Learning to Engage Missions in My City

Missions once referred to an adventure to another country.  It meant engaging a different culture.  Different language.  Different economic situation.  And it meant doing so with the purpose of bringing God’s hope into new contexts.

I’m learning that we can take the same explanation of “missions” and experience it closer to home.  Minus the visa to another country, we can engage every element of missions in the city we live in.  If not your city, then a city within driving distance.

I’m not advocating that we should stop doing missions in countries far away.  I’m not saying it’s a waste of time or money for missionaries to travel around the world to be catalysts for God’s Kingdom in new lands and among new people.  It’s not time to stop sending missionaries to all corners of the world.  God’s Kingdom needs to come there (wherever “there” is) as much as it does here.

I am learning, though, that none of us have an excuse to say we can’t be a missionary.  It is no longer true (it never really was true) that you need to go far away to do missions.  We can drive to a mission opportunity in less than 60 minutes.

It’s happening in our own church.

Meet Chuck.  He is a seventy-something year old who spent most of his life working a blue collar job in rural Pennsylvania.

Meet Brett.  He is a twenty-something year old who has lived in one town his entire life.  He is married with four young children, including twins.  He spends much of his time leading worship at his local church.

Meet Patty.  She is a twenty-something year old who recently moved to the area from the Midwest.  Her husband is a doctor and they have have two young children.  She spends most of her time caring for her children, and part of her time volunteering with local non-profit organizations.

Meet RJ, Scotty, and Kyle.  All three of them attend the same local church.

Meet a Haitian Family.  They are a family of 8.  Husband, Wife, and 6 children.  They are currently moving to our city.  The house they are moving into has no furniture.  When they arrive they will not be bringing furniture with them, nor the finances to purchase their own.

All of these people live within 25 minutes of each other.  When their stories collide, it creates an intersection of “missions.”  All the elements are there.  The collision brings together different cultures, languages, and economic situations.  Add the purpose of bringing God’s kingdom to new a context, and you have “missions.”

A small group of people from a church are reaching out to meet in a need in a community they would never find themselves, so that a new Hatiian pastor and his family can be a catalyst for God’s Kingdom in their particular context.  That’s missions.

It all happened here.  In central Florida.  In our own city.

It can happen with you.  In your city.

Sometimes, oftentimes, the corners of the world begin at the margins of our cities.  We simply need to be willing to go there.

What’s holding you back? 







Learning How to Treat Volunteers at Church

I think we (Pastors, Pastoral staff, me) oftentimes take the wrong approach with our volunteers.  We unwittingly treat our volunteers like paid workers.

We expect volunteers to lead ministries.  We expect them to attend meetings.  We expect them to recruit volunteer teams.  We expect them to be consistent and on time.  We expect them to be creative.  We expect them to be successful.

The problem isn’t with our expectations.  I’m confident many volunteers have the potential to accomplish more for the Kingdom of God than some paid staff.  I wouldn’t sell our expectations for volunteers short.  What falls short, however, is how we treat our volunteers.

We treat volunteers like an employee, when we should be treating volunteers like a patron.

Treating someone like an employee often focuses the relationship on obligation.  Thoughts like these come to mind, “I’m your boss or superior, you owe it to me.”  Another way to put it might be, “I’m paying you (fill in the blank), give me my money’s worth.”  The relationship is built on a foundation of “I know what needs to get done, you need to make sure it happens.”

To get results from employees, certain tactics are used.  Guilt.  Incentives.  Punishments.  Rewards.  Power.  Replacement.

Treating someone like a patron focuses the relationship on the heart.  The goal isn’t production.  The goal is support.  The foundation is winning the heart of someone to the point they are ready and willing to support your cause.  Wholeheartedly.

To do this requires trust, honesty, validation, investment, opportunity, and genuine care. The priority of using special tactics to get results is dismantled.  The person working with you moves from a liability to an asset.

I’m learning to change how I treat the volunteers in our church.  It’s not about looking for strong backs and hands to get jobs done.  It should be about connecting our people’s hearts with the beat of God’s Kingdom.  When their heart is full with passion for God’s cause, the work of the kingdom will come naturally.

