Prayers for Relationships…


How we usually pray when it comes to relationships:

  • Lord, I want one!  Send me someone!
  • Lord, fix him/her.  They are driving me crazy.
  • Lord, why did you stick me with them?  Could I not have an easier spouse/child/friend?
  • Lord, guide this fight so I don’t have to admit how wrong I really was.
  • Lord, please don’t let them discover my secret.

I know God hears our prayers, but to make progress in life, maybe we need to pray differently:

  • Lord, help me understand before I defend.
  • Lord, let me see where this person is wounded.  Let me treat their wounds with grace.
  • Lord, make me aware of my own issues in this relationship.
  • Lord, give me courage to raise issues that need to be talked about.
  • Lord, give me courage to be vulnerable with feelings and emotions.  Deliver me from stereotypes of needing to be strong when the most authentic thing to do is to weep.
  • Lord, give me strength to stand fast in tough times.
  • Lord, heal my own hurt so I do not hurt someone with it.
  • Lord, give me love so I may love when I do not feel love.
  • Lord, show me the joy that is possible in this relationship.
  • Lord, no matter how this relationship turns out, I will remember to put my trust in you.
  • Lord, show me how I actually come across, not just how I think I come across.
  • Lord, teach me to be generous in this relationship.

I wonder how your relationships would change if we prayed differently?

  • Maybe there would less blame and less shame.
  • Maybe there would be less intensity in conflict.
  • Maybe there would be a surrender of the need to make things even.
  • Maybe there would be a drawing closer.
  • Maybe there would be greater peace when someone turned away.
  • Maybe there would be less anxiety about the future.
  • Maybe our souls would be more secure, because our security would in our Father, not in someone else.


What relationship in your life needs a different prayer?



rayI find it hard to write about my friend Ray.  His sudden death at 52 last week rocked my soul.  Other friends my age who have passed away died from cancer; you had weeks to prepare.  Ray was walking through the church office two hours before he died.

Ray had a way of filling space with positivity.  His response to the question, “How are you?” was always the same: “It’s the best day of my entire life.”  No matter how many times you heard it, you had to smile.

Ray was a servant extraordinaire.  If a need stirred his heart, he jumped in with both feet.  Feed 1000 people for VBS?  Sure.  Lead a mission team to New York City?  Tell me when.  Teach a group on his second Sunday at ADBC because the teacher was in an accident?  No problem.  Talk to the awkward teenage male?  Done.

Ray did have a clear idea of how things ought to be done.  It was only half a joke when he said, “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Ray way.”  This meant he could be stubborn and bullheaded.  Behind his hardheadedness there was a heart of compassion that longed for people to connect to each other and to God.

He a vision and energy to make it reality.  Let’s take that hill.  Let’s get this project done.  He loved to dream big for God’s Kingdom.  As I said at his funeral, if I ever had to charge the gates of hell with a squirt gun, I would want Ray High beside me.

Ray was a 3 AM friend to me.  He respected me as his pastor, but he also valued me as his friend.  I thank God for putting Ray in my life.

Over the past week, I’ve had strange flashbacks of my father’s death, which was before my memory took shape.  “This,” I thought, “must be what it was like when Daddy died.”  Shock. Why? What can we do?  A crowded church, with every man thinking “It could have been me.”

I do not pretend to know why people die before their time, but I have wrestled with that question my entire life.  In fitful prayers I’ve given God one hundred reasons why Ray should not have died; but God has not reversed time.  Ultimately, I believe God does not always offer us answers to “why.”  Maybe our heads would explode if we knew.  But I believe God offers us Himself.  We trust Him when we do not know.

This is true faith, not just faith born in a moment of emotion.  True faith is trusting God is good when there is hurt in your heart.  True faith is extending your heart for God to lead you even when you do not have the answers you want.

In this time of grief, I choose to trust.  I believe my God is for me, for us.  The pain of today does not overshadow the grace of eternity.  It is that eternal grace that Ray embraced – and made February 15, 2017, the day he saw Jesus, the best day of his entire life.

Our Hope is in Jesus


This week, while I grieving my friend Ray High, I found this quote by Kara Tippets.

Kara , an author, mother of four and co-worker with her pastor husband Jason, went home to Jesus on March 22, 2015, after a long battle with breast cancer. As the cancer spread, Kara courageously embraced her situation, trusting in a Sovereign God. She believed that cancer was not the point, but Jesus was. How would she trust God in the midst of sickness? And then, how would she trust God in the midst of dying?

