Pam and I have a precious two-and-a-half year old great nephew by the name of Karson Cabe. Karson’s dad, Kraig, is the regional director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Northern Indiana. His mom, Christy, was the children’s ministry director at Emmanuel Community Church and has been a tremendous mother. Karson’s Miller grandparents are Denny and Karin. Denny is senior pastor of Emmanuel Community Church in Fort Wayne, Ind. His great-grandpa Ray was our Bishop, with Lanie serving by his side for over 43 years of ministry. His Cabe grandparents are Lee and Melody. They are a wonderful Christian couple that have lovingly served the Lord in many ways and raised their children to faithfully serve the Lord.

Karson loves to play with Thomas the Train. And he loves Jesus. His prayer at bedtime a couple weeks ago signed off, “I love you Jesus, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.” Not bad for a two-and-a-half year old.

Last week, the world seemed to stop as the doctor told Christy that blood work indicated Karson has leukemia. They went immediately to Riley Children’s Hospital, the diagnosis was confirmed, and Karson began his three-year journey of chemotherapy. A terrible disease is loose in his body, and without treatment it will kill him. With proper treatment comes eradication of the problem and life.

We appreciate your prayers.

For all of us, nothing else is important right now next to doing everything possible to make sure that little man gets healthy and lives a normal life.

Isn’t that a parallel of how we should feel about loved ones we know who don’t know Jesus? They have a terrible disease loose in them. There is a treatment plan that will bring healing, but it doesn’t look desirable at the start. Life by necessity will change because of fighting this disease. And when we are burdened by the knowledge of their condition, no effort seems too sacrificial in helping or supporting the cause of getting them healthy. Nothing else is important. Nothing.

On the other side of the equation, the promises, grace, strength, and confidence we have in Christ are providing the “peace that passes understanding.” Our confidence and hope lie solely in the hands of the One who gave His own Son for us. And by His stripes, we are healed.

Karson learned a new song in the days leading up to his diagnosis. He sang it over an iChat date with our daughter Jalonna. “This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. ….”

That is the heart of an innocent little boy that loves and trusts Jesus without even being aware of what is going on in him. It is a heart that helps us remember and trust. That is Karson’s Gospel for us. We can confidently trust Jesus no matter what.

Recently I shared prayer requests with a team of people who serve as intercessors for us and this ministry. Most if not all that I shared in this update were challenges we were facing. One intercessor wrote back and said he appreciated the update, but “were there any victories?”

I appreciated the question. Immediately Proverbs 23:7 popped into my mind. Though the statement is written in the context of watching out for the invitations of a stingy man, the principle races across the breadth of any human situation:

7 For as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, “Eat and drink!” But his heart is not with you.

Our true focus and thought patterns in life determine who we are. If we are stingy, we may invite people to eat and be happy, but inside our real selves scream, “NO!” We do not really join with our guests’ feasting. If we are negative and critical, we may speak some positive statements to others, but not believe them. Inside, we are critical of everything. We do not have (nor give) any hope. The world is gloomy and falling down around us.

We are a reflection of our hearts, our true selves. And we can’t hide the reality of that from others for long. Do you believe in a hope-filled, Chirst-honoring, truth-living future? If so, your words and actions will reflect the same and you will dwell upon such things in your heart. If we dwell on defeat, carnal thoughts of resentment or revenge, pride and greed, we will reflect the same. It may not be apparent to the casual observer at first, but what we think about ultimately becomes who we are.

So to my prayer warrior friend, I say: yes, there are victories. I received an email of renewed hope from a pastor who is leading his church to intentionally attack over 1200 homes in their area with the Gospel. They are forcefully moving forward with the Gospel and will touch the lives of an estimated 1700 pre-Christians. I praise the Lord for his vision. It is shared by his leadership team.
Another church that lost a group of parishioners because of a difference of opinion on how the church should be run has since had more new people come than had left and they are moving ahead with stratigic plans for the future. Their energy is being renewed and vision recaptured.

Long-term lack of purpose is being intentionally addressed in another church and for the first time they are working on determining who they are and who they are uniquely gifted to reach in their area. They are excited about the possibilities. This will help them determine the gifts they need in a new pastor.

Cluster leaders are doing a great job assisting churches as they face important issues that have hindered them in the past. We believe there is real freedom possible for some churches (and individuals) that have been bound in sinful patterns for years.
These are a few of the victories we are seeing. Thanks for the question, Rich.

Let’s all ask ourselves, what is it that we think about most? What’s the topic, tone and tenor? Are our thougths rooted in and focused on Christ and Kingdom issues or on something else?

As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.

Sobering, true words. The statement leads to another great truth in the New Testament:

Philippians 4:8–Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

A pastor again recounts how efforts at change are met with strong resistance, despite the fact that few if any people have been saved through his church’s ministry in the past decade. A lay leader expresses frustration at the lack of purposeful leadership by his pastor. A minor church split is reported. Annual reports reveal losses on various fronts. The pastor of a dying church claims that he is a victim. Emails of blame and outrage arrive in the Bishop’s inbox.

