Perfect and Complete!

James sets before us this goal: “…be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” How is this possible? Verse by verse James has shown us the way! It starts with passionate faith in God, which goes beyond just words! This … Continue reading

Ministry Sacrifice?

A few years ago I was preparing to preach from Mark 14:1-11; the story of the woman who broke the alabaster jar.

You may remember that the perfume was worth a year’s salary. Judas took issue with the extravagant act, but Jesus defended her. “Leave her alone,” he said, “She has done a good deed to me.” The woman was preparing Jesus for his burial.

We learn that no sacrifice is too great for the Lord.

dolci - Alabaster Jar

While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table,
there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard;
and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. – Mark 14:3 (NASB)

LOOKING FOR THE RIGHT STORY

I was at the point in my sermon preparation when I was looking for illustrations. I wanted to find a  modern version of the woman in Mark 14. Someone making great sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel. Preferably a woman.

One of my favorite resources for sermon illustrations is From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya – a wonderful collection of short missionary biographies by Ruth Tucker.

So I pulled out the book and turned to the “illustration index.” My finger scanned the pages until I came to the letter “S” and to the topic of “sacrifice.” Seven missionaries were listed there. I picked one – a woman –  and started to read about Marianna Slocum, page 363.

I had never heard of her before, but “sacrifice” was a good description of her life. She was a Bible translator for Wycliffe – who faced great hardship and never married. She gave up her life to missions so people could have God’s Word in their own language. She reminded me a lot of the woman in Mark 14.

So I came up with this introduction to my message:

MARK 14 – INTRODUCTION: 

“How much does it cost?” That was the frequently asked question from the hundreds of Bachajon Indians who stood in line in 1965 to purchase the first ever translation of the New Testament into the Bachajon language. “How much does it cost?”

It had taken Wycliffe Missionary Marianna Slocum eight years to finish the job, which may seem to be a long time, but it was nearly half the 15 years it took her to translate the New Testament for the Tzeltal Indians – another tribe deep in the jungles of Mexico.

She had started work there in 1943. Two translations of the New Testament in 22 years! And once the dedication of the Bachajon Bible was complete, she was heading to her third project high in the Andes mountains of South America.

“How much does it cost?” Marianna Slocum turned to face the young Indian woman who had just asked her that question.

She was asking about the cost of the BIble.

Marianna considered the question – in its fullness – and then said with deep satisfaction – “Only seventeen ½ pesos”. She received the small payment and joyfully gave the woman her Bible.

Marianna Slocum is one of the great heroes of the faith. How much would it cost her to produce those three translations? It cost her everything – her whole life.

Author Ruth Tucker gives us this account of her and co-laborer Florence Gerdel’s life: “For both women the task seems insurmountable. Marianna worked long hours each day, struggling with the complexities of the language, and Florence struggled against the alcohol, filth, superstitions, and the demonic powers of the local witch doctor. And for all their struggles there were so few signs of success…”

But because of her great sacrifice she lived a life of great significance…

…So I was pretty happy with that opening story, and felt the sermon was heading in a good direction.

A LITTLE EXTRA WORK

Now one thing I did back then – and still do – is research my illustrations. So I “Googled” “Marianna Slocum,” and was quite surprised to learn that she was still alive! I sent an e-mail to the generic “contact us” link at Wycliffe, mentioning my use of the story.

I didn’t hear back and pretty soon it was Saturday – church was the next morning, and the sermon was done. Or so I thought.

AN UNEXPECTED PHONE CALL

Marianna+Slocum+Florence+Gerdel

Marianna Slocum and Florence Gerdel (2011)

Saturday morning the phone rang.

I answered.

It was Marianna Slocum.

She was 91 years old, and still lived with her partner in ministry, Florence Gerdel. They lived in south Dallas, one block from the International Wycliffe offices.

Someone at Wycliffe had gotten my note, but my phone number had become separated. Marianna’s niece found our church’s website and my phone number.

We chatted about 15 minutes.

And that conversation not only ended up changing my sermon – but my perspective about sacrifice and ministry.

UNEXPECTED ANSWER

I explained to Marianna that I was preaching from the Gospel of Mark and was planning to use her life as an illustration of sacrifice – like that woman in Mark 14.

