I am beyond excited about the children’s picture book version of The Circle Maker. Kids are going to learn about the power of prayer through words and pictures! I actually wrote it in one plane ride from DC to Grand Rapids, MI. It’s an adaptation of the adult book. My prayer for this book is simple: let it be one of their earliest memories! I’m believing that this book will instill in young children the awesome privilege and power of prayer.
I think there are two types of decisions that change the trajectory of our lives: defining decisions and daily decisions. It’s the defining decisions that are the equivalent of an on ramp onto a highway that will take you to a totally different destination. Daily decisions are the mile markers along the way!
Hundreds of churches and tens of thousands of people are taking the 40-day prayer challenge in 2013. I believe that will prove to be a defining decision. But it has to be backed up by the daily decision to seek God first. I genuinely believe the next forty days could be the best days of your life, but they probably won’t be the easiest. In fact, they might be the hardest. By definition, praying hard is hard. Think of the prayer challenge as boot camp for spiritual warfare! Before God can build us up He usually has to break us down. You’ve got to discipline yourself to get on your knees. I’m sure you’ll have a few setbacks along the way, but don’t get discouraged.
Keep pressing in. Keep praying through.
Draw the circle!
I wrote an article for CNN blog last year on why I observe Lent. Thought it might be worth the re-read.
When I was a seminary student, my wife and I went to downtown Chicago for a taping of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” When the producer came out to prep us for the show, I was embarrassed for him because he had dirt on his forehead. Didn’t he look in the mirror that morning? Why didn’t someone tell him? My embarrassment for him turned into embarrassment for myself when I discovered it was Ash Wednesday and the dirt on his forehead was actually ashes that symbolized the day of repentance that begins Lent.
I grew up going to a wide variety of Protestant churches, but none of them practiced or even mentioned Lent. It wasn’t until a few years ago, well into my tenure as lead pastor of National Community Church, that I discovered the value of Lent. It has since become a meaningful season in the cycle of my spiritual life. During the last few Lenten seasons, I’ve incorporated a fast into my routine. One year I gave up television. Another year I gave up soda. I’ve also done a variety of food fasts for Lent.
In my experience, giving something up for Lent has made the Easter celebration far more meaningful and even helped me develop the spiritual discipline of fasting. Fasting during Lent has helped me identify with the sacrifices Christ has made for me, and it’s also helped me focus on the reason for the season. The celebration of the resurrection of Christ has become far more meaningful since I started observing Lent.
The church I pastor is a rather non-traditional Protestant church. We are absolutely orthodox in theology but a little unorthodox in practice. We meet in five different theaters around the metro D.C. area. We own and operate a coffeehouse on Capitol Hill that gives all of its net profits to local community projects and humanitarian causes in other countries.
Along with new innovations, however, we’ve also rediscovered the value the ancient traditions. While we may not practice Lent the same way the Catholic church does, we are reinventing it in a way that is meaningful to us. We put our unique fingerprint on those traditions, and that keeps them from being empty rituals.
I’m afraid that many Protestant churches have a very short-term memory. For them, church history only goes back to the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther. While we may have our theological differences, we share a long history, and I believe there are things that Protestant and Catholic churches can learn from each other in ways that don’t compromise their core beliefs.
I for one am thankful for the Lenten tradition that has been cultivated, celebrated and cherished within the Catholic church. I think more Protestant churches will re-adopt some of those traditions that are part of our common church history from before the Protestant Reformation.
I think of Lent as a spiritual pre-season of sorts. The six Sundays leading up to Easter are considered mini-Easters. Like pre-season games, they prepare us for the ultimate celebration in Christendom: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And one of the benefits, not unlike the Advent celebration surrounding Christmas, is that the celebration is extended to a longer period of time.
A few years ago I came up with a formula for spiritual growth: change of pace + change of place = change of perspective.
Let me explain what it means.
The key to spiritual growth is developing healthy and holy routines. They are called spiritual disciplines. But once the routine becomes routine, you need to disrupt the routine via a change of pace or change of place. Why? Because sacred routines can become empty rituals if you forget why you started doing them in the first place.
