Friday, December 25, 2009

End of the Year Post

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. This year ended incredibly at LifeQuest and I hope that God has done some great things in your life in 2009. My family and I are headed to the mountains of North Carolina tomorrow. My kids have never seen snow and they are hoping for the chance. So, until the year 2010, we are out of here!! See you next year!! Love and Blessings to all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Need to Know Basis

Several years ago I took a group of students to the Bahamas on a mission trip. We were doing some construction work during the day and concerts in local churches and parks in the evening. It was a great time and traveling to the Bahamas to serve God is not a bad thing. Someone needs to go tell others about Jesus, so we suffered for a week!!

That trip is filled with both great memories and some incredibly painful ones. I am at the same time reminded of students who truly moved forward in their faith and I see clearly those who have walked away. The trip was both an ending to one season of ministry in my life and the beginning of another. Two weeks after that trip I had left the church I was serving to become the pastor at LifeQuest.

Early this morning I was reading my bible when I came across a note that I had written in it on my trip to the Bahamas. A local pastor was speaking after one of our concerts and made the following statement: “God gives information on a need to know basis.”

As I think about it I realize a pattern of this is found throughout scripture. Noah had no idea what a boat was until God told him to build an ark. Abraham was a man of a pagan land until God pulled him away and started the nation of Israel. Moses had no idea what the instruction of the burning bush would lead to in his life. Job never knew why all his life was filled with trouble. The list of biblical people who lived under this concept is endless.

Today we tend to think of ourselves as sophisticated, educated and connected. We have information at our finger tips of incidents that happen around the world. We process more information than any society in history. And yet we still can’t explain some daily events, relationships or circumstances in our lives.

We may never know the specific reasons or plans that God has for our lives. We may never see the “big picture” and have an “aha” moment. But God has not left us without clues or guidelines of how life is to be spent. In fact, he has laid out his plan exactly for us.

Jesus said in Matthew 22 that the best thing we can do with our lives is to love God and love our neighbor. Seems that God is in to vague outlines instead of strict detail. But think about it in this way; God has given us the basics and we fill in the blanks.

Maybe we don’t understand life at times. Love God and love others. Maybe we feel depressed and stressed out over life. Love God and love others. Maybe we come to our senses and realize we can’t buy happiness. Love God and love others. When it comes right down to it, God has given us more detail than we thought. If we love God and love others, most issues in our lives will be resolved. Maybe that’s what we need to know.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Thoughts

This morning I have been reflecting on a few things that I wanted to share with you. These are in no particular order, but reflect what is rattling around my cobwebbed brain this Monday morning.

• I thank God for the people that make up LifeQuest Church. The life and joy they bring to me are a true gift.
• I am still blown away by last night. Our Christmas dinner and program was incredible. I can’t believe the number of people that were here.
• I am thankful for humble servants who make events like last night happen.
• I am frustrated at myself for not enjoying the process more. I stress way too easily!!
• I am excited about what God is doing in people’s lives. We can never forget that at the end of the day, ministry is about people.
• Kids amaze me! They have joy that is unleashed and they have energy that is unmatched.
• God is better to me than I deserve.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Choices

I have been learning a ton about who God is and how amazing he is to love us the way he does. Over the last few weeks we have seen so many new people come to know Christ. They have been people who have had religious backgrounds, but never relationship with Christ. They have been people who had no idea about church or religious life, and have been looking to fill a hole in the center of their life. They have been people who are at the end of their rope and felt like there was no hope. And then Jesus showed up in their life.

What has been so amazing to me is the fact that there are some people who I have talked to recently who recognize their sincere need for God and who are unwilling to make the decision to follow him. I met with someone who told me that he knew he needed to simply make a choice for Jesus but that he did not want to now. I spent a couple of hours with this man clearly explaining the gospel and offering him a chance to make a decision to follow Christ. His response was, “I know I should, I just don’t think I want to.”

On the other side of the coin I met with a man the day before my last meeting who had just made a decision for Christ. He sat in my office and wanted to know how to make his life count for the next twenty years or however long he may live. He wanted to be a better husband, father and spiritual leader. He accepted my offer to be in a mens group to look at those very issues.

In our life we make choices every day. Some choices are for small, insignificant things. Others are for giant life altering decisions. But every day we are faced with a choice. What choices are you going to make today?

The prophets and leaders in scripture made it very clear that all humanity must choose. Joshua challenged the nation of Israel to choose which God they would serve. Elijah challenged the nation to choose between God and Baal. Jesus himself noted that all men must make a choice of which path to follow in their lives.

Today, what choice will you make that will impact eternity?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas Covenant

The overall theme of my message yesterday on “Christmas Covenant” is that God’s promises are eternal and he always keeps his promises. Sometimes it is incredibly difficult for us to see how God is doing that, but other times it is obvious.

This morning as I walked through the buildings at LifeQuest simple things caught my eye and reminded me of God’s grace. Decorations that are showing up in our building to brighten the place for Christmas represent people who have a desire to serve and use their gifts of hospitality. A Christmas tree in our children’s ministry area reminds me that generations may be affected by the lessons taught today to children. The lights of Christmas and a tree made of hand prints in our pre-school area remind me that there are teachers in with children who are passionate about helping little ones know that Christmas is not about Santa but about Jesus.

As I reflect on all the events that are surrounding this season of the year at LifeQuest, I am reminded of the message of the events. Any organization can have a Christmas party. Any group can get together for a good time. But the call of the church is to proclaim the arrival of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of Jesus in the lives of the hopeless.

In remembering those simple attitudes and callings, I am reminded that it is through the faithfulness of God and the love he has for each of us that we are able to be a part of a greater story. We get to be the ones who see God move and change and shape our lives in unique and powerful ways.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Christmas we must never forget the concept that at the heart of Christmas is the heart of humanity. It is described in scripture as being dark and wicked. However when our heart collides with the eternal heart of God, we are forever changed. That is the message of Christmas.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lessons I am Learning

I have not been writing and blogging much the last few weeks because I have wanted to take a step back and focus on some heart issues that God has been bringing up in my life. I am trying to put into practice James 1:19 that says we should be “quick to listen and slow to speak.”

God has been showing me some areas in my life that need some attention and that I want to pass on to you today.

1) Jesus is much more impressed with honesty than position. In Luke 18 he tells of a religious leader and a tax collector who went to give their offerings in the temple. The religious leader brags about how good he is. He points out all that he does and looks down on those who don’t measure up. The tax collector looks down in shame, beats his breast in scorn and declares, “God have mercy on me a sinner.”

Jesus notes that the tax collector is the righteous one. He recognizes his sin and shame before God and humbles himself to God’s mercy. How often do we quote our spiritual resume for God and others instead of honestly professing what is true of all humanity: we are guilty in God’s eyes and in desperate need of his mercy.

2) God will do the amazing when we are obedient. I have seen God move in ways that can only be explained by his power and his glory. The only part I have played in these events is to simply do what he has called me to do. Obedience is the greatest form of worship.

“You do not delight in sacrifices or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of god are a broken and contrite spirit; a broken heart. O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17

The most significant sacrifice to God is the brokenness of the prideful human heart.

3) Some people get offended when you preach about Jesus. Preach about Jesus anyway!! I have always sought to speak the truth and power of God’s word in every message. Occasionally I make people angry and they say really nasty stuff. I am learning more and more that when that happens, I have usually preached the exact message God wanted to communicate.

The Word of God is offensive to people. We don’t have to be offensive in how we present it, but the human heart is offended by eternal truths. It does not diminish my calling or my requirement to present truth.

God has been showing me a ton of stuff the last few weeks; things that you will be hearing and seeing in the weeks and months to come. Hopefully as you see them you will understand that the root foundation of what God is doing in my life is not me but Jesus. I am learning to be discontent with the status quo and am seeking to move forward in obedience to Christ. I pray with all sincerity that you will join me on this journey.

Monday, November 9, 2009

God's Wants

Have you ever really thought of the difference between a want and a need? When we glance at them briefly they might not seem so different, but closer inspection shows differences that are deep and profound. I want ice cream. I need vegetables. I want a new car. I need transportation. I want a bigger house. I need shelter.

In our western mindset, wants and needs become blurred. Go visit Africa and see if you can be content with what you have and if what you think you need really turns out to be something you just want. Look into the eyes of a hungry child and recognize that the food we have that we don’t like suddenly looks like a gourmet meal.

The bible actually talks about God and his wants and needs. That may sound foolish, but God has incredible wants, even though he has zero needs. In Psalm 50 God reminds us that everything in the universe belongs to him. He does not need to inform us when he is hungry because the entire world is his and he could eat whatever he chooses. But God has a want. He has a desire. He has a craving that can only come from outside of himself.

God says that what he wants is the offerings and obedience of his people (vs. 14). God has all he needs, but what he wants more than anything else is relationship with us, his creation. It is the only thing in all of creation that God does not simply control. He could make us robots that do only his will. But that would eliminate our freedom and diminish our relationship with him. To truly receive love, God allows us to choose to give it to him or not.

