Faith • Leadership • Life

Celebrating Easter at COTES and Moving Forward

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Alabama football coach Nick Saban uses a “24 hour” rule for his team and staff that helps them stay focused on the future and keeps them from getting caught being stuck on the past. If they win, they can celebrate for a day. If they lose, they can stew on it for 24 hours. Then, itʼs time to move on to the work and focus on the next game. As a leader, I admire Sabanʼs approach and see great value in it.

At the church I have the honor of leading. COTES, we had an amazing Easter weekend. Our team worked very hard to adequately plan for all the issues surrounding what promised to be a heavily attended weekend. We strategically added service times and designed unique worship experiences at important points during the weekend. This enabled us to spread the crowds throughout the weekend so that everyone would have a great experience and be able to hear the Gospel with the least amount of distraction. The plan worked amazingly well, and we were ecstatic.

We also spent a few months preparing the music, teaching, and creative elements for the weekend. COTES had 6 different services from Friday through Sunday. Within those 6, there were 3 completely unique environments. This was tremendously taxing on the teams, but God blessed it and we saw incredible fruit from the weekend. Over 3,300 people attended our Easter weekend. Close to 30 people were baptized, and over 60 people indicated they gave their lives to Jesus. We were humbled, amazed, and incredibly grateful that God would bless our church this way.

While Easter was great, every weekend is not Easter weekend, and Easter 2013 is now a memory. Itʼs time that we at COTES move forward to what God has next. We are kicking off a new sermon series, “The Family Series”, this weekend. We will spend 4 weeks teaching people what the Bible says about the family. It will be powerful and incredibly relevant. We have 1000 new people that were introduced to our church this past weekend. My hope is that many of them will return for this important series.

If youʼre a part of COTES, join me in moving forward. Invite your friends to this series and join us in making our church a magnet that pulls people all over our area to Jesus and His message, the Gospel. Families in our culture are under intense attack. Letʼs join together to make a difference. If you are a church leader or attender at another church, I encourage you remember and celebrate Easter, but look and move forward to what God wants to do next in and through your church. God is always doing a new thing!!

Posted in: Blog, Church, Community, Invite, Learning

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Why Should I Invite?

EasterInvite

This week, the church that I have the honor of pastoring, COTES, will collectively invite thousands of people to come and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with us.  I, along with our staff, have been urging our people to invite their coworkers, family, and friends to one of our many weekend services.  It has been one of the main points of focus for our church over the past month.  One may wonder why this is so important?  Shouldn’t we just clean the buildings, prepare the service, open the Bible and preach to whoever decides to come on their own?  Should we be making all this effort to get people to the church this weekend, or any weekend for that matter?  I believe the Bible gives us a strong foundation for inviting everyone we can to our churches, especially on Easter.

In Luke chapter 14, Jesus tells us the parable of the great banquet.  In this brilliantly vivid story, told in a way only Jesus could tell it, a master prepares an amazing and large banquet and feast.  He instructs his servant to go and invite people to it, but everyone he invites turns him down with weak excuses.  He then angrily instructs the servant to go everywhere possible and invite everyone he can find to the banquet.  The language is strong, as the servant is told in Luke 14:23 to “urge” people to come.  Why does the master say to so passionately make this invite?  In the same verse he says to invite “so that my house will be full.”  God wants His house to be FULL!!!

If you attend my church or another, either way you should be passionately and actively inviting everyone you can in any way you can to come to the house of God with you this weekend.  We know that people are more willing to attend a church during Easter than any other time of the year.  Why would we not invite?  Why would we be so lazy to simply hope people will show up to our churches without actually doing the work of inviting?  The “build it and they’ll come” mentality has taken the modern church down a road of decline and stagnation.  Our buildings become nothing but museums and monuments if the Gospel isn’t being proclaimed to both saved and unsaved people within their walls.  I hope COTES is jam packed this weekend with people.  Hurting people, saved people, lost people, rich people, poor people, sick people….lot’s of people!!!  Why? Because God wants His house full, and so should we.

