Challenged at Catalyst

Catalyst conference 2014I had the privilege last week of being a part of the Catalyst conference in Atlanta. The speakers were fabulous, and my heart and soul were both challenged and encouraged.

Here are the 10 quotes that made me think the most . . .

1. “The church must stop expecting outsiders to act like insiders, when insiders act like outsiders.” (Andy Stanley)

2. “Comparison will consistently cloud the clarity of God’s call on your life.” (Robert Madu)

3. “Christians want to change the world, but won’t change themselves. That’s why we can’t change the world, no matter how hard we try.” (Christine Caine)

4. “We have to choose whether we listen to God or the Enemy.” (Dr. Caroline Leaf)

5. “Too many in the church are wearing a plastic smile.” (Chris Brown)

6. “To want to be someone else is an affront to the God who saved, called, and appointed you.” (Matt Chandler)

7. “Someone who won’t evangelize is someone who isn’t happy with God. We talk about what we are happy about.” (Craig Groeschel)

8. “Social media has turned us into the queen in Snow White. ‘Who is the fairest?’ ‘Is anyone else doing better?’ “ (Robert Madu)

9. “Missions is not a program. It’s who you are.” (Mark DeYmaz)

10. “Many years from now, what would you like people to line-up and thank you for?” (Andy Stanley)

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The Geese Taught Me Today

canada_goose_and_goslingsI’m in the midst of a 4-day prayer & study retreat.  This afternoon I spent an hour on the shore of Bankson Lake.  I parked myself at a picnic table to read and to gaze across the wind-rippled waters.

But, I wasn’t alone. Some 60 feet away there was a flock of Canadian Geese (a.k.a. Canada Geese or branta Canadensis) munching on the grasses that grew on the beach. As I watched them they reminded me three truths . .  .

 1.  We must protect our young.

There were two dozen geese, and perhaps a dozen goslings.  As I approached the geese scurried the goslings away.  After some time, they came back, but the geese always kept a wary eye on me.  At all the times several geese were positioned between me and the goslings.

 Excellent preschool, children, and youth ministries are vital to the local church.  These ministries come with a cost (time, energy, and money) but they are crucial and the church will die without them.  The church must be equally protective of those young in the faith.  Remember . . . “your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Like the lion on the African savanna, the devil feasts on the weak and the young.

2.  We should utilize the buddy system.

Even spread out over some area of the beach, a single goose was never alone.  Always there was at least two.  The goslings . . . they were kept as a group.

As Christians, we truly need one another.  “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

3.  We must welcome the strangers.

After some time had gone by two more geese flew in and made a beautiful water landing a few yards offshore.  All the geese stopped what they were doing and welcomed them.  There was a cacophony of honking as everyone chimed in their greetings.  While not everyone went all the way down to the water, every goose moved towards the newcomers to welcome them.

There are no orphans in the eyes of God – only family.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

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Social Media and Glorifying God!


Last night our son Josh and his family were in the path of the tornadoes that stormed through the South.  As the tornado passed over their home, Josh, Robin, and the kids (Zeke, Shep, Linc, and Elle) were hunkered-down two miles away in the basement of the church he pastors (Mt. Vernon Church in Columbus, MS).

We posted a prayer request on our church’s Facebook page.  Within the first 60 minutes of the post there were 206 people who had seen and responded to this request to pray.

Our own personal families were instantly praying, and we felt there love and concern.  Many of our dear friends and fellow-believers from Crossroads Community Baptist Church, Ann Arbor, were part of the initial response . . . and we are so blessed to experience their love and encouragement as well.

But, especially humbling to us was that the overall response showed the tapestry of our lives and ministry.  Christian brothers and sisters from the five previous churches we have served also were instantly responding and praying.   We were blessed with prayers from precious people we have known in the past as we served the Lord side-by-side in Hayward, Livermore, and Hemet, CA.  We were equally blessed by the prayers and encouragement from precious friends and fellow believers in Winslow and Phoenix, AZ.

Before the night was over, 575 people had prayed for Josh . . . and for the millions who were and are in the path of the devastating tornado outbreak.  One of the 575 was my friend Moses Bin Vero Ombati.  In September 2009, Moses and I walked together through the Kenyan countryside for 18 days, sharing the gospel, giving away New Testaments, and starting “house churches.”  What a blessing it was to know that my brother was praying for my family and others.

