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April 2014

Posts from March 2014

Don't Take It Personal When I Unfriend You on Facebook

I tried this once before and then was inundated with "friend requests." I was strong for a season, but eventually "accepted" many of the requests.

It's an amazingly challenging step to click the "Unfriend" button on Facebook.

Why? Because before the creation of this social media juggernaut, a friend was just that. . .a friend. It was a noun that described a personal relationship that was intimate and stronger than just acquaintence. Jesus is a "friend of sinners" and that was and is a powerful statement.

UnfriendNow, we live in an age where "friend" is a verb. It's something you do. You can friend someone and even (here's the new term) unfriend someone. It's not that big a deal, really. It's just a click of the button on a computer screen or phone, but it feels hurtful.

Nevertheless, I'm about to "unfriend" a bunch of people. What's strange is that most of those, if not all, are actually my friends.

So, why am I doing this?

I think Michael Hyatt explained it best in his blog. . .

Until now, my “friend policy” (if you could call it that), was to simply accept any and all comers. I figured, the more friends the better. The problem is that this resulted in a huge amount of noise, not to mention added workload. I grew weary of all the friend requests, invites, and notifications.

It also made me think long and hard about my vocabulary. Like many people, I had begun to use the term “friend” in a very loose way. The first thing I did in re-thinking my strategy was to tighten up my definitions of key terms:

    • Family: These are the people who are related by blood or by marriage. I have occasionally been too loose with term, too. I have used it to refer to close personal friends or even the “Thomas Nelson family.” But I don’t think this is accurate or helpful. It creates the illusion of something that is not true. From now on, I am going to use this word as it was intended.
    • Friends: These are the people I know in real life. They are people I have met face-to-face, enjoy being around, and interact with in real life. (These three elements are key.) Frankly, a few of these relationships started off online through Twitter. Over time, they grew and developed. Regardless, I have a few deep and significant friendships. But if I am honest, I don’t have many. I only have so much time available.
    • Acquaintances: These are people I have met online or off. I may know their name or even their face. We may even have been friends at some point in the past, but we don’t have an ongoing relationship. We only know one another at a superficial level, and that’s just fine. We just have to be clear that these are not our “friends.”
    • Fans: These are the people who know my public persona or my work. This is also where people get confused because the relationship is not mutual. For example, I am a fan of Chris Brogan. We have even met once. I know lots of stuff about him, because of his blog andTwitter posts. This creates the illusion of intimacy. If I am not careful, however, I could fool myself into thinking I have a relationship with Chris. I don’t. I’m just one of his many fans.

So with those definitions in mind, I set out to re-think my approach to Facebook. Basically, it’s pretty simple. I have decided that I will only use my Facebook profile for family and close friends. I don’t want an inbox that is flooded with sales pitches and invitations to things I don’t care about.

However, realizing that more people are on Facebook than Twitter and that at least five percent of my blog traffic comes from Facebook, I decided to create a fan page for everyone else who wants to connect with me.

To read Michael's full posting, click here.

For the record, the "fan page" title is now a "public figure page" and I believe it's a better signifier.

Like most people, I have too many online identities (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.) and while social media is here to stay, and can be an effective ministry tool and interpersonal connector, I must once again pull back the reins.

So, I'm unfriending some people.

Yes, I'm clicking the button and will most likely anger some people. I know some will wonder why they're not connected on my personal page any longer. They'll feel slighted. I'm sorry. Really, I am. But. . .it's happening. 

I'm not breaking up with you.

Funny, huh? But, that's the emotion some equate to an unfriend.

So, who will be connected on my personal page?

Well, my family, close friends, and those who serve in ministry (missionaries, pastors, church planters, and family members of such.)

For those who wish to connect, and I hope you will, please go "Like" my Public Figure page.

Here's the link -

You can even message me there. I'll get it (if I remember to check that inbox) and respond as quickly as I can.

By the way, even if we're unfriended, we can still be real friends.

Oh, and I hardly ever use my personal Facebook page anyway.

We Must Do More Than Say "Amen"

For anyone who has grown up in the church, especially one that talks a little bit during worship, to hear a person say "Amen" during a sermon is nothing new. "Amen" is a word of affirmation. The Hebrew word literally means "truly" or "so be it." The word is also found in the Greek New Testament and has the same meaning.