God has no need that we can meet. He does, however, have a desire that only we can meet. It is the desire for his people to love him, worship him, and obey him. What would happen if we chose to recognize that our life could be dedicated to meeting the one true desire of God? How would your life be different today? How would our world be different if we lived in relationship with the one true God?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dividing Lines

Yesterday I started a new message series called “The Prodigal God.” I am using some ideas from Timothy Keller’s book of the same name and preaching through some lessons found in Luke 15. Yesterday’s message was on “Dividing Lines.”

The main focus in the beginning of Luke 15 is the two groups of people gathered around Jesus. There are “sinners and tax collectors” and “Pharisees and teachers of the law.” Luke shows the two groups as contrasting in social and religious standing and the context of the passage shows them contrasted in heart attitude. One group is listening in anticipation to Jesus while another criticizes Jesus’ company.

No matter how we may divide life or people or society, we run a dangerous course when we begin to categorize people. We box people in, we focus on differences and we limit the concept of God’s grace. And we miss the one common trait of all humanity.

That trait very simply is the trait that without Jesus we are lost. All of humanity is lost and hopeless without Jesus. We are, as Jesus shares later in the text, lost sheep or lost coins. We are never able to find our way and we are in danger of great harm in our world.

When we begin to destroy the lines of division, we begin to see as God sees; hurting people of various backgrounds all with the same soul disease. When we blur the lines, we can focus on our common need instead of our differences. When we blur the lines in our culture, we begin to see the larger plan of God that Jesus referred to in Luke 19: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”

No matter your background; religious or pagan, pure or prostitute, wealthy or poor, white or black we are all hopelessly lost without the saving love of the Messiah. It is time for us to destroy the lines that divide and to unite under the grace of the God who loves.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Embarassing Dad

Occasionally something really funny happens in life that doesn’t seem spiritual at all and yet upon reflection you realize something lurks beneath the surface. I had an experience like that yesterday. Of course, one of my children supplied me with some great material.

I was dropping Kimberly and Zach off at school yesterday and we were listening to some songs on my IPod. Because we listen to it in the car often, I added some music specifically for Kimberly so she is not left out entirely in the selection process. Save your comments, but I added Kimberly’s CD of Taylor Swift because right now it is her favorite.

Zach had picked a couple of songs and we had the windows down enjoying a beautiful morning. I then put on a song by Taylor Swift. Zach got out of the car first and Kimberly looked at me and said, “Daddy, roll your windows up.” When I asked why she replied, “I don’t want people to think you are a weirdo listening to “girlie” music!” Suddenly I had gone from thoughtful dad to embarrassing dad.

I rolled up my windows, dropped her off and laughed to myself as I pulled out of the parking lot. My third grader is concerned about how her dad is perceived by people who don’t even know him. We all have those moments with our parents. Did your mom ever do the “spit in the hand” thing to clean your face in public? Did your dad ever wear one of those outfits that were a cross between Mork and Urkle? Maybe The Fresh Prince was right and “parents just don’t understand.”

As I thought about it, I think we respond to God in much the same way. God, please don’t do anything that is going to draw attention this way. What will people think? What will people say? How will I look? Somehow along the way we have decided that our Heavenly Father must not understand what it is like here on planet Earth. Somehow we envision that he is just waiting to embarrass us.

I am not really sure I have ever been conscious of this thought, but I am sure that it has seeped into my life. I want to be different. I want to change. I want to see things as God sees them and have others see Christ through me.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Life Goals

I love eating out!! My family and I always get excited (probably too much so) when we head out to one of our favorite restaurants. One of the parts of the process I love is when we find unique aspects of a restaurant and we begin to enjoy them as a family. When we go to a Chinese restaurant, we always laugh at the fortunes in the cookie and we try to make up our own funny sayings. When we go to our favorite burger joints we always debate who has the best fries (MacDonald’s) vs. the best burgers (Burger King).

The other night we went to Chipotle, rapidly becoming one of our favorite Mexican food planes. Not only are the burritos the size of a small boulder, but you can add in all kinds of toppings and sauces to make that bad boy sing some sweet music!! As we were eating we realized that Chipotle has little stories on their cups that tell about people the owners of the company know and some things that they have said or done that has made a difference. As we were reading our different cups, one quote hit me as profound and important.

“If your life’s goal can be accomplished in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.” This is a quote from Wes Jackson, who runs The Land Institute. I know almost nothing about Wes Jackson, but I was drawn to this quote. There is something that resonates with me and that has some incredible spiritual application to all of us.

If we are focused on accomplishing something in our lifetime that will go to the grave with us, we are not shooting at a big enough target. Our goal should be to build into the next generations and into the world a purpose and a vision and mission that outlasts us. Our life’s work should go on much longer than our life here on this earth.

In church life we often get consumed by small ideas. We look at the next program, the next meeting, the next budget and building and our lives become consumed with things that eventually will fall apart. What would be the outcome if we began to focus on the next generation of leaders? What if our focus was the next generation of un-churched people who need to know Christ? What if our main concern was our legacy and not our reputation?

We need bigger dreams in the kingdom of God. We need people willing to put agendas aside and focus on eternity and not temporary outcomes. We need a long range focus and short range urgency. What if we began to have life goals that would outlast us?

What is your life goal? How long will it last?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Basic Belief

Sometimes in my own life I need to step back and remember some basic principle of my relationship with God rather than explore some deep, mysterious theological truth. In my simplistic mind I need to get back to a core foundation. It reminds me of something I heard once about the need of the average Christian: “Most people need to be reminded more than they need to be taught.” That may or may not be true, but I know that has been the case for my life.

This morning I simply needed to hear some simple truths about God, Christ, my life and my role as a pastor. I just felt the urge to read familiar scripture, to hear instruction from Jesus and to put some perspective in my brain. So with coffee in hand I grabbed my bible and sat down for a few minutes in the book of John.

I have read the entire book of John countless times. It is a great book. I tell people to read it when they are first beginning their spiritual walk because it allows us to get a glimpse of the life and ministry of Jesus. In fact, I won’t be offended at all if you stop reading this and go read John 1-3. This morning, some of the most familiar passages jumped off the pages and into my soul.

There were three key truths that I have known forever in my brain that I needed to be reminded of in my heart. These truths apply to everyone, but they especially hit me as a pastor. Here they are:

1) “The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it.” John 1:5

This is the exact position our culture finds itself in view of Christ. We live in darkness and like it that way. We are afraid of being exposed, convicted and forced to change. In my life I find that darkness creeps around my head and heart every day. Darkness is the absence of light. When we live in darkness, we are living in the absence of Christ.

2) “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John 2:14

While the nation of Israel wandered in the desert because of their sin, God allowed a plague of poisonous snakes to infiltrate the community (Numbers 21:4-9). When someone was bitten they could look to a bronze snake that had been erected on a pole and they would be healed. In the same way, when we look to Jesus, who was lifted on the cross we can be healed of the sin in our life.

3) “He must become greater and I must become less.” John 3:30

John had it all. He was popular, held the political forces at bay, and could flat out preach. He had an entire group of disciples that followed him everywhere. When Jesus came on the scene, John pointed his disciples to Jesus and gave up his popularity so that Jesus may become famous.

It is very easy for us to build followers for ourselves and not followers of Christ. Satan uses our ego and pride to cause us to look to our programs, our ideas, and our ministry instead of Christ’s power. If God is ever going to do anything in our lives, he has to become more and we have to become less.

What basic lessons do you need to learn today? How can God use you to point others to Jesus? What do you need to do to become less so that Jesus can become more?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Game Day Sunday

Sundays are very interesting days for pastors, to say the least. We are filled with nerves, anticipation, challenges, fear, joy, and a thousand other emotions that cannot even be explained. Between 6:00 and 10:45 a.m. my mind races about a thousand miles an hour over everything that is going to happen that morning. Will the music be just right? Will the coffee, be ready? Will the computer work correctly? Am I sure I want to use that illustration? Why is my microphone cord so tangled up inside my shirt?

While Sunday mornings are restful and have a slower pace than most mornings for most people, for pastors Sunday is game day. Beginning on Monday the week is filled with planning, studying, preparing, writing, re-writing and stressing out over Sunday. Usually by the time pastors get home on Sundays all we want to do is sleep.

The awesome part of Sunday for pastors is hearing how God works through us to touch the lives of others. On Monday I almost always have cards, e-mails or phone messages from someone telling me how Sunday was special. I hear about how the passage of scripture used was exactly what they needed to deal with life at this moment. I hear how people make decisions that they want to give control of their life over to Jesus.

That is the pay off for Sunday. Sunday is a day where the divine meets the human and humanity is changed. In some small way I get to be a part of that. Pastors, worship leaders, children’s workers and a number of other people get to be a part of seeing God shape humanity. And at the end of the day, when all is said and done, game day has produced a victory because Jesus Christ was lifted up.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Covenant Marriage

One aspect of marriage that I hold to be vitally important but that has been lost in our culture is the concept of marriage as a covenant. Our western mindset and worldview far too often sees marriage as a legal contract and a business transaction. That has led to the establishment of prenuptial agreements and financial decisions in case the marriage doesn’t work out. In other words, before I commit to you the rest of my life I want to have an escape plan so that I don’t lose my stuff when someone I find more attractive comes along. We decide to fail before we ever begin.