Prayers were answered.   Josh and his family came through the storm safely, and there was only minor damage to their house.  Their oldest son (Zeke, age 8) said this about the tornado . . . “Mom, I guess the name of our sister Emmanuelle worked…God really was with us!”  (Elle is 27 days old . . . our 7th grandchild!)

Sometimes “social media” is used for ignoble purposes.  Last night it was used for the glory of God, and we were blessed.    Thank you, and GLORY TO GOD!

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I Liked Noah: Does That Make Me a Heretic?

My wife and I journeyedNoah 2 to the local cinema today to watch the recently released Noah.  I’m mindful that my son Joshua has a thorough review of the movie on his blog.

Nevertheless, here are my six thoughts . . .

  1. As I went, I certainly wasn’t expecting to have the Bible read to me for 10 minutes (that’s how long it takes to read Genesis 6-9) and then go home.  I knew they were going to take artistic license as they interpreted the meager Biblical account and expanded upon it.  After all, 10 minute movies just don’t exist.
  1. Even though he was “chosen by God” and “on mission for the Lord,” Noah came to understand that he wasn’t perfect.  It was revelatory when he understood that he too was flawed – a sinner (Romans 3:23).  This is huge.  All of us must truly understand the depth of the depravity within us.
  1. Noah’s wife accurately pointed out to him that what made him different from Tubal Cain (the enemy leader) was that he used his free will to choose to honor the Creator.  Noah’s response to life was love and mercy.
  1. I was very glad to see Noah struggle with the annihilation of the earth.  We too should be affected as we see God’s judgment carried out around us.  Our reaction should not be one of glee, but one of great heartache.
  1. I’m mindful that many have blasted the movie because it veers from the biblical account of Noah.  Haven’t they all?  Every movie ever made about the Bible has deviated from Scripture; some more, and some less. The director of Noah has given us historical fiction at best, and it really bothers a lot of Christians. 
  1. There may be something really wrong when we go to the movies expecting to see the Bible, and we go to church expecting to be entertained.
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I Am Sad

wedding rings

I am sad.

I am sad.  I live in a country where morality is now defined by a poll of the majority, or by the decision of a lone judge.   This is dangerous.   We have become ancient Israel:  In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit (Judges 21:25).

I am sad.  I live in a country where “the Bible says” no longer matters to the majority.  The majority believe we have evolved beyond the unwanted constriction of God’s Word.  Sadly, this majority includes many professing Christians.

I am sad.  I am not shocked or angry.  I’m only surprised that today’s ruling in a U.S. District Court by Judge Bernard Friedman took as long as it did (striking down Michigan’s constitutional amendment of 2004, “The Michigan Marriage Act”).  After all, last year Judge Friedman suggested to the plaintiffs that they amend their lawsuit to allow adoption by gay couples, to also question the legality of Michigan’s ban on gay marriage.

I am sad.  Today we became the 18th state to allow gay marriage. Of course, today’s ruling by Judge Friedman is being appealed.  But, really now, we know how this will end.  Within a few years the other 32 states will have followed suit.  I may not like it, but this is the reality.

I am sad, because the reality is that God’s plan for marriage was “watered-down” long before approving gay marriage became the politically correct thing to do.  We live in a country where the divorce rate is abominable, “no fault” divorce is the norm, and too many are in miserable marriages that legally exist but lack the beauty, joy, and fulfillment that God intended for marriage.  We live a country where too many men and women find their greatest sexual pleasure via internet pornography instead of with their husband or wife.  We live in a country where premarital sex, extramarital sex, casual sex, cohabitation, and friends with benefits have become the norm.

I am sad.


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Talk to Me About Pride


“Talk to me about pride!”  I was at the Washtenaw Prayer Summit when I heard those words.  I was one of 33 pastors and ministers from the county who had gathered February 3-5 for the 15th annual Prayer Summit at Michindoh Conference Center in Hillsdale.

It was Tuesday night that it happened.  We had spent the entire first day in praise and adoration of the Lord.  We sang songs of praise and worship.  We read Psalms of praise and adoration.  We prayed and expressed our personal adoration of the Lord.  The first afternoon included some time spent mediating on John 15:1-15, with a special focus on “obedience and love.”  Tuesday morning was more praise and worship, with a full afternoon of praying.

