It actually happened to me once.  When I was a student at UCLA, I spent the night at my sister’s house in Manhattan Beach.  I got up super early to make my shift stocking shelves at the Ralph’s grocery store in Century City before going to class.  Driving north on the surprisingly traffic-free 405, a Jackson Browne song was blasting on the radio when the big event took place:  I ran out of gas to the tune of, “Running on Empty.”


“Running on empty, running blind, looking into the sun but I’m running behind.”—Jackson Browne


Running on empty is something I’ve done a lot of in my life.  One of my college friends told me it took him a while to face the fact that if he was going to ride in my car he needed to accept that I didn’t mind running out of gas.  I asked him how many times have I run out of gas with him in the car?  He said, “Let’s just say more than once.”


I’ve been financially challenged, paying my way through college, graduate school, starting churches, having kids—for years I didn’t want to die with too much gas in the car, (That would be poor stewardship!)  Pushing an old beater, or taking a walk with a gas can is good exercise.


Years ago I bought Lori a 1966 Mustang coupe for her birthday.  It’s a great car, but we have never been able to get the gas gauge to work.  I cannot tell you the number of times we ran out of gas in that car—AAA might have a record.   It’s simple math, fill it up, add 150 miles and re-fuel before you hit that number on the odometer.  We still managed to be running on empty and running blind.


We don’t drive that car anymore.  Actually it’s for sale!  (Make me an offer!) We’ve matured.  I’ve grown to the point where I realize I don’t need the stress or the angst of running down the road on empty.


I still slip into running on empty in other ways though.  Physically sometimes I push it too hard, travel too much, and sleep too little.  Financially, we’ve set up our emergency fund so we’re not facing too much month with too little money too often.  But it still happens every once in a while.  Relationally I can get disconnected from friends, family, even my wife if I’m not intentional about it.


And spiritually, I think a lot of us end up running on empty. 


Jackson Browne may have been on to it when he wrote:


Everyone I know, everywhere I go

People need some reason to believe

I don't know about anyone but me…


Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels

I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels

I look around for the friends that I used to turn to pull me through

Looking into their eyes I see them running too


Are you running on empty? 


Most of us really want to do what we were meant to do spiritually.  We were made for a purpose.  We were created to influence the people that God has strategically, sovereignly, even supernaturally put into our lives.


But a lot of us are just exhausted.  Life gets crazy.  Work, marriage, kids, kids’ activities, kid’s sports, there’s an election I’m trying to keep up on, extended family stuff, and if there is ever a crisis, or even a mini-crisis, we catch ourselves running on empty.


How can we keep from running out of gas?


One story from the life and teaching of Jesus gives us some insight.  In Mark chapter 9 Jesus had just taken Peter, James and John up on a mountain where he was transfigured—this was a picture of heaven with Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  It was an incredible spiritual high, a vision of the future, a powerful moment.  They came down the mountain and ran into powerlessness.


As they approached the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and some scribes arguing with them. The whole crowd was very surprised to see Jesus and ran to welcome him.

He asked the scribes, “What are you arguing about with them?” A man in the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you. He has a spirit that won’t let him talk.  Whenever it brings on a seizure, it throws him to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes stiff. So I asked your disciples to drive the spirit out, but they didn’t have the power.”—Mark 9:14-18 (ISV)


Jesus’ disciples didn’t have the power.  They were running on empty.  And this obviously annoyed Jesus.


Jesus told them, “You unbelieving generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him to me!”—Mark 9:19 (ISV)


Jesus had just experienced heaven, and then he came to earth only to see his disciples in the midst of a failure.


So they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into convulsions. He fell on the ground and kept rolling around and foaming at the mouth.  Then Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He said, “Since he was a child.  The spirit has often thrown him into fire and into water to destroy him. But if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us!” Jesus told him, “‘If you are able?’—Mark 9:20-23 (ISV)


Again Jesus seems perturbed, “If you are able?”  Are you kidding me?  It is almost as if he is saying, “Casting out demons is beginner work.  My disciples should have been able to handle this kids’ stuff!”


Jesus told him, “‘If you are able?’ Everything is possible for the person who believes!”

With tears flowing, the child’s father at once cried out, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!”—Mark 9:23-24 (ISV)


When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that won’t let him talk or hear—I command you to come out of him and never enter him again!”  The spirit screamed, shook the child violently, and came out. The boy was like a corpse, and many said that he was dead.  But Jesus took his hand and helped him up, and he stood up.—Mark 9:25-27


The disciples can’t perform the exorcism, so Jesus steps in and immediately cures the boy.


When Jesus came home, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive the spirit out?”—Mark 9:28


Great question:  Why didn’t we have the power?  Why were we so empty?  How to we make sure this doesn’t happen again?  Jesus gives a surprising answer:


He told them, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”—Mark 9:14-29 (ISV)


Jesus concludes that the key to tapping into His power is prayer and fasting.


The way to never be empty is to empty ourselves.  That is so counter-intuitive.  We are never empty if we empty ourselves.  We need to be prayed up and fasted up in order to be filled up.


Prayer is powerful.


The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.—James 5:16 (TMV)


Fasting is powerful.


Dan Allendar put it this way:  “Fasting from any nourishment, activity, involvement or pursuit—for any season—sets the stage for God to appear. Fasting is not a tool to pry wisdom out of God's hands or to force needed insight about a decision. Fasting is not a tool for gaining discipline or developing piety (whatever that might be). Instead, fasting is the bulimic act of ridding ourselves of our fullness to attune our senses to the mysteries that swirl in and around us."


One prescription to fill up our spiritual tanks involves prayer and fasting.


I think we get tripped up on this.  Many of us have been led to believe that we have to pray for an hour every day in order for it to count.  So, we rarely pray.  It seems like too much.  But check this out.  How long does The Lord’s prayer take?  Maybe a minute…When Jesus was asked by his followers, “Teach us to pray…” he started with a one-minute prayer. 


Pray for an hour if you’d like, pray all night sometimes.  But start with a minute, or two or five.


What about fasting?  How long should we fast?  One of our roadblocks is the first example we think of is Jesus fasting forty days and forty nights.  That’s beyond the reach of…everyone.  And Jesus only did that one time that we know of.  Twenty five times the Bible mentions fasting, and only once was it for forty days.


