“Welcome Home, Son”

Christmas is a time of homecoming for many. We gather with friends and family, we pile in our vehicles and shove all the presents in the back with the dog and off we go to see those who matter most. Although Christmas is a time when we usually have the opportunity to see extended family, the most special times for me are those with the immediate family, watching the kids open up gifts, making Christmas cookies, watching Elf and Christmas Vacation…10 or more times each! And every Christmas Eve, we pick a time to sit around the Christmas Tree as I read the story of Christ’s birth as recored in Luke Chapter 2. Although this is the classic account of this eternity-changing event, Christ’s birth is actually referred to in many other places in Scripture.

In Galatians chapter 4, Paul wrote the following reminder to us all:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (‭Galatians‬ ‭4‬:‭4-7‬ ESV)

Because God refused to let us remain in a hopeless, sinful existence with no possibility for escape, He did what only He could do; God gave His Son so that we all could become His Sons. Many people misunderstand this passage and some are even offended thinking God favors sons over daughters, but that misses the meaning completely. In the day and age when these words were originally penned, first born sons received the largest inheritance from their father. When Jesus came, died, and rose again to ransom us from ourselves, He gave each of the opportunity to become not only His children, but to receive the inheritance of sons…the greatest and best He has to give!

Paul later reminded the Ephesians of this truth:

“…In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (‭Ephesians‬ ‭1‬:‭4-10‬ ESV)

As 2014 winds down to a close, I thank God that He sent His Son, who was born in a manger, nailed to a cross, and rose from the dead so that I could become His son. Jesus submitted Himself to the Father and yielded himself to a trough, a tree, and a tomb so that we could receive the greatest gift possible…a homecoming of heavenly proportion. Please know that Christ was, is, and will always be the greatest gift you can ever receive. I pray that you truly realize what it means to come home and receive the inheritance of a son this Christmas.

“Shaken, Not Stirred”

If you are a movie fan, especially the secret agent, action-packed type of movie fan, you’ve no doubt heard the line “shaken, not sitrred” when James Bond (007) orders his vodka martinis. In an article published in the Los Angeles Times in 2013, “Docs explain why James Bond prefers his martinis ‘shaken, not stirred” the reason behind Bond’s preference for his martinis is tackled:

Scientists know that the best way to make a vodka martini is to mix the ingredients with a thin wooden spoon — it combines the ingredients effectively without raising the drink’s temperature the way a metal stirrer would. So why would James Bond, the world’s most sophisticated martini drinker, routinely order his cocktail “shaken, not stirred”?

You can read the article for yourself if you want their answer but that isn’t the point of this post. The point, is that it doesn’t make sense. The greatest secret agent in movie history seems to have it backwards. (I would suggest eliminating vodka martinis altogether but what do I know?)

In the sixth chapter of Luke’s Gospel he records a “shaken, not stirred” moment of heavenly proportion. Beginning in verse 27, Jesus spoke to a multitude of people by addressing cultural interactions in counter-cultural ways. In summary, he told his hearers to love their enemies instead of hating them, to judge themselves instead of judging others, and that there was no cover up for unrighteous living; the fruit of their lives would bear witness to their souls.

To the sin-stained, human heart it seems counter-intuitive to love someone who has wronged you or focus on yourself with honest eyes instead of passing judgment on the actions of others. Many of us also believe we can hang whatever fruit we want to on the tree of our lives for others to see whether it is genuine or not. But the key to a peace-filled life lies in doing things that don’t make sense to anyone but God. Only when we live out the Gospel in the ways Jesus prescribed do we find a peace that is indescribable which produces inside of us a life that won’t be shaken or stirred. As Jesus finished his teachings He brought it all together:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (‭Luke‬ ‭6‬:‭46-49‬ ESV)

Laying a foundation for your life that will endure storms will only be found doing what seems backwards to the world…and it’s got nothing to do with martinis.

