Preparing your heart for Good Friday Service

Today is Good Friday, the bleakest moment in the Gospel story.

We have the benefit of knowing that it all led up to the victory of Easter. But for those following Christ in the first century, that moment must have seemed as if the world was falling apart.

crucificixion

If you haven’t read the complete story of the crucifixion recently, today’s a perfect day to revisit it and prepare your heart for Good Friday. Here are the four Gospel accounts of the story:

Matthew 26:14-27:66

Mark 14:12-15:47

Luke 22-23

John 18-19

Here’s the 8-minute crucifixion scene from The Passion of the Christ:

I’m praying the Gospel profoundly impacts you and me this weekend!

If you’re in the Ventura area, join us tonight.

Good Friday - ENCOUNTER

5 better questions

Imagine spending years trying to discover the answer to the wrong question.

Disclaimer: I don’t know the answers. In fact, I often don’t even know the questions. But, I’ve learned that there are bad (or “less productive”) questions.

Here are 5 examples of a common question vs. a better question (maybe you can add to the list):

5 questions

Common Question: Why did this happen to me?

Better Question: What should I do next?

When something goes wrong in your life, you’re tempted to get overly-focused on asking God “why”. Since you believe that God has an eternal plan and that it’s good, focus on the “what”. Accept the reality of today. Then ask yourself, “What can I learn?” and “What can I do next?” Then do that. In fact, put all of your energy into doing that. “Why” focuses on the past. “What” focuses on the present/future. “Why” is mostly negative. “What” is productive.

Common Question: How can I make a point?

Better Question: How can I make a difference?

It’s easier to make a point than a difference. It’s easier to curse the darkness rather than light a candle. Making a difference is hard and slow. But it’s the  more meaningful pursuit.

Common Question: How was I created?

Better Question: Who created me?

The human mind is not able to fathom an event of such magnitude. We’re all playing out of our league here. Clearly, humans are the pinnacle of God’s handiwork and reflect His image. The focus of our faith is the Maker of all creation, not the method of creation. It’s tragic to image someone not embracing Christ because we (Christians) tried to force them to focus on the wrong question. Let’s focus others on Jesus’s question: “Who do you say that I am?”

Common Question: I’ve got a decision to make, what should I do?

Better Question: What story do I want to tell?

Asking, “What should I do?” maintains a small perspective. Asking, “What story do I want to tell?” provides a bigger perspective. The common question focuses on me while the better question focuses on what’s best for me and others.

Common Question: What can I accomplish this year?

Better Question: What can I accomplish in three years?

One year goals are often improvements with short-term impact; however, three years goals are more likely to achieve dreams with long-term impact.

How about you? Can you think of some other examples?

Meet Jack. He’s nice, wise, and fun.

I want to introduce you to my friend, boss, and Executive Pastor: Jack Monroe.

Jack (center - front) on a recent mission trip to Honduras.

Jack (center – front) on a recent mission trip to Honduras.

Here’s a brief bio:

I came to Christ as a freshmen in High School and felt called by the Lord to serve him in ministry as a career when I started college. Biola University and Talbot Seminary are my alma maters. I met my wonderful wife, Arlonne, in high school. We both attended college together and married in our Junior year.  After graduating, I was a youth pastor for 16 years. Later, I became the senior pastor of a church in Iowa. Then we came back to California to work as an Executive Pastor for the last 20 plus years. I love serving in Ventura, for over 12 years now, with an incredible team of associates.

As an Elder, Executive Pastor, non-profit board member, husband, dad, and granddad, you are leaned on for a lot of decisions. You once described to me a process you use to make “regret-free” decisions. Can you describe that?

I have certainly made decisions that I regret. But I have made important decisions where the outcome was not what I expected or hoped. Yet, I do not regret them. The key for me is having full assurance that I’m understanding and following God’s direction for me. To get to that place I ask myself several key questions.

  1. Are any of the options in the decision illegal, immoral, or unethical? Would I have a clear conscience? The conscience has sure been ignored by many people as a decision making guide.
  2. Do my trusted friends and family support the decision?
  3. Do the authorities God has given me, namely my Pastor (direct supervisor) and Board support the decision? (I find that many people want to skip this aspect of the quest to know God’s will.)
  4. Do I find myself with inner peace, produced by the Holy Spirit as I consider the options?

If I do not get alignment in these key aspects of decision making, I try to delay it and seek more information or perspective. Often God wants me to wait on Him and His timing before He brings all these aspects into alignment. It builds my character. But if the decision must be made on a deadline, then I simply ask my wife what to do and do it.

You helped me personally by walking with me through the successful reconciliation of a broken relationship. What are some insights you’d give someone who wanted to reconcile a broken relationship?

Do what you did!

