But what do I love when I love you? Not the beauty of any body or the rhythm of time in its movement; not the radiance of light, so dear to our eyes; not the sweet melodies in the world of manifold sounds; not the perfume of flowers, ointments and spices; not manna and not honey; not the limbs so delightful to the body’s embrace: it is none of these things that I love when I love my God.

And yet when I love my God I do indeed love a light and a sound and a perfume and a food and an embrace—a light and sound and perfume and food and embrace in my inward self. There my soul is flooded with a radiance which no space can contain; there a music sounds which time never bears away; there I smell a perfume which no wind disperses; there I taste a food that no surfeit embitters; there is an embrace which no satiety severs. It is this that I love when I love my God.

Confessions 10.6.8

Monday Morning Mind Dump…

mind dump

  • It was such a blessing to just attend Revolution yesterday.
  • I always shake my head when pastors tell me they don’t like attending their church the week’s they don’t preach. I love being at my church.
  • Jack Schull from Elements City Church preached for us yesterday and did a great job.
  • One of the great joys for me recently is seeing the tide change in the city of Tucson and see more and more pastors working together instead of against each other.
  • Hopeful that continues.
  • I’ve been reading Mark Sayers book Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm and really enjoying it.
  • It is definitely a different kind of leadership book about how leadership and influence is changing.
  • While I love preaching each week, I also love the weeks I don’t preach.
  • It is a great time to catch my breath, work ahead, work “on” Revolution instead of just “in” Revolution.
  • The week of Thanksgiving is one of my favorite weeks of the year.
  • I love a celebration that is largely centered around family, food and football.
  • So great.
  • We grill our turkey, which is the only way to make it.
  • I got to be on Innovate 4 Jesus again last week and talk about discipleship.
  • What it is, what it isn’t and how to make disciples in a way that makes sense.
  • I’m starting to get really excited about our next series kicking off in January on the book of Malachi called The Art of Living Well. 
  • I think it is going to be a challenging series for everyone, regardless of where they stand with Jesus, because we all want a better life.
  • That’s all I got this week.
  • A short mind dump for a short week.
  • Have a great Thanksgiving!

Why a Pastor Should Work Ahead (And How to do It)

Work Ahead

Most pastors, because of all that is on their plates have this revolving conversation in their head: It is Monday, they are tired and worn down and they don’t know what they are going to preach on this coming Sunday.

They start scouring the internet to see what their favorite megachurch pastor is preaching on or they read a book in hopes of finding some kind of inspiration or story to steal, or they read their Bible in hopes that God will speak to them and show them their sermon.

Not all pastors are like this, but sadly, many are.

There is another way: work ahead. 

By working ahead, you are prepared for what is coming up, your sermons are not last minute. In fact, I just had two pastors tell me they spend 8 hours Saturday night working on their sermons. 8 hours! That’s crazy.

Every pastor wants to work ahead and when we hear pastors say that they have their next 3 sermons written, a part of seethes in anger.

While I don’t work like that, I write the sermon I’m going to preach on Sunday leading up to Sunday, I can tell you what I am planning to preach on for the next 12 months.

One of the biggest benefits to this is how it helps you to research. By knowing the topics I will cover over the coming year, when I read a blog or article that connects with that, I’m able to save it into Evernote.

But how do you work ahead? How do you know what you are going to preach on for the next 12 months? Here are some ways I’ve learned to do it:

  1. Write out books of the Bible or topics you’d like to cover. Don’t underestimate your passion for a topic or books of the Bible. Often, the next series you should do is one you are passionate about. What is God saying to you right now? How are you growing personally? Can you make that into a series? Is there a book of the Bible speaking to you right now?
  2. Ask your church, staff, and elders for suggestions. On a yearly basis, I ask for input. Granted some people give me input throughout the year and when they do, I add it to my growing list. A pastor should always have a running list of possible series or sermons they are thinking about. Often, the questions that come up in counseling or conversations lead to great sermon series as well.
  3. Get away for some solitude. When I finally decide what I’m going to preach on, I get away. I pray through the books that have been on my heart, topics that are bouncing around in my head and things others have said to me. I often do this in the summer time to lay out the following year. So, this past summer I was laying out 2015.
  4. Map out the series for 12 months. To effectively work ahead on prep, research, and creativity, I find a year a good standard to be working from. I am always amazed when I am reading a book that has nothing to do with a sermon topic and I find a great quote that I can use in 8 months. This saves so much time the week I work on the actual sermon. In fact, just this past week I landed on my big idea for a sermon I’ll preach in 9 months.
  5. Create Evernote folders. Evernote is something every pastor should know and use often. If you are unfamiliar with it, here are two resources I’d recommend: Evernote Essentials: The Definitive Guide for New Evernote Users and A Guide to Evernote for Pastors. I have a folder for different topics: leadership, gay marriage, marriage, dating, eating, health, divorce, parenting, schedule, pace, etc. I also have one for each book of the Bible, whether I am planning to preach through it soon or not. When I’m reading a blog or article online I simply use the Evernote shortcut for Chrome and send it to the correct folder.

