Redneck Christmas

Redneck Christmas

“Basstrackers, bayliners and a party barge, strung together like a floatin’ trailer park, anchored out and gettin’ loud all summer long. Side by side there’s five houseboat front porches, astroturf, lawn chairs and tiki torches. Regular joes, rockin’ the boat that’s us, the Redneck Yacht Club!” Craig Morgan
When someone uses the term “redneck” they may be referring to the rural blue collar working class, or those who work an hourly, manual labor job. This song represents one of my favorite summer pastimes. While many people like to go to fine resorts on vacation, I prefer solitude on a pontoon boat. While some prefer a crystal clear concrete bottom chlorinated pool, I prefer the natural beauty of the cloudy algae and mucky bottom of Lake Koshkonong. While at the Kosh I often think about the story of Naaman’s healing in 2 Kings 5 when he was angry he couldn’t go wash in the “clean waters” of Abana or Pharpar, but instead had to go wash in the “turbid” (thick with suspended matter) and “discoloured” waters of the Jordan (Ellicott’s Commentary).
And then Jesus comes at Christmas. Wouldn’t you think the Creator (John 1:3,10) would arrive in the finest and most beautiful accommodations the earth could offer? I’m thinking the Omnipresent One should be oceanside! The Prince of Peace is by the palm trees! Or the Messiah’s on the mountain! Yet we read in Luke 2:8-12, “there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’” The manger is a cattle crib, a feeding box, an animal stall. It’s referred to earlier in the Bible as the place the oxen live (Job 39:9, Pr 14:4). And later Jesus refers to the manger as the place your donkey lives (Luke 13:15). Our friends the dairy farmers scrape the manure out of the “manger” three times a day! As Mike Rowe would say, it’s a “dirty job.”
Shepherds were held in low opinion among the people in those days. Commentaries tell us the shepherds were not even allowed in the courts or marketplaces. Commentaries also suggest that the sheep intended for the daily sacrifices in the temple were fed in the Bethlehem pastures. Some commentators suggest the angel came to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks because they cherished the traditions of David’s shepherd life, and were expecting Christ to someday come to Bethlehem. This “exaltation of the humble and meek” reminds me of Samuel coming to David in the field in 1 Samuel 16. God told Samuel regarding David’s brother Eliab, “Do not look at his appearance or on the height of his stature… For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then they send for David, who was “keeping the sheep.” The Bible says he was the youngest, or the least, the weakest, the most insignificant, and the Lord told Samuel to anoint him as king.
Philippians 2 says we should have the same attitude as Jesus, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Hebrews 12:2 says we should watch Jesus, who “endured the cross, despising the shame.” If you’re with me so far… washing in the Jordan might have been disgusting. Being born in a manger could be considered embarrassing. And there’s shame in dying on a cross.
Jesus says in Luke 20:46, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.” So far I’m liking the teachers’ way of life a lot better than Jesus’! The marketplace Jesus refers to is where assemblies are held, the place the shepherds weren’t allowed. Today’s marketplace may be a courtroom, business convention, mall, or church. This past summer a journalist was barred from the Speaker’s lobby outside the House Chamber because of what some said was “selective enforcement of the dress code, which only calls for professional attire” ( Americans love to be respected and are quick to point out when we think someone isn’t dressed respectfully for the marketplace!
Christmas Eve services are one of the most highly attended church events of the year. Many get dressed up in their nicest clothes to go to their beautifully decorated concrete sanctuaries to hear a white collar religious leader encourage us not to miss finding Jesus this Christmas.
The Bible askes me tough questions this Christmas. Do I prefer to find Jesus at a clear pool or turbid river? Do I think I’ll find Him at a clean conference room or a smelly barnyard? Do I think I’ll find Him as a white collar religious leader, or a blue collar “redneck” shepherd? I hope everyone participates in corporate worship this Christmas. Honestly, I wonder sometimes if I miss finding Jesus at Christmas Eve services I’m a part of leading?