How about starting by fasting for a meal?  Or dessert?  Or a snack?


Our primary strategy for starting new churches comes from Acts 13:


Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.


We spot church planters, set them up for success, send them out and support them.  And we’ve started over a hundred churches over the past few years all over North America.


The most important phrase in this passage is, “The Holy Spirit said…”  That is really cool.  God showed up. 


But you can’t orchestrate that, right?  You can’t arrange for the Holy Spirit to speak.  Or maybe you can.  This passage gives us a hint at what we can do to encourage the Holy Spirit to show up, and it gives us the hint twice:  The people fasted and prayed.


This year I decided to get intentional about it.  I’ve made a commitment, and I’m asking the people on our leadership team, advisory team, all the church planters and every supporter to fast and pray during one meal a week seeking the Holy Spirit to show up in our network.


One meal a week.  Anybody can do that.


I ran out of gas to the song, “Running on Empty.”  I was actually able to coast off of the freeway right into a gas station.  I remember pumping the gas with a huge smile on my face.


When we run out of gas spiritually it isn’t always without consequences.  Maybe others are counting on us—like the poor man coming to the disciples with his troubled son.  If I’m out of gas it might mean bad news for myself and others, so I need to get and stay filled up.


The good news is, when we run out of gas spiritually God has a filling station that we can coast into no matter where we are.  He’s available and he wants to fill us up.



(Reader Discretion Advised for People with Squeamish Stomachs)


The Friday after Thanksgiving I did what just about everyone does—I snacked on a piece of leftover meat.  But the extra dry (restaurant-bought) chunk got stuck in my throat and I couldn’t swallow.  I’ve had about two dozen or so of these unable-to-swallow episodes in the last decade so after a night with no sleep and constant futile attempts to get the piece to either go down or come up, my wife, Lori and I headed to the UCLA Medical Center emergency room (we were staying just down the road) to get some answers.


The ER doctor said she had just the thing, and soon a nurse came in and administered a shot in my right arm.  She handed me a bucket and announced, “That will make you throw up!”  As she turned to leave, I asked the obvious questions, “Are you kidding me?”  “Shouldn’t I stand next to that sink?”  “How long will it take?”  “What if I don’t actually barf?”  She smiled, “Don’t worry, it’ll happen.”


So I sat there holding the bucket, waiting for, well, the inevitable…thinking, “I don’t think life is designed to be like this—anticipating the worst.”  As I waited three questions came to mind:


Question 1:  Do the people around me expect me to vomit? 


My son, Jake, met us at the hospital, and he was sitting on a chair next to me.  I noticed that every time I moved, Jake would lean back, turn away and cringe.  My wife, Lori, was behind me, slyly moving further and further away.  It was extremely disconcerting to realize that my slightest shift caused them to brace for cover. 


I’d like my family, my teammates, people I lead, and the people I live with to feel safe around me, not to expect vomit.  I guess I’d have to admit that there have been times in my life when my so-called “stuff” was coming out so regularly that those closest to me weren’t as protected as they should have been.


Question 2:  Do the people in front of me expect me to vomit?


An older gentleman, a hospital volunteer stepped into the room to see if we needed anything.  Jake asked for some water, then the man looked at me and asked, “How about you, do you want something to drink?”  I said, “No thanks, I’m just waiting to barf.”  He muttered, “Huh?”  I smiled, “The nurse just gave me a shot to induce vomiting, and I can’t swallow anyway, so no thanks on the drink.”


The man comically stepped back and covered himself with the curtain that closed off the room.  We laughed.  But whenever he returned to my room, and whenever a nurse or doctor peeked in, they always stood at a distance, covered with that curtain.  Again, it was pretty disturbing to watch people I was talking to back away from me.


I suspect that some of us have a reputation for vomiting on those we are actually trying to help.  The church has been accused of vomiting on certain groups of people lately.  Some avoid church altogether because they don’t want to deal with what some so-called believers spew.  


Question 3:  Am I expecting vomit?


I sat there holding my bucket expecting the worst and realizing that some people live their entire lives that way.  They expect barf.  What a terrible way to live.  God doesn’t want us to be incessantly anticipating vomit.


Okay, I know that Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation…” –John 16:33 (NASV) (The UCLA Med Center version reads, “In this world you will have regurgitation…”)  But Jesus promises that we will overcome.  “But take courage; I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33 (NASV) 


I want to expect the best.  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?—Romans 8:32 (NIV)


I want to live with a bucket waiting for God’s blessings, not my own barf.


So I waited.  And I waited.  The nurse kept peering in, “Anything yet?”  Nope.  “That’s odd,” she quipped, “the last guy I gave that shot to emptied out in less than two minutes.”  But I never threw up.  I’m not sure if that is a good sign or a bad sign for my stomach.  And I guess I have an excuse—if I ever throw up on you, I can blame it on that shot I had that Saturday in Westwood.


No vomit for me.  So I ended up having an “endo—insert a bunch of strange syllables here—oscopy.”  They ran a camera down my throat—an hour-long procedure—to clear me my tube and it turns out I have “esophageal—insert several strange words here—itis.”  The condition is fairly common for folks like me who have had severe allergies for a while.


Treatment includes no meat for a while, a soft diet, some medication, possibly steroids and maybe even surgery.  I need to deal with my own stuff so I don’t put others on edge.


Jesus said, “Listen and understand.  What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”—Matthew 15:10-11 (NIV)


So I made it through this little ordeal without vomit, with a new appreciation for soup, and with an amazing sense of support from my family—my daughter, Tricia, and my son, Scott and his wife, Sue came to the ER too—we had a memorable day off hanging out at the hospital!  But I also came away with a stark reminder that I must continually work on my own issues.  I want to anticipate God’s goodness, and I want those around me and in front of me to anticipate good things as well.


It was not the answer I was expecting.  In fact, it startled me.  I felt myself physically jump back a bit when she said it.

 At a recent gathering of leaders in Texas, I was conducting an interview with three women--three church planter wives.  The women had all been in ministry for a while—ten years, twenty-five years, and thirty-five years.  And we were up in front of the group talking about the various ups and downs of what it’s like to be married to a pastor and/or church planter.