  1. Ask someone you trust to walk the journey with you by providing objective feedback about your approach and planned steps of communication, before you actually talk to the other person.
  2. Enter the process having already forgiven them in your heart for their offenses. If you’re still wanting an apology, you are not ready to reconcile.
  3. Begin the journey seeking to understand their perspective. When you can paraphrase their thoughts back to them, to their satisfaction, you know you are understanding them.
  4. Share your perspective of what happened without any accusations or finger pointing. Remember, you don’t need an apology from them.
  5. Where it is possible, after you understand their point-of-view, express some sense of regret for your behaviors and choices. Even though you may have been reacting to their offensive behavior, ultimately, you chose how you reacted.

If you have made it this far in the process, it’s likely they will also be letting the past go. If not, then I think you have fulfilled the scriptures that say, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men.” If you do find the spirit of forgiveness and peace between you, it’s then appropriate to start the relationship anew with all the history left behind. It’s a wonderful thing to experience and to witness. Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey!

Jack (right) celebrating after a recent baptism

Jack (right) celebrating after a recent baptism

You always have a smile. You laugh easily. You enjoy life. I know you haven’t had a trouble-free life. How do you maintain your joy? 

I’m still working on it. I think it’s a life-long quest. I’m trying to keep growing in my understanding that God is happy. He is always filled with joy. And when the Holy Spirit is bearing his fruit in me, it includes joy. Certainly, circumstances affect my heart with pain, sorrow, and disappointment. But there is also an inner choice to focus back on the joy of the Lord no matter the circumstances. That is for me the core of worship. When His constant joy lifts me up.

If I were to describe you in three words it would be: Encouraging, empowering, and integrity. I’ve touched on your encouragement and empowerment. I’ve watched you display consistent integrity even when something less would have been easy and even “understandable” to many. What helps you live out a life with such consistent integrity? 

I’m driven to this because hypocritical parenting (do what I say, not what I do) produces children without convictions or a clear moral compass. So the primary motivation for me to be as consistent as possible is my kids. My kids are now grown, sincerely following the Lord, with kids of their own. And I know as a leader, providing a work environment that includes consistency, honesty and care in decision making results in a team that is confident, secure, and united.

You’re a self-identified “foodie”. I love that. Describe a perfect meal.  

No such thing. As soon as you think you’ve had it, you are off on the quest for the next even better meal. It’s all about the journey!

Let a quick glimpse of Heaven encourage you

I asked people via social networks, “Name one thing they are glad WILL NOT be in Heaven.” They said:

Wheel chairs, common colds, negativity, fear, anxiety, doubt, cruelty, death, cancer, heart attacks, suffering, sleep deprivation, diets, pain, evil, rejection, surgery, stress, bills, pain, tears, emails, taxes, cell phones, prejudice, poverty, abuse, addiction, mental illnesses, hate/violence, spiders, separation, regret, temper tantrums, sin, disabilities, body odor, depression, bugs, migraines, sadness, hurtfulness, loneliness, remorse, canker sores, fattening food, fast food, Dallas Cowboys losing seasons, sequester, Satan, flies, envy, confusion, laundry, dishes, loneliness, taxes, guilt, bad drivers, temptation, & grief.

I asked some friends, “Name one thing they are glad WILL be in Heaven.” They said:

Peace that passes understanding, unending praise, loved ones, unspeakable Joy 24/7, unending praise to our Father, face to face with Jesus, love beyond our imagination, no tears, us, answers to all our questions, family and friends, hope fulfilled, incredible worship and praise, contentment, excitement, no achey knees, my Savior and I am hoping all my little faithful dogs, people from every tribe & nation.

The Bible tells us that:

Jealousy, envy, prejudice, and unforgiveness are temporary because in Heaven the wolf will lay down with the Lamb. Isa. 11:6-9

Sadness, loneliness, depression, skepticism, doubts, confusion, tears, and sorrow are temporary because in Heaven the joyfully unite and worship the King. Heb. 12:22 & Rev. 21:4

Death, pain, cancer, heart attacks, mental illness, and obesity are temporary because in Heaven our bodies are made whole. Rom. 8:18-23

Abuse (parents, spouse, boss, etc), corrupt governments and business, church scandals, fallen leaders and ponzi schemes are temporary because in Heaven God will restore perfect order and peace. I Cor. 14:33

Brokenness, crime, dishonesty, pornography, regret, and guilt are temporary because in Heaven we will live in the Holy City lit entirely by God’s bright Glory. Rev. 21:2 & 23-24

Insecurity, fear, and doubts are temporary because the Bible says we will see our names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Rev. 21:27

What one thing are you glad WILL NOT be in Heaven? What one thing are you WILL be in Heaven?

