Friday, December 23, 2011

Turning 40!

On the eve of my 40th birthday I find myself reflecting over four decades of life and as I’ve been meditating on lessons learned and evaluating a host of experiences I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been thinking about this past week. I know I’ve been tremendously blessed and am humbled by the journey that began in Neosho, MO and has taken me to Pittsburgh, PA with stops along the way in Sheldon, Archie, Cassville, Gallatin, Ash Grove, Buffalo, Fayette, Springfield and Nixa.

As I ponder how to summarize my musings it seems fitting to group my thoughts into four areas that I am most appreciative for as I enter a new decade. I give thanks to God for Faith, Family, Friends and Fruit.


The bottom line of my life is that I owe all that I am to my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Having trusted His work at the cross when I was five years old I’ve had the joy of walking in His steps for the whole of my life. My faith in Him has directed the course of my life and His Word has been the guide I have tried to follow every day since I drew my first breath as a new creation in Him.

My relationship with Jesus has grown steadily but has not been without it’s seasons of struggle. I’m grateful for His faithfulness to me in those times when I’ve not followed as closely or listened as intently as I should have. I’m overwhelmed when I pause to think about the countless ways His grace and mercy have been shown to me with each new day. The wisdom I have gleaned from His Word has guided me into an abundant life and has saved me from so many poor decisions.

I am a living example that Jesus can call a person at a young age to live for Him and follow His path through the rough waters of Jr. and Sr. High school, college and into adulthood. This has not been done by my might or by my power, but by the Lord sending His Spirit to guide, convict, comfort and embolden me in the face of trials, temptations and a myriad of choices that He’s helped me to make with the counsel of others who have had my best interests in mind.

I’m so glad that I was taught that I had a heavenly Father who loved me and wanted to know me personally. He has proven that love every day of my life and has reassured me that I’m valued and accepted not based on what I do or don’t do. I’m convinced my relationship with Him is secure because of what Jesus did at Calvary to ensure my standing with my Father. He has never left me nor will He.

This faith journey I’m on will continue as I enter my forties. I look forward with great anticipation to the days ahead as He directs me into His will. I long to follow Him more closely in the second half of life than in the first half. By His grace, I’ll do just that!


You don’t get to choose what family you’re born into so when I reflect on my family words can’t describe how unbelievably blessed I am to have such loving, caring, deeply and authentically spiritual parents. They have lived and led by example. They love the Lord without reservation and have been faithful to model what it means to follow Jesus at every turn in the road. Both of them have demonstrated integrity, selfless service, generosity and humility for the whole of my life. They poured into me a balanced, Biblical worldview and to this day I do my best to see life through the lens of Scripture. They embody what it means to live a Spirit-filled life and I’ll forever be grateful for the sacrifices they made to ensure I would have a solid foundation to begin life on my own. I rely daily on their prayers and their continual encouragement. Their listening ears and constructive feedback have proven time and again that they are worth of honor and respect. I love them dearly and outside of what Jesus did in giving His life for me, I count it my greatest gift to have been placed in their care by my heavenly Father.

Speaking of gifts, I’ve also been the recipient of the richest of blessings in my wife, Amie. To say I married “up” is the understatement of a lifetime! She is gentle, humble, patient and such a constant reflection of what a follower of Christ should look like to me. When I look in the mirror it’s not hard to picture what a mess I’d be without her. Loving her is easy – I cherish each day we have together and I look forward to coming home to be with her. She’s beautiful inside and out. She has loved me well and is my best friend. I know I’m not easy to live with so the fact that she’s stuck with me for 20 years of dating, engagement and marriage is a testament to the sustaining power of Christ in her life!

I can’t help but also mention how thankful I am that Amie came from a family that has welcomed me as one of their own. Her parents have also shown me what it means to love God and have been faithful to one another for nearly 50 years. I couldn’t ask for more kind, supportive and generous in-laws than Bill and Connie have been to me for 20 years. Their example will serve as a model of what I hope I will be someday to the spouses of my children.

That brings me to Joshua and Jenna. There are no words that can fully express how deeply these two younglings have shown me the areas of my character that need to be developed. Having children has been a tremendous joy and I consider it a privilege to raise two kids who love the Lord and are serving Him. Being a parent is a humbling process that brings new challenges with each new chapter we face together as a family. I enjoy seeing how each one of them is uniquely shaped to follow Jesus and look forward to helping them mine the gifts and talents they are wired with in an attempt to equip them to face the transition from childhood to adulthood. I love them with all my heart and commit to demonstrating that love faithfully and unconditionally as they continue to mature.