As we headed to the end of the interview, I asked a question that I figured would be a good ending spot:  “What would you like someone to say to your husband?  If you could prompt someone to say one thing to your minister husband, what would it be?”

I was expecting something like, “Spend more time with your wife and kids.”  Or, “Don’t take ministry success or failure so personally.”  Or even, “Relax and take a vacation.”

But the answer from one of the women was immediate.  It seemed like she blurted it out before I even finished asking the question. 

“You’re doing a good job!” She added, “My husband is working so hard, and he is doing so well, he needs someone other than me to tell him that he’s doing great.” A second woman simply said, “Exactly.  That’s what I want someone to say to my husband.” And the third woman explained, “Who encourages the pastor?  No one takes the pastor out to lunch to tell him that his preaching is improving.  People are quick to point out his faults, but no one thinks about telling him he’s doing great.”

Wow.  I was stunned.  I hadn’t even thought of that.  Maybe that’s the problem.  No one thinks about telling pastors, planters, leaders they are doing great.  My job is to support planters and leaders, and I don’t always put encouragement as a priority.

We often miss the importance of encouragement toward our leaders.

Yet the spirit of encouragement was evident throughout the early stages of the Christian church.

“When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord.”

- Acts 11:22-23 (NLT)

One of the reasons the early church turned the world upside down is there was a strong sense of encouragement. Charles Schwab observed, “I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”

I’m not a huge fan of “Pastor Appreciation Month” every October.  I see it as implying that we don’t need to appreciate our pastors from November through September.  And I think most churches do a pretty mediocre job of celebrating their leader that month.  They aren’t sure what to do or how to do it. 

Maybe we can simply start with telling our leaders, “You’re doing a good job!”  When I hear that from an unsolicited, genuine, spontaneous source, it makes a huge difference. 

If someone took you out to lunch to say, “You’re getting better every day!” or “I think you are doing great” would it make a difference?  I suspect so.  Let’s consider doing that for a leader we know.  

And let me say to you, “You’re doing a good job!”  Pass it on.  




A while ago I got a voicemail from one of our planters saying that the largest church in the region decided to hold an Easter service right across the street from his new church - and at the exact time.  I left a message saying something along the lines of, “That stinks, but it shouldn’t even effect you.”  And he left me a message saying he just needed to vent and he “felt weird that feelings of competition had risen to the surface.” 

Weird feelings of competition; many of us pastors and planters struggle with them.  Certainly those of us who score high on the “StrengthsFinder” for “competition” and those with Type-A personalities have them.

 Competitive feelings are strange.  We know that other churches are not the competition.  Recreation and busyness and obviously, the devil - they are the competition.  But we still fight the feelings. 

In 1 Samuel 24, when David is hiding from Saul in the cave, and an opportunity arises, “David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe.  Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe.” 1 Samuel 24:4-5

David is conscience-stricken, he knows he should have done it because Saul was the Lord’s anointed.  When Saul finds out he feels strange too: 

“Saul asked, ‘Is that your voice, David my son?’ And he wept aloud.  ‘You are more righteous than I,’ he said. ‘You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly.’” 1 Samuel 24:16-17

Even David and Saul felt the pangs of competition with other people who were supposed to be on the same side.

I was at the Exponential Church Planters Conference and Catalyst West Coast and some of us talked about how awkward those pastor conferences can be because of the tendency to compare yourself with everyone else.  Paul said, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves they are not wise.” 1 Corinthians 10:12


So how do we handle these feelings of competition? 

I must admit I’m not sure, I struggle with this.


In our first church plant, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the competition among churches was cut throat.  It was horrible.  I took out my feelings on the softball field and made it our goal to win the church leagues.  “Maybe your church is better than mine, but I went three-for-four and we ten-runned you, so there!”  I’d think.  Hey, lighten up on me, I was a kid.

In our second church, in Benicia, CA someone from the city paid for all of us evangelical pastors to go to a conference together.  We roomed together, ate together and became good friends.  It was a small enough town that if someone left my church to go to another one, I could talk to that pastor about it.  As friends, the competition was diffused.

In my present church I tried to befriend the local pastors, but over time and with my schedule, I haven’t been able to invest that time.  So, what do I do?

 A business book called, “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Hansson has a chapter on competitors called, “Who Cares What They Are Doing?” that helped me.  Here’s a few excerpts:

“In the end it’s not worth paying much attention to the competition anyway.  Why not?  Because worrying about the competition quickly turns into an obsession.  What are they doing right now?  Where are they going next?  How should we react?  Every little move becomes something to be analyzed.  And that’s a terrible mind-set.  It leads to overwhelming stress and anxiety.  That state of mind is bad soil for growing anything.”

“Focus on yourself instead.  What’s going on in here is way more important than what’s going on out there.  When you spend time worrying about someone else, you can’t spend time improving yourself..  Focus on competitors too much and you wind up diluting your own vision.”

If you’re going to be like everyone else, why are you even doing this?  If you merely replicate competitors, there’s no point to your existence.  Even if you wind up losing it is better to go down fighting for what you believe in instead of just imitating others.”


That chapter hit me.  Let’s embrace our own uniqueness.

When Peter asked Jesus about John’s ministry, Jesus replied, “What is that to you?  You must follow me.”--John 21:22

 God has great plans for you and me, let’s embrace that, let’s follow Him, and let’s not get too worried about what the other churches in our area are doing.

By the way, our plant wasn’t effected at all by the large church meeting right across the street.  Our new church had a ton of visitors and its largest crowd ever.  And that planter actually called up the pastor of the large church to encourage him, and invite him to lunch.


We recently hosted a church planter Connection Event that was attended by about twenty guys, and one woman.  The woman was a planter’s wife, and I respect her a lot.  During one of the breaks I asked if she would be willing to share, from a woman’s perspective and a wife’s perspective, anything she felt we needed to hear.  I asked if she would give us “a word from the wife!”  She welcomed the opportunity.

We gave her the floor, and what she said stuck with me. She said, “Take care of yourself!”

“You’re leading us,” she explained, “And we need you to be spending time with God, to be healthy, to be attending connection events like these… to take care of yourself.”