Top 8 Small Group Models

Church leaders, based on my observations here are the eight most common small group models currently being used by churches along with one of the predominant books describing each model:

small group options

1) Semester-based Group Models (2 or 3 semesters per year)

– Curriculum selected by Individual Groups . . . Activate by Nelson Searcy

– Sermon-based Groups . . . Sticky Church by Larry Osborne

– Free Market Small Group Model . . . Dog Training, Fly Fishing, and Sharing Christ in the 21st Century by Haggard

2) On-going Open Group Model … Small Groups Big Impact by Jim Egli & Dwight Marable

3) On-going “Closed” Group Model*Creating Community by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits

4) Missional Small Group Model . . . Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support by Brad House & Launching Missional Groups: a field guide by Michael Breen and Alex Absalom

5) 40-day Campaign Model . . . Small Groups on Purpose by Steve Gladden

6) Combination or meta-modelsLeading Life Changing Small Groups & Building a Church of Small Groups both by Bill Donahue

7) Cell-based Group Model . . . Biblical Foundations for the Cell-based Church by Joel Comiskey

8) Disciple’s Making Disciple’s Group Model . . . Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual by Putnam, Willis, Guindon, & Krause

*North Point’s groups meet for 18 to 24-months and then multiply. To encourage increased transparency group members request “permission” from group members before bringing a guest. Though labeled a “closed” model it operates more like a “gated” model.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Maybe you’d recommend an additional group model or book for the list.

How can I lead in an atmosphere that doesn’t value collaboration?

Running errands around Ventura last week, my friend and fellow staff member came along and we got a chance to talk. At some point he said he loves that our current staff team isn’t “territorial” but values and benefits from collaboration. Like him, I am super grateful for our healthy ministry environment.

(BTW, if you want to help your team collaborate beyond the org chart, there’s a GREAT podcast by Andy Stanley entitled “Listen, Learn and Lead”. Click HERE and select the February episode. Here’s a quote to wet your whistle, “Leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing helpful to say.”)

team

However, many churches still struggle with the transition from silos to collaboration. I was recently talking with a friend serving at another church who said his team often displays a territorial attitude as if to say “this is my ministry and your input is unwelcomed”. He said the insecurities are most visible when “outside” department voices make suggestions. This is common because people gravitate toward isolation.

silos

Obviously, this limits ministry creativity, growth, and unity. However, when a team collaborates there is no ceiling on creativity, growth and unity.

My friend asked a great question, “How can I lead in an atmosphere that doesn’t value collaboration?”

As we talked, we decided that the next step for him was to personally collaborate by inviting outside voices on the projects he leads. Then publicly and privately express gratitude for the “outside” contributions. In other words, lead by example by valuing collaboration over credit, team over silos.

I hope my friend and his team are able to make progress. I think they will.

I’m curious. What would you suggest to him?

“Dad, is God real?”

Parents, I need your help!

Last Sunday night our family gathered in our Family Room to watch Part 1 of The Bible. (I hope you’re watching this.)

Immediately, we were all engaged in the show. As we quietly watched, my 9-year-old daughter broke the silence by asking, “Dad, is God real?” Followed by a loud silence. (It’s the question we adults secretly ask at times but are “too mature” to ask out loud.) I felt the eyes of my wife and other kids dart at me hoping that my words would settle the question once and for all. I felt the weight of the moment.

Needless to say, I had nothing profound.

Is-God-Real1

As if a prequel to a movie, we watched multiple Bible characters ask Kennedy’s question over and over for the next two-hours. Each time we would all look at each other and smile.

This weekend we’re going to spend extra time outdoors inspecting and enjoying God’s creation.

Parents, I’d love to know some simple, practical ways you have revealed God to your kids. Any suggestions?

Will you spot the whale?

You’re more likely to spot a whale if you’re looking for one.

On Saturday morning our family took a walk on a beautiful trail which overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

As we walked, I was noticing the variety of bushes and wild flowers on either side of the trail. For me, they were interesting and the experience was relaxing.

However, my wife Ginger was more interested in watching the ocean. Which explains why she was the first person to notice the whale surfacing in the ocean below.

Picture from Saturday's hike

Random pic from Saturday’s hike in Sycamore Canyon – Point Mugu State Park near Ventura

To be honest, I’m secretly jealous that I’m never the one saying, “Hey guys look at the ocean! There’s a ___________.” Instead, I’m the one who hears Ginger say that and I respond by saying, “Where?” Then she points me in the right direction.

Interestingly, my father-in-law has an uncanny knack for spotting deer back in West Texas long before anyone else seems to notice them. Turns out his daughter can spot ocean life in the ocean like he spots deer amongst the trees.

Ginger (aka “whale whisperer”) doesn’t have better eyesight than me. She just looks for them and when she spots one she has to tell someone about it. So she sees the dolphins, sea lions, and whales that I would otherwise miss.

This week I’ve been challenged to look for God’s love in a specific and tangible way. You know what I suspect? If I truly look for it, I’ll find it.

Maybe His tangible love will be found in a connection with a friend, a great cup of coffee, a verse or a song, an email, a painting, or a sunrise. I don’t know how He’ll choose to reveal Himself.

But I know this: God wants to show me His tangible love this week. Will I be looking when He does? Or, will I be too focused on my little trail that I miss out?

You’re more likely to spot a whale if you’re watching for one. You’re more likely to spot God’s love if you’re looking for it. When you spot it, you’ll have to share it with someone.

Have a WHALE of a day! 🙂