Volunteers are not paid workers.  We shouldn’t treat that way.  To be honest, we probably shouldn’t treat employees that way either.  But that’s a different blog post.

What’s your experience as a volunteer at church?  What advice would you give the church?

Pastors, what’s your experience serving with volunteers?  What’s your advice for how we should treat volunteers?


Learning How to Plan a BBQ Comptetition for 10,000 People

BBQ Throwdown LogoIt requires TWO things:

  1. A compelling reason.
  2. Hundreds of volunteers.

#1  Our compelling reason is 2,500 children in our county’s schools who lack the certainty of food on the weekend.  Food may be a expected at school, but the same can’t be assumed by the students after school hours.  Many return to school Monday famished from the weekend.

Kidspack is a non-profit organization with a simple mission — to feed kids.  It was founded in our county with a goal to ensure no student goes hungry.  The program is now feeding 1,000 students per week.

Our church partners with Kidspack in their service to bridge the gap from Friday to Monday.  We put together food packs, provide sponsorships and donations, and offer other volunteer support.  Now, we’re hoping to do more.

Compelling reason:  to raise enough support to feed the other 1,500 kids in our county this school year.

#2  Hundreds of volunteers from our church and our community.  We’ve broken the event down into 18 teams.  6 teams in each of our 3 main areas: Grounds Support, Administration, and Public Relations.  It will only take 6 volunteers per team to break 100 total.  We will need hundreds of volunteers.

Here’s how our event will go down.

The competition is called kidsPACK – Polk Project BBQ Throwdown (lakelandbbqthrowdown.com).  It’s less than 7 weeks away on Saturday, September, 7.  The location is right off the Polk Parkway, about a one mile south on Lakeland Highlands Rd:  Highland Park Church, 4777 Lakeland Highlands Rd.  33813.  The competition is sanctioned by the Florida BBQ Association, so the best of the best in Florida will be here cooking.

If you’re in central Florida the weekend after Labor Day, stop by to feed your hunger for BBQ to help bridge the gap of hunger for 2,500 kids.

Learning how being Born Again is like Growing Old

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Born-again Christian.

It alludes to the moment a person becomes a follower of Christ.  That moment one first believes.  In this moment, a definitive transition occurs in one’s identity.  From this point forward, one’s identity is intimately tied to the reality of being a son or daughter of God our creator.

You may have also heard the phrase, “The older I get, the better I was.”

I first encountered this phrase in Middle School.  My PE teacher wore it on his shirt.  As an adolescent, I struggled to grasp the meaning.  Twenty years later, my experiences of growing older have enlightened my understanding.

I get it now.  There’s a certain age, usually a young age, when we will be the best we will ever be at something.  Once we pass that age, our ability to perform at the same level of excellence will start to diminish.  Eventually, some day I won’t be able to accomplish it at all.  As we grow older and reflect back on our experience, the more impressed will be with ourselves back in the day.

Growing old affords all of us the same reality.  At a particular age, the older we become the less we will be able to do.  Things that we were once able to do, we will no longer be able to do.

Romans 6 ties these two phrases together.  This chapter in Romans speaks of an experience of death and newness of life.  It points to the event of baptism as the metaphor for Christians sharing in the death of Christ (6:3-4), as well as the resurrection (6:4-5).  Like Christ died to sin on the cross, our death is also to sin.  And like Christ’s resurrection brought new life and victory over sin, so does our resurrection bring to life a new person freed from the power of sin.

Being “born-again” is our resurrection moment.  Whereas once you were a person enslaved to sin, now that part of you is dead.  You’ve been reborn into a new person no longer under the influence, of sin.

Romans 6:2 begs the question, “How can we who died to sin go on living in it?

I read this as a rhetorical question, and the obvious answer is, we can’t.  It’s not possible.  Being born again is like growing old because we can no longer do what we used to do.  That part of us is gone.  It has faded away.  It died.

As we grow old, most of us will say, “I can’t do it.  It isn’t possible.  It’s not who I am anymore.”  When we are reborn and grow in Christ, the same will be true.  We will find ourselves saying the same thing.  “I can’t do it.  It isn’t possible.  It’s not who I am anymore.”

