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Posts from November 2012

REAL Manhood: The Giant Slayer

And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” 1 Samuel 17:37(ESV)

Unlike other heroes of ancient epic battle stories, such as Beowulf or Achilles, this young man was just a shepherd. He was but a boy, never trained for warfare or battle. Yet, his courage and bravery allowed him to stand for a cause greater than self. His stature was small, but his heart was large. He stood against a giant and was used to give a nation confidence and assurance.

The enemy army was immense. They were brutal. They gathered at a place called Sochoh. Saul, the King of Israel and his army were encamped in the Valley of Elah. The imagery was epic. The enemy, the Philistines stood upon a mountain on one side. Israel’s army stood upon a mountain on the other side. The valley lay between.

David&GoliathThe Philistines chose their champion. His name was Goliath. Amazingly, he stood about nine and a half feet tall. He wore a bronze helmet and a coat of mail with bronze armor on his legs. The size of his javelin and sword were immense. This guy was frightening, to say the least.

He came to the forefront and yelled across the valley to the Israelites, “Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” It was a daunting challenge and resulted in a stalemate for a short time.

Meanwhile, back home in Bethlehem, the young shepherd boy, David, was watching his flock. His father, Jesse had called him home and instructed him to travel to the frontline of battle, for his older brothers were there. He was to deliver some food for them. David made the journey.

When David arrived, he noticed the armies standing on their respective mountains. He heard Goliath spewing his challenge and denigrating the Israelites and their God. This greatly angered David for no Israelite had stepped up to battle the giant.

Consequently, David, the young teenage shepherd from Bethlehem volunteered. Saul, the King, offered David his armor. David tried it on, but it was too large. He could barely move. Therefore, David, armed with a slingshot and five smooth stones he picked up from the river bed, made his way to the valley.

Goliath was there, as he had been for days, throwing down his challenge. David, stepped forward on his side of the valley. Goliath and his soldiers stepped forward, but seeing the young boy, responded with ridicule “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” This was not exactly a statement showing concern or fear on behalf of the Philistines.

David responded, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

With that, David placed a stone in his sling and began swinging it above his head. Then, with a “whoosh” the stone was away. The aim was incredible, almost as if it were guided by an angel’s hand, and centered upon the forehead of the giant, Goliath.

The giant fell immediately. David had no sword, so he ran to the collapsed body of the giant and took Goliath’s sword in hand. Holding it as best he could, he raised it and removed the enemy’s head.

Victory had been achieved.

The Israelites had won. The God of Israel’s power had been shown. David stepped into the story, not willing to watch from the sideline.

A young boy, not a soldier, but a shepherd, standing on a battlefield he was never intended to be on, at least by man’s plans, rejected passivity that was so rampant in the camp and entered the story. The victory was won and Israel was saved.

David’s legacy was being built and he would go down in history as a “man after God’s own heart” and the greatest king the nation of Israel would ever have.

When Parents Blame Themselves

I speak to many people weekly. Often I have some time in counseling with friends in our church and the community. These are difficult days for many, but perhaps one of the greatest challenges in our culture is parenting.

There have been many times over the years where parents have met with me regarding their children. As a parent, I can relate to the challenges of this greatest of God-given responsibilities.

The greatest desire of a mom or dad who loves the Lord is that their children will as well. Yet, there are times when a child's decisions, revelations, admonitions or behavior stands in stark contrast to the truth of the Gospel and the biblical guidelines for holiness.

Pushing-Limits-teen-girlIt is at this point many parents look inward and ask the question "Where did I go wrong?" They often fall into the "if only" state of mind: "If only I had been a better parent . . . If only I had become a Christian earlier in life . . . If only I had lived my faith more consistently . . . " The list of "if only" questions go on endlessly. It's a great tactic of our enemy.

Parents begin frantically looking for Bible verses to give some clarity and comfort. Verses like Proverbs 22:6 give hope. . .but even then the questions of personal failure come.

I don't know if you are facing some of these feelings, but I recently discovered these encouraging words to parents. They are rooted in Scripture and the promises of God. Perhaps God will use these to bring clarity and comfort for you.

"The misbehaviors of our children do not necessarily indicate that we were failures as parents. Our worth as parents does not hinge on the choices of our children." - H. Norman Wright, Loving a Prodigal (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Books, 1999), p. 53.

