Thursday, November 18, 2010

jump on over

I switched my blog over to I'll be taking this site down in a few days. If you're a follower, please go with me: will take you there.
Or try



Thursday, November 11, 2010

a spilling of the beans

There has to be some benefit to you if you read my blog. So today, I am letting you in on something a few days before it becomes public. I can’t afford to buy you a steak dinner so maybe the advance info will be an OK substitute.

I have no problem keeping secrets, when it is appropriate to keep them. What I am sharing today is not a secret. It is more of an announcement. For months, we have been sharing at Maranatha Church that a big announcement is coming on Sunday, November 14. My only hesitation in sharing our announcement here today is I am concerned that some who were planning to come to church for the announcement will stay home. So we are feeding you barbeque after church on Sunday!

Here is it: (cue drum roll...)

We are changing the name of Maranatha Church to Cross Community Church.

After 43 years of Maranatha as a moniker, we think it is time to shift things up. Much prayer and strategy has gone into this but let’s keep the explanation simple: The word “Maranatha” means nothing to the people we are trying to reach. It is a foreign word (Aramaic), and we have found it to be counterproductive to the fulfillment of our vision. While we honor the history and heritage of Maranatha, Cross Community better states who we are and what we are doing. We think it will help us reach more people for Jesus.

Kudos to our leadership team, staff and Elders for their vision, support and hard work on this. Literally, years of dialogue have gone into this.

The change is risky. Some won’t like it. Some may even leave the church over the decision. But the truth is, we believe that this direction is from God. And that is the bottom line.

So, come on out to one of the worship events on Sunday. Do me a favor…if you already know the announcement, act surprised!

Monday, November 8, 2010

5 signs you are leaving your church

This piece is based on the assumption that you go to church and are involved in ministry. If you attend services but are not personally involved in volunteering, statistics show you probably won’t stay very long. Casual observers aren’t long-term. It is in investing ourselves that we build relationships that keep us connected with a faith family.

The disclaimer…
The evidence presented is not based on empirical data or scientific research. It is quite possible that I am wrong. No specific individuals or families are the subject of this article. Any resemblance is simply a matter of coincidence. My observations are based on 19 years of full time Lead Pastor work, as well as a lifetime in a local church.

The signs:

Moving back
People who sit in one location for a long time (especially toward the front) and begin to move toward the back of the church are possibly, subconsciously, headed for the door. I’ve seen it dozens of times. 3rd row … 12th row … back door.

Stop serving
Through the years, I’ve witnessed many people who “need a break” from their serving, only to realize that many of them never recover. There are sometimes issues of burnout or lack of support and/or training, but some who quit working are in the process of quitting the church.

Stop giving
Financial investments are a revelation of what’s in one’s heart. When those who are regular contributors to a church change their giving habits, it reveals an adjustment elsewhere. Unless there is a job status change, the decision to reduce or stop giving indicates an emotional break. This is one reason why church leaders should track contributions – many times, areas of concern can be addressed before they become problematic.

Stop coming
It may seem like a no brainer but you can always tell when a person is leaving a church when they stop coming around. As basic as it sounds, I have had numerous conversations with people who stopped attending services but had not come to terms with their departure from the church. In my experience, when a person or family misses as many as six weeks in a row, it is difficult to return. Many times they don’t start out with the intention of leaving. Sometimes they just lose interest or get involved in other stuff. But the physical absence creates a disconnect, a sense of a lack of belonging. Upon their return, many people feel left out. For the record, when I know a family has been gone from church for 3 consecutive weeks, I begin to get concerned.

Disconnect with friends

Quitting a small group, avoiding relationships, losing contact with friends is a surefire way to detect the departure process. Once relationships are lost, the connection with the church is broken.

Let me be clear - sometimes it is good to leave a church. Situations and transitions and adjustments happen. But many times, leaving a church is unnecessary and is totally avoidable. Don't let it sneak up on you.