That message really hit me hard.  It spoke to me for several reasons; one is that it's a Biblical message that we often miss. Jesus said the second commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31 

I’ve heard it said that if we don’t love ourselves, our neighbor is in big trouble.  And I guess we can extrapolate that if I, as a leader, don’t take care of myself, my wife is in big trouble.  If we as leaders don’t take care of ourselves, our churches are in big trouble.

Although there is no command that says, “Thou shalt take care of thyself,” the Bible is full of admonitions to give thought to our ways, to set clear boundaries, and to take care of ourselves 

A second reason why the message, “Take care of yourself” struck me was that it represents the primary philosophy of the Excel Leadership Network - we’re trying to take care of planters.  We are trying to “set apart” (Acts 13:2), support, provide for, and take care of high level leaders.  That’s what we do, through our ten  support environments:  Spiritual Vitality, Funding, Inviting, Assessing, Vision Alignment, Training, Coaching, Caring, Creativity and Partnering.

Each one is designed to serve leaders.  But if a leader isn’t willing to take care of himself or herself, the systems and environments don’t work like they should.   

The third reason why that message hit me hard is that this year I’ve sensed God’s call to take better care of myself.  Now, I am doing pretty well with taking care of myself spiritually, as in spending time with God.  And I take care of myself physically most of the time - working out and being somewhat careful of what I eat.  But God has been showing me that I haven’t been taking care of myself emotionally very well. I’ve let boundaries slip, allowed folks to take advantage of me, worked too much, and haven’t been careful in this area.

So, I’ve been working on taking care of myself lately.  I’ve had a number of tough conversations, re-setting boundaries, re-establishing limits and being more intentional about what I can do and what I can’t.  It has been a tough time for me.  I don’t like being that guy who has to talk about boundaries.  I’ve had some difficult conversations, knowing God is leading me to do so. And smack in the middle of this time, God reminded me through a wise voice, “Take care of yourself!”

Amazingly, as I have been trying to take care of myself, my wife, Lori has consistently thanked me for it.  It’s been rough for me, but she is thrilled that I’ve been working on it.  I’m reminded that if I don’t take care of myself, my neighbor, my wife, and the people around me are in big trouble.

 So here’s the message for all of us:  Take care of yourself! 


Top Ten Signs Your Life is Too Complicated

5. Even with a hands-free phone, you have so many gadgets going you still have to drive with your knees.

4. Avril Lavigne is now dedicating her songs to you (“Why’d You Have to Go and Make Things So Complicated?”

3. Lining up your busy schedules has limited your family summer vacation to Thursday, August 14, from 2-3pm.

2. Your doctor reminds you to get eight hours of sleep every day. You want to know if that includes time spent napping at red lights

1.  Your face looks like your driver’s license picture.


Life is complicated.  My life is complex, sometimes convoluted.  So, how can I simplify things?


Katharine Fullerton Gerould added, “Simplicity is an acquired taste. Mankind, left free, instinctively complicates life.”


Tolstoy put it this way, “There is no greatness where there is no simplicity.”


How can we find greatness, fight the complexity that invades life?   How can we simply simplify things?


One character from the Bible exemplifies simplicity.  Mary, the sister of Martha and brother of Lazarus boiled life down to, as Jesus put it, “only one thing”--Luke 10:42


What did she do?  What can we do?


Mary went to Jesus’ feet.  The “one thing” Mary did, over and over again, when she popped up in the Bible accounts, was go to Jesus feet.


“Mary …sat at the Lord’s feet.”--Luke 10:39


Whether it was during that classic Mary vs. Martha struggle, or in the midst of the crisis with her brother’s death, or at a party with Jesus’ followers, she was always simplifying things by going to Jesus’ feet.


So, to simplify my life I simply need to go to Jesus’ feet.  But what do I do when I’m there?


Let’s follow Mary’s example.


1.  Listen. 


“Mary …sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said.”--Luke 10:39


A husband and wife were at a party chatting with some friends when the subject of marriage counseling came up.  "Oh, we'll never need that. My husband and I have a great relationship," the wife explained. "He was a communications major in college, and I majored in theater arts.

He communicates really well, and I just act as if I'm listening."


Mary actually listened.  Her life was simple because instead of listening to everyone else, she sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him.  Her sister, Martha was worried and distracted by many things--she was trying to listen to everything.  Mary simplified things.


“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”--Hans Hofmann


Frederick Faber made me think when he wrote, “There is hardly ever a complete silence in our soul. God is whispering to us incessantly. Whenever the sounds of the world die out in the soul, or sink low, then we hear these whisperings of God. He is always whispering to us, only we do not always hear, because of the noise, hurry, and distraction which life causes as it rushes on.”


Simplicity is listening to God first.


2.  Pray.


When Lazarus got sick, Mary (and Martha) responded by praying.


“A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha.  This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair.  Her brother, Lazarus, was sick.  So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, ‘Lord, your dear friend is very sick…’”--John 11:1-3


Mary simplified things during a major crisis by sending a message to Jesus.  Then Jesus showed up, and Mary went to his feet:


“When Mary… saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.’  When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.  ‘Where have you put him?’ he asked them.   They told him, ‘Lord, come and see.’   Then Jesus wept… Then Jesus shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And the dead man came out.’.”--John 11:32-35, 44


Simplicity is going to Jesus’ feet in prayer.  If he handled the death thing for Lazarus’ family, he can handle my stuff.


3.  Serve.


“Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead.  A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him.  Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.’”--John 12:1-3


Again with the feet thing.  There’s a party, so what does Mary do?  She goes to Jesus’ feet and serves him.  She didn’t get caught up in the preparations, and distractions and commotion--and maybe Martha was upset again.  Mary went to Jesus’ feet and served him.


The Mary stories show clear difference in serving styles.  We can serve out of selfishness, with our eyes on ourselves--we’ve got our tasks, our preparations, our stuff:   “Lord, tell my sister to help ME.”--Luke 10:40  Or we can serve with our eyes on Jesus--serving for him. 


We can serve, having been with Jesus, or serve, having not been with Jesus.  There are distinct styles.  Mary provides a great example, and a great challenge--Am I serving at Jesus’ feet or just trying to get my stuff done?  


4.  Give


Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.  But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, ‘That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.’   Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.  Jesus replied, ‘Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’”--John 12:4-8


Mary was at Jesus’ feet, giving.