Do you remember the moment you first believed?  How has it redefined who you are?


Learning One Occasion to Challenge Tradition

There’s one occasion when the tradition (any tradition) needs to be challenged:  when the tradition fosters oppression.

Every living person is given purpose by tradition.  It may be family tradition.  It may cultural tradition.  It may educational tradition.  It may be religious tradition.  It can be tradition with little “t.”  Or, it can be tradition with a capital “T.”  Whatever it is, all of us derive meaning from tradition.

This is certainly true of Christianity.  The Church and our churches are full of tradition.  The Christian world has worship traditions.  Ecclesial traditions.  Social traditions.  Moral traditions.  Oral traditions.  Interpretive traditions.  Biblical traditions.  Theological traditions.  I think you get my point.

Most Christian traditions are good.  They’ve been informed by the Bible and tested throughout the generations of believers.  Yet, they are still traditions.  Human concepts and formulations subject to our imperfection.  So, some of our traditions may carry hints of brokenness and corruption.

The problem is, how do we know when our Christian tradition is wrong?

When it fosters oppression.

I pray we never hold so tightly to tradition that it becomes a weapon in our hand against the weak and powerless.

What would you say is a good time to challenge tradition?  

Can you lose your salvation?

It’s an age old question, Can you lose your salvation?

Out of the blue, a friend from church texted me this very question.  With a slight added nuance, his exact text reads:  “Does the Nazarene Church believe you can loose your salvation?”

First of all, let me say this.  My views and the way I express them are not definitive for the Church of the Nazarene as a whole.  I don’t claim any authority to speak on behalf of the denomination.  Anything I say is my opinion which is based on my education, experience, and perspective.

Second, it’s important to acknowledge the role of the Church of the Nazarene in my theological development.  I’ve been attending or serving in the denomination for 23 years.   I studied Pastor Ministry at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.  I’m also an ordained elder and actively serve in a pastoral role in a Nazarene Church.  So, I feel any opinion I express is largely influenced by the denomination’s theological perspective.

Back to the question.  And my answer.

My simple, text-message response was:

Nazarenes don’t use the phrase “lose your salvation.”  It (the Church of the Nazarene) believes that we have free will, so at any point can choose not to receive the gift of salvation.

His reply to me was, “Thank you sir!  That makes me feel better!”  

I was glad to hear his response, but I have no idea what might be the source of his relief.  I’m not exactly sure the answer he was looking for, or why.  If I said, “Yes,” would he have been disappointed?  Would it have been a deal breaker for him?

For many people it is.  A large segment of Christianity has been trained from a theological perspective that doesn’t make room for “backsliding” or “losing your salvation.”  From their point of view, it’s absurd to think that one can lose what only God can give.  Salvation is a free-gift given by God through Jesus Christ.  You can’t earn it, so how can you discard it.  God chooses who to give it to, and you have no say-so in the matter.  When God gives it to you, it’s yours to keep forever.  Some may refer to it as, “once saved always saved.”

I totally agree.  Salvation is a free-gift from God.  It can’t be earned.  We’re entirely dependent upon God to give it to us.  Where I part ways, though, comes at the point in God’s distribution of the grace of salvation.  God doesn’t choose some and leave out others.  God offers the gift to all, and then gives us the free will to either accept it or reject it.

Here’s how all this comes around to the main question, “Can we lose our salvation?”  The language of “losing” isn’t sufficient.  What does it mean to “lose” salvation?  Is it like losing one sock in the laundry?  For the Church of the Nazarene and other denominations with a Wesleyan theological perspective, we don’t talk about losing salvation.  We do believe, however, free will gives us the right to walk away from salvation and it’s effects on our lives at any point.  God doesn’t force one to embrace salvation and never let go.  God’s love gives us that choice.

Analogies never suffice, but imagine with me anyway.  It’s like a marriage.  The majority of the time, both partners enter into a marriage relationship with the intention of staying together for a lifetime.  In the beginning, both persons give and receive the gift of love.  They commit themselves to each.  They make a covenant with each other.  And, they’ve done all of it with sincerity.  Yet, any time in the next 5, 10, 25, 40 years, either one of them has the free will to change how they feel and walk away from the relationship.

