Staying Engaged in the Imperfect Church

The pastor was teaching about the importance of staying engaged in a strong local church, and he provided three reasons/warnings why people typically disengage. It was the 11:30 a.m. service, and we were sitting along an aisle, second row from the very back, in the less-than-a-year-old worship center. In front of us were two teens, one who was texting throughout much of the service. Behind us were two teens who spent the service talking, giggling, and kicking the back of my seat.

These distractions were helpful reminders that I love my church even when it’s not perfectly meeting my needs. It occurred to me, in fact, that there is at least one reason not listed by the pastor that we disengage from the church – the church tends to let us down in all sorts of ways because the church is filled with imperfect people. Pastors, staff, fellow members … they might say something that offends us, fail to show appreciation or support for things we’re doing or trying to do, act unprofessionally in small ways like not responding to emails … We get our feelings hurt because, of course, the world, including the church, is supposed to meet our needs, right? But, as the pastor aptly put it, only Jesus meets all of our needs. Only Jesus is perfect. The rest of us are prone to error.

I’ve been guilty of selfish frustration with the imperfect church, so I’m seeking forgiveness. One, I know I contribute greatly to that imperfection. Two, I know how much God blesses me and my family through our church. Heartfelt worship … Biblical teaching … amazing leadership … Godly men and women serving selflessly out of love for Jesus … the list goes on and on. God even uses the imperfections to teach me things like patience, forgiveness, self-awareness, and the importance of loving one another when it’s not easy – like when some is kicking the back of my seat.

Feeding Sheep

A familiar piece of scripture took on some new meaning for me recently. It’s one of my favorite things about a life with Christ … this reality that He’s always teaching me fresh things that I need by helping me see something new in His everlasting, never-changing Word. On this particular day, I was reflecting on a conversation Jesus had with Peter. You can find it in John 21:15-19. Jesus keeps asking if Peter loves Him, and Peter keeps saying yes. Each time, Jesus adds a simple command: Feed my sheep.

This is a great passage that sets up Peter’s role in the Church, and it also speaks clearly to each of us today: If we love Jesus, then we’re compelled to feed His sheep.

I’ve always thought of “His sheep” as the people I encounter each day — anyone and everyone. I still believe that’s the case. On this day, however, the meaning felt more specific, more personal. If I love Jesus, I will feed His sheep. So, if I love my wife, it also makes sense that I will feed her sheep … I will feed the ones she takes care of and loves dearly. This reality strengthened my commitment for how I’m called to love my wife’s children — my stepchildren. When we married, I made a commitment to love and care for her children just as I love and care for mine. But now I see it in a more powerful light. When I “feed” them, I’m showing my love for her and for Christ.

For me, this raised an interesting question: Who do I love and how am I feeding their sheep? I love my family — my mom, my dad, my siblings, my children, my stepchildren, my grandchildren … I will feed their sheep. I love my friends. I will feed their sheep. I love no one on earth more than I love my wife. I will feed her sheep. And, most of all, I love Jesus. I will feed His sheep.

The Power of the ‘Who’ Question

My good friend Tommy Spaulding wrote a blog a few weeks ago, and he agreed to let me share it as a guest post. I found it a wonderful illustration of how we all should strive to grow like Jesus in our own unique ways. Tommy is a best-selling author and an even better public speaker. If you run a company or organization and need someone to keynote your event, give him a call. You won’t regret it.

Now, on with the blog …

By Tommy Spaulding, Oct. 12, 2017
Tommy Spaulding

Yesterday was my fathers’ 75th birthday.  The greatest man I’ve been blessed to know.  My two sisters and I flew to upstate New York to surprise him on his special day.  These are the words I wrote in his birthday card.

Dear Dad,

Like Father – Like Son.  Many hear those words all the time.  “Your son is just like you!”  “You’re the spitting image of your father!”  But, Dad, you and I are different in so many ways.

I love to travel the world – you do not.

