Tag: theology (page 2 of 3)

The beauty of a new name

image credit: Creative Commons Kiss the Lava

The story of the Prodigal Son, from Luke 15, is one of those stories that you’ve probably heard so often that it goes in one ear and out the other.

It’s a story that’s easily taken for granted, filed away in the folder: “I’ve got that one figured out.”

Read it too quickly and you’ll miss its beauty and depth. Check this out:

There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need….But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:11-14; 17-20)

When the Prodigal son returned home, his father didn’t greet him with a new set of rules and regulations and expectations and guilt.

Because grace doesn’t heap burdens. It releases them. Grace doesn’t tighten restrictions. It frees prodigals to receive joy. Instead of chaining, it loosens bonds. In fact, “grace” says you were in bondage before, and that now it’s time to be free.

Even when you’ve squandered your life. Even when you’ve destroyed relationships. Even when you’ve walked away from those who love you. Even when you’ve done that thing again…and again. Even when you’ve held on to bitterness. Even when you’ve acted the fool. Even when you’ve spit in the face of those who love you the most.

When what you deserve is to be cut off from the family, left out in the cold, and shut out from all blessings. When what you think is coming your way includes condemnation and shame. When your stupidity has landed you in a heaping pile of your own mess, your Father smiles and says,

“You were dead, but now you’re alive. You were lost, but now you’re found. You. Are. My. Son.”

And there it is. God rewrites your story, changes the ending, and gives you a new name.

It’s easy to find ourselves broken by life, by the choices of others, and by our own poor decisions, stuck in a hole we dug ourselves into. No matter how deep you’ve gone, how far you’ve strayed, or how many broken lives you’ve left in your path of destruction, it’s not too late.

Turn back now, and your eyes will meet a Savior running towards you with arms open and full of Joy.

* photo credit: Creative Commons user Kiss the Lava


Wal Mart, customer service, and your church


image credit: CreationSwap user Esther Gibbons

When I think of customer service, I don’t instantly think of Wal Mart.

In fact, when I think of Wal Mart, I think of two things:

Typically, customer service hasn’t jumped out of the aisles to scare me at Wal Mart. Until recently.

I was looking for aluminum baking pans. I went up and down the grocery aisles. Looked at every end cap. Even walked through the milk area twice thinking maybe I’d missed them.

Asking for help

Then I broke a cardinal man-code. I asked for help from a Wal Mart associate. Thinking the pans were somewhere in the grocery section, I asked someone who was working in that section, stocking shelves.

I instantly felt guilty for asking them. They were in the middle of something else, deeply engrossed in unpacking and stocking cans of something. I knew I was a distraction from him accomplishing his job.

“I’m sorry to bother you…really, I know you’re working on something else. But could you point me in the direction of the aluminum baking pans? I can’t find them anywhere. Just point me in the general direction and I’ll get out of your hair.”

I must have had a wince on my face, anticipating a pair of rolling eyes, sharp tone, and general disdain.

But I got none of those. In fact, I got exactly the opposite.

“No bother at all.” she said.  “I am 99% sure I know where they are. Let’s go find them together.”

So the employee walked me across the store, away from the grocery section (I’m dumb…I know), to the home goods aisles, and right to the aluminum baking pans.

“Wow. Thank you so much!” I said.

“No problem at all. Glad to help.” she returned.

I was floored. And felt valued. And I found what I was looking for.

And in the process, my feelings about Wal Mart, which weren’t necessarily negative in the first place, took a drastic turn upwards. Suddenly, this store became a store that valued me, a customer. I may have gone in for the discounts…but I’ll return because of the stellar, friendly, customer-focused customer service.

Customer service and your theology

I began to wonder if we treat people like this on Sunday mornings in our local churches. Especially staff members.