I even told her I had found her name under “sacrifice” in the index of my missionary book.

So I asked, “Tell me about the sacrifices you made as a missionary.”

And she said, “I never considered any of it a sacrifice but a privilege and a joy.”

It was not the answer I expected.

I wanted more colorful stories of mud huts and demon possessed adversaries. I wanted to hear how her fiancee had died, and why she never married. I wanted to hear about all the alabaster jars she had broken for the sake of Christ over the years.

So I tried again. “Yes, yes. But what about all you had to give up, to be used as a Bible translator? Can you tell me about that?”

And she said again (a little more forcefully), “Young man – I never considered any of it a sacrifice but a privilege and a joy.”

NEW DIRECTION

Maybe “sacrifice” in the index was not the right place for Mariana Slocum.

And it got me to wondering how the woman with the alabaster jar would answer that same question: “How did you feel sacrificing so much?”

How would you answer that question?

“Well, I gave up more than I wanted to… my service for the Lord has really set back our retirement fund… Since no one else stepped up, I felt I had to…”

Would the woman in Mark 14 have said such things?

I believe she too would have said – “It was no sacrifice at all – it was Jesus I gave it to!! What a privilege and joy! I only wish I had more to give.”

If you have given up much for the sake of the gospel – week-nights, week-ends and never had time for that hobby you think about from time to time. If your bank account has taken a hit for the sake of Christ. If you have broken all your alabaster jars – can I remind you what Jesus said?

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

What a blessed reality that is!

If we are doing His work, our sacrifice is always and ever – a privilege and joy.

Marianna finished by saying, “To see people come out of darkness, and witchcraft, and fear of the devil and to be delivered into the marvelous light of Jesus. What more could you ask for?”

Nothing at all.

Germany, Daughters and Dancing

Having a picture of your pastor appear in the newspaper (website), dancing at an Oktoberfest may raise a few eyebrows.

octfest002

“Big beers, chicken hats and lots of dancing at Addison Oktoberfest”
Dallas Morning News (9-20-13)

Let me explain.

First, I don’t like beer (not that I have a problem with beer in moderation – I just don’t like the taste).

But regarding the dancing – guilty as charged.

THE ALPINE DANCERS

For the past four years I have been part of a German dancing club called the Alpine Dancers G.T.E.V. Edelweiss. Last year I became the Vorplattler – which is the person in charge of the weekly practices. I get the dance room ready, set the agenda, teach dance techniques and search out new dances.

All that to say – that this has become a major commitment. In addition to being the busy pastor of a small church and teaching part-time at a seminary – I devote several hours a week, and many weekends to German dancing.

Why?

WILL YOU DANCE WITH ME?

While there are several answers to that – the main one has to do with my two daughters. Hayden and Taylor.

Hayden is now in college. But as a sophomore in high school she had a love for German culture, language and food. Because of this she was invited by a friend to come to a dance practice with the Alpine Dancers, who practice near our home. She enjoyed it and kept going.

I only paid it marginal attention, until she asked, “Dad, I’d rather not dance with other men. Will you come and dance with me?”

SONY DSCHayden and I – McKinney Oktoberfest, 2011.

Fathers – if you ever have a daughter ask you, “Will you come and dance with me,” you know there is only one answer. So I put on lederhosen and began to learn how to polka, waltz and Schuhuplatter.

Hayden and I danced together for two years. We drove to practices together. Learned dances together. Debriefed on the goings-on in the club. Helped with fund raisers. Went to a dance convention in Orlando. It was our thing.

WILL YOU DANCE, TOO?

When Hayden graduated from high school and left for college my second daughter Taylor was 14 years old. This time it was me asking her, “Taylor, would you come and dance with me?”

Daughters – if you have a father who asks you to dance with him – please know that this took some courage. And also please know there is only one good answer.

Actually, I was not going to assume that just because this was something special for me and her sister, that it would be something special for the two of us.

But she was a good sport,  came out to try it and was hooked.

Me and Taylor 2012

Taylor and I – Addison Oktoberfest, 2012.