This has been the United Brethren Church.

A story of decisive change that leads to new converts is communicated to us. A pastor shares a story of confronting sin in the life of a congregant that was destroying unity. There is repentance and strengthening of the bond. A fresh vision is birthed for a cluster to provide full support for a new missionary. Brothers separated in the past by deep rifts extend forgiveness and work together. The restart of an older, established, dying congregation leads to a hundred new people coming to check out the Gospel. It all happens so quickly that the church isn’t sure what to do and it seeks further training.

This is the new United Brethren Church.

We tend to focus on the negative and the positive gets overshadowed.

One observation I have made in this first yearis that this is a systemic issue. It is about us. It still permeates the church. And changing it will change the church for the better.

Observation: There has been little “God-focus” and a lot of “me-focus” in our church. The shorter catechism says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. In our home, glorify God. In our relationships, glorify God. In our worship, glorify God. In our giving, glorify God. In our programming, glorify God.

It seems that we have become so need-oriented, so “my preference” oriented, so satisfaction-oriented that we have forgotten that our chief end is to glorify God. Church has not been about God, but about us. And it certainly reflects it.

When people humble themselves, get on their faces before God, and ask His agenda for their church, amazing things happen. Look at Acts. Such a church saw powerful answers to prayer. Such a church received grace and strength in the face of persecution. Such a church had lay people who were preaching Jesus to the culture while the Apostles were stuck back in Jerusalem. Such a church dealt with problems in a God-honoring way, kept the church on track and yet met the needs of people.

The new United Brethren Church must shift its focus back to glorifying God and not continue a culture of selfishness and self-centeredness. God calls that carnality.

More stories of God’s grace are yet to be experienced and written. Let’s allow them to be increasingly heard while carnality falls by the wayside and is no longer tolerated.

Pam and I have been on a two and a half week journey. We left home two weeks ago yesterday and will not return home until Tuesday. During most of this time, we have not had internet connection, and I have been unable to keep up with email or communicate through this tremendous medium. I have gotten so used to being connected, that this has made me feel extremely disconnected.

This reminds me that there are some who find themselves in positions of becoming disconnected from the Lord after being extremely connected. Some, like my feelings toward the internet, could not wait to get connected again. I was uncomfortable and rather anxious about being disconnected. I was not able to fulfill my purpose and responsibilities in that disconnected state. That is true of believers who become disconnected. They can’t fulfill the purposes God has for them. The unfortunate thing is that some never reconnect. They remain out there somewhere — lost, roaming, out of touch.

People and churches are the same in this sense. Some are connected and working well. Some remain disconnected and floundering. Some function somewhere in between. Our goal needs to be to help all people (and churches) become and remain connected to the Lord in a humble attitude, serving Him and His agenda.

Picture Pilate standing next to the bloodied, tattered body of our Lord before the crowd from The Passion of the Christ. Listen to his statement: “I am innocent of this man’s blood. “

I was sitting in this Good Friday service with no responsibility, no upcoming Easter message to present. My sole purpose was to experience the service like everyone else there. And I was. The Holy Spirit rushed Scripture upon Scripture to my mind. He was bruised for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.

Suddenly, it came. Trickles, then torrents. I was once again immersed in an overwhelming sense of shame over my sin, the sin that put Jesus on that cross. And I wept.

Now the greatest shame of it all: many of us (dare I say most of us?) have not had such a moment since our surrender to Christ. Or at least not since those early days when our souls were so sensitive to spiritual truth and transformation that any sin we committed agonized us as if something hot approached sunburnt skin. We jerked away, wept., ran from it. And now?

I was blessed to feel the shame. I won’t stay there because Sunday’s coming. And my shame will all be taken away. Power will replace it. The power to run, be different, feel joy and peace. But today I was painfully reminded of sharing in the shame so that I can share in the living.

Do you feel the shame?

Okay, you know we are talking about Revelation here.

I just read an article from Peacemakers about the toll conflict is taking on the church and on pastors. Conflict has hindered or ruined many churches’ ministry. It has contributed to burnout or “run out” for pastors. In one denomination, they have 1,500 pastors per year check out of ministry, all because local church leaders (both pastors and lay leaders) seem unwilling or ill-equipped to address internal issues.

That moved me to revisit the messages the Lord gave the seven churches of the Revelation. The messages and calls to action are relevant for today. See where your church fits, and what God’s call is for your life.

Church 1: Ephesus was a doctrinally sound church. Solid on truth. But the Lord said they lost their first love, their reason for existence. The Call: Repent.

Church 2: Smyrna was a poverty church, in affliction because of its location and circumstance. The Lord did not rebuke them but encouraged them. The Call: Be faithful and hold on.

Church 3: Pergamum was located in a difficult, sinful community. They did not have biblically sound teaching in their church. They held to some strange things. The Call: Repent

Church 4: Thyatira showed evidence of moving ahead spiritually. But they were at a crucial point. They tolerated a very ungodly, sinful woman to have say over what happened in the church. The Call: The wicked should repent; others should hold on.