The flip side of this trap is the idea that marriage is simply a tax shelter and if we are content to not declare one another as dependants then there is no reason to get married. Living together has replaced the marriage covenant because one person can simply move out without any obligation to the other. Instead of making lifelong commitments, we make business transactions.

When our view of marriage is one that defines marriage as a covenant, we establish that the only thing that will separate us is death. In a covenant in the biblical age, something had to die in order to seal that covenant. That led to the sacrifice of animals in worship as well as to seal business contracts. In our spiritual life, Jesus was the sacrifice so that we could live in a covenant relationship with God. That is why he said that he had come to establish a “new covenant.” (Luke 22:20). I contend that in order to have a biblical view of marriage we need to see it as a covenant relationship above anything else.

As you enter our house the first thing you see is a signed Marriage Covenant in a frame hanging on the wall. Alana and I both signed it and then our children signed it as witnesses. It is simply a piece of paper and has no legal value. However, it is a reminder that our marriage is not a business, but a relationship. It is a covenant. When things are tough, or we don’t agree, or stress has pushed us to the limit, the covenant we made to one another on our wedding day holds us together. I sometimes look at that frame and think about how important it is for me to live up to my end of the covenant so that my wife, my children, my family and most importantly my God will be honored.

How do you view your marriage? Is it a business? Is it convenience? Have you given yourself an escape route? If so, make a new covenant today that only death will separate you from the one you committed your life to love forever. Don’t settle for less than God’s perfect design of sacrificial covenant love.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Marriage Battlefield

As part of my “You Sermon” series at LifeQuest, I spoke this week on How to Get the Most Out of Your Marriage.” If you missed the message at LifeQuest, you can listen to it on the pod cast at www.lifequestlive.com. This week my blog is dedicated to looking at issues that couples face in marriage.

It is a very challenging thing when men and women begin to stand up for Godly ideals. When we begin to put our faith out there and begin to share God’s Word to others, we have an enemy who is seeking to destroy everything he can. I am not a person who sees Satan behind every bush or who believes that every incident in life is some “sign” from God (remember, the Pharisees were chastised for looking for signs!) but I do take the Bible as truth.

In Ephesians 6, Paul said that we are at war with a spiritual enemy. In John 10, Jesus told us that the enemy comes to “steal, kill and destroy.” I honestly believe that one of the greatest battlegrounds in the spiritual battle is in the home of Christians.

Here’s how I see this work. Satan knows that he is defeated. He knows that there is nothing he can do to steal us away from the hand of God. But, he can seek to make our lives miserable and to destroy the work that God is trying to do in us and our children. He causes husbands and wives to become divided against one another. He makes pleasing the children the singular goal of our life. He causes us to be too busy to pray together, to eat together or to worship together. In the most extreme cases, Satan causes one spouse to decide that another person is better for them than their own spouse. He convinces us of the lie that our life is about being “happy” instead of about fulfilling God’s design for us which brings joy. Suddenly, families that once stood for the things of God are divided and destroyed. The enemy wins the battle, but never the war!!

As Christians, we must always remember that we are on the winning side. Jesus Christ won the war over Satan on the cross. We must stop losing battles in our own homes. Here are three tools to help you win the battle for your home:

1) Pray as a family. Pray for and with one another against the attacks of the enemy.

2) Sacrifice your own needs for the needs of your family. Nothing re-establishes love and trust as much as sacrifice.

3) Never leave the battlefield. One of the biggest issues we face is choosing to walk away instead of stand and fight. The truth is that when we leave the battlefield we are not the wounded. It is our children, our grandchildren and the reputation of Jesus Christ that is hurt.

Fight for your marriage. Fight for your home. When the enemy is attacking, drop to your knees and fight!!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Got Your Back



I love this little goofy cartoon. It has made the rounds on FaceBook and other places as a great joke, but I think there is some truth in this that can really help marriages. This week I am writing posts on “How to Get the Most Out of Your Marriage.” This is based off my message from Sunday morning, October 11. You can listen to the message at www.lifequestlive.com.

One of the things I love about Alana is that she never leaves me hanging on an island by myself. Over the course of our marriage she has always had my back. Whenever times were hard, when I felt discouraged or afraid, when I felt like a complete failure, Alana has been the one who has supported, lifted, encouraged and propelled me forward.

If you really want your marriage to work, you need to have each other’s back. Make it very clear to everyone you meet, including your kids, that when it comes to you and your spouse, you watch out for one another. We live in a culture that values getting my own way, setting my own agenda, and blaming someone else for the outcome. That is not God’s design for our lives and certainly not for our marriages.

God’s plan is for us to have a deep, committed relationship that is supportive and encouraging to one another. The passage I spoke from on Sunday Ephesians 5: 23-28 has a definite role for a wife and a husband. And both roles involve sacrifice, love and devotion to your spouse.

Do you have your spouse’s back? Do they feel loved and supported in the decisions they make? Are they free to be themselves in all their beauty and al their failures? To get the most out of your marriage, have each others back.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Only Wanna Be With You

For the past couple of weeks I have been thinking a great deal about the subject of marriage. I have been speaking the last few weeks on topics submitted by people who attend LifeQuest. One of the most common topics requested was marriage. It seems like so many couples are struggling in their relationships. This week my blog will be sharing some thoughts and ideas about marriage and how to get the most out of your relationship.

God has blessed me so much with my wife. Alana is such a great partner and supporter. She has been my biggest fan and has helped me to develop the areas of my life that God knew I could never manage on my own. Alana is an amazing woman. She does so much and gives of herself constantly. I am so proud to call her my wife.

One of the lessons I have learned about marriage and relationships has been a very simple one. The first principle I want to share with you is this: make your spouse the only one you want.

It is really a simple lesson, but in our culture it is a lost art to only desire one person to occupy the most intimate places of your life. We live in a disposable society. If you don’t like your marriage, dispose of it. If your spouse doesn’t satisfy you, get a new one. We have made relationships transactions instead of investments.

To help remind me of how much I want to be with Alana, the song “I Only Wanna Be With You” is her ringtone on my phone. Now my marriage is not held together by Hootie and the Blowfish. It is held together by a choice to make sure that our relationship is a priority and that no other person gets a place of intimacy in our hearts. The song is simply a declared truth that I only want to spend my life with Alana. Alana has a ringtone on her phone set just for me. Whenever Kimberly hears it go off in the car, Alana tells me she laughs and says in a very sweet voice, “It’s your hubby!!”

If you are going to get the most from your marriage, you must make the choice that your spouse is going to be the only one to get a place in your heart. Love is a choice. Commitment is a choice. If you want your marriage to be dynamic, passionate, and full of life, you have to make the choice that your spouse is going to be the one you want to be with. You have to make the choice that your heart is set aside for that person only.

I encourage each of you to find your “song” for each other and let it become the soundtrack of your marriage.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Grace

I find it very interesting how God “speaks” to me. I have never heard an audible voice from God. I have never seen messages written in fire in the sky, nor had a burning bush give me a command of God. But God speaks to me over and over again in some very subtle ways. See if you can relate to this: a topic comes to your mind. Over a period of a few days or even weeks’ different people give different insight into that same topic. Every book, magazine or sermon you hear in some way reflects on that topic. That has been happening to me lately.

It has been happening regarding several areas, but one I want to address in particular: grace. I have always thought of myself as a person who gives grace. I try to forgive. I talk about forgiveness. I try to hear others. But the reality is that maybe what I have thought was grace was just lip service. Maybe what I envisioned was a grace that still allowed me to be right. Maybe what I pictured was not grace at all.

This morning I was listening to a message by an incredible speaker as I drove to the church. He pointed out that Jesus is about grace that forgives, not laws that pass judgment. I buy that. I teach that. I finished a book I was reading yesterday where the author was talking about grace as a tool of reconciliation instead of a measuring rod of correctness. Okay, I get that. But something keeps nagging me. Something just doesn’t feel right.

I have seen my grace shortcomings up close lately. I hold on to the anger people throw my way. I sense bitterness creep in and steal my joy. I resent times when I have been challenged. It may be that I don’t have this grace thing down after all.

Grace should bring freedom and not bondage. Grace releases and doesn’t smother. Grace restores and doesn’t break. Graced is meant to be extended and not stored. Grace is a never ending loop; the more you give the more you receive.

Today, I choose to extend grace. Today I will do my best not to have to be right. Today, I will release and not hold captive. Only by God’s grace.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Godly Focus

I am someone who has a hard time focusing in for long periods of time. I would have been a better student had I been able to take classes in twenty minute increments. I simply cannot sit still for very long. I had always hoped that as an adult this would change, but in all honesty, not so much.

Yes, I can force myself to sit through long periods of time when necessary. Yes, I love learning. Yes, I actually teach in a classroom setting occasionally so I understand the gluteus maximus to mind ratio. Basically it means the brain can only absorb what the butt can endure.