And so, now Taylor and I drive to dance practice every Tuesday night (actually she drives as she has her learner’s permit), and we debrief on club goings-on. She usually dances with another dancer – a teenage boy in the group – but I cut in whenever I can, and we practice at home. We will perform at five Oktoberfests over the next few weeks. It is our thing, too.

And Hayden loves that the dancing tradition continues with her sister – she is the first to “like” all those pictures on Facebook!

A NOTE TO PARENTS

Moms and dads – allow me to encourage you to find “a thing” that works for you and each of your children – something special – for just the two of you.

Yes it will take time, and money and weekends. But it really is true that time flies and soon your baby girl or boy will leave the nest – and those opportunities to dance, camp, run, play sports or something else will be gone.

If you are interested in German dancing – give me a holler.

I am pretty sure that someday each of my girls will find a young man of their own. And if tradition holds, my wife and I will pay for the wedding reception. And that is fine with me – because I want to make sure there is dancing.

And when the father-daughter dance comes up and I take my daughter’s hand in mine – it will feel like old times.

You can be sure the song will be a waltz – probably a German one, and we will dance.

That is our thing.

“The young women will dance for joy,
and the men – young and old – will join in the celebration.”
Jeremiah 31:13

Pinocchio, Jonah, Disney and Salvation

In 1881, author Carlo Collodi from Florence, Italy wrote a classic children’s story he called, “The Adventures of Pinocchio.” It was a huge success. This was the book, years later, that inspired the 1940 Disney movie of the same name; the story of the wooden puppet who eventually became a real boy.

It is safe to say that many more have seen the movie than have read the book. Having recently read the original children’s story,  I would like to point out one major difference and one similarity between the Disney movie and the original story, and then rediscover the true and long lost moral.

Pinocchio

The Difference

In Disney’s version, Pinocchio comes to life as a likeable boy who is basically a good person but who makes some poor choices. Disney’s Pinocchio is a product of The Enlightenment – not evil, but ignorant – just needing a little education and guidance to figure things out.

Contrast this to the original novel in which Pinocchio is an obnoxious selfish brat! Immediately after he comes to life, the ungrateful puppet sticks out his tongue, kicks Geppetto in the nose and runs out of the shop into the street. While on the run – Pinocchio’s exploits result in Geppetto being thrown in jail! With Geppetto in jail Pinocchio returns home where he is rebuked by a 100-year old Cricket who says, “Boys who turn against their parents and run away from home for no reason never come to any good. They will soon be sorry for their wild ways.” In response to this lecture, Pinocchio (get this) – throws a hammer at the cricket and kills him…

Yes that is right – in the original version of Pinocchio – the Cricket is unceremoniously squashed.

All this was too dark for Walt Disney – so he ordered an upgrade for both the puppet’s character and the Cricket’s role.  The movie sports a likable puppet and a conscience-minded cricket named Jiminy (who is not squashed).

The Similarity

But not all was lost from book to movie. Here is one thing they have in common.

In both versions, Pinocchio continually has to choose between voices of wisdom and voices of foolishness. The voices of wisdom come from his father Geppetto, the Cricket and a good fairy. The voices of foolishness come from a cat and the fox, the puppet master and wicked children (such as Lampwick).

For example, in the Disney movie while Pinocchio is on his way to school, trying to obey his father he encounters the cat and the fox. The cat calls out, “Where are you going?” “Why to school, of course,” answers Pinocchio. “School!” sneers the fox. “Why waste your time going to school? A talented boy like you should be on the stage.” “Do you mean to be an actor?” asks Pinocchio with wonder. “Yes, just think of it – bright lights, music, the roar of applause – and fame! Come with us,” says the fox slyly. “We’ll make you a star.” And so off Pinocchio goes with the cat and the fox where he ends up in disaster after disaster.

In both the movie and the book – when given the choice between wisdom and foolishness – Pinocchio always chooses folly, hurting those who love him and even putting them in danger.

So What Lessons can we Learn?

What Carlo Collodi gave the world in his story about a pernicious puppet is a lesson in anthropology. What is the nature of humankind? Are people basically good or evil? In the puppet we see ourselves – that we are all born with an inner desire to squash crickets. Theologians call this “the doctrine of original sin.” Just as Pinocchio did not need to be taught to be bad, so little children today easily demonstrate selfishness and pride without effort. And, of course, these children grow up to be selfish and prideful adults.

