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Archive for December, 2011

Years ago, a friend asked me to breakfast.  I had no idea what his agenda was.

Since we served together at church, I assumed we’d be discussing the ministry.

But he wanted to discuss something else: the way I’d been acting recently.

My friend told me that my attitude was alienating other church leaders.  Up to that point, I was unaware there was a problem.

He let me know lovingly but firmly that my attitude needed to change … and he gave me a letter reiterating his points, just in case I didn’t hear him accurately.  (I still have the letter.)

I have always been grateful for my friend’s actions because he confronted me in the precise way that Scripture commands.

Let’s assume that someone in your circle of influence has been displaying harmful attitudes or practicing destructive activity – and it’s negatively affecting your relationship with him or her.

My favorite verse to use during such times is Galatians 6:1-2: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

How can you confront your friend wisely?  Let me quickly suggest five ways:

First, prepare your heart spiritually.  Galatians 6:1 says that only “you who are spiritual” should be involved in confronting others of sin.  Those who are reluctant to be involved are the most qualified, while those who are eager to confront others should leave the job to someone else.

Before you take any further steps, pray for the person, their situation, and your role in any confrontation.  Ask the Holy Spirit to let you know if you’re the right person to speak with your friend – and it will require divine courage.

Second, ask to meet with them in person.  Do your best not to confront someone via email or texting or the telephone if it’s a personal matter.  (Work-related issues may occasionally require using those means, though they’re not optimal.)

Instead, set up an appointment … but avoid telling them why you want to meet with them.  If you do, your friend may insist you reveal your agenda immediately – or they may choose not to meet with you at all.

Some people prefer a public place, like a restaurant, because it minimizes the chance that one party will make a scene.  On the other hand, if you need strict confidentiality, you may want to choose a more private location.

Third, express your love for the person … lovingly.  Let them know that you value them as a friend, that you’ve had some great times together, and that you hope your friendship will continue for years.  Help your friend feel safe and secure in your presence.  Author and professor David Augsburger calls this care-fronting.

Most of us only make lasting changes in life in the context of unconditional love.

When you meet your friend, they’ll see the concern on your face, which can’t be done through email or phone conversations.

Fourth, share your concerns gently and humbly.  Referring back to Galatians 6:1 above, sharing gently means you don’t scream, or use sarcasm, or convey a preachy tone.  Instead, you speak softly and slowly, even in measured tones.  In tennis terms, lob the ball over the net so they can easily hit it back.

And when you share humbly, realize that (a) you may have been guilty of the same sin in the past, (b) you are currently guilty of sins that your friend has never mentioned to you, and (c) you may be guilty of the identical sin you’re discussing with your friend in the future.

It’s possible that someday, you and your friend will reverse roles … so ban all self-righteousness from your life!

Finally, specify the behavior that concerns you, finishing with a question.  Examples:

“I love you, brother, but I’ve seen you inappropriately touching some women recently.  Am I seeing things accurately?”

“I’ve heard you criticize our pastor behind his back recently.  Are you aware of this?”

“You’ve missed four church services in a row.  Is life going okay for you?”

“I read something on your Facebook page recently that alarmed me.  May I tell you what it is?”

When you ask a question, you’re inviting a dialogue.  You’re not a prosecuting attorney, but a friend.  If your friend doesn’t agree with what you’re saying, you may have to share some examples of their misbehavior.

However, since you may be wrong either in your observations or your conclusion, stay humble!

In my second youth pastorate, my pastor confronted me about a financial issue.  He warned me, “Never borrow money from a church.”  I asked him what he was referring to, and he told me that he heard that the governing board had given me $107 to fix my car.  (I had been driving the youth kids all over creation – without a mileage allowance – so the board chose to pay my expenses without informing the pastor.)

I assured the pastor that the $107 was a gift, not a loan.  If I had to do it again, I’d thank him for his concern but encourage him to check out the story with a board member.

The aim of a confrontation is never shame, or guilt, but always restoration.  Jesus talks about “winning” your brother in Matthew 18:15-16.  You’ve noticed that your friend has become stuck in life, and in the words of Galatians 6:2, you want to help carry his or her burdens.

Will a confrontation like this work?  I once read where Charles Swindoll said it works about half the time.  Confronting someone is admittedly risky because you can end a relationship forever.

But on the other hand, confronting someone can also strengthen your bond with them.

How did things turn out when my friend confronted me many years ago?

We became even better friends … lifelong friends … and we enjoyed a three-hour lunch yesterday!

What additional ideas do you have for confronting people?