I think I’ll work on a post about the proper way to leave a church. Seems that many people who depart aren’t quite sure of how to go about it.

Till next time…

Saturday, November 6, 2010

orphan sunday

Tomorrow, November 7, is Orphan Sunday around the country. Churches everywhere will be discussing the plight of parentless children and what we can do about it. Maranatha will be observing "shoeless sunday" as a way to remind ourselves that there are many who are without the basic necessities in life - and there is something we can do about it.

Get this:
300 million children worldwide have no shoes.
1 million children die each year from preventable diseases caused by the lack of proper shoes.
We can do better.

Orphans have a special place in the heart of God. Adoptive parents are among my heroes. Let focus in on solutions, and make a difference in the lives of millions of kids. Or maybe just make a difference for one child.

For more info, go to

Thursday, November 4, 2010

new shoes for kids!

Richard Whitter, our Missional Pastor (and my nephew) displaying the 616 pairs of new shoes that our Guatemala Mission Team distributed yesterday to needy children in Rio Bravo!

Maranatha Church: You are awesome!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

sun stand still (review)

I had the opportunity recently to listen to Steven Furtick’s book Sun Stand Still. My favorite way to take in a new book is to listen to it on a road trip. That’s the case this time.

This was one of the more inspirational and motivational pieces I’ve been through in a while. It may be a matter of timing for me or it may be the quality of the material, but it connected on several levels.

The basic concept behind the book is that God has an audacious faith for each of us that He wants us to live out. He did not design us to be ordinary. The Biblical platform for the book and message is Joshua, a young leader of Israel. In Joshua 10, God is preparing to work a huge miracle utilizing the faith and leadership of Joshua. He had the courage to pray an outrageous prayer, “God, make the sun stand still.” This is exactly what God did.

Furtick utilizes this story to share his experience as the planter and leader of Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He tells many interesting stories of his own faith development and that of the people who are part of this church. He documents many who had the nerve to ask and expect God to do amazing things.

I was motivated by what Steve shares. I was also motivated by some things I observed about him. One of the reasons I love to hear a book, especially when it is read by the author (which is the case here) is that you get voice inflections, accents and personality that simply reading a book does not provide. I was glad to learn that Steve Furtick is not nearly as cool as I had originally thought. He is a normal guy whom God is using to do great things. His simple speaking and writing style, as well as his straightforward approach to some touchy subjects, left me with a sense of trust of his work. He is even willing to utilize what some may consider to be cliché. This is refreshing to me in that we don’t always have to be original or innovative in order to be successful.

The book helped me to further resolve to pursue the audacious vision that God has given me.

Because the message is so vital to what people need to hear and act upon, I am considering starting a mens book group to go through it together. There are lots of free resources on the web site, in case you are interested in the same.

Thanks Steve for writing Sun Stand Still. I highly recommend it!

Monday, November 1, 2010

i'm not wearing shoes to church on sunday

This Sunday is International Orphan Sunday. We are planning a worship service sans shoes. The purpose is to be able to briefly relate to the peril that millions of children around the world face on a daily basis.

We'll put up with the smell and the stubbed toes and the awkwardness if the result is a child receiving shoes.

We have a team in Guatemala this week delivering almost 600 pairs of shoes to the needy children of Rio Bravo. We are serious about doing something to help impoverished people.

I plan to present a message from Exodus 3 called "Holy Ground". While I don't think I have ever had an original thought, I don't recall anyone saying what I plan to say about this passage. I hope you can join us.

check out the details at

Saturday, October 30, 2010

grinding it out

Tomorrow marks the completion of 31 days of prayer, reading, fasting, tithing and serving for the great people of Maranatha Church! It has been a long month and our ONE series has been quite a challenge. Some have done very well with sticking by their commitments, a few have stumbled a few times but we are celebrating God’s great grace!

While we know better than to think we can earn our blessings, we realize that God rewards those who put Him first. That’s what this series has been all about! God is #1 in our lives and in our church!