Regarding your children as they grow into young adulthood and beyond:

  • Parents are not responsible for what they cannot control.
  • Parents cannot control their child's temperment.
  • Parents cannot control their child's perception.
  • Parents cannot control their child's temptations.
  • Parents cannot control their child's response to their temptations.
  • Parents cannot control their child's moral behavior.

Perhaps this is the hardest for parents to grasp - the loss of control.

However, we are to remember the heavy responsibility we, as parents, do have. Ephesians 6:4 is a good reminder.

Trust Me

112512_1045_Keep Calm 8

Back in April of this year, in the city of Karaganda – a large city in Kazakhstan, a large, five storied building was demolished. There were numerous problems with the building. It was an apartment building. There were 65 apartments collapsed. Residents had moved into 38 of them.

TrustAll residents had been evacuated and property had been removed. When viewing the video on YouTube, I noticed that people were walking and driving in front of the building at the time of the collapse. It’s pretty amazing.  It is sad too. There are many wailing in the video because they have lost their homes. They are hurt deeply.

There were numerous reasons as to why the building fell, but primarily, the building was not structured correctly and the foundation was not secured. Over time, cracks developed in the walls and sections of walls meeting at corners started to deviate by inches. The inevitable was here. This building would not stand.

And it didn’t.

A solid foundation is needed. This principle is not only true for buildings and construction, but for other areas in life, such as family units and churches.

When people are "shopping" for churches a common question arises - "Can I trust this church? Can I trust this pastor?"

Trust is a fundamental issue. God is trustworthy, but we often wonder if His people are. Unfortunately, we have numerous examples of when those who wear of the name of Christ are anything but trustworthy. I believe this is the exception, not the norm. . .but as you know "one bad apple ruins the bunch" and people who have experienced church in such a fashion find it difficult to re-engage.

Paul speaks of the church building on a solid foundation in his letter to the Corinthians. He affirms that Jesus Christ is the foundation and that which is built upon it will stand.

In this message I presented Sunday, I spoke of this pretty bluntly. Here are some talking points from Sunday's message. (If you have time, click the audio link above to listen to the full message.)

  • If a church has a good foundation and is architectured well, the Kingdom of God increases.
  • If a church does not have a good foundation and is not architectured well, that church will eventually collapse and people will be hurt.
  • Churches planted or built upon any foundation other than the one laid by Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11) are doomed to fail, even if they "succeed" in the world's eyes.
  • People may push back when a pastor says "Trust me. I know what I'm doing here." However, the alternative is a pastor who says "You cannot trust me. I have no idea what I'm doing." A church will not increase the Kingdom under the lead of a clueless pastor.
  • Since culture is changing at the speed of light, the church doesn't need a pastor who understands the times. The church needs a pastor who understands the times to come. To understand only today means we're already behind.
  • Due to cultural expectations (church culture) some pastors do more work in the church than on the church. This is the model of the hired hand who is brought in to marry, bury and do some preaching.
  • When a pastor or church devolves into maintenance mode for the congregation, that church is either dying or dead.
  • Most church plants do not last past five years. One of the reasons is that the pastor/planter settles into maintenance mode and the church allows him.
  • There are frustrations that develop within church. They have for centuries and will continue. People will feel left out, slighted, ignored. Others will feel taken advantage of and then anger and bitterness settle in. It’s not just the story here. This is the story everywhere. We can know the enemy’s tactics and not fall prey.
  • What is built will be tested with fire.
  • Kingdom-focused building - gold, silver and precious stones.
  • Self-focused building - wood, hay, straw.
  • Being a kingdom-focused church is worth it.

Trust me.

I Don't Believe in the Power of Prayer

For years I have heard pastors and other Christ-followers state that there is great power in prayer. Prayer ministries have been developed with this concept as the banner over their cause. Church services and Christian meetings begin and end with prayer. Parents pray for their children. Southern Baptists pray for missionaries on their birthdays.

Prayer is important.

PrayerGroupHowever, yesterday, I read this quote in Jeff Christopherson's book, Kingdom Matrix,  - "I don't believe in the power of prayer." Like you, I was taken aback.

How could a believer say such a thing?

How could a pastor and church planter utter such words?

Because it's true.

There is no power in prayer.

I'll share here what Christopherson writes regarding this statement. . .

Suppose you were in the unfortunate position of needing one thousand dollars by midnight or you would have some prized possession repossessed. What would you do? One idea that you explore is to make a short list of friends and family that you'll ask about a short-term loan. The thought comes, "I've helped out my cousin many times before; now that she's doing well, maybe I'll ask her."

