Ministry

The Gospel for Pedophiles

prison blog
A few weeks ago I had the honor of worshiping with the men of St. Dysmas. St. Dysmas is a congregation that meets in the South Dakota State Penitentiary. I received the sacrament of communion side-by-side with men serving life sentences without the possibility of parole due to horrific murders. I raised my voice in worship alongside of men serving decades for sexually abusing young children.

These were the true outcasts of our society. Many of these men were sick… broken… and sinful.

Yet this was one of the most beautiful worship services I have participated in. During one of the songs I glanced around and noticed that every man had his hands raised in utter abandonment to God. These men have had everything ripped away from them as a result of their horrible crimes – their freedom, families, friends, careers, and finances. For some of these men, the prison sentence was the best thing to happen to them because they discovered the Kingdom of God.

Roughly 2,000 years ago, Jesus was teaching the values of this Kingdom to his disciples on a mountain. He began his sermon with these words:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

Poor in spirit means to reach a place of utter emotional & spiritual poverty after trusting in one’s self. It is the moment a drug addict hits rock bottom. It is the season when a person pursuing the American Dream realizes he is still miserable even though he is successful by the standards of this world. It is when men & women understand there is nothing in this life that can satisfy the longings of the human heart.

For those of us that are wealthy Americans, we often numb this paralyzing pain through materialism and consumerism. Not so with these inmates – they have no other choice but to stare into the terrifying blackness of their own sin and realize they are hopeless apart from Christ.

I realized some of these inmates have a greater freedom than I do. They have discovered freedom in Christ which is not determined by physical freedom. Many of the New Testament letters were written by an inmate named the Apostle Paul who eventually faced execution for his faith in Christ.

Have you discovered true freedom? Have you come to the end of yourself and realized your only hope in this life is in Jesus Christ? Or are you still trying to save yourself through your own morality and religious work? 

 

How To Preach Great Sermons

bettersermons

This is the eighth post in a series of reflections based on Jared Wilson’s book “The Pastor’s Justification.”


Preaching is a terrifying task. Every Sunday I stand before a people hungry to hear from God. The words I speak carry incredible weight and I will have to give an account for every syllable spoken. Those of us who teach will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1).

Often a blog post with this title will outline “5 Steps to a Better Sermon.” The author will usually give helpful advice on preparation, study, notes, and delivery. Although this advice can be beneficial, it is missing what we actually need to preach great sermons – namely, the presence of God.

Jared Wilson explains it this way:
“The important thing is not whether you can call down thunder and set hearts aflame with your words, but whether you have personally felt the thunder and flame of the gospel’s word.”

Pastor – an eloquent sermon with passionate delivery disconnected from the presence of God will surely be an engaging message… that leads people to Hell. If the only time you study the Bible is in anticipation for a Bible Study or Sunday sermon, you are in grave danger of shipwrecking your ministry.

So, how can pastors preach better sermons?

1. Preach from the overflow of your relationship with God.
We must understand that we preach for an audience of One. It is impossible for us to lead people to where we ourselves have not been. If you desire for the people in your congregation to experience God’s power you need to fall on your face before God and plead for His power in your own life. Transformational sermons are birthed through the labor of prayer; not the creativity of the pastor.

2. Preach the Bible!
The Apostle Paul, writing to a young pastor named Timothy says it this way, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim. 4:2).” Pastors, our authority does not come from our title, degree, or denominational leadership. We only have authority when we carefully teach the Scriptures for the people of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Practically, this means we need to practice exegesis rather than eisegesis. I spent time unpacking the differences in this blog post so I will be brief. In summary, the main point of the Biblical passage should be the main point of our message. We should never begin with a topic and then distort the Scriptures to fit with our clever idea. Preach the Word of God not the words of men.

3. Preach Jesus Christ as the crucified King who has conquered death, sin, and hell!
Far too many sermons resemble the incoherent ramblings of a self-help coach sprinkled with obscure Bible verses. The primary problem of mankind is not the need for a better marriage, financial freedom, parenting skills, or any of the other “hot topics” churches recycle in their preaching calendar. Does the Bible speak into these areas? Absolutely. But not to the neglect of preaching Jesus Christ as living a perfect life, dying an atoning death, and rising victoriously from the dead.

The greatest issue every human being faces is their sinful nature. We are born into this world spiritually dead, unable to even respond to God (Ephesians 2:1). Quit spraying religious cologne on rotting corpses and hoping they come back the following week. The people in your church do not need “life skills” – they need to hear about the solution to their sin problem – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


What would you add to this list? Let me know by leaving a comment!

