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Archive for October, 2011

What is the most exciting endeavor you’ve ever been involved with as a Christian?

Here’s my Top 5 list:

Number 5: Worshiping God where He’s clearly present.  I remember a midweek service in Santa Clara in the mid-1990s.  We sang worship songs from the depths of our being.  We sang “How Beautiful” before communion – and then we feasted on Jesus during communion.  There’s nothing in the world like worshiping God with your spiritual brothers and sisters when He’s really there.

Know anywhere where you can experience that kind of worship?

Number 4: Seeing a friend come to Christ.  When I was 17, I led a friend named John to the Lord.  We went to a nearby school, where we hit baseballs and threw a football around.  I then told him about Jesus, and John received Him – and 40 years later, he’s still following the Lord.  It’s mindboggling to realize that someone is going to spend eternity with God because the Lord chose to use you.

Know anyone who needs the Lord?  When is the last time you talked with them about Him?

Number 3: Going on a mission trip.  I’ve only been on five – three to northeastern Arizona to minister to Navajo children, and two to the Eastern European country of Moldova.  But a mission trip forces you to call together all you are and know about Jesus.  You are totally dependent upon Him for everything: safe travel, eating food, sleeping accommodations, primitive transportation, language barriers, sharing testimonies … everything.

The Mormons require two years of missionary service for young adults.  I think every Christian should spend at least two weeks sharing Christ in another culture.  Any amens?

Know any church that’s going on a mission trip soon?  Ours is going to Ireland soon … and I’m tempted …

Number 2: Using your spiritual gifts.  When you’re doing what God has called you to do – whether that’s teaching kids, or serving refreshments, or leading a small group, or singing on a worship team – the Lord gives you a sense of contentedness and completeness you can’t find anywhere else.

Every time I got up to preach, I felt like I was doing what God made me to do.

Know what God has called you to do?  Know anywhere you can do it?

Number 1: Starting a new church.  Believe me: there is nothing more exciting, fun, and dangerous than starting a new church!  It’s breathtaking.

When most of us visit a church, it’s already up and going.  The buildings are there, the activities are set, and the staff is in place.  But when you get in on the ground floor … and your ideas can mold a church’s future … it’s awesome!

I’ve only done this once.  My church did it the hard way: we sold our property and used the proceeds to begin a new church with a new name in a new location to reach a new demographic.

While we worked from an overall model, we had no template for much of what we did.  With God’s help, we made it up as we went along.  Talk about revitalizing your spiritual life!

One Thursday night, my brother John came to town.  We stopped by the warehouse where our church met.  More than 25 people were rehearsing for that Sunday’s service.  In one room, someone was working with a computer for a video presentation.  There were people in the sound booth and high up in the video booth.  There was a band on the stage with several vocalists waiting their turn to sing.  There was a drama group rehearsing in another room, waiting to take the stage.

The camraderie was truly amazing.  It was spine-tingling to be a part of it.  And from time-to-time, I hear from people who were in that church, and they tell me that was the best church experience they ever had.

If you hear of a new church starting somewhere near you, see if you can become part of the core group.  It will revitalize you!

If your spiritual life needs some shaking up, try one or more of the activities I’ve mentioned above.

Got one in mind?

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I received very good news today – news that I did not expect.

More than a year ago, I visited two attorneys in nearby Tempe who had been recommended to me by a Christian leader.  I needed to obtain 501(c)(3) status with the IRS so that donations to my non-profit ministry could be tax-deductible.

These attorneys told me that it would take 6-8 months for the process to be completed, and that the IRS was horrible to deal with.  They said that if I hired them, I’d have to fill out a bunch of paperwork.  Then we’d send it to them, they’d send it back with questions, then we’d give them more information, and on and on.

And on top of that, the whole process would cost several thousand dollars.

These guys really scared me off.  It sounded like dealing with the IRS was like dealing with the devil.  (You know, the Infernal Revenue Service.)

Then last fall, my wife and I attended a retreat for Christian leaders who work with wounded pastors and their wives.  We attended a seminar where the leader told us that he saved money in obtaining his organization’s 501(c)(3) status by doing all the paperwork himself – but it took many months for his group to be granted tax-exempt status.  (As I recall, it took 8 months.)

This whole scenario was a bit frightening to me, I must confess.  While I wanted to get the paperwork done quickly, I also wanted to get it done right.

Surprisingly, I was able to obtain recognition from my state to operate a non-profit ministry within their boundaries, and I was able to do it without paying anyone else to help me.

But I still had that 501(c)(3) thing hanging over my head.

Finally, I prayed over matters, went online, and found a group in another state that claimed they would obtain the tax-exempt status for a certain fee – one I felt was very reasonable.

I contacted them, sent them my governing documents, answered a few questions on the phone – and then waited.  Several weeks later, they sent me my application to the IRS, asking me just to sign the documents and include a check to Uncle Sam.

And they told me that when the IRS wrote me with questions, my job was to route the questions back to my advocates, and they would take care of matters.

This morning, my advocates informed me that Restoring Kingdom Builders has officially received 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the IRS – and the IRS never asked me a single additional question.

And the whole process took less than three months.

