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Tackle Tough Topics With Grace

It’s funny how the more a church grows, the more the temptation of “fear” starts to set in within her leaders.  Churches start out with a good cause: to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom and to spur on Kingdom living.  The ramifications grow though, when the church grows.

Kingdom living sometimes involves having tough conversations.   If we truly love each other, we need to be honest about each other’s dysfunctions.  If we truly love each other, than we would be troubled when someone makes decisions that are hindering their own walk, or worse leads others towards unhealthy living or pain.

But that that kind of love is uncomfortable 

Some deal with this discomfort by being bullies.  They hold on to truth, but if they can dehumanize someone, than it is easy to judge them or categorize them.  Other go the opposite route in being “nice”, masking their insecurity by avoidance in the name of, “lets all just get along”.

Ironically, church leaders can be the worse at this.  Honest healthy living, along with honest healthy conversations, can have a severe impact on numbers.  You see, most people really don’t want to hear truth about themselves, so confrontation means attendance can go down. Even giving goes down if you tick of the wrong person!  So some church leaders live a life of avoidance to keep weekly numbers up.  Other church leaders can go the opposite extreme and become legalist (bullies).  By being strict there are actually large numbers out there that will attend because surely the church is standing for truth and that is Kingdom living – right?

Kingdom living means handling tough topics with grace, but also is courageous in truth. To honestly teach what the bible teaches on the subject, but to find yourself at the same time deeply loving and caring for this hurting person.  That’s grace, honesty must always go hand in hand with deep compassion and desire for long-term health.

Of course in the long run, even worse case scenario, if the numbers go down and stay down, what do you think: What appeals to Christ more: a large crowd that talks of Kingdom living but ignores an underline dysfunction OR half the crowd doing their best in being like Christ?


Do You Want To Get Well?

 In John 5 Jesus, early in His ministry, leads His disciples to a place called, “Pool of Bethsaida”.  This was a natural spring that periodically would rise up and start bubbling up like crazy.  There was a mythical belief that the first person who jumped in the bubbly water would be healed of what ever aliments they had.  As a result, in a culture where the disabled were discriminated against, were abandoned by the pool being told, in effect, get well so you can come home and be productive.  A side note, this was by the “sheep gate” which would have been a dirty foul area to spend your days and nights (not to mention the aroma of a bunch of neglected sick people)

One dude had been dropped off 38 years earlier.  His disability did not allow him to get down to the water, much less be the first.  Can you relate to this guy?  At first glace perhaps not, but think again.  Do you have an area in your life that has been a physical, emotional or spiritual issue for a very long time?  Do you have an unhealthy habit that you know holds you back more than helps you? Do you have a pain, a memory or a regret that haunts you? 

Back to Jesus, He and His 12 apprentices go to this nasty part of town and Jesus marches up to that dude and ask what would have seemed like a really dumb question.  I mean seriously, are you ready to hear this question that might have caused his followers to say, “Ut oh, mother was right, this guy is a tad off!”  So Jesus approaches this disabled guy who has spent most of his life trying to get to the healing waters and ask “Do you want to get well?”  Weird right?  Can anybody say, “Duh?”

Yet over the years I have determined this to be quite a profound question. 

I find that most people who come to my office for help don’t take to practical spiritual wisdom.  They like the idea of being well, they talk about it, they long for it, they blame others for not having it, or even God… yet the thought of making the change evidently is too much.  Perhaps what was once a curse in their life has become so familiar they cant imagine life without it.  Perhaps they are filled with fear that as bad as the negative is, even anger as an example, it can provide a temporary source of comfort and they might loose that.  Perhaps they don’t feel worthy.  Perhaps they really don’t trust the God they proclaim to follow.

How about you?  Think of the thing that has beat you up the most over the past several years. For just a minute push aside all of your explanations or even blame.  On a very serious note, do you really want to get well?