Man In The Mirror

Man In The Mirror

I’ll be honest, I get frustrated when in a drive through I think takes too long. I get frustrated when I watch the news and I think our country’s leaders aren’t leading well. I get frustrated when I watch my favorite sports teams and I think the head coach is missing something so obvious. We live in a world where we are regularly critiquing the performance of our leaders or the products we consume. So when we think we could produce better or lead better, how should we respond?
One of the number one songs In 1988, was “Man In The Mirror” by Michael Jackson. Interesting to me was learning the background vocals were sung by the Andrea Crouch Choir and the Winans. The chorus had a profound message, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways.” –“Michael Jackson.
“While there is a lot we don’t have control over, there is a little bit we do have control over, and it begins with the person in the mirror, it begins with self leadership” Andy Stanley. Tom Watson, former CEO of IBM, said, “Nothing so conclusively proves someone’s ability to lead others as what they do on a day to day basis to lead themselves.” “The primary thing any of us is in charge of is our self. If you’re sitting there frustrated with your boss because your boss isn’t leading you as well as you think your boss should be leading you, well, here’s another option, instead of being frustrated, just start leading yourself well. It didn’t hit me until about age 30 when I finally decided, ok, enough with being frustrated with whether I’m being led well or not, I’m going to pick up the mantle of leading myself well. If you do that, you can ensure that you’re always led well. –Clay Scroggins, Executive Pastor of North Point Church.
Self leadership is about growing in self awareness. Where am I at right now? What do I need to work on? And where do I need to go? The Bible says we should always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have. Let me say it another way, we should always be prepared to answer someone who asks, “How do you grow in relationship with God?” How do you spend time with God each day? How are you growing in your relationship with Him? The Bible says we should take heed of our selves and watch our spiritual practices (doctrine) closely. How are you putting safeguards in place to lead a moral life? Am I acting in ways that reflect well on the God I love?
Recently our church did a study of our congregation, and amongst the many things we learned are two concerning things. Very few said they “experience God’s work in my life.” And very few said they “prepare myself to participate in the worship service.”
Many people go to church in America as a consumer. We often expect the church to feed us and be responsible for our spiritual growth. We often pick a church based on what kind of music we like, or whether or not we connect with the pastor, and whether we feel the leaders are doing a good job. While all of these may be considerations, let’s look at biblical reasons to go to church.
Hebrews 10:25 says we go to church encourage other believers. Hebrews 13:17 says we go to submit ourselves to spiritual authority. Acts 2:42 says we go to participate in corporate Bible reading, corporate prayer, fellowship, and breaking bread together. Hebrews 13:15 says we go to offer a sacrifice of praise to God. Galatians 5:22-23 says we go to grow in the fruit of the spirit. Romans 8:13 says we go to wrestle with our flesh. 1 Corinthians 14:12 says we go to use our spiritual gifts to build up the church. 1 Corinthians 9:14 says we go to financially support those “who preach the gospel” as they “should receive their living from the gospel.”
I’ve decided I’m going to start with the man in the mirror. I’m asking God to help me be more self aware, and answer the questions, “Do I experience God in my daily life?” “Am I preparing myself for Biblical corporate worship?”