One of the things God has been showing me lately is how easy it is to lose focus. I have been reading the book of Nehemiah lately and re-learning some incredible lessons on focus. Nehemiah was leading a group of people who were worn out, afraid, and vulnerable. As a leader he was passionate, sacrificial and focused.

At one point, several of Nehemiah’s enemies tried to entice him into a meeting to trap him. Each time Nehemiah rejected their request to leave his job and meet. Instead he focused even more and asked God for strength (Nehemiah 6:9). Through Nehemiah, God accomplished a task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in fifty-two days. But it would not have been possible if Nehemiah had not had incredible focus.

Here are three lessons on focus for any task you have to face:

1) Recognize that your calling does not come from human will. Whatever you do your life is designed by God for a perfect and focused meaning. Recognize that what you do today has eternal, spiritual implications.

2) You are going to have critics. Nehemiah was doing the impossible and people were not happy about it. Whenever God uses you to do something that cannot be humanly explained, you will have critics. Focus on your call, not the criticism.

3) Seek God for strength. Nehemiah prayed specifically that God would strengthen him for the task at hand. God is able to accomplish far more than we can imagine. So ask him to strengthen your resolve and your body to accomplish his calling on your life.

I hope that you were able to make it through. I hope you can focus. And I hope that God uses you to accomplish the impossible. Now, get off your gluteus and go do it!!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stuff that Matters


I love the moment where my kids begin to own their stuff. I don’t mean the physical junk that clutters the floor of their rooms. I mean the deep inside passion about things that mean the most to them. It’s the stuff that announces who they are and what matters the most. It is the stuff that makes you hope that you haven’t screwed them up by being a lousy parent.

When my oldest daughter Emily walks onto a basketball court and digs a little deeper to dive for a loose ball that makes me excited. When she talks about wanting to avoid places and parties she knows she doesn’t need to be at, that makes me proud.

When my youngest daughter Kimberly reads four levels above her grade level I am proud. When she is disgusted with injustice, it makes me excited. When she gets upset because kids are mean to other kids, it brings me joy.

This morning I had a moment with my son, Zach. He is in seventh grade and in public school for the first time. Today was the first See You at the Pole gathering for him at his new school. It is when Christians gather at the flag pole of their school to pray for their school. Zach was excited about going and he and I went over to the school an hour early so he could join in with others. No one else came.

Zach was crushed. He was actually a little mad. He couldn’t understand why no one else was there. He kept saying, “Why don’t Christians show their true colors?” For an hour we sat in the car and talked about it. I tried to encourage him and help him understand all the factors that may be involved, but he wasn’t buying it.

Zach prayed for his school. He prayed that Christians would stand up for what they believe. He prayed that people would do what was right. He prayed that he would show his “true colors.” Zach prayed that God would show up with power at his school that “no force” (his words) could stop. And all the while his dad was convicted that this little man has a passion that I underestimate so often.

This is the stuff that matters. This is the deep passion that I have prayed would develop in my kids. I have prayed that they would not follow my miserable excuse for a Christian life when I was a teenager, but that they would have a desire that nothing can stop. And this morning, it made me cry.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Everyone Hates Monday!!

Everyone hates Monday!! Every Sunday night at least one of my kids laments the fact that they have to get up and go to school the next day. People want another day to sleep, to relax and to be lazy. Everyone hates Monday!!

Monday’s are always interesting days in my life. As a pastor, my entire week is focused on Sunday morning. I plan, pray, read, think, write and study all to make the Sunday morning worship experience as good as I possibly can. No matter how good Sunday is, Monday is right around the corner.

A friend of mine who is also a pastor described the feeling as giving birth on Sunday and realizing you are pregnant on Monday. I think about that every Monday morning around 11:00 as I am trying to shake off the fog from Sunday and blaze through my fifth or sixth cup of coffee, I realize that in six days I have to be ready to go again. It is as if I need an EPT (Early Preaching Test) every week!

But Monday also reminds me of some great truths. First, God moves in people’s lives by the power of his word. Almost every week I have a card and e-mail or a note from someone telling me how God spoke to them through the message on Sunday. Second, I am blessed to be able to preach God’s Word every week. I was made for this. Third, God is faithful to show me his love and grace every day. I need to make sure I do the same for others. Even on Monday!!!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why we Worship

I’m reading a book right now called “Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches from Growing” by Geoff Surratt. It is a great book for church leaders and one that has some incredibly practical and simple advice that we often overlook in our busy lives. One question that Geoff asks in the book is, “why do we have a Sunday morning service?” For someone who has always worked in the church as an adult, the thought has never really crossed my mind.

I guess there are many reasons that we have worship services on Sunday mornings. It brings about a sense of community, we are able to invite people to a gathering, we feel better about our lives and our families, we train our kids, etc. But are any of these the right reason? Is that what it is really all about?

Geoff goes on to point out what I already mentally know but very seldom vocalize: we gather for worship to make the name of Jesus famous. Worship is not about our feelings or our desires. Worship is not about how good we look to others or how we feel about ourselves. Worship is about making the name of Jesus famous. Period. The end. There is no more.

I have found more and more over the last few years that so many people forget that. I have heard people complain about music, about the message and about the temperature of the room. Some people have actually claimed to have left our church, not because we weren’t teaching Christ, but because they were chilly in the service. To be honest, they were the ones causing the chill.

People get offended by stuff the church does all the time. What I find offensive and what I think offends God, is that we think Sunday morning is about us. Did the worship meet my needs? Did I like that song? Did the pastor offend me today? (By the way, the people usually offended by what I say on Sunday mornings are usually people who love religion and like Jesus. Just sayin!)

The reason we worship is about Jesus Christ period!! He came from heaven to earth. He taught us what it looked like to love God and love others. He died on the cross for our sins. He rose from the dead to defeat death. He is preparing our eternal home in heaven. He is someday going to return and rule for eternity. So, why should worship be about us?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Night Meltdown

So, I have made it through the weekend and here is some of the stuff rattling around in my dome.

• Today was awesome at LifeQuest. I say it every week but I always mean it!!!
• I miss it when the worship leaders are away and I have to lead. My fingers are killing me from playing guitar!
• It is so great to see so many new faces every week!
• It was fun watching my daughter’s basketball team win the Back 2 School Tournament in Ft. Lauderdale this weekend!! Love those Sun Devils!!
• I like my 80’s music weekends on the radio, but now I have “Safety Dance” stuck in my head!!!
• I am so glad football is back!!!!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Nine

I’ve spent most of today in a virtual conference called “The Nines.” Since it is 09/09/09, Leadership Network had over 70 ministry leader’s video a message that is nine minutes long. The topic was, “What would you say to other leaders if you had nine minutes to say it.” Since they didn’t ask me to do a video, I decided that I will use tonight to highlight nine things I would say to people if they wanted to know. In descending order:

9) Try to serve somebody every day.

8) Think deeper.

7) Value friends.

6) Seek wisdom.

5) Love liberally.

4) Pursue God’s vision for you at all costs.

3) Focus on those God is changing instead of those who hate change.

2) Speak and listen to truth.

1) Your life doesn’t have to be defined by sin but can be redeemed by a Savior.

That is my nine. It didn’t take nine minutes for you to read, but hopefully it will help you to think a little deeper about your life and where God is leading you. So, what would your top nine look like?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Truth

There is an old saying that “truth is the first casualty of war.” As sad as that may seem, it feels as if we are in a war for truth in every area of our lives these days. Over and over again I am reminded that truth has become a casualty of the war against humanity. Our culture has adapted to a worldview that truth need only be relative, partial or explainable; it is never to be absolute. This line of thinking is not only dangerous, it is ultimately fatal.

Our society buys into this type of thinking in subtle ways and it produces within us a callous heart and a seared conscious. The slide from truth usually begins innocuously enough with a “little white lie” or by not telling the “whole truth.” As we slide down that slope we begin to believe that telling a lie is easier than telling the truth at times and the consequences are not as devastating. That, in and of itself, is untrue.

As Christians, truth is the foundation upon which our lives are built. The truth of a God who loves us, a God who forgives us and a view of the world built on concrete spiritual foundations that are absolute. This line of thinking is not always popular, but that has never been the point of faith. If God is not truth, than he ceases to be God.

As Christians we must love truth. We must love God’s truth, the truth of scripture and the truth spoken in love. I have been challenging my kids to recognize lies when they see them on TV, in movies or on the news. See what worldview is being described by our media and how it slants the truth to fit its agenda. We must learn to love truth, because God loves truth.

Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life.” The scripture also says “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” God loves truth and he desires for us to love truth as well.

This week, seek truth. Seek honesty and integrity in all things. And, in so doing, seek God.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

School Mornings

School days are a little different at our house this year. Emily still has her routine of getting up way early, getting ready and being at school at about 6:45 in the morning. Zach and Kimmie have changed schools this year and they don’t have to be at school until 9:15. It has taken some adjustment, but we are learning on the fly.

