Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Vision -vs- Values

I have spent a good deal of time in the church world.  My wife, Deidre and I have been in full-time pastoral ministry since 1998.  It started when we moved everything we had from Elkton, MD, where we were youth pastors, to Port St. Lucie, FL to assume the pastorate of a church in South Florida.  We were young, energetic, and in some ways, very naive.  But what we lacked in experience we made up for in passion for the vision God had given us.

It didn't take long to realize that vision was just not enough.  We learned this the hard way, over almost ten years of pastoral ministry in Florida.  We watched as pastors across the country fell into dark places or financial  indiscretions, moral issues, and even things that were just plain illegal.  We struggled personally with the desire to grow a church, and fell into the trap of following the newest ministry fad.  We tried to be all the "successful" preachers we knew.  I would even stand in front of the mirror on Saturday nights and "practice" the right walk, cadence and timber.  None of this seemed to make any difference.  We still struggled in developing a healthy, growing congregation.

I became a church junky.  I read all the newest trends, could tell you the numbers and the stats of growing churches.  I knew the newest language, culture and trends.  I dressed in my Buckle shirts, Aldo shoes, and cool jeans.  We had the look, the vibe, and the groove... yet we were still struggling.  What else could we possible do?  We prayed and fasted - we were told to pray more, so we did.  We went to conferences and listened to every podcast and read every resource we could find, still nothing...

Then one day it hit me.  What we, and many other pastors, were lacking was not training - I had been to a great college.  It was not passion or spirituality - I spent many nights on my face crying out to God for direction and help.  What I lacked were the values in ministry that would allow us to grow a successful, solid, and healthy ministry that would stand the tests of time and storms of life.  I was like a ship being tossed by the winds, one style and strategy followed by another depending on the crowd I was being influenced by.  What I had to determine was what I was going to build my life and ministry on.

I began to see that there are three things you can build your ministry or organization on.  You may be saying, yes but the most important is Jesus.  I would say you are right - conceptually.  But Jesus is not the foundation, he is the Chief Cornerstone from which the foundation is built.  You still have to go though the process of building your own foundation.  Trust me, I was not lacking Jesus as my cornerstone.  He was the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega of everything I was.  What I was not grasping was what came after that.

So the three things you can choose to build on are:

          1. Personality
          2. Vision
          3. Values

The first, Personality, is the most shallow and volatile of the three.  It is so because it is built on the ability and performance of a person.  If the person is doing good, at the top of his/her game, everything is going good.  The moment the person begins to stumble the entire system begins to unravel.

We have all seen this at one time or another.  We have watched as businesses, churches, ministries and even politics seemed to rise over night just to fall just as fast.  They were built on the charismatic personality traits of an individual.  

The second, Vision, is the place where most organizations stop.  This is where I stopped, and it ultimately hindered my success.  Vision, while deeper and more stable than personality, is still not the most solid of the three.  When you build on Vision you can come to the end and still not have answers to some very important questions.  What happens when the vision is fulfilled?  What happens when life steps in and the vision is no longer applicable?  Where do you go then?  In order to become a healthy organization you have to move to the third, deepest and most stable of the three possible foundations - Values.

Values are like the strong support under a skyscraper.  They will keep you rooted and planted, even in the stormy times.  They will give you substance to build on.  They are deeper than personality in that they are not built on performance.  They outlast vision because they never change.  Situations, culture, time and space do not effect them.  They are not based on what is cool or trendy, they are just the right thing to do - always.

So, armed with this new information, we set out to develop a ministry that had sustainability and would be effective.  We set out to determine who we were, who God was calling us to be, and to lead from that platform instead of performance, or even inspiration.

We prayed and studied, and then did it again, until we developed the 10 Core Values that we now live by.  They are:

1. The Value of a Soul.
2. The Value of the Local Church.
3. The Value of Excellence.
4. The Value of Innocence.
5. The Value of Relationships.
6. The Value of Balance.
7. The Value of Integrity.
8. The Value of Community.
9. The Value of Generosity.
10. The Value of Faith.

