One Thing Losers

3 08 2010

I’m a loser!  If I were to evaluate my life based on the standards of the sports page, the entertainment section, and my son’s high school friends, I’m a loser.  I’m not all that intelligent, all that funny, or all that cool.  I’m showing signs of a growing spare tire around the belt line, grey hairs are popping up everywhere, I drive a truck with camo seat covers, I turn in the bill of my baseball cap, and love flannel shirts.  None of which constitutes culturally current winning qualities.

But I’m a loser with passion.  I tell my sons and daughters all the time to “give it all.”  Whether it’s a recital for piano or a baseball tournament, I say things like “leave it all on the field,” or “don’t hold back,” etc.  You know, the kind of stuff that parents are supposed to say to their kids.  The only difference is that I mean it.  I’m not saying that other parents don’t mean it, they do.  I’m sure they do because I sit in the stands with a lot of them at games and they shout, scream, pout, and almost cry like 3rd graders.  It’s an amazing thing to watch—otherwise normal middle aged worldly successful adults suddenly morphed into adolescent elementary aged behavior that often leaves me wondering what happened to the adult I was just talking to.

But I really mean it when I say to my children to be all there—focused, determined, and relaxed.  I don’t mean win, win, win, rah, rah, rah.  I mean be hot.  Be hotful (is that a word?); radically give it all—for something greater than yourself.  I sometimes say:  My time is valuable.  Don’t waste my time, the coach’s time, or your time.  Be hot out there.  I don’t care if it’s a piano, violin, or sports contest—be hot and be focused…for God’s glory.

I’m a loser for one thing.  The apostle Paul once said, “This one thing I do…”  Most of us can only do a few things half decent.  We’re just losers who aren’t very smart nor very talented.  But we can do one thing.  Yes, all of us can do one thing.  Instead of dabbling around with drink, entertainment, or whatever we dabble in, I want to be a one thing guy.  One thing.

Years ago I came across these words of Bishop Ryle.  They speak of our calling as Jesus followers,

“A zealous person in the Faith is pre-eminently a person of one thing.  It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit.  He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God.  Whether he lives, or whether he dies—whether he has health, or whether he has sickness—whether rich or poor—whether he pleases men or whether he gives offense—whether he is thought wise or foolish—whether he gets blamed or praised—whether honored or put to shame—for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all.  He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory.  If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it—he is content.  He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work of God for which God appointed him.”

Be a passionate one thing loser…for Jesus!

6 Principles (and the bonus 7th principle) of “Those Who Turned the World Upside Down” part 6

28 06 2010

This is part six in a series on the topic, “New Testament Principles on Leadership Structure.”  Enjoy.  If you want to catch up on the previous parts, scroll down.

Principle #6: Elders are Appointed

Acts 14:23 reads, “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Paul told Titus to “appoint elders in every town…” (Titus 1:5).  The word “appointed” is from the Greek verb, cheirotoneo, meaning “appoint,” “designate,” or “choose.”  Elders were chosen by the apostles and the local leadership of each church.

The early apostles knew that false teachers and heretics were growing in influence in the newly planted churches.  Indeed, one of the elder’s most important responsibilities was guarding the flock from false doctrine.  Thus, it makes sense that the apostles would have seen the need for the proper appointment of biblically educated elders.  In the context of Acts 14:23, “…they (apostles) commended them (newly appointed elders) to the Lord…”  The verb “commended” (paratithemi) implies entrusting something valuable (Strauch, ibid, p. 139).  The implication and meaning of this phrase being the value placed by the apostles on those whom they appointed to this task.

In 1 Timothy 5:17, the elders are the ones who “rule” in the local congregation. The word “rule” is the Greek word, prohistemi, meaning lead, manage, or direct.  Therefore, in crucial matters, such as the selection of leadership for the church, the overseers should direct the whole process (Strauch, p. 278).  For this reason, healthy eldership means that the elders are always on the lookout for new leadership that can be developed in the congregation.  Kenneth O. Gangel, professor and chairman of the department of Christian Education at Dallas Theological Seminary says, “The key to reproducing leadership is to clearly plan for it.  Church leaders need to produce leaders who will reproduce leaders precisely as it is done in the family—through experience, instruction, and modeling” (Feeding and Leading, p. 309 and 313, quoted by Strauch, ibid, p. 278-9).  These explanations provide us with new meaning to  2 Timothy 2:2 that reads, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” One of the most important qualities of strong leadership in a local church is the ability to raise up other strong leaders.