One of the downsides of Zach and Kimmie’s school is that traffic is ridiculous. In order to get them there on time, you have to get to the school by 8:40 and wait in your car until 8:55. Otherwise you sit in this monster snake of traffic and run the risk of them being late to class. Alana normally takes them, but today I got to drop them off. It was great!!

Let me explain. Traffic was terrible, the line was long and it was already hot outside. But as we sat in the car we opened the bible and Zach read Psalm 23. Alana has started doing this every morning with the kids, but I don’t usually get to be there. We talked about what it means that God is our shepherd. We talked about how he provides for our needs, and we talked about how we do not have to be afraid because he watches over us. We then prayed for everyone to have a good day and for Zach and Kimmie to know that God was watching over them.

It was so special to share these few early morning moments with the kids. We talk about the bible, we pray and we discuss life, but somehow in the mornings the kids are more open and ready to talk. Parents, use moments like this to teach your kids. Use this as an opportunity to share with them your own desires and fears for the day. Learn to let the daily moments be daily opportunities.

“These commandments that I give you are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Or when you sit in the car line at school!!!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Focus

Have you ever noticed the difference between a rear view mirror and a windshield in a car? Most of us never think much about it, but the difference is very obvious and profound. A rearview mirror is small and is meant to see where you have been. A windshield is big and designed to be able to see clearly where you are going. Believe it or not, there are some great spiritual implications in this analogy.

In our spiritual life, only one person wants us to focus on what is behind: Satan. He wants to remind us how bad we were, how people hurt us, how we can’t measure up. In fact, the bible says in Revelation 12:10 that Satan “accuses us before God day and night.” He is constantly telling God how bad we are and how we don’t deserve God’s love. The great part about this idea is the very next phrase in this verse that says Satan “has been hurled down.” He is defeated and can no longer destroy our eternity with God.

God wants us to focus not on our past, but on our present and our future. God doesn’t condemn those who follow him, but instead he gives life and freedom. While Satan stands and accuses us, God pours out love toward us. “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16.

God wants us to focus our life on him. He wants us to look ahead and see his love and his deliverance from the trials of this life. He wants us to experience grace and mercy that come through Jesus.

The question is where is our focus? Are we looking in the rearview mirror or are we looking through the windshield? Are we more worried about what has happened or what God is doing?

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:2

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Body in Times of Crisis

If you have been reading this blog over the past couple of weeks you have heard about the car accident of Jack Cerreta, Jr. Jack and his family are members of LifeQuest Church where I pastor, and they have been incredible friends and partners in the past seven years that my family has known them. I want to share some things that I have been leaning through the process of walking with this family during the last two week.

Jack was in a serious wreck with major head trauma. No one knew what to expect. He had drains put into his skull to relieve pressure, had surgery to remove two blood clots, went in and out of ICU and states of consciousness. There were days when things seemed incredibly positive and others when everyone was on edge.

Jack’s sister, Casey, is in the Marine Corps and is stationed in Okinawa, Japan. She was able to get leave and buy a ticket to fly home. She spent three days traveling and finally arrived to find her brother in Intensive Care. Needless to say this family was going through one of the most difficult times it had ever experienced.

Yesterday, Jack was moved to a rehabilitation facility. He is alert, walking, eating, talking and remembers most things. He does not remember the accident. Perhaps this is God’s provision. This ordeal is in no way over for the Cerreta family, but I want to share with you some things that God has shown me through the process.

1) The ministry of presence is the most important in a time of crisis.

Far too often we place more value on our words in tough situations. I have heard people say pithy cliches during times of trials. I have heard bible passages taken out of context. Somehow we think by talking we break the tension. Over the course of time Jack was in the hospital, so many members of LifeQuest were right alongside the family. There were times where no words were spoken. It was the presence of one another that brought comfort in the midst of pain. When Christians gather together, the presence of God is there and that is enough.

2) The ministry of caring is priceless.

This is an area where most churches do very well, but LifeQuest excels. The Cerreta’s have raved about how people have brought food, desserts and sent cards and letters. This has ministered to them in so many ways. It allows them not to have to worry about necessities but to focus on the care of their son. One thing that meant a ton to the family was that a lady in our church made a Cherry pie that they were able to enjoy. Simple gestures of love in the midst of crisis are extravagant representations of the love of Jesus toward one another.


3) The ministry of generosity is often overlooked.

I received calls every day for a week asking what could be practically done for the family. So many people wanted to do something but didn’t know what. One issue that was major for the Cerreta’s was that Casey had to get a loan to buy the ticket to get home. The ticket cost $1,600.00 and she was going to have to pay it back over a long time. In two weeks, our church collected the amount of the ticket. She is able to fly back to Japan with the money to repay her loan in full.

There are so many things that could be written about this situation. I am sure that this will not be the last post about Jack on my blog. But these are a few things that we should never forget in the times of crisis. It is in these moments that the body of Christ is able to shine at its brightest.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sunday Night Update August 9

It was another great day at LifeQuest Church today. Here are a few thoughts as I wind down the evening:

• God constantly amazes me with the things he is doing in the life of people at LifeQuest. It reminds me that the work he is doing is not something we could do in our own strength.
• It never gets old seeing people make decisions to step across the line of faith. I love the passion of people who have found a new reason for life.
• It was so great seeing the Burnam’s and Nathan Young back from their summer mission trips. I missed them all!!
• It is so great to hear the news of the improvement of Jack Cerreta, Jr. It is so awesome to see him writing, laughing, and having conversations.
• We had some great topics and questions that came in for our “You Sermon” series. You can submit questions at church or on-line.
• Our children’s ministry area was full today. It is so awesome to see future generations being shaped by the word of God.
• God is doing great stuff. I can’t wait to see what is next in our future!!!

I hope you have a great week. Keep up your reading in the “One-A-Day” Proverbs reading challenge!!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Leadership Summit Lessons

The last two days God has been showing me some amazing things about leadership, his will and desires, and my own struggles in each. As I have listened to men and women leaders from all walks of life I am incredibly challenged that I am not nearly the leader I desire to be or that God has created me to be. I want to share with you some “sound bites” that have been rocking my world this week and that I will be focusing on and that I will probably be writing about very soon.

“Storms often create the best conditions for change to occur.” Bill Hybels

“Sometimes what you see as the horizon is really only the top of your rut.” Gary Hamels

“We define neighbors as someone like us. We target our churches toward people who are like us. As such we have developed a consumeristic church.” Dave Gibbons

“The world notices when we can love someone not like us or someone who is un-loveable.” Dave Gibbons

“Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, or that it was okay and release from consequences of actions or reconciliation. Forgiveness means giving up the right for revenge.” Wes Stafford

“Reflect on what is happening by leaving the dance floor and going to the balcony.” David Gergen

“If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” David Gergen

I wrestle with these and many other thoughts. One that hits me is one of the very first words that Bill Hybels spoke in the first session that resonates with my life:

“The work I am doing for God is destroying the work that God is doing in me.”

Stay tuned for updates.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pain

I have witnessed more pain in the past week than I care to remember. There has been physical pain as I have watched Jack Cerreta struggle for his life and to recover his mental faculties after his car wreck this past week. There has been major emotional pain. His parents Jack and Michele and his sister Casey have been through hell this week.

The update on Jack is that he is out of ICU and is progressing. It is going to be a long and difficult process at times. Please continue to pray for Jack and his family. You can check back here for details.

Yesterday at LifeQuest was a great day. We had a great time worshipping God through music and fellowship. We saw new faces and the message seemed to connect with people on a personal and practical level. In the midst of joy and celebration there was still pain. As I reflected back on yesterday the picture of pain is the one that lingers in my mind.

When you speak in front of people regularly, you begin to see signs of what you are communicating through the eyes of the people listening. Some connect and give non-verbal indicators that they are engaged. They nod their head, they take notes or they simply get a look that tells you they are processing information. These are all positives for a speaker.

Yesterday, as I watched those listening to the message I saw pain. The face of one particular person keeps popping into my mind. Wrapped with hurt, anxious, doubting, wondering why they were there was what their body language gave off. It was tension, depression, and hurt all rolled into one. My heart broke as I tried to imagine what could cause so much pain.

Maybe that was you. Maybe it was the person next to you. I am not going to reveal who it was or put any pressure on anyone, but I have a very personal and direct message for that person:
You are not alone. God loves you. God cares. And we are here to help.

No one likes pain. It is not the emotion we seek. It is our desire to live our life free from pain. The reality is pain is a part of life. We can’t know life itself without pain. The very act of coming into this world is painful. We learn valuable life lessons through pain. We all learned not to touch the hot stove because of the sensation it gave our hands.

But physical pain is often easier to deal with than emotional, spiritual or mental pain. Often we are afraid to admit we are hurting. But God already knows. Often we are afraid to seek help. But God has already provided someone to help us in his church. Often we feel hopeless. But God is the God of hope.