Charles Dudley Warner wrote, “Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just enough baggage.”


Simplicity is going to Jesus feet and giving to him.  It is disregarding the opposition, it is realizing he deserves the best and our best.  And it is giving it to him.


A great way to simplify things is get rid of much of that stuff that is complicating things.  Give


5.  Influence


Some amazing stuff happened when Mary went to Jesus’ feet--she had a profound effect on others.


“… So Mary immediately went to him… When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there.  …Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.”--John 11:29-45


We really want our lives to count.  But it doesn’t have to be complicated.  When we sit at Jesus’ feet we’re empowered to influence others.


Scott Adams, the “Dilbert” creator, admitted, “You don't have to be a ‘person of influence’ to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they've taught me.”


The biggest difference I can make is not through crazy, sophisticated schemes—it’s through simply going to Jesus’ feet.  Others will be influenced.


Life is complicated, but it doesn’t have to be too complicated.  Let’s simplify things and go to Jesus.



Our church planting ministry philosophy comes from the beginning of Acts chapter 13, in which the church in Antioch is described as led by several high-level leaders.  While that church is worshipping, the Holy Spirit tells them to set aside Barnabas and Saul to go plant churches.  The church complies, setting apart and supporting the two men as they set out to launch new works.


Our philosophy is to find high-level leaders and support them in ministry.  We’ve set up ten support environments to help take care of the leaders in our network.


What immediately follows in the book of Acts is a series of amazing ministry ups and downs that emphasize one critical but often undervalued key to church planting, pastoring, leading and ministry.


UP:  As Barnabas and Saul sail off on their journey to plant churches, a young man named John Mark joins with them as their assistant!


UP:  The team gets to Paphos and they score an audience with the governor.


DOWN:  A Sorcerer shows up, interferes and urges the governor to pay no attention to Barnabas and Saul.


UP:  “Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he looked the sorcerer in the eye.  Then he said, “You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord?  Watch now, for the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time.” Instantly mist and darkness came over the man’s eyes, and he began groping around begging for someone to take his hand and lead him.”—Acts 13:9-11(NLT)


Paul strikes the detractor blind.  That’s a strategy I was never taught in seminary!  Even better news, the governor sees this and becomes a believer!


UP:  Paul and Barnabas arrive in Psidian Antioch and we see one of the most amazing stories unfold.  They go to the synagogue for services, and they are asked to stand up, introduce themselves and say a few words.  At our church we don’t ask the first-time guests to speak, but Paul seized the opportunity.


Paul gives an incredible mini-sermon that outlines Old Testament history and culminates in words about Jesus.  When he is finished the people run up to Paul and beg him to come back the next week and say the same things.


That has never happened to me.  I’ve never been begged to give the same sermon two weeks in a row.  But Paul was, and he obliged:  “The following week almost the entire city turned out to hear them preach the word of the Lord.”—Acts 13:44 (NLT)


Almost the entire city came back to hear this sermon.  And a bunch of people became believers and the message spread throughout the entire region.


What an amazing highlight!


By the way, we have to ask what Paul preached on—if the whole town came, what was the topic?  If the people who heard the message went home and invited everyone to come and hear, what was the gist of Paul’s message?  What was his big idea?


Verse 38 tells us:  “Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins.”—Acts 13:38 (NLT^)


Paul’s message was on forgiveness:  Jesus offers forgiveness.  Why did the whole town come?  Because everybody needs forgiveness!


DOWN:  Not everyone in Psiadian Antioch believed.  The chapter ends with this:  “Then the Jews stirred up the influential religious women and the leaders of the city, and they incited a mob against Paul and Barnabas and ran them out of town.”—Acts 13:50 (NLT)


They had a great revival, but in an unlikely turn of events, they ended up being run out of town.


UP AND DOWN:  Chapter 14 begins this way:  “The same thing happened in Iconium.  Paul and Barnabas went to the Jewish synagogue and preached with such power that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers.  Some of the Jews, however, spurned God’s message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas.”—Acts 14:1-2 (NLT)


UP:  Paul heals a crippled man in Lystra!


DOWN:  “Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.”—Acts 14:19 (NLT)


Paul gets stoned to death.  It is over, everyone thought he was dead.


UP:  Paul got up. 


DOWN:  They get back to the home church in Antioch only to be confronted with some off-base theological nitpicking.  Some Jewish Christians were insisting that in order to become a believer each man had to be circumcised. 


The Contemporary English Version says, “This caused trouble.”—Acts 15:2 (CEV) Ya think?  This controversial theological issue threatened to get the entire church off mission.  The argument was so confusing they ended up calling a meeting in Jerusalem to discuss it.


UP:  They solved the issues.  James announced, “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”—Acts 15:19


A simple resolution was reached.  Whew!


DOWN:  Paul and Barnabas have a disagreement over whether to take John Mark on their next journey.  Barnabas wants to take him, Paul doesn’t.  “Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated.”—Acts 15:39 (NLT)


Wow!  What a blow.  The two men set apart by God can’t even work together any longer.


UP:  They multiplied efforts.  Paul went with Silas and Barnabas went with John Mark.


Up and down and down and up…that was the experience of the first church planters, the first missionaries, the great leaders of the early church.  And it is our experience too, isn’t it?


I’ve been a church planter for over thirty years.  I’ve seen some incredible ups—people coming to Jesus, churches starting, outright miracles!  And I’ve seen some terrible lows.  I’ve experienced sorcerers and sharp disagreements and even a church being run out of town.


But there’s one key to ministry I see in the early church planters.  It’s a key we often miss and we certainly don’t highlight it enough.  The simple key is this:  THEY KEPT GOING!


In the ups and in the downs they kept leading, ministering, serving, planting, and preaching.


When John Mark quit, Paul and Barnabas could’ve quit too, but they kept going.  When the sorcerer showed up, they confronted him and kept going.  When Paul was left for dead, he got up and kept going.  When their theology was challenged they kept going.  When Paul and Barnabas split up—imagine the emotions—they kept going. And when they were run out of town, we read that they “…were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit”—Acts 13:52 (NLT).


They were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit and they kept going.  Paul kept going.  Barnabas kept going.  Hey, even John Mark kept going.


