That Awkward Time I Made a Circumcision Joke in Church

Recently I was preaching through Joshua 5, where Joshua is commanded to circumcise the Israelites at Gilgal:

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” Joshua 5:2

Anytime you preach about circumcision, the guys in the audience get a little squeamish (understandably). Many times the atmosphere can get so tense that you could cut it with a knife (oops, there I go again). Anyways, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to throw out a little church humor. Now in full transparency I received more groans than laughs, but I still thought it was slightly humorous. What do you think?

Christians Spend Too Much Time At Church

Yes, you read that right. Christians spend too much time at church. I’m a pastor. I’m employed full-time by a church. If no one showed up, I would be out of a job. If I get more people to show up, people generally think I’m doing a better job. Christians spend too much time at church.

Here’s what I mean: I would argue that Christians spend too much time “at church” when they should spend more time in the community “being the church.” Right off the top we have to reiterate that the church is not a building. When Jesus told Peter that he would build his “assembly” or “gathering” (what ekklesia literally means), buildings and cathedrals were the furthest thing from his mind.

But in our minds today, going to church is equated with a building, a service, a location. Now, going to church isn’t in and of itself a bad thing. But it can become a distraction when it takes us away from our mission as Christ followers. It’s hard to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) when we’ve completely surrounded ourselves with Christians and we’re so busy doing Christian activities that we don’t have the time or energy to build intentional relationships with non-believers.

Churches don’t help this mindset either. For decades the strategy was to keep Christians so busy that they didn’t have time to sin. I remember working at churches with the mindset that an empty calendar meant someone wasn’t doing their job. I think we’ve changed the common phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness” to “busyness is next to godliness.”

I remember working at a church (what would be a ‘successful’ church by most standards) but feeling incredibly convicted because I had no meaningful relationships with non-believers. I was preaching to my students that they needed to tell others about Jesus, but I didn’t have the time or margin to follow my own advice. All I knew were Christians. I spent too much time at church.

Our mission as Christians isn’t fulfilled when we finish walking verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible. Our mission isn’t completed when we nail that four part harmony to our favorite song. We’re not done after we finish building or paying off a building. It’s not even done when we hold an epic event and 1000 Christians from other churches attended our church for one night. Our mission is completed when we make disciples of all nations. Not just converts. Disciples. That means we need to have a meaningful and sustained presence in our community. We need to get out of the church building more often. We need to have church and be the church in our community. That means stripping away lots and lots of programs, sacrificing even some good activities so that the mission can move forward.

I’m a full-time pastor. I love when people come to church. But a building, a program and a service can become a distraction from our main mission if we’re not careful. Christians spend too much time at church.

QUESTION: Thoughts? Am I off base here, or am I onto something?

(P.S. Don’t use this as an excuse to start missing church altogether. Making disciples of all nations doesn’t mean fishing, sleeping in or catching a NASCAR race. This is a plea to churches to reprioritize their energies, not an endorsement for people to start attending Bedside Baptist with Pastor Sheets).

5 Ways to Embrace the Messes

In the most famous story Jesus ever told (the Prodigal Son), the climax comes when the wayward son returns home and his father runs out and embraces him, mess and all (Luke 15:20). As followers of Jesus, how can we exhibit the heart of the father and embrace the mess around us? Here are five ways:

1). Embrace your own mess. The first and biggest issue for many Christians is that we never can embrace our own mess. We think we have worked ourselves to the place where we are better than other people. If we want to embrace the messes, we need to realize that we’re the mess. We may hide it better, we may look more like good church people, but we’re just as much of a mess as everyone else. That’s why when Jesus starts his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, he starts by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” To be poor in spirit is to realize that you’re a mess, that you’re spiritually bankrupt without God.

2). Never get over how much Jesus has embraced you. This is why we sing about the cross constantly. It’s why we get together as a church several times a week to talk about Jesus. We need to keep his grace and his mercy in the forefront of our minds. It’s too easy for us to forget, to move past, to think we’re beyond it. We can never get over what Jesus did on the cross for YOU. You sinned, you deserve hell as punishment for your rebellion against God. There’s no way you could make it right. But Jesus came and took your punishment that you deserved. He did it because he embraced you, mess and all. We need to keep that forgiveness in the forefront. Jesus says in the book of Luke, “whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.”

3). See people through your Heavenly Father’s eyes. You can look at the messes in our community and see just that, a mess. They’ve made mistakes, they’ve broken promises, they’ve hurt people, maybe society has given up on them. But through the eyes of their Heavenly Father (that’s key), they’re a hurting child that needs help. They’re someone’s child, and yes they might be a mess, but they’re still a child of God. A church member wrote me recently, At the end of service, we were singing Come Ye Sinners. In the middle of the song I looked down at my 7 year old and just started crying. I love my children and would do anything for them. I know now, that’s the way the Lord loves me! I don’t know why it never clicked before now. 