Benefits of Appointing Elders:

  • The leadership of the congregation realizes the need for strong team leadership
  • The elders of the church are able to observe and choose the most qualified men
  • The leadership must fast and pray and seek God before choosing new leadership
  • New leadership is constantly being perpetuated as the elders look for and develop more leaders

In Practicum:

The MSC board elder team selects new elders for the board.  The pastoral elder team, in consultation with the board, appoints new pastors.  All pastors at MSC are required to be building their ministries with other strong and capable leaders of character that can share the load of leadership and more effectively multiply their influence into their areas of discipleship.

Principle #7:  Elders are Men

For the Bible believing follower of Christ, the fundamental principle for male leadership is the person of Jesus.  God, the Father, sent Jesus, the Son, to the earth.  God did not send a daughter, but a son.  Jesus was the “last Adam” and the “first born son of David.”  It is the maleness of Jesus that is the marital picture used for Christ and the church in Ephesians 5.   His maleness was not an arbitrary matter (Strauch, ibid, p. 52). 

Jesus chose twelve men to “be with Him.”  Peter, James, and John became the first leaders in Jerusalem.  The twelve apostles in Jerusalem appointed seven men to wait on tables.  Paul became the first elder to the gentile churches and appointed only men in positions of leadership.  Timothy led the church at Ephesus.  Titus was the lead elder on Crete.  In every example of government structure in the New Testament, men are chosen to lead. Indeed one of the qualifications given for leadership in the local church is that the elder be, “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9).  Clearly stated, in God’s divine order, men are tasked with leading the church. 

Paul loves to use the household analogy when speaking of the divine order for the local church (see 1 Timothy 3:15).  Just as he teaches male headship in the family, Paul also teaches male headship in the local body of believers, the church (1 Timothy 2:8-3:7).  Since the home is the basic unit for social order, it should not be a surprise that Paul would take the same analogy into the order for the “household of God” (Strauch, ibid, p. 58).  In Paul’s mind the leadership of a biological family is an extension of His leadership over the church family.

For the sake of not being misunderstood in our 21st century world, I must be clear in stating that I believe that the biblical teaching regarding men and women is of full equality in dignity, personhood, gifting, and value, but distinct in gender roles.  In explaining what the Bible teaches about eldership in the church, I am not making a statement about the role of women outside the church (i.e. home, work, or politics, etc.).  My purpose is to only share what the New Testament teaches about roles in leadership within the church.

John Piper, one of the editors of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, clearly expresses my heart concerning our differences:

Over the years I have come to see from scripture and from life that manhood and womanhood are the beautiful handiwork of a good and loving God.  He designed our differences and they are profound.  They are not mere physiological prerequisites for sexual union.  They go to the root of our personhood” (p. 32, cited by Strauch, ibid, p. 52).

God’s divine gender roles really matter.  Like the play, Romeo and Juliet, each actor has a role. When the roles are played according to the script and guided by the producer, a wonderful play is produced.  So it is in the church of Jesus Christ.

Benefits for Appointing Male Elders:

  • The Bible clearly states that male headship results in the proper divine order for the home and church
  • Men who lead with love (Ephesians 5:25) will imitate Christ and give their lives for the church
  • When the biblical roles of divine order are observed, the result is a unified and smooth governorship
  • Men and women, functioning in their proper roles, result in a more effective church ministry

In Practicum:

All of our MSC board and pastoral elders are men.

In Conclusion

As I finish this white paper, I feel compelled to conclude with the admonition of Peter, “above all things have fervent love for one another…” (1 Peter 4:8a).  When we read the first letter of John, we are constantly reminded of the vital importance of love in everything we do.  Love is the definer of what we believe (see 1 John 3-4).  Love is the greatest commandment (see Matthew 22:35-40).  This commandment is defined by our actions of loving God and people.  We cannot say that we love God and then hate our brother (see 1 John 3-4).  Therefore, the most important testimony of love for God is our love for God’s people.  Every elder must lead with such love.  Great love is great leadership.

A loving Jesus raises up loving elders.  Loving elders build loving churches.  What we need today are loving churches.  Churches built on walking in the truth of love (see 2nd and 3rd John) are churches which are impacting the world with the “agapeo” of Christ.  The most important function of leadership in a New Testament church is that of love.  Such love cascades down into the body and touches every member.

In conclusion, may love be our aim, may love be our vision, and may love for one another be the hallmark of our church.

6 Principles of “Those Who Turned the World Upside Down” part 5

21 06 2010

This is part five in a series on the topic, “New Testament Principles on Leadership Structure.”  Enjoy.  If you want to catch up on the previous parts, scroll down.

