Good News for Candy

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Dr. Prakash Vishnu

On Thursday, May 5th, Candy and I had an appointment with Dr. Prakash Vishnu in Seattle. Dr. Vishnu is the leading Oncologist at Virginia Mason that specializes with melanoma cancer.  In fact, he is so good in this field that he will be joining the Mayo Clinic in July. Dr. Vishnu was on the panel of cancer specialists examining Candy’s PET Scan, pathology and surgery results.

As soon as he came into the room he said, “Hello Candace. We have been talking about you the past two weeks!” He then proceeded to tell us that Candy is very fortunate her lymph nodes were clear or that we would have had a completely different conversation!  Given the size and depth of the cancerous mole that was removed, he seemed surprised the cancer did not reach her lymph nodes. We believe that this is a Unknowndirect result of hundreds of people praying!

He then told Candy that she is in a small class of cancer patients that is eligible for an experimental research study that is happening around the country. It’s a study where the patient is injected with a melanoma protein (not the cancer but just the protein) that would train the white blood cells to attack this protein. If it works, it would attack any microscopic melanoma that might begin to grow in someones body.

After study and prayer, Candy has decided to be a part of this important research that could possibly help her but also help many others behind her. She also believes that God wants her to be a light for Jesus in the lives of people over at Virginia Mason. images

In addition to participating in this experimental research study, Candy also has to have regular dermatologist exams and a CT scan every 6 months for the next two years. All in all – good news. Candy and I are very pleased and relieved!

We have been so thankful for so many people praying, supporting, and caring for us in this journey. We are very grateful that God clearly communicated to us just what we needed each and every day. He used scripture, Instragram photo’s, worship songs, and comments from family and friends that gave us courage, hope, and strength along the way.

The next two years are critical because this type of cancer can return. We will continue to lean into God, take one day at a time, and not take anything for granted.

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Cancer Update on Candy

hqdefaultCandy and I have quickly realized that we are on a roller coaster ride with her cancer. One day we receive difficult news and the next day we receive encouraging news, and so on. I’ve never really been a roller coaster kind of a guy but I’m told that I’d better get used to it.

This past Tuesday, Candy underwent surgery at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. What was supposed to be an hour and a half long surgery took an extra hour to complete. After the surgeon saw the pathology report and the location of the cancer location by Candy’s left ear, he changed gears and took a more aggressive approach. In addition to removing some lymph nodes, he ended up going deeper and removing the saliva gland in that area to be safe. We appreciate his decision to be safe and taking the extra time necessary to protect the facial nerve on the side of her beautiful face.

With all that said, here is the plan moving forward: the pathology report and the lymph your-youtube-video-marketing-checklist (1)node diagnosis will be looked at by panel of cancer specialists in Seattle next week. Then we have an appointment with an oncologist on May 6th. Following all of this, we will be able to give a better update as to what is before us. We understand that many people are waiting to hear what the lymph node report is today. However, after consulting with our doctor, we believe it is best to wait to hear from the cancer panel and oncologist before we update Candy’s situation further. Thank you for your understanding and continued prayers.

We both have been overwhelmed by all the love, care, and prayers from many people around the country and even from around the world. Our friends and family have been amazing. Our GracePoint Church family has been incredible as well. We are so grateful for all of the outpouring of love and prayers in our direction.

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The Phone Call You Never Want To Have

GRACElifeapps1920x1080Our Life Apps sermon series was all set but my heart was uncommonly unsettled last Wednesday morning. The sermon plan called for me to teach on what to do with stress and worry that Sunday and then teach on encouragement the following Sunday. Unsettled, I came out to the front office and told several staff members, “I am not teaching on stress and worry this week. I’m switching and teaching on encouragement instead!” Little did I realize that God was orchestrating things behind the scenes. He had important lessons for me to learn about stress and worry first. Experience has taught me that divine lessons are sometimes only learned out of desperation.Divine Lessons.001

Later that day at 5:46 PM, the phone call came. It’s the phone call you never want to have. The kind of phone call that rocks your world when your doctor tells you, “Candy has cancer!”

A few minutes before the phone call came, God gave me the Central Point for the following weeks’ sermon on stress and worry. I knew it was from God because my mind was not remotely focused on the subject and it was a profound statement – an occurrence that is rare coming from me. It was so profound that I wrote it down on my notes app on my iPhone while still parked in my driveway. Here is what God gave, “Our stress level is determined by our object of trust.” Two minutes later, the phone call came. God was going to have me apply this central point before ever preaching it!

Stress level.001My wife has melanoma. A birthmark mole by my wife’s left ear has now become cancerous. We don’t know when it started but my doctor said the pathology report shows an extremely aggressive cancer. Our doctor, is not only my good friend but also the chairman of my elder board at church. He quickly lined up a PET Scan and a surgery date in Seattle. He was concerned that there were undetected tumors throughout her body.