I can’t tell you the benefits of this. I am never wondering “what am I going to say this coming week” which drastically lowers my stress level and raises the quality of a sermon because whenever I preach, it has been in preparation for a year.



Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church

I recently read Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church by Scot McKnight, which definitely stretched my thinking in a lot of ways about the kingdom of God.

Here are some things I liked or was challenged with:

1. There is no good for the common good until humans surrender to King Jesus. I love the way McKnight put this because so many in my generation want to do the common good and associate the common good with being human, spiritual, doing “kingdom work” and yet, we separate it from the gospel and under Jesus. We also make it sound like Jesus doesn’t care about the common good, or we make it sound like the church doesn’t care about the common good. I loved the connection of the common good to the gospel under King Jesus.

2. The story of redemption is not C-F-R-C. Instead, it is A-B-A. I think this pushed me the most and will push the thinking of most leaders the most too.

Here’s what McKnight had to say about this:

Plan A has four characteristics: God alone is King. Humans, from Adam and Eve to Abraham, are to rule under God. Humans usurp God’s rule. God forgives the usurpers and forms a covenant with Abraham.

So there are six elements in Plan B: God alone is (still) King. Israel is to rule God’s created world under God. Israel wants to usurp God’s rule. God accommodates Israel by granting it a human king. The story of the Old Testament becomes the story of David. God continues to forgive Israel of its sins through the temple system of sacrifice, purity, and forgiveness. A human king for Israel is Plan B in God’s eyes.

Here, then, is Plan A Revised: in Jesus, who is called Messiah (which means king), who is also called Son of God (which also means king), God establishes his rule over Israel one more time as under Plan A. Here are the major elements: God alone is King. God is now ruling in King Jesus. Israel and the church live under the rule of King Jesus. Forgiveness is granted through King Jesus, the Savior. This rule of Jesus will be complete in the final kingdom.

3. Kingdom mission is church mission. This carries closely to the first point, but I loved how McKnight connected kingdom work and church mission. They go hand in hand and are seeking to accomplish the same thing. Loved this.

4. King Jesus. This may seem obvious depending on your church background, but I appreciate the emphasis that McKnight places on Jesus as King. My church background seems to focus on Jesus as Savior and Redeemer, which He is and leave the King part until the end of the world. Yet, Jesus is King, now and forever.

5. Understanding the kingdom in the first century context. I’ll be honest, until I read what McKnight had to say about what a first century Jew would’ve thought of when Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, I hadn’t really thought about it. Yet, this has to influence how we think about the kingdom of God. He said, “’kingdom’ in the Old Testament refers to both realm and governing (or ruling), sometimes emphasizing one and sometimes emphasizing the other, but always having a sense of both.” He goes on to talk about how it involves land, people, laws, etc. “A people governed by a king”—this is how the Old Testament uses the term “kingdom.” This context is important about how we think about the kingdom of God today in our world, as well as eternity.

While I haven’t gotten into the theology of the kingdom of God, how much of it is now and how much of it is in eternity, but McKnight handles that well and this blog post is not a sufficient place to unpack that. I found this book challenging, although I didn’t agree with all of it, it was definitely a good read.

Join me Thursday, November 20,  (10 PT /1 ET) for a live show on Innovate For Jesus. I’ll be discussing Biblical, practical discipleship with host Justin Blaney. We’ll share from our experience, and would love your input, too.

Can I answer questions about your specific situation? Leave them anytime on the comments at i4j.org/disciple  or via Twitter using #I4JLIVE. I’ll be taking questions from right now until Thursday’s show.

Can’t join us live? We’ll still answer your question, and record it all at i4j.org.

Date: November 20, 2014
Time: 1:00 p.m. EST
Event: Innovate for Jesus: Biblical Discipleship
Public: Public

When a Sermon Bombs


What do you do if a sermon bombs? How do you know if a sermon bombed?