Principle #5: Two Levels of Leadership

The ruling leaders of the New Testament churches are called bishops, pastor-teachers, elders, and overseers.  Paul states clearly, “Let the elders who rule [lead, direct, guide, manage] well be counted worthy of double honor” (1 Timothy 5:17a).  Dr. Grudem writes, of the main purpose of the elders: “One of the major roles in the New Testament is to govern the New Testament churches.”  He then references 1 Timothy 5:17 and 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (ibid).  Dr. Alexander Strauch writes, “Elders…lead, direct, govern, manage, and care for the flock of God” (ibid, p. 25). So, the Bible is clear that certain men are given the responsibility and gifting to lead the local church toward the purposes of God.

Besides the elder ruling structure, we also observe the use of deacons in the local churches.  There is much less in the New Testament in regards to the role of deacons compared to elders, bishops and overseers.  The word deacon is a translation of the Greek word, diakonos, which is the ordinary word for servant, whenever it used in the context of dealing with church officers.  Deacons are mentioned in Philippians 1:1: “…To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”  We find no specifics as to their function, other than a distinction from the elders/bishops.  Deacons are also mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 in reference to the needed qualifications for those in such responsibility.  The list of character and moral qualifications for deacons follow closely the list given for elders.

From the list in 1 Timothy 3, we observe that the deacons must have had some responsibility with finances, administration and counseling.  The best example of the elder and deacon branches of leadership might be found in Acts 6: 1-6. 

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

Grudem comments:

The noun deacon is not found in Acts 6:1-6, but a related verb (Gk. diakoneo “to serve”) is found in verse 2… “Here the apostles who ruled over the Jerusalem church found it necessary to delegate some administrative responsibilities to others…” It seems appropriate to think of these seven men as deacons even though the name deacon had perhaps not yet come to be applied to them as they began this responsibility, for they seem to be given tasks which fit well with the responsibilities of deacons hinted at in 1 Timothy 3:8-12 (ibid, p. 919).

The deacons had a distinct role of serving the local church through serving the leadership of that particular body.  It is significant that nowhere in the New Testament do we find deacons as having ruling status in the churches.  The role of the deacons is clearly one of serving the elders in tasks that would pull them away from their primary function of ministry to the Lord, the people, and the spiritual ministries of the church.  (In this regard, there is no biblical reason that women would not also occupy such a position.)  Thus, there are two primary branches of leadership in the New Testament church:  the elders who rule over the spiritual direction of the body, and the deacons who serve the administrative and leadership needs of the elders.

The following diagram illustrates the two branches of leadership and how they function at MSC.  This is a visual of how God has led us to design the flow of leadership from Jesus Christ, the head of the church, through the elders to the congregation:


Benefits of Two Levels of Government Structure:

  • The ruling elders are not limited in their ministry and leadership by the physical/administrative needs of the congregation
  • The ruling elders can stay focused on the spiritual vision and direction of  the body, while the deacons take care of the needs of the elders
  • The deacons can provide support and healthy leadership in the day to day functions of the church while the elders can oversee such functions
  • The gift mix needed for each function is very different, and more people can be utilized throughout the leadership structure of the church
  • More people will be served by utilizing the different branches of government, thus enabling a healthy, more productive fellowship

In Practicum:

As stated earlier, MSC has an elder team made up of pastoral and board elders.  Pastoral elders are on staff and focus on preaching, teaching and oversight of the day to day ministry of the church.  Board elders focus on governance.  The roles of both Pastoral elders and Board elders are complimentary and have some overlap, as necessary.  We believe in the function of the deacons but do not use the term.  We consider associate staff, support staff and volunteer leaders who are ministering alongside our pastors, as functioning in the role of deacons.

Dunkin’ Donuts and Planting Pastors

26 04 2010

I have come to Okinawa every year now for over ten years, and I think I know almost every pastor on the island.

Right now, I’m eating sushi, looking out over the Pacific Ocean, and pondering the challenge of developing future spiritual leadership on this island.  I’ve spoken every night and several times a day for a week, spending almost every waking hour with these gracious, caring, pastors—eating, sipping tea, laughing and sharing our hearts and lives.

Last night I spoke at one of our network churches.  Liz and I stayed up until midnight with the pastor and his wife, sharing pictures, and talking about old times.  Together with my friend and fellow pastor, we reminisced of the days of trouble.  You see, he and I got into trouble together – big trouble in 1989—in ways that would change the direction of our lives as pastors.