I am organized – you are not.

I am a risk taker – you are not.

I am an entrepreneur – you are not.

I love sports – you do not.

I’m driven – you are not.

I’m adventurous – you are not.

I am an extrovert – you are not.

And I love sushi, golf and rock concerts – you do not!

The list goes on and on.

The beauty in all these differences is that you have many talents and attributes that I don’t have.  But there is one amazing thing in my life that we have in common. It has brought me the most happiness and the most success.  And I learned it from you.  LOVE.

I learned to love from you, Dad.  To receive love.  To give love.

I remember when I was a young kid and would come home from school.  Most parents would ask, “What did you do today?” “What did you accomplish?”  You never asked me those questions.  Instead, you always asked, “Who did you bless today?”  “Who did you love and serve?” The “what” never mattered to you, Dad.  You only cared about the “who.”

Who did you bless today?  Who did you love and serve?

Those two questions have changed my life.  They define who I have become.  They have directed my career.  They have made me into the husband, father and friend I am today.

Thank you, Dad, for not being like all the other parents.  Thank you for always asking me the “who” questions and not the “what” questions.

Makes me proud to say…. Like Father – Like Son.

Happy 75th Birthday.  I love you!

Your son,


Maybe today can be the day that we stop asking our kids, our employees and our colleagues all the “what” questions. What did you do today?  What did you accomplish?  And we start asking all the “who” questions.  Who did you bless today?  Who did you love and serve?  My guess is that it will change your work and your life, just as it has changed mine.

Father’s Day Forgiveness

Father’s Day is coming up, so I thought I’d share a gift idea. It’s something you can give to your dad even if your father, like mine, is no longer alive. The gift: Forgiveness.

My wife and I have a blended family with seven children, and all of them were adults when we married in 2010. I’ve never been hard to please when it comes to gifts, so I’m more than satisfied with a call or text from my four kids on Father’s Day. But a few weeks ago I sent them a photo of a gift idea, and I’ve included it in this blog.

Would you want this suit for Father’s Day?

It was a joke, of course. That suit just doesn’t … well … suit me.

But it got me to thinking about what I really want from my kids. And what I really want, if I’m to be totally vulnerable and transparent, is forgiveness. It costs nothing but it’s often really hard to give or to receive.

Forgiveness for what, you ask? Every father has experienced failure. Many of us come across as superheroes at times, especially when our kids are young, but we inevitably come up short. Sinners sin. And sins that disappoint the people we love are particularly painful.

But we don’t have to sin to need forgiveness. Fathers instinctively want to protect and take care of our children, and sometimes we simply can’t. Sometimes life is beyond our control and we have no words and can take no actions that will “make it better.” We might understand this intellectually, but we still feel like we’ve let them down. People pleasers, of which I’m often one, know that it’s possible to do nothing wrong, to feel totally “in the right,” and yet still feel guilty because we simply didn’t do enough. My identity is in Christ, of course, so I shouldn’t feel this guilt. But all too often I do.

Sometimes the guilt we feel isn’t based in reality – we think we’ve let them down, but they don’t really feel that way. And sometimes it’s totally based in reality. I know I disappointed my kids when my first marriage ended, but I think I disappointed them even more when I remarried – not because they don’t like my wife, but because it happened so soon after the divorce. They were still grieving the end of something, and I was celebrating an amazing and totally unexpected grace gift from God. I’m in no way advocating divorce. If that’s your struggle, surrender it to God, seek some qualified Biblical-based help, and don’t give up. But if you’ve already experienced divorce, God won’t walk away from you. I can tell you that my marriage is an incredible story of God’s redemptive grace. It is impossible to overstate what God has done in me through this marriage – how Audrey makes me a better husband, father, man, and follower of Jesus.