IMG_2739Saying "amen" at the end of a prayer or as an affirmation of a point is good.

However, there are times when the "amen" rings empty. In other words, it's a statement of "Yes, that's a great idea" but comes with no action.

A few years ago I stated that our church would clearly engage in the process of church planting. This effort, along with global missions and orphan care, have become "Our Big 3." Each is clearly defined biblically as actions and efforts the church should emphasize. It should be noted that these emphases do not negate the five roles of the church as defined in the Great Commandment and Great Commission, but actually gives us tangible avenues in which to fulfill these purposes.

Last summer I was asked to share in a break-out session at the Send>>North America Conference in Dallas with pastors considering partnering in the area of church planting. For some reason, in my talk, I said this. . .

"No one would say that planting churches is a bad idea. Yet, as Baptists we have a tendency to 'amen' good, biblical ideas, maybe throw a little money toward it and then leave it up to someone else - maybe the denomination - to do the work. For the church in North America to truly engage and see transformation take place, we must do more than just say 'amen.'"

Little did I know that that statement would resonate within me for months to come.

What's more frustrating challenging, was when I said. . .

"That means, for some of us, we are going to have to be willing to send our best out to plant and serve. This goes against our nature and there are many excuses reasons why we shouldn't, but we must."

I believe in church planting. I believe it is one of the best ways we have to penetrate the lostness of our community, nation and world. I believe in it enough that I led our church to prominently place it as a primary emphasis. We began to donate funds to planters in Tucson, Portland, Greensboro, Dubuque, Reykjavik, near USMC bases and in other areas globally. Then, it happened. I knew it was coming. God had set me up. That which I told other pastors in Dallas was to become my charge. It was as if God said, "Okay, it's time to step into this and not just say 'amen.'"

When Neil and Kaytee Jimenez shared with me their calling to plant and primarily to become supporters of planters in the Greater Toronto Area, I was pumped. This is exciting. Then, it hit me, these are two of our most faithful members. Kaytee even serves on our staff. This is more than an "amen."

Prior to this announcement months ago, many in our church had positive feelings about church planting, but I suspected a good number of our people were positive in the sense that they believed planting was a good idea. I feared they just believed it was the latest focus and idea from me, their pastor.

Partnering with planters is vital - whether around the globe or even here in our own city. The facts show that more lost people are won to Christ through new works than in established ministries. This does not eliminate our responsibility to evangelize and disciple, but rather gives us a broader reach.

Many (okay, most) Baptists are skeptical by nature. When the North American Mission Board unveiled the SEND>>North America strategy a few years ago, it was met with excitement, but I also heard some "Well, let's see how long this lasts." types of statements.

Now, a few years in and with a better perspective of the strategy and the focus on these unreached areas, we are seeing momentum build. More planters are in the community. More planters having sending churches. Fewer planters are left on their own. In fact, we're intentionally making it hard to plant a church alone. We are better together, right?

So, "AMEN" church planting, but there must be more.

More doesn't mean more busy work, but rather better strategies and plans. It also means being willing to allocate resources, concerted prayer and yes. . .even sending our best. 

Send North America: Overview from North American Mission Board on Vimeo.



Selection Sunday & Eternity

Today is "Selection Sunday." For those who do not care about college basketball, this designation is meaningless. However, for the rest of us, who find this month to be the best time of the year for sports, this is a significant day. It is during March that grown men (and women) start talking about Cinderella. March Madness becomes an important focus as brackets are filled out (just for fun, of course.) Fan bases are developed for colleges and universities that have fewer students than many high schools in our area. 

Magic-birdNames and terms like. . .

  • Wooden
  • Bird
  • Magic
  • Valpo
  • Valvano
  • Villanova
  • Massimino
  • Ewing
  • Phi Slamma Jamma
  • Butler
  • Dunk City
  • Coach K
  • Rupp
  • Manning
  • Donovan
  • Pitino
  • Knight

. . . and many others enter back into the lexicon and people reminisce of games and tournaments from the past.

Today, there are already numerous teams who "have their tickets punched" due to winning their individual conference tournaments. Others are definitely in based on their record, RPI and conference.

Still others wait.