So, in closing, I challenge you to spend the next few days making invites.  Use your cell phone, your computer, and most of all you influence to make the “ask.”  Will it be hard? Yes!  Will it be uncomforable? You better believe it!  Will you regret it? Never.  So, invite my friends.  There’s no feast like the one Jesus serves.  There’s no banquet that comes close to the one that has the Gospel as the centerpiece.  May our tables be set and His houses be full!!

Posted in: Blog, Church, Community, Invite, perspective

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3 Circles

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In Acts 1:8 Jesus gave the church and all believers a mission.  Jesus drew 3 circles for our mission, each one larger than the last.  As He told that first group to go into Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and all the world it became clear that He was giving us an order and a plan.  The way I see it, Jesus was calling us to be local, regional, and global in our mission.  As churches and people of faith we will find unique ways and methods to accomplish this, but the overall mission and plan was given to us by Jesus Himself.

I think the mission that Christ has given us is not only a command, but a gift.  Whether we realize it or not, we all deeply long for purpose in our lives.  We all can remember that pivotal moment when we began to ask the deep life questions of why we’re here and what life is all about.  It is in those moment that Jesus words to us become so full of life and hope.  We have a purpose and a mission!  We have a reason for still existing on this big spinning ball called Earth.

There’s few feelings more dark and hopeless than that of a total lack of purpose.  It is into this black hole of darkness and hopelessness that Jesus shines the light of life purpose.  To think that the God of Heaven would invite us to partner with Him to accomplish His work in the Earth is unfathomable, yet true.  In all of our weaknesses and unworthiness we are reminded by Christ that He made us worthy of the mission by taking our place and making us right before God.  It is Jesus who gave us the mission, empowers us to do the mission, and makes us worthy for the mission.

I find it interesting that Jesus gave the disciples and the early church their mission just before He went to Heaven.  Surely they would be in deep grief and possibly some confusion when He left.   There were going to be some really hard days ahead for this group.  Persecution, torture, and terror were right around the corner.  Many of them would soon die horrifically for their faith in Christ.  Knowing all of this, Jesus gave them a mission and purpose that would give them assurance and encouragement in their darkest moments.  He would give them power to partner with Him to reach the world.  Locally, regionally, and globally the Gospel message began to explode and spread.  This world has never been the same.

Much has changed in 2000 years, but the mission has not.  You and I are called to join our God in this quest to spread the Gospel and make disciples in our communities, regions, and across the globe.

Posted in: 3 Circles, Blog, Church, Community

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Embrace Change – Ecclesiastes 3:1

Change

We’ve all heard it said a million times. No one likes change. While that may not be entirely true, change does most certainly cause a large portion of the human population to tense up, freak out, or check out. The problem with taking a strong anti-change stance is that you are literally going against one of the big realities of life: change is a part of the deal, whether you like it or not. It’s not a matter of if things will change in your life, it is a matter of when they will change.

My grandmother has always said that life changes significantly about every 5 years. As a kid and teenager, I didn’t notice the wisdom and truth in her premise, but as a 35 year old adult I now see it very clearly. She’s pretty spot on!! My life significantly changes every 4-5 years.

Here’s a snapshot of the last couple of decades of my life. I spent around 4 years in middle school, then started High School. Big change for sure. I then spent 4 years in high school and my church youth group, and upon graduation, things changed again. I started college at University of Mobile, went on staff with a new church, and joined a touring group. New friends, new town, new church led to huge change.

5 years later I graduated from UM, married my bride, and moved to Atlanta, which was an enormous change. Around 4 years later, we moved to Pensacola to plant a church, and we had our first child. Change!! 5 years later we merged our church plant with Potential Church out of Miami and became multisite opening the door to a ton of change. This past summer, which was 4 years after that merger, I became the lead pastor of COTES and moved to the Eastern Shore. Yep, grandma nailed it!!