Over time (it’s been six-and-a-half years), I think all of my children have seen that. We’ve all moved onward. We have good relationships with each other. I know they love me, and they know I love them. But sometimes I feel a void I can’t explain, and I connect it back to my struggle with unforgiveness. It’s a “me” problem, not a “them” problem. I hold onto my guilt even when I’m not guilty and even when I’m guilty and I’ve been forgiven. Maybe it’s just me, but I think other dads do this, too. We find it very hard to forgive ourselves, to live in forgiveness. So while we work to display confidence and strength, there’s a part of us that longs to know that our kids are OK with the imperfections we’ve displayed and the disappointments we’ve caused. We long to experience forgiveness.

Yes, forgiveness is an experience. It often begins with words, but real forgiveness is reflected in attitudes and actions lived consistently over time. This is why forgiveness is redemptive. It makes things new and right. It’s liberating both to the one who gives and the one who receives. It is an expression of real love and true grace. I know, because I’ve experienced its most powerful form. Christ forgave me of my sins, past, present, and future. And He gave me a second chance at a godly marriage. I never feel more loved than when I look into the eyes of my wife, not just by her but by God, because I know how undeserving I am to have this marriage. That’s the power of forgiveness.

So whatever you get your dad – a tie, a good book, a loud suit, or anything else – you might also give him this: Help him experience forgiveness.


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When Love Becomes a Weapon

Ladies and Gentlemen, we gather here today to mourn the loss of our longtime friend and ally, a supporter who has seen us through the darkest days of our lives and given comfort and aid to billions upon billions of suffering souls throughout history. Goodbye, LOVE, you will be missed far more than we can know, because, as it turns out, we never really knew you that well in the first place. …

OK, so maybe I’m overstating things a bit. Maybe love isn’t dead. But let’s face it: The word has been severely wounded in recent years, adding to centuries worth of battle scars, the most obvious of which came in the form of two nail-pierced hands.

It’s always been troubling that we use the word so loosely – you know … I love pizza, I love golf, I love sunsets, I love a good story, I love popcorn, I love photography … The word too often gets stripped of its depth and sense of sacrifice. John 15:13 tells us, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I have that type of love for my wife, but I won’t lay down my life for pizza.

What’s more troubling lately, however, is that love has been co-opted into a weapon in the raging political and cultural wars. For example, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently spoke at a chapel service for John Brown University, a faith-based college in my area. So a few students and alumni organized what was a very peaceful protest in opposition to some of Huckabee’s opinions and policy positions.

That’s all well and good. It’s the American way, right? Sure, it seemed a bit contrived. To paraphrase one pundit, is Huckabee really worth protesting? But no one burned cars or littered the streets or wore pink hats with profanity inscribed across the top, so it was all good, clean civics.

On the other hand, the protesters butchered the word love in the name of their politics. A few wore T-shirts that collectively spelled out, “We Stand for Love.” And the organizer was quoted as saying, “I’m so proud of the students who chose to stand for love” and “I think we all realize, more than ever, that we must stand for love.”

What’s wrong with standing for love, you ask? Nothing. Who doesn’t want to stand for love? And that’s the point. These and many other modern protesters often imply or outright say that the only way to “stand for love” is by embracing their politics and values. Otherwise, you stand for hate or you are somehow an opponent of love. I’m not naïve enough to think some people aren’t motivated more by hate than love. But they weren’t protesting Hitler or the KKK. I mean, does anyone really think Mike Huckabee stands for hate or that he doesn’t stand for love?

Here’s the reality: Love isn’t about getting our way or giving others what they want. In fact, we often demonstrate our love for others by not giving them what they want, but what they need. Or by sacrificing what we want or need for the greater good of others. But in a room (or world) full of grownups, there’s often honorable disagreements over what people need and how to go about providing it.

I can love refugees and believe we should have no limits on which ones we allow in this country or how many we allow in. But I can love them just as much if I support stronger screening policies and stricter limitations. I can love someone who is gay and believe he or she is living a completely moral lifestyle. But I can love that person just as much if I believe that lifestyle is sinful and unhealthy. I can stand for love if I voted for Clinton or if I voted for Trump or if I voted for neither of them.