I don’t like pain. I especially don’t like seeing others in pain. So, if you think I am talking about you, call and talk to me. If you feel any of the emotions I have described, I am here to help. If you think that you are all alone, God has promised to never leave you or forsake you.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Jesus speaking in Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday Night Update

Today was a great day at LifeQuest. It has been a very difficult week for our church family, but God showed up in a powerful way today. Here are some Sunday night thoughts:

• The music part of worship was awesome today. It felt like people were singing with serious passion.
• It was great seeing so many new faces.
• The way that the bible applies into our life everyday always reminds me of how big our God truly is.
• I love the fact that people at LifeQuest hang around and talk after the service. That has to be a good sign!!
• I am really excited that our summer missionaries are coming home this week. I miss those guys.

I went to the hospital after the service to check on Jack Cerreta. Jack was doing okay and was talking, but the thoughts process is pretty difficult. Jack and Michelle wanted me to let everyone know how much they appreciate everyone’s prayers and support. If you would like to know how you can help, contact me at John@lifequestchurch.com.

God is up to some great stuff at LifeQuest. New faces are coming every week, people’s lives are being changed, and people are discovering that God has a plan and purpose for their lives. It is exciting and I want to encourage you to do all you can to be a part of this exciting time.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Update #4

I arrived at Lawnwood Hospital this morning not sure what to expect. Jack Cerreta had undergone major surgery on Wednesday to remove blood clots from his brain. We knew the surgery went well, but were not sure what to expect the next day. As I walked across the parking lot all I could think was, “Lord, please let all of this be moving in the right direction.”

I saw Michelle, Jack’s mom, in the hall way and she told me Jack had pulled out his ventilator tube during the night. My first thought was that this could not be good. She was on the phone so I went into the ICU and saw Jack and his dad. The nurses were able to leave out the breathing tube and Jack was more aware of things than I expected. As I stood by the bed talking to him, Jack opened his eyes and said, “Hi, John.”

Needless to say everyone was very excited. Jack was responsive to questions today. His nurse was helping him and he was able to follow her directions. He would nod his head in response to questions and would try to talk a little. These are all very positive signs.

Please continue to pray for the entire family. Although Jack seems to be doing very well, his full recovery and rehabilitation may be extensive. There is much to celebrate today, however.

Many people have asked what they can do for the family. Jack and Michelle feel very loved and cared for by everyone. Casey has been able to secure leave from the Marine Corps and is flying home tomorrow from Japan. She had to buy her own ticket and it was very expensive. If you feel so inclined and are able to contribute to help her with the cost of the ticket I know it would be of great support and comfort to Jack and Michelle. If you would like to contribute, please make your check for any amount to LifeQuest Church and mark on the note “Casey Cerreta.” We as a church will write a check to her to help cover her costs.

Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive and prayerful during this time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Update #3

Jack came out of surgery about 5:00 this evening. The surgeon said the procedure went well and he removed two clots from Jack’s brain. Jack will be recovering at Lawnwood until he is physically functioning enough to be discharged. At that time plans will be made for his rehabilitation.

Jack and Michelle wanted me to tell everyone how much they appreciate all of the calls and support. They are doing as well as can be expected. Please continue to pray for the entire family. Casey was able to talk to her parents twice today and may be coming home for emergency leave. I will be updating things as often as possible and will relay any significant changes.

Update #2

I am sitting in the waiting room at Lawnwood Hospital with Jack and Michelle Cerreta. Young Jack was just taken back to surgery. The surgeon told Jack and Michelle that the surgery would take about three hours or so. Jack is still in critical but stable condition.

Jack and Michelle were able to talk with Casey in Japan. The Red Cross had gotten in touch with her and she was able to contact her parents at the hospital. Please also include her in your prayers as she is so far away from her family during this critical time.

Your presence and prayers have been greatly appreciated. I will continue to update throughout the day. If you have any questions please feel free to call or e-mail and I will contact you as soon as possible.

Some of you have been at the hospital and Jack and Michelle greatly appreciate it. If you come to the hospital, please ask the desk to lead you to the surgical waiting room or the ICU waiting room and you will be able to find Jack and Michelle.

Jack Cerreta Update

The past two days have been very difficult ones for the LifeQuest family. Jack Cerreta, Jr. was in a very serious car accident on Monday night and is in the ICU at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Ft. Pierce. Jack suffered some very serious head injuries and has been sedated the entire time he has been at the hospital.

I was with his parents, Jack and Michelle, this morning when the doctors told them that they needed to operate on Jack’s brain. This afternoon (Wednesday) at 1:00 Jack will be having surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. It is obviously a very serious condition and one in which the doctors are approaching with a great deal of caution. Please be praying for the Cerreta family through this time.

As we were at the hospital yesterday and today, many people called or visited. Jack and Michelle wanted me to convey how much they appreciate your thoughts and prayers. A few of us were standing in the hall yesterday when Jack said, “We have a great church.” What a great witness to the love and grace of God’s people during a time of crisis.

As I was thinking last night about all that was transpiring, I was reminded that perhaps the greatest ministry any of us may have is the ministry of presence. When we make ourselves available to those who hurt, who weep, and who mourn, we become physical reminders of the spiritual presence of Christ. This is what the church is to reflect to one another and the world; presence.

Over the course of today and the next few days I will be updating my blog to update the status of young Jack. I am able to update my blog from the hospital, but not necessarily e-mail. So, check here periodically for updates and information concerning Jack’s condition. Pray, call, visit and encourage one another through this time. Let’s practice the ministry of presence.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Leadership Lessons

I am fascinated by different leaders. People who have the ability to lead groups, organizations, churches, and movements make me feel awed simply by listening or reading their thoughts and feelings. While I would never begin to assume myself to be a “Leadership Expert,” my years in ministry have helped me to learn some great lessons that I hope will encourage and challenge others. So, here are four qualities of leadership that cannot be ignored.

• Leadership must be empowering, not burdensome.

As a leader, the more your organization grows the less you are able to control hands on. Those are the moments that you must empower others to use their gifts and their skill set to lead in a hand on way. I have learned that my main gift set is really in three areas: communicating the word, casting a vision, and mentoring leaders. However, for me to operate in those three areas, I need to be secure enough in myself and in the leaders around me to buy into the vision, live the vision, and pass the vision on to the rest of the organization. When we empower instead of burden we get greater buy-in to the vision and great effectiveness from people’s gifts.

• Leadership must be inspiring.

My main role in leading must be to cast a vision large enough to challenge people but focused enough not to overwhelm. One of the main issues in the American church today is that we want to do everything. We must inspire the church to understand what God has called us to do and what God has not called us to do. In doing this we are able to inspire people to do the work that God has called us to in a manner that does not deflate their energy or destroy their desire to serve. We must constantly remind ourselves and the church that our goal is eternal and our work has eternal rewards that are not always readily visible today.

• Leadership must be communicative.

Leaders cannot be isolated. However, we also cannot meet everyone’s need at every moment. Leaders must design the proper context for communication and then intentionally communicate. If we as leaders don’t communicate with purpose we become distant and unapproachable. I love having “stand-up” communication with people to discuss their dreams, their visions and their passions as it relates to the dreams the vision and the passion of the church.




• Leadership must be supportive.

As leaders we must know that someone will always be opposed to what we are doing no matter how much it is succeeding. As a senior leader, I must be willing to support the staff and lay leaders of the church in the face of gossip, complaints and discontent. I also must be willing to confront boldly areas of sin, gossip or discontent on the staff level and make sure that the staff is doing the ministry of the church in a biblical manner.

When we consciously and consistently make leadership empowering, inspiring, communicative and supportive we find ourselves hitting the sweet spot of ministry. When we are not operating in this way we find ourselves defensive, micromanaging, territorial and insecure.

What are your leadership lessons?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Man Card




Okay, it is confession time: I watched “Mamma Mia!” yesterday!! Take my man card. Rip it to shreds; pass it to someone who can actually use a power tool or simply hold on to it. I had two thoughts after watching this movie: 1) I need to confess this immediately, and 2) whoever thought Pierce Brosnan could sing needs to be slapped in a bad way!!!

Here are the gory details: it was a rainy Sunday afternoon. I had already watched Tom Watson gack up the British Open and there was not one single baseball game on. This is that time of year where we really need to jump to football season.

My wife had rented the movie because she wanted to see it. She had already declared that she knew no one else wanted to watch it, but I felt the desire to simply share the experience with her. She didn’t ask or expect me to watch, but I thought if nothing else I will earn some “Good Husband Credits.”

I watched this movie and was torn between feelings of shame and feelings of being wrapped into this story of a young woman trying to figure out who her father really is. On so many levels the story is tragic because there is a young woman without a true identity. The hormones of her mother’s youth and the consequences that are reaped twenty years later paint a backdrop that is far too realistic for many people in our society today.

I know this is a critically acclaimed musical and the movie is some great feat of theater, but the tragedy of a life spent in desperation and wonder is an episode that does not promote good theater to me. I found the ending to bring neither hope nor fulfillment.

I’m not trying to turn this into some Siskel and Ebert moment, but worldviews are reflected in art and culture today in such a way that values and mores of societies are stamped in the conscience. On one level, it is simply a movie experience that filled the gap of a rainy afternoon. On another level it is a social commentary that leaves me empty and frustrated. If you enjoyed the movie or the musical, I have no problem with your point of view. For me, the fact that the movie was a “chick flick” was the least of my real concerns. It left me grateful to know that I have a Heavenly Father who loves me and who knows me inside and out.