The truth is your life is going to change. You can fight and try to keep things the same, but you’ll fight a losing battle. Churches, organizations, and people who fight against change often do so to the detriment of their own futures. This doesn’t have to be our story. We can choose to handle change differently. We can actually embrace it.

I think change can be viewed like wind in the sails of a boat. The wind will effect the boat one way or the other. The captain can fight against it to no avail, or he can make a better choice. He can harness it. He can put the boat in a position to actually use the wind as energy to move it forward to a preferred destination.

You and I have the same choice available to us concerning change. Inevitable change can be harnessed to actually move your life forward. I believe God brings change into our lives for this very purpose. Ecclesiastes 3:1 makes clear that God designed our lives for seasons, and those seasons will change. Don’t be discouraged or intimidated by change. Welcome it, harness it, and embrace it. It can become wind in your sails.

Posted in: Bible, Blog, change, Church, Ecclesiastes

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Use Your Brain

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God made your mind and He wants you to love Him with it.  One of the major distinguishing characteristics that separates us from the rest of creation is our intellect.  The human mind is an amazing work of God’s creative power. Sadly, this seems to be one of the most ignored aspects of our love for God.  Mark 12:30 records Jesus telling to love God with our heart, soul, MIND and strength.  To love Him completely your mind must be involved.

​The problem is that over the past couple of decades it seems a strong wind of anti-intellectualism has blown into the church world.  The “experience God” movement , while positive in many ways, shoved the pursuit of the knowledge of God to the background.  This is detrimental because God wants us to know Him and know about Him!!  The more you know God the more you’ll love God.

​Knowledge and intellect have gotten a bit of a bad wrap because there’s no doubt that it can lead to arrogance and pride.  We’ve all seen the  brand new theologian armed with a specific theological system become puffed up in a way that both annoys and harms.  We shouldn’t allow this to deter us from seeking to know God on an intellectual level.  Knowledge can puff up, but it does not have to puff up.  ​

​The Apostle Paul made it clear that if your knowledge leads you to pride then you don’t know what you think you know.  Knowledge of God should never lead us to be prideful, but instead to deep humility.  Allowing your knowledge of God to lead you to pride is like a mountain climber getting 50 feet up the face of Mt. Everest and beginning to brag about it.  It’s crazy!!  He still has so far to go.  You and I could learn something new and deep about God everyday for the rest of our lives and still be scratching the surface of God’s greatness.

​We need to love Him with our MIND.  To do this, we need to start with the truth, God’s Word.  The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us.  God specially revealed Himself to us through Jesus and His Word.  When you read the Word and think on the Word and study the Word you are loving God with your mind.  I invite you to join me and my church on an 85 day reading plan in the New Testament.  This is a great way to get started.  Here is the link.  Whatever you choose to do, get started loving God with your mind!!

Posted in: Blog, Church, Learning, The MInd, Yellow Brick Road

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Cruise Ships And Marriage

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This week the news, both local and national, was taken over by a broken down Carnival cruise ship and the plight of the thousands of helpless people on the boat.  After assessing the situation, Carnival and the Coast Guard decided to pull the massive ship across the gulf via tug boats to our very own Mobile Bay.

As the powerless boat inched across the Gulf, the situation onboard deteriorated rapidly.  People couldn’t breathe due to muggy heat and the horrific smell of sewage, bad food, and water.  People we’re pulling their mattresses onto the open deck to sleep in a breeze and some semi clear air.  No bathrooms, little food, and people getting sick by the minute.  To put it mildly, this was a horrible situation and a very public failure by a major cruise line.  The most stunning part of the story however is that their were many warning signs that this boat was ripe for a disaster and nothing was done.

You see, Carnival has admitted they knew the boat had been having major mechanical issues for months.  Yet nothing was done.  The warnings were not heeded.  People suffered because of a lack of attention given to a very important issue…..SAFETY.  I have found through almost 13 years of marriage and counseling many couples that marriage is very much like a cruise ship.  I’ve never seen a marriage that was destroyed without warning signals ahead of time.  I’ve also never seen a marriage destroyed that didn’t suffer from a lack of attention.