On Monday April 11th, her birthday, Candy underwent a full-body scan. Thankfully, the scan was clear! This was a HUGE answer to prayer! Now she awaits surgery next Tuesday, April 19th, at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle where they will remove more tissue from the mole location as well as removing lymph nodes to see if they are cancerous. This is our next HUGE prayer request – that the cancer hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes!

Candy and I have been married 30 wonderful years. She is the love of my life and the joy of Barry and Candymy heart. She is also an incredible mother and model to our three girls. I cannot imagine my life without her! Needless to say, we have shared more tears in the last week than all of our married life together. We have prayed with tears, read scripture with tears, listened to worship songs with tears, and listened to sermon podcasts about trust while tears ran down our cheeks.

We are on a journey of trust in the midst of stress, worry, and fear. But the object of our trust, our Heavenly Father, has tempered the natural stress, worry, and fear because of Who He is and His sovereign plans for our lives. He has carried us and held us close in His arms this week and will continue to do so into the future.

God has also given us the prayer of King Jehoshaphat from 2 Chronicles 20:12 where he says, “For we have no power to face this…We do not know what to do but our eyes are upon you.” Later the prophet Jahaziel tells the king, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this… For the battle is not yours, but God’s… You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions, stand firm, and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.” (20:15, 17)

Cancer definitionAs I told my 17 year daughter, Kailey, late Saturday night, “This road is going to be really bumpy or really scary. We will go through this together and God is good regardless of what happens.”

Please pray for my wife, Candy! We will appreciate and cherish each and every one of them!

To WATCH my sermon where I shared this with my church, with more details, click HERE.

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The Theology of Laughter

God is holy. God is also hilarious. One look at a duck-billed platypus proves this. They were not constructed from left-over animal parts but by a God who has a sense of humor. God having a donkey speak to a wayward prophet is another example a divine hilarity. The best part was that the prophet started to argue back with his donkey! Comical!

Proverbs 15:13 says, “He who sits in the heavens laughs.” So should we. Laughter is not only physically healthy but emotionally cleansing as well. A good laugh helps a heavy heart. Our days are filled with too many depressing details that weigh down our soul. That’s why I only watch just enough news to be informed but not too much to be depressed. Levity bring balance to our jacked-up world.

Show me a home where laughter is limited or non-existent and I’ll show you an unhealthy home. I’m so glad I grew up in a family where laughter was commonplace. My dad had a dry sense of humor who encouraged his children often with this phrase, “If you’ve gotta a good line, say it!” I still remember him writing a reminder note with a pen onto his open palm. He looked up at me with a smile and said, “It’s the original palm pilot!” My family was large (seven children), loud, and consistently filled with lots of laughter. Wouldn’t trade it for the world.

My daughters have grown up in the same kind of home. Along with discipline and boundaries, Candy and I have created an environment of healthy teasing, pranks, with lots of giggles and laughter. What parent doesn’t love the sound of their children laughing together? From one liners, lip sync battles, making mash up video clips, and silly camera poses, laughter has been a regular companion in our home. In fact, each of our girls desires to marry a man with a sense of humor as part of the many things they are looking for. Not a coincidence.

Also, show me a church where laughter is limited or non-existent and I’ll show you an unhealthy church. Yes, there is a time for being solemn and sober-minded. There is a time and place for church discipline, teaching on hell, and a stern call for repentance. Our church has done each of these recently. With sincerity and tears. But GracePoint Church also has a DNA of laughter, which I love and encourage. Our hosts used humor in our time of welcome and humor is sprinkled in most of my messages. Too many churches have lots of truth with little joy. We need both.

It seems like our world is getting darker and more wicked by the moment. Therefore we must continue to preach the gospel and repentance for the day of judgment is drawing near. But we must also model the joy.

GracePoint has recently added something else into our church culture: Springtime Comedy Tours. Last year we brought in comedian John Branyan and next week we are hosting the very popular Tim Hawkins. Close to 1700 tickets have already been sold to accomplish several of our goals: 1. Laugh our heads off for two hours. 2. Buy tickets for friends who don’t normally come to church. It’s a creative way to get unchurched people inside a church. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate to our next generation that clean comedy is way better than the junk that’s out there today.

God is a creative God with a sense of humor. We are made in His image and He designed us to laugh. If you don’t believe this, then do a simple test. Find a video where a baby cannot stop giggling and laughing. Then watch your face muscles being compelled to form a smile. It’s almost impossible to keep from smiling or laughing yourself. Why? God made us to laugh.