It’s easy to feel like we have more “important things” than helping someone find a different classroom. Or find the welcome desk. Or get information about another ministry. Our role is much “bigger” and more “important” than that…we preach, we lead children’s ministries, and we equip volunteers. We set up hallways, hang banners, and operate the computers. We don’t have time for little things like, “Do you know where the baby dedication happens today?

We quickly forget that, though our roles are important, it’s the people that we’re called to serve that are vital. Creating lasting, memorable experiences is unbelievably important in our churches. The experience someone has on a Sunday morning doesn’t trump the Gospel…it fleshes the Gospel out.

You can help someone have a better, more beautiful picture of Church by the way you serve them, instead of just handing them off or pointing them in another direction. The way you carefully and skillfully and patiently lead guests has lasting impacts on the health of your local church.

The way we treat others reveals our theology.

We serve a God who is infinitely patient and gracious with us. To love others any less is cheapening grace.

“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.” – Exodus 34:6


When guests leave your church, do they feel valued?

When someone needs help, do they feel like they’re a burden on you if they ask?

Have you ever gotten so engrossed in your specific ministry that you were bothered when asked for a little help?

Is your church more “product” focused than “people” focused?



I Hope you Enjoy Your Boring Train

One of my mentors growing up made a drastic change in his life. He used to be a guy that people loved to be around…one of those people that laughed and joked and had a great time. He was infectious.

Then one day something happened.

He got on the boring train.

He began equating “holiness” with “seriousness.” No longer did he have time to joke around. Life’s too short for that. If you’re going to be holy, you’ve got to be serious and focused and intense. Truly holy people didn’t have time to joke around, because there are more important things to do.

Boring train…all aboard!

photo credit: Creation Swap user Chris Powell

The Boring Train is Empty

I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but this whole thing really rubbed me the wrong way. Mainly because I no longer enjoyed being around him…and apparently none of our group did, either. Instead of being a bridge over troubled waters, he created troubled waters and burned the bridge.

I’d love to say that my uneasy feelings were motivated by a deep desire to honor God, rooted in the Truth found in the Scriptures. But I was more pragmatic. He made me feel creepy. Ever said a joke to a guy and had them just stare right back at you, stone-faced? Not a great experience.

Laughter & a Good God

As I spent more and more time in Scripture, I realized that my creeper radar going off pretty strongly in my head growing up actually had some roots in Scripture. Check out what the Psalmist said:

Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. – Psalm 126:2-3

I don’t know if you fully caught that. Did you see the response from the nations? When they heard the people’s mouths filled with laughter and their tongues singing songs of joy, they said, “They must serve a great God!” Laughter and joy became attractional for the church. Outsiders began to notice the community of God-followers because they were laughing. Not handing out tracts. Not going door-to-door and inviting people to Sunday morning. Not because of a billboard. But because of laughter. Laughter pointed to the greater reality that God was good.

Want to be sensitive to seekers? Laugh a little.

Want to show people that we serve a good God? Laugh a little.

Want to make much of the grace of God? Laugh a little.

Want to show people that holiness isn’t boringness? Laugh a little.

Want to live in a way that shows people how great God is? Laugh a little.

To those of you who think that holiness and boringness should go together: enjoy riding the boring train.

Get it? Enjoy riding…oh, never mind.


Have you ever equated holiness with seriousness? Ever thought that laughing could honor God?


* Photo credit, Creation Swap user Chris Powell




Aiming for 2nd place

At a family dinner last week, I overheard one cousin ask another one this, about her recent dance competition:

Was it one of those competitions where you competed? Like for 1st or 2nd place?

The conversation then proceeded as normal.  She just wondered whether it was a competition with prizes or one where “everyone wins” or one where there are rankings when you’re done.  I get that.  But in the moment, I was struck by two words: 2nd place.

Nobody competes for 2nd place, do they?

If that’s your goal, any good coach would tell you you’ve sold yourself short.  Even if you’re not that good, you always start out competing for the grand prize.  No NFL team says, “We hope to lose the Super Bowl game this year.”  Coaches are honored and revered because they won the Super Bowl, not because they lost it.  Pitchers are remembered because they won the World Series.