Tuesday night featured the “mercy seat.”  We were invited to go to a chair in the middle of the circle, and take our personal prayer directly to the Lord.  We were not to announce our need or describe our situation.  We were to simply pray to God . . . who already knows the need and every detail.  As one prays from the mercy seat, some of the other ministers will surround them, lay hands on them, and pray with them and over them.

Suddenly, I realized God had been nudging me to the mercy seat all day long.  I whispered to my friend Allen Singer, who was sitting next to me, “Would it be appropriate in this context for me to pray for healing?”  For months now I have been fighting debilitating fatigue.  I’ve been diagnosed with hypotension (low blood pressure) and with persistent mild anemia, but multiple doctors can’t find the root cause.  I’m just so tired of feeling tired.

Allen, who was facilitating that evening, quickly encouraged me.  “Oh, yes.”  One has to act quickly in these situations because the mercy seat is popular and our time that evening was almost over.  But, suddenly I couldn’t move.  God wouldn’t let me get up.  Allen is whispering, “You missed your chance!”  But in a still small voice God was shouting “Talk to me about pride.”

What?  “What does that have to do with the price of eggs?” I wondered.  I continued pondering the instruction from the Lord as another minister was blessed on the mercy seat.  At last I understood.  So when they had finished praying over another colleague, I took my place on the mercy seat.

That’s when I fell apart.  I wept as I repented of pride.  I wept as I asked my God to forgive me.  “Lord, for too many years I’ve taken pride in being able to work longer than anyone else.  I’ve prided myself on working harder than anyone else.  My zeal to do my best, my quest to succeed, has turned into a point of pride.”

Even as I asked God to heal me, He suddenly reminded me of the Apostle Paul and his “thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).” So, I amended my prayer.  “Lord, if this is my ‘thorn in flesh,’ if this is my new normal I will accept it.  ‘Your grace will be sufficient for me.’ Like the Apostle Paul I will say ‘when I am weak, then I am strong.’  Lord, I do not deserve to be healed.  But, I humbly ask for the sake of my dear wife.  Lord, I see the look of worry and fear in Lynne’s eyes when my blood pressure plummets (as low as 69/40) and my energy drains away like a burst water pipe.”

I don’t yet know how this blog, this story, ends because I’m still in the midst of the journey.  But I do know two things . . .

  1. I’ll be forever grateful for the love and prayers for healing from my fellow ministers that night as I sat on the mercy seat.
  2. I’ll never forget the command from my Lord that night:  “Talk to me about pride.”
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Never So Happy to be in a Courtroom

Adrian & Margarita LioiYesterday, I had the privilege of watching people from 33 other countries who are just like me – they are immigrants.  We were in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, in downtown Detroit.  The people there (from those 33 different countries) came with one common purpose – the desire to become citizens of the United States of America.

My friends, Adrian & Margarita Lioi, were among those who took the oath of citizenship.  I am happy for them.  I am proud of them.  But, I could say the same for those gathered from the other 32 countries (Adrian & Margarita were the only two Argentinians who became citizens.)  Some of the new citizens were there by themselves.  Others were surrounded by friends and/or family.  The air was filled with anticipation and pride.

Led by the federal judge (himself an immigrant to the U.S. in 1995), they all stood as the oath of allegiance was read (see below) . . . and with one voice they said “I do.”  One-by-one, the judge called them forward to receive their CERTIFICATE OF CITIZENSHIP.   What a time of celebration!  What a time of joy!  I cried tears of gratitude for all of them, including my dear friends.

As I watched people from 33 different countries of origin become citizens, I suddenly remembered that 98.9% of us are immigrants, albeit several generations removed.  It was almost a century ago that President Woodrow Wilson reminded us that we are best described as “a nation of immigrants.”

The 150 or so who took the oath yesterday claimed the same promise that my ancestors did.  This promise was voiced for us all by Thomas Jefferson as he espoused Biblical truth in our Declaration of Independence:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Then, we guests had the privilege of standing with our newest citizens, placing our hands over our hearts, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.  WOW! . . . and God bless America!

“The Oath”  :“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

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