“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices.” Psalm 16:8-9

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10 Things You May Not Know About Your Lead Pastor

A few months ago, my younger brother, Bobby, asked if I would send him a list of things
most people may not know about their lead pastor. He leads a men’s bible study in Arizona and wanted to provide perspective for his men with some “inside information.” I gave him this list without any commentary. In response, he said it was highly informative and suggested I write a book about this. Sorry bro. No book. Just a blog.

Before I start with my list, let me clarify several things. First, I love being a pastor and am honored to serve where I serve. I am loved and appreciated. Second, I am not complaining or looking for sympathy. I live in an area with hard working people that are employed at the Naval Shipyard, are active military, or work at other occupations. They have their own types of work stress and environments that I cannot fully understand because I don’t work in those fields. This is just the world that I am familiar with. I hope it brings a measure of understanding. So, in no particular order, here we go.

1. Sunday’s keep coming. It’s our game day that we spend all week building up to. The old joke with pastors is, “They only work one day of the week!” Haha. Not funny. Teaching pastors usually spend on average 12-16 hours a week preparing for a 40 minute sermon. Add in a funeral or another sermon and it can make for a mentally draining week. On top of this, I usually spend about 2 hours on Saturday night rehearsing my message so that I know the message inside and out. Teaching week after week has been described as giving birth on Sunday only to find out you are pregnant on Monday. I have stretch marks to prove it.

2. Toasted on Sunday night. With our new building I currently teach two times each Sunday. In the past it’s been up to 3 times and if our church continues to grow we will have to add a third service again. I read a secular communications article years ago that stated that a 40 minute speech is equivalent to an eight hour work day given the physical, mental, and emotional energy spent. I don’t know if that is true or not. However, I’ve painted plenty of houses over the years and usually put in 12 hour days in doing so and I am more exhausted on Sunday nights than my average paint workday.

3. Criticism of our teaching hits us at our core. This is probably the biggest wound you can inflict on your teaching pastor given all the preparation, prayer, and energy invested in a message. This doesn’t mean that each message will be a home run or shouldn’t be critiqued for content and accuracy. In fact, I am critiqued in detail every Tuesday if the message was engaging, accurate, clear, and delivered well. Some Tuesdays are not very enjoyable. I welcome this because I always want to improve as a communicator. Scripture is clear that those of us who teach God’s Word are held to a higher standard. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Rightly dividing the Word of God is one thing, but being told by someone who has been a believer for over 20 years that “I’m just not getting fed” is difficult to take. Here is a helpful hint most pastors would agree with: Resist the urge to tell your pastor, “Oh, you should listen to ______! Man, they can really teach the word of God!” Even with the purest of intentions, your pastor is hearing, “Your teaching sucks!”

4. I never said that. There have been numerous times when the Holy Spirit moved in a service and someone was convicted about something I never said. Such as, “Your sermon moved me to call my father and ask his forgiveness!” Interestingly, I never said anything about forgiveness but who am I to interrupt what the Holy Spirit wants to do. On the other hand, I’ve had people mad at me for something I never said too. A friend of mine was upset at me for over a year when she finally decided to share why. When she told me what I supposedly said, I remembered the sermon, pulled out my notes and showed her what I said. In reality, she came in late and only heard the last part of what I was sharing. Without the first part, the meaning changed completely. She apologized for being mad at me for so long. You might want to re-listen to the sermon online to see if you heard correctly.

5. Most pastors and pastors wives have few friends at church. I am blessed to have close friends on my staff and a handful of friends within the congregation. I know many Senior Pastors who have very few friends within their church. Being hurt in ministry tends to make us be more guarded. Having a few close friends get upset and leave the church will make us even more guarded. A number of ministry articles have written that the loneliest people in church are pastors wives. Because of their God-given wiring to be protective of their husbands they can be easily hurt, wounded and therefore very guarded. Thankfully I have a wife who is private and doesn’t have a need for a long list of friends.

6. We are on call 24 hours a day, everyday of the year… including vacations. It’s part of the job no matter the size of the church. Every time my phone rings I think my blood pressure goes up a bit. You never know when you need to run to the hospital, provide emergency counseling, or hear tragic news and respond accordingly. While my staff only calls me for emergency reasons while I’m on vacation, I’ve had a few of those calls. I know there are other people that are on call as part of their profession too. Pastors are part of this group.

7. We struggle with fear, temptations, lust, pride, etc. too. The last time I checked I am still related to Adam and Eve. I am always amazed with people who are surprised that we struggle with similar issues in life. Whether it is the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther, spiritual leaders struggle with sin issues. The reality is that spiritual leaders have a much larger bulls-eye on them than most. Satan knows this and the attacks are endless. I have experience a consistent pattern over the years.  Whenever God is blessing our church with salvations and life-change in people, the more I face intense battles with temptation. That is why I am so honored and appreciative when people tell me that they are praying for me. I am dependent on pray and spiritual protection because I know that if I fall into sin it will impact hundreds of others because of the role God has called me to. So keep praying for your pastor and their family!