Nobody dreams about ‘winning’ second place.

So why in our churches do we think it’s ok to aim for second place in areas like

  • leadership
  • church events
  • Sunday’s music
  • Sunday’s announcements
  • the resources we produce
  • the small groups we lead
  • the trainings we offer
  • the meetings we plan
  • the blogs we write
  • the conversations we have
  • our sermon series
  • our outreach initiatives
  • community impact

Does the Gospel make it ok for us to shoot for second? Because the message is so powerful, are we then given the freedom to not give our best effort to all areas of our life and ministry?  It’s tough to see how God is honored when we put forth half-hearted efforts.  Ever.

So let me be your coach today.  Don’t compete for 2nd place!  Give it all you’ve got!

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:14


Don’t be “too good” for me

I am a learner.  And as such, I actually enjoy learning.

And when I started out as small groups pastor at Grace Community Church, I had no idea what I was doing.  Some days, I still feel like that.

So I started looking for a tribe.  I read books.  Blogs.  Twitter accounts.  I went to conferences.  Sent emails.  Made phone calls.  I just knew there had to be a tribe out there.

And I grew a ton through this process.  But I got a myriad of no-responses.  Or responses that went something like,

Well, I will be at this conference, and we can talk there…if you’re able to get to Dallas…tomorrow by 6 am.

I was just trying to build some relationships and learn from guys who had been blazing the path I was peering down.

The problem was that these guys were ‘too big’ for me. They were a bit too important to talk with a rookie in Tennessee. (although rock stars Heather Zempel, Alan Danielson, Mark Howell, and Rick Howerton (just to name a few) actually did take time to answer emails and phone calls…thanks guys!).

I never want to get so important that I can’t schedule time to talk with another person who wants to learn from my mistakes.  I never want to be the big shot that can’t walk someone else through principles that have helped me grow as a young pastor.

If I ever get that ‘important’ I have done something wrong.  The day that happens, please unfollow me on Twitter, block me on Facebook, and unsubscribe to my blog.  I’m not worth following at that point.*

Pride goes before destruction,
and haughtiness before a fall.

Better to live humbly with the poor
than to share plunder with the proud. – Proverbs 16:18-19

Will you give up the plunder with me?

*Note to future self: you’re not as awesome as you think you are.


Theological laziness

Image by Redeemer Fellowship

We tend to take the easy road. The one that’s quicker, easier, and microwaved.  And that’s not all so bad with a lot of things.  Emails are much faster than letters.  Cell phones are much faster and more efficient than landlines.  Buying a book on Kindle is faster and cheaper than buying a physical copy and paying for shipping.

But when it comes to theology, don’t do it. Becoming a parrot is much easier than becoming a theologian.  But it’s not helpful for the Church.  And in the long run, it will leave you intellectually and theologically paralyzed.

At points in my life, I’ve felt pigeonholed into giving the right answer, quoting the right author, and listening to the right preachers.  Learn to think, talk, and write like the good guys.  Sure, I was encouraged to read the other writers/pastors, but just so I would know their side of the argument.

But we need to think for ourselves.  Read.  Study.  Listen.  And arrive at our own conclusions…not just haphazardly arrive at the same conclusions as the popular conservative, conference-speaking, book-writing pastors of our day.  Because we can read the Bible for ourselves.  And we can think for ourselves.  And we can develop theology ourselves.* We don’t have to consult other men and women when we are articulating our theology.  And when we consult them in place of thinking for ourselves, we miss out on a great benefit of study: discovery.

God still speaks

Call me crazy, but I still think that God speaks today, and He’s not just speaking to the popular pastors.  He’s speaking to me.  And you.  And all other believers.