You reach for the phone to call your cousin. She answers. You make several minutes of small talk. Now for the business, take a deep breath, and . . ."Say cuz, I'm in a bit of a jam. I was wondering if I could borrow a thousand dollars from you until next week?" She asks you a couple of probing questions and you answer as forthrightly as you can. Then she says, "No problem. I'll be driving past your place this evening anyway. Why don't I just drop the check off?"

After you had breathed a sigh of relief, you might think back to the process. Would there be any part of you that would think, "I'm so grateful for the telephone. Telephones work! I believe in the power of the telephone!"? Not likely. It is more probable that you would be grateful for the good relationship you had with your cousin and for her generosity. In this little fictitious example, mixing up channels and sources seems completely absurd.

Now let us return to the subject of prayer. Do we really believe in the power of prayer? If we do, we may come dangerously close to the life-extinguishing sin of idolatry. Prayer can become our golden calf, sacredly concealed and meticulously fashioned to meet our egocentric desires. It is possible to view prayer as a source, and thereby reduce God to the status of puppet, obligated by code to grant our every wish. (To see this source/form being uncritically taught, watch a few minutes of sacred television and observe teachings that reduce our omnipotent God to the impotence of Aladdin's genie coerced to perform according to his platform-stomping master's demands.)


Hard to argue here. It seems that we may all be guilty of confusing source and form. It is God alone who has the power, not prayer, not preaching, not ministry events, not your church. God alone.

Get your own copy of Kingdom Matrix here.

REAL Manhood: The Bravery of Deputy Jeffrey DeGrow

On January 21, 2010, Deputy Jeffrey DeGrow of the Charleston County, South Carolina Sheriff’s Office was patrolling an area near James Island. His life was changed that day. As typical of his dedication and thoroughness, he was following up on a residential burglary that he had responded to earlier in the day. When he came upon five subjects walking down the road, they fled immediately. Deputy DeGrow radioed dispatch gave chase on foot to one of the subjects. The subject attempted various ways to evade him. While chasing the subject around a home in a residential area, the deputy was met with gunfire. He was shot once, directly below the right eye. Deputy DeGrow immediately fell to the ground, in shock, dazed and bleeding profusely. The subject continued to fire on the downed officer, hitting him twice more in the head, twice in his right arm, and once in the left shoulder. Presumably out of ammunition, the gunman ran away.

Degrow“As I lay there I could feel the presence of God, and I knew in that moment that I was either leaving this earth or staying. I then had a sense that I was going to be all right and started coming out of the daze,” Deputy DeGrow recalled. He rolled to his back, drew his gun and quickly scanned the area for the suspect. He slowly stood to his feet and radioed back to dispatch, alerting them he had been shot, needed medical attention and that the gunman was still at large.

DeGrow was able to describe the subject in great detail and informed dispatch that he was going out to the road so that responding officers and emergency medical personnel could find him more easily. Almost passing out a few times on the way back to his cruiser, Deputy DeGrow continued to pray and think about his two children at home. Officers from the Charleston City Police Department and the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office were first to arrive. He asked one of his fellow officers to wipe the blood from his eye. It didn’t work, the bleeding was too intense. Medical personnel were now arriving. Later at the hospital, Deputy DeGrow underwent four hours of emergency surgery to repair the initial damage to his eye. When he awoke, he was surrounded by family, friends, co-workers and supporters.

In a letter nominating him for Officer of the Month, which he was awarded, his supervisors stated, “His calm demeanor in the wake of this violent assault and despite grave injury is, quite frankly, of legendary proportions. “[i]

The bravery of a police officer like Deputy DeGrow illustrates the daily rejection of passivity required of real men.

[i] Bennett, William J. "Profiles of Law Enforcement." The Book of Man. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011. 285-86. Print.

A Perspective on the Missile Strikes from Inside Israel

I shared a few weeks ago that as our church strategically moves to fulfill the Kingdom calling God has for us (and it's a painful shift for many, I'm discovering,) we begin to view things differently than in the past. In previous years the updates on the news and stories of storms on the Weather Channel were more informational and left me and others with a "Hmmm, that's interesting," response.

Now, we see things differently.

When Superstorm Sandy pummelled the east coast, concern was even deeper than normal in that we know men and women living the area. Many of whom serve in the ministry and work to plant or lead churches. We also knew that this meant some from our church and state who volunteer with SBC Disaster Relief would soon be mobilized. The tragedy of the event would lead to ministry opportunities.