8. When someone is mad at the pastor they are mad at the church. This is what my mentor, Wally Norling, told me one day as he was preparing me to become a Lead Pastor. As a youth pastor, if someone was mad at me, they rarely left the church. But as a Lead Pastor, they rarely stay in the church. It’s one of the reasons why I believe in shared leadership in the local church. I don’t try to make every decision. But I do weigh in on doctrinal positions, vision, mission, and strategy though. Not doing so is a absence of leadership. Wally was right and the weight of it is real.

9. When people leave it hurts. When I went through depression and burnout last year, the hurt from those who had left our church piled up to the point of almost putting me over the edge and out of the ministry. During a very low time, my friend Jeff gave me the personal cell phone of the longtime pastor HB London. After retiring from the pastorate HB served as a Pastor to Pastors at Focus on the Family for many years. I was honored to talk with him. When the topic of people leaving the church came up he told me, “I don’t know of any pastor who isn’t hurt when people leave their church. I’ve been out of the pastorate for many years and when I run into people who left my church many years earlier, it still hurts.” So when people tell me, “don’t take it personal” they probably will never understand.

10. Expectations are extremely high. Whether people say it or not, Lead Pastors are expected to be great communicators, leaders, models, servants, counselors, parents, spouses, visionaries, evangelists, shepherds, and employers… ALL THE TIME. You may not believe it but we feel it. We are consciously or subconsciously compared to famous pastors, previous pastors, and other local pastors. It takes a great deal of contentment and maturity to be okay with just being who you are. I am thankful that I am surrounded by gifted pastors on my team who accept me for who I am, strengths and weakness and all. I am also thankful that I am in a church who seems to accept me for who I am too. But the truth is, these expectations remain.

Whenever I sit down with someone, I try to learn more about them so I can understand where they are coming from. I hope this article helps you understand your pastor a little bit more. If anything, I hope this will encourage you to pray for your pastor like never before.

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A Pastoral Perspective on the Supreme Court Ruling

150626101106-04-scotus-same-sex-0626-super-169Plenty of articles have been written regarding the Supreme Court expansion on the definition of marriage. You may have grown weary of all of this commentary, but here are my thoughts concerning this seismic event in our culture. My thoughts are specifically directed toward those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.

This is Nothing New

Although I am disappointed and concerned about this ruling, it shouldn’t surprise us. We shouldn’t expect non-followers to follow or agree with Christ and His Word. Getting angry at people who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus and who then live contrary to scripture is pointless and not Christ-like. It would be similar to getting mad at a blind person for not appreciating a beautiful sunset. They are not the enemy nor should they be the focus of our angst.

I do, however, have a different reaction to believers who are cheering on the moral acceptance of homosexuality. I am disappointed in Christian friends who adopt the gay flag on Facebook or go as far as joining in on the bigotry chants toward those of us who still believe in moral absolutes and biblical authority. Shame on them. I am even more disgusted with pastors and churches who have come to believe that God has now changed His mind regarding biblical morality. They are the ones whom Jesus calls out in Revelation 2:20 as being “tolerant” of Jezebel type teaching that “misleads others into sexual immorality.” Double shame on themjude_title

An old warning comes from Jude 4 for believers to be on the lookout for “godless men who change the grace of God into a license for immorality.” Again, this is nothing new.

It’s Been Worse

The sexual norms within the Roman Empire in the first century were much worse than it is today. It was very normal for men to have sex with their wives for procreational purposes and then to have sex with other people for recreational purposes. This included sex with other women, prostitutes, slaves, other men, and even young boys. This behavior was considered normal behavior and socially accepted. Although women were less inclined, many women lived these lifestyles too without chastisement.

And to think that this is the century in which the church started, thrived, and then exploded with growth. The church did all of this in the midst of enduring great persecution too. Why should we be different?

508f4bec1683924c8854b527dacc3a5fThe church can survive this Supreme Court ruling. In order to do so, the church needs to be incredibly loving and grace-filled toward those outside a relationship with Jesus while also teaching, expecting, and modeling holiness for believers. Christian marriages should look incredibly different by how they follow God’s Word within their marriage roles and how genuine love plays out towards each other.  Christian marriages should be so attractive to others, especially to our own children. When Christian marriages look no different than those outside the faith, we lose credibility in almost insurmountable ways.

Not only has it been worse in the past, but if you study scripture, it will get worse the closer we get to the coming of Jesus. So don’t panic, freak out, or become depressed.