Can we lose our salvation?  No.  It’s not something that gets lost.  It will never be difficult to find.  It will always be right in front of our face.

Do we have the  free will to walk away from it?  I think so.  Hopefully none of us ever make that choice.

What is your opinion?  How would you answer the question?  




Learning 1 Non-negotiable for Influencing Others to Believe

To influence others to believe, you must be fully convinced yourself.


I was at a friend’s house recently.  Our family went to his family’s home for lunch and to spend the afternoon swimming.  We were late, so the freshly made food was on the table waiting for us.


My friend asked me a question.  At first, I’m not sure where it came from or why he was asking me.  I assume it’s because we are about to share a hearty meal together that it comes to mind.  He asks, “What do you think is the number reason people lose and/or gain weight?”


My simple answer is, “It all comes down to calories.  Burn more calories than you take in.”  With the look in his eye, I know my answer isn’t sufficient for my friend.  He uses this an opportunity to launch into a diatribe against our culture’s belief about healthy eating and dieting.  He absolutely disagrees with the idea that weight loss can be narrowed down to counting calories.  So, for the next several minutes he explains why.


I’m normally not the kind of person who easily accepts someone at their word.  I need proof.  In my mind (not saying I’m right, it’s just the way I am), any person’s argument is false until proven true.  So, I immediately start asking questions.


After several minutes of interrogating questions from me, he was not relenting on his argument.  I tried to debunk his position from every angle.  Every time he had an convincing response.


By the end of our conversation, he was moving me from a critic to a believer.  I realized, the biggest reason why I was being influenced by him is because he believed it himself, 100%.  No doubts.  No second-guessing.  No hesitation.  He is fully convinced.


It’s interesting how this plays out in the life of the early church.  In the Gospels, it’s apparent that Jesus’ disciples carry with them a sense of hesitancy.  They don’t seem to be fully convinced.  For example, the time Jesus sent them out to heal.  They returned with failed attempts to heal, and Jesus responds with “you of little faith.”


Even more poignant is the case of Peter’s denial at Jesus’ arrest.  Peter wasn’t fully convinced enough to speak with honesty.  He backs away from his belief and denies his connection to Jesus.


But, look at what happens in Acts 2.  The Holy Spirit sweeps over the disciples.  All of a sudden, Peter experiences a shift in perspective.  He stands in the presence of the crowd and speaks with impenetrable belief in the redeeming power of Jesus.  Fully convinced, he sets out to influence others to believe the same.


Once he was fully convinced, Peter was able to influence others to believe.  About 3,000 others that first day (Acts 2:41).  Four verses later, we learn “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (believed).”


It’s non-negotiable.  To influence others to believe (anything), you must be fully convinced yourself.


Are you fully convinced?





Learning from best-selling book ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ – Top 8 Quotes

And The Mountains EchoedIf you like to read, then I recommend you put  And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini at the top of your list.

If you don’t like to read, no problem.  I’ve already read it for you.

If you’ve already read the book, I hope you will add any quotes I missed.

Here are my Top Quotes:

For courage, there must be something at stake.


I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us.


They say, Find a purpose in your life and live.  But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind.


Adulthood was akin to what his father had once said about being a war hero; once you became one, you died one.


Let us never use acts of love as currency for bartering.  Let them be acts of love born because we have known love ourselves and want to share it without obligation.


Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randmonly, stupidly.


It’s a funny thing, Markos, but people mostly have it backward.  They think they live by what they want.  But really what guides them is what they’re afraid of.  What they don’t want.


You will never say to yourself when you are old, Ah, I wish I was not good to that person.  You will never think that.


Learning to Discern the Spirit’s Leading

Discerning the Holy Spirit is complex.  Or so it seems at times.

It’s not easy to determine whether it’s truly the Spirit doing the leading. It might be an impulse or desire derived from somewhere else.  Maybe it’s a selfishness beckoning.  It could be the voice of culture giving a nudge.  It may actually be the Holy Spirit.  But, how do we know?

