Worship starts with Obedience

Then Samuel said: Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord ? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22 CSB

Saul fell into a trap. He wanted to pick and choose when he could obey God, mostly based on what was most convenient for him. But Samuel would have none of that. No sacrifice or external accolades could ever cover over the sin of disobedience. Nope, you might be able to fool people, but you can never fool God.

Samuel’s response is a key passage of scripture. God is not mocked, and He does not want false, fake worship and hypocrisy. He does not want our praise, especially public praise, if we are not obedient to Him.

He wants obedience, not sacrifice.

Partial obedience is 100% disobedience. Before you worship, be sure to examine yourself, seeking God in every area of your life.

God delights in this sort of self examination, and a humble heart for Him will result in a deeper, more intimate worship than you have ever experienced before!



Pastor, Are You Chasing the Wind?

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…” Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV

I get to travel quite a bit to talk with church leaders across the Upper Midwest. I’ve spent time in all sizes of churches, from the smallest of urban or rural churches to the upscale megachurch with multiple sites and services. Although there’s been some great research done on growing churches, I can tell you for my own observation that there’s a difference between leaders who are growing on a foundation of Christ and those who are just “chasing the wind” through their own efforts. In fact, I have seen a few commonalities in healthy, growing churches regardless of the context or size. Let me give you a quick list with no order of importance:
  1. A commitment to expository preaching. I’ve seen some really good expository preaching in which the pastor will take a passage and allow the structure of the passage to be the basis of the message. He takes time to explain the passage and the context, both at the time that it was written and the application for today. This is sorely needed in our culture today.
  2. A clear path for discipleship. I am amazed at how many church leaders have no real idea on how to disciple believers on an ongoing, systematic basis. The healthy churches that I have seen know exactly how to take a new believer in Christ through a process of growth to become more like Jesus. Find a process and work it.
  3. An authentic love. One of my favorite pastors does not buy into the CEO mentality as he ministers to his congregation. He spends time with his people, he fervently prays for them, and he also takes time to study so that he can pour into them in his pulpit ministry. He has boundaries, but his people know that he loves them. By the way, he ministers to about 1,500 people in his congregation each week.
  4. A priority on missions and evangelism. Church members focused on going and telling usually don’t major on the minors in the inner workings of the church. They know that their leaders are Godly, praying, loving men of the word and they trust them. They are much less likely to micromanage day-to-day affairs in the church. They also see their leaders right next to them as they do some of the grunt work, as they go out on mission trips and as they share the gospel.

That’s what I’ve noticed. Note that I never talked about hype, worship style, or any “cool factors” related to ministry. That’s because these are secondary issues that usually don’t matter over the long run. In other words, I’ve seen healthy, growing traditional churches in the middle of a cornfield as well as healthy, growing, super contemporary, polished churches in a suburb. The point is that the church will change the method but not at a price.

And this brings me to the possibly convicting news. I’ve noticed plenty of unhealthy disasters where the leadership has tried to “chase the hype,” even going as far as compromising the message (intentionally or not) in order to somehow try to stay relevant with the culture. This includes turning to shallow material that a member can pop into their living room like a Netflix movie and call it discipleship. Or making major cultural changes in the church arbitrarily and without communication. Or discarding the basic foundations of teaching for children and replacing it with moralistic, hypercool content with a verse of scripture slapped on it) that focuses on fun instead of the Gospel. Fun is, well, fun, but let’s not abandon the treasure of the Gospel just to entertain people.

My message to you: stop chasing the hype. You’re not going to grow disciples by trying to be cool. Look at what you’re doing and allowing to be taught by word and by deed. Spiritual growth is a slow, steady, ongoing and patient process, so take your time with others just as God worked in you to make you more like Jesus. Yes, you can have content to help you in the process of growing disciples while still being relevant to the culture of your community. Yes, you can do some awesome and creative things outside of the box to reach people where they are. But don’t forget the fundamentals, okay? Remember, when the leadership is focused on the word, discipleship, love, and missions, God will use His Spirit to produce a great deal of fruit.

Otherwise, you’re chasing after the wind.


