Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

God's Christmas Gift To You

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I love giving gifts.  I love to see the joy and excitement on others faces - especially my kids.  It truly is a joy to give to others.

It's also a joy to receive gifts.  I can't lie - I love getting stuff - I love to be surprised - I love new technology and gadgets.  I think everyone pretty much loves to be on the receiving end of things as well.

That's why Christmas is so amazing - so cool - so flat out awesome!  It's the time of year that I remember hearing for the first time - about the greatest gift ever given.  I was just a kid, about 8 years old visiting a church with friends.  I had never heard about Jesus or the wise men or the gifts given to this baby.  And, I had never heard about the gift this baby was to me.

Now I know.  Now I get to tell others.  How cool is Christmas!  Thank you Jesus!!!  

"Gods Christmas gift to you is the most expensive gift youll ever receive. Its priceless. Jesus paid for it with his life. Its also the only gift youll ever receive that will last forever. And, its an extremely practical gift  one youll use every day for the rest of your life." - Rick Warren 


Friday, December 19, 2008

I came across this video today on Ed Stetzer’s blog (thanks Ed!) and it moved me in a huge way.  If this doesn’t get your attention then – well let’s just say you’re heartless.  As followers of Christ we are called to share His love with others.  Period.  That’s it.  And yet, we rarely tell others about Jesus.  Maybe seeing this video will help you understand (from an Atheist) how important it is to truly live out your faith.  Live for Him this weekend – tell someone what Jesus has done for you – what He is doing in your life right now – look them in the eyes - be sincere - invite that person to worship with you this weekend.  Go proselytize!

Penn says:

I don't respect people who don't proselytize. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, and you think, 'Well, it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward'... How much do you have to hate somebody not to proselytize?

Casting Crowns does it again!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Here's another great video by Casting Crowns - enjoy.

I love coffee

I really do love coffee.  Especially on cold mornings during the winter months. 

I enjoy coffee from all different types of places but I when it comes to my favorite – I like it strong – and sweet – with cream when possible.  My favorite place to stop and buy coffee is Starbucks – anything Mocha.  At home, I have learned a few secrets to brewing coffee that I enjoy each morning.

First, I use a Starbucks French press – it was a Christmas gift from last year.  I grind my beans each morning before brewing – storing the beans in an airtight container.  I only let the coffee sit in the press for about 4 minutes – this keeps it from becoming bitter– then I pour it in a thermos to keep it hot and fresh.  I use Starbucks Espresso Roast beans.  I typically use some type of creamer to sweeten my coffee like French Vanilla or some type of Mocha Creamer.  Again, I can drink coffee just about anywhere – I’m just this picky when making it for myself.

I also use a Krups Espresso machine to make Julie and Karlee a Carmel Macchiato in the mornings.  We picked up the Krups machine at a local Kitchen discount store for around $20 on sale – and love it!  I buy the Carmel Syrup from Starbucks and basically use their recipe – even a little cream on top!  I love to spoil my wife and daughters – they deserve it for putting up with me.

Coffee is one of those things little things I enjoy in life.  I would love to hear your secrets to a great cup and I would love to share some with you sometime.

She's teaching me

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Last night Klaire climbed up on my back and for a little piggy back ride.  I'm continually blown away by the blessing of my daughters.  They have taught me so much as a person, as a follower of Christ, and as a daddy.  

Yes, Klaire is adopted - I know she looks like me but it's true.  And the fact is...I'm adopted as well.  I knew that before our adoption process but now I have a much greater understanding of what that really means!  Thank you Jesus.  Thank you Klaire. 

Messing Me Up

Here are two passages that are rocking my world right now. They are messing me up!  Just when I think I have this whole “love” thing down – Jesus goes and tells me to love people who hurt me & to give to people who can’t pay me back & to do good to my enemies.  It’s good to be messed up by God’s Word – we all need it!

