Tag Archives: Christ

What God Loves…

I’ve been in ministry for over 23 years now, and I can say that I have never been more encouraged to see God’s work than ever before. I have seen first hand several churches explode in worship attendance, in their disciple-making, and in ministry to the world around them. And there is a clear pattern: regardless of style, flavor, or culture, the churches which have a high view of the Word, challenge one another to holiness, and focus on discipling others in the Word are the ones that are healthy, stable, and growing. It’s amazing that I see very few exceptions to this rule. Yet these thriving churches exist all around as the light of Christ to the Midwest. This is so encouraging because it is clearly what God loves!

Of course, I also see the opposite, and yes, when I see this, I do grieve. Obviously, God doesn’t want unhealthy and declining churches. And unfortunately, just like I see a pattern in healthy, growing churches, I also see a pattern for unhealthy ones. In these churches, there are misguided people who focus not on the Word but on procedures, legalism, and even politicking. They place unceasing attention to the crisis of the day. They draw attention to the negatives and create divisions. They stir up trouble in the shadows of the hallways. And disciple making is reduced to an afterthought. The Gospel is secondary. The Word becomes a manipulative tool to attack others versus a revelation from God to live by.

And as we see in this text from Proverbs, God despises this practice:

“The Lord hates six things; in fact, seven are detestable to him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness who gives false testimony, and one who stirs up trouble among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16‭-‬19 CSB

These are tough words,yet this is a truth we need to be sober about: God doesn’t want discord or strife from within. He doesn’t want His Bride disgraced, destroyed, and disgusted. He doesn’t want the Family of God to be distracted, from the Great Commission and the work of making disciples. He doesn’t want hateful strife and stressful hate. He wants none of that. For those in the church that practice this, it’s kind of hard to differentiate them from those outside the church. And this certainly grieves God the Holy Spirit as it should grieve His godly saints. And if it isn’t grieving you right now, then, well then that’s just messed up. Sorry, but that’s true.

The good news is that there’s always a better way, a much better way. That way is a way of grace, truth, and love. Since the Bride of Christ is not to be a place that is focused on power, a focus should be on Christ, because, after all, power should be completely in the hands of the Lord who we worship.

And we as members of one another should do what is opposite of our fleshly inclination: a practice of full and complete submission in love. This means to follow the biblical pattern to lift up one another, to love one another, to believe the best in one another, and to build up one another. That is a way of grace. That is the way of Christ.

Want to see others come to Christ, grow in Christ, serve Christ, and share Christ in a way like never before? Then repent, get out of His way, submit to His leading, live for Him and help others to do the same as an act of worship. Love, and love some more. And then love again. Yes, even those who are hard to love. No ands, ifs, or buts.

Because that, my friend, is what God loves.

Fran

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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.

Fran

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.

Fran

5 Principles to Follow Before You Overhaul Your Children’s Ministry 

Throughout my years of ministry on a church staff and as a senior pastor, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for children. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing young children come to faith in Christ and grow up as amazing, godly, adults. 

Years ago, I took on a task of developing a children’s ministry in a suburban church. There was great potential, but the children’s ministry at the time was not meeting the needs of the families. After years of hard work and perseverance, I can now see its fruit. What were once children in our church are now moms and missionaries, husbands and ministers, teachers who are passionate for their world and the people in it. The gospel, alive in this ministry then, in still alive in their hearts now. It’s just so encouraging to recall!