Over the next few blogs I am going to dive into each of these values and show you why they are pillars, foundations, in our family and ministry.  Why they make up the footers in my life - personally, and why you need to define your own values.  I want to encourage you to not just clip and paste these. You are welcome to use them, but put in the time necessary to develop your own set of Values.  Then right them down, enlist others to hold you accountable to them, and watch as God helps you build something great on this firm foundation.

Remember this tweetable phrase, "Your personality will open doors for you, your vision will propel you, but only your values will sustain you!"

God Bless,


For information and messages by James click on the links below...


The Value of a Soul

     I am starting with this value because, quite simply, it is the most important.  It is the hinge pin that supports all the rest.  The remainder of the Values will be in no particular order, but this is the first, the foundation and the cornerstone for everything else that will follow.

     I have to start this blog on the value of a soul with a story Pastor Rick Bezet told the staff at New Life Church in Conway, AR during a staff meeting.  He said he would think so much about reaching the "next one", looking for the "next one" that he prays for God to show him the "one" that he was speaking to in every service.  No matter what the venue, the size of the audience or the location, he is always looking for the "one" that God has brought to that service for him to speak to.

      We have an example in the Gospels in the form of a parable that Jesus told.  It is the story of the lost sheep.  It appears in Luke 15:4-7.  In the Message version it says, "Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn't you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, 'Celebrate with me! I've found my lost sheep!' Count on it—there's more joy in heaven over one sinner's rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue."

     In this parable we have an example of the importance of the lost "one" to Jesus.  And if it mattered that much to Jesus, it must matter to us.  That is why this value is "The Value of A Soul" and not "The Value of Souls".   In the church we know instinctively that people matter to God.  We say we exist to "seek and save the lost", and we know we are called to "see souls saved".  But I am afraid that we have allowed the usage of the plural descriptive noun that we have generalized it to the point that we can easily excuse away our lack of action.

     It is easy to value souls, the big picture, and not reach the homeless living behind the dumpster on our church parking lots.  But when you value every single "ONE", now you are looking at the world differently.

     The Great Commission, Matthew 28:19, "Go into all the world and make disciples…" That is our mission on earth, but I want to challenge you to not make it so generic trying to reach everyone that we miss the ONE sitting in our services that need to have a friend, or the ONE serving us at our favorite restaurant that needs a prayer.

     “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in his will not die, but will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  I love the fact that God could love the world so much to make the ultimate sacrifice of sending Jesus to die on the cross.  I have heard the argument many times, "If he loved us that much, why did not send another?"  Because, as a father, the ultimate act of sacrifice is not to throw yourself in front of the bullet, it’s to let your child take it.  God loved us more than anything else.  But don't get lost in the text theologically.  He loved the whole world, yes, but he also loves you and I, individually.

      I believe that every person matters to God, that he knows the number of hair on your head.  That he dies for every-ONE, so that no-ONE would have to die, but would have everlasting life.  

     People matter to God, therefore they MUST matter to us. We will do everything within our power to reach ONE more person.  Because there is ONE more person that needs to know this life-giving message.  ONE more person that is searching for something real.

     Am I going to continue to grow a large church? Yes!  As long as ONE more is out there we are going to do everything we can to reach them.  We are going to, in the words of Pastor Greg Surrat of Seacoast Church, "Cast a wide net."  But we are never going to allow the numbers to be more important that the ONE.

     It's time for some people to stop huddling around the 99 and run after the ONE!  We believe the Value of a Soul is the most important value that every church, ministry, and life should be built on. Who is the ONE Jesus has placed into your life?  As Rick does when he speaks, let us walk into every situation, every venue, every environment and every gathering we find ourselves looking for the ONE.  Then let's have the courage and the drive to go after them, pulling them in with the love of Jesus Christ, who, by the way, loves THEM so much he put YOU in their path today...

     Run After the One!