A second but related lesson is how how this internal brokenness results in succumbing to temptation. When given the choice between wisdom and foolishness – we are apt to be foolish, just like the puppet. We know what is right – but choose what is wrong. Even when we know the temptation will lead us down a dangerous path, there is something inside of us that eagerly wants to say, “yes.”

So what is the solution?

The solution is salvation through Jesus Christ. Let me explain.

It turns out that Carlo Collodi, the author of Pinocchio, was a believing man. He attended Bible College at the Padri Scolopi Religious College and also seminary at Val E’Elsa in Florence. He intended at one point in his life to become a priest, but instead went into writing (and public service).

We can surmise from these details that he was a man who knew about the foolishness bound up in each of us. He would have easily equated you and I to that empty-headed puppet. He was making a statement about reality – and his worldview was informed by his religious convictions. He felt it was especially important to teach this to children and their parents.

Collodi also knew that real wisdom and salvation was found in Jesus Christ.

Think about the story again.

When and where did Pinocchio have his salvation experience? It was in the belly of a whale. While searching for his father, Pinocchio is swallowed by a great fish. This setting was directly taken from the story of Jonah. And while the symbolism is lost in the movie, it is clear in the book. From the belly of the whale, when he finally comes to the end of himself, Pinocchio cries out: “Help! Help!…Won’t someone come to save me?”

And this is followed by Pinocchio – a dead piece of wood – being changed into a living person.

He is born again.

It is one of the most clear salvation experiences in all of children’s literature.

So the next time your preschool child wants you to read the story of the wooden puppet. The next time you watch the 1940 Disney movie – take a moment to think about the original story. Take a moment to tell your child why our world is so selfish and prideful, and how they – like the puppet – can be rescued from their sins.

Though it may not have the status of Narnia or Lord of the Rings; when it comes to foolishness, wisdom and salvation – it is a pretty good story.

7 Secrets for New Church Planters

Dear Future Church Plant Leader,

I know you are searching the web for tips and ideas to help you and your new church. Perhaps Google, Facebook or a friend brought you to this blog post? However you arrived – I’m glad you are here!

I was privileged to be the church planting pastor for Lake Cities Community Church six years ago. We had a healthy “mother church” that supported us with families and finances. We started with 14 families and became financially self-sufficient after 18 months. We are still a small church – about 35 families – around 120 souls if all were present. Our prayer is to grow to around 400 people, if God allows, and we give Him all the glory for anything accomplished in and through us.

Church Sign

In this post, I want to share with you seven things that worked well for us. Seven steps that in hind-sight we would do again, and stress even more. Now, we also did plenty of things that didn’t work well… but that will be a different post!

For now – seven “secrets” that I hope you will find useful as you embark on this adventure of faith, called church planting.

1) Discern Divine Direction

I believe the most foundational part of church planting is having confidence that God is leading you to birth this new church. While all jobs require a sense of discerning God’s will – church planting is the “X-games” of Kingdom business. You are entering into a risky sport – and your faith will be tested!

Spend much time in prayer (especially with your spouse, if married), get wise counsel and seek affirmation of God’s leading before entering into a church plant.

In our case, the Elder Board of our planting church was unified in sensing God’s call to start our church (and of my involvement). In the early days of our church plant when I encountered painful times, this gave me great confidence in God’s divine direction and was a strong anchor when I was discouraged.

Business plans, vision statements and demographic studies are wonderful – but even more than those things – we enter into church planting because we believe that God Himself is raising up a new congregation – and He has invited us to be involved.

2) Don’t Give Up! 

After a strong sense of calling – I consider the second most important church planting “secret” to be perseverance! You may go 6-months without one single visitor to your new church. Don’t give up. You will experience conflict with leaders and church members. Don’t give up! You may get discouraged with preparing quality sermons for only a few people. Don’t give up!

The Bible has much to say about endurance and perseverance for a reason. God rarely does anything that does not require significant faith. Nowhere is that more true then in church planting.