If I have anything to say about it, the momentum will continue. This sort of reminds me of an old fashioned revival. Back in the day, churches used to have services every night for weeks. The result was people being revived, drawn closer to God. Well, we didn’t have worship services every night but the results are the same. I truly believe that we have been drawn closer to God. It’s been fun!

Thanks to the hundreds of people who participated in ONE. Now, let’s shift gears and see what great things November has in store! It's gonna be awesome!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

helping the helpless

A team from our church is going to Guatemala next week to take shoes and food to some very needy children. We have been working in Rio Bravo, Guatemala for over a year now and lives are changing.

God bless the guys who are going to serve and the children who will receive the love of Christ that our team will be sharing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

the stuff that matters

Like this picture? I took it in Monte Rico, Guatemala, in April 2010.

We are all constantly barraged with issues that demand our attention. In a matter of a few years, very little of it will actually be worth a hill of beans. How can we keep from getting cheated in life by spending too much time and energy on things that won’t last?

Unfortunately, most people come and go. The vast majority of your current relationships are temporary. While we should never treat people like they are disposable, we can’t be fooled into thinking that every person in our life is permanent fixture. People will walk and we all know it. And everyone will die some day.

Jobs don’t last. You get fired, downsized or you quit.
Houses, cars, clothes...they all wear out.
Even your health and youth are slipping though your fingers.

So how do we avoid investing in things that have no yield, while possibly overlooking things that have real lasting power?

The problem with this kind of thinking is - we are wrestling with our desire for permanence. We like the security of knowing that things will be around for a while. When it comes to people we love and stuff we value, we are making long-term plans. But nothing on earth is eternal. And only the eternal things really matter.

I have to face each day knowing full well that a vast majority of my interests and desires won’t matter in 100 years. While it’s not realistic to live your life enthralled in matters of eternal consequence (you still have to answer your emails) be sure that your passions are comprised of issues that will be around for ever. Don’t get caught up in the seemingly important matter that is here today and gone tomorrow.

By the way, this blog won’t be around in 100 years so how about letting it go for now?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

big day coming

If Maranatha Church has any place in your heart, you will want to be here on November 14. This will be one of the most important worship experiences in our history. There is a very big announcement coming that day. To help celebrate the big event, we have planned a massive picnic, complete with barbecue, a big tent, bounce houses…you get the idea.

I don’t often ask this, and it may have no impact, but here goes: if you have other plans on November 14, consider changing them.

24 days and counting…

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

a personal announcement!

We just discovered that we (Letha and I) are going to be grandparents! And I don't mean to the 50 plus kids at Casa Shalom Orphanage. I mean our daughter, Jessica and her husband, Josh are going to be parents.

Please pray for the health and safety of this new little one. Thank God for new life. Awesome!

Friday, October 15, 2010

when stats create passion

I read the results of a national survey that really set me off. The Barna Institute conducted an inquiry among 40,000 people across America, over the last 7 years. The goal was to determine the number of people in various cities that are involved in a local Christian church. You can read the results here.

This is what I learned: Of the 85 largest cities in the US, our city, West Palm Beach, is the 12th most unchurched city in the country! We have around 37% of our residents who go to church. That’s 63% non-church attenders. With a conservative population estimate at 352,618 (people who use “West Palm Beach” as their mailing address – if you live here, you know it is MUCH larger than that!), that’s 222,149 who are not going to church. These people are within a 15 minute drive of one of our two locations. But they are not coming.

I am on fire about this!

While I do not believe a person has to go to church to go to heaven, I do believe that we cannot be an obedient Christ-follower without being a part of a local church. What this means to me: we are right in the middle of a mission field! And we need to start acting like it! We have to do whatever it takes to reach people. We’ve got to increase our level of passion. We’ve got to stop focusing on ourselves and start reaching out – whatever it takes!

Within the past few weeks, I have heard these statements from “churched” people:
“I like a smaller church”.
“There is no need to start more churches, there are plenty around already.”
“We don’t need to go to additional locations, let the people come to us.”