The Scriptures teach that “bad company corrupts good character” and that those “who walk with the wise grow wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” One of my core convictions is that I’ll never be all God wants me to be or do all God wants me to do without the right people around me. So I memorized these verses at a young age and I firmly believe that I have benefited from having close friends of good character during each leg of the journey. I can’t help but name a few who have made all the difference along the way …

Birth to age 10: Danny, Todd Bridgman, Aaron Tate

Ages 11 – 20: John-Mark Gardner, Shawn Chastain, Cliff Hathcock, Dan Justin, Chris Will, Jim Kreyling and Steven Cissell

Ages 21-30: Scotty Gibbons, David Messner, Jason Jones, Joel Wilkie, Donnie Marsh, Mark Anstis and several of the staff at JRAG & RCC

Ages 31-40: Butch Wise, David McCutcheon, Sam Masteller, Todd Pugh, the leadership team from Married Life, many of the RCC small group leaders, the guys in the men’s groups at RCC as well as the Leadership Network I’ve been a part of in our district.

In addition to these key friends I’ve benefited from mentors (who ARE my friends!) like Monty Hipp, Paul Kirk, Bill Ellis, Greg Hollis and Dan McNaughton.

Without the value of these friends over the decades I can’t imagine how empty my life would be and so today I pause to give thanks to God for the men and women who have helped to shape who I was, who I am and who I will become.


As I look back over the decades of my life I feel compelled to celebrate the fruitfulness of life transformation that I’ve been privileged to be a part of along the way. It’s encouraging to know that there will be some people in heaven because I’ve given my life to helping them discover that God loves them. I’m thankful that marriages have gotten off to a good start or that relationships have been strengthened as a result of the efforts I’ve made to invest in couples. I’m grateful for the leaders who have been developed and the ways in which others have embraced the joy of life together in Biblical community because of any attempts I’ve made to create safe environments for them to grow spiritually. I know there are some men and women who are more confident in following Jesus because I’ve passed on to them what was first given to me. There are those who have been comforted, healed and equipped to fulfill the call of God on their lives and I’ve had a small part in that process. For these things and a host of others I give praise to the Lord! Apart from Him, I’d fall flat on my face. But because of His power that is made perfect in my weakness and because of the great team of Christ followers I’ve taken the journey with along the way, I turn 40 with the assurance of two things: we reap what we sow and it’s more blessed to give than receive! To that end I will continue to sow good seed and give my next 40 years to the One who knows me best and love me the most – Jesus!

Monday, March 21, 2011

“Creating A Small Group Culture”

This week I'm at Valley Forge Christian College to share with college students the vision of a community of believers who are connected in small groups. Here are some of the thoughts I'll be sharing with them from a leaders lens ...

There must be a passionate and focused leader who is able to devote time and energy to researching, educating and implementing the DNA of “life together” throughout the local body. This individual must have the ability to make changes in all departments and at all levels of the organization.

The lead pastor must support, participate in, and communicate life together with a deep level of conviction. This is not another program to be implemented but rather a way of living.

Raise the awareness of the priesthood of the believer. Many people still believe that only the “paid professionals” can minister to those who are in need. You need to teach and convince them that they are ALL ministers. You must be willing to let go of the idea (and control) that as the “paid professional” you must do it all!

Provide initial training and ongoing development & renewal for all small group leaders.

Allow weekly programs and services to be altered or discontinued to permit people to SIMPLIFY their lives and create margins for life together.

Encourage creativity and celebrate ingenuity when people want to try a group.

Give people the chance to transition from group to group without having to make a long-term commitment.

Keep the value of “life together” continually before the people.

Develop yearly themes to keep the family focused and moving forward together.

Be willing to get dirty – lives are messy and don’t fit into a nice, neat package. There must be a level of transparency that permeates all levels of the church to foster an honest environment.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Small Group Resources

Below are a list of the most helpful resources I've read over the years as it relates to creating churches that are gathering in small groups.

Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson, The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002)

Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson, Building A Church Of Small Groups (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001)

Bill Donahue and the Willow Creek Small Groups Team, The Willow Creek Guide to Leading Life-Changing Small Groups (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996)

Randy Frazee, Making Room For Life (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003)

Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001)

Carl F. George with Warren Bird, Nine Keys to Effective Small Group Leadership (Mansfield, PA: Kingdom Publishing, 1997)

Ted Haggard, Dog Training, Fly Fishing, & Sharing Christ In The 21st Century (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2002)

Neal F. McBride, How To Lead Small Groups (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Navpress, 1990)

John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003)

Andy Stanley and Bill Willits, Creating Community – 5 Keys To Building A Small Group Culture (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2004)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

21 Day Daniel Fast

This week at RCC we're encouraging everyone to begin what is known as a "Daniel Fast". This fast is based off the model set out by Daniel 10:2,3 ...