Discover Your Spiritual Wiring 

Author, Speaker and leader in the Missional Movement Alan Hirsch developed an assesment based upon your spiriutal wiring.  The tool is based upon Ephesians 4:7,11-12 where the apostle Paul lays out five core way God gifts people to advance the Kingdom of God.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it...11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors (sheperds) and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up"

This tool helps you determine how God has wired you to be live out your purpose in Him.

I think it is a great tool and suggest everyone to take it!  Go to THE FORGOTTEN WAYS


Apostolic + Evangelistic

The Apostle Evangelist’s impact on others comes through their expansive view of the Gospel message and it’s application individually and corporately. This is one of the tasks driven of the ministry styles. The AE has a great sense of urgency and sense of knowing what they must do. The AE seeks out committed individuals and recruits them into the movement. As a big risk-taker and innovator, the AE engages people by inspiring them to take relative risks for the cause. The ultimate motivation of the Apostle Evangelist is for individual commitments to spread the Kingdom of God.



When Bad Things Happen to Good People

 In the first thirteen verses of Luke 13 Jesus is tackling the age-old question, “When bad things happen is it because our Good God has to punish us for our bad past behaviors OR is God simply not good because he allowed bad things to happen?”

Think about how many times we tend to give up on God because we could not reconcile a negative experience. Other times we tend to judge others/ ourselves because surely God got fed up with him/her/me, surely the messy situation that came out of nowhere must have come from God.

Carrying this logic further, it is easy to assume that we will not receive God’s blessings because God knows you/ I don’t deserve God’s blessing.  Grace is a great philosophical concept, but it can’t apply to me because of my past.

Carry this logic further; if we get a lot of extra cash, we believe we have been blessed by God. Yet we look away from the reality that there are many wealthy amongst us who are far from Holy people. We believe that large numbers means that God is at work; in contrast the lonely missionary who is dealing with a tough region presumes he/she is a failure.  Ironically, while I am blessed to be a part of a healthy mega church, there are many mega churches in our country have some pretty screwed up theology.  Also when someone is healed we say, “This is evidence that God is good!” Yet what are the implications for the many that don’t have positive physical results?


Jesus dealt with these type assumptions in Luke 13

  •  Where was God when perfectly good religious people, in the middle of church service, were murdered and their blood was poured over everything sacred in the church?
  • A whole group of people, eighteen to be exact, was in the wrong place at the wrong time and skyscraper toppled and killed them all.  Is this evidence that that while all of us have issues, they must have been pretty messed up for God to have allowed this – right? Clearly God was punishing them for previous bad behavior?
  • Then a parable to ask: If you are not seeing the results out of someone you want to see fast enough, is it fair to assume they are useless for the Kingdom so prune them into good riddens?
  • Then there was the sick woman for eighteen years; surely she is someone God did not see worthy of His attention?
  • If someone who breaks out of our understanding of spiritualty, like Jesus was being accused for breaking the rules, is that someone you cant take seriously?

 Not all that different from many conversations I had this last week alone.  Here is a sampling:

  • Counseled a person in the witness protection program who had a brutal past.  (Keeping this very generic for this person protection).  Grew up with perfect church attendance and lived a better life then most. Got caught up in a bad situation, endured unimaginable acts and now has to live life far from home with an alias.  Did God abandon this person?
  • Buried a middle age man who died of a rare brain cancer. In his past there are some pretty bad things, yet for the last few years he we really turning his life around for God. Upon discovery of his disease there was miracle after miracle that blew away just about every doctor.  His new wife and himself were gladly and boldly giving God all of the credit.  Lined up to begin a highly successful world-renowned treatment, excitement was high and again God was getting all of the glory!  The night before something went terribly wrong on his hospital bed and he died.  Is he being punished?  Did God abandon them?
  • Worked with a group of lay church leaders who were firing on all four cylinders and was really doing a lot of things right.  Targeting a known need; prayerfully moved forward and used high level leadership skills.  Yet attendance was disappointingly low.   People trying hard to serve God well, yet it appears as if God did not show up.
  • A woman’s fiancé called me and he asked me to visit her in the hospital.  She went in for a basic hysterectomy and when the surgeon opened her up he discovers cancer all throughout her body.  Upon visiting her she ask me, “Am I that bad of a person?”
  • Something very painful that hurt my family very badly some year’s back was brought back to surface in some social media post, it appears that those who acted in such harmful ways still have not changed.  They even take on the role of victim, ignoring their bad behaviors.  Out of God’s grace my family have gone through much healing, restoration and renewal.  Yet when does God bring justice?