My Only Job: Faithfulness

faithfulness

This is the seventh post in a series of reflections based on Jared Wilson’s book “The Pastor’s Justification.”


In a few short months we will be transitioning the Garretson Campus to becoming an autonomous church. I am extremely excited for this upcoming adventure but, if I am honest, I have more questions than answers about pastoral leadership. I have been carrying the terrible burden of church growth, financial sustainability, and casting vision in order to see this opportunity become a reality.

As I have been studying the Gospel of John for our current sermon series I was reminded of what my actual job is (and isn’t):
– It’s not up to me to make this transition succeed.
– It’s not up to me to bring growth to the church.
– It’s not up to me to grow the faith of the church’s members.
– It’s not up to me to provide for the financial needs of the church.

So what exactly is my job?

Faithfulness.

Jared Wilson explains it this way, “Our responsibility in evangelism is to scatter the seed, not produce the harvest.

Jared is simply paraphrasing Paul’s view of ministry:
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. – 1 Cor. 3:5-7

1. Pastor – you are called to be a servant.
Pastors are called to be shepherds and spiritual directors – not CEOs of corporations. We do not command obedience from those under our leadership; instead, we wash the feet of the broken and sinful. Regardless of the size or significance of your ministry, it’s not about you. The church doesn’t belong to the pastor, it belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. Place the weight of leadership on His shoulders!

2. Pastor – you are called to please God. 
Paul makes it clear that the Lord assigns each of us our task. We cannot compare ourselves to other ministries and boast about our numbers or despair about our offerings. We cannot preach “softer” sermons in order to attract a crowd of consumeristic, church-shopping Christians. We cannot target the members of other churches and grow through the deception of sheep-stealing. Our primary motivation must be to honor the God who called us into ministry – not appear significant or successful.

3. Pastor – your only job is faithfulness. 
Every moment we have a decision to make – will we be faithful or faithless? Will we practice obedience or disobedience? God has a calling over each of our lives but we need to make a decision to submit ourselves to God’s authority. My job is not to grow my church; it’s to simply be faithful each day to the tasks God has called me to.

So will the transition succeed? I hope so. Will my church grow? I hope so.

Nevertheless, my goal is to remain faithful to the ministry God has called me. If I succeed through deceptive means then I fail in God’s sight. If I “fail” by practicing faithfulness then I succeed in the eyes of the only One that matters – the Living God who has called me into ministry.

Garretson Campus Becoming its Own Church?

Garretson SD Picture

Pastor Jon & I recorded a podcast that discusses this in more detail. I HIGHLY encourage you to listen to the podcast to get a better understanding of what is happening!
Episode 132: Why We are Transitioning a Multi-Site Campus into an Independent Church Plant


For those of you that do not know, The RESCUE Church is a multi-site church. This means we are one church that meets in multiple locations. Each campus shares the same structure, budget, preaching calendar, and leadership team. I currently pastor the Garretson Campus of The RESCUE Church.

There’s a good chance you have heard something about the Garretson Campus of The RESCUE Church becoming a separate church from The RESCUE Church. After numerous conversations and hours in prayer, we are moving in the direction of establishing ourselves as an autonomous church separate from The RESCUE Church.

This decision has been approved unanimously by the leadership team of The RESCUE Church – including lead pastor Jon Sanders and executive pastor Sam Pickard.

I will write a few blog posts over the upcoming months to keep everyone posted. In this first post, I would like to share some important information:

This does not mean there has been conflict that has led to this choice.

On the contrary, I brought this up in a private conversation with Jon & Sam almost a year ago. God was beginning to stir in my heart a desire to become a lead pastor. Nevertheless, I am deeply committed to the people and community of Garretson so I asked if they would consider transitioning the Garretson Campus from being a campus to an independent church.

Truthfully, Jon and/or Sam will be on our leadership team for the first year to help the transition go smoothly.

What can you do to help during this time?

1. Please spend time praying for God to give us wisdom and discernment. We only want to move forward if God is truly leading us in this direction.

2. If you live in the area, consider becoming part of the new church. If you currently attend a church in a different city (i.e. you live in Garretson but attend in Sioux Falls) please speak to your pastor and get his/her blessing to join a church in your community and make a greater impact on those around you. I would strongly encourage you to submit to your current pastor’s spiritual leadership. If he/she is not comfortable with you leaving and joining our ministry, please respect that.

3. Consider giving a monthly amount ($25, $50, $100, $500 or more) for one year to help us with our start-up costs. In a later blog post, I’ll share specifically how you can do this. If you are interested, contact me so I can speak with you personally and answer any questions you have.