“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (‭Psalm‬ ‭62‬:‭1-2‬ NIV)

“No Regrets”

Chances are, you’ve recently overindulged in something and experienced some level of regret this weekend. On the heels of Thanksgiving there is a good chance you know all too well what it means to have too much of a good thing. Unfortuntely, countless people won’t experience that same fullness this season. When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to do the work of the Gospel, he had just a few instructions that, if followed, would allow the disciples to experience what it means to be full, without regrets, and yet to spread that fullness to those who needed it most.

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. (‭Mark‬ ‭6‬:‭7-13, 30-32‬ ESV)

Jesus wanted his disciples to experience three opportunities where they needed to impose limits on themselves for their own good and the good of others; to simply have no regrets. He told them not to (1) Overpack, not to (2) Overreact, and (3) not be Overwhelmed.

These are great truths if we are ever going to experience the fullness of Christ without regrets. When we can draw limits around what we need and what we really don’t, we learn to trust God to provide for tomorrow. When we learn to shake the dust from our sandals when people don’t accept us as we represent Christ, then we keep ourselves from being offended. When we experience the fullness and balance of being used by Christ to leave this world a little better than we found it, then we can truly enjoy what it means to find a desolate place and rest; and that is a soft pillow at night. #noregrets

“Saving The Best For Last”

We’ve all heard the saying, “he saved the best for last.” In fact we’ve all probably participated in saving the best for last at some time or another. When I was a child I was always told to clean my plate because everybody loves a “happy plate”…whatever. But the things I cared for least are what I would typically eat first, thus saving the best for last.

There is a man in the Bible by the name of John who also saved the best for last, but his best wasn’t food. In fact Scripture tells us he ate locusts and honey…gross. Despite his affinity for glazed insects, Jesus spoke of John in the highest regard: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (‭Matthew‬ ‭11‬:‭11‬ ESV)

Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, John saved his best sermon for last. The most meaningful message he ever preached would set the stage for the salvation of humanity.

‭Luke‬ ‭3‬:‭7-22‬ begins:
He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Truth #1 – “Your heritage won’t save you”
Even today, our society is wrought with the pride of ethinicity, family name, home state or country. Guess what? You care more about that than God ever will. When we see our earthly heritage of greater significance than being created in the image of God himself, we have completely missed the mark; its time to bear fruit…beginning with repentance.

Luke’s Gospel continues:
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

Truth #2 – “Life is about giving it away”
After John told them to repent for their pride in the family name, he told them what life was really about. John stressed the importance of generosity and grace for those less fortunate. Generosity and compassion for others won’t save you, but they open the door for you to taste and see that the Lord is good. If ordinary people, government leaders, and those charged with keeping the peace all pursue honesty and genuine care for others, the Spirit of Christ will have an open door to change the world one life at a time. Luke would later record Jesus’ words as he drove this point home: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (‭Luke‬ ‭9‬:‭24‬ ESV)

As John begins to wrap up his proclamation, the people began to ask if perhaps he was the Messiah to come:
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Truth #3: “Fame is reserved for Christ alone”
John was preaching so much truth about life, and he was so full of the Holy Spirit as he did it, the people recognized the presence of God. When people who have never felt God’s presence get their first taste of His holiness, a common mistake can be to hero-worship the person through which God’s presence was felt. Pastors alike today must be continuously aware that they aren’t Jesus. When people begin to follow the pastor more than the follow the Savior we all tread on dangerous ground.

This is where our story ends and a new story begins. Luke finished by writing:
So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (ESV)

This was to be John’s last sermon. Soon, Herod would lock him up in prison and he would eventually be beheaded. But before that happened, Jesus showed up. He was baptized to give us an example to follow. The heavens opened up and the voice of God’s approval was heard. Jesus began his public ministry that would also lead to His death, burial and resurrection so that we could all be set free from the pain of sin for eternity.

