You Are Not Supposed to Do that Alone

ikea 2If only I had paid more attention to the first picture. How hard could this be anyway? It was just an IKEA bed for goodness sake and one of the simplest ones they had. This seemed like an easy project and the instructions had big diagrams for each step. I should have known better as I do not have a good track record of putting IKEA furniture together or anything from that Swedish “store of torture”. Part way through the project I tried to put a screw though a hole like the diagram said only to realize there was no hole to put it through. I had already put a peg in that hole. At that point I did the only thing I could think to do and called in my able assistant Deb. She quickly assessed the situation after looking at the diagram and said “Why did you put a peg there?” Apparently if you used a microscope you could see that every other hole on that side of piece of wood was supposed to have a peg in it, but not that particular one. How had I missed this crucial step? After carefully removing the peg with a pair of plyers, I moved on to the next steps with one very important change. After looking at the first picture again, I realized that the diagram was clearly saying that this was a two person job.

Several hours later after drilling holes that we were not supposed to have to drill and taking apart and reassembling entire sections that we had assembled incorrectly, we finally finished the bed. I was so tired at that point that I nearly jumped in the bed for the night, but I did remember to clean up the mess I had made. As we were putting things away, I looked at my bride of over twenty five years and wondered how many other projects we had done together. We have not always been very good at doing this and can easily get on each other’s nerves, but the older we get, the more that we realize how much we need each other and value each other’s gifts. I am much better when working with her and will never assemble another piece of IKEA furniture without her. Maybe I should apply that kind of thinking to other areas of my life.

For a long time I have struggled to study God’s word. I am not talking about just reading it, I am talking about really understanding it and applying it. While there are many parts of the scriptures that are easy to understand, there are lots of sections that are not. This must be an issue for a lot of other people too as we published a book called “Blurry – Bringing Clarity to the Bible” earlier this year and people are really appreciating it. The trouble is that we have been primarily taught to be like the Bereans who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” This has led many to adopt a lone ranger Bible study mentality. I think we may need to be more like the Ethiopian who welcomed Phillip into his chariot so that he could better understand what he was reading.

This fall, we joined a home group that is studying the book of Luke and this past week we were going through chapter six where Jesus’ disciples were accused of working on the Sabbath and Jesus himself was criticized for healing on the Sabbath. While I have always found it interesting that the religious leaders of that day were so concerned about this, I assumed this was simply because they wanted to properly follow God’s commandments accurately. What I did not know was that they actually believed that if every person in Israel followed the law perfectly and observed the Sabbath exactly as they understood it for one day they could hasten the arrival of the Messiah. This little insight was shared by a scholar in our group who had obviously studied this passage in much more depth than I had and had done more research. Knowing this transformed my understanding of the passage and made it so much more obvious why Jesus was so reviled by these men. How ironic that they were trying to apply their interpretation of the law to the very Messiah Himself and they never knew it.

The next time I get ready to study the Bible, I plan to be sure to include some resources from people who have studied it much more that I have. We are so blessed to have Bible commentaries, dictionaries, handbooks and concordances to shed light on challenging passages in God’s word. More importantly, I will pursue opportunities to study with people who are hungry to learn and willing to share their insights.

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The Elijah Syndrome

photo 1It is easy to feel spiritually isolated. Kent certainly did. For many years Kent has worked in the city of Philadelphia with various immigrant population groups and has always has a heart for the less fortunate and those needing help. He has worked with different church groups and denominations and never quite found his fit. What he did know is that he has a passion for prayer, for God to move in Philadelphia and for the church to work together. Until this weekend, he had not seen this take place – at least not all three in the same place. He had recently heard about a new event happening at the CLC campus in Fort Washington, PA called the College of Prayer and he decided to attend.

At one point during the weekend, there was an opportunity for testimony and this is what he said, “I came here and did not know photo 2anyone in this room and yet we all share the same burden.” He could not believe it and realized that he had been suffering from the Elijah Syndrome. Even more amazing was that Kent had been a drug addict, was radically saved and had come to same location 44 years ago to find a Christian bookshop that could provide spiritual nourishment for his hunger. At that time CLC operated a store on the campus in Fort Washington. Now several decades later, he stumbled into our store in nearby Wyncote, found out about the event and decided to attend. The same organization that God has used in his youth would now be used again to connect Kent to the wider body of believers in Philly with the same heart passion.

photo 7I too can suffer from the Elijah Syndrome thinking that I am the only one that God has burdened about a particular issue or called to focus on a particular concern. For a number of years now, I have desired to see our campus used in a more public way for God to unite the churches in Philadelphia and to be a catalyst for Kingdom expansion. We have an auditorium that had become a large storage closet and dining room that got used about once a month. Surely, God wanted us to use this facility more frequently for His glory. With parking on our property at a premium for those living on the campus and no obvious momentum pushing us to do anything, this had become a silent burden and a back burner issue.