What Jesus Says:

The answer He gives then is the answer for today.  Ironically, he never really answers the questions.  He is God after all; He could have nailed the answer with pinpointed accuracy.   Instead, he answers a different question.  The clear implication is that when bad things happen we tend to ask bad questions. 

So, what was His reply to all of these difficult questions?  1) No to the bad assumptions, but 2) the right answer is yes to God.

Jesus could have answered the questions, but the implication would have been that God always owes us answers.  Like a child who is getting a sharp needle jammed in his arm by a complete stranger in a white outfit, while mom holds him down, seems like such a violation of trust and safety.  Mom could explain all day long about vaccinations and their health benefits, but in the end the child would not only not understand, he really wants to know, mom are you safe?  Tell me I can still absolutely trust you.      


What this means for us

Sometimes bad things that happen are allowed by God, other times they are just unimaginable acts that are the consequence of a free choice of a fallen world.  Either way, the answer is the same.  LEAN INTO GOD.  In the end, no matter what the question, this is the answer.  Have you ever gotten so caught up in the questions that you miss the answer? 



Refresh: Restoring The Soul Of A Leader - JOSHUA

Below is an outline of what i shared this past Sunday evening's Mezzo with the new series: Refresh: Restoring The Soul Of A Leader.  This week was a focus on Joshua.

It was not my plan to hand this out in written form, as it was written for notes to speak from.  Thus i hesitate to print it.  Yet I was asked by so many people if they could have a copy of the notes, hence here they are.

Therefore, offer me grace as you read below, I have not had time to do a rewrite on them.

Thank you for letting me journey with you.



Refresh: Restoring The Soul Of A Leader - JOSHUA

Coffee Cup story - Old Professor

When you are trying to make big decision in your life how do you know the difference between reality and fantasy.  When do you pull the trigger.

What is true geographically is true spiritually

Younger Bruce had a special gift that the older Bruce no longer had: The gift of being naive.  The upside of being naive is that it is easer to trust people and yourself.  The downside is the you can be way to cocky.  

God in this passage was talking to the older Joshua

Joshua 1: 1-10

The Wilderness Was Necessary  (Exodus)


  • A place of healing
  • A place of readjusting
  • A place of rest
  • We always way underestimate how long we will be in the wilderness 
  • Just because you are in a desert experience does not mean you get to escape leadership…


Embrace Your Current Reality (2a)

  • Some your mentor died
  • Some you have had your dream die
  • Some of you are tired
  • Some have lost what they once had
  • For young leaders it might be experiencing - but learning to carry the weight of responsibility
  • Some have hit a plateau – time to lay the old you are on to road to rest
  • Some have had a major change and new world
  • You may be a place where no one knows your past accomplishment
  • Could be a good thing a job promotion – but now it is time to figure out where you are going with it
  • Guard against denial
  • Fight against doubt – our minds play tricks on us
  • Accept what needs to be left behind – you have to break free of where you are,-  to get where you want to go
  • You cant get to where you need to go if you don’t know where you are  - (mall map) 
  • Challenge – journal and meditate on that – you might be overwhelmed for that very reason

God Can Do More With Those Who Move Than Those That Wallow  (2b)

  • This is not to minimize the desert experience – but you still had to move

The God Who Has Done Miracles In Your Life In The Past Is Ready To Do Miracles In Your Future (3-4)

Because let me tell you something:


  • To believing leader – think back on cool stuff God has done in your life, and ways you have seen him work for your “Moses’s” – It is the same God

Don’t Let Fear Debilitate You (5)

  • Jesus spent a lot of time teaching about not worrying you
  • Chinese word for crisis. In the traditional Chinese characters the word crisis has the same meaning as opportunity; thus, how you view the situation will determine how you respond to it. Often times it’s the responsibility of the SPIRITUAL leader to give perspective to his or her followers so they assume the perspective of God.