I think I am going to rent a good John Wayne flick tonight!!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Love Story

I have an 8-year-old daughter who is in love with the idea of being a princess, having a prince come for her, romance and the fairy tale. She is a true romantic in every sense of the word. Fortunately she is an innocent romantic. I am constantly reminded that some day she will grow up and her romantic dreams and fairy tale stories may give way to broken hearts and strained understandings of love. But for now, she is her Daddy’s princess.

She has a new favorite song and I am responsible for her interest. I showed her the music video for Taylor Swift’s song “Love Story” not too long ago because I knew she would love it. The song is about a young romantic “Juliet” who is being kept away from her “Romeo” by her father. It plays out the drama and angst of young love derailed. Of course the song ends with the father giving Romeo permission to marry his little girl and all ends well. But the true story of Romeo and Juliet is not nearly as romantic in its ending.

If you recall Romeo and Juliet are from warring families. Their young love is forbidden and plots are hatched for an escape from the repressive parent’s control. Of course, in the end Romeo and Juliet both die. I have never been able to understand what was so romantic about that. But, I’m a man and I guess I am doomed to not understand such things.

Here’s my problem: I don’t want my two “princesses” or my “prince” to grow up with a warped view of love. I don’t want them to think that the prince on the white horse or the damsel in distress is what true love is all about. True love is so much deeper. True love is not about dying for one another, but about helping one another to live.

God created us as his sons and daughters. In romantic terms his princes and princesses. But we sought our own desires and our own fulfillment. And death occurred. The kingdom heirs were banished from the eternal presence of the king. So Jesus came to restore the throne. He came to allow us back into the palace. He played out the ultimate love story.

In our human views of romance and desire we all dream of some fantasy to be played out in our lives. It is human nature to dream and desire. But how do we make sure our dreams and desires don’t lead us down the road to death and destruction? How do we protect ourselves from the nightmares that are the flip side of the fantasy?

I believe it is in seeing ourselves the way the king sees us. We are a prince or a princess because of who the king is in relation to us. As we see him more clearly, we see ourselves more accurately.

I don’t ever want to crush the dreams of my children. I want them to dream big dreams, push hard to make their dreams become reality and live life to the fullest extent of God’s design for them. I also want them to know that no matter what, they are heirs to the true king. They are significant not because of the romance, but because of the Risen King.

Now that’s a Love Story!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Spiritual Fitness

Since the first of this year I have been engaged in a conflict directly out of World War II: the Battle of the Bulge! I have been focusing on simply trying to lose a few pounds, get fit so that I can actually run up and down a basketball court, and if I can, look a little better when I go to the beach. Of course, on the latter part there is only so much I can do!!

Since January I have done pretty well in the consistent exercise department. I am not going crazy by getting up at 4:00 a.m. to workout, and I am not trying to lose a huge number of pounds. I just want to feel a little better. And I have found when I exercise, I generally feel good.

But the last few weeks have been a struggle. I don’t feel motivated to work out, I am making excuses for not being active, and I am not being disciplined about what I am eating. So, my belly has expanded a little and my overall fitness level is, well, let’s just say I won’t be running any fast breaks anytime soon.

As I was reading in scripture today I came across the spiritual equivalent of what I have been going through physically. I 1 Timothy 4:7-8 Paul writes these words:
“train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

Spiritually it is up to us to decide to train ourselves. If we pray, read our bibles, fellowship with other believers is all dependant on our desire to do so and our choosing to do it. God doesn’t just magically make us spiritually fit anymore than he makes us physically fit. It is a matter of our desire and our discipline.

It is very easy to find a reason not to be spiritually disciplined. “I’m tired,” “it’s early,” “it’s late,” “I don’t know where to start” are all reasons that I have used at one time or another to talk myself out of spiritual discipline. The key factor is that we will lonely be as godly in spirit as we put in the time and effort to be disciplined in habit. I am not talking about some legalistic checklist of things we have to do. I am talking about the daily habits that should be a part of our life for our spiritual fitness. If we really desire intimacy with God and clarity of his desire for us and our spiritual lives, we must put in the time and effort to connect with him on our own.

So, today I am challenging you and me to start. Pick up your bible and read. Spend some quiet moments in prayer. Connect with other believers who can encourage you on your walk with Christ. I am choosing to do that today. I am also choosing that I will ride my bike later today and get back into at least some level of physical shape.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Justification and Sanctification

As a pastor there are two questions that I get quite often. Although different in many ways, they are intricately intertwined with one another. The first question is something along the lines of this: “How do I have a relationship with God?” The second question typically goes like this: “How do I live out my relationship with God?”

These are two very distinct aspects of theology, but they go together in the practical day to day living out of our faith. I want to spend a few minutes and give you a quick theology lesson and also a quick application to think about how these areas of your life are played out every day.

The first answer of how to have a relationship with God deals with an area of theology called justification. The simple definition is justification puts us back in right relationship with God. What we must understand is that right relationship with God is only possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Scripture is full of references to this concept. John 3:16, Romans 3:21-26, 1 Corinthians 1:30 all tell us that justification happens through Jesus.

What we need to realize in our lives is justification is only the first step in the life of a follower of Jesus. Justification is our stepping across the line of faith. It is our moment when we surrender our life to Jesus.

The second question has an answer that lies in another theological term called sanctification. Sanctification is the process of being made holy that result in a changed lifestyle. This is the concept that the more we understand about god and his desires for our lives the more it changes our attitudes, actions, thoughts, words, deeds and heart. This is an on-going process for the rest of our lives. Hebrews 12:14 tells us that we should pursue holiness as an on-going growth pattern in our life.

The danger in not fully understanding sanctification is that it can lead to legalism. As humans we have the habit of reducing the passions and desires of God into rules and laws that we use as a checklist for our life. We hold ourselves and others to extra-biblical standards that are not truly the passion of God.

The flip side of this coin is liberalism; not of thought but of action. This is the concept that since God has forgiven me through Christ I can do or say anything I want. A brief reading of Romans 6-8 will show that Paul firmly condemned that view.

So, why do these two ideas demand discussion and such a long blog post? There are two reasons: some people tend to stop in their walk with Christ after they have been justified and some people tend to take their growth in Christ to legalistic and harsh rules.

We need to learn to leave in the blessed middle. God has forgiven us through Jesus, has wiped away all of our sin and shame and has made us his eternal children. That is justification. As a result of what God has done for us we should desire to live our lives to honor him and to hold him as the highest standard of love and grace and honor that is possible. That results in changed lifestyles for us. That is sanctification.

Today I see many Christians, including myself, who are living in the extremes at times. We need to learn to live in justification and sanctification. We need to learn to live in grace and holiness. I see this lived out so often among my ministry peers. Some are so caught at the point of justification that they do not live lives of holiness and therefore fall prey to the enemy of God. Others are so bound by laws and rules that they become Pharisees who impose standards on others not according to the Word of God but according to our own rules.

Several years ago I had breakfast with a man who I respect very much. We had never met, but he was the speaker at a camp I was attending with the youth ministry from our church. Shortly before we met, a friend of his and a man I very much respected had died. If I mentioned their names everyone would know them, so I won’t. We were talking about this when he said, “John the thing about _____ is that he understood justification but not sanctification.”

That has stuck with me to this day. Do I understand both? Do I live in the tension of grace and freedom? Am I a Pharisee or a hypocrite?

My prayer is that each of us understands that God’s love is not based on our actions. I also pray that we understand that our actions should be a daily reflection of God’s love.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Different Together

I am in the office for the first full day since my two week vacation. It was a great trip with a lot o fun with the family, but it is always nice to get back home to your own house, your own bed, your own dog and especially your own church.

The two weeks we were on vacation we worshipped with our families at churches that have very different styles than LifeQuest. They are a little more traditional, larger and in very small towns. They dress different, use different translations of scripture, and sing different songs. Yesterday, as I spoke at LifeQuest, I talked about how although we worship in different styles we have the most important thing in common: Jesus.

This morning I began reading the book of 1 Timothy in my devotional time. In chapter 1 Paul is instructing Timothy to have the church focus on the things that unite rather than things that divide. In verse 5 he says, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” That is what the church should be about.

In verse 6, Paul gives the other side of the coin: “Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk.” This is, unfortunately, what the church is often about. We gossip, criticize, complain and divide. It is shameful.

Today we need to learn to live united. The enemy of our soul is out to destroy the work that God has begun in our lives. He not only uses our sinful flesh, but the sinful flesh of others to distract us from the eternal truth of God’s plan. As Christian leaders we must never give in to the trap of destroying the work God is doing in another ministry. There is plenty of work for us all.

Churches operate differently. They worship differently and they are structured differently. But any church that preaches Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead is a partner in our cause. We must not allow style differences to cause body divisions.

Today, pray for churches in your area. Pray for God to bless their ministries, their pastors and their effort to increase the Kingdom of God. That is how we demonstrate love from a pure heart.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Back and Better Than Ever




I have been gone from this site for two weeks. I had many thoughts of things I wanted to write about, but really felt the need to unplug as much as possible during this vacation with the family.