Several months ago I was asked to be a part of the planning team for the College of Prayer. Little did I know that we would host thephoto 8 launch event in our facilities. As the five of us on the planning team worked together I discovered fellow brothers in Christ that were deeply passionate about the power of prayer to revive the church in our region. Not only that, they were excited about the prospect of utilizing the CLC and WEC campus to bring like-minded people together. I had truly found my “band of brothers”.

photo 3The event this weekend drew over 80 people from more than 30 different churches to our campus. They came with a spirit of expectation and God met us in a powerful way. Most of us had never met before and yet it almost felt a “spiritual” family reunion. The teaching centered on using the Lord’s Prayer to re-orient us to pray in a more Biblical and effective way. Jim Rudd, our planning team leader and the Pastor of True Vine Community Church used an orange as a powerful illustration of our need to peel away the bitterness that often gets in the way of true forgiveness. Fred Hartley, CLC author and Senior Pastor of Lilburn Alliance Church in Atlanta was our keynote speaker.

Looking forward, I am grateful to be a part of the planning team that will be hosting this event twice a year for the next two and halfIMG_1865 years. The College of Prayer consists of six modules which are done over two days twice a year for three years. I know that this weekend has deeply impacted me and will impact this region as all of us who attended find more and more people with a similar heart passion. God is on the move in our region of the World and prayer is the key to His moving to revive the church.

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Honoring Dr. Myles Munroe

myles munroeI am still in shock as I write this week. Last night as I was checking Facebook I saw the first indication that something terrible had happened. Initially, I thought and hoped that it was some kind of hoax, but as I started watching my newsfeed, it became all too clear that one of God’s special servants had died in a plane crash. Dr. Myles Munroe and his dear wife had gone home to meet their maker far too early and in such a tragic and unexpected way. He may be gone now, but his legacy and his writing will live on far beyond his lifetime.

There are very few Christian authors who are so widely loved and greatly admired in so many nations around the world. As I have traveled to countries in Africa, Asia and South America I have almost always found his books featured and included in the best seller lists in various languages. He wrote onpower of praise important topics like relationships, marriage and prayer. What he will be best known for, however, was his writing on leadership, purpose and kingdom principles. He was an inspiration and a motivator to hundreds of thousands of people in America, Africa and the Caribbean. He may be one of the best known International Christian authors selling in America today and yet is far better known around the world.

He was a graduate of Oral Roberts University and founder of Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Though he was a dynamic Pentecostal preacher, he was also appreciated by people of many other evangelical perspectives and was a speaker for Promise Keepers. His impact is being remembered today by people as diverse as Dave Ramsey, Priscilla Shirer and Samuel Rodriguez (President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference).

As a new Christian retailer working in an urban context in the late 1990s, I was immediately impacted by his writing as so many of my customers asked for his books and commented on how much they appreciated him. In more recent years, I was deeply impressed when he agreed to be the keynote speaker for one of my friend’s regional organizations despite his International notoriety and then returned again and again. Whenever I would travel to visit CLC locations around the world, I would often ask our team members what authors they appreciated, read and recommended and very often Dr. Myles Munroe topped the list.

In thinking about how to honor him and his legacy, I have a feeling he what he would most appreciate is for people to live out the principles that he wrote so much about. As we understand our true purpose and power as believers in Jesus Christ and live as Kingdom builders, we will remind people why this man from the Bahamas was so important. He was a Kingdom builder and a leader who lived what he spoke and wrote about. I pray that many more Christian leaders will do the same and honor their Savior the way that he did.