The last truth here is more of a summary. Jesus wants to use each of us in unique ways to let the world know of His grace and His offer of eternity. We each have a purpose in His plan to ransom humanity from itself. But being used by God to complete His will for your life and mine does not necessarily lead to an accumulation of wealth, posterity, success, and early retirement to play with the grandkids between golf games. Although these things may be in your future, remember it was also God’s will that the most influential person to ever walk the planet, sans Jesus himself, would die in prison. Yes, Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the fullest (John 10:10). But the satisfaction of having lived a good life will not be found tracing our steps in human accomplishment. The last word Jesus ever heard from John was his need to be reassured that he pointed people to the Messiah. When John’s disciples showed up on his behalf to inquire of Jesus something amazing happens:

In that hour he [Jesus] healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (‭Luke‬ ‭7‬:‭21-23‬ ESV)

John didn’t look back on his life from a prison cell jealous of those who were actually walking with Jesus while he was left to rot in jail. He didn’t look back and wish he had done something else with his life. He saw his life as a job well done and approved by Jesus. There is no greater satisfaction we can ever attain than to know God used us to change the world. How will you do that today?

“The Day Before Black Friday”

As we near the holiday of Thanksgiving, my mind can’t help but remember what it used to be like when I was a kid. I would wake up to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television. There were smells of turkey, dressing, and pies in the oven, and I had a whole day to do absolutely nothing but spend time with the family and watch a little football. I enjoyed the familiarity of this experience. If we were to leave the house it was inevitably to go to my grandmother’s house across town. I remember looking at the empty parking lots at the mall and the grocery stores as we would pass by. It seemed so odd that it was the middle of the day and no one was to be found; almost like the apocalypse had happened! It was a subtle reminder that the day was a day of rest…from everything. We were very limited as to what we could do and that was a good thing.

Fast forward to today and the world is desperately trying to take away what little peace there used to be on Thanksgiving by pulling at our selfish heart-strings through consumerism. Instead of relaxing and being thankful for the blessings God brings, people stand in lines throughout the night and race across town to buy, buy, buy. Black Friday has now even invaded the Thursday of thanks. It takes little effort now to completely lose focus on the one thing this holiday is truly about…giving thanks to God.

The Psalmist wrote: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.'” (‭Psalm‬ ‭27‬:‭4-8‬ ESV)

These verses remind me that it is not only during Thanksgiving when we are tempted to chase after selfish goals. The world around us would rather we continuously pursue the things of this world that are just out of our reach. Keep chasing after what will make you happy, successful, and envied by those around you. But God gave us a simple model in this Psalm for true meaning and satisfaction for the short time we are on this planet. We are to chase after only one thing, and that is the opportunity to sit with God and gaze upon His beauty in His house all the days of our lives. For it is only when we honestly stop and look at the Savior that we gain the very essence of what life is about. We can inquire of Him when we have questions and He promises to shelter us and conceal us from trouble when it comes knocking. He also promises to lift us high when we need it most. As we make sacrifices in our lives in the name of Jesus, we also can shout for joy at the opportunity to do so. We can cry aloud to the Father and lift our voices high in praise to the King!

So as we gather around our tables next week and give thanks, may we be ever thankful for the opportunity to do the most important thing in life and that is to gaze at the beauty of The Lord. Instead of sitting in anticipation for the sales of Black Friday, stop and remember the first Black Friday when Jesus hung on a cross and died. On that Friday as the sky grew black, He gave up His spirit and set His children free; and for that, I am truly thankful.

“May The Odds Be Ever In You Favor”

If you are a movie buff, you probably recognize the title to this blog. It was spoken often in the fictional book recently made into a movie: “The Hunger Games.” Cable television stations are airing the first two movies in the series this week in anticipation for the debut of the third of four movies, “Mockingjay Part 1,” which is set to hit theaters this Friday. Yes, I was lured into watching one of them last night so it is on my brain. It’s funny how easily what we put into our minds becomes the filter through which we process life.

Although the title to this post is a catchy fictional phrase from the book/movie, the author, Suzanne Collins, was not the first to pen the thought. A few thousand of years ago, the Psalmist wrote: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” (‭Psalm‬ ‭25‬:‭8-10‬ ESV)

Every one of us longs to have the odds of life be ever in our favor and the Scriptures tell us that they can be. Because the God of the Universe is good and upright in His nature he will not let us go into the night unaware of which paths in life to take; He instructs sinners in their way. We are all sinners, but our hope lies in the nature of God not to leave us stranded in the hopelessness that sin brings; and that is only the beginnng. If we want further clarity from God we will only see Him through the lens of humility. This is the next step on the pathway as we recognize our own sin and pride from which He so desperately wants to liberate us. He personally leads the humble in what is right and teaches them His way! The question then becomes, are you practicing humility on your own accord or will God have to humble you so that you can see Him. One is slightly more painful than the other but both lead to us on a journey of everlasting love and faithfulness from God when we begin to live by His Word.