Standing on the shoulders of giants is different than standing behind them yelling, “Yeah…what he said!”  Standing on the shoulders of giants means that we learn and grow from those who have gone before us.  Standing on their shoulders means we don’t simply lay hold of their conclusions…the ones it took them years to arrive at.  That borders on intellectual thievery.

Most people tend to take the easy way out.  When it comes to theology, don’t short-circuit the work on God in your heart.

Have you ever been lulled into taking the easy way out when it comes to understanding the things of God?

Disagree with me?  Leave a comment below and let’s discuss it!

*Hear me correctly: I’m not trying to divorce myself from our church fathers.  There’s a depth and richness to their writing that’s difficult to find today.  And there’s great wisdom in learning from those who have gone before us, and who are continuing to presently pave the way.  I’m just not linking myself so tightly with them that I can’t use the brain that God has given me to actually do what it was intended to do.  Think!


Unity, 11s on the 1s

If you’d like to catch up on this series, click HERE.


Let’s not divide and condemn concerning secondary matters. God loves unity.


A word for young pastors

Rick Howerton is a good friend of mine.  What I love about Rick is the wisdom that he has…and shares generously.  He has recently transitioned to a new position with NavPress, where he’s overseeing small group life.  In my opinion, Rick is the foremost small group expert in the country.  You can follow him on Twitter HERE.  His blog is currently being redone, and will launch again in January.  When it launches, it’ll be a must-read for small group pastors and leaders.

When I spend time around people who have been leading in the church for longer than I’ve been alive, I love to soak up as much wisdom from them as I can.  I want to know what I should be thinking, reading, doing, and being…now…so I can grow into the husband, father, pastor, and leader God intends.  I asked Rick to share some wisdom for young pastors.  Because none of us wants to waste the influence God’s given us.

A word for young pastors

What you interpret as your “instincts” may be the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. Throughout my ministry life I have found myself instinctively making leadership decisions. For many years I followed those instincts and saw God’s blessing. As I grew older and learned the Scripture I realized those instincts were actually the whispers of the Holy Spirit guiding me down biblical paths. Today, when I have an instinctive moment, I check it with the Word of God. Bottom line… do not ignore what may seem instinctive, check it with God’s Word then move forward if you’re on the same page as God.

Make your family the people you are most passionate about discipling. We seem to be embracing discipleship like we never have before. I’m noticing that, in our mind’s eye, discipleship is finding a few other people of the same gender and giving our time, attention, and discipleship energies to them. We should do this but not at the expense of the discipling of our own children. Remember this… God created in your child a longing to know the love of and to have the knowledge of the dad and mom that God gave them. You were appropriately chosen by God to disciple your kids.

Never believe the lie that new ideas are the only right ideas. It seems that every generation of church leaders chooses to set aside anything that was birthed through the generation that came before them. In so doing, we oftentimes move away from biblical church to generational and cultural church. Cling to biblical church while allowing new methods to be played out, but don’t play out new methods if they demand you delete the parts of the Bible that aren’t cool or sexy… today.

Don’t give too much of your attention to the great theological debates. If you do they will…

  1. redirect your energies from the transformation of hearts to theological treatises and coalitions that, in the end, will begin to shape a politician, not a pastor.
  2. lead you into ecclesiastical elitism… believing that those evangelicals whose theological perspective is different than yours are not as theologically astute as yourself or that the interpretations they espouse are heretical when in fact, both sides of the debate may simply be demanding a final word on what God is keeping a mystery (Deut. 29:29).
  3. force you into a pigeon-hole that will limit your ministry. Most of us want to affect the world in the name of Jesus Christ. Many have chosen to battle for a theological perspective which has limited the churches and movements they are welcomed into.
  4. become idols, taking the place of the Christ. You will know if this is true if your reputation is built on a theological perspective rather than Jesus Christ. Remember these things… What you speak of most passionately you will be known for. What you’re willing to go to battle for you will be known for. What we are to speak of most often and go to battle for is the person of Jesus Christ.