This is the final legal step in setting up our ministry – and I’m grateful to God that it’s over!

How many times do we believe that God is calling us to do something, but we’re too afraid to do it?

There are people that I know and love who think I’m crazy to be doing this ministry.  They think I should be doing something else – something more conventional that provides a predictable income.

Maybe they’re right.

But for years, God has been tugging on my heart to be involved in preventing pastoral terminations – and the need is great.

My blog article, “If You Must Terminate a Pastor,” has been viewed nearly three times more than anything else I’ve written.  If you enter “terminate a pastor” in a search engine, my article usually comes up first or second.

There is a great need in Christendom for pastor-church conflicts to be handled in a more biblical and healthy way.

I want to learn, and teach, and consult, and coach, and write, and speak, and make a difference in this field.

Did I ever think I was going to do this?  No, I assumed I would retire as a pastor – and maybe die in the pulpit.  (From a heart attack, not a bullet.)

But God has other plans, and I’m doing my best to walk the path He has for me.

If He clearly leads me to do something else, I will gladly do what He says.

But until then, I am moving down the road at a steady pace.

Thanks for reading my little articles and for your prayers.  They are greatly needed.

And thanks for infusing courage into me when I’ve felt discouraged.  We all need en-courage-ment.

And may I encourage you – don’t be afraid to follow God’s direction, even if you’re afraid.

Because God is bigger than even the IRS.

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Have you ever dreamed of writing a book?

I have.  All my life.

Scores of titles have flowed through my brain.  I can’t recall any offhand, but I rejected them all out-of-hand.

Because most of the time, one question haunted me:

Why would anyone be interested in anything I had to say?

If I was a celebrity, I could sit down with a ghost writer and a dictaphone, and when the manuscript was finished, someone would be assigned to edit it.

If I was a big-name pastor, I could preach a sermon series and turn it into book form a la Chuck Swindoll or Andy Stanley.

If I had an inspirational tale to tell – a shark took off my arm, I went to heaven as a little kid – publishers would approach me asking for the rights to my story.

But I’m not an A-lister, no publisher has requested any of my sermons, and I haven’t been in the ocean in ages.

Besides, I’ve always been concerned that if I did write a book, I’d walk by Barnes & Noble several months later and find it in the bargain section with a remainder mark on it.

In spite of all my doubts, I have authored a book anyway.

In fact, I’m committed: I’ve already made a down payment with the publisher.

Thank God for self-publishing, because my book wouldn’t see the light of day if I had to submit a manuscript to a major Christian publishing house.  You have to be a televangelist, a mega-church pastor, or a perennial bestselling author to get published these days.  Publishers want a certain return on their investment, and in this economy, who can blame them?

In fact, a Christian author told me several months ago that he once worked for a major Christian publisher.  Another author with a proven track record – whom I have met – proposed writing a book about the same issue I’m writing about.

The publisher declined to pursue the idea.

However, I’m praying that my book will gain some attention.  Five words describe it:

*It’s narrative.  I write about a major church conflict that my wife and I experienced firsthand – and let church conflict experts make comments all through the book.  My hope is that lay people especially will read the book because it’s in story form.

*It’s timely.  There are 1,800 pastors leaving churches every month in our country, 1,300 of them involuntarily.  When I share these statistics with people, they are blown away.  We Christians (leaders and lay people alike) can do more to address and resolve this issue – but first we have to shine a light on it.

*It’s long.  My original manuscript was 450 pages in length.  I’ve cut it down to 400 and I’m still trying to pare it down.  When you self-publish, you can pay for an editor or do your own editing.  I’m doing my own, so it takes time – and I don’t want any misspellings or syntactical errors.  But if the book is too long, it will cost more, which will cut down on sales – so I’m taking the knife to it.  It’s just that the knife is dull.

*It’s authentic.  The book describes a real conflict from a behind-the-scenes perspective.  And I have a whole chapter on mistakes that I made.  However, I have changed the names of nearly everyone except for family members.  I don’t even identify the church or the city or state it’s in.

*It’s redemptive.  While I honestly report what happened – and with emotion at times – my overall objective is for Christian leaders and congregations to learn how to handle these situations better.  Shockingly, there is little written for lay people on the subject of church conflict.

So even if I end up number 2,374,981 on Amazon, I still plan on publishing the book.

When?

I thought it would be done last winter … then last spring … then this past summer … and now I’m hoping for two weeks from now.  I’m going through it page by page: sharpening wording, clarifying statements, rearranging material – and deleting stuff.

My publishing agent told me she could print the book in 45 days from the day of submission.  If so, it will be ready by Christmas.  If not, then it will be ready in early 2012.  You’ll be the first to know.

So please pray for God to prompt me to finish the book – and for Him to prepare the hearts of potential readers.

When I was at Fuller Seminary, I took a class with Dr. Archibald Hart.  I wrote a long paper for him, and he encouraged me to write for publication.  He was one of my few heroes before the class, so you can imagine how I feel about him today!

I lack a venue for teaching publicly right now.  Hopefully the Lord will rectify that in the near future.

But I can always write – as long as I have wonderful readers like you.

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