It all began with a conversation at Dunkin’ Donuts when I was a missionary in Okinawa.  Yes, Okinawa has Dunkin’ Donuts. And the Japanese like donuts almost as much as sushi.  If you tasted their version of Dunkin’ Donuts, you would understand why.  Anyway, one morning we were sitting around drinking coffee and stuffing our faces with cream-filled when he asked me, “Steve, what do you think my church needs?”  After thinking for about three minutes (which is deep meditation for me), I said, “Your church needs to learn how to worship Jesus.”

Thus began a journey that got both of us in a heap of trouble! 

He asked me to teach his church how to worship, so that is what I did every Wednesday night. But more than just a sermon, back then my style was to teach for a little while and then to demonstrate how to worship.  The demonstration time involved closing our eyes and worshipping to music playing over my stereo.  On one fateful night, the Holy Spirit showed up in a dramatic way, and my pastor friend experienced a baptism of the Spirit that quite literally rocked his world.

The Holy Spirit came that night during worship as the power of God hit my friend with such peace and joy that he didn’t sleep for the next 48 hours!  In fact, on this one evening his baptism into the Spirit would initiate his journey on  a road that would change the direction of his life forever.

In the days and weeks to follow, he shared excitedly about the new things God was doing in his life.  To say his Southern Baptist church was not quite as pumped up about his new-found intimacy with God is an under-the-sea, really-deep-under-the-sea-level statement.  In a short time, he was kicked out of his fellowship, and found himself on the streets wondering what had happened.

At about the same time, I was teaching my staff about more expressive worship like raising our hands, about casting out demons, and in general, getting myself into some deep theological doodoo of my own.   I could see the wagons circling, and I knew that my days were numbered.  And like my pastor friend’s experience, it wasn’t long after our Dunkin’ Donuts meeting that my life was profoundly changed – I resigned from my position with a para-church organization and joined my friend as we freshly sought God about our futures.

What an exciting time it was!  Both of us out of a job, but loving Jesus!  Both of us unsure of the direction of our future, but confident in the Director of our future.

And so last night, after all of these years, we were reunited.  We shared of our journey and the adventure.  For my Okinawan friend, God had planted him back on the island to found and pastor Agape Community Church where he continues to minister today.  God led me to Colorado Springs to plant Mountain Springs Church. 

Once again, just like we had done 21 years ago, we worshipped together on a Wednesday night.  However, on this night we were joined by a group of men and women, many of whom hadn’t even been born or saved in 1989.  Together, we were again worshipping the same Jesus that had rocked our world—the same Savior and Lord who continues to rock our world today.  Only now, there’s a church that didn’t exist back then.  All because God powerfully visited a pastor one night during worship, then planted him to shepherd His people.

I have learned that God plants pastors.  He doesn’t plant churches; He plants pastors.  Pastors are God’s methodology, His missiology. Jesus planted pastors.  Jesus is still planting pastors. I think pastors were what Jesus had in mind with His twelve men.  And it’s what He had in mind for these two pastors, one Okinawan, one American. 

Tonight, I count it an honor to be one of His pastors, grateful to be helping to plant more pastors on the tiny island of Okinawa.

The Tiger in the Woods

24 02 2010

“I was unfaithful, I had affairs; I cheated…I’m deeply sorry.”[i]

-Tiger Woods

This past Friday (Feb. 19th) was another day in the history of disgraced superstars as famed golfer Tiger Woods apologized on every major media outlet for his serial infidelity.

But what made Tiger’s press conference unique was not the length, but the reference to his Buddhist religion. As his Thai-born mother sat nearby, Woods said part of his rehab would include a return to his Buddhist faith. Woods said his mother raised him as a Buddhist, and he practiced his faith “until I drifted away from it in recent years.”[ii]

In past interviews, Woods has referred to the practice of Buddhist meditation as giving him the focus needed in golf. “In therapy I’ve learned the importance of looking at my spiritual life and keeping it in balance with my professional life,” Woods said. “I need to regain my balance and be centered so I can save the things that are most important to me, my marriage and my children.”[iii]

“He was reaffirming his own family’s tradition,” said Robert Thurman, a professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University.[iv] In January, Fox News analyst Britt Hume, in a roundtable discussion about the controversy, said that Tiger should turn his life over to Jesus Christ for the needed forgiveness of his sins.

Tiger’s comments about his Buddhist faith seemed timed to counter the comments by Britt Hume. No one knows for sure, but what is undeniable is Tiger’s desire to rehabilitate his image and his life through the worldview, tenets, and structure of Buddhism.