I’m certainly not suggesting that routines are bad. Most of us practice a morning ritual that includes showering, brushing our teeth and putting on deodorant. On behalf of your family and friends, continue practicing those routines.
But here’s the spiritual catch-22: good routines can become bad routines if we don’t change the routine. When you start going through the motions spiritually, it’s time to mix up the routine. And Lent is a great opportunity for a natural change of pace.
Lent disrupts the status quo. It can get us out of an old routine and into a new routine.
In physical exercise, routines eventually become counterproductive. If you exercise your muscles the same way every time you work out, your muscles start adapting and stop growing. You need to disorient your muscles by changing your routine. And the same is true spiritually.
When I’m in a spiritual slump, I often snap out of it by a change of pace or a change of place. And it was Jesus who modeled this practice. He would often walk the beach or climb a mountain. I think those changes in geography are not disconnected from the practice of spirituality. It is a simple change of place that precipitates many of the epiphanies that happen in Scripture.
To snap out of a slump, sometimes all it takes is a small change in routine. Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or nursing home. Start keeping a gratitude journal. Get plugged into a small group or Bible study. Take a day off and do a personal retreat. Or just get up a little earlier in the morning and spend a little extra time with God.
One of the small changes in routine that has helped me rejuvenate me is picking up a new translation of Scripture. New words help me think new thoughts. And while you can institute those changes at any time, Lent is a perfect excuse to mix up your spiritual routine.
Why not leverage Lent by mixing up your routine? If you do, you’ll celebrate Easter like you never have before.
One of our core values at National Community Church is everything is an experiment. Let me try to unpack it.
We believe that there are ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet. Our theology doesn’t change, but our methodology does. Have you ever noticed that there is no “order of service” in Scripture. Why? Because it would stifle creativity. Yes, there are traditions and ordinances that every true church adheres too! But every church has a unique churchprint. And I believe we need lots of different kinds of churches because there are lots of different kinds of people! The one common denominator is the gospel.
One of the great dangers of leadership is that at some point you can accumulate so much “know how” that you stop leading out of imagination and start leading out of memory. That’s when you stop creating the future and start repeating the past. That’s the day you stop living and start dying.
There is a concept in the realm of science called critical realism. Think of it as scientific humility. It’s the recognition that every theory is amendable because new discoveries are bound to be made. Now, please don’t misunderstand. I believe the canon of Scripture is closed. I believe it is the inspired Word of God. I believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. And I am a sinner saved by grace. Those truths are eternal and unchangeable. But systematic theology is an oxymoron. Too often it’s our attempt to control God by reducing Him to measurable and manageable terms. The moment you think you have God all figured out, you’ve created an idol. He doesn’t fit within the tiny confines of our logical left-brains! Yes, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But God is also predictably unpredictable! He works in strange and mysterious ways.
My advice? Stay Humble. Stay Hungry.
I love the old axiom: live as if you’ll die tomorrow, but learn as if you will live forever! Living experimentally is simply learning as much as you can about as much as you can. You are always learning. You are open to new ideas. You are open to new experiences. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Never lose a holy curiosity.”
Eight times the Psalmist says, “Sing to the Lord a new song.” I can’t remember the original citation, but I remember reading a study once that suggested that we stop thinking about the lyrics of a song after we’ve sung it thirty times. That’s why we need to write new music. Every new song is a musical experiment. For what it’s worth, check out some of our NCC originals @ www.714music.com.
When we went multi-site, it was an experiment. Our cafe in Berlin is an experiment. So was our coffeehouse. So was the first series trailer we produced. So is our free market system of small groups. So is our staff structure. So is everything we tried for the first time!
I’m more afraid of missing opportunities than making mistakes. We need the freedom to fail. In fact, if you haven’t failed lately it’s probably because you aren’t trying anything new! I believe that experimentation is an expression of faith. It’s believing that there is a new way, a better way of doing something. It’s striving toward excellence, which honors God. And it’s giving expression to the infinitely creative Spirit that dwells within us and sanctifies our imaginative right-brains!