Discerning the Spirit’s leading really should be more simple.

Ten years after graduating from seminary, one of my professors is still teaching me how to make it simple.  This time, though, her lesson is found in a book she co-authored with friends:  Latina Evangelicas:  A Theological Survey from the Margins.

Here are 3 thoughts from the book that can simplify our discerning of the Spirit’s leading:

  • Discerning the Spirit’s leading is made more simple when it’s not done alone. “Discernment is a communal endeavor:  it is always to be done in the community of faith but also looking to the larger community.”
  • Discerning the Spirit’s leading is made more simple when it seeks the voice of God’s Word.  “Scripture is a foundational tool and guide to help us in the process of discernment.”
  • Discerning the Spirit’s leading is made more simple when you know who the Holy Spirit is and the fruit the Spirit bears.  The presence of the Holy Spirit never leaves in its “wake destruction, death, exclusion, oppression, dehumanization, loss, and invisibility.  Such would be anathema to the Spirit’s very being as ruarch, Creator, Life-giver.  Rather, where there is Spirit, there is healing:  that which is broken, sick, and mangled by the powers and principalities of sin is resisted and overcome when the Spirit moves in our midst.  Spirit transforms. . . Spirit is freedom.  Therefore, we experience her wherever there are just movements for liberation of people.  Spirit is also wild child, but she is also Wisdom.  Therefore we must question impulsive acts that lead to destructive consequences.  Spirit pours out gifts of seeing, hoping, and charisms that give voice. . . Above all, Spirit is life itself:  eternal and abundant life poured out, especially in the spaces where sin would construct idols of death.”

Discerning the Spirit’s leading isn’t meant to be complex.  The more intimate we become with the community of Christ followers, the story of God’s Word, and the person of the Holy Spirit, the more simple it will become.  I’m grateful for the reminder.

How do you know when the Spirit is leading?




Learning How to Preach about Sex to My Parents

It wasn’t on purpose.

Well, let me rephrase that.  It was my purpose to preach a sermon about sex, but not my intention to preach it to my parents.

My parents live in Ohio, and I live in Florida.  Any given year, they have the opportunity to hear me preach two, maybe three times.  The sermon series and preaching calendar is made out months before they plan their visits.  It just so happened this last weekend, that they visited the same weekend our sermon topic was sex.

Can you say, awkward?!?!

An hour and a half after the sermon, we are sitting with my parents at their favorite pizza place in town.  Somehow the topic of the sermon came up.  Out of the conversation came a question from one of my parents, “Did you feel convicted during the sermon?”  A shrug of the shoulders and a few seconds later, my parent asking the question answered,  “I did.”

My parents have a great relationship.  It’s evident that they love one another and are committed to one another.  It isn’t that my parent’s confession of guilt was related to their  current sexual relationship.  The sermon spoke to their past.

In that moment, I learned the value of children speaking truth to their parents.  It’s not easy.  It’s intimidating.  It’s not always effective.  But, it’s worth it.  It can make an impact for good.

My parents didn’t need me to speak to this area of their life.  By circumstance,  I did and it made a difference.  Unfortunately, some of you have parents in great need of hearing God’s truth for their lives.  As their child, you have insight into their life like no one else.  You understand the pain they experience.  You’re aware of the pain they cause themselves and others.  You have words to speak to them that can impact your parent(s) for good.

If there are any factors for how to do it effectively, I would offer these 7 thoughts:

  •   Choose a time when your parents are ready to listen.
  •   Choose a setting that is safe for everyone and conducive for listening.
  •   Go into it with the attitude to heal and not to hurt.
  •   Speak with honesty, yet not condescendingly.  
  •   Be gracious in your speech.
  •   Give time for your parents to process before expecting a response.
  •   Be willing to look like a fool.

Most of us will never preach to our parents.  Let alone preach to them about sex.  Some of us, though, will need to speak some truth to our parent(s).  For their healing.  For your healing.  For reconciliation.  For breaking cycles.

Are you able to speak truthfully to your parents?  What have you learned can make it more effective?