God is Still on the Throne

As crazy at it feels sometimes, God is still sovereign and has everything under control. As believers, our responsibility is to remain committed to Scripture. The Bible not only affirms, but Jesus defines marriage between one man and one woman in Matthew 19:4-6. Additionally, Romans 1:21–28 defines homosexuality as a sinful lifestyle that rejects God’s design from creation. Although some Christians, pastors, and entire denominations have caved on this point, we must remain true to God’s Word regardless of the culture shouting mean things at us.

Continue to pray for spiritual awakening

Two of the greatest revivals in Judah’s history came after two of the most wicked times in their history. Both kings Hezekiah and Josiah saw God bring national revival on the heels of national immorality. (See 2 Chronicles 29–31 and 34–35.)

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But revival must first start in the church. Stop shouting at society and begin praying for revival to begin in the church. Before Jesus revealed the coming judgment on the world in the book of Revelation, He brought condemnation to His church.  That’s where believers should start.

So, lift up our eyes and focus on the opportunity we have in front of us to be more like the early church than never before in our lifetimes. Believe it or not, the fields are ripe for a harvest!

(For a recent message prior to the Supreme Court ruling from Revelation 2.)

 

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5 Reasons I Should STAY at My Church

MAS_6796I have read several online articles giving reasons people use to LEAVE a church.  I thought we should take a positive approach to this sensitive subject. Although this list is not exhaustive, here are some of my conclusions from 30 years of full-time ministry for reasons one should STAY at their church.

1. A Church with Sound Theology

My pastor did something when I was a young teenager that I have never forgotten. He preached for about 15 minutes with passion and vigor. Then he paused and asked, “How many of you believe what I have been preaching?” A good number of hands raised in the air. Then he said, “Everything I’ve said so far is not found in scripture. I made it all up!”

I wish more churches were filled with Berean’s. Who are they? The Apostle Paul described them in Acts 17:11 when he said, “They received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” 

Sadly, many Christians don’t know what is good theology or not. Most of the time this is due to laziness instead of opportunities to grow their theology. In too many churches, bad theology goes unnoticed and/or unchecked.

I have some dear saints in our church that don’t really enjoy our style of worship. But they tell me, “The reason I’m here is because of the good Bible teaching.”  This encourages me stay accountable. My wife does the same thing with her thick cross referenced Bible opened on her lap Sunday after Sunday. 🙂

2. A church that is focused on the right things: Evangelism and Discipleship

Many churches have a singular focus of either evangelism or discipleship. I see the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and the early church doing both. The church is not a club for insiders only. Nor should it be soley a birthing room without opportunities to grow spiritually. I personally think it’s harder for a church to target both evangelism and discipleship.  But that’s why it’s called the Great Commission instead of the Easy Commission.10680055_885788844806660_2248397509734602028_o (1)

My heart hurt when a friend of mine proclaimed on social media, “I’m so glad everyone in my church is already saved!” Not sure Jesus would be pleased if this was indeed true. After all, He did come to “seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) I also believe Jesus would not be pleased to see believers who remain anorexic in their faith. I think a follower of Christ should want to stay in a church that is focused on seeing people coming to know Christ as their Savior and also providing opportunities for people to grow in their faith.

3. A Church that is striving to stay RELEVANT while remaining BIBLICAL

Many of us have heard it said, “Methods change but the Message never does.” But how many really believe it? Changing or discontinuing church programs usually result in long-time church attenders packing up and going elsewhere. This is sad. I know of many churches who have refused to change and find themselves in churches with little to no next generation attenders. By this time, it’s too late to turn this kind of church around.

Not too long ago, there was no such thing as the internet, email, and social media. One can curse in the wind of change but change is still going to happen. Most church programs and methods that worked 20 years ago or even five years ago, no longer are affective. The only thing I see in the local church that stands the test of time, is the Word of God. In fact, Peter reminds us of this when he said, “the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of God endures forever.” (I Peter 1:24-25) And Peter was quoting the ancient prophet Isaiah to prove his point!

I strongly believe a vibrant church can be relevant while remaining firmly biblical.  I’ve seen change from sitting in wooden pews to padded seats, pastors wearing polyester suits to casual attire, singing old hymns to brand new songs,  having a piano and organ as the only instruments to worshiping with a full band, opening thick leather Bibles to opening iPads, from information stuffed into bulletins to downloading a church app or clicking on a church website during the service, and pastors communicating behind large wooden pulpits to sitting on a stool on stage. I could go on and on. However, through all the changes in worship styles, attire, modes of communication, and effective children or youth programs that died a slow death over many years, there has been one thing that has stood the test of time: God’s Word!