The religion called Buddhism was founded by Gautama Buddha, a rich nobleman’s son, about 150 BC, Buddha abandoned his wife and son to become a wandering ascetic in search of truth.[v]  Buddhist historians tell us that after 7 years of wandering, inquiring, and meditating, he found “the true path to enlightenment,” under the legendary tree of wisdom.[vi]  The teachings of Buddha are embodied in “Four Noble Truths”: truth of suffering; cause of suffering; cessation of suffering; and the truth of the way to remove suffering. According to Buddhism, “Existence is pain…the cause of suffering is craving…and the truth to remove suffering involves a comprehensive system of moral cultivation [through an 8 fold path].”[vii]

In Buddhism there is no God to trust or believe in. Buddha placed man within the tension of the eternal “now.” Buddhism offers the opportunity to be Buddha, if we do the work. It’s already there, it’s who we are,” said Darren Littlejohn, a Buddhist and author of The 12 Step Buddhist, a book about addiction recovery. He said Woods’ comments reflected the Buddhist belief that “life is suffering. It’s based on attachment, anger and desire.”[viii]

If Buddhists do violate certain precepts — killing, stealing and sexual misconduct among them — then they are subject to the law of karma.

“What people need to understand about karma is that it is based entirely on volitional action,” said Charles Prebish, a Buddhist studies professor at Utah State. “If one chooses to do an act that is morally inappropriate, then one will reap the rewards. In Tiger Woods’ case, one could say that some of those repercussions seem to be immediate. The negative karma that he accrued is starting to bear fruit.”[ix]

Meaning? Tiger’s rehab will involve Tiger trying to rehab Tiger with Tiger power! The Tiger within must break through his negative karma. The Tiger who met the press on Friday is the same Tiger that slept with countless women and is the same Tiger who will look deep within to find the hidden “middle path” that will lead to enlightenment. Good luck Tiger.

I hope and pray the best for Tiger. Tiger will need all of our prayers. The path he is on will be profoundly difficult, albeit impossible.  For Tiger, luck and self-discipline will be key. He has no one but himself to depend on. 

Living a lifestyle of integrity is not easy for anyone. Even for the Jesus follower, let’s be honest—when we look in the mirror each day, we see what Martin Luther once quipped, “Iustus et peccator simul,” meaning “saint and sinner.” So, we don’t cast stones but rather we look at the poor state of Tiger Woods and we realize that there is a sinner within all of us. We are both saint and sinner, declared righteous in Christ, and yet encased within a sinful nature.

However, as Jesus followers we don’t believe in ourselves, we don’t believe in inner karma, middle paths, or the eternal now. We don’t look within; we look without!  We don’t look in the mirror each morning and chant, “I can, I can, I can,” rather we stare at the “peaccator simul,” and say “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” but, “Jesus can.” We look not at our suffering; we look at His suffering. We rely not on our power: we rely on His power. And this makes all the difference.



[i] AP sports story by Bob Baum in FoxNews Internet

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] AP February 20, 2010

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, p. 235.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Encyclopedia of Religion, p. 95.

[viii] AP ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

A Letter to Mountain Springs

16 02 2010

What a Year!

I’m writing each of you to share my heart with you.  This past year is one of the most redemptive of my ministry life, and has brought many transitions into the life of our church fellowship.  Some of these changes have been difficult, but most have brought great praise to my spirit and I believe all have brought glory to God.  I so appreciate the countless people who have shared, emailed, facebooked or called Liz and me and our pastoral staff to share their prayers and love.  Thank you for your friendship, love and prayers. 

God surprised us with some changes in our plans this past year.  We never anticipated this but eagerly welcomed God’s work in so many lives. 

  • 2 spontaneous weekend baptisms that led to 200+ men, women and children giving their hearts more fully to Jesus
  • VBS in June was another huge surprise with over 1100 children attending, making it our largest VBS ever
  • Josiah Dangers transitioning from youth ministry to becoming our Worship Life Pastor
  • Welcoming Chris Fetters as our Student Life Pastor

These changes have led to greater intensity, focus and vision for your ministries. 

It’s exciting to see the growth throughout our Church. From Family Life coaching and support, to Community Life Small Groups, changes are happening that are bringing both growth and transformation.  As we add a fourth service to accommodate what God is doing, please keep the Pastoral Elders in your prayers.  These changes are exciting and they will take much planning, creativity and leadership.

The Right Type of Change

Change can be difficult.  But the right kind of change can be transformational.  Change is good if it draws us closer to Jesus.  Change is wonderful when we allow it to create a deeper hunger for more of God’s power, influence and love in our lives.  Change is important in our growth as Jesus followers.  Change has the potential to sharpen and develop us.  This past year was like many of the seminal events of my life.  Throughout my life, change has been orchestrated by God to transform me.  All of these transitions, though hard at the time, have turned out to be a deep blessing later.  Let me recount a little of my journey.

