image, you will be able to look at both the good and the bad in your design. But too many people can only see the negative or the ways that they don’t measure up to others. Developing a healthy self image happens as we explore the depths of Jesus Christ and realize that He is the key to our quest for discovery. And this process happens best in community because we are called to be part of a living body of believers.

Along this process of self discovery, I found out that rejecting who God designed me to be is a sin. It is actually rebellion against God. It is in essence saying to the Creator, “I know better than you how I should have been made.” While we may all have something we would like to change about ourselves, we should not strongly dislike who we are. This includes our physical design as well as talents, abilities, personality and our life situation. We were born where we were for a reason. We were placed in our families for a reason. We look a certain way for reason. We have to embrace God’s design or we can become miserable in the pursuit of becoming someone else. While there is nothing wrong with changing some things that we don’t like or are not good, there are some things we just need to accept and embrace because we can’t change it.

Having a Jesus-inspired self identity starts with searching the Scriptures to see what God says about His love and purposes for humanity. What does the Bible say about our self image and value?

God loves you more than the best parent does a treasured child.

1 John 3:1 (NIV)
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
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You were created in God’s image and bear the mark of a grand design.

Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV)
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

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God has crowned man with honor and glory. Thus, you have value and worth because God says so. He sacrificed His Son to save you.

Psalm 8:4-5 (NIV)
What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

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Key Questions to Consider

• What is the basis of your identity?
• Is there somebody you would rather be than you?
• How do you think God sees you?

Hearing the Voice of God

Through the years, I have definitely struggled to know the heart of God and understand when He is truly speaking to me about something. I wonder, “Is that really God or is that just bad Taco Bell that I ate last night?” I have even asked, “Why does God sound sarcastic?” I have also thought, “That must be God because I would never think something like that.”

I recently spoke at the Mix  youth group retreat on hearing the voice of God. And as the Lord frequently likes to do, He gave me an opportunity to practice what I preach the morning that I was supposed to speak. I woke up and spent some time listening and praying. The idea kept coming up that I was supposed to sing “Jesus Loves Me” over the middle school and high school students at the retreat as I started my talk. But I wondered why that would be a good idea. After all, these are teens. They will think Jesus loves me is for little children. Plus, I thought, “What does that have to do with my topic?”

Sure enough, the Lord used another Christian to confirm what He had spoken to my heart. A good friend and brother in the Lord walked up to me and said that he felt impressed to remind me that many of these teens struggle to hear God’s voice because they have the wrong notion of who God is. They believe that God is angry with them or is a harsh, demanding Father. This friend said that they need to know that Jesus loves them before they can listen to the voice of God.

This was the confirmation that I needed to hear. I explained my struggles that morning and set up song. I told the crowd that this was a demonstration of hearing the voice of God and taking a small risk. As I sang, I believe that something broke over the hearts of many in the room that morming. One student came up and said what I did was liberating. Others said they just felt God’s love all over what I was saying.

Here are some of the key points that I shared that morning. May these little insights help you discern whether the voice in your head is really from God or some other source.

Things to consider when testing a voice….

1.) Does this sound like something Jesus would say? Does it line up with the Bible?

2.) God speaks to us through someone us. Many times this is to confirm or put perspective on what God has already been laying on our hearts.

3.) God isn’t usually urgent or in a rush. Jesus even took His time when it came to healing Lazarus.

4.) God’s voice may surprise us. It might unsettle us. Just ask little Samuel, the first time that he heard from God, the Lord spoke a harsh word about Samuel’s spiritual mentor.

5.) God may not work in us or speak to us in the same way that He does with other people.

6.) God’s voice will prepare us for the future although He doesn’t usually give us all the details.

7.) Does this voice agree that Jesus came in the flesh? (1 John 4:1-6) The voice of God will lift up Jesus as the source of live and God’s revival power. Jesus came down as a man and can relate to your experiences.

8.) The voice of God never calls us to do something that only God can do.  For example, God will not push you to change your heart. Instead, He will ask you to yield to His power and then maybe go act in a way that aligns with this heart change.

9.) God knows where we are and won’t test us beyond what we can bear in Him.