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The Philly Five

In Mark 6:4 Jesus said,

“A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

This can also be true in the world of writing and publishing.  It is exciting to see how God is using some folks from Philly in a big way these days and it is time to highlight their work.  First up is:

andy crouchANDY CROUCH who is a prolific writer and now executive editor of Christianity Today. He was playing godalso executive producer of This Is Our City, a multi-year project featuring documentary video, reporting, and essays about Christians seeking the flourishing of their cities.  Many people do not know that he lives in the Philadelphia area as he is often traveling and speaking around the country.  His two books, Culture-Making and Playing God are must reads and top my list of some of the best written and most necessary books of the last decade.  I was greatly humbled that he was willing to spend two hours with me at his home drinking tea and discussing his life and work.  I can’t recommend him and his books highly enough. Next is:

paul millerPAUL MILLER is the founder of seeJesus.net and a great writer.  His book, A Praying Life became a runaway best-seller in recent years and is my favorite book on prayer.  As I have said in a previous blog, his most recent book, A Loving Life is just as good.  Paul is passionate about creating, teaching and writing unique Interactive Bible Studies and his a praying lifeministry has developed a global platform for the Person of Jesus Bible Study materials.  He is the son of Jack Miller and helped his Dad co-found World Harvest Mission (now called Serge).  On any given Sunday he can be found teaching Sunday school at Chelten Baptist Church (now just called Chelten – A Church of Hope).  In the years ahead, I hope to partner with him in making his resources available worldwide through the CLC network.  His books remind me why I love reading Christian books in the first place. Next is:

Eric Mason ThrivingERIC MASON pastor of Epiphany Fellowship, founder of the Thriving in the City network and Conference and now a fantastic author.  His is also a friend and someone that I greatly admire.  His first book, Manhood Restored, has taken off like a rocket and is being used by mens groups all over America.  Just this week I heard about a shelter for homeless men that is using it with great results.  CLC has been privileged to partner with him for book manhood restoredsignings and as the host book store for his conference in Philly.  Eric is a passionate church planter and is on the board of the Acts 29 Network.  He has already helped plant several churches and is in the process of sending out three new church planters next year.  His gospel centered approach to urban ministry is taking root in my city and is making a different all over the country. Next is:

paul trippPAUL TRIPP who is the founder of Paul Tripp Ministries and is a speaker and author who travels all over the country.  He is best known for his teaching on parenting and marriage, but he is also developing a reputation for speaking into the lives of pastors in a deep way.  His book, A Dangerous Calling is a must read for all those involved in the pastorate of considering getting into it.  Paul has been affiliated with several important Philly institutions including CCEF, Westminster Theological Seminary and 10th Presbyterian Church at various times in the past.   His twitter feed and social media presencedangerous calling have helped him develop a major national following.  I had the privilege of using his materials to teach a parenting class as was deeply impacted by it.  What a blessing he is to the body of Christ. Next is:

david appleDAVID APPLE who is the Minister of Mercy at historic 10th Presbyterian Church in the heart of Philadelphia.  He is the author of Not Just a Soup Kitchen which was published by CLC. His book is the culmination of twenty five years of ministry and a lifetime of suffering.  Despite having survived a near-death skull fracture, childhood sexual abuse, thoughts of suicide and spiritual bankruptcy, he has been used in a powerful way to minister to others.  It was a labor of love to help him publish his first book and it has been a great joy to hear stories of how God is using the book to inspire people all over the country.  He will be the keynote speaker at our upcoming banquet and has a story that is a must read for anyone involved in thenot just a soup kitchen Diaconate or any form of mercy ministry.

I am blessed to live in a city that is the home to so many great Christian authors.  These were just a few of those making a real impact through their writing today.

 

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Leaning Into Relationships

mens groupMy phone was ringing again. I looked at who was calling and had that gut wrenching moment that many of us have every now and again. Would I answer the phone or let it go to voice mail? Work calls are easier to triage because people are normally calling for a business or ministry related reason. It is those personal calls that are not so easy. Is this person going to need a lot of my time? Am I emotionally prepared to deal with this person and their needs right now? Am I going to be more drained than energized when this call is done?

The reality is that relationships take work and sometimes lots of it. The older I get the more I value the people in my life and the more I see my own sin patterns more clearly. I have always been more task oriented than people oriented even though I am an extravert and am normally energized by being around other people. Hanging out, chatting, laughing, dreaming and planning can be a lot of fun. It is those messy moments when someone wants to share their problems with me that I suddenly zone out and find a way to retreat from the conversation.