Jesus Saved Me

Jesus saved me in my freshman year at the University of Georgia.  At the time, I was a happy, pagan jock that loved gymnastics, girls, southern rock music and having lots of fun.  God apprehended me in my self-satisfied pride, showed me my sin and gave me a hunger to follow Him (but God has yet to deliver me from southern rock).  The cross of Jesus revolutionized my life forever.  When Jesus saved me, I gave up everything I knew at the time to follow Him.  The day after I surrendered my heart to Jesus, everything changed.  I started sharing my faith with anyone who would listen and before I knew it, God opened up Bible studies all over the campus.  I began to devour any Christian book I could get my hands on.  My life on the gymnastics team was turned right-side up and over the next few years, half of the team gave their lives to Christ.  Jesus rocked my life with a radical change.

This new-found faith led me to the mission field in China, smuggling Bibles.  That’s where I met a foxy blonde from UCLA who looked like she needed a man like me in her life!  It took her three years and two continents to finally acknowledge that need.  This was a wonderful change in my life.

Our Adventure

Our adventure led us to Okinawa, Japan, and later to Pasadena, California.  It was during our three years in southern California that God spoke through visions, dreams and many prophetic encounters that He was guiding us to plant a church in Colorado Springs.  After much prayer, seeking advice and receiving God’s confirmation, we made the move to Colorado.  We had no team and no money, we moved to a city where we had never lived and had no equity.  But we did have faith in a great God who does the miraculous.  And we believed that Jesus had called us and anointed us for this new pioneer effort.  It was a scary but exciting change.

God Built a Church

Over the next fifteen years God gave us favor.  From the beginnings in our basement, with no money and no people, God built a church.  Yes, He built Mountain Springs even as we struggled through the internal, spiritual and relational battles that go with planting a new body of believers.  Hundreds of people were saved, hundreds of people thought I was weird, hundreds became leaders, and over time the family of Mountain Springs grew and matured.  Leaders came and went.  We planted thirteen other churches during this time.  Ministries were started, stopped and redesigned.  Pastors came and moved on.  Change was the air we breathed. 

Exhaustion was the atmosphere I lived in—perpetually.  It was during these years that I came close to a mental and emotional breakdown.  Panic attacks and depression were constantly knocking at the door of my life.  Jesus, Liz, my family and friends sustained me.  Liz is my best friend and she always stood strong even when her husband wasn’t too much fun to live with.  Pastor Daniel and Laurie, Dan and Beth Balch and countless others who have never given up on the original vision of Mountain Springs have continued to be strong arms that have picked Liz and me up over these years.  Change was hard, and even when we wanted to give up, God never quit.  I am so grateful.


The past seven years have been the busiest of my very busy life.  The growth of the church has been amazing and surprising.  We never expected nor planned to grow from 500 to 3500 so quickly.  It has been difficult but exhilarating.  The constant need for more staff, more buildings and more ministries to accommodate the needs of a growing body of believers has taxed us all.   Not to mention the pressure of a growing family—God blessed the Holt family with two more children during these years (#6 and 7).  The constant need to identify and deploy new leadership and new programs has been more than overwhelming.  We have been in a proverbially “over-our-head” mentality for seven years.  These changes have been simultaneously thrilling and tiring. 

Just to put this in perspective:  in a five year span, we built three multi-million dollar buildings, increased our staff from 7 to 40, and watched our budget grow from $600,000 to over $3 million!  We developed programs that failed, thrived, stopped and started.  As I spoke regularly for five services every week, I developed tendinitis in my ankles, planter-fasciitis in my heels, regularly lost my voice and struggled to keep up. 

Self-Discovery Means Change

As the pressure of ministry has increased, so has my need to understand the limitations of my gifts, talents and skills.  Starting in the fall of 2008, under the guidance of Pastor Daniel and Nathan Baxter (our consultant), the Pastoral Staff Team began to evaluate our gifts, talents, skills and ministry areas in order to better discover God’s specific bulls-eye purpose for our church.  This has been a time of constant study, discussion and testing to find what God has “hardwired” us for.  All of us are growing in our personal discovery of God’s specific and targeted gifts for our pastoral lives.

Over the past two years through much prayer, counsel, reading and discussion with respected leaders, I have been gradually moving away from the day-to-day leadership of the church.  It has become increasingly clear that I’m not a great manager or a very good administrator.  The church has long outgrown my ability to lead all the details.  Everyone has known this—but it’s taken me a while to realize that my need to oversee and lead almost every sector of the church has hampered growth and productivity.