If you’re a young pastor or leader, I’d love to connect with you!  Please find me on TwitterFacebook, or follow along HERE on the blog.  Learn along with me, from guys like Rick.


Summer Reading List 2010

The difficult part for me about putting out a reading list is that these are books I haven’t read before.  So…don’t look at these books necessarily as the best books out there.  They may be way off base with certain things.  But I expect to be stretched.

Have you put your summer reading list together yet?


Should I kick them out of my group?

Should you kick someone out of your group if you find out they’re attending another church?

I’ve run into this question myself.  A group leader approaches me and says, “Can I invite ______…he goes to another church, but…”  Or a group member approaches me and says, “My good friend goes to ________ Church, but I’d love to invite her to our small group…can I?”

I’ve posted this question on Twitter HERE, The Small Groups QHub HERE, and gotten some great responses.

Todd brings up a good point

@benreed If it’s obvious their goal is to win others to their theological position, or they’re avoiding dealing with sin, i’d confront.

If their goal is to win others to their theological position, it’s time to have a conversation (though the whole “obvious” part is, in my estimation, difficult to ascertain).  We see this at different points in the New Testament, where people came into the local church and, through their teaching, intentionally divided the local church (passages dealing with false teaching: Matthew 24:11; Mark 13:5-6; Galatians 1:6-10; 2 Corinthians 11:1-4; Col. 2:1-10; Peter 3:17-18; 1 John 4:1-6).

Spence says

@benreed I ask them to view their time in group as training to launch groups at their church

I love that idea (though I have a few exceptions…you’ll see what I’m talking about below).

There’s a lot that goes into answering this question.  I don’t think that the answer is a simple, “Yes” or “No.”

Trying to understand another person’s intent/desire/theological bent/difficulties is not an easy task.

Should you kick someone out of your group if you find out they’re attending another church?

Instead of making a general pronouncement for or against kicking people out of your group, why not consider these things:

Should I kick them out?

1. Not all churches have a discipleship structure that helps people grow in their faith. I know…I know…at some point, we need to take personal responsibility for our growth.  We can’t depend on others solely for our own spiritual growth.  But if we’re in such a difficult place (local church) that we can’t lean on them when life is tough (for example, how about a church plant in a place where the Gospel isn’t prevalent), then we need to be able to draw from other churches.

2. Some pastors of other churches aren’t able to be fully open and honest in their own church’s small groups. If they were completely open about their struggles with church members, it may be tough for church members to hear them preach on Sundays.  *Pastors need to have people in their life to whom they can be fully transparent…but it may not be people in their congregation.

3. Not all churches truly offer grace. People’s sins sometimes preclude them from having regular fellowship with believers because their church can’t truly offer grace and forgiveness.  Once others find out the nature and extent of a person’s sin, they can no longer have regular fellowship with them.  It’s not that these who have sinned are trying to run from accountability…they’re longing for grace, and they get it from God, but not from His people.  It’s unfortunate, but true.

4. Some people are sensing that God’s calling them to another church. Small groups are a great test of the health of a local church. Instead of walking out of their Sunday morning services immediately, they can explore what God would have for them through the small groups at your church. *I understand that there are “biblical” and “unbiblical” reasons for leaving a local church, and my intent in this post is not to address those reasons.

5. Exercise wisdom. Look at these on a case-by-case basis.  Instead of making judgments against every person’s situation in a blanket fashion, work with each of these situations individually.3. Some people try to get away from accountability, but not everybody.

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)

If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)

Some people try to get away from accountability, but not everybody.  Some people hop from church to church because they don’t feel they are getting the respect they deserve, but not everybody.  Some people are true false teachers, but not everybody.

At the end of the day, you have to decide for yourself (or your church) what’s right.  I don’t think that the Bible explicitly spells out the absolute “right” or “wrong,” “black” or “white” way to handle this issue.

May we be people quick to forgive and quick to offer grace…because we serve a God who is ready to run after the prodigal.

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