32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. 35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.  Luke 6:32-26 (NLT)

18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 1 Timothy 6:18 (NLT)


Monday, December 15, 2008

I am frustrated.  I am not happy about things in ministry right now.  This morning, at 4:30 – God told me why.

Yesterday, after church, I was discouraged about the numbers.  The “numbers” game can kill a pastor/leader if you play it – the old counting of “nickels and noses.”  I know this and yet I want to balance that with the understanding that a healthy church should be growing.  We are meant to grow.  And we are not growing like I think we can or should.  It makes me mad – it is keeping me up at night.

I’m frustrated that our church is not reaching more people for Christ.  I’m frustrated that our church isn’t focused more on reaching the people in this community.  I’m frustrated about reading other pastor’s blogs and tweets about all the people they are reaching and wondering why we can’t do that here?  I know we can – I know God wants it – and I think I am finally starting to want it more as well.

God is doing something in me.  He is squeezing my heart.  I am becoming more and more sensitive and broken for the people in our community/world who are far from God.  We have got to do something – we have to act now.  But, I feel misunderstood – pulled in a million different directions – I don’t think others feel the same way and I’m not sure how to get them on board.  Yes, part of me would like to use a sledgehammer – but that doesn’t seem very pastoral!

I have to admit it’s easy to get off course.  It’s easy to lose focus and forget why God has us here in the first place.  This morning, I have a little bit more understanding as to why I feel the way I do.  And I’m more determined to live my life making an impact for Christ while I can – if you get that good – if not – I’m sorry.  I’m tired of trying to please everyone.  I’m tired of fighting battles that should never be fought.  I’m tired of going to sleep at night in a comfortable bed with my sins forgiven - knowing that many people in this city and many people around the world won’t.  I’m tired of having the answer to life’s biggest question but not sharing it because we are too concerned with our own happiness and comfort or of offending someone else in the church.

I want to be His – I want our church to be His church – fulfilling His purpose in this city.  For me, this begins with focusing on reaching just one more person for Christ.  Just one more.  Just one more.  It’s not about big numbers – it’s about that next “one.”

Here’s a great post by Gary Lamb on Two Types of Churches – you shouldn’t have to guess which one I want to be.

Stop and count your blessings!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Life goes by so quickly!  And, if you’re like most people in this country everything speeds up this time of year.  Our lives are crazy in the month of December.  So crazy - that we often miss the best things in life.  I just want to encourage you to stop sometime today and think about how much God has truly blessed you.  

For me, it's my wife and kids!  I am so blessed to be married to my best friend and I am incredibly blessed to be the daddy of three of the most wonderful girls in the world.  They are beautiful, sweet, creative, smart, hilarious, and growing in Christ.  

I'm blessed.  How about you?


Friday, December 12, 2008

I love to be creative.  I love to dream.  Its just part of who I am - part of what God created me to do while on earth.  I'm not alone.  However, the problem I sometimes have - is the church isn't very open to creativity and even at times stifles it.  We are so guilty of shoving God into a box and doing things the same way because that is the way we have always done them or because it's the way one person likes it.

Yet, my God is a creative God.  He created the heavens and the earth - He created me and you - and He gave all of us gifts - talents - abilities - all to be used to make His name famous.  We are so different and yet the same.  

So, I love to see when others are using their creativity for the Kingdom.  I think we should constantly be looking for ways to allow those who come into our church family to use their personal makeup for Christ.  It may be in the form of music, dance, art, photography, poetry, computers, etc.  

One of my favorite guys in the ministry to watch is Carlos Whittaker who is on staff at Buckhead church.  He's creative - he's real - he's genuine  - and he is shinning incredibly bright for Jesus.  Check out this video of the opening of their service last week.  Thank you Carlos for allowing others to dream and use their creativity for our King at Christmas!!!

Buckhead Church Opener December 7th STEP CHRISTMAS from Carlos Whittaker on Vimeo.

Christmas Wish List

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Here's one for your Christmas Wish List!