MAS_6788A church that refuses to change will eventually die a slow and painful death. But a church who wants to remain effective in an ever-changing culture must do two things: 1. be utmost committed to never changing what should never change – the accurate teaching of God’s Word. 2. Committed to change methods to reach an ever-changing culture.

4. The church’s MISSION is their MAIN THING

Before unpacking God’s coming wrath for wickedness, evil, and rejection of Jesus as Savior, Jesus confronts seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3.  The first church confronted is Ephesus which was known for their powerful legacy of early church leaders. Leaders that included Paul, Aquila & Priscilla, Timothy, and John. Given this lineup of leaders, it’s no surprise that Jesus complimented the Ephesus church for their good deeds, hard work, and perseverance. They were also commended for their love of truth and their opposition to false teachers. Good stuff. However, Jesus then said this, “Yet I hold this against you: You have left your first love… repent and do the things you did at first.”Main-THing-Road-Sign-10743745_s-copy-300x258

Of all the seven churches confronted by Jesus, Ephesus was probably the strongest church in their theology. But they had diverted their affections. I believe many evangelical churches have lost their way and forgotten their purpose. They’ve diverted their affection after many good things but have drifted away from why the church was started in the first place.

This might sound harsh but the church wasn’t started in order to feed the poor and help the homeless. Neither was it started to conquer social injustice or be the catalyst of a cultural revival through political means. And for long time church attenders, it’s helpful to be reminded that the purpose of the church isn’t to maintain traditions, programs, or musical preferences – all of which have an expiration date.

The purpose of the church is to help people meet, know, and follow Jesus. This is why Jesus started His church and this is why the “gates of hell will not prevail against” (Matthew 16:18) the Bride of Christ!

I’m not saying a church shouldn’t do some to these things I listed. But they shouldn’t be the MAIN thing a church is called to do.

5. A Church with Leadership I Can Respect

Did you catch that I said “respect” rather than “agree”? It’s virtually impossible for any church attender to agree with every decision a pastor or church leaders make. As I look back, I disagree with some of my own decisions I made in the past.

respectHealthy leaders should have the following characteristics that are worthy of following: Humility, approachability, God seeking, counsel seeking, vision, resoluteness, Spirit led, willing to admit fault, sincerity, and authenticity.

No leader is perfect. No board of leaders are perfect. But most people can disagree with their pastor or church leader on certain decisions if they possess the above characteristics.

In conclusion

I have a high bar for why people should or shouldn’t leave a church. This standard was set by my parents who stayed at my home church for over 25 years until they moved out of state. They stayed through church splits, bad decisions as well as personal hurts and disappointments.

Jesus could have chosen heavenly angels to lead His Church. That might have been more effective. It sure would have been way cooler! But Jesus chose fallen human beings to lead His Church. But He gave us all the tools necessary to be successful: The Holy Spirit to guide us, the inspired Scriptures to teach from, and a Mission that is clear.

There are people that leave a church for good reasons. I afraid many leave for less than solid reasons.

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Burnout and Beyond!

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Burnout…

Match flame and smokeThere have been many times in my 30 years of ministry when I found myself tired, depressed, discouraged, or overwhelmed. But never all at the same time. Just like life, church ministry has ebbs and flows, highlights and lowlights. You enjoy the highs and patiently wait out the lows. But this year was different. As events turned up, I remained down. As things turned down, I slipped further down.

After nine years of ministry challenges, debated change, people leaving the church, personal attacks, never ending spiritual warfare, having to let pastors and staff members go, and let’s throw in a building program in the midst of a weak economy, it all caught up to me. Not only did it catch up, it ran me over. Eventually, I was told what my problem was. I had all the signs of burnout.

Burnout has been described as “a state of emotional, physical, social, and spiritual exhaustion. It can lead to diminished health, social withdrawal, depression, and a spiritual malaise.”

Before I received some help, I found myself questioning God’s call in my life for the first time ever. I quickly realized these thoughts were not from Him at all. It was the enemy trying to kick me while I was down. In addition to physical afflictions that accompany burnout, I began to look in the mirror and could not recognize the person looking back at me. My patience was low, my defensiveness was rising, my joy had disappeared, and my energy was red-lining.

Thankfully, the only energy I could muster each week was to do my main thing: studying and teaching God’s Word on the weekends. The great part of this journey was that I began to experience what the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “For (God’s) grace is sufficient for you, for (His) power is made great in weakness.”  I was incredibly weak. However, I am grateful God still used me in spite of all of my shortcomings.

I am blessed to have some loving friends and an incredible wife that pointed me in the direction of help before I crashed with lasting results. I took their advice and began meeting with a counselor. At first, I actually didn’t think I was that bad off. But then my counselor told me, “You are worse off than you think. If you don’t make changes soon, you are not going to make it in ministry much longer.” Translation: “You’re messed up dude!”