We date our spouses pre-marriage passionately and attentively but often after a few years of marriage the attention goes down fast.  We stop honoring each other and serving each other.  The warning signs are often very small and seemingly insignificant, but over time they can become lethal.  After time the lack of attention can lead to a disaster, like an engine fire on a cruise ship.

Great marriages do not just happen.  Great marriages take work, effort, and attention.  That’s why at our church, COTES, we’ve launched a ministry called True Marriage to help couples give their marriages the attention they need.  God created marriage as a means to make us HOLY first, but also to bring great joy and meaning to our lives.  No one wants you to have a great and healthy marriage more than your Heavenly Father.  But you must choose to do the hard work that it takes to keep your marriage floating safely on the seas of life.

Sadly, we often put more effort into our workout plans, our careers, or even our hobbies than our own marriages.  If you’re spending more time on your golf game or your wardrobe than you are on the connection in your marriage there’s a big problem.  Don’t let your marriage suffer from a lack of attention and wait till your stranded in the middle of an ocean of hardship to decide to try to make it work.  Decide now!!  Love your spouse!!  Serve and honor your spouse!!  Pray and worship with your spouse!!

We have a great event coming at COTES called True Marriage LIVE on March 1st.  It’s a night where you can let some people speak into your marriage.  If you live in the area, get a ticket and come.  Remember, God wants you to have a great marriage…..but it will NOT just happen!!

Posted in: Blog, Church, Community, True Marriage Live

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Identity Crisis

IdentityCrisis

“What is your name?”  This was the question God asked Jacob after they wrestled all night long in the desert in Genesis 32.  Jacob had been living in the middle of an identity crisis since the day he was born with his tiny infant fingers latched tightly onto the foot of his firstborn twin brother, Esau.  His parents gave him the name “Jacob” which meant “schemer or deceiver.”  As he grew up, his life was shoved tightly into a mold like beach sand into a cup.  The problem was that mold wasn’t the one his Creator had in mind.

Jacob slipped further and further into a false identity as he grew.  While Esau lived out his interests in the outdoors hunting and working, Jacob spent the majority of his time becoming a great cook at the side of his mother.  She eventually became a huge negative influence in his life.  This culminated with Jacob tricking his elderly blind father into giving him the firstborn rights and blessing.  He spent the next few decades on the run from Esau while having several misadventures, including a 14 year job trying to get the woman he wanted as a wife.

Jacob’s lack of a God given identity led to an exhausting life of insecurity and mistakes.  It was at this point in his life that Jacob got the wrestling match of a lifetime with his God, and got the penetrating question that all of us need to answer: who are you?

God wanted Jacob, and us, to answer this question.  We must admit that we’ve created false identities so that He can give us the true one.  Only God can tell us who we really are. He created us. He knit us together in our mother’s wombs.  He alone can speak to our deepest needs, and there are few deeper than that of knowing who we are.

As people, we chase the answer to this question like gold at the end of a rainbow.  We chase it in places where the answer can never be found.  Our spouses, careers, net worths and hobbies can’t fix this crisis.  Our souls long to be defined by the One who called them to be in the first place.  The destruction that results in avoiding His answer to our longing can be devastating.

Jacob answered that he was simply “Jacob,” the schemer and deciever who lived up to his name.  He had allowed his past to define him.  God, however, had a different plan.  God changed Jacob’s identity that night in the deepest way.  He named him Israel, which meant overcomer and son/child of God.  What a difference hearing the truth from God can make!!

Jacob walked with the physical scars from that fight the rest of his life, but he never had to doubt his identity again.  He belonged to God.  He had a heavenly father who loved him enough to wrestle him down.  He had a God who was willing to wound him so He could name him.  God wants to do the same for you.  Through the finished work of Jesus on the cross, we can find our deepest identity and security.