_____

Happy 2012 to all of my readers!  I’m nine views short of 11,000, so thank you for reading.  I never dreamed I’d have that many.  Some blogs receive thousands of views every day, and that would be nice … but I’m content with anyone who is helped by my articles.

If you want to suggest a topic, you can email me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org

Meet you here next year!

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His words still reverberate in my ears.

25 years ago, I served as pastor of a small church in Silicon Valley.

People attend small churches for various reasons.  Near the top of the list is significance.

Many churchgoers want to have a say in decision-making, so leaders schedule lots of “business meetings.”

We had such a meeting one Sunday night after the evening service.

A woman made a statement in the meeting.  While I cannot recall her precise wording, she mentioned something positive about her Bible teacher, who was also a board member.

The board member interpreted her comment in a negative manner.  He quickly yelled out a response in front of the entire church, mentioning her indirectly.

The meeting was spinning out of control – and the moderator stood there in silence.

A few days after the meeting, I contacted the shouting board member and told him that he needed to apologize to the entire congregation for his behavior.

(If you sin in the presence of one person, you need to apologize to that one person.  Sin in front of a group, apologize to that group.  Sin in front of the congregation, apologize to the congregation.)

It took courage for me to speak with him.

He was twice my age.

He had been a pastor and a missionary in the past.

He was an intimidating individual.

He had vented his wrath on me at times, too.

But he had crossed a line, and he needed to acknowledge his mistake in front of his church family.

Sometimes we had guests on Sunday mornings, so that wasn’t the optimal time for his apology.

I invited him instead to make his apology during our next Sunday evening service when only our church family was present.

It was a so-so apology – maybe good for him, although not as sincere as I would have liked.

If the board member hadn’t apologized, I would have asked him to step down from the board.  Yes, leaders mess up, just like everyone else, but when we do, we need to make things right by admiting our sins and requesting forgiveness – especially when we sin in a public setting.

In this case, we forgave him, and that was that.

If this incident happened in your church, how would it have been handled?

Some Christians prefer to deny that anything happened.

Others excuse such misbehavior.

A few believers choose to avoid the sinner in the future.

Some decide to ostracize the offender instead.

And some believers quickly forgive the person without waiting for any type of confession on the offender’s part.

The church as a whole tends to ignore Jesus’ instructions in Luke 17:3-4:

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Notice the sequence: Your brother sins.  You rebuke him.  He repents.  You forgive him.

But we tend to ignore the rebuking and the repenting steps.  It’s too much work … and, truth be told, we often lack the courage to rebuke anyone … even our kids or friends.

So when our brother sins, we take a shortcut.  We instantly forgive him … but we really choose to overlook his sin instead.

That doesn’t help him at all.  He’s more susceptible to repeating his behavior.

And some people will choose to tiptoe around the offender from then on.

In the process, we teach our church that when you sin, nothing happens.

I seek to practice these words of Jesus in my own life and ministry.

They deal with sin realistically.

They heal relationships.

They provide true reconciliation.

This week, when a Christian brother or sister sins, gently rebuke him or her so they will repent.  In essence, Jesus says, “No repentance, no forgiveness.”  (Re-read the second half of verse 4 above.)

And when they repent, let them know you forgive them.

That’s Jesus’ way.

If Christians obeyed Luke 17:3-4, we’d have far less conflict and broken relationships in our churches.

And that’s the biblical way of dealing with sinning Christians.

So why don’t we do it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Today’s guest blogger is my wife Kim, who discusses how the words “Christmas” and “Arabia” could once be used in the same sentence when she lived in the Middle East more than 40 years ago.  Ah, the magic and romance of the desert …

Kim in Arabia, May 2011

It seems so long ago.  The years were 1965-1970.  It was Christmas in Saudi Arabia, where my parents were missionaries to the Bedouin people in the desert.

Photo at Oasis Hospital with Kim's father in back row, 3rd from left, 1967

We lived about 100 miles from the now beautiful, modern city of Dubai.

Dubai, May 2011

46 years ago, we traveled by open land rover on non-existing roads surrounded by sand dunes.  It took about 10 hours to travel 100 miles.

19 months ago, I went back to visit where I lived.  I took a taxi to the hospital where we used to work and it only took 1 hour and 15 minutes.  What a difference!

Kim with Taxi in Arabia, May 2010

When the Arabs asked me why I was visiting, I told them, “I lived here 46 years ago.”  With amazement, they said, “There was nothing here.”  I said, “You are exactly right.”

Kim in Front of Oasis Hospital, May 2011

Every year at Christmas time, my brothers, sisters and I came home from boarding school, either in Pakistan or India.  It was only at Christmas time that I saw my parents each year.  I counted every day for months when it was time to go home.  Home was where we had no homework and no strict schedules for two months.