1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the “love” chapter, reminds us that “love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). The chapter doesn’t talk about love as a feeling, as a political policy, or as a moral high ground to claim and use against those with whom we disagree. It’s an attitude that drives an action. So before we allow love to be laid into the grave by co-opting it in protest statements, let’s do our part to restore its dignity, its life, and its purpose – in the way we think and the way we act.

Jesus was and is the ultimate example and embodiment of love. He didn’t agree with everyone he encountered. He didn’t always give them what they wanted. He didn’t ever condone their sin, even as He died to forgive those sins. And he didn’t use love as some sort of linguistic dagger. Instead, He lived it.

Here’s the challenging portrait of how that looks: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

That sort of love has motivated some amazing protests throughout history. But if we want to stand for love, there’s a great alternative to using it as a weapon: Adopt it as a way of life.



Scheduling goodwill

One of the key points in Grow Like Jesus is that we grow in “favor with man” by building relationships that move people closer to Christ. So our relationships should point others toward a relationship with Christ if they don’t know Him and a deeper relationship with Christ if they already know Him.

There are many ways to do that, of course, but today I’d like to discuss just one: Schedule goodwill.

I’m all for random acts of kindness. And, in fact, there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing. So I’m not suggesting that you only offer goodwill according to a schedule. You have an endless supply, so give it out whenever and wherever possible. But I am suggesting that you put some “goodwill giving” on your actual schedule.

There’s a common axiom in business that goes like this: Plan the work and work the plan. Apply that same concept to your goodwill. If you schedule some goodwill, you’re more likely give out some goodwill.

Audrey and I take a similar approach to prayer. While the circumstances of each day shape who and what we pray for, we also have a list we use to intentionally cover specific people, organizations, and issues in prayer. We plan the prayer and pray the plan.

I saw an opportunity to apply this to goodwill after a recent meeting with the college pastors at our church. Here’s the back story: My wife and I open our home to college students for a weekly Bible study. They lead it. We just provide a place and help out as needed. At a meeting for “host home families,” one of the college pastors suggested that we send an encouraging text each week to the group leader.

I loved the idea. But why stop with the leader of the college Bible study?

Since I’m one of those guys who tends to forget stuff, I decided to schedule a reminder to text or email a different person each day with an encouraging word. It’s literally on my calendar.

Here’s my schedule (subject to change):

Monday: A pastor.

Tuesday: A friend.

Wednesday: A college group leader.

Thursday: A missionary we support.

Friday: Someone in my small group.

It won’t take long to send these messages, so I might send five a day. That would be 25 encouraging messages a week.

We’ll see how it goes. Frankly, I tend to ebb and flow on such things. I’ll start strong and go through some dry spells. But if a message pops up every day on my calendar reminding me to encourage someone, chances are better that I’ll do it.

So what sort of goodwill can you fit on your schedule?


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GLJ Cover

Lessons from the Flower Garden

When Audrey and I drove around town for the annual “garden tour,” we saw a variety of approaches with one thing in common: The owners had invested more than money; they had invested love.

My favorite gardener.
My favorite gardener.

We might not have the budget or the passion of the gardeners on that tour, but we still give it our best shot. Audrey provides the vision and creativity, and I’m available to help with some of the manual labor. Together, we do what we can to keep a few plants, flowers, shrubs, and herbs alive around our home.

Frankly, Audrey is much better at it than she admits. She takes the time to do the research, and that sets us up for success. Most of what we plant ends up growing and looking great, all to her credit. So when I walk on our back deck, down by our small pond, or across the front lawn, I see planters alive with color.

Now, if you know me at all, you’ve probably never thought of me as a flower. Maybe a weed. But not a flower. Still, when it comes to my spiritual health, I can relate to the various flowers around our house and to this entire process of getting things to grow.