After getting through our Grand Opening and my daughter’s basketball season, my counselor recommended for me to take a month away from all things church related. He suggested going somewhere warm. Our Elder Board agreed and generously sent me and my wife away to get refreshed in the Southwest desert.

And Beyond!

I returned in time for Easter this year. Although my cup is not full and I have a ways to go to become fully healthy, at least I am no longer operating on fumes! I had almost forgotten what having some energy feels like!

In closing, I’d like to share some things I was reminded of while refreshing (some call it roasting) in the sun.

1. God is a loving heavenly Father! While away I kept thinking of how God responded to the prophet Elijah when he hit his ministry wall in 1 Kings 19. He didn’t rebuke him. He loved him and tenderly took care of him through this difficult time. God had more ministry in store for Elijah but wanted him to get healthy first.Intimacy with the Almighty

The second day of being in the desert, the responsible side of me began to feel irresponsible for being away. I couldn’t relax or rest. I then pulled out a little book my mother sent me called, Intimacy with the Almighty by Pastor Charles Swindoll.  Chuck wrote this book after a two-year span from being a senior pastor.  As he reflected on taking a break from the rigorous demands of the pastorate, he challenged me with four disciplines one must have to remain intimate with God. Here they are: Simplicity, Silence, Solitude, and Surrender.

One of the verses he shared was from Mark 6 when Jesus told his tired disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while.” It was like God whispered to me, “It’s okay to rest and be away. Now relax Barry.”  I immediately headed to the pool with a grateful heart absence of guilt!

2. I sure do love my wife! It’s not like I had fallen out of love for her or IMG_1320anything like that. But being alone with my bride for such an extended period of time was heavenly. Having no demands, meetings, or schedule provided one on one time with her like no other. For so many previous months, Candy had to put up with me, counsel me, encourage me, lift up my spirits, and prayed for me with very little noticeable change. I was such a drain on her. But during our time away, she enjoyed having her husband return to being himself without having to share me with a congregation or staff. She is amazing!

3. I love our church! I am glad God is not done with me at GracePoint Church. We have an incredible and talented staff, amazing church leaders, and a church filled with wonderful people who are authentic in their walk with God. I am excited for what God is doing in our midst.

Before, I could see God saving people, restoring marriages, and bringing a host of unchurched people to our church. But I couldn’t feel anything. The joy of ministry was gone. Now, the joy is returning and my hope in what God has in store for the future of our church is growing.

I want to say a huge thank you to GracePoint Church for allowing me this time away. I also want to say a special thanks for flying my two teenage daughters to join us in Phoenix half way into our trip. We were able to do two things we have always talked about: visit the Grand Canyon and attend some games at Spring Training! What a blessing!

The best is yet to come!

Pastor Barry

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Genuinely Happy… Behind Enemy Lines

Behind Enemy Lines.001I’m a huge 49er fan living in Seattle Seahawks territory. On top of this, I’m a pastor at a Seahawks-crazed church. When I moved to Washington in 2005, my team’s record was 2-14 and was the worst team in the NFL. This was also the same year the Hawks went to their first Super Bowl. I was asked many times, “When are you going to become a Seahawks fan?” My response was the same each time, “Never. I have always been a Niner fan. Do you want a pastor with integrity or not?”  I have a firm belief that a genuine fan stays true to their team through great years and horrible years. Each team has fair weather fans. They just drive me crazy and receive no respect from me.

Things have changed a great deal since 2005.  The 49ers and Seahawks went from being 5046just divisional opponents to becoming fierce arch rivals.  As a result, the heat, intensity, and emotions increased dramatically. Three weeks ago, the 49ers season ended on the final play against the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game. On Sunday night, the Seahawks finished their season by lifting their first Lombardi trophy in team history.

The 12th Man greets their Super Bowl Champs

Seeing the Seahawks fan base reaction to their Super Bowl victory has been awesome. There have been tears, never-ending smiles, non-stop celebration, hugs and high fives from complete strangers, and fans replaying the game over and over again. Today, freezing temperatures didn’t dismay a million fans showing up for the celebration rally in downtown in Seattle. Schools were cancelled and many people skipped work to attend while tens of thousands stayed home glued to their TV to watch everything involving the Seahawks. All of this is understandable and has brought back fond memories for me. Let me explain.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a little boy in the early 1970’s, I belonged to the Junior 49er Club. I cut out 49er logos on milk cartons to earn enough points to meet the starting center, Forrest Blue, in person.  I was really upset when John Brodie was replaced with Steve Spurrier at quarterback. I cried when the 49ers cut Gene Washington, my favorite wide receiver at the time. In junior high and early high school, my 49ers were the laughingstock in the league. Most of my friends laughed at me for being a 49er fan while their allegiance stood firmly behind the other NFL team in the Bay Area – the Oakland Raiders, who were one of the best teams in football.