"In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three full weeks. I ate no rich food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled."

Foods to Eat

Whole Grains: Brown Rice, Oats, Barley

Legumes: Dried Beans, Pinto Beans, Split Peas, Lentils, Black Eyed Peas

Fruits: Apples, Apricots, Bananas, Blackberries, Blueberries, Boysenberries, Cantaloupe, Cherries, Cranberries, Oats, Figs, Grapefruit, Grapes, Guava, Honeydew Melon, Kiwi, Lemons, Limes, Mangoes, Nectarines, Papayas, Peaches, Pears, Pineapples, Plums, Prunes, Raisins, Raspberries, Strawberries, Tangelos, Tangerines, Watermelon

Vegetables: Artichokes, Asparagus, Beets, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chili Peppers, Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic, Gingerroot, Kale, Leeks, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Mustard Greens, Okra, Onions, Parsley, Potatoes, Radishes, Rutabagas, Scallions, Spinach, Sprouts, Squashes, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Turnips, Watercress, Yams, Zucchini, veggie burgers are an option if you are not allergic to soy.

Liquids: Spring Water, Distilled Water, 100% Fruit Juices, 100% Vegetable Juices. You may drink protein drinks if they do not include dairy products.

Others: Seeds, Nuts, Sprouts

This list of foods is merely a first step to get you thinking about making better food choices. Remember, this fast is about growing your relationship with God. And He's not as concerned about what is in your stomach as He is about what is in your heart.

Daniel's decision not to eat the king's food was an outward symbol of an inward commitment he had made to God. Let your choices over the next three weeks reflect the hunger your have for God's presence in your life.

Since there is no definitive list of foods for the Daniel Diet, it is truly the spirit of Daniel's decision that we are imitating over the next 21 days. If there is something that is not specifically listed that you think still qualifies, then feel free to adjust this accordingly. The details of the fast are between you and God - use this time to focus on Him.

Foods to Avoid
• Meat
• White Rice
• Fried Foods
• Caffeine
• Carbonated Beverages
• Foods Containing Preservatives/ Additives
• Refined Sugar
• Sugar Substitutes
• White Flour and All Products Using It
• Margarine, Shortening, High Fat Products

Do not treat them as laws, if you have taken something by accident, do not feel condemned, or you will not benefit from this fast.

Special Note: If you have health issues, please be sure to contact your health professional for advice before committing to any fast including the Daniel Fast.

Fasting Tips

How to Begin - Start with a clear goal. Be specific. Why are you fasting? Do you need direction, healing, restoration of marriage or family issues? Are you facing financial difficulties? Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Pray daily and read the Bible.

Preparing Spiritually - Confess your sins to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal areas of weakness. Forgive all who have offended you and ask forgiveness from those you may have offended (Mark 11:25; Luke 11:4; 17:3-4). Surrender your life fully to Jesus Christ and reject the worldly desires that try to hinder you (Romans 12:1-2).

Deciding What to Fast - The type of fasting you choose is up to you. You could go on a full fast in which you only drink liquids, or you may desire to fast like Daniel, who abstained from sweets and meats, and the only liquid he drank was water. Remember to replace that time with prayer and Bible study.

Deciding How Long - You may fast as long as you like. Most can easily fast from one to three days, but you may feel the grace to go longer, even as much as 21 to 40 days. Use wisdom and pray for guidance. Beginners are advised to start slow.

What to Expect - When you fast your body detoxifies, eliminating toxins from your system. This can cause mild discomfort such as headaches and irritability during withdrawal from caffeine and sugars. And naturally, you will have hunger pains. Limit your activity and exercise moderately. Take time to rest. Fasting brings about miraculous results. You are following Jesus' example when you fast. Spend time listening to praise and worship. Pray as often as you can throughout the day. Get away from the normal distractions as much as possible and keep your heart and mind set on seeking God's face.

How to End - Don't overeat when the time comes to end your fast. Begin eating solid food gradually; eat small portions or snacks.

Fasting Guidelines

FOCUS - The fast is a spiritual discipline designed to better connect us with God. As a small group, we are fasting in order to deepen our relationship with God and to walk in step with His plan and purpose. A great way to do this is to redirect our food source. This is accomplished through substituting our regular food intake with Bible reading, praying and journaling. The overall goal is to experience a genuine hunger for spending time with God.

MENU - The Daniel Fast is a partial fast, which means that we will eliminate some common things from our daily diet, but will have generous options available. We will focus on eating fruits and vegetables that are pure and simple. We have included a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid. If you have any condition which would prohibit you from being a part of the Daniel Fast, there are other options. Choose something from your daily routine (i.e. specific foods or beverages, television, other technology, etc.) and fast in that manner for the next 21 days. Remember, the details are not as important as the spirit in which you participate.