Your Struggle Is Worth It

Are you having a tough time as of late? Join the club! Scripture is pretty clear that we have to struggle in life. And it doesn’t help when someone says something like, “Oh, God is trying to teach you something!” It’s almost like, “God, please teach me less then!” I get it, life can hurt and hurt a whole lot on this side of glory.

But let’s look at the benefits of the struggle. Like a butterfly flapping rapidly to pump blood into its new but shriveled wings once it exits the cocoon, growth can be tough, tiring, and even terrifying. Yet good things can come of it! Even more, when we are in God’s Word and applying God’s Word to our lives, allaof a sudden, our struggles make a bit more sense. It’s a process that God the Holy Spirit uses: We struggle, we pray, we read, we apply, we repent, we worship, we grow.

Here’s another example, the growth of Moses through the time line of the Scripture: Moses was a bumbling, stumbling fool, given to impulsiveness and stupidity which affected him for years. He killed a man and was forced to leave Egypt. He saw a burning bush and went up to see it (and was this a good idea?). When God first gave him the command to save His people, Moses balked and made excuses. But as he matured in the Lord, he went from being a man of “slow lips” (and needing Aaron to speak) to becoming a man who would speak out to Israel with his own God-empowered lips. It was a slow, steady growth in his discipleship, so much that when Aaron performed his own acts of stupidity, Moses was able to rebuke him, too.

And he was humble, so much that he was called the most humble man that ever was. This Moses, this proud, impulsive, even possibly arrogant Moses, became a man that God could use, a man who loved God’s people and rescued them from their enslavement. He struggled, yet God took him through it and did incredible things that glorified God and prepared the way for the Promised Land.

How about you? Are you struggling? I know it’s hard to hear, but God really might be teaching you something. He wants you to be wise in Him, to glorify His Son, and to serve Him to make His name known to all the earth. Get in His Word, worship Him in a community of believers, and let God work His will in you. ☺️

We struggle, we pray, we read, we apply, we repent, we worship, we grow.


The Gospel According to Jacob

This morning as I continued to read through scripture, I found a little gem in the midst of all of the goings-on between Joseph and his brothers. It is the blessings and curses that Jacob gave to his sons. This is more than a dying man’s words, these words are the words of life. Here’s what he said:

“The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until he whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him. He ties his donkey to a vine, and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine and his robes in the blood of grapes” (Genesis 49:10‭-‬11 CSB).

These words are clearly a prediction of the Christ! Look at it again: the scepter will not depart from Jesus, there’s a prophecy of the donkey and the colt. Even more, we have the sacrifice of Christ as seen by the washing of his clothes in wine, language that suggests the coming atonement. What a blessing to see that this prediction would be fulfilled almost 2000 years later and still applies to us today!

What’s the point? We can remember that God is the same yesterday today and tomorrow. His promises of yesterday are true today, and they are true for your future.

This is the gospel according to Jacob, a gospel more fully revealed as we get closer to the cross. Most of all, however, this is the gospel of Jesus Christ that can change your life.

Thank you, Lord, for your wisdom in Your one big story of the Bible. ☺️

Pastor Fran

Family Reunions Are the Best

I got to see some of my family last night. Oh, we might not look the same. And, yes, we grew up in different households at different times, but we’re still related. It was great to see them.

My family has a deep and special bond. It’s a bond that only comes through the blood soaked nails of Christ. It’s a common unity in the suffering of the Savior. It’s a common participation in the sweet sacrifice of a God-Man, made 2,000 years ago. We love Him because He first loved us, and we love each other because of that relationship. We are family and His love compels us.

Family bonds should not be easily broken. We might move on, but that blood bond remains. We might forget or lose touch with some, but one day we’ll remember and be remembered again. We might be apart, but we are still united, some way, some how. We are family, after all, and He will give us a great reunion one day.

The love of Christ brings all ages, all ethnicities, all sinners together as one. Love, the love of Christ, lasts forever as we become a family in Him. And by the way, if you don’t know your family, you need to. It’s not that hard, you just have to be a little uncomfortable and put yourself out there. But I can tell you that it’s worth the risk. 🙂

Thank you, Lord, for a little family reunion, for the reminder, for the taste of heaven, for the glimpse of the Banquet of the Lamb. Thank you, Lord.