We would get together with friends on the compound.  We hiked, cooked, played games, played tricks on each other, and saw our pets (cats, dogs, gazelles, goats, a donkey, a fox, and a hedgehog).

Sometimes we slept outside up on high beds to keep snakes and scorpions away.  We would wake up in the morning hearing camels eating our dried palm leaf fence.

Life was simple.  We would run around without shoes, help in the hospital, read books, listen to good music, and sit around and just talk.  I loved the simplicity.

Saudi Arabian Desert

When it came to getting a Christmas tree, we were creative.  We chose a thorn bush and brought it home to decorate.  We had fun adorning the tree with popcorn.  We wanted more decorations so we took Kotex and tore it apart to make snow with cotton.  I wasn’t sure my mom was very happy with us.

We learned to make taffy, pulling and pulling until we had a sweet, sticky treat.

But my best memory was camping in the desert.  I remember always having a sinus infection but I was determined to go – so I bundled up and went camping.  Being in the desert at night under a clear sky, you could see every star.  You could see the campfire for miles.  You were surrounded by sand dunes and the sound of nothing.  It was peaceful and quiet.

It must have been how the shepherds, Joseph, and Mary felt when Jesus was born.

Our Christmas service was held outside at night.  The glowing of candles and far off lights made the desert romantic and magical.  I was asked to play the organ and everyone from the compound came and sang Christmas carols.  This was my gift to Jesus.

Oh, the simplicity of Christmas!

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My wife and I currently live in Phoenix, Arizona.

When we arrived here two years ago, we had no idea how to find a church home.

So we went to the Willow Creek Association’s website, made a list of the churches in the WCA, and proceeded to visit them, one by one.

It was not an encouraging process.

Six months later, on July 4th weekend, we visited Christ’s Church of the Valley in northern Phoenix – at least a 20-minute drive from our home.

Except for a brief six-week interlude, we’ve been going there ever since.

Let me share with you eight qualities (among many) that cause believers to feel good about their church:

First, the greetings are sincere.  As we walk from our car to the worship center, parking attendants tell us with a smile, “The service is going to be great.”  Several hundred feet from the entrance, greeters smile, wave and say hello.  It’s not uncommon for us to be greeted ten times before we enter the lobby – and the greeters are stationed so we don’t have to guess where the worship center is located.

Second, the music is awesome.  The church has three worship leaders, they’re all terrific, and they work together well on stage.  We sing three worship songs – including a hymn sometimes – and enjoy hearing at least one performance song every week.

And the music is often surprising.  Last Sunday, after everyone left the stage, a lone guitar player lingered, and then sang and played a blues song about Jesus’ birth called “Baby Boy.”  The style was totally unexpected, but it worked.

Third, the atmosphere is relaxed.  You can dress the way you want.  You can bring water or coffee into the service.  Few people talk, though, because they want to hear what’s happening on stage.  The only time I’ve encountered the church police is when I tried to photograph something on stage using a flash.  (I was arrested but got out on bail.)

Fourth, the stage is creatively presented.  The last series was on the life of Joseph.  When you entered the worship center, the letters JOSEPH were spread across the back of the stage in a desert motif and stood at least six feet tall.

During the current series, “The Other ‘F’ Word” (family), there are four monitors placed on stage at varying heights.  Last week, each monitor displayed falling snow.  Really cool effect to set the mood.

Fifth, the messages are contemporary.  Don Wilson is our pastor, and although he’s not nationally known, he’s by far the best preacher I’ve heard in the Phoenix area.  His messages are biblically-grounded, well-researched, application-oriented, and delivered in a no-nonsense style.  When he talks about couples living together, or sex outside marriage, or other hot-button issues, he gives it to us straight, but in love.

Sixth, the messages include a testimony.  Most of the time, someone from the church is interviewed about the theme of the morning.  A few weeks ago, we heard a testimony from a former NFL player who is in an accountability group with Dallas Cowboy’s quarterback Tony Romo.  Last Sunday, a staff member was interviewed inside his home about the way he manages his family – and he and his wife shared some great ideas!

Seventh, the performance songs are moving.  I loved the Sunday last spring where the service began with U2’s “Until the End of the World.”  Several weeks ago, the song “100 Years” was done – a song I knew nothing about.  But it was so great I bought two versions on iTunes.  (It’s by Five for Fighting.)  The church has its pulse on where people are at both spiritually and culturally.

Finally, the church is consistently innovative.  Six or so years ago, Christmas fell on a Sunday, and some prominent evangelical churches closed their doors so their people could celebrate Christmas Day with family.  Both secular and Christian critics lambasted those churches, even though some of them held multiple Christmas Eve services.