Let’s hang in there for the ups and downs of ministry.  Following Jesus is a wild ride.   When things are going great, when you are seeing miracles and many believe—keep going!  And when things are going not-so-great, when there is arguing. obstruction and resistance, keep going.


Top Ten Bad-Economy Names for Famous Businesses


Down 'n' Out Burger

Dead Lobster


JC Penniless



Sears Nobucks

Fry's-with-that Electronics

Jos A. Bankrupt

Home Repo


The economy stinks.  It’s a different world than it was two years ago or five years ago or ten years ago.  Many, if not most of our plans have changed dramatically.  So, how do we plan for the future? 


Q. How does a typical man show that he is planning for the future?
A. He buys 2 cases of beer instead of one


There’s got to be something better than that.  What can we do to make sure our plans for our lives are fulfilled?


I’ve been studying the book of Ezra lately.  It has become one of my favorite books of the Bible.  And it tells us a lot about our plans, God’s plans and the future plans.


Here’s a little background.  In 586 BC the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and exiled many of the Jews.  The Persian empire then began to gain strength and in 539 BC they overran the Babylonians and essentially took over.  The Persians had a different approach toward conquered peoples under their King Cyrus--he allowed many of them to return to their homelands.  These events prompted the Bibles’ book of Ezra which details the return of the Jews to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.  


Anyway, the book of Ezra begins this way:


“In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah.  He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom:  ‘This is what King Cyrus of Persia says:  ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.   Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you!”--Ezra 1:1-3


“Then God stirred the hearts of the priests and Levites and the leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple of the Lord.  And all their neighbors assisted by giving them articles of silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock. They gave them many valuable gifts in addition to all the voluntary offerings.”--Ezra 1:5-6


The book of Ezra begins with the king and the people coming up with this great plan to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. 


Then the rest of the book of Ezra is a series of upset plans.


Chapter 3 describes how they started building the foundation--it ended up taking two years just to do the foundation--longer than they expected.  Chapters 4 and 5 of Ezra describe constant opposition of the project. 


 “Then the local residents tried to discourage and frighten the people of Judah to keep them from their work.  They bribed agents to work against them and to frustrate their plans. This went on during the entire reign of King Cyrus of Persia and lasted until King Darius of Persia took the throne. Years later when Xerxes began his reign, the enemies of Judah wrote a letter of accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem”--Ezra 4:4-6


Cyrus began his reign in 538 BC.  Darius reigned from 521-486 BC.  Xerxes began his reign in 486 BC.  So this opposition lasted over 50 years.  That was not in the plans.


Chapter 4 ends with this:


“So the work on the Temple of God in Jerusalem had stopped, and it remained at a standstill…”--Ezra 4:24 (NLT)


I highly doubt that even the most skeptical of people who went to rebuild the temple would never have planned on the work being shut down.  It stayed shut down all through chapter 5 as the neighbors and city government seem to have won.  Plans were dashed.


It was over.


Then comes chapter 6--one of my favorite passages in the Bible:


“So King Darius sent this message:  ‘Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates River…—stay away from there!  Do not disturb the construction of the Temple of God. Let it be rebuilt on its original site, and do not hinder the governor of Judah and the elders of the Jews in their work.”--Ezra 6:6-7


God used the King of Persia to tell the local officials to let the work continue.  That was unplanned.  But wait, there’s more:


“Moreover, I hereby decree that you are to help these elders of the Jews as they rebuild this Temple of God. You must pay the full construction costs, without delay,,,so that the work will not be interrupted”--Ezra 6:8


God moved the king to tell the city--“Let them build, and you pay for it!”  They hadn’t planned on that either.  But wait, there’s more:


“Give the priests in Jerusalem whatever is needed in the way of young bulls, rams, and male lambs for the burnt offerings presented to the God of heaven. And without fail, provide them with as much wheat, salt, wine, and olive oil as they need each day.  Then they will be able to offer acceptable sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the welfare of the king and his sons.”--Ezra 6:9-10


The king ordered the locals to not only let them build, and not only pay for it, but to also provide everything the Jews needed to take care of their religious services.  A new plan.  But wait, there’s even more.  This is my favorite part!


“If any of you don't obey this order, a wooden beam will be taken from your house and sharpened on one end. Then it will be driven through your body, and your house will be torn down and turned into a garbage dump. I ask the God who is worshiped in Jerusalem to destroy any king or nation who tries either to change what I have said or to tear down his temple. I, Darius, give these orders, and I expect them to be followed carefully.”--Ezra 6:11-12 (CEV)


How can we plan for the future?


Here’s one of the main ideas of the book of Ezra: 




A hinge verse from the book:


“From that day to the present it has been under construction but is not yet finished.”

--Ezra 5:16


So God has our plans under construction


James writes:  “Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog--it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.”

--James 4:13-17 (CEV)


Comedian Stephen Wright says, “I’m a peripheral visionary. I can see the future, but only way off to the side.”


And Tony Snow added, "We want lives of simple, predictable ease—smooth, even trails

as far as the eye can see--but God likes to go off-road.”


God laughs at our plans.


God’s plans are better than my plans


“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

--Jeremiah 29:11


My plan was to go to Cal Berkeley, get a job on Madison Avenue and live happily ever richer.  God’s plans landed me at UCLA, in a drug fraternity, confronted with the gospel, and headed into ministry.  God’s plans are better than mine.


God’s plans are bigger than my plans


Cyrus and the Persians and the Jewish remnant had a plan to rebuild a temple.  God’s plans involved writing parts of the Bible!


“Whatever you do, wherever you live, if you belong to Jesus Christ, the call from heaven has come to you to the highest honor a human being can experience. The Son of God is spreading His love, His lifestyle, and His life-saving message across this planet and you know what? He has summoned you to join Him in His glorious Administration. Don't settle for anything less.”--Ron Hutchcraft


God’s plans are more exciting than my plans


The original plan in Ezra involved a rebuilding project.  God’s plans involved ups and downs and sharp wooden beams suitable for impaling!  He is so much more exciting than we are.


We want to go on the carousel when God has us slated for Mr Toad"s Wild Ride.


More than that, our plans are like, “Its a Small World.”  We’ll get in the boat and step off solid ground for a while, and maybe we’ll experience something new.  But God’s plans involve “Splash Mountain.”  We’re going to have highs and lows and twists and turns and probably end up drenched. 