In the fall of 2014, David C. Cook published her story, The Hardest Peace. She refused to be defined by cancer and considered every moment a gift and an opportunity to learn more about grace and trusting God; she believed suffering was not an absence of beauty, but an opportunity to understand God’s love on a deeper level. Near the end of her life Kara wrote:

My little body has grown tired of the battle, and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live. I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives. I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves. I get to laugh and cry and wonder over heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus—and he will provide. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over his love, will cover us all. And it will carry us—carry us in ways we cannot comprehend.

When we cannot comprehend, we have Jesus.

Not Luck, But Grace…

400px-double-alaskan-rainbowYears ago I heard my professor Wayne Oates say “People today believe in a theology of luck.”  I jerked my head up in amazement, recognizing the instant truth of his statement.
In an earlier age, even non-followers of Jesus believed in Providence.  When things happened they could not explain, they still assumed God’s guiding hand was at work in some way.

Darwin’s theories of evolution lead to the assumption that chance governs our world.  Thus the famous quote: “If a billion monkeys were typing randomly over a billion years, they would produce the works of Shakespeare.”  This pseudo-scientific statement is ridiculous: it claims a truth that can’t be proven.  Plus, I’ve never seen a monkey type anything, random or not.

People have come to believe life is chance, luck.  To me, this answer falls short.  How then do we explain the prevalence of good?  We all experience grace regularly.  Grace is narrowly avoiding an accident.  Grace is an unexpected raise.  Grace is a tender moment between husband and wife.  Grace is arms of your three year old around your neck.  Grace is the oxygen you breathe.  Lewis Smedes said his daily dose of Prozac was a sacrament of grace.

The skeptical voice inside of us quickly turns to the counter argument: “What about all the bad?  How do you explain that?”  I can more easily explain some, not all bad, than I can explain good.  Bad things happen because people make bad choices.  This terrible gift of free will can be used to bless others or blast others.  I know even beyond people’s bad choices there are bad things that happen that cannot be explained.

I don’t think we can conclude that unexplained bad things offset unexplained good things.  To borrow a term from engineering, things happening to us, good or bad, are not part of a closed system.  Life doesn’t run hydraulically.  We can’t distill the moments of life to mathematics.

I will grant that to see the good in our lives as grace, not luck, requires faith.  It requires faith that there is a God out there who wants good for us, not evil.  All the “luck” in the world seems to point not to random chance, but to a God who is personal, who is intervening in life, who is blessing every human being in this world in some form, in some fashion.  What we call luck is really grace.

Even if you don’t believe in this gracious God, would you be brave enough to pray to see signs of His grace?  What you see might surprise you.

God’s Answer …



When you dream for God, it is a risk.  You think you are hearing from God, but you aren’t quite sure.  There comes a moment when you have to step out in faith.  This is scary: you are out on a limb and you don’t know if it will work or if you will look like a fool.

I imagine this is how Moses felt on standing before Pharaoh: “Did I really see that bush or was it my imagination?  Is Pharaoh really going to listen to me?”

I imagine this is how Peter felt the first time he tried to cast out a demon in Jesus’s name: “Did Jesus really say I could do this?  What am I supposed to say?  What if nothing happens?”

You have felt this way.  The words “Will you marry me?” are halfway out of your mouth when you wonder if God really told you she is the one.  What will she say?  What if God didn’t talk to her!

Maybe you thought you heard a whisper from God to lead a group.  On the first day, a few people show up and you crack a joke to put everyone at ease.  No one laughs.  You look like a fool and wonder what you have gotten yourself into.

Remember this:  Fear doesn’t get the last word; God does.

I admit to doubts and worries when we begin thinking about Pocalla Church.  I worried about the money; God provided it.  I worried about getting enough volunteers; God called them.  I worried about space; God arranged it.  I wasted a lot of worry for nothing.

Sunday, God gave us His answer to our leap of faith.  His answer was 280 people showing up for the first public service.  Thanks be to God!

God answered Moses, destroyed Pharaoh’s will and his army, and set His people free.  God answered Peter, and even the demons were obedient when they were rebuked in the name of Jesus.  God answers you and she says “yes” when you pop the question.  God answers you and that group that didn’t laugh at your joke ends up creating a new circle where people know church is a place of grace.

I think God has more to say to us about being one church with multiple locations.  But for now, He has answered our worries and questions about Pocalla with a resounding, “YES.” 

This first step has worked, but there is a next step for us.  No matter what faith challenge God puts in front of ADBC, always remember fear doesn’t get the last word; God does!  No matter what faith challenge God puts in front of you, always remember fear doesn’t get the last word, God does!