For more information on James go to: www.facebook.com/jamesect

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mission of Hope - Haiti 2012

I just retuned with the NLC Missions team, 31 people giving a week of their summer to help the people in Haiti.  We went to the Mission of Hope, about 40 minutes from Port A Prince.  Mission of Hope is a great organization dedicated to touching the lives of every man, woman and child in Haiti with the Message of Jesus Christ.  That is a lofty goal, but they are well on their way to doing just that.  They currently feed 50,000 children a day, house 65 orphans, facilitate the Church of Hope, teach 2,500 kids in their Christian School and employ 15 North Americans and 130 Haitians to make it all possible.  

This is a photo of the Church of Hope - about 1,500 Haitians and North Americans joining together to worship God in Creole and English combined! 

We were very blessed to be able to be able to minister to people and to help them complete some very important projects that will make them more effective in their ministries and efforts.

However, I was struck with one important weight through the entire trip.  I have been called to support the local church in America, so missions has never been the top of my priority list.  I believe in it and respect those who have a calling to it as their primary ministry but I also believe it takes all of us working together, in our individual areas of calling in order to be truly successful in this day and time.  And I know I have been called to the local church.  I am a church junkie, I love working in the church and learning better ways of doing church.  I truly do believe that the local church is the hope of the world.  I believe the planting of more local churches is still the number one way to evangelize the world.  With that said, I was looking through that lens the whole time I was in Haiti.

I saw the same poverty and the despair, but from a little different perspective then most.  The whole time I was looking at them physically, God was showing me a picture of the States and the people who live here.  While they are not as poor physically, the are just as poor spiritually.  The despair the Haitians had on their face, I saw in the eyes of people right here at home - spiritually.

Please do not get me wrong, I am in no way trying to lesson the need there, nor would I ever want to take support from or diminish the calling of those working to meet their needs.  In fact I solute them.  My plea today is for more people here to see their cities and the towns in which they live as the mission field as well.  

There are people on our streets, in our towns and cities, living in the same county and state as us who have everything they could ever ask for, and yet they are living in spiritual poverty.  Let's keep sending missionaries and money to Haiti, and Africa, and South America, but when we get home lets lift up our eves and see, in the words of Jesus in Luke 10, "the field is white and ready for harvest.  Don't make this missions trip a one week a summer event, but rather a way of life.

We need more missionaries today in every country of the world, in Haiti, Japan, London, and New York, Little Rock, Washington, Hot Springs, and Miami.  It's time that we see those around us as Jesus sees them, a people in poverty, living beneath their means, not fulfilling the mission and vision God has for them.  A people in need, suffering and desperate for the words of truth.

This summer, go on all the trips you can and when you come home, engage where you are.  Get involved, don't take the summer off, but be the hope the world needs in the city where you live!!!

Just a thought...

Me and my new friend at the MOH 500 Project in Haiti

Friday, February 25, 2011

I Love Life's Transitions (NOT)

Have you ever had this happen to you? You are just getting settled into a routine, getting yourself organized, figuring this thing called life out, when out of the blue, BAM! (copyright Emeril) something changes. Maybe its something as common as a fender bender; you know someone hits you from behind as you turn into Starbucks for a Grande Cinnamon Dolce Latte, in case you wanted to buy me one, and your day is shot. (No coffee/Starbucks/Expresso pun intended)

It can be something that simple, and annoying, or it can be some of the big stuff. You know what I mean, we are surrounded by it. People lose their jobs with no warning, health problems set back your dreams, hopes and finances. There has been an increase of young males dying early because of hypertension, caused by high blood pressure... Pressure, it is all around us. Transitions always bring pressure.

Paul says in II Corinthians that the "light afflictions come to bring in our lives a greater weight of glory". Could it be that the pressure we are feeling today, the inconveniences we are tolerating are purposefully and strategically designed to transition us to a greater level of "glory", the new carrier we have been too scared to pursue before, the ministry we have been too "successful" to start? Could it be that the transitions we are in are not just an accident, but have been designed to bring God's purpose and plan into our lives?