Since Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year, I wondered what CCV would do.  Pastor Don told us last Sunday.

The church doors will be open this Sunday from 9-11 am.  The staff will be present (in revolving shifts?).  A film about The Nativity will be constantly playing, and worshipers are invited to come and take communion.  You can bring your family to church, worship the Lord for a few minutes, and then go back home.

Brilliant.

I love so much about CCV.  It’s not heaven on earth, but it must be close, becaue I see so many CCV stickers on the back of cars all over Phoenix.

The church is having ten Christmas Eve services on its campus this year (six on its other campus), and you need tickets to guarantee you have a seat.  Based on last year’s crowd, we’ll be arriving early.

Two Sundays ago, I brought a long-time friend (the first person I ever led to Christ) to church, and he LOVED it – especially after he enjoyed scrambled eggs, bacon, and French toast after the service for free.  (All guests and their families receive a complimentary meal.)

A growing church really has to answer only one simple question:

Do you feel good enough about your church to invite family, friends, and co-workers?

If the answer is “yes,” your church is growing – and most likely, so are you.

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How often do you reflect upon the people who have made a significant impact on your life?

Nearly twenty years ago, Gary McIntosh, a teacher from Talbot School of Theology (my seminary), stopped by the church I served as pastor in Silicon Valley.  Gary came to visit a former student, John, who was also our church’s outreach director.  John kindly introduced me to Gary.

I knew Gary from his Church Growth Newsletter and appreciated his work, as did many pastors I knew.

A few years later, when Gary was writing his book Make Room for the Boom … or Bust, he invited me to write the chapter on the rebirthed church model.  I had two weeks.  (The book has long been out-of-print, but ten years ago, I found and bought three copies at the Crystal Cathedral bookstore.)

Shortly after the book was published, Gary invited me to lecture for one of his doctoral classes at Talbot.  As exciting as that was, I valued the hours we spent together – five of them at his home – even more.

Several years later, I invited Gary to a lead a Saturday seminar at our church involving forty of our leaders.  Many of the profound changes we made to reach our community originated with those meetings.

When I was nearing the end of my doctoral studies at Fuller Seminary, the director of the final project/disseratation tried to switch advisors on me, which would have negated all the work I had already done.  (I was integrating Scripture with family systems theory and the recommended advisor insisted I use another system.)

I called Gary to ask him what I should do, and he volunteered to be my reader – and with his sterling reputation, Fuller quickly approved him.  It was an honor to have him critique my work – and saved me scores of hours of work.

Last summer, Gary invited me to attend the Society for Church Consulting conference at Biola/Talbot last month, where I met various Christian leaders who are trying to turn around churches that are struggling.

Calvary Chapel at Talbot School of Theology

With the room filled with experts like Paul Borden, Aubrey Malphurs, and Carl George, Gary hit a grand slam with his presentation on how a consultant can help turn around churches of various sizes and ages.

Beginning of Gary's Lecture on Church Turnarounds

During the conference, Gary introduced me to several Christian leaders who have already made a profound impact in my life and ministry.

While at the SFCC meetings, I also learned how many other students, pastors, and leaders have been impacted by Gary, who has already published 18 books, with three more coming out in 2012!

I thank God for raising up people like Gary who are fulfilling their calling and making a difference in the lives of so many leaders and churches.

Who has made a significant difference in your life?

When is the last time you thanked them?

With Gary McIntosh at the SFCC Conference

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It’s tough to say goodbye, isn’t it?

It’s tough saying goodbye to your family after Christmas, or to a friend you may never see again, or to someone who is ready to meet Jesus.

And it’s especially tough saying goodbye to a church family.

In fact, two years ago yesterday, my wife and I said goodbye to a church family we served for 10 1/2 years.  We tried our best to leave in a Christ-honoring way.

Years ago, I learned this adage: “The way you leave is the way you’ll be remembered.”

The following article is written primarily for lay people (rather than pastors and paid staff) who are thinking about leaving their church.

(If you want to think through whether or not you should leave, check out this article: https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2011/05/09/when-to-leave-your-church/)

Assuming the Lord is leading you to leave, how can you honor Him in the way you do it?

Let me suggest five ways:

First, articulate why you’re leaving.  Put it in clear language.  Examples:

“I cannot support the change in direction from missional to institutional.”

“I can no longer use my spiritual gifts in this church.”

“We need a church closer to home.”

“I need to be in a church that takes community outreach seriously.”

“I simply do not like the pastor.”