Then everything changed in 1981. We started winning. And winning. And winning some more. After beating the dreaded Dallas Cowboys in dramatic fashion in the NFC Championship game, I found my team in their first Super Bowl. I screamed my lungs out during the game and even wore gloves so I wouldn’t bite my fingernails. When we won the big game, I was delusional. After years of defeat, ridicule, and mocking, I kept pinching myself and asking, “Is this really true? Did we just win the Super Bowl? Holy Cow, I can’t believe it!”

Fans celebrate with Dwight Clark after Super Bowl

After the Super Bowl, schools and businesses were closed, about a million people flooded the streets in celebration, complete strangers hugged and high five’d each other, and old men cried because they didn’t believe they would ever see this day come to pass in their lifetime. It all looks and sounds very similar to what is happening here in the Northwest. And justifiably so.

So, while I wanted my 49ers to defeat the Seahawks in each game this year, I can honestly say that I am genuinely happy for my friends who are Seahawks fans. Especially the long-time fans! I am glad they get to experience the eradication of decades filled tough defeats, missed opportunities, and the mantra of, “Maybe next year!” They now get to revel in the fact that they did it. They are the only team at the top. They are the world’s best this year. So, soak it up and enjoy every ounce of it because you never know when another year like this will come around again.

Because of this intense rivalry, things have been tough around here for me this football season. There have been people in my church that I didn’t really like at times and I’m sure there were some who didn’t really like their pastor at times either. But the air is clear and we will all be fine. (But if my team had won three weeks ago, I might have been asked to find another church though!) So, behind enemy lines, I can honestly say that I am genuinely happy for my Seahawks friends!

One Last Thought

I do have to get one last thing off my chest though. Before their SB victory, many Hawk fans were downright angry whenever any 49er fan mentioned that the Seahawks didn’t have any Super Bowl trophies. The reaction was often angry rebuttals such as, “That’s not relevant! It’s old news! That was years ago!!” 

Now that you have lifted the Lombardi trophy and have removed yourselves from the list super-bowl-48-xlviiiof NFL franchises without one, you might understand what I am about to say now. Given the passion, excitement, and memories of this season, your Super Bowl Trophy will always be relevant to you no matter how many years have passed. For example, say in 10 years, when a team without a Lombardi is talking about how great they are, you might be tempted to think or say, “Show me your Lombardi trophy first. You haven’t done anything yet!” Just saying…

In 7 months, the football will be rolled out again to see who the best team will be in 2014. My 49ers will be waiting. 🙂

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Marriage is a Dance

Candy and Barry dancing at Ashley's wedding reception

Candy and Barry dancing at Ashley’s wedding reception

I am having lots of fun teaching our current series called, “Let’s Dance” at GracePoint Church. It is a five-week marriage series that looks at 5 popular Ballroom dances that directly apply to marriage.

So far we’ve covered the Tango and the Waltz that communicated oneness and our God-given roles within marriage. It’s been fun and sometimes embarrassing to my teenage daughters whenever I’ve acted out dance steps to make my point. They will get over it… eventually.

Both Candy and I grew up in churches that frowned, big-time, on dancing. Moving your body to music was communicated as evil. Therefore, it was never a part of our lives. Then our first child entered the world. In short time, Ashley was moving and swaying to music we played in the house or car. She could’t help herself. We realized that God created music and bodies to move to music. This little one had no idea that she was teaching her parents a valuable lesson – dancing can be a good thing. She later grew up on the theater stage, acting and dancing to the glory of God. Now, are there inappropriate dances? Sure. Anything good from God is twisted by the evil one. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

In 2005, Candy and went on a cruise in the Bahamas. It was a parting gift from our church in California. We signed up for several Ballroom dance lessons onboard. Although no one knew us or even cared, we both were a little nervous at our first dance lesson. (Old impressions are hard to escape from.) We ended up having a blast! A couple of years later, I surprised Candy with a Christmas present that included 7 weeks of Ballroom Dance lessons. Each and every week was a special date night for us. We learned, we laughed, and had so much fun!

One of my passions is to help marriages become healthy and happy. It’s what God has always desired for husbands and wives. Our culture has twisted marriage so far away from the original blueprints that marriage is not as valued or elevated as it once was. To many, marriage doesn’t work anymore. Maybe, just maybe, a Let’s Dance series might encourage couples to start dancing together again!

If you’d like to watch this series, you can click here and it will take you to our church Vimeo page.

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