When you are a child of the King, He will not leave you to your own devices; He loves you too much. The life He longs for you to experience is full of so much more: hope and promise, steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep his covenant and testimonies. So today, rise to the occasion of your life. Let’s own our sins, admit our pride, confess to the Father, accept His love and faithfulness, and live by His commands…and God himself will be ever in your favor. Amen.

“Decisions, Decisions!”

Every day of our lives we are faced with choices. Every day we run up against situations that require us to act. These opportunities could be as petty as what lane of the freeway you choose (hoping its the fastest one), or what to have for lunch, or whether or not we go to the beach on Sunday or go to church (hint: if you live in Florida you can do both!). Face it, today you will make choices all day long. The question then becomes, how much do we involve God in the choices we make? Did He truly create all of Heaven and Earth and the fullness therein just to sit back and hope for the best? Or perhaps does He desire to be involved in every facet of our day? Here’s another hint: He is already involved in every facet or your day. The question is, do you recognize His presence and look to Him for your direction?

In Psalm 25:12 we read: “Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.” That sounds simple enough, right? Fear God, and we will hear directly from Him on what to do in any given situation. But does it really work that way? Do we really hear clearly from the God of the Universe because we have a healthy fear of who He is? If I were a betting man, I would wager that it doesn’t seem to work so easily and seamlessly in your personal experience. If that is the case, then maybe we need to take a step back and look at this verse in context (always a wise decision in Scripture).

The preceding verse and the ones following, shed some light on what it really means to consult God:

“For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.” (‭Psalm‬ ‭25‬:‭11-15‬ ESV)

Certainly God will instruct us in the way we should go but it requires an honest evaluation of where we’ve already been. The Psalmist postures himself to first admit that he is in desperate need of a pardon for the sin in his life. He asks God to forgive him for it for the sake of God’s name and reputation (the Psalmist has already claimed the name of The Lord in his own life). If we ever hope to hear from God on any level, we must be humble enough to admit the sins and heavenly shortcomings in our lives and full acknowledge their imensity. Only when we’ve taken the proper posture of humility, self-realization, and brokenness will we truly be able to hear the instruction of God on what to do in the midst of opportunity.

The Psalmist continues by informing us that this healthy fear and posture towards God leads us into a relationship with the Father through which He shares His deepest truths with us, “…he makes known to them his covenant.” When we position ourselves to hear from God by recognizing who He is (and who we aren’t) by humbly seeking His counsel and turning to His Word, we will keep our eyes forever towards Him and He will rescue us from the snares of poor choices.

The simple questions are: Do you cry out to God only when you are desperate and expect to hear from Him immediately? Or, do you live in the space where daily you admit your faults, understand your need for forgiveness, and trust that God in all of His enormity is still intimately interested in every choice you make? It is only here where God reveals to us the answers we are seeking through prayer and a daily digest of His Word. When this is our default, our regular routine of living, we will hear from God every single time. That is His promise.

“When Will The Hurt Go Away?”

Every person who reads this post has been deeply hurt by a person or group of people, or perhaps through something that has happened unexpectedly in this experience called “Life.” The pain and disappointment we feel when this world fails us can hurt so deeply that we wonder if we will ever recover; if we will ever be free from the scars. If, as you read this, you feel this is you right now, please know that you are in good company; you are not alone in your pain. Do not fool yourself into believing that the picture perfect moments found on Instagram, twitter, and facebook from everyone else’s life are the norm and you are the one who is left out. The sunsets, vacations, new cars, happy families, great jobs, and endless glimpses of perfect moments with great friends are exactly that, glimpses of the beauty God designed and desired for all of us to enjoy. But everyone who posts all of the perfect moments of their lives on social media experiences the same dissapointments, heartaches, shortcomings, and bad days as you do; but those moments are not ones anyone willingly memorializes. We don’t normally celebrate the bad times or share the moments of our despair for the world to see because it’s simply depressing. However, it is in the midst of those despairing experiences where the greatest hope can be found…and that is why I believe God allows us to walk among the thorns. It is in our most desperate hours, in our most helpless moments when we can truly catch a glimpse of the glory of God (which is more than a fleeting moment in a photograph).