Recently, news of missile strikes from Gaza to Israel have been in the news. I find it interesting that these events are happening, but the predominent news stories of the day still seem to be about Justin Bieber, the Kardashians and television show cancellations.

Nevertheless, when watching these reports out of Israel, I immediately thought of my friends living in Jerusalem and other areas in the nation. It is a much different view when the events and people involved are more than soundbites and nameless characters in a news story.

I emailed one of my friends to see how things were holding up. Here is some of his response. . .

Thank you for your prayers and concern. We are doing well and feel the Heavenly protection in our lives. It was strange to hear the sirens sounding off in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon. We haven't heard them since the first Gulf War in January 1991. Even then, no missle landed in Jerusalem.

He spoke of how his family gathered in their shelter when the sirens sounded. This had to have been a frightening moment for them.

Israel-sfSpanAs they were making their way into the shelter they heard the "BOOM" of the rockets as they landed about twelve miles south of the city between Hebron and Bethlehem.

A number of members of the congregation have been called up to active duty. Israel now stands poised for possible invasion into Gaza, much like January 2009.

The majority of the world is standing against Israel retaliating in this conflict (as evidenced by the news stories that are featured on international news sites.) The fact is that there have been almost ten thousand missile attacks since 2005 - most landing in open fiends near the Gaza border. Now, with increased help from nations who have clearly stated their disdain for Israel even existing, the missiles from Gaza now have the capacity of hitting cities such as Be-er Sheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and even further.

A few Israelis have been killed. Of course a number of Palestinians have been killed as well and this is the tragedy.

The cycle of violence will continue as long as terrorist groups use their influence in Gaza and other areas. I heard from one friend stating, "The longer we [Israel] wait, the more sophisticated the enemy becomes."

It appears the military option is inevitable.

This is more than an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This battle impacts the entire world.

Yet, in the midst of the battle, there are families who suffer. As a follower of Christ, we know of brothers and sisters who live in each area in the story. This leaves us with what we must do - pray.

David wrote this psalm (a song of ascents) and verse six is often quoted. It is relavent today as well as when God led David to pen it.

Psalm 122:1-9(ESV)
1 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
2 Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!
3 Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together,
4 to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5 There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you!
7 Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!”
8 For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, “Peace be within you!”
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.


REAL Manhood: Team Hoyt

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:9(ESV)

Dick Hoyt was born in 1940. He is now a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Air National Guard. In 1962, Dick and his wife Judy were blessed with a child. They named the child Rick. However, at birth it was discovered that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. The loss of oxygen to the brain left Rick with cerebral palsy. As a result his brain cannot send the correct messages to his muscles.

Team_HoytDoctors encouraged the Hoyts to institutionalize Rick. They informed them that Rick would be nothing more than a vegetable for the remainder of his life. His parents held onto the fact that their son’s eyes would follow them around the room. This gave them hope that he would somehow be able to communicate someday. The Hoyts received help from specialists at Children’s Hospital in Boston. A doctor there encouraged them to treat Rick like any other child. They did and Rick began to show progress.

At age 11, after some persistence from his parents, Rick was fitted with a computer than enabled him to communicate. It was clear that Rick was highly intelligent. Rick attended public school and eventually graduated from Boston University with a degree in special education.

It was in 1977 when Rick became inspired by an article on racing he saw in a magazine. Dick Hoyt was no runner and was nearly 37 years old, but he committed to start training so that he could take Rick out for a run. They entered a race and afterward, Rick said, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.” After their initial five mile run, Dick continued to train. He would train with a bag of cement in a wheelbarrow while Rick was in school. Together they “ran.” Rick in his specially fitted wheelchair. Dick behind him, pushing.

As of November 2011, Team Hoyt has competed in 1069 endurance events, including 69 marathons and six Ironman triathlons.  They had run the Boston Marathon 29 times. In 1992, they ran across the United States in just 45 days. Rick turned 50 in 2012 and Dick turned 72. They continue to run and do so together.

The world said to the Hoyts – there’s nothing you can do. These men rejected that passive response, and with the strong love of a father and a reliance on each other, they have become examples for many.

"C'Mon Man" - You Don't Have to Live Defeated

111112_1045_Spiritual Warfare Part 3

This final message in the three-part series on spiritual warfare speaks to the fact that often we forget that Christ has already won! He is the victor.

The Enemy is strong. He is a liar. His is a deceiver. He seeks to steal, kill and destroy.