Above all, what I learned from this experience and more has been very, very valuable. Some of the principles below might not be needed, but in case your children’s ministry needs an overhaul, here are some of a few principles for you:

  1. The Gospel comes first. There is no compromise on the need for the gospel in any ministry, but in both children’s and youth ministries, there is often a temptation to focus on the fun. Fun is, well, fun, but don’t miss why you’re there in the first place: to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
  2. The parents are the teachers. Deut 6 and Eph 6:4 are both very clear passages as to the role of the parents. Church leaders need to remember that their role is to help the parents fulfill that role, not take over for them. In other words, when planning on teaching children, don’t forget that parents need instruction as well. 
  3. Train your leaders. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a task to do and feeling completely inadequate for it. Leaders need training, and a leader who refuses to be trained is probably not a leader you should have on your team. Blunt words, but true. Plan on supplying plenty of training and encouragement for your leaders in all areas of the ministry. 
  4. Bring joy wherever you go. Ministry is challenging but it needs to be fun. Do a heart check and make sure that you are truly enjoying the ministry. A joyful heart will be contagious to others, so be willing to have fun with the families and celebrate life and the Lord with them!  
  5. Find good partners in ministry. There are tons of resources, curricula, and experts that would love to help you with your ministry. I am excited to be a church partner for LifeWay because I get to go into churches and help them reach more people than ever before. No leader should ever feel alone, because God has plenty of workers for His harvest. Get help, and be happy that God gave you these resources! 

There you have it. Many of the principles can be applied across to other ministries, but all of them should be considered before getting into the structure of a ministry. Hope these principles helped you as they have helped me. 

In Christ, 

Pastor Fran 

A Devotion: What to Do…

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. – Romans 7:15, 19

adam-and-eve-798376_960_720No one is immune from the peril of sin. Satan, that father of lies, the thief who came to kill and destroy, continues to attack every human being. Ever since the temptation and Fall in the Garden, the addiction to sin has continued, and all humanity has been held captive by the evil one. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard (Rom 3:23), all have been led astray (Isaiah 53:6), all have walked in this transgression and sin in rebellion against God (Eph 2:1-3). The wickedness of sin wages war in the soul to rebel against the Creator God. Just like in Paul’s example here, we desire to do the right things yet we do the opposite. How horrific and cruel sin has been!

But praise God for His grace! Praise God for His mercy! Praise God for His salvation! The forces of Hell have already been defeated by the King of kings and Lord of lords. This freedom from sin, born through the cross, has transformed the victim into the victor, the rebel into the redeemed, and the lost into the liberated!

Fellow sinner, take heart: if you are in Christ, you are no longer condemned. This is why Paul just a few verses later wrote the ultimate truth of our condition in Romans 8:1, “there is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” Be comforted: the Bible is full of promises that the Holy Spirit will protect, guide, and even open a way out of the temptations that come. You don’t need to surrender to the temptation. Instead, His grace is sufficient, so rely on His strength, look to His Spirit, and live for His glory!

Pastor Fran

Five Ways to Enjoy Life…Today

Often, we are so forward thinking, we forget to live in the present. Ponder on that for a minute.

How often have you waited for that next job, that next house, that next car, or that next life event, only to ignore what’s really alongside you today? Jesus said, “so do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will bring its own worries” (Mt. 6:31). In other words and in the context of Jesus’ teaching, stop worrying about the things that don’t matter, but worry about the Kingdom today!

That said, God brings many blessings all around you, and you need to enjoy them now. Here are five ways that you can stop and smell the proverbial roses, praising God for the gifts that He has given you:

  1. Spend some time alone with God. Admittedly, it’s been a while, but I used to take overnight trips to a state park to reconnect with God. I’d unplug: no internet, phone, or TV, and take walks while memorizing Scripture and praying. This time with the Lord helped me to engage Him in a distraction free, focused environment.
  2. Spend some time with your spouse. If you are married, go somewhere different with your spouse where you can talk (this rules out the movies). Talk about your life together, remember the past, and count your blessings with your spouse.
  3. Spend some time with a small child. If you have a child or
    12924477_10206391621089148_7117397408916686577_n
    photo by M. Teresa Trascritti

    grandchild, spend the day or even an afternoon with himor her in an activity in which you can interact. If you don’t have a child, then take out a nephew, niece, cousin, or other relative. You can go to the park, a playground, or go to a restaurant where they can enjoy a kid’s meal. By seeing the world through little eyes, you can see how big of a God we have.