Governing Guardians

Who Are You

I remember when a dear friend pulled me aside after church. He was very uncomfortable and as he began to speak he became more and more upset. He was very angry about something happening in our church and I felt he was attacking me! Have you ever experienced surprising interpersonal conflict? Have you ever experienced conflict with church people? “In a survey asking how exited pastors experienced stress in their ministry, role conflict was a top ranked producer of stress second only to conflict over how ministry was to be done in the church.”1
I’m learning that many of the conflicts we experience may be better understood if we learn about one another’s personality types and spiritual gifts. I will share one often misunderstood personality type and one often misunderstood spiritual gift as examples of how we can learn to understand one another better.
One sometimes misunderstood personality type as classified by the Myers-Briggs personality inventory is the “guardian.” The Myers-Briggs has four measures of personality: Extrovert/Introvert, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perceiving. David Keirsey in his books exploring personality types based on these measures, calls a person with the “SJ -Sensing and Judging” combination to be a “guardian.” Keirsey suggests the personality type “guardians make up as much as 40 -45% of the population.”2 “Guardians pride themselves on being dependable, helpful, hardworking,”2 and “loyal.”2 They are “dutiful, cautious, humble, and focused on credentials, customs, and traditions.”2 They “sometimes worry that respect… even a fundamental sense of right and wrong is being lost.”2 They “have a sharp eye for procedures”2 and are “cautious about change.”2
Beyond this, Keirsey classifies people with the ISFJ personality combinations (Introvert, Sensing, Feeling, Judging) as “guardian protectors.” He says, “we are lucky that guardian protectors make up as much as ten percent of the population, because their primary interest is in the safety and security of those they care about.”3 “Protectors have an extraordinary sense of loyalty and responstibility,”3 and “prefer to make due with time honored and time-tested procedures rather than change to new.”3 “Protectors value tradition,”3 and “are seldom happy in situations where long established ways of doing things are not respected.”3 “They are frequently misunderstood and undervalued… as their shyness is often misjudged as stiffness, even coldness, when in truth they are warm hearted and sympathetic, giving happily of themselves to those in need.”3 Those is church leadership should be intentional about seeking to understand and appreciate the “guardians” God has placed among us. This is just one example, as there are at least 15 other personality types we need to learn to understand and communicate with.
When we look at spiritual gifts, one sometimes misunderstood gift is the gift of administration. I Corinthians 12: 1 says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts I do not want you to be unaware…there are a varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Down in verse 28, God tells us he has “appointed in the church… gifts of… administrations” or governments (Kubernesis 2941). This gift enables a person to “organize”4 and see things that need to be made right in the church. They have a strong sense of the best way to do something. They have the ability to “steer, or govern”4 areas of the church. This is a very important gifting and one that the church needs to flourish.
However, most pastors do not have this administrative gift. “Barna reminded us that preaching and teaching are the primary giftings in nearly 70% of all pastors, while leading and administrating are found in 15% at best.”5 Most pastors have teaching gifts or shepherding gifts, and this is where it gets interesting: teachers and shepherds often have conflict with administrators. Pastors and leaders without this gift need to learn to appreciate and understand those with the gift of administration. I would suggest that pastors and leaders without this gift need to find someone with this gift and empower them to help the church be as fruitful as it can be. Likewise, I would suggest to administrators: “Sometimes (those with the gift of administration) have to watch that they do not overstep their authority and expect the pastor or others in leadership to follow them.”6 They should also be aware “they often do not admit to mistakes.”6 The best use of the administration gift is to “harmonize the whole program,”6 and keep everyone on the boat until it makes it to a safe harbor. We all need to appreciate the gifts in others, and learn to communicate with and empower leaders with different gifts. This is just one example, as there are at least 18 other spiritual gifts we need to grow in understanding.
As an extroverted idealist teacher, I am blessed to have introverted guardian protectors in my family. We don’t communicate the same, but we love each other! And as a church leader, I have been blessed to have been helped by those with gifts of administration. Often the voice of concern, I find there’s often a great deal of wisdom in that voice.
Looking back at the conflict with my friend, now I would guess he has the personality type of guardian and maybe the spiritual gift of administration. His anger was created out of his fear for the wellbeing of our church, and his concern that things were not being done in the right way. Arguing with him, or meeting his anger with my own upsetness was not going to help. He needed to know I had heard the concern he felt for our church. It’s only when someone feels heard that they can be willing to hear a differing opinion. He also needed to hear that I cared about him and his opinion. 1 Corinthians 12:25, “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”
I care about people. And when we disagree I’m learning to “hear” through each one’s personality type and “hear” through their spiritual gift. I can care for people I am different from, even if we disagree. I hope they can care for me too.

1 Wickman, Dr. Charles A. Pastors at Risk, 2014.

What To Wear

What To Wear

Recently one of our family members came out of their room frustrated saying, “I don’t have anything to wear!” For many of us we have pretty strong opinions about what we wear. We have our favorite outfits. We feel frustrated if the clothes we want to wear aren’t available And worse yet, we get upset if someone like our spouse tells us we can’t wear that!
I’m part of a very diverse church that includes men who wear suits, women who wear hats, men who wear shorts and crocs, and women who wear jeans. Occasionally I will hear conversations and opinions about “What is appropriate for church?”
Recently I was reading about a missionary to China named Hudson Taylor. He struggled in obscurity and isolation for many years. “One day a man asked Taylor to explain why he had buttons on the back of his coat? Taylor realized then that his western-style dress was distracting his listeners from his message. He then decided to dress like a Mandarin, a Chinese teacher. He was amazed at how dressing Chinese allowed him to travel more freely and be accepted more readily by the people. Taylor’s goal was not to have the Chinese become like English Christians, but to have them become Chinese Christians.”1
This presents many questions for me as an American pastor. The first set of questions may include…Do I expect people who come to our church to dress like me? Do I show respect for God when I dress up for Him, or do I show respect for the gospel when I dress down for someone who doesn’t know Christ? Do I show respect for God when I judge what someone else is wearing as legalistic or disrespectful? And are dressed up Christians more reverent than casually dressed Christians? Or are casually dressed Christians more relevant than dressed up Christians? And should we come to a conclusion on those questions and pick one or the other and expect everyone at church to dress that way? Or are we all missing the point?
In reflecting on Hudson Taylor’s ministry I think the second set of questions may be, “Am I willing to change the way I dress so someone could come to Christ? “Who are the lost people God is calling me to bring to church and how do they dress?” And what do they hear by the way I dress?
I confess for me honestly, I get so distracted debating the first set of questions, I don’t think I know the answers to the second set of questions. And maybe that is what is really disrespectful to God and His Gospel?
In 1 Samuel 16:7, when Samuel saw who he thought he was supposed to anoint as the next leader, God intervened and said, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” -1 Samuel 16:7
This is what I know, I hear a lot more about what man looks at than I do about what God looks at…