Paul wrote: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (‭Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭18-23‬ ESV)

Did you catch that? The true life, one that is free from pain and disappointment is one that is waiting to be born; we’re not there yet. Jesus said: “…in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (‭John‬ ‭16‬:‭33‬ ESV)

But what do we do in the midst of our pain? How do we connect with the God who authored these truths and who created us to be liberated from our wounds? We get alone with God and lay it down at His feet. But what do we do when we are so hurt we don’t even have words to pray? We get alone with God and we still trust in Him to know our thoughts, our desires, and our struggles.

Paul continues: “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (‭Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭24-27‬ ESV)

God hears you when you go to Him. God knows your pain before you utter a single prayer; even when you can’t utter a single prayer. You are not alone. Lean on Him in your most desperate hour knowing that nothing escapes His will and you are His child. Do what the Psalmist did over and over again. Cry out to God and be honest with Him in what you are feeling and then honor Him as your Father, your Savior, and your King. Live today in the beauty of God’s presence and guarantee of His promises to you. His love never fails.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (‭Psalm‬ ‭23‬:‭1-6‬ ESV)


“Video Killed the Radio Star”

The year was 1980, the band was The Buggles and the one-hit-wonder was “Video Killed The Radio Star.” It was a catchy pop tune for its time but the underlying meaning of the song was its greatest take-away. In an era when the best place to find popular music was on the FM dial, the age of music videos came along via MTV. If you wanted to stay in the running for the top of the charts you had to have a video. If you didn’t keep up with the times, you had a good chance of being overlooked and forgotten (the fate of The Buggles…even with a video).

Fast forward to today and switch genres from pop music to the church. We live in a day and age where video is rapidly becoming a mainstream “necessity” within the church. In keeping up with the times and the advances in technology, the church is challenged to “stay relevant” by utilizing every means of technology we can find. Yet, in the mix of being current and staying popular while competing for the “top of the charts,” the church is in dangerous proximity of becoming its own worst enemy utilizing too much of a good thing.

For years, I have used short video clips which compliment the subject of my sermons or perhaps help draw attention to a particular holiday but still link everything back to Christ. This is a very effective element to enhance the service or message (video is good). I have also served at two different churches that utilized an onsite simulcast message broadcast from the other end of the building to create a second worship venue. The worship in both rooms was being led live and then the pastor preached in both rooms simultaneously (one room via video). This is a cost effective way to create more room for people to worship and still maintain the opportunity for both rooms to interact with the pastor before or after the service or during the week because they are still all worshipping at the same address (video is good).

A new creature has now emerged in the past decade which, on the surface, appears to be a relevant method for exponential growth for churches. Enter in, off-site simulcast church (otherwise known as “multi-site” in church circles). For those unfamiliar, this places the simulcast service at a different physical address than the main church (off-site) making it another church completely with the exception of the sermon which is experienced via video from the “main campus.” This new idea has exploded in cities across the nation. But is this a good thing?

The exponential exposure to great preaching and the Gospel going forth into new areas of the city, or perhaps even other cities, makes the video-venue church seem like the next “must have” for churches who want to make a mark on a city or region. While I applaud the seemingly genuine desire to start new faith communities, there is a warning label on the bottle that many seem to ignore: pastors are just people, too…they’re not Jesus.