I think this is exactly the case. The Bible says that if you love God, everything works together for your good. That everything means everything - the job loss, the helpless feeling you have right now, the fender-bender, the spilled cup of coffee on your new shirt, the seemingly mundane irritations of life - all things work together for our good.

I know in my life that is exactly how it has been. When I was the most irritated, and the most troubled by an irritation or situation, God was working in the background for a greater and eternal weight of glory, he was working out my purpose. It was a set back that ultimately brought Deidre and I to Hot Springs. Had it not been for a job lay-off I would not have been desperate enough to ask God what He had in mind for us. I had already began to devise a plan, but God had something different in mind, and the pressure got my attention.

I challenge you today, when the irritations come, and they will, stop cursing them and hating them (at least for a moment) and look around at what is happening. Maybe, just maybe, God is applying pressure so He can take you closer to fulfilling your purpose. Take a minute right now to ask God what He is up to in your life...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rise or Resist?

Growing up, I spent a lot of time around the ocean. I was born and raised on Chincoteague, VA, a small island just south of the Maryland line, on the Eastern Shore of VA. There I learned many of the basics of water safety, how to handle a boat, and probably the most important information of all, how to negotiate a big wave! When I was a freshman in high school my parents moved us to South Florida, again near the beach. There I learned and honed my skill of avoiding being thrown about like a beach ball by the powerful force of the ocean.

"The Key?" you ask... well that is a great question, and I am glad you brought it up, because I am very anxious to tell you. For some this key will be very intuitive, for others it will be life changing. But before I tell you this key, I need you to understand it is very, very powerful. This key, which I am going to share with you in just a moment, holds power, not just in the ocean, but in life. OK, here goes, the key is... very important, don't for get it. This power, important, life changing key is... Don't Resist It!

WOW, were you waiting for something a little more theological, more King James Versionish maybe? Sorry, that's it, no deep hermeneutical argument, just stop resisting. You see, in the ocean when a wave comes at you and you stand firm, squared off at this powerful force of the ocean, it will win, every time. It will knock you down, throw you about and get sand in your shorts. BUT, if you will turn your body sideways 90 degrees, and give yourself a little hop, you will cut through and rise above the wave that once knocked you down.

The same is true in life, you can choose to either rise or resist. To rise you need to lean into it, become more agile, and give yourself a little hop. To resist will cause you to be thrown down by life everytime, because, as the BORG say in Star Trek, "Resistance is Futile".

There is an old saying that preachers and leaders like to make to motivate people, "When the water rises, all the boats float". Oh how I wish that were true. The problem is, I have found that with boats, as with people, there are two tings that keep that from happening.

Number 1 - They are tied too tightly to the dock. I found out at a young age in VA that you have to leave slack in the line when you tie up a boat or the tide will damage it as it rises and falls. When it drops, the boat can have the cleats pulled too tightly and can rip them off, or cause the boat's side to be damaged by the dock. When the tide comes back in, because it always does, if you are tied too tightly, it will drag the boat under.

Some people need to let go of the dock. If you are holding too tightly to the past, the traditions, the pain, the hurt, or maybe even the successes, it may be time to let out some rope. I am not saying to let go all together, because then you will just float away. I am saying don't hold those things so tightly to you chest. Leave a little room for the tides to rise and fall.

Number 2 - They have holes in their boats. If you ever get to Saint Lucie County, Florida, drive down Indian River Drive. It is a breathtaking view of the Indian River, the barrier islands, and the Atlantic Ocean just beyond. But it is also littered with the shells of old boats. Boats that failed to give enough rope to rise with the tide, and boats that, for whatever reason, leaked. When the water came back in, instead of the boat rising, it filled up.