So, this year I have given the day-to-day leadership responsibility to Pastor Daniel.  His leadership, character, detail-orientation, people-skills and passion for Jesus are clear for all of us to see.   His loyalty to the vision and values of Mountain Springs are unquestionable.  His ability to make things happen through leaders has been tested for almost eleven years.  Daniel and Laurie’s friendship through all of these years of highs and lows is truly amazing.

A month ago, I resigned as the chairman of the Board of Elders and handed the chairmanship over to Denny Yoder. Denny and his wife Deb have been supportive members of Mountain Springs for over ten years.  His expertise in managing and overseeing a large organization as well as his love for our vision makes this an ideal transition.  Denny is a retired Air Force Colonel and is currently special adviser to the President of International Students, Inc.  His loyalty, coupled with his gifting as a coach and manager, have made him a perfect fit for taking over the Elder Board. 

The Next Twenty Years

In the first letter to the Corinthians we read, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (7:17). As I have sought the Lord for His vision for Mountain Springs and my life as the senior pastor, He once again reminded me of the following five things that He spoke and assigned to me: 

•             “marry Liz” – 1983

•             “plant a church in Colorado Springs” – 1991-1994

•             “build and rebuild the Church” – 1992

•             “build and rebuild the Family” – 1992

•             “plant 1000 churches” – 1994

God has uniquely hardwired me to be a visionary leader and teacher of God’s Word.  As I gaze into the next twenty years of ministry, I am asking God to position me in the place where I can make the most impact for the Kingdom of God.  As I meet with pastors, leaders and friends, it becomes evident that I am in a transition from working more in the church to exclusively working on the church.  I am called to move from being the pastor of one church to being a missiologist-overseeing leader who is guiding many churches.  My job description will now have five key aspects: 

1.            Visionary Leadership | One of my main responsibilities as Senior Pastor at Mountain Springs will continue to be seeking and leading the missional vision of MSC.  To accomplish this better, the day-to-day leadership will continue to be led by Pastor Daniel and our Pastoral Elder Team.  This change, since the summer of 2008, has been a good transition for all of us.  Pastor Daniel’s leadership has led to a very healthy Pastoral Elder team.

2.            Connecting the Bible to our Culture | I love teaching the Bible and connecting the scriptures to our culture.  I consider the study of the Word of God and theology as one of the most important responsibilities for the overall health and growth of our fellowship.  I believe that the power of the Spirit flows most effectively to change lives through the practical teaching of the Bible.  Our style of teaching God’s Word book by book lends itself to the need for much study and preparation, which will continue to occupy much of my time.

3.            Leading a Revolution of Love for our City | God has given us a vision for a revolution of love for our city.  We believe that God wants us to plant new campuses of Mountain Springs Church.  Through strategic prayer, planning and raising up leaders, we endeavor to establish new MSC campuses in the years to come.  My role will be the central teacher for all new campuses through video broadcasts. Pastor Daniel, along with a select leadership team, will be developing the key strategic plan for this expansion.

4.            Leading a Church Planting Network | God has reignited my heart for church planting.  Though MSC has planted 13 churches, the past few years have been a time of missional drift in this area.  Many years ago God spoke to me to plant 1000 churches.  God is rekindling that vision and I will be focusing more energy on the development of the Word and Spirit Network, our church planting/church networking ministry.  This new role will mean connecting with existing church planting networks and setting a strategic plan for WSN over the next twenty years.

5.            Writing Materials for MSC and the Body of Christ | Currently I’m working on a book on marriage and I have a deepening vision to write articles, materials and books on the family and the purpose of the Church.  Taking the needed time for writing will be increasingly important in my role of building up the Body of Christ.

Get Ready!

I’m excited about the future!  The wind of the Spirit is blowing and we are setting our sails.  The church over the past six months has been growing and we will have added another service (Saturday night 4:30pm) to facilitate what God is doing.  New small groups are being developed, many people are getting saved and Easter is just around the corner.  We are beginning a revolution of love in our city!  It doesn’t get much better than this!  Get ready for the adventure of your life.

Death Be Not Proud

21 10 2009

My friend Lewis died this month. Early in the morning, while studying, I received one of those dreaded phone calls telling me that Lewis had died in the early morning hours. As I drove to his home, I found myself praying for the extended family, for the girls (two precious girls of 11 and 18), and for his steadfast and unwavering wife of twenty years.  I asked the Lord for grace, peace, and faith over each person.  I asked the Lord for wisdom in what to say and how to say it.  None of us knows the right way to discuss death. 