  4. Spend some time with an elderly person from church. Some of my fondest memories of saints who have passed on have been the Christ-centered conversations that I enjoyed with them. They shared their lives, their adventures, and their dreams of old. It caused me to appreciate their story…and to look at my life as a joyful adventure in Christ.
  5. Spend some time with your church family. Much has been made in our culture to be efficient and cover as much territory as possible by multitasking, even when it comes to relationships. But is this how relationships are supposed to be? As God knew you, formed you, saved you, and grew you, He gave you a wonderful gift that you also need to enjoy at this moment in time: His church. Stop trying to make the church what you want it to be and instead enjoy the church as God meant it to be.

Of course, change is inevitable, and we will see change occur whether we want to or not. However, this doesn’t mean that we need to center ourselves on the future. For now, let’s enjoy today, enjoying every moment, enjoying every gift that our Father has given us!

Pastor Fran

But I just want to be happy, right?!?

On a recent episode of a cooking competition show, one of the contestants spoke about how he has recently made a major life choice for his own happiness. He explained that in this quest to be happy, he left his wife, then brought his three children together with his partner’s three children, thus creating what he called the “gay Brady Bunch.” On the same show, another contestant had just lost his wife to cancer, but was urged on by his children to enter the cooking competition in her honor. There were plenty of moments during this episode where tears streamed down his face as he grieved and remembered his wife. Both men were excellent cooks, and both men seemed like genuinely nice guys. Yet I was amazed at the contrast: while one man willingly left his wife, maintaining that he just wanted to “be happy,” the other man, still obviously in grief, probably would have given anything to touch, hold, even speak to his wife one more time.

Our culture is full of people who are happy addicts. People say all the time that they simply they just want to be happy, that they deserve to be happy, and that they should be able to live any way that they want so that they can be happy.  It’s in our Declaration of Independence, it’s been in popular songs by Pharell, Bobby McFerrin, and others, and it’s used in popular commercial slogans- heck, even McDonald’s has a Happy Meal for kids, right? Well, sure. It’s pretty loud and clear that we should and can be happy. After all, just do the right thing or buy the right thing or act a certain way and you too, can be happy.

And so, we have a culture of people who are obsessed with “being happy.” With the attention span of the length of a Tweet, happy addicts are constantly trying to hook onto something new to find a way to get and stay happy. After all, happiness comes and goes, and these things don’t last, so when the feelings of happiness leave (and they always do), these addicts desperately seek another way to be happy. They do things like purchase something new, or find a new boyfriend or girlfriend, or coyly seek attention on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumbler. In other words, they are miserably happy, but never satisfied.

Beyond this, these happy addicts fail to see how harmful their happiness addiction can be. For example, in the case of the contestant who left his wife, I wonder if his wife was happy about his turning her world upside down in the name of “being happy.” Or what about the endless job seeker, working in one place for a short period of time until the honeymoon period disappears, then looks for another job so he or she can be happy- doesn’t this harm the family that they support? Of course, these examples aren’t something that matters to the happy addict, and for this reason, I would argue that the happy addict is often nothing more than a selfish, rebellious, and idolatrous narcissist.

This should not be so. The selfish quest for “being happy” is no different from the lies told in the Garden of Eden: the temptation to be like God is in itself a grab for power, eternity, and self-seeking happiness. While of course, God wants us to be happy, we are first to be happy in Him, since He alone is the source of all joy, happiness, and peace. Being happy will not harm others with the consequences of selfishness. Being happy can and won’t ever conflict with being moral, or being godly, or being a follower of Jesus. It is also infinitely more satisfying than anything we have here on earth, because when we follow Him, we have a joy that is supernatural.  1 Peter 3:10–12 (NLT) says:

“If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.”

In other words, “being happy” is going to go beyond the temporary. Being happy is not going to be good, moral, and show an unselfish love. It is an eternal happiness that is directed at God.

Are you a happy addict? You can change that! Turn from that and taste the real joy found in Jesus Christ- look to God and live happily for Him, as He is our joy and our strength!