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On the Road Again

On The Road Again

As we’re planning a family vacation my kids asked, “Are we going to sleep in the car?” I’m sure most of you would hope the answer is no.  But I asked them if they wanted to, and they went crazy saying, YES!!!  When I consider driving straight through the night I feel like groaning, but my kids feel like celebrating.
In his book, Ministry Mantras, J. R. Briggs shares a story about when his son was three years old and he helped plant vegetables one morning.  When his son woke up from his afternoon nap later that day his first questions was, “Are the vegetables ready yet, Daddy?”  He responded to his young son, “No buddy, that’s not how vegetables work.  It takes a long time.”  Briggs is challenging and encouraging the many of us who get impatient with God’s seemingly long and slow plan.  He says, “Much of ministry is learning to plod along faithfully, even when we aren’t seeing results.  As Eugene Peterson writes –quoting German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche –a life committed to ministry is a ‘long obedience in the same direction.’”1
Over the many years of staff devotions, there are two I will never forget.  One was a challenge from my dear friend Tom Zillman, who after reading Isaiah 6 asked this question, “If God calls you to an unfruitful ministry, will you be faithful to it?”   Well God would never do that right?  And how could it be ministry if it’s unfruitful?  And then Pastor Tom pointed out God told Isaiah to preach to those who would not listen, perceive, understand, or respond.  And when Isaiah asked God how long he would have to do this, God said until the cities are empty and the homes are desolate.
Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, is a great example of perseverance: a long obedience in the same direction.  He wrote in his early years in China, “At home, you can never know what it is to be absolutely alone, amidst thousands, everyone looking on you with curiosity, with contempt, with suspicion, or with dislike. Thus to learn what it is to be despised and rejected of men…and then to have the love of Jesus applied to your heart by the Holy Spirit…this is precious, this is worth coming for.”
As Paul Harvey would say, The Rest of Hudson Taylor’s story is.. “Taylor’s daughter died from water on the brain; the family was almost killed in the Yang Chow Riot of 1868; Maria, Taylor’s first wife, died in childbirth; his second wife died of cancer; and sickness and ill health were frequent. Yet, the China Inland Mission continued its work of reaching China’s millions for Christ. By 1895 the Mission had 641 missionaries plus 462 Chinese helpers at 260 stations. Under Hudson Taylor’s leadership, C.I.M. had supplied over half of the Protestant missionary force in China. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, 56 of these missionaries were martyred, and hundreds of Chinese Christians were killed. The missionary work did not slack, however, and the number of missionaries quadrupled in the coming decades.  Chinese Christians proved remarkably resilient under Communism. They did not die out but multiplied many-fold in one of the greatest expansions in church history.”2  Praise the Lord for Hudson Taylor’s persistence!
I’m sure on our long road trip at some point I will groan and my kids will whine and ask “are we there yet?!”  But I’m learning to “apply the love of Jesus to my heart by the Holy Spirit.”  Maybe even with a beef jerky and Diet Dew at a gas station in the middle of the night.  Then it’s on the road again!
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1 Ministry Mantras, JR Briggs and Bob Hyatt, pp 84