4. Continue to pray and support the vision of The RESCUE Church as a whole. To listen to the direction The RESCUE Church is going and hear Pastor Jon’s thoughts on other changes happening, listen to this message:
Pass the Test (Sunday, August 13th) 

 

Lessons From Being Punched in the Face!

boxing blog

I have been in the process of learning how to box for the past few months. I have spent countless hours studying footwork, combinations, and proper head movement. As I continued to improve, I was given clearance to begin full-contact sparring with more experienced boxers at my gym!

This past Saturday, I showed up to Top Flight Boxing with my gloves, head gear, and mouth guard – eager to demonstrate my power in the ring for the first time!

Let’s just say I did throw some punches… but I was also punched repeatedly in the face! Here are my biggest takeaways from my first sparring session:

1. If you can’t fight tired, you can’t win fights!
This the motto constantly shared by Jerry James – the coach and instructor at the gym. Towards the end of my first round of sparring, I was exhausted and no longer wanted to hold my hands up so I lowered them. After a few seconds, my head was snapped backwards with a quick jab and right hook. Needless to say, I now know I need to hold my hands up even when it feels physically impossible!

This is true in life as well.

Temptation conquers leaders when they are tired and discouraged. It is easy to resist the allure of sin when you are emotionally strong and have plenty of sleep; it is a completely different battle when your energy is depleted and the enemy offers temporary pleasure through illicit means. Sin always over-promises and under-delivers. It offers life but causes death.

2. I can take more punches than I thought!
I have only been punched in the face twice – both when I was a teenager. I wasn’t sure how I would react in a small ring with an opponent eager to let his fists connect with my head! After taking a few jabs, I was hit with a powerful straight cross.

I instantly smiled through my mouth guard and returned a few of my own shots!

There are moments in life that are terrifying – getting called into your boss’ office and hearing that your position is no longer needed; hearing the words of a spouse as he/she confesses unfaithfulness in your marriage; receiving a phone call that draws you into the valley of death – the trials of this world can bring excruciating pain.

Yet Jesus promises He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). We can say with confidence that all things work together for the good of those who love God (Rom. 8:28). Even in our trials we can rejoice, knowing that the testing of our faith produces perseverance (James 1:30).

3. Technique beats power.
Boxing is an art form that is mastered through decades of training. Powerful punches begin with the proper rotation of your feet and extend into your fists. Anyone who steps into a ring without proper training intent on throwing “haymakers” will quickly collapse under the skillful punches of their opponent.

In the same way, success in any area of life is produced through the invisible decisions made through years of commitment. A successful marriage is sustained through acts of sacrifice, romance, and devotion. A faithful father instills godly values into his children through quiet prayer and gentle instruction. A healthy church is grown through constant intercession, small acts of outreach, and proper conflict management.

It’s the seemingly insignificant actions that make the difference in a boxing match… and in our lives.


P.S. – If you live in the Sioux Falls area, I’d love for you to join me for a boxing class! They are Saturdays at 11am and the first class is free. Contact me if you are interested!

Hello Facebook.

facebook

Yeah… I’m back on Facebook.

This past April, I made a commitment to stay away from social media for the entirety of 2017.  I made it clear that social media is amoral – neither good nor bad. Unfortunately, I have noticed the ways in which I use social media as a means to brag about my accomplishments and bolster my pride.

So why the heck am I back on it? Honestly, I have one big reason:

It is where the people are!

The vision God has given me for my life is to help people follow Jesus. One of the best ways to do this is by have a presence where people are – namely, social media. I began using social media again roughly a month ago in order to invite people to an outdoor service my church was putting on. It was through these invitations that I saw numerous first time guests come through our doors.

Nevertheless, all my concerns regarding my use of social media were valid:

  • The human heart tends to worship self, not God. This is aggravated through each person having a personal page that can exalt them to celebrity-like status.
  • The primary reason I engaged in social media was to elevate my status in the eyes of others.
  • I believe the personal platform building done by many Christian leaders is a smokescreen for pride.

I fully believe I heard God when I decided to not use social media. Where I may have misheard Him is in the length of time. It seemed that he was leading me to reset my use for a period of time and be attentive to the effects it can have on my life.

So how long & how often will I use social media? I’m not entirely sure. My goal for now is to only post things that elevate those outside of me (local churches, businesses, other people) in an effort to consider other people as more important than myself (Philippians 2:3).

Who knows? Maybe I will write another “Goodbye Facebook” post in a few months!