10.) God’s voice will always be calling us to Himself never driving us away. God’s voice may  sound harsh at times, but it is always inviting us to greater relationship and truth.

11.) God may convict us of sin, but He won’t condemn us for it.

12.) God’s voice frequently will call us to action or rest. God may call us to take a leap of faith. Or quite the opposite, He may tell us to rest from our labors and trust in Him. Both of these require faith because we have to let go and trust God with the situation.

Consumed by Zeal for God’s House — Praying the Emotions of Jesus Day 3

John 2:15-17 (ESV)
And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Prayer
Jesus, You boldly confronted the religious systems of Your day. Consumed with passion for Your Father’s house, You overturned tables and called for pure worship. This was not a passive enthusiasm that only desired for God’s best and failed to act. No, you acted in earnest. You took time to deliberately prepare to purge those things that were not as they should be. You made a whip to overturn the exploitation and abuse of Your holy temple. May I have the same zeal for things that consume Your heart. May I see religiosity for the dead end it is.

Help me to see past the man-made systems and religious facades that deny Your true power. May my zeal be directed by the Holy Spirit. Beyond mere enthusiasm, may I be zealous for the things that matter most. May my heart beat as one with Yours. May I see clearly enough to allow You to turnover the tables that don’t belong in my life. Amen!

Finishing Strong! – A Tribute to Mike Pohlman

When I think of my friend, Mike Pohlman, the one thing that I am sad about is that I didn’t get to spend more time with him. I wish I had gotten to know Mike sooner. I wish Mike had lived much longer than his death early this morning.

A beautiful soul in God’s kingdom, Mike was a rock for his family. His big bass voice was a calming influence to those who knew him. If you met Mike, it was hard not to like him. Even on his death bed, Mike remained hopeful, trusting in the faithfulness of God. A few days before his death, I visited Mike. I went to encourage him, but I left the one encouraged. I had gone to bless him, but Mike was the one blessing me.

What a beautiful life! It doesn’t really matter how we start life. Even what takes place in the middle is inconsequential if we end strong. How we finish is everything, and Mike ran the race with vigor to the end. I am reminded of the verse that says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Mike, buddy, you finished strong and your life is a testimony to us all.

I wrote the following poem tonight as a tribute to my friend.

What A Beautiful Life!
To the end, you taught us all how to live well.
A perfect pitch, a proper tone, a new song in the midst of pain.
While others fret, you never worried.
You gently said, “God is in control.”

To the end, you never gave up hope.
Whether in life or death, you resolved to glorify Christ.
A steady rock for those who knew you,
your pitch pipe will be missed,
it helped keep the rest of us in tune.

To the end, you sprinted toward the finish line.
While others may have seen your sickly body as a sign of weakness,
those who know you saw a spirit that never lost its purpose and strength.
Full of vigor and a countenance of praise,
you followed the example of Jesus who was no stranger to sorrow.

To the end, you encouraged those who came to cheer you up.
Imparting one last moment, word or gift,
you made the most of your final days.
While others asked hard questions,
you simply believed knowing that one day you would receive a better resurrection.

To the end, oh, what a beautiful life!
I will never forget you — Mike Pohlman.
How I wish that I had known you sooner and longer.
Dear friend, my solace is that you are in a better place.
You are whole again, singing in a choir beyond compare. Amen!

Compassion for the Lost – Praying the Emotions of Jesus Day 1

Mark 6:34 (NIV)
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Prayer

Jesus, May I see people with Your eyes of compassion, not with a judgmental attitude. Erase the emotional distance between me and those You have called me to love. May a passion burn in my heart to see the lost come to saving knowledge of You.

May I never be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers in need. In the midst of the crowd, may I identify the individuals that I am destined to connect with in order to share what You alone can do. There are many who are lost and need direction to the truth. The lost go about life blind to the reality of their need for You. They do not recognize the loving arm You extend to them. They have followed blind guides and have listened to the wrong voices.

As I share the Good News, may I never become proud. I am what I am by Your grace. In humility and compassion, may I share Your truth out of a sincere heart of love. May everything I share be said in love with genuine concern for those who don’t know You.

Amen!