Pastor Fran

Lessons from Some Drunk People

I woke up this morning early. Way too early. Again. Ugh.

Laying in my hotel room, I was awakened by the sound of drunk partyers announcing their presence in the hallway. I can literally hear them stumble down the halls as they made their way to their rooms at 3 am. Slammed doors, loud cackles, shouts to one another multiple times. You get the picture. It was rough. And it was the second night in a row. Double Ugh! 

I’m not mentioning this just to complain, I have a point. As I was fully awake and got past my initial anger, I began to reflect a bit. I read my devotions, and God began to convict me: What made me think I was any different than them? I’m not.

I’m no different then that drunk group that just came in. I’m a sinful man just like the rest, a dying man who takes the gospel to dying men. I’m no better than those, and in many ways, I am much worse because I know the truth and ignore it sometimes, many times, too many times. Maybe more times than I care to admit.

For example, I’m blessed as I see so much of God’s work around me, yet I am so ungrateful. I have a great life, yet I am not appreciative of the abundance I receive. I sin frequently, blow it constantly, and miss the mark consistently, yet He still loves me and lifts me up. I need to be MUCH more thankful for the life and love that God has given me.

So thank you, anonymous drunk people, for waking me up. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do it again, but thank you for the lesson learned. Sorry I got mad at you (even though you didn’t know it). And thank you, Spirit, for the application to my life.

Today, I am going to go through my day with a renewed joy and a sense of gratitude for my life in Christ. 🙂


Not of the past, of the future

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding. He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he purposed in Christ as a plan for the right time—to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him.” –Eph 1:7-10, CSB

There is a very clear trend today for people to somehow, someway, try to make themselves feel special. They get overly and outrageously dramatic, they get excessively emotional, abandoning logic, reason, and most importantly, the counsel of the Word of God. They attempt to be “snowflakes” of their own making, the centers of their own universe, where self and egotism reign and manipulation ensues. It’s the “me” generation on steroids, instantly publicized by social media.

Tough words, right? Well, then hear this: You are special. You are unique. However, you are NOT to be individuals of your own making but you are called His workmanship made for His glory (Eph 2:10). You might blow it, mess it up, and willingly sin, yet God knew this, loved the mess that you are, and set your feet on the rock. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, not to be a player on the stage of life in some drama, but to be a part of the great story that God brings to humanity. And when you get selfish and self centered for a moment, remember that Christ forgives the past, redeems the present, and promises a future in Him.

It’s time to take action, stop following the culture of the day and turn to Christ instead. Let His Word in, let His wisdom ring true, and let Christ change you to live not for yourself and your own life, but for the Almighty Creator and His will. He has always been at work, will you join Him?


On the phone… Again?

It was really, really convicting. I looked through pictures that my wife had taken of our family gatherings and there I was, phone to my ears, talking away and oblivious to the life that was taking place around me. My family was growing up without me and my phone was becoming my family. Here’s what’s worse: that was 15 years ago, and phone technology has definitely gotten more intrusive!

It’s easy to blur the lines between family and daily tasks, whether it’s ministry or the workplace. However, setting boundaries is a necessity for healthy families and for a healthy life.

Ecclesiastes 9:9 says to “Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of your fleeting life, which has been given to you under the sun, all your fleeting days.”

This principle applies to life with others in your family and with your friends as well. We know that we are not supposed to necessarily play all day but there is a time to turn off work and to turn on a time for rest and family. So what do you do? How do you set boundaries so that you can enjoy life with those you love the most?

  1. Spend some time in the word and repent of your carelessness with your loved ones. This speaks for itself but be sure to place your priorities where God would have you to place them. Remember, your first calling is always to your spouse and family.
  2. Turn off the phone or put it in another room. You don’t need to be accessible 24/7, and you can always check your phone later. And please, resist the temptation to check your phone!
  3. Realize how fleeting the moments are in life. Your family will grow up quickly. Your children will have children. Your influence on their lives will eventually wane. Take in every moment you can with them and keep in mind that your work or Ministry will exist long after you are gone. In other words put it all in perspective.
  4. Have some deep conversations that are intentional and express how you feel. Since I travel quite a bit now in my ministry, I have made it a priority to call, visit, and spend time with each of my family members. It’s not perfect, but my time is more focused and intentional and I think (hope) that they have seen this effort.