And there will be pictures.  There are no pictures at the end of “Small World.”  When we get off “It’s a Small World” we only think of how we can get that silly song out of our heads.  But at the end of “Splash Mountain” there are pictures of our reaction.  People are laughing and re-living it and congratulating those who got soaked.


In heaven I expect pictures.  God will say, “Check out the look on your face when I threw a wrench into that silly plan of yours!  You were scared to death!”


God’s plans are more expensive than my plans


God laughs at our plans because He knows His way is going to cost a whole lot more than we budgeted for!

There’s this notion that all God wants is our money.  I suspect there is some truth to that because His plans rarely involve small sums, extra money or rainy-day funds.  He wants us to do things that mean sacrifice, large donations and giving it all.


God’s plans have different timing than my plans


We want what we want now.  God’s plans involve going off road and long delays--even 50-year waits.  Jesus showed up four days late for Lazurus’ funeral--but Hid timing is always perfect. 


If you want to make God laugh just show him your plans.  Chances are they are smaller, cheaper, more boring and a whole lot worse than His.


So, back to the original question, how do we plan for the future?


Some suggestions:


1.Be open to God's plans

 Ask God to move my heart


“My God was on my side and I was ready to go.”--Ezra 7:28 (TMV)


2. Do something

 “Ezra, it’s up to you to do something!  We will support whatever you do. So be brave!”--Ezra 10:4 (CEV)


There’s an old saying that it’s easier to steer a moving car than a parked one.  Let’s start moving, and let God steer us or even turn us around if he wants.


3.  Give


“ All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings”.--Ezra 1:6


One thing I love about the book of Ezra is everybody gave--everyone.


Let’s give to God and keep giving because God’s plans are expensive.


4.  Be patient


God has me--and you--under construction.  His plans take time.  But He always comes through.  So, let’s get ready, let’s open our loves to God, and let’s wait for him to come through.  He always does.




I am sitting in section 108 at Arco Arena trying to save two rows of seats for family and friends.  It is our son, Jake’s graduation from Elk Grove High School.  And it’s a pretty big deal for Jake.  He is Valedictorian--number one in his class.  He is going to give a speech as well as sing a song and accompany himself on guitar.  He has the special colored robe, the cool sashes and stoles, the medals, and a ton of awards.  I’m calling this ceremony, “The Jake Show” and I am very pleased for him.


Just three days ago I sat in this same arena for our son, Tim’s graduation from Sacramento State University.   Tim took a different route to commencement.  Tim was on the “Van Wilder” plan--seven years at the same college.  He didn’t sing or give a speech and his gown wasn’t decorated.  But it was a big deal too.  His mother-in-law wrote me a note:  “What an awesome accomplishment, in 7 years, a wedding, baby, house, baby, his own business.... another baby!!!!  What an awesome role model he is.”  I am very pleased for Tim.


In a couple weeks I’ll be at UCLA, sitting in a similar arena--Pauley Pavilion or Royce Hall--watching as our son, Scott graduates.  Scott has worked hard and he’ll have three ceremonies, one being for honor students.  As a UCLA alum, I know how difficult that is--I didn’t graduate “Magna cum Laude”.  Mine was more like, “Magna cum Laughter.”  Graduating with honors is a big deal for Scott and I am very pleased for him.


Then it is off to China where our daughter, Tricia “graduates” from language school.  Tricia is a missionary and after two years of teaching English at a university, she has spent the last two years studying Chinese.  She’s gearing up to teach English again next semester at a Chinese university.  For Tricia there will be no arena, no cap and gown, not even a diploma--just her family showing up to help her move from one unnamed city to another.    But this accomplishment is a big deal and I am very pleased for Tricia.


So four kids and four graduations this Spring, wow!  If you asked my wife, Lori and me which of our children we’re most pleased with, we would say, “That’s an easy question--it’s a four-way tie!”  We think all of them are doing what they should be doing.


I cried when Tim walked into Arco the other day.  And I cried yesterday when Jake sang me a preview of the, “I Will Remember You” song he’s performing at his ceremony.  I know I will cry at UCLA and I figure I will be crying the entire time in China.  Lori and I are very pleased with our kids.  They are working hard and walking with God and that’s a big deal--whether they serve in the spotlight or in secret.   3 John 4 puts it best:  “I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth.”


Maybe you’re in a season of recognition.  Maybe you have the fastest-growing church and you’re giving the speeches and singing the songs and receiving the medals.  Good for you!  Maybe you are getting the honors and coming up with the most creative ideas and everyone is applauding you--fantastic!


Or maybe you are just plugging away, juggling life and work and ministry and family and no one really knows how hard you are working and how tired you are.  Maybe the “laude” isn’t all that “magna” and it’s not flowing your way.  Maybe you’re doing what God wants you to do, yet nobody--not even your family--has a real idea of the depths of your sacrifice.   I suspect your father in heaven is pretty pleased with you anyway.


Perhaps you’re not graduating.  Perhaps you’re sitting in the stands like me, applauding for others, playing a support position.  That’s a role that can please God too.


I’m not sure our heavenly Father is all that impressed with pomp and circumstances, fancy robes and earthly awards.  They are nice, but do they really make that much of a difference?  The prophet Micah said it well:  “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”--Micah 6:8


A few days ago Jake sent me a copy of his Valedictorian speech.  He wrote, “I realize that no one, myself included, will remember this speech by the time we get to the grad-night party later… I simply hope that everyone in my life knows how much I love and care about them.”


Well said!  So keep up the caring folks.  Keep up the loving on people--when in the limelight or low light.  Maybe you’ll get some nice awards and a little bit of applause, or maybe not.  But if we’re serving God and playing the part he made for us, that’s plenty good enough, and worthy of a hearty congratulations!


My wife, Lori and I were in Tokyo for only a couple days, so we asked Lori’s brother, Mike and sister-in-law, Pandora--who have lived in Japan for a few years--to show us the sights.  They proceeded to take us to what seemed like every thrift shop in Japan.  Yes, thrift shops.  I’m not a big fan of thrift shops.  My perspective tends toward the side of seeing the merchandise as “one person’s trash” rather than “another person’s treasure.”  So, while Lori, Mike and Pandora perused the shops, I stayed in the car and got a lot of reading done.