Most pastors know the feeling. If you attend church on a regular basis, you have heard some duds as well. I know the truth that God can use the worst sermons and inexperienced speakers and how God will do whatever He wants to do. The reality is, many of the failings within a sermon though are avoidable.

There are many reasons a sermon bombs, but here are 4:

  1. There was a disconnect between the pastor and the congregation. Often the reason for a sermon not going over well is the disconnect between a pastor and his church. This might be because a pastor doesn’t know his congregation, their struggles, their questions or the pastor is so disconnected from the real world and stuck in the church world that he doesn’t understand their needs. This is why it is important for a pastor to not just hang out with pastors, not just read blogs by pastors, but be in the lives of a real church. The reason many pastors don’t do this is because pastors don’t make good friends, but this is a detriment for pastors.
  2. Sometimes it bombs because the pastor was not prepared. Someone pays the price for a sermon, the pastor in his study or the church for having to listen to it. Often when a sermon fails it is because the pastor was lazy, didn’t work on his research, isn’t prayed up, didn’t confess sin and has decided to preach someone else’s sermon or an old sermon. Do the hard work of a sermon. Don’t be lazy, you are preaching the word of God.
  3. Sometimes a sermon bombs because of sin in the pastor’s life. Often the disconnect happens in the heart of a pastor. An argument with his wife, unconfessed sin in his heart, pride. When this happens, there is a barrier between the pastor and God which is felt in his sermon.
  4. Sometimes a sermon bombs because God wants to sanctify someone. This is the hardest one for me because this can and will happen when a pastors works hard, does the work during the week, confesses his sin, seeks to live a holy life, know his church and serve them well and drives home on a Sunday knowing it tanked.

While there are other reasons sermons bomb and maybe even more spiritual reasons than this. These are the four most common I’ve encountered. The reality is that when it comes to preaching, most of it is out of a pastor’s control. There is some that he can control based off his preparation during the week in his study and with people, the rest is up to God.

When a sermon bombs, you can hang it up. You can get angry. Or, you can look at your life and heart. Don’t blame your church for your laziness. Don’t blame anyone for your hard heart or not confessing your sin. That’s on you. Do ask God to move and work. He will do so without you asking, but He tells us to ask. So ask.

Then remember whenever a sermon bombs, you get to preach again in 7 days.


Help Your Wife Grow Spiritually


One of the things I do to help Katie grow spiritually is fill up her kindle with books. Today, there are a whole group of books (each $2.99 on kindle) designed for women. This is an easy way to help your wife grow spiritually. They’d also be a benefit if you are single.

Here they are:


The Benefit of Self-Discipline


When I was losing 130 pounds several years ago, I wasn’t thinking about any side benefits outside of feeling better and living longer. Looking back now, one of the things I’ve learned is the self-discipline it created in me.

Before I lost weight, I was not as driven, organized or motivated in many areas of my life. In fact, I was often lazy. As my weighing almost 300 pounds exhibited.

Looking back, losing weight created a self-discipline in me to exercise and eat better that has far extended past my health. It has bled over into my marriage, with my kids, my work and almost every area of my life.

One of the reasons many change efforts fail is a lack of self-discipline. A reason many people don’t have the life they want is a lack of self-discipline.

The organization it takes to lose weight or get out of debt and ask anyone who has done it and they will tell you, it creates a self-discipline you previously did not have. The willingness to forgo dessert, a desire to not buy something you can’t afford. All of that takes discipline. To get at least 8 hours of sleep, takes discipline. Making time for your marriage with weekly date nights, takes discipline.

Pastors and leaders are notorious for a lack of self-discipline.

Here are some ways to know if you lack self-discipline:

  1. You find yourself in meetings you have no business being in.
  2. You are late on many things.
  3. You have a feeling of being overwhelmed.
  4. You don’t get enough sleep.
  5. You wish you could lose some weight.
  6. There are many things you wish you could do, but don’t know how you’ll find the time.

What do you do besides losing a bunch of weight or getting out of debt? There is a way to create self-discipline without making enormous life changes, although they will eventually come.