Be honest with yourself at this point.  While it’s possible that you’re leaving because of a single issue, the likelihood is that you’re withdrawing because of multiple issues.  Write them all down.

Second, compose a note to the pastor and church leaders.

When they leave a church, most people slip into the night and say virtually nothing to their church’s leaders.

As a pastor, I’d sometimes wonder, “Where has So-and-So gone?  I haven’t seen them around the church for weeks.”  In a smaller church, I’d contact those people myself.  In a larger setting, I’d ask a staff member to do it.

But invariably, the ensuing conversation would be awkward for both parties.  Those missing weren’t honest either with me or the staff member.  We’d hear, “I’m just taking a break” – but what the missing member wouldn’t say is: “I’m checking out other churches on Sundays, and if I find the right one, I’m not coming back.”

Without a letter, the church’s leaders, as well as your friends, will privately speculate as to why you left – and they’ll most likely get it wrong.

They’ll guess it’s your walk with the Lord, or your marriage, or job stress … in other words, they’ll blame you for leaving … and in the process, they won’t stop to ask if there’s something they’re doing wrong that prompted you to go.

Only you can enlighten them.

That’s why once you’ve decided to leave, it’s best to write a letter to the leaders and make a clean break.

You’re still free to visit the church and retain friendships.  But you need to clarify your status so people won’t guess (wrongly) why you’re not around … and so people stop contacting you to join a small group and serve in the nursery.

Third, write and send a classy letter.  Guidelines:

*Address the Senior Pastor, the governing board members, and any staff you’ve worked with closely.  If you send a letter to one person, they may choose not to tell the other leaders you’ve left – or why.  By sending your letter to all the key leaders, the reasons for your leaving will be shared accurately.

Should you send an email?  You can, but you have no idea to whom it will be forwarded.  I’d send hard copies of letters via snail mail to people’s homes (not the church, where lay leaders may not check their mail for weeks) so everyone gets it at the same time.  (And it makes it harder to pass your letter around.)

*Write a one-page letter, but no more.  Be succinct.

*Thank the pastor and the leaders for their service and what they’ve meant to you.  Even if you’re feeling angry or hurt, you can always say something positive about the church and its leaders on paper.  (If you write a nasty letter, the leaders will forget your reasoning and focus on your tone – and you will look bad.)

*Be truthful about why you’re leaving.  If the music director is an alienating egomaniac, then speak the truth in love.  If you feel like a misfit, tell the leaders you’ve tried but can’t seem to fit in.  If you think the church is going liberal theologically, say so.

If your letter is gracious but candid, it will be taken seriously, and may even do some good.  For instance, if three good people leave because of the arrogance of the music director, the leaders may need to look into that matter more closely.

However, my experience is that once you announce that you’re leaving, the chances that anyone from the church will contact you are minimal … except for those people who want to use your departure to make a case against the pastor.  Refuse to play their game!

*Write a first draft and let it sit for a few days.  Then read it again and make appropriate changes.  Ask family or friends to read your letter and offer suggestions.

Fourth, when you leave, LEAVE.

The worst antagonist I ever had in a church left the church … and then returned a year later to lead a rebellion.  It was classless, tasteless, and unambiguously evil.

When some people leave a church, they stop attending services, serving, and giving, but sneak back around to be part of a small group.  While some church leaders may look the other way if you do that, do you realize the signals you’re sending?

Please, find another church and leave your former one behind.  It will cause less heartache for everyone involved.

Finally, leave with your head held high.

God leads us to jobs – then leads us to new ones.

The Lord may call us to live in the West – then call us to live back East.

The Lord leads us to one church for a few years – then He leads us away.

If you’re leaving because you’re bitter, then maybe you should feel guilty when you depart.  But if the Lord is directing your steps, then just obey your Savior – and go.

If people from the church contact you, there’s no need to manufacture reasons for your departure.  You’ve already worked through why you’re leaving in your own mind.  Stick to your story without deviation and people will respect you.

But no matter how nicely you leave, some churchgoers will be hurt and some friends may shun you … and then you’ll learn who your real friends are.

Just realize there are seasons to all of our lives.

The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes put it this way in 3:1-7:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

… a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away …

a time to be silent, and a time to speak …”

If you’re happy with your church, great!

If you’re not … maybe it’s time to make a tough decision.

May the Lord grant you the courage you need.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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What is your favorite Christmas experience?

Looking back over your life, when have you had a joyous, spine-tingling, I-want-to-freeze-frame-this-feeling-at-Christmas-forever moment?

I’d like to share three of them with you from my own life – and then mention one I’m still waiting to have.