Let me explain. The average size church in America today is less than 100 people. There is a simple reason for that; it’s called community. It has been said that one man can only effectively pastor about 85 people. After that, he must have help to continue to effectively minister to the needs of the faith community. This is why churches hire other ministers, pastors, and people who feel called into vocational ministry. It takes people to reach people. This is also why the most effective faith communities have countless volunteer, unpaid staff who have regular jobs, families, and other obligations, but who want to help make a difference in the lives of others and in the name of Jesus. Thus, the ingredients for a great church: pastor, ministry staff, and volunteers all running at the cross together. All three elements are essential to effectively carry out the Gospel. But the math doesn’t seem to be working anymore. Somehow, we’ve missed something.

I have feared that this new idea of video-venue church communities had a serious Achilles heel and my suspicions are becoming a reality. While I am all for an exponential model to create new churches we must never dismiss the critical nature of the pastor role. Thom Rainer published a book in recent years titled “Surprising Insights From The Unchurched and Proven Ways To Reach Them.” In this essential book for all church leaders, Rainer reports that nearly 90% of former non-christians said they continue to be a part their church because they connected with the pastor on some level. This may or may not be on a personal level but they felt a connection. Connections are important. People are relational. Thus, the dilemma: It is impossible to truly connect with a pastor across town (or in another city) whom you will never meet. You may love his speaking style or resonate with the message he brings, but you will never have coffee with him. He’ll likely never know your name. Despite this flaw in the system, you keep attending and tell yourself that it’s not that important…and then it happens, you discover the pastor is human; he fails you and he doesn’t even know you.

I have feared this would happen one day but was hoping for the best. However, humanity caught up with the novelty of video church and the exponential body-count is staggering. I’m certain this isn’t the first time the model has failed but the complete dismantling of Mars Hill Church in Seattle provides the greatest example of what can happen when we put all of our faith in one person…other than Jesus.

An excerpt from the article linked above reads: “Rather than remaining a centralized multi-site church with video-led teaching distributed to multiple locations, the best future for each of our existing local churches is for them to become autonomous self-governed entities,” Dave Bruskas, primary teaching pastor, announced today to the Mars Hill family. “This means that each of our locations has an opportunity to become a new church, rooted in the best of what Mars Hill has been in the past, and independently led and run by its own local elder teams.”

One of the most influential multi-site churches in America has now stated that the best foot forward is to be independent communities of faith at each location with their own pastors/elders at the helm. In order for this to happen, countless people have lost their jobs, buildings will go for sale, thousands of people are having to make serious adjustments to their own church involvement, and some will inevitably walk away from the church altogether after it failed them.

Whenever we place pastors on a such a critical level of performance and expectation, we are running the risk of discovering our worst nightmares come true: they are human. The Bible tells us that a man who wants to be a pastor/elder desires a noble task, and that’s a good thing. But I am afraid the task at hand for video-church mega pastors is a sphere of influence beyond what one man can live up to over time. I am certain that Mark Driscoll loves Jesus and loves it when others discover what it means to know Him. He has made a significant impact for the kingdom of God in the lives of thousands of people. But when one person is placed on such a high pedestal, and that person isn’t Jesus himself, we’re asking for dissapontment. We live in a day and age when, more than ever before, pastors are striving to make it to a stage bigger than the one they are on now. More and more honest, well-meaning, Jesus-loving pastors are falling for the corporate-ladder-of-success model for ministry. But is this what Jesus wanted? Was that the model given in the New Testament? Are we supposed to build empires for the Kingdom?

Being a pastor is my calling and that’s a good thing. And I am no stranger to this desire to gain a bigger audience or a more prominent position as a pastor. Every pastor faces that struggle on some level during his experience of pastoring. But I’ve discovered through my journey that, although He may do so, God doesn’t need to promote pastors to bigger stages or more important roles to complete His plan. God simply needs pastors to love Jesus and use their gifts in divine opportunities to preach and shepherd where they’ve been called and commit to a people group for the long haul (something I’ve discovered in hindsight myself).