The Rest of God

rest area
While talking about road trips with our dear friends Dick and Bev, Stephanie and Bev were laughing about how Dick and I hate to stop while traveling. “Do we have to stop here or can you hold it until the next rest area?!” Why don’t we like to stop and rest?
At our house, we often have the most conflict over bed time. “Really, I have to go to bed (like this is the first time we’ve ever done this)?!” “Can’t we stay up?!” And you can ask my dad and mom, I faught bedtime and naps everystep of the way growing up too. Why are we so resistant to rest?
Genesis 2:1 says that God “rested on the seventh day from all His work that he had done.” Does this imply that Almighty God was tired? I don’t think so.
A collegue asked me to listen to a message by Tim Keller entitled “Work and Rest.” Keller suggests physical rest won’t do anything for us if it is not accompanied with soul rest. He said, “Entering God’s rest is being completely satisfied with what’s been done and who we are in Christ.” He points out that at the end of the days during creation, “God saw that it was good.” Keller suggests we find the meaning of God’s rest in Genesis 1:31, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
This was a light bulb for me! When we have time to slow down and rest, a key component is being able to take a step back and see that life is good! God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3)
Recently I have been with a family by the bedside of their deceased loved one. I have sat across the high security glass of a friend in prison. I have talked with a dear friend estranged from family members who refuse to talk with them anymore. And I have prayed with a dear friend who struggles to understand why God would ask them to work at such a difficult job. All of these situations are heavy and overwhelming, and I would not have been surprised at all if they could not see the goodness of God in their lives.
But each of these friends have told me how good God is to them! They are thankful for the work God has completed for them in Christ Jesus (forgiveness, the peace of the Holy Spirit, the hope of heaven). We can also be thankful for what God has provided for us each day. And we can be thankful for the good things God has prepared for us to do each day. The friend in prison is sharing the gospel with those they interact with there.
How bout you and me? What circumstances, disappointments, or frustrations compete to keep our souls from rest? Can we enter the rest God has for us and see that life is good right where we are?! Next time my kids tell me they’re not tired, I’m going to ask them to go lay in their beds, and think of how many things they could say, “Life is good!” That is the rest of God.

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What is Love?

“What is love, baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.:” –Haddaway
I’ve heart a lot of opinions about love in my lifetime and I would sum up our world’s definition of love as relationships void of pain. But is a relationship void of pain really full of love?
After a difficult ministry season my wife and I went on a quiet retreat. I had experienced great conflicts, unfair accusations, and was held in resentment by people close to me. While normally pretty resilient, I was beginning to crumble inside. I spent time in prayer asking God to immerse me in His love and give me the courage to continue in these difficulties. It was then I found myself singing an old hymn.

The Love of God is greater far than any pen or tongue can tell.
It goes beyond the highest height and reaches to the lowest hell…
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky…
The love of God so rich and pure, so measureless and strong,
it shall forever more endure, the saints and angel’s song.

He reminded me that responding to the love of God would guarantee that people would hate us (1 Jn 3:13), and that to continue in this loving relationships with Him by faith I might feel abandoned by Him from time to time (Job 13:15). His loving plan for my life might even involve painful experiences (2 Co 12:8). Dr. Henry Cloud points out in Boundaries in Marriage that “ just because someone is in pain doesn’t necessarily mean that something bad is happening…. (Is it) pain that leads to injury? (Or is it) pain leads to growth?” I realized the pain I was experiencing was not leading to permanent injury, even the fact that it led me to cry out to God was indicating it was pain that was leading to my spiritual and relational growth!
I prayed that He would cast me so far into the oceans of His love that I couldn’t swim back to my flesh even if I tried. I prayed that He would plunge me into the depths of His love so far I couldn’t swim back up to the surface of earthly resentments even if I was tempted to.
In “The Lego Batman Movie” the Joker is trying to convince Batman that he is the villain Batman hates the most. Batman says to Joker: “I see what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to entrap me into a relationship.” Joker says to Batman, “Do you realize, [in all these years], you’ve never once said, ‘I hate you, Joker.’? Listen to this, ‘I hate you, Batman.’ Now your turn.” And Batman replies, “Me too.” To which Joker replied, “I am not going to be part of a one-sided relationship any longer!” I sat there considering whether you can hate without acknowledging love? Can you be an atheist without acknowledging there is something not to believe in?
The Bible doesn’t define love as the absence of pain. Infact, Jesus willingness to experience a painful crucifixion is His demonstration of love for us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life.”  Sounds painful to me!  The Bible defines love as the absence of fear (1 John 4:18).  So while love may involves pain, we don’t have to be afraid of the pain.  Love covers a multitude of pains!

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