We drove over 3,000 miles through seven states and visited my mom and Alana's parents. It was a great family get away. Now we are back and I am ready to get rolling into life again. I can't wait for tomorrow to worship and speak at LifeQuest again. I miss the people of our church so much when we are gone.

Today we are going to relax, celebrate the birth of the greatest nation on earth, and enjoy some time with friends. I hope that you have a great Fourth of July and that you experience the true freedom found in Christ.

The pictures are from fishing on a pond in Mt.Pleasant, Texas. Yes, people from Florida went there for vacation. Kimmie was a great worm wrangler and Zach and Emily both had to kiss the fish they caught. Vacation=Good Memories!!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Truth Killer

There is an old saying that “truth is the first casualty of war.” That may be true in our 24-hour drive-by news cycle of today. But God’s Word points out to us that it has always been true. In spiritual battle, as well as in earthly combat, truth is quickly relegated to the infirmary.

In my personal devotion times lately I have been hanging out in Daniel. The first few chapters are pretty straightforward and understandable. They are the famous stories; Daniel and his friends not eating at the kings table, Daniel interpreting dreams for the king and Daniel in the lion’s den. The last few chapters are much more intense. They involve visions, symbolism and prophecy.

I have no desire to expound of what they meant in Daniel’s time or what they may mean for us today. Instead I want to point out a simple fact: pride kills truth.

In Daniel 8 there is a vision of rebellion and war. There is the destruction of kingdoms and kings. At the very end of the chapter Daniel himself falls ill because of the heavy nature of the vision. But today, one small verse caught my eye.

“Because of rebellion, the host of the saints and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did and truth was thrown to the ground.” Daniel 8:12

Truth became a casualty of this rebellion. In so many ways, we become prideful and rebellious in our walk with God and truth gets thrown to the ground. When we think that we have a right or special access to God because of our position or our success, we are the leaders of rebellion. And when we believe that what God has done would not have been possible without us, we buy into the lie. Truth gets thrown to the ground.

The past week has seen a man of God who was being used by God in a powerful way fall in the battle. I don’t know this man personally, and I have no idea about the depth of his sin or the struggles he is facing. But for all of us who may want to throw stones or cast judgments or think we are above such things, we are throwing truth to the ground.

Some may argue my interpretation or exegesis of the passage. I am simply sharing what God showed me today from his word: I can kill truth very quickly if I am not careful. When I get arrogant and judgmental, when I get lazy or casual, when I get frustrated and tempted, I am on the edge of body slamming the truth. I need to remember that all that is good in me is the result of all the good Jesus has done.

What are the areas that you need to pick up truth? Where are you buying into the lie of rebellion?

Monday, June 15, 2009

When God Shows Up

The greatest sign that God has shown up in a person’s life or in a church community is that change happens. I don’t mean change from one music style to another or change from one preference to another. I mean real, deep down, heartfelt change. There is no chance that humanity can encounter divinity and not be changed by the experience.

Scripture is full of stories of men and women who were changed by the mere presence of God. Noah built something never before seen based on an encounter with God. Moses found courage to leave the desert as a shepherd and lead a movement of a million people from Egypt. Paul went from persecuting Christians to being persecuted. The one common factor in each experience was that God showed up in a powerful way.

Today we go through our religious routines and wonder why God is not responding to what we are doing. Is it possible that what we are doing is not blessed by God simply because it is what “we” are doing and not the power of his presence we desire? I have no idea why God moves the way he does or chooses to use some people and not others. But I know that people or churches that are used by God are the ones that embrace his presence and encourage change from selfishness to worship and humility.

We have seen God move in the life of LifeQuest Church in the last few weeks like never before in our ministry. I know it is not because I have suddenly become a better speaker. I know it is not because our worship team is playing better music. I know it is not because we have a lot of flash and glitter to our services. All I know is that God is showing up because people’s lives have been changed.

People who have never been to church before are now attending every week. People who had rejected God all of their lives are now stepping across the line of faith. Yesterday we threw a baptism party for seven people. People who were apathetic to church life are now stepping up to tackle major ministry areas. People who were not really excited about sharing their faith are now bringing their friends and neighbors to hear the message of Christ.

God has been showing up here. I pray that we never miss that fact. I pray that we never lose sight of the fact that God is changing people’s lives. I hope we never think it is about us. I hope we always remember it is about his presence.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pedals

I learned two great lessons yesterday as I tried to get some exercise on my bike: never leave your cell phone at home and always make sure your equipment is ready. I had planned to burn some calories with a bike ride late yesterday afternoon. I got my iPod, jumped on my bike and took off.

I was getting into it. My heart was starting to pump, a sweat was breaking out, and Daughtery was thumping through my ears. A side note: “Crashed” may not be the song of choice when riding on a busy street!! About two miles into my ride something suddenly was not right. My left foot suddenly was doing its own thing. In order for a bike to work properly, both feet need to move in the same direction. I thought I had broken my chain, but the pedal on the left side had fallen off my bike. Okay, no big deal. Find the pedal, screw it in, and get going again. Wrong!!

I found the pedal, but the threads wouldn’t work. I could not screw the pedal back onto the extension to make it work. This was no good. I had a choice: walk the bike home two miles or try to ride it home two miles. Of course, I chose foolishly. Do you know how hard it is to ride a bike with one pedal? I thought I may be like a one legged duck who swims in circles. Instead I found out I was one giant cramp in my left leg as I tried to ride my bike home.

I have thought about the spiritual implications of this incident. Maybe the lesson is to prepare before you begin. Maybe the lesson is to fight through any difficulty. Maybe the lesson is that foolish people do foolish things and have to deal with the consequences.

For me, the most important lesson I can come up with is the wheels (or pedals) sometimes come off in life. We are headed one direction and suddenly there is a major issue. The question then becomes how we deal with it. There are all kinds of great quotes to use here: “When the going gets tough the tough get going.” “No pain no gain.” “Never quit fighting until the fight is done.”

I don’t know if there are any great lessons here. I simply know that the unexpected happens and we have no choice but to deal with it. So today, I will go home, fix my bike, crank some music and pedal!!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Idols and Furnaces


Occasionally I read through scripture and come across a familiar bible story and my mind re-enacts the Veggie Tales version of the events. I have been reading through Daniel in my devotion time lately and this morning was spending some time in Daniel 3; you know the story of Rack, Shack and Benny. This passage has some great insights for us and some timeless truths for adults of any age.

• Humanity loves to build idols to ourselves. (Daniel 3:5-6)
Nebuchadnezzar decided that he needed to be worshipped as a god. He built an idol and commanded people to worship him. As a leader, I must always be checking my ego to see if I am leading people to follow me or to follow Christ.

• Rack, Shack and Benny took a stand and were unwilling to compromise their convictions to worship only the true God. (Daniel 3:12) We must continually ask the questions, “What am I worshipping instead of God?” We may not have an idol to bow to or an image we worship, but anything that compromises God’s truth for our own pleasure is an idol.

• The three were willing to go to the furnace whether God rescued them or not. (Daniel 3:16-18) It is easy to say we will do whatever God asks of us, but how far are we truly willing to go? They had no guarantee that God would rescue them, only the faith that he could. They were committed to worship only the one true God.

• Their faith was contagious. (Daniel 3:26) Nebuchadnezzar was willing to kill anyone who did not worship him. After the events of Daniel 3, he was willing to kill anyone who spoke against the one true God. Maybe his zeal was a little over the top, but he learned from the three committed followers of God what true faith looked like.

How far are we willing to go for our faith? How much does God call us to seek him and know him in order to make him known to the world around us? Are we willing to go to the furnace for our faith?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Thirst

My mind has been in a race all morning. I went to bed with a heavy heart because of some issues other people were dealing with and woke up this morning with my mind running a million miles an hour. When circumstances in our lives seem crazy, disruptive, out of control and frustrating, it is very difficult to rise above them and put on the “happy face” that everything is fine.

Eternally I know that Jesus has everything under control and that my life is secure in him. But the circumstances that I find myself battling are not always easy, nor do they feel very spiritual. In fact, it simply seems like I am running in place, making no progress and bogged down by a heavy heart and a mind jumbled by details.

It is in these moments that I must hit a spiritual reset button. It is in this time that I need to step back and look eternally at the truth of my life and not the temporary obstacles. In the end, God has my best in store for me and my life is in his hands.

I am reminded of David’s words as he bared his soul to God:
“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you, my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1.

My soul longs for God’s presence, his peace and his comfort. I seek his heart and his perspective. I long for a reminder of his grace and mercy in my life.

The most interesting this about all of this is that the circumstances are not directly related to my own. I hurt for someone I don’t even know personally because of pain in his family’s life. I hurt for families in our church that are hurting. I long for more connection with the one true God in order to feed my own soul.

The way to rid your soul of barrenness in the desert land is to find water. In John 4, Jesus promised that those who trust in him will never thirst again. Jesus, please quench my thirst with the power of your love, your grace, and your presence.