The message of the Gospel is one of reconciliation.  Through Jesus we are made RIGHT with God.  Through Jesus our identity becomes children of the Most High.  God wounded Jesus so He could name you! Stop looking for it where it can’t be found.  Turn to God and hear His voice. Hear Him tell you who you really are. He’s the only one who can.

Posted in: Blog, Church, identity, Yellow Brick Road

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Team

Team
Once every year our country comes together to eat, hang out, and watch the football game. I say it in that order because I’m convinced, especially in the South, that most folks aren’t really watching the Super Bowl but instead are just having fun with friends. In fact, most people probably just want to watch the commercials!! I’m sure I will have my share of chicken wings this Sunday night. As we approach the big day, I am reminded more than anything of the power of the team.

Football is a great sport for many reasons, but the greatest to me is the fact that it truly is a team game. Sure, there are individual positions on the field but they are all extremely intertwined. Every player’s ultimate success lies not only in his own performance but also on the performance of those around him. Even the quarterback can’t get his job done if the line doesn’t hold tight and protect him. It’s hard to throw an accurate pass lying flat on your back!! There is a ton of trust and relational chemistry that must be built for a football team to succeed.

I have always loved being on a team. Whether it was the numerous baseball and basketball teams I was on growing up or the leadership teams at my home church, I enjoyed the shared experience with my teammates. In high school I was on a drama team that performed a production for our school that people just loved so much. I remember sharing the moment of applause as we bowed together……all 20 of us! In college I was part of a touring music group. Night after night, we would minister through word and music all over the southeast. We rode together, rehearsed together, set up stages together, and allowed God to use us together. From the sound tech to the lead guitarist to the lead singer, it was all a big team effort…..and I LOVED it.

I think the reason teams are so appealing to us is that God made us that way, and He modeled it for us. Really what a good team becomes is a community. I bet that the two super bowl teams talk about more than just football when they’re together. I bet they talk about their families, share advice, and maybe even some pray together. Teams…..GOOD teams always become communities, and communities are powerful. A good team becomes life giving to those on the team.

At my church COTES Ministries, we are really big on Small Groups. We have a large church, but we truly are a collection of small groups. These groups meet together to eat and fellowship, study the Scriptures, and pray together. It is amazing what happens over time in these groups. They really become TEAMS! When there’s a need, they come together. When a member hurts, the group jumps in to help. They laugh together, cry together, and do life together.

We also have a staff that I like to call the TEAM. I am one of a great group of people who feel called to lead our local body of believers in Christ. I love our small group and I love our church staff/team. They are my friends and my partners in ministry and mission. My family is also a team….a 5 person team!! Team Bell. We are doing life together in the Bell house! We were all created to be on a team. This week as you watch the big game, notice how they work together. Look for the chemistry. I would also ask you to consider getting on a team if you’re doing life alone. You were created for community. You were created to do life on a team.

 

Posted in: Blog, Church, Community, Small Group, Team

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Yellow Brick Road

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The Wizard of Oz is one of our culture’s most revered stories and movies. Generations of children and adults have enjoyed this fantastic tale of a young girl’s journey through the land of Oz in search of “home”. I personally grew up watching it once a year when it was aired on TV. The flying monkey’s always freaked me out!! In the story, the young girl Dorothy is blown to the strange but amazing land of Oz by a Kansas twister. She is told that there is only one road that will lead her home. This yellow brick road would be the path that Dorothy and her dog would take to get to the destination at which she so desperately wished to arrive.

Along the road she encountered several characters who all wanted and needed something. A scarecrow needed a brain, the tin man a heart, and the lion desired courage and strength. The great wizard in the Emerald City had a false identity making him essentially nothing more than a fake. The yellow brick road also took the girl down some dark and scary turns, and the entire journey was made treacherous because of the evil force of the witch who wanted nothing more than to destroy Dorothy.