I can’t think of any attitude that is farther from the heart of God. In essence, we are saying, ”those unchurched people can just go to hell”.

Without blowing a gasket here, I am more determined than ever to build the church. We have to reach some of these people. Thinking in terms of bite-sized chunks, in order to change these stats by only one percent, we will need to reach 350 new people. Let’s break it down even further: if every adult in our church would be responsible for leading one person to Christ and to our church, we would bump from 37% to 38% of the people in our area going to church. How cool is that?

That’s a place to start, huh?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

the good news conspiracy

Jesus messed up everything.

The religious brokers had a great gig going. They were responsible for judging others. They were the rules makers. They made a good living making the kingdom of God unattainable to most. But Jesus messed them up.

This is what Jesus had to say about these Pharisees – these religious egomaniacs:
Matthew 23:4 “They crush people with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”

Jesus came to earth and revolutionized religion. He broke the power of legalism. He set free those who had been held captive by excessive regulations.

Jesus was The Gospel. He came to bring good news.

The only people who don’t like Good News are the ones who gain money and power from bad news. Everybody else loves good news.

So here Jesus is, in the face of the haters. He confronts the hypercritical judges. He won’t let them get by with replacing God’s laws with human-made rules.

These Pharisees were insecure. They were confused. But instead of reaching out to God for help, they did their best to drag others down with them, and they did so with great pride and self-righteousness. Jesus exposed all of this publicly. He foiled their plans to destroy others. And they hated Him for it.

Jesus comes in the face of pain and brings peace. He confronts sickness and brings healing. He breathes the love of God on sinners.

Jesus led a Good News conspiracy.

Monday, October 11, 2010

a mixed bag

When I was a little kid, my mom would occasionally (OK, rarely) allow me to select some Brach’s Caramel Royals candies from the grocery store. It was a candy-junkie’s dream - an entire vat full of tooth-rotting treats. They sold the stuff by the pound but I never got a full pound. That’s because my mom knew I was a pig and would eat ALL OF IT, immediately. However, my gluttony served a practical purpose; my brothers would’ve eaten it all if I hadn’t. -

Connect this with a leadership observation. I receive a mixed bag of responses to my leadership responsibilities. Today I had three separate conversations with leaders who are of a different cultural background than me. These leaders were amazingly respectful and gracious. They made me feel important, they were careful to honor me as their leader. This sometimes happens to the point that I feel a bit uncomfortable. Conversely, I find that some folks I lead who share my ethnicity and cultural background are less likely to present themselves as respecting their leaders. Rudeness is sometimes not uncommon. And making the leader feel important is not always a top priority. It is truly a mixed bag.

I had a favorite Brach’s candy flavor – chocolate. I would eat the others first; the orange, the maple, the vanilla…, but save the best for last.

I also have a favorite response to my leadership – the nice one. I like positive. Supportive is good, as is cooperative. If I could choose, I would select respectful every time. It feels good to feel good. It could be tempting to gorge myself on my favorites. I may even want to "pick over" the flavors I am not crazy about. But it is a mixed bag. I have to learn to enjoy the not so gracious responses to my leadership as well as the gracious ones.

God, help me to appreciate the variety. Help me not to select only my favorites. Help me to value the not so great flavors. And help me not to pig out to the point that I get sick.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

is the gain worth the pain

We are in process of initiating change at our church. This mention should not raise concern, you should get concerned if we ever get to the point to where change stops happening. But I bring the point because we are now at the place in the process where the resistance to change begins. We knew it would. It is like clockwork. You cannot implement change without living through kickback. But this episode inspires me to assist someone else who is considering an effort to fulfill a vision.

If you plan to initiate change, it will be painful. Some will oppose you. And you have to be sure that it is worth the cost.

Frankly put, if the proposed change results in the loss of someone who is more important to you than the fulfillment of the vision, stop now. Some of the greatest change agents in the world have no long-term friends. There are times that you are better off staying put, even becoming stagnant, than to move ahead alone.