  1. Assign times to everything you do. Everything that is important gets a place on your calendar. In fact, almost everything that you do has a minute attached to it. Yet, we often do things we don’t want to do, go to places, meetings and events we don’t want to be at. Why? We didn’t assign times to what we want to do. Date night, days off, vacation, reading, taking naps, spending time with friends, working out. If you want to do these things, they will need to have minutes on your calendar.
  2. Master email instead of email mastering you. Most people check email way too much. If you are wondering if you check it too much, the answer is yes. We do the same with social media and this mastering of us, sucks the life and time out of us. We waste so much time by scrolling through Instagram and looking at emails. Set times aside that you will check email. For me, I usually check email before lunch and before the end of my day. Amazingly, I miss very little that is important.
  3. Control your calendar. You may be picking up a trend here, which is true. In the same way that you need to control email and social media, controlling your calendar is equally important. While assigning times is one thing, controlling what gets on your calendar is important. If you are going to do something, why are you doing it? Do you need to be in that meeting? Sometimes you don’t. Remember, every time you say yes to something you say no to something else. You don’t have to do everything and you can’t. You don’t have to meet with everyone and you can’t.
  4. Say no. If you have a hard time saying no and if you lack discipline in an area of your life, you probably struggle with this. Practice saying it out loud. No. Say it kindly, forcefully, but say it.


How to Succeed at (Almost) Anything


It is easy to look at successful people or anyone who has reached a goal and get smug. We think about the things that went their way, the success that just fell into their laps or how your life is so much harder than their life.

And who knows, maybe that is true.

Maybe it is easier for someone else to lose weight than it is for you. Maybe someone was born into a wealthier family and had things given to them you never got close to. Maybe school came easier for someone than it does for you.

Church planters and pastors do this. When you meet someone who has a larger or faster growing church, you immediately wonder how the deck got stacked in their favor. Maybe they had more funding, got a larger launch team from a partner church or they were someone who is well known in an area.

Sometimes, that is true and sometimes it isn’t.

There is a secret to succeeding at almost anything.


Small wins.

Anyone who succeeds at something, take your pick on what it is, has done several things, several right things in a row.

They talk about this in debt seminars, weight loss seminars and addiction seminars. Get a small win. Pay off a credit card. Lose 5 pounds, cut soda out of your diet for a week. Quit smoking for a day. Anything. Just get a win.

We do this in relationships as well. We think of something big that will make a big impact on our marriage, with our kids or in community. We make a commitment and then fail. Much like the person wanting to lose weight does when they don’t wake up at 4am to run. Start small. Don’t shoot for the moon on your first step, focus on something you can do.

Growing churches focus on this.

Get a win. Someone accepts Jesus, joins a small group or MC, gets baptized, starts serving, start a new service. A win. Something moving in the right direction. When it does a moment happens and it is a moment that all success is built on: momentum.

Instead of focusing on how to lose 100 pounds, get rid of $20,000 in debt, or how to grow a church to 1,000. Focus on the next step. It is important to have an eventual goal in mind, but it is more important to have your first step.


What to do When You Don’t Want to Workout


If you lift or exercise on a regular basis, at some point you will have a day when you don’t feel like doing it. You may get home from work and you are exhausted. Or maybe you set your alarm for 5am and you feel how cold it is in your room and think, “I’ll just stay in bed today.”

While many positive, gung-ho people will say to just get going and cheerlead you on, most of us are not in that camp and would rather sit on the couch or stay in bed.

For me, I think you have 3 options when you don’t feel like exercising:

  1. Don’t exercise. It can actually be a good and healthy to not exercise, especially if you have done it a lot recently. The need for rest is incredibly important, not only for you to avoid burnout and fatigue, but also so that your muscles can recover and recuperate. In the crossfit world, you hear about the guys who lift 6 days a week and that isn’t healthy for everyone, maybe not anyone. You need to be careful that rest doesn’t become your normal routine or rhythm, but it can be a healthy thing to not exercise.
  2. Active rest. If you don’t need rest, but don’t have the energy for a full blown workout, have some soreness or an injury, do some active rest. Swim some laps, take a fast walk, do some jump rope, take a bike ride or a hike. Just get moving. Sometimes when you are worn out, you need fresh air or just need to move.
  3. Bite the bullet. In the end, you may be lazy and just making excuses so you need to bite the bullet, stop whining and just workout. Is it that simple? I’d say yes. One of the things I’ve learned in losing 130 pounds and keeping it off is that if working out is the next thing on your calendar, it gets done. While that sounds simplistic, we do what is on our calendar and to-do list. If working out is next and has a minute attached to it, it happens. If we say “we’ll workout after work” compared to “I’m working at 5:30 – 6:15.” Which one is more likely to happen? The one with time attached to it.