Pastor Fran

Putting on the Full Armor of God

Eph 6:18 (NASB), “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints…”

This week has honestly been one of the hardest weeks of my life. Without getting into the details, my wife and I have been shedding tears in praying for a solution to a crisis. We ceased to eat at times, cried spontaneously at others, dreamed dreams about it, got angry, got numb, even tried to put it out of our minds, and nothing has seemed to work. It feels like our life has completely changed since last weekend, and in many ways, it has felt like a death has occurred in our family.

Yet, in God’s great love and provision, He has given us a gift: a wonderful church family. Last night, my church gathered to pray for me, my wife and our family. I began the night by saying that this was not about me, but it was all about Christ and His Kingdom, and my wife and I felt like we should pray for other families as well. However, my church recognized the trials that we were undergoing were spiritual trials, and that the enemy is the source of this spiritual warfare. Satan and his demons will attack God’s people with fiery darts wherever he can, and the collateral damage that we have been feeling in this crisis is only a taste of how evil the devil is. Satan, after all, seeks to kill and destroy (John 10:10a).

Yet, God is greater! What we experienced last night was one of the most amazing, incredible outpourings of love that we have ever felt from a church. For an hour and a half, we had person after person laying hands on us, praying for us, crying for us, and interceding for us. In the middle of a month in which many churches celebrate “Pastor Appreciation Month,” there was no greater way that I have felt appreciated than last night. We experienced love in action by our church family, our blessed family, forever bonded to us by the blood of Jesus!

We feel that we have fully put on the full armor of God and are ready for battle against Satan and his minions. If God is for us, who can be against us? The gates of Hell cannot and will not prevail, and the trials of today will only mean more glory for God tomorrow. I pray that this lesson that I learned from my church will apply to you: be honest about your battles with one another, care for one another, and most of all, love one another with a fervent heart. And know this: whatever your trial, God is always going to provide His Word, His way, His people, but most of all (and without fail), His presence.

Be blessed,

Pastor Fran

Why Am I Discouraged?

38696_1529145115233_1432873828_31339927_4328909_nPsalm 42:5-6, 8: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God…each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.”

Many of us suffer from the roller coaster syndrome of our faith. We have up seasons in the Lord, as we develop a closeness to Him and feel His presence constantly. We also have down times, times when we are dry, almost estranged from our relationship with God. This is a confusing period, and though we may know in our heads that God will never leave us nor forsake us, we still feel so alone.

Let me encourage you: God has never left you. He is still here, and He is still present. He pours His love in abundance, a love that lets you know that even when you don’t understand the reasons, the circumstances, or the future, you still have Him. It’s a love beyond understanding, a love greater than words.

If you are struggling with discouragement, maybe it’s time to let God take control of your burdens. Maybe it’s time to pour out your heart to Him and trust in His will. God will answer in just the right way and at just the right time of the day or night- He always does. I pray that you will do as the psalmist did and place your hope in God- as you do this, may you enjoy His presence and His incredible love for you!

Pastor Fran

Devotion: Comfort in the Midst of Crisis

2 Corinthians 1:3-5, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.  For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.”

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When tragedy strikes, people need comfort. Sometimes people need hugs, words of kindness, a smile, a tear, or just a sympathetic ear. There’s something to be said about the power of encouragement, as the loving presence of a loved one can change another’s overall outlook for hours, days, or even years.

Yet there is a greater comfort that is available for Christians: the comfort of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that if you are a believer and are hurting, He groans, He prays, He brings peace to you. Comfort, true permanent comfort, is found through the healing touch, the cool refreshing water of the Holy Spirit. It is an internal joy that comes from Him, knowing that although the situation seems impossible and the hurt seems limitless, the presence of God is still with you.

King David wrote in Psalm 30:5 that “weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” There is a joy promised, a hope before you, and a love around you. It may not feel like that right now, but God is surely with you, never to leave nor forsake you, never to forget your pain. Remember this as you suffer through the pain found in this fallen world.

May the power of God’s love surround you, and may the comfort of the Holy Spirit be with you in this time!

Pastor Fran