Discover The Un-Anxious Confidence That God Offers (6)

  • Vrs 6, 7, 9, 18 all 4 verses say the same thing: BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS 
  • God says it one time –serious, 2xs very serious 3 xs he means business 4xs which is very rare – it is something you should memorize and reflect on for the rest of your life. In fact memorize this week and meditate on it
  • Being strong is a matter of who you are a matter who you are - character  - courage is a matter of what you do, a matter of responsibility – starts out as a deep belief…

What Success Looks Like (7-9ff)

  • Again, Place Your Confidence In God
  • Be Faithful To What You Know
  • Debilitations: Distractions, Anxiety And Discouragement
  • Maintain Intimacy With Jesus (everything points to the cross - hence the Jesus reference) (Be careful not to reduce intimacy with Jesus down to a just a Sunday morning shot - like drinking a Red Bull)
  • Live a life that: Anticipates God’s Blessings 9
  • Get Up And Go 10ff

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts" Winston Churchill




  • Name something positive that came from you previous (or current) wilderness experience
  • What fears/ distractions do you find that hold you back?
  • “Be Strong and Courageous”:
    • * What areas of character do you need to work on to build your strength in God?
    • * What risk of faith do you need to take to grow in courage?
  • Describe what your life would look like if you increased your intimacy with Jesus.  What specific action steps are you going to take?
  • What can this group be praying for, when it comes to refreshing your soul as a leader?





Being Your Kid's Life Coach

This is a video i used in a teaching seminar I did at my church



No More Mr. Nice Group  

No More Mr. Nice Group

Five practices that take small groups beyond polite sharing

 to the disciplines that change lives.

by John Ortberg  in Leadership journal

(NOTE: Below is an article I edited down.  I thought it was an excellent article but suspected many people would find it too long.  Hopefully this will provide a powerful lesson at a quick glance)

God has entrusted us with his most precious treasure—people. He asks us to shepherd and mold them into strong disciples, with brave faith, and good character. I would not give my life to any church that was not serious about this calling—the transformation of human beings. God has decided, for his own good reasons, that people are not transformed outside of community…

When we are alone, it's easy to think, incorrectly, that we are spiritually advanced. I can watch a Hallmark commercial alone and find myself moved to tears. I tell myself that I am a very compassionate person. But when I spend time in community with a person who annoys me, it's amazing how quickly I experience "compassion fatigue."

In community we discover who we really are and how much transformation we still require. This is why I am irrevocably committed to small groups. Through them we can accomplish our God-entrusted work to transform human beings.

However, experience tells us that simply meeting with a small group does not automatically result in spiritual growth. There are certain practices that must be present, spiritual disciplines that must occur, to facilitate the transforming work of Christ in us. The presence of these things is what makes the difference between all-too-typical small groups, and life-transforming communities of spiritual formation.

Confession: remove the masks

We all wear masks. We hide from each other. It's part of our fallenness. That is why one of the most formative practices in a small group is confession. Confession is the appropriate disclosure of my brokenness, temptations, sin, and victories for the purpose of healing, forgiveness, and spiritual growth. Without confession we are a community hiding from the truth.

We need to avoid "confession killers" in our groups. These include the inappropriate use of humor. Some people are embarrassed by deep honesty, so they may mock the person confessing or diffuse the atmosphere with a joke. It sends a signal that this is not a safe place to confess, and the masks go back on.

Judgmental statements also shut down confession. I recall a small group where a man admitted his struggle with lust. That was a risk, and then someone else said, "I can't relate to that struggle at all." I wanted to say to that guy, What kind of hormonally challenged, repressed robot are you? His statement shut down an opportunity for new openness in the group.

To see real transformation, small groups must begin with reality. By removing our masks through the discipline of confession, we acknowledge the reality of who we are and open ourselves to God's transforming work.