Moment Number One happened when I was ten years old.  That was the year I received a three-inch reflecting telescope for Christmas.  It meant a lot to me because my father had to work two jobs to earn the money to buy gifts for us that Christmas, and I knew how much love stood behind that gift.

I spent many hours looking at planets and star clusters and the moon in my backyard.  Months later, I took the telescope to Lake Mead, rose in the middle of the night, and explored the heavens without any interference from city lights – moments made possible by a Christmas gift from generous parents.

Moment Number Two happened a few months after Kim and I started dating.  We drove to a section of Long Beach called Naples and walked up and down the canals, admiring the Christmas displays on the waterfront homes in the cold.  Afterwards, we ended up at Bob’s Big Boy for hot chocolate.  We repeated this little tradition many times in the years to come.

I’ve seen many great displays of Christmas lights over the years, including a cul-de-sac where every home was decorated and an entire street where people drove their cars past colorful displays around them.  But to me, the displays in Naples were the best.

Moment Number Three happened at a church in the early 1990s.  The churches I grew up in did not offer Christmas Eve services.  A few years after I became a pastor, I asked the church board at our Silicon Valley church if we could hold a Christmas Eve service that December.  The board chairman told me that we could do it, but he would not come.

Evidently others felt the same way.  The night of that first Christmas Eve service, 15 people came out in a furious rain storm – and my own family didn’t even show.  I guess the board chairman was right after all.

Undaunted, we kept trying, and a few years later, several hundred people came out – including that board chairman and his family – and the services were always meaningful.  More importantly, we put Christ at the center of His own birthday.

God has blessed me with many other wonderful Christmas experiences, but those were the ones that readily came to mind.

But there’s an experience I still want to have, one that a friend had years ago.

Every year, on Christmas Eve, a group of pilgrims are escorted along a trail from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, a distance of about five miles.  Along the way, they come to the traditional site of the field where the shepherds heard the angels proclaim Jesus’ birth.

Of all the Christmas characters, I identify most with the shepherds.

I’ve never been king of anything, so I can’t relate to Herod the Great.

I was married when my first child was born, so it’s hard to feel Joseph’s pain.

There has never been a time when I’ve ridden on a camel, or followed a unique heavenly body, or had any gold in my possession, so it’s hard to fathom what it’s like to be one of the magi.

But I can easily imagine what it’s like to be a shepherd.  They were poor, isolated, forgotten men who engaged in a repetitive job and worked with relatively unintelligent beings – and they had a lot of time for self-reflection.

I once had a picture of modern-day Bethlehem that I looked at continually.  Just once in my life, I’d like to stand in that field and sense what the shepherds felt when the angels announced their Messiah had come to earth – and was hanging out in a nearby stable.

My favorite Christmas song is O Holy Night:

Fall on your knees

O hear, the angels’ voices

O night divine

O night, when Christ was born

While I cannot go back in time and experience what the shepherds did … and while I may never be able to see that field firsthand … I’ll go there again in my imagination this Christmas, and thank God that I have heard the good news about Jesus and that He is my Savior and Lord.

Do you have a special Christmas experience you’d like to share?

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Have you ever experienced the horror of knowing that someone was out to get you?

In fifth grade, I had a classmate named Darrell.  He had a bat he called Teddy.  He brought his bat to school, and Teddy broke while students were playing softball.  Darrell was livid.

He needed somebody to blame, so he chose me.  To this day, I have no idea why he did that.

Remember how everyone would freeze when the bell rang to end recess?  While everyone was frozen, Darrell threatened to beat me up.  He said that for every step I took, he was going to hit me twice.

I was faster than Darrell and could have dodged him, but I stood my ground.  Darrell charged me and began throwing punches.  They hurt.

But just as quickly, some classmates pulled Darrell off me and separated us.  I don’t remember if he got in trouble or not, but he never tried harming me again.

My friends had my back.

Life can be tough sometimes.  No matter how hard we try and dodge certain people – or issues – there are times when we need to stand our ground.  We make a decision.  We feel alone.  We’re uncertain how our decision will be received.

Will we suffer a strained relationship?  Will we lose our job or career?  Will someone we care about abandon us?

It’s during these times that we learn who our real friends are.

Due to a conversation I had with a friend recently, I recalled a difficult time in my ministry more than two decades ago.

A group of Darrells gathered together.  They were all upset with me about different issues.

One person felt I neglected the Senior Bible class members.

Another person was upset that I didn’t tell the drummer’s wife that she needed to lengthen her dresses.

Someone else had a complaint about my six-year-old daughter.

The group pooled their complaints and drafted someone to be their leader, a man who had left the church a year earlier.

They were finally going to be heard, and get their way, and gain the power they’d always wanted!