But then there are times when you would rather be alone in the desert of your vision than to be in a crowded cesspool of people who can’t or won’t move forward.

You have to decide: is it worth it?

Strong leaders have to know the difference between crowd approval and critical mass. You need a certain number of people to pull off your idea. But you probably don’t need a majority of popular opinion. Insecure leaders won’t get this. If that’s the case, no offense, but your leadership level is limited.

If God has given you a vision and you are certain about that…If you are possessed with doing whatever it takes to realize the desired future…if you can live with the fact that some people will demonize you for leading change…lead on!

The gain will be worth the pain.

Friday, October 8, 2010

is this unrealistic?

Live up to the life to which God called you!” Ephesians 1:6b (NCV)

There is no doubt, God has bigger plans for us than we are living. Most people would agree that they are living beneath their potential. But there are some who think I am Pollyanna when I talk about the possibility of doing something extraordinary in life. There are some who have given up. There are some who have been consumed by cynicism. I have heard, “you are too idealistic.”

I guess if you refuse to believe that there is hope for anything more, God will allow you to stay stuck where you are. But try to muster enough faith to believe that God still has hope.

I don’t believe that we can just dream it and it will happen. I do believe that God sees something great within most of us and is trying to get us to also see it.

Let’s set a goal of living up to God’s plan today. We can work on tomorrow tomorrow.

Join us on Sunday at Maranatha Church for part two of One. I like saying that: part two of One.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

a humbling response to One

Live up to the life to which God called you.” Ephesians 4:1b (CEV)

Last Sunday marked the launch of ONE, a new preaching series at Maranatha Church that is emphasizing the importance of making God first in our lives. As part of the message, I issued a challenge for people to commit to some very important spiritual foci. The challenges utilize the number 1:

31 Days of Prayer: Pray at least one time each day this month.
21 Days of Reading: Read the per-selected portion of Scripture (list here)
11 Days of Fasting: Give up something (a meal, TV, certain types of foods, etc.
1 Day of Serving: Serve one time this month.
1 Tithe: Tithes (give 10%) at least one pay-period this month.

I was absolutely blown away when I saw the completed ONE Commitment cards.
215 praying
204 reading
171 fasting
174 serving
176 tithing

That is a bunch of response!

People are still submitting the forms online (here) and we plan to distribute them this Sunday to those who were not with us last Sunday.

There was also a huge number of prayer needs submitted. People are expecting God to do some great things! And we are praying for those needs!

I don’t take commitment for granted. Cooperation is not a given. Positive response to personal challenge is significant these days, people are generally slow to follow. But not this group!

We are expecting some awesome things to happen as a result of all of this. If you would like to join us, feel free! You can listen to part 1 here. Be with us next week!

Monday, October 4, 2010

the storm

They should have known better. If Jesus was on board, the ship would not sink and they would not all drown.

I am talking about the disciples in Matthew 8:23-27. They were in a boat in the sea when a huge storm came out of nowhere (actually, the storm probably came from God – at least He allowed it). When the waves began to crash over the sides of the boat, they panicked and ran to awaken Jesus, informing Him that they were all as good as dead. They should have known better.

Jesus wasn’t destined to drown. As long as He was in the boat, they were going to be OK. But they wanted Jesus to stop the storm, so He did. But He also rebuked them for being so afraid and for having so little faith. They didn’t care about that, they just cared that they were on calm waters again.

And that’s how it goes. We want an easy life. And sometimes Jesus calms the storm, despite the fact that we haven’t learned what we need to learn, we haven’t increased in our faith. We still haven’t learned the lesson of God getting us through the storm. We want Him to shortcut the process for us. So sometimes He does. But down the road, we will have to endure the storm again and again until we learn the lesson of trust.

He is powerful enough to stop the storm. And He is powerful enough to keep us safe through the storm.

Sometimes, we have to embrace the storm.