But. . .he's a loser.

As Christ-followers, we often know this intellectually, but function as if it's not true. This is not to say that the spiritual battles are easy. However, we have been given insight into the Enemy's tactics. We have been shown how he is an already defeated Enemy. Yet. . .we forget?

So that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. 2 Corinthians 2:11 (ESV)

So, what are these tactics? What are these "designs?"


The word "world" here refers to the organized system in opposition and rebellion to God.

For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions - is not from the Father but is from the world. 1 John 2:16 (ESV)

  • Desires of the flesh
  • Desires of the eyes
  • Pride in possessions

The response?

  • Don't love. (1 John 2:15)
  • Don't let the world shape your values (Romans 12:2)
  • Live through Jesus as crucified to the world (Galatians 6:14)


The "flesh" refers to our natural tendency to put ourselves and our self-interes above God and others. So, as the world is considered the organized strategy in opposition to God, the flesh is the internal resistance to God.

The response?

  • Recognize you are no longer slaves to the flesh. You've been set free. (Romans 6)
  • Be filled with the Holy Spirit daily, walking in submission to Him. (Galatians 5:16)
  • Put to death sinful desires and "secret sins or addictions." (Romans 8)


The adversary is real. He is evil. His is strong. However, he is a loser.

Christ is the victor.

Back in 1959 Johnny Horton had a Grammy winning song called "The Battle of New Orleans." The lyrics started like this. . .

In 1814 we took a little trip

Along wth Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.

We took a little bacon and we took a little beans

And we caught the bloody British near the town of New Orleans. . .


Though a hit, it wasn't right. The Battle of New Orleans took place in 1815, not 1814. Jackson was a General, not a Colonel. In fact, the War of 1812 had really ended in the fall of 1814 when the British were defeated at Lake Champlain. Since there was no internet or cell phones at the time, the battle between the Americans and the British in 1815 war that was over. The Americans were fighting a defeated enemy.

That's our story.

We're have a defeated enemy.

The enemy was cursed by God and defeated in the beginning before the beginning. Then, ultimately, he was defeated at the cross when Jesus was crucified. His defeat was secured at the resurrection. There is a battle still to come, but the book has already been written on this. Satan is defeated.

Yet, many Christ-followers live defeated lives.

Cmon-man1On ESPN they have a segment on their NFL show called "C'Mon Man!" They show a clip from a game or some other story involving an NFL player, coach or owner. These are normally outrageous clips where the focal point has done something ridiculous. The commentators then say "C'Mon Man!"

Christ-followers have been rescued. Changed. Transformed. Redeemed.

Yet. . .often those who wear the name of Christ live defeated.

They (we)  listen to the lies of the Enemy.

They (we) fall prey to his tactics.

They (we) agree with the lies.

They (we) don't know what to do.


The battle has been won! Our submission to the Lord daily affirms victory. The instructions on how to battle, the details on the tactics of the enemy, the battle plan has been laid out. We have this.

It should infuriate us, or at least embarrass us, to know we allow a defeated enemy to have so much influence and power.


He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13-14(ESV)

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Colossians 2:13-15(ESV)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This
is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the
world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he
who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:1-4(ESV)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him
who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers,
nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39(ESV)

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8(ESV)

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2:14-15(ESV)

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. Psalms 3:3(ESV)

My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart. Psalm 7:10(ESV)

I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. Psalms 18:1-3(ESV)

Twenty-Nine Minutes That Could Save or Strengthen Your Marriage

On Monday evening, November 12, 2012, Emerson Eggerichs shared a powerful and insightful message to pastors and wives attending the annual meeting of the Florida Baptist Convention regarding marriage.  I've heard many messages on marriage and on the differences between men and women, but this message hit on something I believe to be essential, and often not covered in sermons, small groups or counseling sessions.

EggerichsEmerson and his wife Sarah are the founders of Love & Respect Ministries.

I recommend all married couples, single and dating adults and even teenagers who are dating to watch this clip. The video link is made available by the Florida Baptist Convention and may not be available for long.

Believe me, you will not regret watching and perhaps you will learn something that could save your marriage or, at the least, make it stronger.

Click this link to view the video -

Your Ministry Has Expired

It is now common to see expiration dates on products in the grocery store. Just about every product seems to have a date printed on the packaging. While there are some products where it seems strange to have an expiration date (bottled water, perhaps) in most cases we understand the need (have you ever had expired milk?).