Jesus must have been exhausted most of the time during the years of his ministry. He had thousands of people following him around hoping for a miracle or maybe a meal. He lived in community with the twelve disciples and was frequently visiting the homes of people to share meals. The gospels present the narrative of Jesus’s ministry as non-stop activity. He was so busy that they even had to let sick person down through the roof of a building that he was in just to get his attention. Despite all this, he never exhibited the tell-tale signs of exhaustion – irritability and a short temper. Now the easy answer to that paradox is that He was God and did not sin. While I agree with that truth, I also think that Jesus set a pretty good example for us to follow that does not require us to be God. Nobody was more relational that Jesus and no one was closer to their heavenly father.

Here are some of the principles that Jesus exhibited that I am learning to appreciate more and more as the days go by:

1. The most important relationship we have is with our heavenly father. No matter what He was doing or where he was going, Jesus always took time to get alone with God. Prayer and solitude were built into the core of his schedule and were a part of his daily rhythm. These times prepared him for the rest of what He had to deal with.

2. Jesus had close friends that cared for Him. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were frequent hosts for Jesus on His travels and provided a place of refuge for Him when He needed it most. Frank Viola has written a great book on their relationship and the town the lived in called “God’s Favorite Place on Earth”.

3. Jesus spent most of his time in the company of the twelve disciples that He was pouring his life into. They did everything together and ultimately became world changers and martyrs. He did not try to be all things to all people. Instead He was very intentional in the use of his time and the people that he spent most of it with. Interestingly, He even chose to spend significant time with the person that would betray Him.

4. Certain types of people were especially important to him – children, the sick, the vulnerable and the needy. He was also very intentional about spending time with controversial people who had pretty messy lives like prostitutes and tax collectors.

5. He did not waste his time trying to impress the powerful and influential religious leaders of His time. If fact, He often did things that would aggravate and irritate them. More often than not He was calling them to task for not following God’s law as it was supposed to be implemented.

As I evaluate my own life, I recognize the value in solitude and prayer as paramount to God softening my hard heart. Only He can make me more empathetic to the needs of others. Maintaining close relationships with a small group of friends has proven to be life giving in recent years. These men have allowed me to share my mess with them and make me far more capable of leaning into the messiness of others. Learning to pour myself into a select group of leaders is a responsibility that I am only now beginning to understand. Valuing “the least of these” and not trying to influence the powerful and connected is probably one of my greatest weaknesses and something that I will be working on for many years to come. May I one day fully understand Jesus’s upside down kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

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The Church in Philadelphia

christchurch-paI live in a great city. God is on the move in Philadelphia and He is working in many different contexts. In Revelation 3, God speaking through the Apostle John writes the following to the church of Philadelphia,

“I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

As it was then it is now in the city of brotherly love that I call home. When people think of God moving in America, it is easy to think about places like Colorado Springs, Grand Rapids, Orlando or Southern California where there are significant clusters of evangelical organizations and mega churches. This was not always the case. Many years ago, the hubs of evangelical activity and vitality were places like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. Interestingly, God is once again doing a new work in these urban areas and it is exciting.

This week, we hosted a Clergy Appreciation Breakfast and had a record turnout. The hunger for a new move of God and the Clergy Appreciation Breakfast 2014experience of His manifest presence was palpable. While the attendees were from many different denominations and churches with widely varying theological perspectives, they were all able to agree on one thing. God’s tangible presence and power are the only things that are going to make real, lasting change take place in our city. People are tired of gimmicks, trendy tactics and attention getting stunts. The problems of the city are so gigantic and intractable that it is easy to get discouraged and to see the challenges as simply insurmountable. Despite this, the atmosphere at this breakfast was one of expectation and hope and it greatly encouraged my heart.

The face of the church in Philadelphia is multifaceted. There are store-front churches and mega churches, traditional and contemporary and everything in between. Each month, a select group of clergy meets in a gathering called Partners in Harvest. On Friday, I had the privilege of joining them for lunch and listening to what God is doing in their midst. Some of these churches have been doing ministry for decades and draw hundreds of people each week, others are relatively new and only draw a few dozen on any given Sunday. As I listened to their robust discussion, it quickly became apparent that they all had one thing in common – a commitment to the life changing power of the gospel as the only solution to all the problems facing any urban congregation. In a world where churches are more known for the celebrity status of their pastor or the quality of their worship team, this was refreshing.

