2014-outreach-100-thumbI want the world to know (more like the few who read this blog) that I am the proud lead pastor of Grace Community Church. And Grace is NOT one of Outreach Magazine‘s 2014 100 fastest growing churches in America! Although, for three years past we have been.

In 2011, Grace achieved accomplished received the honor. I heralded it to the world through Twitter, Facebook, and the like. I reveled in this sudden and surprising identity as the lead pastor of such a church.

In 2012, we received the honor again. That’s two years running (in case you missed it). We were listed in the top 40 to boot. All my bone marrow wanted to declare this to the world! I felt even greater worth and value as the leader. I felt I mattered. I felt important. And I sort-of wanted everyone else to feel it too. But I kept the news in-house that round. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to go public again. Yet Christie, my wife, asked me a very simple question that stopped me in my tracks and got me wrestling with my heart: “What good does it do?”

In 2013, we received the honor again. The same battle and the same feelings returned. I specifically remember seeing our name again in the magazine and asking myself: “What will happen when Grace is no longer mentioned? Will I feel like God is done with us? Will I be crushed? Will I panic? Will others think less of me? Will Jesus be enough?”

It’s 2014. We are not listed in the magazine. In fact, we are no-where close to being one of Outreach’s 100 fastest growing churches this year. Strangely, I rejoice.

No, I don’t rejoice that we are not growing as we once were, for whatever reasons. Here in the Northeast, specifically New York, there are hundreds of thousands without Christ. My heart aches for them to hear and believe in the gospel through the people of Grace! We will never cease to pray for revival in the Northeast! We will never tire in our mission to reach Orange County, New York, and beyond, for Christ and make fully devoted followers of Jesus!

But I do rejoice for the churches that are the top 100 fastest growing in America. I am grateful for their lead pastors, their staffs, and their volunteers, especially. It’s not the lead pastor but the team of staff and volunteers who trust the leader’s heart and carry the church from victory to victory. What a thrill that people are being reached with the gospel in such mass and fast rates! In addition, I rejoice for the churches that are not one of the fastest growing, but whose lead pastors, staffs, and volunteers are faithful. Thank you for your example.

But most of all, I rejoice because I wasn’t crushed when I got the magazine two days ago and saw that we were not listed. In fact, I smiled. I was relieved. I celebrated it on date night with Christie, last night. See, no matter how much I prayed in the past and declared to God, myself, even Christie that my identity was not wrapped up in such recognitions, how did I really know? Now, thank God, I do.

I’m grateful if God grows us like he did in the past. I’m grateful if He doesn’t. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Nothing comes unless given from heaven anyway (John 3:27). So I just want to faithfully pray, love, preach, and lead with all my heart. I want to faithfully lead our church to be passionate for Christ’s mission and Truth. That’s all. And that’s how I know God is not done with Grace Community Church, or me. The outcome is His. And regardless of that outcome, Jesus will always be worthy… and worth it.

This is an interview I did at Word of Life Island last week. Perhaps it might encourage you to devote your life to meeting with God daily and meditating on His Word.

0:03 secs – 1: 59  (“When did you first fall in love with God’s Word?”)

2:00 –  3:49  (“Do you believe the Bible is relevant for today and not just a history book?”)

3:50 – 6:50 (“How do you personally study God’s Word?”)

6: 52 – 8:42  (“On fun side, what character in the Bible is your personal favorite?”)

8:45 – 12:38 (“What advice would you give on being more consistent in God’s word; that it would be more than routine and a ‘check-off’?”)

Rethinking Pain

August 4, 2014

pain1There’s the story of a Rabbi who told his students that if they studied the Torah it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” The Rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break, the holy words fall inside.” *

This I know: Truth doesn’t crack my heart. Pain does. Truth doesn’t bring wisdom. Pain that awakens me to Truth, does. I once believed a great sermon, a Christian best-seller, and a study on “Humility” would make me more humble, more forgiving, and more loving. It was never enough. It has taken pain to break my heart so God’s Truth would fall inside.

Celebrity actor Rob Lowe wrote, “You stop growing emotionally the very moment you become famous.” ** How so? Many celebrities spend millions to shield themselves from pain. They surround themselves with “yes” people. Yet, when the emptiness of celebrity sets in, or when they reach the point of near self-destruction, they take off to the Near East to sit at the feet of a Guru. They hope for a fast-track to wisdom, meaning, “truth,” or maturity.  But it never works. At least not for long….

This I’ve learned: Wisdom is not about avoiding or numbing pain. Wisdom is learning from it, growing in it, becoming stronger for it, and more dependent on Jesus because of it. Wisdom is using pain to build more wisdom into my life and make Jesus more glorious through my life. In many ways it still takes pain not only to break my heart so that the Truth would fall inside, but more so that Jesus would forever reign there. 

 

* As shared by Anne Lamott in her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

** Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography by Rob Lowe

 

A light at the end of the tunnelWars,  plane crashes, viruses

Christian, everything will be alright.

“In the end everything will be alright, nothing can harm you permanently; no loss is lasting, no defeat more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Suffering, failure, loneliness, sorrow, discouragement, and death will be part of your journey, but the kingdom of God will conquer all those horrors. No evil can resist grace forever.

And if you think it is ridiculous to believe that life will triumph over death, then don’t bother with Christianity, because you can’t be a Christian unless you believe that.”  – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Of Porn & Marriage

July 22, 2014

Bride and groom on beachrear viewA previous post, “An open letter to girlfriends whose boyfriends ‘struggle’ with porn” got quite the responses publicly and privately (Read HERE. The comments are well worth your time as well). The majority of responses I received privately were from wives requesting I speak toward pornography in marriage.

Admittedly, porn is not just an issue for men. The percentage of women who battle with porn is significant and increasing. But that’s a post for another day. Context for now is girlfriends and wives seeking counsel, relief, and hope about their boyfriends, fiancés, and husbands.

I wrote an article titled, “Of Porn & Marriage” for a little magazine back in the Spring of 2008. I’ve since forgotten the name of the magazine. But I googled for the article to see if it might pop up. Boom! Interestingly, a website picked it up and posted it in 2012. My bio information on the site is outdated, but the content still resonates, I think.

The only part of the article I would state differently six years later is the “Pray for Power” section. My tune has definitely changed in thinking that prayer for victory over sexual sin should be one’s focus, especially a daily focus. That’s not healthy. One’s focus should be on Christ (Hebrews 12:1-4), our freedom from sin’s slavery (Romans 6), and on”things above not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-3). Can I blame it on being six years younger and dumber?

Finally, as I stated above, the article is directed toward married men with encouragement to their wives. But whether the battle with porn is the man’s or woman’s—single or married—I trust you can adjust and apply the content as needed.

Read “Of Porn & Marriage” HERE.

After reading the article, what else would you add?

(Please return here upon reading and leave your comments below. If you received this post in your email inbox, please go HERE and leave comments below the post on my site. Thanks!