Early Spring
Early Spring

So here are three lessons I think followers of Jesus can take from our flower gardens:

  1. The environment matters. Flowers need good soil, the right amount of sun, and just enough water. Otherwise, they get sick and sometimes they die. Likewise, we need a strong local church. We need to spend time each day feeding on things like prayer and time in God’s Word. We need to fill ourselves with the things of God so we can grow like Jesus.
  2. We need some Miracle Grow. I have no idea what is in Miracle Grow, but I know it works. We hook a bottle to the sprayer on our hose, soak our plants and flowers and watch them thrive. The Miracle Grow of our spiritual lives, of course, is the Holy Spirit. We don’t know how it works, either, but if we tap into it, our lives will thrive. Sadly, we often neglect to ask for help from the Holy Spirit. We’re too busy with life or we decide not to seek help from something we don’t fully understand. But for followers of Jesus, this powerful force is living within us and we can and should tap into it.
  3. We are all gardeners. We all own the responsibility for our personal spiritual growth. Our pastor doesn’t own it. Our spouse doesn’t own it. Our mentor doesn’t own it. But we’re also called to live in community. Flower gardens don’t thrive on their own. They need help. And while we should appreciate those who invest in us, we also need to invest in others, encourage them, and, at times, provide some wisdom that supports their growth.

Notice the one thing those lessons have in common: They don’t need money; they just need love.

How to Grow Some Civil Discourse

“Just shut up!” she explained. “This is our show, and we’ll talk about whatever we want!”

Just grow up, I thought. Then I pushed a button and, voila, I was listening to something else on the radio.

So there you have it: A snapshot of a typical “discussion” in modern America. Whether it’s talk radio, social media, blogs, opinion pieces in the newspaper, political rallies or – if they still exists – old fashion conversations at the water cooler or dinner table, we seem to have lost our capacity for civil discourse around tough issues.


Instead, we draw battle lines and close our hearts, minds, and ears to anyone who disagrees with us. Then we commence to spouting snotty rhetoric that draws applause from our friends and inflames our opponents (who are listening only for the purpose of becoming inflamed).

Civil discourse, by the way, is that archaic term that means “conversations intended to enhance understanding.” And it’s an area where we all need to grow like Jesus.

If you think this is a problem only among “others,” then I’d encourage you to look around. I see it all the time, and not just from the jerks of this world. I see it from people who are generally good-hearted, well-meaning, and kind … until they get on Facebook and start talking about things like which public restrooms a person should use. I see it from liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, followers of Jesus, atheists, Muslims, Jews, gays, straights, hybrids … well, from everyone.

Yes, I also see it from me. And if you think my words can be bad, you should hear what’s in my heart sometimes.

As I listen in on the social and political debates of our day – whether it’s Clinton/Trump or the great bathroom debate – I often find myself wondering how we all can be so insensitive toward each other’s views. And, frankly, it often seems that the people who are the loudest when preaching tolerance are also the most firm when trying to shut down the voices of their opponents.

When Luke 2:52 tells us Jesus grew in “favor with man,” it doesn’t mean everyone liked Him or agreed with Him. Clearly, that wasn’t the case. But if we want to do our part to restore civil discourse in our country (and the world), we can learn a lot (OK, everything) from the Master about how to enhance understanding.

Here are some high-level areas where I believe we all have an opportunity to grow if we want to change the discourse of history:

  • Avoid Trivial Pursuits – It’s easy to trivialize issues or people rather than engaging them in a thoughtful, meaningful way. The idea is to marginalize those souls who think differently and to diminish the validity of their viewpoints. It’s an elitist attitude that dehumanizes people. It results in false comparisons (“This is just like water fountains in the 1950s!”) and dismissive jabs (“Only sensible people would disagree on this, so who cares what people on the fringe think?”)
  • Chase the Truth – Pilate posed a question for the ages when he said, “What is truth?” (See John 18:38) Like many of us today, he seemed to be asking rhetorically, because Jesus just had given him the answer. Jesus: “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (See John 18:37) If we lean into the truth of God’s Word, we will have something worth sharing to anyone who might listen – not because we’re smarter or more righteous, but because we’re sharing the Word of God and not our emotion-based opinions.
  • Embrace Grace – Most people don’t have a relationship with Jesus, so it’s unreasonable to expect them to understand or embrace His truth. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you can beat them over the head with it. You can shout it at them. Or, you can grow like Jesus and offer grace and love as you try to model God’s truth. Jesus never sacrificed the truth, but He displayed an amazing sense of empathy as He reached into the hearts of people with love.

Growing in these areas, by the way, won’t ensure that you will win any arguments. Indeed, if you stand on Biblical truth in America, you’ll likely stand on unpopular side of most debates. So the last and most difficult thing I would recommend is that you surrender your desire to win. Let go, and let God, as the saying goes. Leave the results to Jesus, just as He surrendered the results of His life to the Father.

For me, that’s the most challenging idea of all. I want to be understood. If you understand me, after all, surely you will agree me. But growth without surrender only produces weeds.


As I wrote this, I came across a podcast by Michael Hyatt that offers some tactical approaches to improving your civil discourse: Click here to see it.

Encore Episode: How to Lead Transformational Conversations [Podcast]


Want Some Patience? Get in Line.

There are times in my life when I am the model of the virtue known as patience. Those times have a name: “The Exception.”

A photo I took at SDC.

Some people describe me as calm and easy going, but they just don’t know me well enough. Patience is an area where I definitely need some spiritual growth. And because I need it, God seems eager to provide opportunities for that growth.

Two or three times a year, for instance, my wife and I make the 100-mile drive through the Ozarks Mountains for a visit to Silver Dollar City.

If you’ve ever traveled to the Branson, Mo., area, you know that traffic is, shall we say, … an issue. It’s a mountainous area with limited options for getting from one place to another, and millions of tourists flock there each year for shopping, live theater shows, water sports, golf, and, of course, to visit the Silver Dollar City theme park. The roads simply can’t keep up with the driving needs of roughly 8 million visitors a year.

The actual population of Branson is around 10,000, but on any given day there are 100,000 people in town. And on the days we go, all 100,000 of them seem to get in line right in front of us.

It starts with the drive in. It takes a little less than two hours to drive the first 98 miles from our home to the parking lot at Silver Dollar City. The last two miles? That’s usually around 45 minutes. When we went last week, it took 75 minutes to cover that short stretch.

This, of course, is a warm up. If you don’t have tickets, you stand in line to get them. Then you stand in line to enter the park. Once inside, you stand in line for the shows. You stand in line for the major rides. You stand in line for food. You stand in line to stand in line.

In short, Silver Dollar City is a ton of short bursts of fun sandwiched around multiple opportunities to learn and practice patience.

Proverbs 19:11 says wisdom yields patience, and Jesus surely needed patience as He grew in wisdom. If it’s hard for me to put up with a 45-minute wait to get soaking wet on a rubber raft ride, imagine how hard it would be for a perfect God to put up with a history filled with people who are habitually selfish, prideful sinners and who can’t make it 10 seconds without messing up. You think Jesus was just a little frustrated His disciples kept falling asleep when they were supposed to be praying with Him?

Yet, there are no fewer than seven verses in the Old Testament that describe God as “compassionate and gracious … slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Exodus 34:6, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2) You see patience described in figures like Job and Abraham (he was 100 years old when God delivered on the promise to make him father). Paul talked about patience over and over. He described in verses like 1 Corinthians 13:4 and advocated for it in verses like Romans 12:12. The wisdom books like Proverbs, Psalms and James all preach the importance of patience.

So after reading and reflecting on many of those verses, here’s some of the wisdom I to absorb when it comes to patience:

We live in a me-first, hurry-up world, but we’re called to display endurance. The rewards of it are always worth the wait.