Called to Serve

Scripture is clear – as followers of Christ we are all called to serve. (Matthew 20:28, 1 Peter 4:10-11)  We each have a unique ability or gift to be used to love one another (1 Corinthians 12:7) and to make the name of Jesus famous.  As we serve, it is vital that we keep focused on Jesus.  For the moment we take our eyes off of Him trouble starts.

For instance, I can remember a time in which I was walking across the church parking lot and noticed a couple of pieces of trash from the previous night.  I was on staff at the time, working a ton of hours, completely dedicated to Jesus – but when I looked at the trash my first thought was “now, why didn’t anyone pick that up – I worked my butt off for this event and for this church – why can’t anyone else do anything around here?!”

And then it hit me – it was like the hand of God slapped me gently upside the head – and God whispered (no, I couldn’t hear His voice – just sensed this in my spirit) “Joe, who are you doing this for?”  That was it – who was I doing this for?  In other words, was I serving Jesus or was I doing stuff to look good in front of others – or was I doing stuff to make others happy?

Yes, I know it’s good to do unto others.  But, when our service for God becomes self-centered to the point that we are doing to look good to others it is out of the wrong heart and bitterness is sure to follow.

I’ve seen this many times in ministry – people take a volunteer ministry position for the right reasons – then after a short time they begin to see what other people are not doing.  It’s sort of like the Prodigal Son’s brother (Luke 15)– who on the return of his wayward younger brother throws a fit when his dad gets excited upon his younger brothers return.  It’s the problem of a lost focus.

So, we must fight to keep our focus on Jesus.  Because it’s not about us – it’s all about Him and becoming more like Him and making His name famous - not our own.  By the way, I picked up the trash that day – with a smile and a thankful heart.  Serving with the right focus is one of the greatest joys in life! I'm still learning.

Christmas Traditions   

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Yesterday I picked up some Christmas Cookie Cutters.  I was wondering around Wal-Mart looking for stuff for supper and saw this section full of holiday cooking items.  That’s when it hit me – the memory of making Christmas Sugar Cookies as a kid. 

Every year mom would bake up some sugar cookies cut into all types of shapes and then I got to decorate them – Santa’s, Candy Canes, Stars, Christmas Trees.  It was a blast – and I remembered it like it was yesterday.  So, I picked up some cookie cutters and thought we would give it a try on family night.  Julie’s famous “home economics” skills kicked in and she took care of everything and the kids had a blast. 

What kind of Christmas traditions are you creating or keeping?

Cancer in the Church Continued...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I have been thinking more and more about my post yesterday and I know most of you know this but the dangers of negative talk and complaining are so damaging to every aspect of life – not just the church.

Negativism and complaining destroys a marriage.  So many couples, after just a short time together, start to focus on all the negative things – the little things that they don’t like about their spouse.  Maybe he leaves his underwear on the floor – or she bites her toenails – it’s easy to find the negative when you are trying.  That’s when you forget what brought you together in the first place.

Negativism and complaining destroys communities - relationships – families - companies – sports teams – and even entire nations.     

Maybe that is why we are told in scripture to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4)  If you are rejoicing – you aren’t complaining!  Stop and think about the people in your life who are positive.  More than likely they really stand out to you.  And unfortunately, they may be few and far between.

This is a good reminder for me today – especially as I face some extremely difficult times in our church, community, and world.  And, as we approach the holiday season which always seems to magnify our feelings.

That passage in Philippians goes on to tell us, “Do not be anxious about anything” (vs. 6).  I admit – that is HARD!  God is working on me in this area.  I want to trust Him, I deeply desire to care more about others than myself – but the truth is it is so dang easy to care about “Joe.”  

I was reading this morning from Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love” (3rd time) and was reminded of this when he said, “When I am consumed by my problems – stressed out about my life, my family, and my job- I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice.” (Pg 41) 


So, today – I choose to rejoice – to be thankful.  

I'm thankful for my Lord and His love for me.  I'm thankful for my wife and daughters.  And so much more!

What are you thankful for today?  Let me know.

