Where Is the Life in Our Churches?

Today I have been reflecting on nature of Church growth and Kingdom advance in light of a parable of Jesus in Luke 15. It seems so many churches in our nation are looking around at a massive lack of fruit in our ministries (praise God though this is not the reality in many parts of the world). We wonder where the life went, were the enthusiasm went, where the power went. I wonder if we couldn’t more appropriately formulate the queery by asking: “Where did Jesus go?”

Parable of the Lost Sheep

15 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!


Maybe we lack the power, purpose, and passion of the Church in other parts of the world, nation, or city because Jesus has literally left the building. He said he would, but he wanted us to go with him. Could it be that many of our churches have slipped into a comfort-zone fully dedicated to the 99 while Jesus is off looking for the 1? What might it mean for our churches that when Jesus brings the 1 home we are so self-consumed that we don’t even celebrate? What if Jesus spends his time and effort finding a lost sheep and “joyfully carries it home on his shoulders,” only to find that no one missed it and no one has their party pants on?

Maybe we lack life in our churches because Jesus is taking lost sheep to places and people who will celebrate with heaven when sinners come home and reorient their individual and institutional priorities to see more come home.

Here is the cold hard fact: Jesus will always leave the 99 for the 1.

That is Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever.”  This is called the immutability of God. It doesn’t mean you can’t turn off his volume (while you can’t do that either).  What it means is God character is eternally consistent. He has the same heart for people from age to age. So, Jesus is still leaving the 99 for the 1 today.

His call to the 99 is to remember what it was like to be the 1.

A Faint Cry in the Cold Wind- from Thanksgiving to Advent

A Faint Cry in the Cold Wind

“The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.” -Psalm 146: 8b

We are now in the thick of the Christmas season. By the time you are reading this, your house has probably transitioned from being perfumed by pumpkin spice and the tantalizing smell of stovetop dressing to the strong mixture of real or artificial pine and the crisp smell of cinnamon apples. That is if you are not a bachelor; ladies are the ones who tend to pay attention to seasonal smells and men often simply benefit passively.

It may seem superficial or cliché at this point but we still have to pause and remember the reason for the season. The hustle-and-bustle of Christmas shopping and adorning our homes and sanctuaries with wreathes and lights quickly tramples over the slow, family oriented nature of Thanksgiving. The transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas in our culture has been all but erased by stores opening earlier and early on Friday until they now steal away even the tiniest moments of family reflection and laughter on Thursday afternoon. Before the tryptophan of the turkey has us v-lining for the couch, we are all suited up standing in line outside of Wal-Mart, or any other big box retailer, hoping the cool air will give us a second wind for shopping.

The all be eradicated gap of Thanksgiving to Christmas can also serve as the perfect time to reset our priorities. In biblical fashion, Christians are not called to divided allegiances but sole allegiance, not one among many, but one primary priority, “but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Advent is a time where the witnesses of salvation history collectively hold their breath. Into the void of barrenness and hopelessness God moves mightily in the form of a defenseless baby in the chilly night air with only animals for comfort and company while everyone else is too busy to notice. May it not be said of us this season that we are too busy to hear the not so faint cries of our broken world echoed by the infantile cries of our enfleshed Savior.


Lord help us to cancel out the noise and hype of consumerism to marvel on our knees at the sight of a sacrificial lamb born to us and for us.


A Wink and a Nod

“People who wink at wrong cause trouble, but a bold reproof promotes peace.” -Proverbs 10:10

When I read this verse from Proverbs I immediately think of two things:

1) My dog Penny.  She loves to hop up right in front of you on the couch and get her chest rubbed until she goes almost comatose.  At this point she gets a little lazy, yawns and sticks out her tongue way further and a tongue should be able to go, and then she looks at you all bleary-eyed and winks.  It is crazy cute (almost as cute as the winking koala).

2) I imagine the wink and a nod that a Grandpa gives to his grand babies when mom or dad leaves the room after pointing out to the kids (who know better) and the grandpa (who most certainly knows better) that something they were doing was wrong.

Now, as I write this my wife is but hours or days away from giving birth to our first child–Emery.  I can already see a time when my Dad tries to get back at me for all the ways I subverted his authority throughout the years.

When you are a grandparent you get certain liberties.*BE ADVISED it doesn’t work if you undermine your spouse in this way by making mommy or daddy the bad boy or girl of the house.*

Pulling the “grandparent card” is all well and fun for the most part.  What is not okay though is a wink and a nod when it comes to legitimately sinful behaviors whether it be those of a friend, spouse, child, etc. Unfortunately I observe this phenomena all to often (and I have been and will probably be guilty of this again in the future).  When it comes to having tough conversations with our kids or friends about spiritually destructive behavior, instead of “a bold reproof that promotes peace” as our text suggests, we give a sideways nod to the behavior.  It usual says, “Oh I wont tell anyone. What the h**l,” or “I see what you are doing and you know I disapprove but lack the backbone to do anything about it.”

In my short experience as a pastor (and as an human being) I find the “trouble” of these “winks at wrong” to be incredibly stunting to spiritual growth.  It sends a couple of messages:

1) We take more serious our role as “friend” then our role as a brother or sister in Christ (or actual parent).

2) For a kid, teen, youth, or young adult, if we are the types of friends, parents, or mentors that wink at their wrong doing while we are supposed to be the spiritual authority in their lives, they tend to pick up a view of God (or more usually the “friendly Jesus” perception) who is perfectly content with the dumb or damaging things they do, “heck, they are only human right”?  Wrong.

Take some time to day to reflect on the truth that God sees the wrong things we do and wishes to bring forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing; not permission to continue our bad behaviors like the winking grandpa.  How are you reflecting the character God to your kids, friends, co-workers?  In Christian love do you own someone a bold reproof? It may not feel like this action leads to peace immediately.  Ultimately though, what matters is we find peace with a holy God. Are you the type or person who goes with the crowd with a wink and a nod? I imagine there where quite a few of those in the mob who shouted for the crucifixion of Jesus.  Also self-reflect: Are there patterns or behaviors in my life that I know are wrong that I continue to do anyways because I see Jesus as a “buddy buddy” but not LORD?