And remember, it takes time to plant and water – don’t give up before you see the fruit.

3) Don’t Rush Leadership

I once heard someone say that a significant reason for church plant failures is the establishment of leadership too soon, and I really think this is true.

I can think of three separate church plant situations where the lead planter brought a friend onto the planting team, only to later see that partnership shatter because of different visions. Don’t make assumptions with leadership. Appoint leaders slowly, prayerfully and carefully.

In our situation we served under a “transitional” leadership team from our planting church for the first 18 months. Three men served us on this board. Though they were not members of the new church, they attended services regularly. They were close enough to feel the pulse of the church, yet they also had objectivity that was very valuable in that first year. They gave us time to develop and observe leaders before appointing them. This transitional board dissolved after they, along side of us, appointed two local leaders onto a new board.

It was a model that worked well for us – and I would recommend it to others.

4) Dollars Matter 

Some church planters don’t want to talk about budget projections or giving as it seems less spiritual than preaching and evangelism. Yet the budget is highly important for two reasons.

First, the budget is where your values and vision are fleshed out. You have a vision for outreach? Ultimately, that will be seen in the budget. You have a desire to communicate in a contemporary manner? Websites and sound equipment need to have their own budget lines! A wise church planter does not fully delegate the budget – but is prayerfully engaged.

I would suggest that you know, at least on a quarterly basis, where the numbers are at relative to expenses and to budget. Skillful adjustments can then be made and appropriate communication given to the congregation and supporting friends.

The second reason dollars matter is that misuse of funds is second only to moral failings in taking down churches. The Devil loves sloppy financial processes, which are especially common in new churches. Don’t allow him that foothold! From the beginning of our church we were blessed with gifted financially savvy business people who implemented multiple levels of accountability.

5) Depend on Others 

Church planting is a little bit like baseball. It is an individual game within a team sport. You need to have good “at bats” each week as you plan and execute your worship services, yet the overall success of your church will depend on your networking and relationships with other kingdom minded people. To put it in theological terms – the more you purpose to depend on God, the more He will ask you to depend on others.

A few years back our church was making a move from a movie theater to a school cafeteria. I was (and still am) part of a pastor’s prayer network within my city and another church planter – in the same city – who had previously met in that cafeteria was now looking at the movie theater! I was able to help them with connections at the theater – and they helped us make the best use of space at the school. They even donated a video screen, backdrop and partitions that were custom made for that space! We now both have buildings a short distance from one another, and we rejoice in God’s provision for each congregation.

Seek out and develop partnerships both within your denomination and outside of it. Always remember – God is not just at work in your church – He is building a Kingdom, of which you are a part.

The real joy in church planting is participating in Kingdom Work and seeing God work in and through others.

Church Plant

6) Deliver Good Sermons

In the early months of our church plant, I often thought, “We may have less than ideal facilities. We might not have all the programs of a larger church. But with God’s help I will preach Christ to the best of my ability!”

It is easy in church planting to let the priority of preaching  slip. It is easy to “give up” on preparing a quality sermon in a particularly busy week. The “tyranny of the urgent” will try to steal time and energy from sermon preparation and delivery. Don’t let it. If people are fed spiritually – they will come back and you will be in a good position to grow.

On nearly every “what-factors-are-important-in-joining-a-new-church” lists – even in this age of technology and 140-character tweets – old fashioned preaching is still near or at the top of the list!

The new signage can wait. The research on sound equipment can be done next week. Zealously guard time to prepare your messages.

7) Delight to Love! 

The first Scripture I opened to our “core group” – months before our public launch was John 13:34-35. I told my small flock, that whatever becomes of our new church, my priority and prayer was that it be full of love.

I often remind my church that if you join the Lions Club or the Chamber of Commerce (which are good things to do!) – they do not require that their members love one another. Only the church is radical enough to not suggest but command its members to love! You must love them, they must love you, and together you love the world into the Kingdom of God!

Make loving people your priority – and your church plant, no matter how long it lasts; and no matter its size – will have been a wonderful success in God’s eyes.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share these lessons that worked well in our flock. I pray God’s grace and empowerment upon you – as you follow Him into your own church planting experience!

Depending on Him,

Pastor Craig