Maybe the reason you have been resisting change is because the last time change came you were damaged, and you had a breach in your hull. I want to challenge you to take some time, hit the dry dock. Put your life on hold for a season, and patch the holes. I know, that means you will have to actually deal with some issues that you have been burying, but it will also mean you can finally begin to rise on top of the waves instead of constantly being beaten by them. So call the Pastor, get some counseling, confront the pain, overcome the fear, ask for forgiveness, accept Christ as your Savior and follow Him, whatever the hole is in your life, take some time to repair it...NOW! Because one thing I do know, the tide is getting ready to come back in again, and you can either rise to the top and see sights you have never been able to see while sitting on the ocean floor, or you can continue to resist and allow the waves of life to keep beating you further down.

So, will you rise or will you resist? Will you let go of some of the rope holding you to the past? Will you take the time necessary to repair you leaks, your marriage, your relationship with your kids, your relationship with Jesus? Or will you continue to live in denial and keep doing it your own way?

In the words of Joshua, "Choose you this day who you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord". The choice if all yours, the ball's in your court, and the tide is on it's way back in...rise above it today!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Three things I have learned about walking by faith…

Daniel 3:16-18 (NIV) Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

I you have spent any time at all in church as a kid you probably have heard the story of the three Hebrew boys and the fiery furnace. If not, lee me recap, there are three boys, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego (not their real names – long story for another time…) Anyway, these boys have been commanded, along with the rest of the Babylonian Empire, to boy down and worship an idol that was made by the King, Nebuchadnezzar. As you read above in The Message version of the Bible, they said “No!”. This makes the king very unhappy so he threatens to throw them all into a fire and burn them as an example to anyone else who would get the same idea.

This is where it gets good, they make a statement to him in two sentences that have absolutely revolutionized my thinking. I don’t know about you, but I have a thinking problem. Every time God promises something I start with the “What is he doesn’t?” stuff. It really drives me crazy and makes me mad all at the same time. You know what I’m talking about, God says He wants to bless you or heal you or whatever, and we believe for a minute, then we start the how, when, where questions. We know we heard from God for our lives, but we still struggle with doubt.

I have found that faith is actually the exact opposite of the natural, human reaction and thought process. In fact, Jesus said in Matthew 10:39 (NIV) ”Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In Matthew 19:29 He said, “…the last will be first and the first last.” In our world the first are first and the last are, well, last, but Jesus has come to bring a new kingdom, new thought and a new reality.

So back to the Hebrew boys and thre three things they taught me. Number one, they teach us that God can do it. v. 17a - If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it… They had no doubt as to God’s ability to perform. In order to truly walk in faith you have to know that He can do anything. You have to believe He is your source, your supply, your everything. The first thing I had to learn to walk by faith and not by sight was that God CAN. That simple.

If I do not believe He is able to that I can not make it to the next step, that I believe He will. v.17b- and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. Step one is knowing He can, step two is believing He will for you. It is easy to believe that God spoke everything in existence and that He can heal the sick, and that He can provide all you need according to His riches in glory. It is another thing entirely to make that personal and believe He will for you and for me.

The three amigos were not happy just knowing that God could do something, but they were facing a very personal need and they believed that He would do it again, FOR THEM! How much more would we accomplish, or at least attempt, if we truly believed that God would take care of us?

That brings us to the third and final lesson, v. 18- But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Even if He does not come through for us, we will still not bow, we will not stop, we will still believe and we will not worship any other God but our God.

This is the hardest thing for me personally to get my hands around. I know God has called me to do things, I believe He will, but now God is challenging me to walk with the determination that even if He does not answer the way I thought He should, I will not stop serving Him.

My prayer today for each of us is, “God let me know you can, let me believe you will, and let me trust you so much that I can say that even you don’t, I will serve you. This is the true attitude of faith and the attitude that can see God do the miraculous in our lives. It will allow us to truly walk without fear. What is the worst thing that can happen? Name it and get comfortable with it, and then get over it. God has not called us to love in fear, He has called us to walk by faith.

So what happens if he doesn’t come though as you thought He would? I think we are asking the wrong questions. The correct question should be, “What if He does?” Well in the story we read, it caused the entire nation to serve the true and living God. What about you, what would happen in your life if He really did do it? Would it turn your home, your job, your finances, your relationships upside down? What do you have to lose? Take on the attitude, “God Can, I believe that He WILL, but even if He does not, I will still walk in faith…” and watch God move in your life.