Everything is an experiment.
I cannot announce our speakers yet, but we are going to host a conference called City Fathers on 06.06.13. Circle that date!
I feel like God put this in my heart a year ago–to convene a conference for DC area pastors that would honor the generation of pastors that have paved the way for the rest of us! One of the pastors we’ve invited to speak has pastored a church in DC for 45 years! We are harvesting seeds that these city fathers have planted. And it’s high time that we give honor where honor is due. So for one day we’ll sit at the feet of our city fathers. We’ll glean from their wisdom and we’ll ask for their blessing.
I know that most conferences are all about the latest and greatest. This is not that. This is about learning from those who have been faithful and fruitful for the long-haul. We’re not even open for registration yet, but I wanted to get the date out there! It’s going to be a banner day for the church-at-large in Washington, DC.
The 40 Day Prayer Challenge is quickly approaching! I know that many people started their own 40 day challenge in January, but we’re going to kick ours off on Ash Wednesday and leverage Lent. I like to call it a Lentperiment or Experilent. Take your pick.
The goal is to establish a daily prayer habit. That one habit will radically alter your destiny. If you want to break the sin habit, you need to establish a prayer habit. And prayer is the key to seeing and seizing God-ordained opportunities. Prayer isn’t about our agenda for God. It’s about discerning His agenda for us on a daily basis!
Don’t know where to start? Start with the Bible. It wasn’t meant to be read. It was meant to be prayed. Start praying the promises of God. Or pray through a book of the Bible. But whatever you do, don’t just read it. Pray it. Meditate on it. And live it.
If your church would like to kick it off with a prayer meeting via simulcast, check this out at incastevents.com. It’ll be a 90-minute event on Ash Wednesday, February 13.
I’ve read two books in the past two weeks that encourage choosing ONE WORD for the year. One is titled One Word that Will Change Your Life. The other is My One Word. I’ve spent several weeks drilling down on this. I started out with a laundry list. Then I got it down to a short list. Then I thought I had landed on the word margin, but I changed my mind. My 2013 word is selah.
I think it’s one of the most mysterious words and important words in Scripture. It appears 74 times in the Hebrew Scripture. To be honest, biblical scholars aren’t 100% exactly what it means. And that’s why I like it. Here’s my take on it.
It probably refers to a musical pause. And I like that concept, even though I’m not a musician. Like music, our lives have a time signature. And we need to strategically rest so that we keep in harmony, in melody.
Here are some random takes on selah.
It’s change of pace + change of place = change of perspective. It’s being 100% present–listening with your heart, thinking with your soul, and laughing from your gut. It’s living each day like it’s the first day and last day of your life. Or in the words of Martin Luther, it’s living like Jesus was crucified yesterday, rose today, and is coming back tomorrow! It’s enjoying the journey.
It’s considering the lilies–Matthew 6:28. It’s numbering your days–Psalms 90:12. It’s redeeming the time–Ephesians 5:16. It’s being still and remembering that He is God–Psalm 46:10. It’s casting your cares upon Him–I Peter 5:7.
At some point, most of us stop living out of imagination and start living out of memory. We get into a relational, spiritual or emotional rut. Selah is the solution. It’s the margin we need to daydream. It’s the one day in God’s courts that is far better than the thousand days spent elsewhere. That is when and where and how we dream God’s dreams. The more we pray, the more we dream. And the more we dream, the more we have to pray! Selah.
According to Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French philosopher, “All of man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” Corrie Ten Boom said, “If the devil can’t make you bad he’ll make you busy.”
One of my defining moments last year was our anniversary trip to Mackinaw Island. We sat on the porch of the Grand Hotel and let the world pass us by for a few days! That’s selah. There are no motorized vehicles on Mackinaw. Just the clip-clop of horses hooves! That’s selah.
By personality, I’m driven. And I’m certainly not advocating for anything less than working like it depends on you. But you also need to rest like it depends on God. The Sabbath is selah. It’s reminding yourself that God is the one who keeps the planets in orbit.
