Faith • Leadership • Life

Bringing People To The Table

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In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was dining with a powerful group of Pharisees and teachers of the Law on the Sabbath when a very sick man showed up. Jesus healed the man, knowing He would be adding to the case the religious leaders were building to have Him executed. He then began teaching the men about the value of all people, and how they should treat others with more honor than themselves. I’m sure it was a tense time at the old dinner table!! Jesus always had a way of bravely speaking the truth. When one of the men tried to break the tension by basically making a presumptive statement about the group’s eventual joy in the Kingdom of God, Jesus told one of His most famous parables which was intended to teach them and us.

Parables were little stories that taught big ideas. Jesus was definitely teaching big ideas with this brilliantly told story. A good and generous master decides to host a feast and invite some folks to it. In Bible times, a feast was an enormous undertaking. There was no refrigeration, electric stoves or microwaves. A feast would entail killing, cleaning, and preparing an animal. Vegetables would need to be harvested and wine would be purchased. This was a big deal! A host would invite the guests first and when the feast was ready, the previously invited guests would be notified under the full assumption that they would attend. Well, in this story, they came up with horrible excuses to bail. The angry host, with the steaming hot feast prepared, sent his servants out again with the command to get people to the table. He said, “Make them come in so that my house will be full.”

Jesus was showing us the heart of the Father and the mission to which we are called. The feast is Jesus and the Gospel. The hard work was done and finished by Jesus on the cross. Blood was spilled to provide this feast. God went to unfathomable lengths to provide humanity with this feast. It is clear He wants guests at the table and the house to be full. He wants the lame, maimed, poor and blind at the table.

So what will you and I do this Easter season to “make them come in”. Will we invite? Are we willing to become uncomfortable for the sake of someone else’s eternity? What will we sacrifice to ensure God’s house is FULL? You see, God cares about the empty seats in our churches. Not the fabric and metal, but the person who isn’t sitting in it yet. We must align ourselves with the heart of our Heavenly Father. God loves people!! He sent His only Son on a mission to save people. Are you partnering with Him on this mission? My motivation comes from a powerful truth tucked away in this parable. You see, I am the poor, blind, maimed and lame. I came to Jesus with nothing to offer. I came to Him blind and in darkness. I showed up at the table maimed with wounds and scars from the past. I was lame and totally unable to help myself or move the needle of salvation in my life. I needed Jesus. I NEED Jesus. So, I must invite others like me to this table. Make them come in, so His house will be full.

Posted in: Blog, Community, God, Jesus

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Loners Are Seldom Winners

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The end of the current NBA season is upon us, and this is the time of year I actually pay attention to what’s going on.  I grew up absolutely loving basketball. My grandfather had played throughout school, and since he was my hero, I wanted to mimic him.   I eventually became hooked, and by the 7th grade the sport of the hardwood floor had supplanted the red dirt diamond as my favorite sport.  It helped that a guy named Michael Jordan had burst onto the scene as a global phenomenom.  Me and my buddies watched his games, wore his jersey, and begged for a pair of his “Air Jordans.”   Alas, after his retirement, I have lost much of my passion for the ole orange ball.   But, I do enjoy the semi-finals and finals.   As I watched last nights Pacers win to tie the series with the Heat, I made an observation I’d like to share.

Lebron James is his generation’s Jordan. He is a ridiculously gifted athlete, and also a ferocious competitor. Clearly, Lebron is the star and leader of the Miami Heat, even though his teammates are superstars in there own rights.   The fact remains, he is just that much better.   At the end of the game, a game that Lebron arguably had single handedly kept Miami in, he fouled out and was sent to the bench.   The game was tied up, with just a few short minutes left to play. All of Lebron’s talent, charisma, and competitiveness couldn’t help his team one bit. He was done, out of the game. So what happened?   The Heat fell apart in his absence.   They missed shots, couldn’t rebound, couldn’t defend, and superstar Wade was called for traveling!!   Total choke on the part of the Heat.   It was as if Lebron was the only fuel the Heat engine could use.   They lost the game.

I’m reminded by this situation that we all need a team.   Whether it’s your family, your staff, or your circle of friends, you need a team!!   Well, that is, if you want to accomplish anything of significance.   Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, built a team.   The early church was led by a team.   All great churches and ministries are led by great teams.   Lebron needed his team to step up. His individual accomplishments mean little if the TEAM loses.   And they lost. If you’re a leader, then build a team.   Train them, love them, and serve them.   When you build a great team, chances are together you will get some numbers in the win column.   And, the journey will be so much more fun than if you go at it alone.