Eric Mason ThrivingIn the midst of all the things going on with churches in our city, one of the most exciting is the work of Epiphany Fellowship, their pastor Eric Mason and his annual Thriving Conference. The conference has grown so big that it moved out of the church and onto the Temple University campus this week. To be clear, this is not the urban version of the Catalyst conference and it did not have thousands of attendees. Instead, several hundred urban ministry practitioners from around the country gathered together to learn from each other and to share stories of how God is moving in their cities. As always, it was capped off by powerful teaching from Pastor Eric Mason himself and his exhortation to focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

CLC has provided the conference book store for the last couple of years and this event is something that I always look forward to attending. The enthusiasm of seeing the next generation of urban church planters buying books and seeking to develop their spiritual reading habits is incredibly motivating. We were given a suggested list of books to bring and they were not light reading. Despite this, people flocked around the tables and spent a great deal of time making book choices. Reading is certainly not dead in this younger generation and even more encouraging, they are choosing to read books that will stretch them and their ministries.

As I think about the future, I am reminded of the past. All great moves of God have been preceded by times of prayer and repentance. It is no surprise that the College of Prayer is launching a site in Philadelphia this fall. Our ministry will be the host site for this catalytic event in November and we look forward to seeing who God will bring to this first weekend. Fred Hartley, who is the President of the College of Prayer and a CLC author, will be the keynote speaker. May this be the start of a revival in the city where America was founded.

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Sharing the Wealth

sharingIn January 2012, a momentous event occurred. Two long-standing mission associations merged to create a new organization called Missio Nexus. One was CrossGlobal Link (formerly the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association) and the other was The Mission Exchange (formerly the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies). Given their similar goals, this was not entirely surprising, but given their diverse constituencies this was not an easy process. Coming out of this merger, Missio Nexus has proven to be a very effective organization with a critical purpose summarized in a tag line that I love,

“The Great Commission is too big for anyone to accomplish alone and too important not to try to do together.”

Last week, I discussed the reality that the vast majority of evangelical Christian publishing originates in the United States and is now controlled by secular publishing companies. The consequences of this are already being felt around the world as both the best and worst of American evangelical publishing are normally the quickest books to be translated and sold. Far too often, the latest theological debates and cultural trends happening in the American evangelical church are the basis for best sellers. These are then repackaged for sale in countries all over the world with little to no consideration of their cultural relevance or necessity in those countries. How else could you explain Amish fiction showing up in various languages and the story of a little American boy with visions of heaven spurring an entire new publishing genre?

This trend will not change any time soon especially as more consolidation continues to take place in the industry and more and more money is spent to grow the brands of leading American evangelical authors. In a great irony, it is now clear that the center of evangelicalism has moved from North America to the global south. There is much hand wringing in America these days about the decline of certain denominations and the mass defection of an entire generation of young adults from the local church. At the very same time, the church is growing so fast in Latin America, Africa and Asia that trained leaders are in very short supply. Despite this, very few voices from the global south have been published by American publishing houses. This is a challenge that must be addressed as these voices are vital to the growth of the church in the years ahead. Here are some thoughts on what could be done:

1. Acquisition editors need to pursue authors that have global platforms and not just an American audience. There are many authors that are traveling, preaching and teaching in various nations and creating a worldwide interest in their content. International sales potential needs to play a larger role in acquisition decisions.

2. American evangelical gatekeepers need to invite more international leaders to the party. The leaders of the Gospel Coalition, Catalyst and other major conferences need to be more intentional about asking leaders from other countries to be plenary speakers at their events. Giving this type of exposure will jump start the platform development of new and emerging authors.

3. Key American evangelical bloggers need to invite international authors to guest blog for them on a more regular basis. This will help to expose new issues to their audience and provide platform development opportunities for great writers from other cultures. It might also help to change the tone of so much of the vitriol and disputing that seem to be the most popular items in the blogosphere.

4. Major American authors need to intentionally mentor international authors and find ways to help them grow their audience. Why not co-write a book together or simply endorse and promote some of these exciting new voices. They could introduce these same authors to literary agents and publicists that could open doors for them as well.

5. Publishers (who are not controlled by secular parent entities) could choose to invest some of their limited budgets in emerging voices from the global south and commit to helping them develop an American audience for their writing. They could also partner with publishers from other nations that have already spent time developing these new authors.

When I attend global gatherings of CLC leaders these days, I am always thrilled to see how God is providing high quality leaders from all the nations where we serve. I look forward to the day when we can celebrate authors from their nations who are impacting the world through their writing and the books that are being published.

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