Here are some areas we can join together in directing our prayers towards during the Daniel Fast:

Week #1


• For an openness to spiritual reality in our lives
• That we will personally hunger for a move of the Holy Spirit
• For a growing hunger for God in each of our lives and in our families
• For a renewed hunger for reading and studying God's Word
• For a renewed passion for fasting & prayer
• For a growing passion to reach the unsaved
• That we will be sensitive to open doors to present the gospel
• That we will have a renewed personal commitment to Pentecost

Week #2


• For a strengthening of moral and Biblical values in our nation
• That people would turn to God in times of need
• For strong marriage and family relationships
• For a powerful sweep of the Holy Spirit across our nation
• For our government - that our President and leaders will seek divine guidance daily
• That the oval office will be a place of strong, moral leadership
• For God's protection for our nation
• For God's wisdom for our leaders
• That all believers will stand for morality and righteousness

Week #3


• That our church will have a positive impact on our community
• That a culture of prayer will develop in our church
• That effective ministries will continue to develop in our church
• That we will collectively seek God's presence and power through fasting & prayer
• That our congregation will resound with testimonies of God's help in answer to prayer
• That we will reach out to all cultures and ethnicities
• That we will help people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ
• For outreach opportunities in our community
• That the gifts of the Spirit will operate powerfully in our church

Friday, October 22, 2010

Five Conversations I Hope I Never Have With You - Part 5

One final chat I have with others on a frequent basis is, “You have been asking the wrong questions.”

Typically we ask ourselves questions like these: "Will this make me happy?", "Can I afford this?", "How close to the moral/ethical line can I get without crossing it?", etc.

But those really aren't the kinds of questions that will lead us to the destinations we truly want to get to in life.

So the principle in this conversation is: learn the art of asking questions.

Here are the questions I find myself wrestling with every day that benefit me the most ...

1. Am I Being Completely Honest With Myself?
  • Why am I doing this, really? ... If someone in my circumstances came to me for advice, what course of action would I recommend?

2. What Story Do I Want To Tell?

  • God’s will for your life will always line up with His law, His principles, and His wisdom.

3. Is There A Tension That Needs My Attention?

  • When you’re making a decision and one of the options raises a little bit of tension, PAUSE and allow it to get as big as possible before you make the decision.

4. What Would Be Most Honoring To God?

5. In light of my past experiences, my current circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for ME to do?

  • This applies to my use of time, my morality & how I handle my finances.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Five Conversations I Hope I Never Have With You - Part 4

Okay, it's day four of this journey through the challenging conversations we adults have from time to time. This one tends to be the most "fixable" of them all and it goes like this ... “This is the price you pay for playing around for so long.”

Here is the principle:
pay now, play later.

We can all have the tendency to procrastinate. But some of us are unhealthy, one way or the other. Here are four kinds of people ...

The "Pay Now, Pay Later" types ... all you do is work. You don't know how to have fun. You view leisure as weakness. This is unhealthy!

The "Pay Now, Play Later" types ... you need to finish your work before you can have fun.

The "Play Now, Play Later" types ... these are the people who take 9 nine years to finish college. They never seem to get around to taking responsibility in life. They're just out to have a good time. This is unhealthy!

The "Play Now, Pay Later" types ... you need to have fun before you can buckle down and get to work.

We all need to find a healthy balance between work and play. As adults, we need to model a healthy work ethic for our kids and yet give ourselves permission to have some fun. Where do you find yourself in these four types of people? In what ways do you need to grow to become more balanced?

Here are some challenging words from Jesus ... “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.” Luke 9:62 (MSG)

What are you putting off today? Don't delay!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Five Conversations I Hope I Never Have With You - Part 3

Another conversation I find happening in my office centers around the topic of marriage and it goes like this ... "Your marriage is headed for a train wreck.”

This happens all the time and for a myriad of reasons. My prayer is that the teenagers I spoke with last night will learn early not to settle for less than what God has for them as it relates to the issue of marriage. God has a fantastic plan in the covenant in marriage and I hope they won't short-circuit what He wants to do in them. As adults, I hope we won't either!

Here's the principle: be the person you want to marry. Or, if you're already married, be the person to whom you want to be married.

How would you summarize a marriage that will be successful? A marriage that will go the distance? I'd summarize it in this one word: Selflessness. I think our goal in marriage should be to ask this question every day ... "How can I accurately estimate and adequately supply my spouse's needs today?" (note that it's not his/her wants, it's needs). If I do that, life will be good! On the days I don't ... watch out, it's going to be difficult.

Here is how a selfless marriage is described in the book of Ephesians 5:21-28 from The Message paraphrase …

“Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another. Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands. Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives.”