Share your stories with us today. Just go to The Bridge – Hot Springs FaceBook and go to the My Story page. Let us know what God has done in your life this year!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Port St. Lucie to Hot Springs

On October 4, 2007, three years ago today I was laid off from a very good job as The Director of Commercial Real Estate in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Our life had been in chaos for some time at this point and we were trying to find God's direction in it all. We knew what God had said to us and what we were called to do, but were not sure if that would be a reality again or not.

Within a week of that transition Deidre and I received a call from her mom, Dianne Bates in Hot Springs, AR, with an invitation to work with The Master's Table and begin a mission in this soup kitchen on Sundays to the down and out in Hot Springs. The problem was we were still in South Florida and Hot Springs was a long way away. So we did what we knew to do, we prayed and asked God for His direction. We had some very big issues that needed to be addressed, so I put out a "fleece" to God and said this is what has to happen for me to know it is your will for us to move to Hot Springs; 1. I needed a job there. 2. We had a house in Port St. Lucie, FL to sale in a pretty bad economy. 3. We did not have a place to live and no money to rent it if we did. 4. We did not have the means to make the move 21 hours across the country.

In late October, the 29th, I decided to come on out to Hot Springs for a few days to just check everything out. The day before I was scheduled to fly out I received a call from a national head-hunter I had contacted that said I have a potential job for you in, of all places, Little Rock. She said the only problem was I had to interview there immediately. I told her I was flying into Little Rock the next day and so the meeting was set. I was driven from the airport to the McCain Mall in North Little Rock, met with the mall manager, and in less than an hour I had the job. I left there with the first obstacle checked off.

That night I met with Doug & Lain Rodgers, the founders of the Master's Table. We hit it off and went to the facility the next day. We served 486 people that day, then had 30 return on Sunday for a mission service in which I spoke. By the time this was done I was sold. I called Deidre and told her we were moving to AR. I still did not have a place to live, our house sold, nor did we have money to move, but I had a word from God.

When I returned to Port St. Lucie we decided to go to dinner at Bennigan's. On the way home from dinner my car was rear-ended by a Ford F150. It did a good deal of damage and put me seeing a chiropractor for a couple of weeks. What Iwe did not know was that God was using this event to "give seed to the sower". We settled with the insurance company with all bills paid and $500.00 in cash for pain & suffering. Now we have been around long enough to know that "if it's not big enough to meet your need it must be your seed". We decided to sow that $500.00 in Pastor Clint Brown in Orlando. He was a great mentor and had been our covering pastor for over 5 years.

Within just a few days things started heating up. We had a couple of Hispanic men come to our front door at 9PM and asked to come in and see the house. They said they liked it and wanted to make an offer on it. We showed them around, against my better judgment at that hour, and sure to their word, they made an acceptable offer and bought the house; 2 down, 2 to go!

We then received a phone call from a lady in Hot Springs, she said, "We really feel this is a God thing. We will have signed a lease on a house for 6 months for you, we are going to pay for it and all you have to do it move in." 3 down! Then we received a call from a man who said he wanted to pay for our entire move; gas, hotel, food, everything. He sent me his credit card and that was that. On November 13th, 15 days form the time I flew to Hot Springs I was in a truck with my nephew Andrew and the Twins, Mikayla & Mariah, headed to Hot Springs, AR.

I wish I could say that it has been easy the whole time, but that would be a lie. But I can say, thanks to an initial $500 seed, and many since that, we have been able to walk into the purpose and destiny God has designed for us. My challenge to you is to step out in faith, sow into the ministry God has attached you to, watch God move on your behalf, oh yea go to http://www.facebook.com/note.php?created&¬e_id=100692326663310&id=151781231524220#!/pages/Tell-Us-Your-Story/151781231524220 and let us hear YOUR story.