So they made a list of their complaints and presented them to two board members.

There was nothing impeachable in their list.  If you looked long and hard enough at anyone’s life, you could come up with a similar list.  In fact, I could have created such lists aimed at each of my detractors.

The two board members responded to each charge as they were made, taking all the fun out of the exercise for the antagonists.  They reported back to their group, packed up, and left the church for good.

When the group signaled their discontent with me, the board let me know that they had my back.  In fact, they told me that if I resigned over their complaints, they would all resign and leave the church as well.

They did not want to surrender the leadership of their church to a grouchy, divisive, angry group of church attendees who were showing their immaturity by their actions.

There is a moral to this story, and it’s this:

To be effective in life, you need people who have your back.

We can’t always predict how our decisions will turn out.  And after we make a decision, we can’t see who’s attacking us from the rear.

We need a few people who will keep watch and defend us against those who might attack us.

If a kid misbehaves at home, and his mother disciplines him, and his father comes home and hears about what happened, Dad better back mom up or chaos will result.

If a boss tells an employee to do something, and the employee does it, and a customer registers a complaint, the boss better stand behind her employee.

If a pastor confronts someone about their sin, and that person becomes offended and starts criticizing the pastor all over the church, the board better stand behind their pastor or they will sow the seeds of his demise.

Who’s got your back?

And whose back do you have?

Thankfully, God has the back of His followers.  He said in Hebrews 13:5, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?”

__________

Last month, I wrote this article (https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2011/11/07/comparing-arizona-and-california) comparing Arizona and California.  While some of my California friends resonated with what I wrote, not everyone agreed with my sentiments, even though they were partially tongue-in-cheek.

So in the interest of fairness, let me present a little poem entitled “Phoenix Wonderland”:

Palm trees wave, are you listenin’?

In the pool, water’s glistenin’,

A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight,

Livin’ in a Phoenix Wonderland.

Gone away is the blizzard

Here to stay is the lizard,

A warm sunny day, we like it that way,

Livin’ in a Phoenix Wonderland.

In the desert we will have a picnic,

Cactus, sand and rattlesnakes and sun.

Christmas dinner is an old tradition,

It’s pinto beans and tacos by the ton.

Later on we’ll perspire,

Temperatures rise even higher,

A warm sunny day, we like it that way,

Livin’ in a Phoenix Wonderland.

Makes you want to hop a plane and live in Phoenix, doesn’t it?

Enjoy your weekend!

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If you could plan four worship services – using anyone throughout church history – what would they look like?

Last time, I mentioned which venues, musicians, and vocalists I’d select, along with the hymns and praise songs.

Today, I’m choosing the performance songs, readings, and preachers.

Next, I’m choosing various artists to sing one performance song at each venue.

Bono and the boys from U2 will sing “Magnificent.”

Bob Dylan will sing “When He Returns.”

Twila Paris will sing “How Beautiful.”

Chuck Girard will sing “Little Pilgrim.”

During communion, we’ll have readings from these Christian books, which have meant so much to me over the years:

*Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

*The Cross of Christ by John Stott

*Knowing God by J. I. Packer

*Loving God by Chuck Colson

The preachers?

They have to be biblically accurate, Christ-centered, passionate, and touch both the head and the heart.

That certainly narrows the field considerably.  My selections:

*Charles Spurgeon.  He is still widely read today, 177 years after his birth.  I read from the collection of Spurgeon’s writings Beside Still Waters: Words of Comfort for the Soul every day.  He was stout and smoked cigars, but Spurgeon loved Jesus, and everybody knew it.  He could have you laughing one minute and weeping the next.  Since I’m unaware of any recordings of Spurgeon preaching (he died in 1892), my guess is that many believers would flock to hear the Prince of Preachers just one time.  By the way, you can buy many of his best writings on Kindle for next-to-nothing.

*Charles Colson.  In 1986, I attended the Congress on Biblical Exposition in my hometown of Anaheim.  It was an all-star cavalcade of preachers: John Stott, Chuck Swindoll, Howard Hendricks, Stuart Briscoe, Stephen Olford, J. I. Packer, and many others.  It was the first time I had ever heard Colson speak, and he blew me away.  The man is fearless, a true prophet of Jesus Christ, who proclaims the truth with confidence and wisdom.  Time after time, when the mainstream media wants a leading evangelical Christian to comment on a news story, they select the wrong people.  If they just went to Colson every time …