Please don’t misunderstand my point, video venue churches are seemingly working well in many cities across the nation. But in reality there will always be a disconnect between pastor and parishioner if the preaching pastor isn’t at the same address as the church body. A few years ago, I interviewed for a campus pastor (non-preaching) role at one of the leading video venue churches in the nation. The position was one designed to be the local shepherd for the church but not the one preaching. Not far into the interview, I asked a simple question. I asked what the church’s plan was if something unexpected happened to the main pastor (I think I asked what would happen if he were hit by a bus). Without hesitation, the person conducting the interview quickly responded by saying that he was heavily insured. Really? He then quickly followed with an explanation that they realized that this pastor’s “replacement” was probably in high school at the moment and they were already on the lookout for him. This church never intends to train up preaching pastors at their campuses. Instead, they intend to always rest the the responsibility of the the preaching squarely on one set of shoulders (a weight too heavy for one man to bear) and hope they don’t forget to pay the power bill. I promptly and politely cut the interview short.

Jesus said for us to go and make disciples. Paul commissioned Titus to appoint elders in every church on the island of Crete. He told Titus to find the men already leading their faith communities by they way they lived their lives and appoint them as elders (pastors); many, many pastors. The criteria these men had to meet could only be testified to by the people living within their sphere of influence; people who knew them personally; people with whom they had a relationship (a task not possible via video).

Instead of striving to get the message of one really gifted pastor to everyone in the city or state, perhaps we ought to roll up our sleeves and multiply these men instead. How about we train up younger talented speakers in what it means to really pastor the church and stay focused on their calling instead of how many people are following them? How about we focus our church’s mission statements, our programs, our budget, and our time on making disciples today and planting new pastors in new churches tomorrow? Instead of building Old Testament temples in New Testament times, instead of canceling mid-week opportunities to fellowship, worship, and pray (which has been a trend in the American church over the past decade), let’s get back to community, back to corporate prayer, back to meeting together and not give it up as some are in the habit of doing. Quite simply, let’s get back to being the church Jesus died for. Fortunately, many video-venue, multi-site churches are actually doing this as well.

This reason for this post was not meant to incite anyone or cry foul to what many churches are successfully doing today. It was simply meant to challenge all of us to take some cues from what is actually happening in our churches and in the world around us, put our best, most biblical feet forward, and try to lower the body-count of those being failed by the local church. Before reaching for the video remote in the pew back in front of us, let’s reach out to the hands of the people around us and develop a community of faith together, a family. There are great organizations like the Acts 29 Network (originally founded by Mark Driscoll) and many others who are training the pastors that God needs to shepherd his people. Before installing projectors, let’s plant pastors. May we continue to think outside the box but live inside the pages of Scripture. And if someone posts a video of it online, then I guess that’s a good thing, too.

One last thing: If you are an active part of a local church tell your pastor how much you appreciate him this week. His shoulders are carrying a lot of weight. He’s not a rock star; he’s human and he needs personal affirmation from his community…from you. Trust me. Be blessed.

“The Cheap Seats”

I’ve been to many college and professional sporting events in recent years. The best experiences are typically had when you have really good seats. The biggest problem is that these seats can be terribly expensive and simply out of the range that I can pay to attend. Fortunately, I have been blessed to have been given great seats many times by people who already bore the expense for the tickets and simply blessed us with a generous gift. But receiving free tickets for great seats is not the norm. If I need to bear the cost of the tickets we are typically headed to a place all too familiar: the cheap seats.

For a sporting event, there is nothing wrong with being conservative in your purchase and sitting int he cheap seats. But when it comes to life, the perspective from the cheap seats is entirely different and should be avoided. In Psalm 1, the psalmist writes some very simple life rules and one of them is to stay out of the cheap seats:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (‭Psalm‬ ‭1‬:‭1-3‬ ESV)

We live in an age of sarcasm and judgment. It is unfortunate that in our world today, we love to sit in the cheap seats and find something or someone of whom to be critical; the seat of scoffers is well worn. To scoff at someone means to: speak to someone or about something in a scornfully derisive or mocking way.

As an alternative to sitting in judgment of people, we are challenged to delight ourselves in God’s word. The next time you are tempted to be critical or scornful of someone or something, pick up your Bible and start reading. You just might be surprised at how the view improves of this game of life. Remember, Jesus paid it all and all to Him we owe. The best seats in the house have already been bought with His blood. Here’s a helpful hint: the best seats aren’t courtside, they are on the bench with the rest of the team. Get in the game…