That’s what I have for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you put boundaries and spend more time with your family.



Ez 37:3, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I replied, “Lord God, only You know.” 

The entire scope of the Word of God was written so that you can see God’s story as one big act of grace. Yet we often don’t get that and reduce faith to do’s and don’ts, right and wrongs, and even shrink theological concepts to something that might fit on a bumper sticker (see WWJD). Even worse, when the Ten Commandments are seen and studied, there’s a sense that this is what one must do to be a “good” follower. Is this true?

Well, yes and no. The truth is, most have it backwards. Often, people look at the Ten Commandments (or the Beatitudes, Great Commandment, Great Commission, etc.) as the bar to strive for, when God meant it to be the opposite. Rather than simply raising the bar of the Law so that you and I can strive for and achieve it, God raised the bar so you and I can rest in the One who can. God’s grace is magnified in your failures, His strength is made perfect in your weakness.

boat-2333648_640Look at Peter walking on water. Could he have done this without Jesus? Not at all. But when He was focused on Jesus, even running to Jesus, Jesus made the impossible, possible. This same work of grace happened much later when 3000 came to Christ in Acts 2, or when the beggar was healed in Acts 3, or when Peter was released in prison in the chapters beyond.

The same for your salvation and daily walk. When you rest in the One who calls you, He gives you daily strength to do greater things in Him than you could ever do without Him. Rather than striving to fit some legalistic imperative in Him, then, how about doing all as an act of worship first, then let the work of the Spirit change you from the inside out?

You might have gotten it backwards. Don’t worry, repent and be restored. He’s got this. Your dry bones can live again.


So this happened…

My practice lately is that when I am out of town for LifeWay, I take extra time to visit churches on Wednesday nights to study the Word and enjoy the fellowship with believers. This week gave me another opportunity, and after looking up a church nearby on their website (yes, this is why you need a website for your church), I went to that church last night.

I was a bit confused when I got out of the car and headed into the building. The front door was, well, in front, yet I saw everyone else going through the back door. I soon followed the crowd and went into the back door and was greeted by an older man with a big smile on his face.

“Welcome!” he said with a big grin. “Come on in to our recovery ministry!”

I quickly realized that I was heading into a celebrate recovery meeting. I stammered, “b-but I’m not doing that. I’m looking for the Bible study.”

“Well, this is what we got!” He enthusiastically said. “Come in and maybe you’d enjoy it! There’s worship and a testimony too!”

“Okay, I will!” I replied, and went into the sanctuary.

The sanctuary was old and worn out, showing its history as a once thriving church but now reflective of its declined neighborhood. The people inside, however, seemed to be excited to start as the countdown wound down on the screen prior to worship. Looking around, I saw a diversity among us of many socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities. The countdown went to zero, and at that point, I didn’t know what to expect.

What I soon experienced was nothing less than heartfelt praise to The God who healed them of their addictions. Men and women alike were singing about Jesus their healer, as they proclaimed to God and to the world their deliverance from the sin that so enslaved them. I heard the words sung with old, raspy voices, with thick Latin accents, and best of all, with whispers from the heart. All in all, it was a powerful testimony of the Messiah, an amazing display of joy!

The pastor told me later that there were “only” about 100 people that would come to worship on a Sunday in that church. However, what I saw went beyond Sunday and into the rest of the week. I saw a church that expanded the kingdom, to seek and save those which was lost, and to love their neighbors as themselves. This church, long in heart but short of resources, were the hands and feet of Christ. This is a healthy Body, healthier than many churches much larger and with more resources.

This is because they have the Spirit of Christ and rely on Him as they fulfill their calling. May we see their example and may we all do the same!

Grateful for the gospel,

Pastor Fran

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