MilkWhile, in most cases, we would avoid having food products in our pantry or refrigerator well past their expiration date, churches tend to hold onto programs and activities well beyond their usefulness. I've been to many conferences where this has been addressed and pastors and leaders in the audience always shake their heads in agreement.

I remember one year when a new evangelism strategy was introduced by our denomination. Our pastor stood behind the pulpit and stated "We will do this program until Jesus returns." I cringed when he said it. It was not because I did not believe in the strategy. I did. It was just that, even years ago, I began to realize that even the best programs available have a shelf life.

We ended the strategy after one year.

This line of thinking has been common in many churches for years. Programs and ministries are started. There is great passion and emphasis placed upon the programming. A group of leaders or volunteers become passionate about the strategy. Then. . .over time, the energy wanes. Ministry becomes meetings. Strategies become programs. Calendars become cluttered. Church members become busy.

And the Kingdom suffers.

Why is this?

Should we just clear the calendar and "kill" every program in the church?

That's pretty extreme. If you're a pastor and you choose to do this, just make sure your resume is up to date. You most likely will be needing that. Therefore, I'm not recommending a scorched earth ministry reboot.

However, there is wisdom in taking a fresh look at all the local church is doing. For fear of "offending" those who are more committed to a certain program or ministry than to the Kingdom, the pastors and leaders of the church must take an honest inventory of all the church does regularly. Otherwise, the church becomes an organization with tired members, working to sustain fruitless programs that are "good" but not fulfilling the purpose or calling of the church.

Christians become more like Hindus in that we create our own "sacred cows." As Rick Warren said, "Sacred cows make the best hamburger."

Ed Stetzer's statement continues to ruminate in my mind - "We [Baptists] are perfectly organized to reach the culture of the 1950s."

So, what do we do with programs and ministries that become part of our local church culture, fill the calendar annually, but over time lose their effectiveness and become little more than stress creators and tools to keep believers busy, but away from the real mission?

There are really two answers when it comes to dealing with ineffective or outdated church programs - kill it or prune it.

Think of the program or ministry as a tree. I remember Jesus' reaction to a fig tree that no longer produced fruit. (Mark 11:12-14) In this story, which has varied levels of illustration and teachable moments, Jesus shows that when a tree that is designed to produce fruit no longer is doing so, the tree loses its worth.

So, in some cases, the best answer is to uproot the ministry program and move on.

In Romans 11, Paul is speaking to new believers of the grafting of new branches into old olive trees. While this story is about the reality of the Gentiles (wild olive branches) being brought into the Story of God through grace by being grafted into the church (cultivated olive branches) there are some principles of growth and health to be learned here as well.

ApplesI was listening to a pastor tell a story of an apple tree he inherited when he purchased his new home. His subdivision was located on an old apple orchard and a few trees survived the construction. One was in his new backyard. The problem was that this apple tree was not producing apples. Reminds me of the fig tree Jesus encountered.

A fruit tree that does not produce fruit is not only fruitless (bad pun) but is not fulfilling the purpose for its existence.

This pastor brought in an expert on apple trees to see what could be done. The apple tree expert gave him two options - one is to uproot the tree and start over. The other was to severely prune the tree and wait to see if fruit production would return. Both options carried the risk of killing the tree. However, the risk was worth it because the apple tree was no longer doing its job. It was time for action.

The pastor and expert opted for pruning. It was a severe pruning. So severe, it appeared the tree would not survive. However, after a couple of years (this is a lesson on patience as well) the tree began to produce apples again.

The parallels are obvious. The calendar-filling, sacred cow programs of many churches often cease to produce fruit. They do nothing more than suck the energy from the church and volunteers. They are like a tree with deep roots, taking all the nourishment from the ground and producing nothing.

It's time for either an uprooting or a severe pruning.

What's the danger?

People will get angry. It's human nature. Those who are imbedded within the ministry often have allowed their partcipation or service to define their worth within the body. They no longer can see the full picture of the bigger story and therefore, live their lives as players in small stories that no longer matter. Such is the life of the burned out Christian.

Most pastors and leaders will not work to prune or uproot such programs for fear of negative PR, the anger of church members who do not get the bigger picture, or the work required to evaluate and stay on focus.

Consequently, we have churches all across our land who have convinced themselves they are doing the work of the church, yet no longer produce fruit. In some cases, they smell like that milk sitting on the shelf in the refrigerator with an expiration date from two weeks prior.