*Bill Hybels.  It’s been fashionable to criticize Willow Creek recently, not for their message, but for their methodology.  In typical fashion, no one has been more honest about his church’s shortcomings than Hybels.  Bill is humble, wise, strong, and a master communicator.  More than anyone else, I’ve patterned my preaching style after his.  Years ago, I used to write my message and then listen to his tapes because if I heard him preach first, I’d want to steal everything he said.  A pastor friend introduced me to him one time, and he seemed genuinely interested in me – a rarity among Christian leaders.  God bless you, Bill.  What a treat it would be to hear you preach among all these great preachers …

*Dr. Curtis Mitchell.  Dr. Mitchell taught Bible at Biola for many years.  I had six classes with him, and while my grades fluctuated, he taught me more about the Bible than anyone ever has.  Whenever I heard that he’d be preaching somewhere in Southern California, I’d try and hear him speak.  Mentored by J. Vernon McGee (whom he brought to class one day as a guest lecturer), Dr. Mitchell eventually became an interim pastor at Nutwood Street Baptist in Garden Grove (where I ended up on staff several years later).  When he preached for an hour, it seemed like a minute.  He wasn’t great interpersonally (Kim’s dad invited me to join him and Dr. Mitchell for dinner one night, and he seemed uncomfortable), but he was both convincing and humorous in the pulpit.

How about this for a service lineup?

“Magnificent” – U2

“My Glorious”

Welcome and Invocation – Johnny Cash

“Holy, Holy, Holy”

Reading from The Cross of Christ by John Stott

Communion

“At the Cross/When I Survey”

Prayer

Message – Charles Spurgeon

Offering

“There is a Redeemer”

Benediction

Well, that’s my lineup.

Want to try constructing one yourself?

Go ahead – dream a little!

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Imagine that you have been asked to produce four Sunday worship services.

You are free to choose the venues, musicians, vocalists, songs, preachers, and anything else to glorify God and transform lives.

You have an unlimited budget – and the Lord has agreed to resurrect any dead believer you want, just for one service.

Go!

Let me first choose my favorite venues.

Too many modern worship facilities are comfortable but lack atmosphere.  I want church buildings with atmosphere.

*Holy Trinity Brompton in London.  Since the British are skittish about taking photos inside their worship centers, I can only show you an exterior shot of the building, and there’s little special about it.  But the church has taken a classic Anglican sanctuary and made it as contemporary as possible.  One of the most moving services I’ve ever attended was the Sunday that their associate pastor preached on Joshua taking the land as a metaphor for rebirthing a decaying Anglican church in Brighton.  I felt like moving to Brighton just to be a part of it.

Holy Trinity Brompton, London

*Hollywood Presbyterian Church.  My father-in-law taught Sunday School there for a while, and my good friend Ken got married there, both during the tenure of Lloyd Oglivie.  The building is magnificent inside.  A horrific conflict decimated the congregation a few years ago, but the worship center is awesome.

Hollywood Presbyterian Church

*St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.  This is the mother church of the Anglican Faith, the church where Prince Charles and Lady Diana got married – and the church the Nazis bombed but couldn’t destroy.  I’ve been there on several occasions, and upon entering the building, I can’t help but weep, it’s so magnificent inside.  Although tourists aren’t allowed to take photos inside the worship center, here’s a photo of the church’s exterior along with a photo from the Golden Dome on top:

View of London from the Golden Dome, St. Paul's, London

I realize that’s only three worship centers, but I’m a bit stumped on this one.  I’ll include one more if the Lord brings one to mind.

Next, let’s choose the worship band.

I’m going with Delirious as the church house band because they brought rock into modern worship.

But they have room for a couple extra guitarists, so I’m selecting Phil Keaggy and The Edge as well.

As far as vocalists, Bono gets to trade off with Martin Smith of Delirious.  (We’ll let Bono sing his favorite song, “Amazing Grace.”)

(For those who have had the privilege of attending a U2 concert, their last set usually feels like a worship service anyway, often ending with “40,” their version of Psalm 40.)

And George Beverly Shea gets to sing “I’d Rather Have Jesus” one more time.

Other vocalists include Joanna Hogg from Iona, Kim Hill, and Chuck Girard from Love Song:

Chuck Girard and Unknown Fan

The hymns will be “How Great Thou Art,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Abide with Me,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “At the Cross/When I Survey,” and “Be Thou My Vision.”

The praise songs will be “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High,” “My Glorious,” “There is a Redeemer,” “God Will Make a Way,” “Breathe,” “Our Lives are in Your Hands,” “Sometimes Alleluia,” and “What a Friend I’ve Found.”

Those are the venues, the musicians, vocalists, and songs.

Who would you select to lead worship?

Which songs would you want done?

I’d love to hear your selections!

In my next article, watch for the four preachers who have been selected for Christian All-Star Month.  You might be surprised!

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