What Leaders Can Learn From Bill Belichick



Coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick just won his fifth Super Bowl, tying Vince Lombardi for the number of NFL championships (Lombardi won 3 championships before the creation of the Super Bowl).  Yes, he has flaws.  Spygate and Deflategate suggest a “win at all costs” mentality.  But Belichick has mastered one skill that every leader needs: It’s all about the who.

Most NFL teams have a general manager who typically chooses the team’s personnel.  The coach is expected to take the talent he is given and coach them to win.  In church world, this is the equivalent of having a committee hire a staff member and telling the pastor to supervise them.  In business world, the equivalent is having HR hire someone and telling you to make them fit on the team.  No wonder so many organizations flounder.

Jim Collins in Good to Great taught us it’s the who before the what.  In the NFL Belichick is the only head coach who has control of personnel decisions and has made it work.  Other coaches (Chip Kelly of the Eagles, for example) think if they get that control, they’ll be successful too.  It seldom works out.  Why?

Because Personnel decisions are hard.  You can’t just look at talent; you have to know how you want to achieve success.  Belichick criteria for personnel decisions is not how tall they are or how much they can bench press.  He wants to know if they can tackle, catch, run, block, or throw.  He has a clear picture of a win.

Belichick puts the interest of the team first.  If that means cutting a popular player, he does it and takes the heat.  When guys are done, he makes the gut wrenching decision to cut them from team.

I’m not suggesting you apply Belichick’s football standards to your organization; I am telling you (and me) that if you lead an organization, it’s all about the who.

The Day Dreams Come True …


This Sunday is a day when dreams will come true.  I’m not talking about the Super Bowl.  I’m talking about the dream of Alice Drive becoming one church in two locations.

The church began as one church in many locations.  Acts 2:46 tells us the first followers of Jesus met in homes.  It would be decades before Jesus followers thought about having a physical location.

Over time, Jesus followers lost sight of this idea: that the church is a movement, not a location.  Instead, we were consumed with real estate.  We built grand cathedrals and brush arbors, thinking a church wasn’t a church unless it had a roof, four walls, and a deed.

The modern multi-site movement began as churches began to run out of space.  Blocked by local zoning laws or the restriction of finances, they leveraged technology to bring a service to another physical location.  Today in North America, over 5,000 churches are exist as one church with more than one physical location.

For a long time, I observed this movement and thought it would not apply to Alice Drive.  Sumter, I thought, was too small.  Anyone who wanted to attend could easily reach us.  Then two things happened.  First,  I saw a study stating if a person lived more than ten minutes away from the physical location of a church, their participation (attendance, service, and giving) dropped by half.  A quick mapping of our membership showed over 200 households beyond a ten minute drive, clustered around the Pocalla/Lakewood area.

The second thing that happened was reading about Brand New Church in Arkansas.  Shannon O’Dell had a vision to serve the underserved communities in Northern Arkansas by becoming a multi-site church.  He went to the least of these with a satellite truck, merging with dying churches in small towns to create a healthy, thriving congregation where none existed before.  Today, Brand New Church has 4 campuses in forgotten places, drawing over 2,000 people each weekend.

A whisper from God seized me.  If this could be done in Arkansas, why couldn’t it be done in South Carolina?  That day, a dream was born.  The dream was to spread the health God gave Alice Drive beyond 1305 Loring Mill Road.

In the 60 months that have passed since that whisper from God, I’ve shared this vision with our staff team, with the Vision Council, and with our Deacons.  All of them are committed to help as many as possible take their next step toward Jesus – and they saw the connection.  I think they heard the whisper from God too.

This Sunday, Pocalla Church launches publicly.  People volunteered to be pioneers, to go and serve.  People gave sacrificially so we can resource this campus.  Staff team members stepped up to go, help, and train.  On Sunday, we take our next step and become one church in two locations.  Sunday is the day the dream comes true.

This is our next step, but it’s not our last step.  All my life I’ve loved Jesus’s church.  It literally breaks my heart to see churches that once were thriving, dying.  This week, 80 churches will close in the United States.  It’s like a lighthouse that is going out of business: the money has run out for lamp oil, but the warning still needs to be given.  I believe with all my heart that God is going to open doors of opportunity for us to go to the forgotten corners of South Carolina, and be Jesus to people who lost sight of what church, Jesus’s body could be.

Thank you for stepping up to this whisper from God.  I don’t know how it will all turn out; but I know God is leading us!

God has a dream and we are part of it – Sunday, one more piece comes true!