But there was one thrift shop I actually had to go in.  I couldn’t resist, it was awesome, I loved it!  The store was called, “Shabby Chic.”  It’s actually a chain of thrift shops that started in 1989 in Santa Monica, California by an entrepreneur named Rachel Ashwell.  Ashwell says this about her products:  “We painstakingly restore vintage treasures while protecting the character of time worn beauties. All are a true labor of love.”

So, in Shabby Chic you will find items like bedroom dressers with fourteen coats of paint on them, much of the pain chipped off to reveal previous coats painted years or decades before.  They look like the  furniture Mom would make us paint, hoping the coat would allow it to last another year or two until we might be able to afford to get some new furnishings. 

My sister-in-law quipped, “Those dressers sell for a thousand bucks.”  Sure enough, the price tag on the chest of drawers read $1,190 or $1,250 and even $2100!  “The dents, chips and cracks make them more valuable than something brand new,” Pandora explained.  “They’re not old, they’re vintage!”

When Pandora wasn’t looking, Lori and I bought her a gift—a simple old handkerchief—that was $20! 

Ashwell says, “I pride myself on continuing to sell products that gather memories and have the quality and aesthetics to become heirlooms.”

Here’s why I loved that store:  It reminded me that we’re all “shabby chic.”  I’ve got dents and scars and bruises and blemishes.  I’ve seen lots of coats of paint over the years.  I may look worn and shabby, but I’m a “time worm beauty” and so are you.  Your nicks and scrapes and dents and dings make you more valuable, not less.  We’re all God’s shabby chic treasures.

The Apostle Paul put it this way: 

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us…”

—Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)


We are all God’s labor of love, no matter how beat up or worn out or tattered or torn we may feel, we’re not too shabby, we’re shabby chic!

JD Pearring, all rights reserved by me!


Lifeway Research published a report recently stating, “Over one-half (55%) of pastors are presently discouraged.” 


This is a sobering, but not necessarily startling statistic.  One of the toughest and persistent parts of ministry is dealing with discouragement.  And one of the toughest—and regular-- parts of my ministry with church planters and leaders is helping them work through discouragement.


Billy Graham put it this way, “The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, 'O God, forgive me,' and 'Help me.'”


We all get discouraged.  So, how can we deal with discouragement?   At a recent gathering of church planters in Dallas (The Big “D”) we spent some extended time talking about how to combat the big “D”--discouragement.  We came up with a top ten list of ways to deal with discouragement.  Here are the top five:






God tells Joshua: “Be strong and courageous…be strong and very courageous…be strong and courageous…be strong and courageous.”—Joshua 1:6,7,9 &18 (NIV)


But he adds:  “Do not be discouraged”—Joshua 1:9 (NIV)


The Bible tells us not to be discouraged at least ten times.  If we are commanded not to do it, we must have the option to not do it.


Charles Stanley says, “Disappointment is inevitable. But to become discouraged, there's a choice I make. God would never discourage me. He would always point me to himself to trust him. Therefore, my discouragement is from Satan. As you go through the emotions that we have, hostility is not from God, bitterness, un-forgiveness, all of these are attacks from Satan.”


Disappointment happens.  But I have to actually choose to let it fester into disappointment.


When his disciples were in a storm, Jesus walked on water to help them.  As he reached them he stated, “Take courage, I am here!”—Matthew 14:27 (NLT)


We get to choose, we can take courage or discouragement.  Let’s realize that we have a choice in the matter.




“Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.”—Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV)


Solomon encourages us not to put all of our eggs in one basket.  Yet too many church planters and pastors put all of their emotional eggs into their church.  They take everything that happens in their single ministry so personal, that when anything goes bad, discouragement pounces.


Seasoned minister Leith Anderson once said to a small group I was in, “If I had one piece of advice to give young pastors it would be to get involved in a ministry in addition to their local church.  It will help them to stay emotionally balanced.”


When we spend part of our time helping other planters or leading a cluster of pastors, or serving as a chaplain to a local sports team, or just expanding our ministry horizons, it lessens the discouragement temptation. 


One great thing about the Excel Leadership Network is we offer many opportunities for leaders to diversify their ministry and one of our goals is for every church planter to get involved in serving within the network in addition to serving in their local ministry context.




The Apostle Paul warned, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”--2 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV)


When we play the comparison game we always lose.


I love this quote from author Garrison Keillor:  “Ignorance of other writers' work keeps me from discouragement and I am less well-read than the average bus driver.”--Garrison Keillor


Jesus told Peter not to worry about John’s ministry.  Let’s heed that advice and refuse to be sucked into the comparing our church with someone else’s.




“How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?”—James 4:14 (NLT)


The number one reason why church plants fail in America is unrealistic expectations on the part of the church planter.  I have seen way too many planters quit when they had a good ministry going because they expected to results like Perry Noble or Steven Furtick or Andy Stanley or Rick Warren


Lloyd Ogilvie was on to something when he quipped:  “Discouragement is the illegitimate child of false expectations!”--Lloyd Ogilive 


Let’s get back to Biblical expectations:  ministry isn’t going to be very much like we expected.  There will be amazing lows, twists, turns and detours.  We need to expect the unexpected and expect that God will always come through--most often later than we expected too.




 “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”—James 1:4 (NIV)


The drag of discouragement lessens as we grow.  Discouragement is a maturity issue.


Check out these revealing Lifeway Research findings:


  There was no pattern of discouragement related to the geographical location of the church

  There was no pattern of discouragement related to the size of the church

  There was no pattern of discouragement related to the educational level of the pastor

  There was a significant pattern of discouragement related to the pastor’s age


I definitely get discouraged.  But not like I did in my first church plant.  And not like I did in my second church plant.  When we survive bouts of discouragement it makes the next bout a little bit easier to take because we know we will get through it.


James Whitcomb Riley  says this about handling discouragement:  “The most essential factor is persistence - the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.”


Discouragement is a part of life, a part of ministry, but we can learn how to keep it from stopping us.


So there are five ways to deal with discouragement.  The next time you get really discouraged, drop me a note (JDPearring@gmail.com) and I’ll let you know the rest of our top ten list.  Take courage!