Cancer in the Church

Friday, December 5, 2008

I’ve been in ministry now for 18 years and had the privilege of serving in several great churches as support staff and the past 5 ½ years as a senior pastor in a small town in the Ozarks of Missouri. 

Most of us have experienced the devastating effects of cancer either personally or through someone very close to us.  It’s tragic and it is no respecter of age, race, or gender.  I personally have lost several family members to this disease including my grandmother, and my aunt.  In addition, my father is a survivor – he’s been cancer free now for 6 or 7 years.

Without a doubt – one of the most destructive diseases I have ever encountered in the church is misuse of the tongue by fellow believers.  In other words – complaining – negativity – griping – gossip – slander.   Negativism breads more negativism.  One complainer has the potential to spoil the work of the ENTIRE ministry.  Negativism, complaining, griping, gossiping, all breeds discontent and destroys unity within the church much like cancer destroys the human body.

Paul has strong words concerning the importance of unity in Ephesians chapter 4 

1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

According to Paul, we are all different.  We simply aren’t going to agree on everything.  As soon as you pull two people together you have differences.  Therefore, the key to unity – (vital to a healthy church) is to focus on what unities us – not on our differences.  We are united because of Jesus.  We are one body because of Jesus.  But when the focus turns to differences it takes focus off of Jesus – thus disunity. 

As a pastor, let me just say that I – like all pastors - am not perfect.  I have and will make mistakes.  I don’t have a burning bush in my backyard through which God tells me what to preach or how to lead His church.  I do believe that I am called to do this work and that His Holy Spirit is in me and will guide me as I continually give myself over to Him.  And, according to His word I will be held accountable for my actions.

So, conflict is going to happen – you won’t always agree with your pastor – so what should you do when that happens?  Here are my thoughts;

*First, pray.  Not just say a prayer - but really pray.  Pray like you have never prayed before.  I would even suggest you take the time to do a three to forty day fast.  We should do everything we can to understand the implications of disunity and the devils scheme to create it within the body of Christ.  We should take this stuff so seriously - just like cancer it is a life and death situation!

*Secondly, ask yourself if what you disagree with is over something that is a morally wrong or personal preference.  If you believe your pastor is doing something morally wrong or going against what the bible specifically teaches then you should and must go to him and confront him in love – always in love. 

If your disagreement is over a personal preference then you should still go to him in love and explain why you personally disagree.  Keep in mind, God has brought you together as His body – you can and should compliment each other.  Your pastor needs to hear from you.  He may not agree with you but that should be okay. He can still learn from you and you from him.  Keep in mind what unifies you – Christ.

If you still can’t get over the fact that you personally disagree with your pastor then take another 40 to 80 days to fast and pray.  Set up a time to meet with him and pray together each week for 3 months.  Do everything you can to work on focusing on Jesus – His love – and His purpose for the church.  Because without unity – your church will not grow – it will die or remain unhealthy – lacking real biblical growth.

A little Christmas Spirit?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Can you believe this?  Next thing you know we will have to go to a special class to purchase, own, and display a Christmas Tree because it is a lethal weapon.  If so, I want to be a card carrying member of the National Christmas Tree Club and put a Christmas Tree Rack in the back window of my pickup! 

How sad is this story?  

This article is from the Associated Press and was on this morning.

Police: Florida Man Arrested for Attacking Father With Christmas Tree

Tuesday , December 02, 2008

PARRISH, Fla.  — 

Authorities say a west Florida man who lives with his parents has been arrested on a felony assault charge after he used a Christmas tree as a weapon to attack his father.

According to the Manatee County sheriff's report, 37-year-old Thomas Edward Lackie was arrested last week after he threw a 3-foot Christmas tree at his father. The tree missed, but Lackie then tried to use the steel base from the tree to strike his father.

His father and mother were able to grab Lackie's arms to prevent the attack. Deputies say the tree could have caused serious injuries because the metal base weighs about five pounds.

Lackie was charged with felony assault. He denied trying to strike his father.