Selah is resting in God’s mercies the same way you put your full weight in a hammock and swing back and forth on a beautiful spring day.
Selah is controlling your calendar so your calendar doesn’t control you. Selah is Spirit-led spontaneity. Selah is the willingness to go out of your way.
Life isn’t measured in minutes. It’s measured in moments. It’s the difference between chronos and kairos. Don’t make a living. Make a life!
Nothing is more difficult to create or more important to cultivate than culture within an organization–especially the church. But that’s the primary job description of leaders. It’s priority #1. Leaders are environmental engineers. We create culture, with the help of the Holy Spirit obviously, where people can grow closer to God by cultivating spiritual disciplines. And the prayer habit is at the top of the list. Our most-repeated core value may be this one: pray like it depends on God and work like it depends on you.
You have to model it like you’re on the catwalk, cast vision like you’re on a mission to Mars, teach it like a TED talk, strategize it like an NFL offensive coordinator, and beat the drum like a Stomp troop.
Enough metaphors for one sentence?
After writing The Circle Maker, I realized that while my personal prayer life was thriving, I had failed to lead our church in corporate prayer. I honestly couldn’t say that we were a praying church. And I was determined to change that so we named 2012 the YOP–year of prayer. We kicked off the year with a sermon series on The Circle Maker. Then we had our small groups go through the DVD curriculum. But the highlight was a 40-day prayer challenge during Lent. So many miracles happened during that season of prayer, and I document them in Draw the Circle: The 40-Day Prayer Challenge.
If you aren’t a praying church then you are just playing church. But when the prayer meeting becomes the most important meeting, revival is around the corner! A 40-day prayer challenge has become part of the rhythm of our church life at NCC. We’ll leverage Lent and take our church through Draw the Circle. We’d love to invite other churches to be part of the adventure. It’ll go a long way in creating a culture of prayer. And if you change the way you pray, everything changes!
Here are four ideas for implementation:
1. Do a sermon series on The Circle Maker. We’ve got tons of FREE resources plus bulk discounts at www.thecirclemaker.com.
2. Turn your small groups into prayer circles by going through The Circle Maker curriculum. If you are interested, we’ll even give you a complimentary copy of the DVD curriculum. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Take the 40 Day Challenge! Lora and I gave everybody in our church a free copy of Draw the Circle. I want our church to be on the same prayer page! And I believe it’ll pay huge dividends if we all cultivate a daily prayer habit. For bulk discounts, check out www.thecirclemaker.com. If you order a case in January, you’ll get a free copy of The Circle Maker Prayer Journal.
Fifteen years ago today, we got a phone call that changed our lives forever. I was actually sitting in a Doctor of Ministry class at Regent University. My father-in-law, who was in the prime of life and prime of ministry, passed away from the heart attack. He was fifty-five years-old. And just a few days before, his doctor gave him a clean bill of health.
He is missed beyond measure, but I’m so grateful for the example he set. He was my model for ministry. He was a preacher’s preacher. He had a huge heart for people and for missions. And while I’ve written A book on prayer, but he wrote THE book on prayer! I’ve never met anyone who prayed with more intensity or consistency. That’s why I dedicated The Circle Maker to him. To me, it’s the most significant page in the entire book!
So grateful for the legacy he left our family!
I sort of limped into 2013 because I bit off more than I could chew in 2012. When everything was said and done, I wrote 3 1/2 books in one calendar year. Ouch! And that was on the heels of The Circle Maker which took a 110% effort.
For the past four months, I’ve devoted every spare second to my next book. The good news is that I’m all done with All In. It’ll release in September 2013. Hard to describe this one, but it’s a call to consecration. It’s probably the hardest hitting book I’ve written, but definitely motivational as well. You are only one decision away from a totally different life!
We still have final edits, but I’m taking a deep breath right now. My goal is to only write one book in 2013. I’m also scaling back to a dozen over-night speaking trips in 2013. Gotta dial it back because of family stage and church stage.
I think my one word for 2013 is margin. I need more margin to dream, to read, to play, to serve, to laugh, and to go on Wild Goose chases!