Death, whenever it comes up in a conversation, is the show stopper.  No one wants to talk about death.  The topic has a unique way of sneaking up and surprising you.  Just when everyone is enjoying each other, someone mentions that that person just died or this person was killed in a car accident, whatever it might be, and no one can talk after that. From that point, everything else is, might I say, trivial. The jokes aren’t as funny, the story about the trip, not as interesting.  Death trumps everyone, everything, everytime.  It’s the grim reaper in the room.

Death is the specter in the night, dressed up as a kind of dark hooded medieval monk, appearing and then disappearing in the dark trees of our mind.  It is often the dreaded nightmare of fear, darkness, and aloneness.  We fear death don’t we?  Admit it.  We all have a deep dark secret…we fear dying.  We fear our loved one’s dying even more.

Death seems to be the end of everything, so conclusive, so, so, final.  Because of our finiteness and our own mental limitations we just can’t fully grasp death.  All we know is what we’ve experienced here on earth.  All we understand is what we’ve been taught, here in the three dimensional world.  Comparisons and abstract thoughts blend into the stories we’ve heard about death and dying.  What will it feel like?  Who will be there?  Is it true that there are angels in heaven? Is St. Peter really the main greeter at those pearly gates?  Are there really gates?

There is the story of Billy Graham, standing by the bedside of his maternal grandmother, who had been in and out of consciousness, when suddenly in a surprising moment of clarity, sat up and exclaimed, “I see them, they’re all there, and the angels, so beautiful…” and then she died.  What was that?  Was it one of those many supernatural moments that God gives to remind us that everything he’s been saying about eternity is true?  Could it be that God cares enough that he would want Billy Graham, arguably the greatest evangelist of the 20th century, to have a firsthand witness of the eternity he so boldly preached about? 

I think God knows that we can’t fully grasp death.  We can feel love, feel friendship, feel forgiveness, but whoever heard of feeling death? Death is not easy to understand.  It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma.  I believe that God in His created order, never intended death for His creation.  Death wasn’t the perfect plan in the creation of Adam and Eve.  Death is not natural. Our hearts and minds were never created to fully comprehend death.

Life was the original purpose and plan. We get life.  Our minds and hearts enjoy thinking about life.  We love talking about it, experiencing it, reveling in it.  Life is cool to talk about.  Life is all about running, laughing, joking, falling in love, and friendships.  Life is three dimensional and fun.

Jesus taught us about life.  He even said, “I came that you might have life and that you might have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b)  Jesus, with consummate insight, is offering wild possibilities in His invitation.  Jesus wants to give us life, His brand of life, His way of living.  He wants us to really live.  Jesus is all about living.

On another occasion Jesus also said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)  Jesus seems to be saying that “the way,” and “the truth,” and “the life” are all somehow wrapped in the same package.  Could it be that Jesus has given us a “way” of living?  Could it be that Jesus has given us the “truth” about life?

Jesus understands our questions, our false hopes, our fears about death.  And he has placed himself as the ultimate anecdote for fear.  He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. (John 11:25)  No grand teaching on fear.  No expansive sermon on dying.  Just a simple statement about faith and trust.  Jesus is placing himself as the answer to the sum of all our fears.  Not a theory, not an explanation, not a formula.  Jesus wants us to know that He is the resurrection from death.  He is the life. 

Do you see it?  Death has nothing to be proud of.  Death has no sting, no power, and no allure (1 Cor 15:55).  Jesus has conquered death with life (Romans 6:9-10).  Jesus is the life and he has defeated death on his terms. Jesus died on the cross, went down into hell, took the keys of death and the fear of death away from satan and has secured life (Hebrews 2:15; Ephesians 4:9).  Life is secure because Jesus secured it.

For the Jesus follower, death is now swallowed up with life!  Death means life.  Death cannot be proud for life has overtaken it.  We have nothing to fear.  Fear is ravaged by the hope of life.  Life rules in our minds if Jesus reigns in our hearts.

My friend Lewis isn’t dead.  Lewis is alive.  Lewis passed from the three dimensional world into the fourth dimension of life the way I want to pass someday.  He passed from this life in his sleep, in his bedroom, with his family nearby. Lewis passed with faith, with joy, with a purpose.  Lewis is healed of his brain tumor.  Right now Lewis is living the most active, joyful, productive life he has ever lived.  C.S. Lewis once said that death is just passing from one room to the next; from one reality to another.  My good friend Lewis got up out of his bed at 4am yesterday and walked into another room and met Jesus face to face.  Now that’s a great life!