Posted in: Community, perspective, Team

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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?

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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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It’s All About Jesus

ItsAllAboutJesusIt’s all about Jesus.   This is a very powerful statement that can usually be heard in pulpits and worship gatherings all over the world.   I wonder, however, if we truly understand the depth and implications of this very true statement.   I believe if we can wrap our minds more fully around this truth, it will be very helpful to every area of our spiritual lives.

First, the Bible and the Gospel are completely wrapped around the person of Jesus.   Genesis to Revelation points to the Son of God. The Old Testament points forward to Him.   The Gospels tell the accounts of His time on Earth.   The rest of the New Testament points back at Him, while Revelation unveils a glorious future with Him.   So, the Bible is all about Jesus.

The Gospel is the message of Jesus which is good news.   The Bible describes this mighty Gospel in many ways, but I love how 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 sums it up as the “message of reconciliation.”   In Jesus, God reconciled us to Himself.   Jesus made things right. He evened the scales.   The truth and reality of this message means that through faith in Jesus, we are made right with God.   So, the Gospel is all about Jesus.
All of creation…..the Earth and the universe….it’s all about Jesus.

The Bible tells us that all things were created by Him and for Him, and that He holds all things together!   During His earthly ministry Jesus said that if people didn’t worship Him the rocks would cry out their praises!! So, all of creation is about Jesus.

I could go on and on, but I want to make clear that even our mission is all about Jesus.   In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gave his followers a massive mission.   They would take His Gospel all over the globe beginning in their local area, but expanding to the region and ultimately the world.   This mission was overwhelming to say the least.   That’s why Jesus didn’t tell them to go on the mission first.   He actually began by reminding them of WHO He was.   “All authority” had been given to Him.

Jesus made it clear that even our mission is completely wrapped around Him.   We can do what He has called us to do because He is who He says He is!!   So, take heart today my friends.   If you feel inadequate or unworthy and you don’t think you measure up, don’t worry.   It was never about you anyway.   It’s all about Jesus.

Posted in: Bible, Blog, Community, Jesus, Life, 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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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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Why You Should Read

Why You Should Read

I’ve been reading books since I was a boy.  My Grandma (nanny) worked at our local public library, so I had endless access to books on dinosaurs, tornadoes, animals, and cars.  I’m still so grateful to her for encouraging me to love books.  My mother, recognizing my love of books, got me in to a disney book club where I received a great little book once a month by mail.  It was great. At 9 years old I was given a kids picture bible that I literally wore out reading from cover to cover over and over.  It was when I began to love the Story of God.  My next big jump into reader land was at 13 when my church hired the youth pastor who would be my first ministry mentor and also teach me to love the Bible and great Christian authors.  He was a huge Max Lucado fan, and since I wanted to be like Bro. Craig, I became a Max Lucado reading machine during my teens.

During college and seminary, my reading both required and voluntarily only increased.  Over the years I have developed different means of retaining the many nuggets of gold I find in different books I read.  My wife bought me a set of the great Charles Spurgeon’s sermons for our first Christmas.  They’ve been priceless.  The wonderful systematic theologies that sit on my shelves are so beautiful and rich.  Books like Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” and John Eldredge’s  “Wild at Heart” were game changers in my life.  My reading of a trilogy of biographies on the life of Theodore Roosevelt have inspired me in ways I could write 20 blog posts to explain.  Reading has enriched me, trained me, and helped me along my path…..and it will you too, if you will read!!

I want to encourage you to become a reader.  Just try it for a while and I really think you will be hooked.  Sadly, many people haven’t read a book since they left high school or college.  Turn the tv off and get a book!!  Read on topics that apply to your life and your life stage.  Read biographies on people that will inspire you.  Read on marriage and parenting.  More than anything, read God’s Word!!  Then, read books to help you understand His Word.  This will deepen your life in ways I can’t describe.

I’ve been personally poured into and mentored by people like Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, John Maxwell, and Mark Driscoll.  I’ve had conversations with Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Spurgeon.  How you may ask?  No, I’m not friends with these folks (some are dead!).  It’s because I’ve read their books.  When you read, it’s like sitting down with an author for a while.  It is having someone often far smarter and more experienced that you pour into your life.  So, read my friends. You won’t regret it.

3 suggestions for reading:

1) Take it slow at first.  Reading a chapter a day will get you through a couple books a month.  So you could potentially read 24 books this year!!
2) Read with friends.  Get a few friends and read a book together.  Discuss the chapters and insights.  You build community and friendships.
3) Take notes.  Find a way to capture the applications and highlights from your reading.

Posted in: Blog, Community, Learning

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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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