Players gather with teammates and coaches to see if the selection committee will deem them worthy of an at-large bid to the biggest tournament of the year. Uncertainty hovers over them like a cloud. It's a terrible place to be, especially when the last team name is placed on the board. . .and their name is left off. Oh, there's the NIT, and while there was a time years ago when the NIT was more highly esteemed than the NCAA, everyone knows that today there's only one tournament that really matters. Everything else is just a consolation.

I fear that many people see eternity like these players. People live their lives. . .trying to do more good than bad. They come to the end of their lives, hoping. They hope that somehow, in their understanding of heaven and fairness, that God will let them into heaven. Yet, they're unsure. They're unsure because. . .well, they're record wasn't very good. 

They are basing their entire hopes on eternity on a metric that doesn't work.

They have missed the reality that they can never be good enough.

Eternity isn't like Selection Sunday. God is not writing names down in his book based on how good we are or can be. Reservations aren't secured because we deserve to be there. In fact, none of us deserve heaven.

Yet, some of us have heaven as our eternal destination. We don't get heaven because we're good enough, or better than others, or deserve it. For those of us who do, we're not going to be sweating it out with our teammmates (or family, or even alone) at the end of our lives. Our hope is secure because of Jesus Christ alone.

I pray that you know this reality. I pray your name is in God's book. Settle this today by surrendering your life to Christ and receiving His free gift.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

5 Ways To Get Ready for Our Guests

If you know you have guests coming over, how do you prepare? 

In most cases, a thorough cleaning of your home is top of the list. Then, preparation for snacks or food, if a meal is involved. Maybe lighting a candle to give the house a fresh, clean smell. I'm sure there are other little things that are done as well. The bottom line is we want our guests to know we were expecting them and we prepared for their arrival accordingly.

What does this have to do with church?

We understand the difference in going to church and being the church, but often we forget the reality that many we have connected with in our community seek to come to the campus in order to worship and gather with believers. For many, the arrival on a church campus is a major step. It often has been prompted by life change or a desire to do better in life. Sometimes it is one of the first steps a newcomer to the area makes in order to find a home. There are numerous motivations, but each is prompted (even if not acknowledged) by the drawing the Spirit of God.

The question we must answer as members of the church is "Are we ready for guests?"

This is not just a superficial marketing concept. This is a reality of relating. If we are prepared for guests to arrive, we must show it tangibly. In other words, the preparation and readiness is a real way to let others know we love them and cannot wait for them to join us in God's family as the church.

This is not easy and never happens automatically.

As we prepare for one of the largest attended Sunday mornings of the year (Easter) we must not fall into the weekend unprepared. We have guests coming over. We need to be ready.

Here are some very real, practical steps to that must be taken. 



Get-home-market-ready-sell-2-shineOur deacons are working on organizing a church-wide work day on Saturday, April 12 (alternate date of April 19th if it rains on the 12th).  Now, the concept of a "work day" is about as attractive as signing up to have your toenails removed, but those of us who attend regularly know there is always work to be done. In most cases, the work on the church grounds is taken care of by those on the maintenance and custodial staff. Some refurbishing has been done regularly by a group of men within the church who see this as their ministry. However, the reality is that the property is large and there are so many "little things" that remain undone. The workload is now very real and will require a concerted effort to get ready.

So, to you small groups who understand the concept of community going beyond a one hour Bible study lesson, this is an opportunity for you to serve together to prepare the property for our guests. The work will entail painting, cleaning, pressure washing, mulching playgrounds, cleaning windows and doing a "once over" to the property to ensure we're ready.



How welcoming is your small group room? Seriously? Look around with fresh eyes. Are there posters on the wall that came out of a teaching packet from three years ago? Are there piles of old magazines or curriculum in the corner? What about the table where your coffee pot or snacks are? Is it clean or does it look stained and dirty?

Here's a recommendation - stop convincing yourself the old curriculum will be reused or would be a great gift for another church or ministry (especially if the pile of books has been sitting in your room for months.) Just throw the junk away and get better posters and things for the walls.

If there are many "sentimental" things in your room (you know, pictures of days-gone-by, trips, meals, former members, deceased members, etc.) take them down. In most cases those things create a sense of a "holy huddle" and celebrates what used to be, rather than what is. This is not engaging or welcoming for guests. It's not very comforting for regular attenders and members either.