Isn’t it interesting that the greatest stories actually mirror truth? Our lives are very much like Dorothy’s. We can feel like strangers in a foreign land as we walk through this life. Most of us yearn for direction and purpose. We often take paths in our lives that bring immense hardship and pain as we try to find our way home. We meet people along the way who are walking through life with similar stories and needs, all missing things that they deeply desire. A burning question often surfaces in the hearts and minds of those living this life. What is the way? How do I get “home”? Many of you ask this question daily. Even those who consider themselves Christians find themselves wrestling with this problem.

In the New Testament, the disciple Thomas asked Jesus this same question. The night before the crucifixion and death of Christ, He was with his men and began telling them that He was going to go away. Thomas asked a question that we’ve all been asking for 2000 years. What is the way Jesus? We don’t know the way? Thomas loved Jesus and truly wanted to know the way to where He was going! Jesus gave Thomas a powerful answer, and His answer hasn’t changed in 2000 years.

In John 14:6, Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus said that HE was the WAY!! The Yellow Brick Road of our lives that will lead us home is not bricks and mortar but instead it is a person!! Jesus is the ROAD. Jesus is the WAY. And He made it clear that He’s the ONLY way. There isn’t multiple paths in this life that will lead you home. There’s many roads you can take, but only one right one. Jesus is the way. Getting on the right road in life begins with Jesus and loving Him.

AW Tozer wrote that the most important thing about us is what we think about God. Proverbs says the beginning of all wisdom is the FEAR of the Lord. Mark 12:30 records Jesus saying that we are to LOVE the Lord our God. This is the beginning and the end of the right road of life. It all comes back to Jesus. He is the Alpha and Omega. He’s the first step of your right journey and He’s the destination. Follow Him and you’ll never regret it. It will be dark at times, hard at times, and you’ll want to give up at times, but keep following. He’s the ONLY way. I’d rather walk in the dark with Jesus than be in the light on my own!!

Posted in: Blog, Church, Yellow Brick Road

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The Aquarium

The Acquarium

Growing up on the Gulf Coast, I have always loved water.  My childhood was full of visits to beaches, bays, rivers and creeks.  My grandfather’s catfish pond was within walking distance from my home, so as you can imagine, I’ve spent considerable time with fish and water!  This early passion of mine led to my family having an aquarium in our house.  As a young care taker of an aquarium, I learned a great deal about what this little glass enclosed environment should be, and how to create it and protect it.

Today, as an adult and pastor, I find that too many churches have become aquariums.  Here’s the way this often works.  The pastor and leaders of the church become the aquarium caretakers.  They make sure the fish they allow into the tank are for the most part quite similar.  The last thing you want to do is rock the boat!!  The next thing to pay careful attention to is the environment for the fish.  The rocks, plastic trees, water temperature……..it must be perfect for the fish in the tank.  The caretaker must also learn to feed the fish exactly the way the desire to be fed.  The type, frequency, and  amount of food are all key factors that must be kept in mind.  All of this effort and attention is given to taking care of the fish already in the tank.

As I read and seek to obey God’s Word, it becomes clear to me that CHURCH IS NOT AN AQUARIUM.  God never intended our churches to become comfy environments for the found to the exclusion of those who are still lost.  Jesus said in Matthew 4:19 that we should FOLLOW Him and He would make us fish for PEOPLE.  I couldn’t agree more with Pastor Andy Stanley’s recent book that the mission of the church must be both deep and wide.  The problem is that many churches take the easy road to turn completely inward and forget the other half of the mission which is to reach those far from God.

I think we should break down the glass walls of our aquariums and become churches where found people can grow deeper while lost people can be found.  It’s the tension I believe we are called to live in as the body of Christ.  We must allow fish in that are different……the diversity will only enrich the beauty of our local bodies.  While the anchor of our churches must be Jesus and His Word as we guard our theology and doctrines, we must be more open to diverse methodologies and expressions within.  Very simply, we must grow and go.  Aquariums are great for growing fish but terrible for “going” fish.  That’s why the church is NOT an aquarium.

Posted in: Blog, Church

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