Church 5: Sardis had a reputation for and self-perception of being alive, but they were truly dead. This shows the need for an objective evaluation of us and not just our own. The Call: Wake up, repent, and obey.

Church 6: Philadelphia was faithful, battle-worn, and weary. They were commended and reminded of God’s promises. The Call: Hold on.

Church 7: Laodicea was lukewarm. They weren’t blatantly sinful nor spiritually sound and productive. They were blinded to their condition as well. The Call: Repent

Notice the consistent call God is placing on churches: REPENT. As I work with cluster leaders who are intervening with churches and as the Bishop receives numerous communiques from various places, it is clear that sin, gossip, powerplays, control, etc. are conditions hindering many of our churches. Tolerating sin while neglecting truth is commonplace. And the call is for repentance. Otherwise, the Lord will take action to remove the church from existence.

I implore you to examine your own church. Better yet, do a Natural Church Development (NCD) survey or use some other objective tool to assess the condition of your church. Then take the appropriate actions in response to God’s call.

This summer, it is the desire of the Bishop (and also mine) to do further training with the cluster leaders, that they might in turn help pastors better learn to deal biblically with conflict. We also want to examine how to create an atmosphere in which it is normal to handle conflict this way.

Thank you: the words seem too simple to be meaningful. But to a tired soul who wonders if the investment is worth it, they can bring some short-term replenishment to the brittle dryness. That is what I hope happens through this short paragraph.

Thank you for the investment you are making in your ministry, your cluster and the people in that cluster. Thank you for the time several of you are making now to deal with conflicts in your churches(and those of you who have not yet done so will probably experience this privilege sooner or later). God modeled for us in the Scriptures that there will always be the “good, the bad, and the ugly” to deal with. But by His grace we are more than conquerors. It’s never fun to deal with such stuff. We usually wonder if it is worth it. But it is.

Thank you for the time you’ve put in to help station new pastors. Thank you for praying for each other and supporting each other. Most of all, thank you for being like Isaiah and others who simply made themselves available to be used. Our Father will richly reward you for it.

Don’t forget that this site is for your use, to share stories of what the Lord is doing. That will be an encouragement to us all.

Pray for these:

  • Dirk Small is doing with a difficult situaiton in one of the churches in his cluster.
  • Mark Ralph, not to be outdone, has TWO situations he is addressing. The Bishop is meeting with him and those churches today to seek a solution.
  • We have a number of church openings right now and limited personnel to consider. Ask the Lord to bring us or raise up some strong young bucks.
  • Pray as we take time next week to flesh out the Bishop’s five initiatives.
  • Pray and ask the Lord to do something fresh in each of our lives this week.

When I first started in ministry, the goal seemed to be to get things done. The primary way people were influenced and helped was with the teaching. Sunday preaching, teaching times, and classes were the major focus. Families were stable and safe for the most part. Parents were communicating on some level with their children. Mentoring, imperfect though it may have been, was happening.

Things are different today. While I still do believe that Sunday morning is the most important event that happens in the life of the church, the need to strategically devote our time to “being with people” the rest of the week will determine true life transformation. Office visits and five-minute conversations in the sanctuary or hallway won’t cut it. And for those who have staff members on their team, it is imperative that you spend non-planning meeting time with them just to ask, “How is it going, really?”

For men to be influenced, it is more likely that they will open up and share what is inside them if they are on the golf course with you, or helping with a project, or driving to an event together. Those minutes and hours will provide sudden “God moments” when something will come out into the open. Probing follow-up questions can then give opportunity to explore the questions or situation more fully.

We must be careful how much time we give to whom. Timothy was told to entrust what he had learned to “reliable men” who in turn would be able to influence others. While every person in the church is important, and we must care for all, long term investments must be reserved for those who can help make a difference by replicating the effort in the lives of others. So we must ask some crucial questions:

1. Is this person reliable?
2. Is this person desiring to grow and is he teachable?
3. Is this person going to be around for a while?
4. Does this person apply the initial truths we have discussed?
5. Is this person leading his home in godliness?

There are other questions you may want to ask. The key is to make sure that your investment is able to bring a return (as best as you can determine at the time). All of us have invested and seen the fruit go out the door or never show up. But with wise selection, we can increase the possibility of success.

The teen and twenty-something generations are longing today to spend time with and hear from older adults that they know care about them and are interested in sharing life with them. They have had few meaningful interactions in their lives that they feel have prepared them to successfully navigate the nuances of life. They want to hear our experiences, and know how we handled what they are facing.

Many adults are in the same boat. They feel their failures and challenges but find few places to share their “low times.” If we provide a place, time and circumstance where they know it is safe and their vulnerability will be met with a loving attitude and a desire to help them succeed, they will open up.

So look at your schedule. Work at not doing much alone. Take someone with you. Plan who will travel with you to that retreat. Invite someone to help you with that project at home. Make time to be “with” people. Men with men, and women with women, for obvious reasons. And if you say you don’t have time, you are admitting that you don’t want to be effective in what you are doing. That is how crucial this is for today.