Your venue is important and what it looks like says more about your group than you probably know. If your room looks like a scene from "Hoarders" throw away the junk that has accumulated in the corners. We have found this to be a reality - people often clean their homes of unwanted junk and donate it to the church because they cannot bear throwing things away. The result is that church buildings become filled with other people's unwanted junk. Do you know what a room full of unwanted junk looks like? That's right, a room full of unwanted junk. 

Remember, in many cases "your" room (which is a misnomer anyway) is often shared with another group. So be careful what you throw away. Oh, you still need to throw the junk away, just be careful.



Guess what? Our buildings have rooms that are older than most eastern European nations. That being the case and under the banner of "working with what we have" some of our rooms look dated. . .because they are. Not only that, they smell dated. Yes, we know the smell is real and we try our best to fix that, but aside from removing all the carpet, insulation, walls, flooring, ceiling tiles. . .oh, you know, building a new building, there's just so much we can do. In the meantime, get some air fresheners for your room. Don't get something that is too "perfumy" or your room will offend more than welcome. If it smells too much like flowers, your room will smell like a funeral home.

No one wants to go into a small group classroom that smells more like a junior high boy's locker room either (FYI - junior high boys do not shower, but they do stink, so they end up spraying entire cans of Axe Body Spray on themselves to cover up the stink after gym class. Stepping into these locker rooms is a bounty to olfactory nerves. . .and not in a good way.)

You also do not want your room to smell like the Yankee Candle store in the mall. I like the smell of those scented candles, but to be in a place with so many is overwhelming. So, something clean, but not overpowering is nice. Anything would be better than "Church Musty" which is a common smell in most churches.

By the way - Lysol smells like a hospital, so unless you like that antiseptic odor, that's probably not the best option either. 

The smell of "Fresh Linen" has been recommended. I have no idea what is, because I am a guy, but nevertheless it's been recommended. Do what you wish. (Oh, and don't set the building on fire with "Plug-Ins" or by leaving candles lit.)



This seems like such a no-brainer, but it's hard. Guess what? When ministry is easy. . .it's no longer ministry. The easy thing to do is to arrive on campus, get out of your car, go to whatever room you always go to and just hang out with people you already know. When this is done over and over the perception that "We're a friendly bunch" is believed, but not enacted.

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said "I was ignored" or "I didn't feel welcome here." If I did, I would have. . .well, only about $20, but still, that's way too many. Most people don't let us know they didn't feel welcome. They just don't come back.

If guests are not made to feel welcome, we have missed an opportunity.

Oh, and I have heard many times the reasonings for not greeting, welcoming and engaging new people. They range from "We don't know who the guests are" to "Sometimes people don't want to be talked to" or some such drivel. The reality is that we excuse what we don't want to do.

I do. I'm sure you as well.

Yet, here's the problem. We (the pastors and leadership team) have often said "We need to be intentionally welcoming" and then we do not show anyone what that looks like. We have not given practical handles to grab hold of that reveal this.

In an attempt to be clear and to show what this looks like, the Sunday morning service on April 6 will not feature a typical sermon. We will pray. We will sing. We will worship. Then, we will prepare for Easter Sunday with some details on how to welcome guests, members, family members and friends. We're not working to create a "fake welcome" but an engaging atmosphere where people feel loved and important and therefore will be open to the work of the Spirit of God. 



What does this look like? Well, it may be serving in the front foyer at one of our new welcome tables (to arrive within the next few weeks), at one of the tables in our Welcome Center (bye-bye Antebellum furniture), in the gym at the 9:15am service, beside one of the children's check-in stations throughout the campus, in the back parking lot greeting worshippers as they arrive or in the front lot near the Guest parking areas and working with the parking ministry team as they greet guests.

Why do this? Doesn't everyone need to be in small group that Sunday morning? 

Well, we do this because we must and "NO" not everyone needs to be sitting in a small group room that morning (or any Sunday morning, for that matter.) This isn't so much a mandate to just roam around the campus, but is something to be done strategically and intentionally.

The question that must be answered is "Do guests matter?" If the answer is "yes" then we must do that which is necessary to prepare for their arrival.

Oh, and just in case we forget. . .we are inviting our "guests" to become part of the family. 




Everybody matters.

Love God.

Love people.