Application: look in the mirror

James 1:23 says, "Those who listen to the word, but do not do what it says, are like people who look at their faces in the mirror, and after looking at themselves, go away and immediately forget what they look like." A small group is a place for people to look into the mirror, discover who they are, and then ask, "How do I apply God's word to my life as it really is?"

As a teacher I am regularly astonished by people's ability to hear a sermon, nod at it, be moved by it, write it down, and then do precisely the opposite of what they heard. This frequent occurrence shows the extent to which people need painstaking, patient, and careful application of Scripture to their daily lives.

What we desperately need are small groups to be schools of life. Imagine someone has a problem with anger—a small group leader should ask them: "What kinds of situations tend to get you angry, and how do you respond?" Give them some alternatives to sinful patterns of anger. Roleplay these situations in the small group. Then next week ask, "How did it go?" If they got it right, celebrate it. If they didn't, investigate what happened, and encourage them to do it differently next time.

Accountability: stand on the scale

I have made certain commitments about food and exercise in my life, but how serious I am about those commitments is difficult to determine without measuring my progress. A scale serves as a tool of accountability for me. Am I achieving my goal, or am I missing it? Ultimately the scale reveals how effective I have been in living up to my commitment.

Small groups are the place for people to get on the scale and reveal how intentional they have been to pursue transformation into the image of Christ. William Paulson writes, "It is unlikely that we will deepen our relationship with God in a casual or haphazard manner." I think he understates it. People do not drift into full devotion to Christ. People do not drift into becoming loving, joy-filled, patient, winsome, world changers. It requires intention and effort.

Guidance: follow the map

When people need directions to a place they have never been, they use a map. Too often when people have major life-forming decisions to make, they make them alone.

In every church there are people facing decisions about vocations, ministry involvement, finances, relocation, and relationships. How sad if they make these decisions without the benefit of community. Their decisions may be impulsive, emotional, based on too little information. The result is too many broken lives.

The small group is to be where we find guidance, where we help each other learn how to listen to God. Small groups who rely upon God's Spirit serve as a map for us when making important decisions.

Encouragement: embrace each other

A hug is a gesture of love and encouragement. An embrace represents what we all need from a community of transformation. We need to know that someone is committed to us and loves us. That cannot happen when we are alone, and it cannot happen in a large gathering. It's going to happen through smaller communities.

Today small groups have the privilege of loving and accepting human beings for whom Christ gave his life. In these groups we can supply the love, encouragement, and embrace people need to continue their journey of transformation.

Spiritual formation in community is mostly about loving people, and that is something we can do.


Not Created To Be A Victim  

It’s time to quit living as a victim and to become the leader we were created to be.

This morning I was meeting with Pastor Dan who oversees Casa De Luz.  He was sharing with me a powerful story, which ended with how the Lord spoke to him in the middle of the night, and said, “Dan, quit seeing yourself as a victim and be the warrior I created you to be.”

So often we allow our past hurts, broken relationships, failures, circumstances, and insecurities (as Shane taught on last Sunday) define us.  We allow fear, anxiety and self-pity to justify holding us back. (The woman’s retreat coming next fall will be about living in courage)

If you are a follower of Christ, your identity is not defined by your limitations.  You are designed to make a difference in this world.  Joy and abundant living are His plan for the core of who you are. 

If you are a leader, you were not designed to lead from empty.  When we are in sync with what God is up to, we begin to operate out of the overflow.

Our lives are to be “a demonstration of the Spirit’s Power” (1 Corinthians 2:4 – Shane taught on this in staff meeting).  As a follower of Christ, my identity is in Christ.  When we live within our created intent, rather than self-pity, we begin to participate in transforming the world in the way God called us to.

For me in my life, my identity is in Christ.  If you are a follower of Christ, to build your identity as a victim, as one with limits or fear of defeat – you communicate more about your belief in Christ then you do about anything else.

If your self-pity and insecurities have you bound up: stop.  That is not who you are.  Your identity is in Christ, who is waiting on your belief in Him to be used to bring transformation into this world. 

Stop living as a victim, live as an expression of faith, where your identity is found in whom God created you to be.

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