4). Be family to someone who needs it. God is our Heavenly Father. As the hands and feet of Jesus, we’re called as believers to live out tangibly the love of the Heavenly Father to a lost and dying world. There are too many people out there without family, and we can be family to them. You can be a surrogate mother, father, aunt, uncle, to those that need it. Our society is so mobile that hardly anyone grows up with grandparents anymore. We desperately need people willing to pour into others and be that brother or sister, that parent, or that grandparent that God wants for all of us to have.

5). Love till it hurts, then keep loving. Not every relationship is going to be wrapped up with a shiny bow. Not every story is going to have a happy ending. When you embrace the messes, some of that mess spills over on you. It’s unavoidable. If you truly embrace the messes your life will become more demanding. You’ll be called to sacrifice more. Your life won’t be as predictable and manageable as you’d like. But it’s what Jesus has called us to do. And aren’t we glad that Jesus didn’t give up on us the first moment our lives got messy?

QUESTION: How else can we embrace the messes?

6 Signs Your Church Might Be a Museum

Some of the most beautiful church buildings in Europe like the Cathedral at Notre Dame in Paris actually are museums. People come and admire the architecture, but the Spirit of those churches departed a long time ago. Here are six signs that a functioning church might actually be more like a museum:

1). Appreciation over application. Museums want you to appreciate what they have to offer. You don’t have to change at all. Churches can sometimes be more about appreciating the beautiful music or the truths being taught, without ever challenging you to apply them.

2). Architecture over accessibility. For some of the most famous art museums in the world, the building itself is the art. It may be cold and uncomfortable, but it’s beautiful. Churches can be easily mistaken into thinking that the most important thing is the building. A building becomes more important than the people they’re trying to reach.

3). Safety over sacrifice. Museums never ask you to do anything out of your comfort zone. You’re there at your leisure. In the same way, churches can unintentionally create a climate that keeps us in the very comfort zones that Jesus is calling us out of.

4). Predictability over people. Hours are set, visitor limits are declared. If there are too many people, you simply shut down. If you traveled halfway across the world to see a specific painting and they have it out for cleaning, tough luck. Routine dominates. Some churches can fall into this. The same programs at the same times, not necessarily because they’re reaching people any more, but because it’s predictable.

5). Manageable over messy. It’s why museums cringe when they see a kindergarten field trip coming through the doors. Too many grubby hands. Many art museums aren’t kid-friendly. How many churches aren’t kid-friendly, through kids spaces, programs, and all the hard work it takes to make a church truly effective at reaching young families?

6). Tradition over transformation. At the end of the day, a museum is there to preserve the past. A museum will never transform a community for the future. It’s there to preserve the past. Can a church be more about preserving the past rather than transforming the future?

QUESTION: What are other signs a church might be more like a museum?

I Never Ever Ever Thought I Would Have This Conversation At Church

I’ve had lots of strange conversations at church. People stopping me to tell me the most intimate details of their latest surgery (and then they had to remove this but it’s irritated my bowels so much . . .). I’ve had people “bless” me by telling me everything I’m doing wrong or everything they don’t like about the church. But I’ve never had this. This conversation Sunday literally stunned me, and it left me convinced there is hope in the world.


On the way to our Worship Center in between services I was stopped by one of our high school girl students and her friend. They said, “Oh good, we’ve been looking for you!” That can immediately send alarm bells ringing in pastors because when someone singles out a pastor on a Sunday, that pastor’s morning might be about to go into a tailspin. But this high school girl’s request was genuine and inspiring.

She asked, “How do I give money to the church?” Let’s hold on and stop right there. Read that sentence again. That’s someone going out of their way to find out how they can give money to the church. And a teenage girl at that! She continued, “I just got a job, I’m working a lot, I’m getting paid every week, and I need to start tithing to the church. How do I do that?”

At that point I could have sworn the heavens parted, and I was distracted for a few seconds looking for a dove to descend. In reality, I gave her the website where our members can give online (I added the hyperlink just in case anyone gets inspired). She thanked me and went on her way.

And I walked away from a conversation I never ever ever thought I would have at church. A teenage girl going out of her way to find out how she can start tithing to a local church. Come on now, if that isn’t proof that God is working in the next generation and if that doesn’t give you hope about the leaders God is raising up, I don’t know what will!

7 Steps to Becoming a Person of Hope

If you’re ready to change your outlook on life and become a person of hope, here are seven steps that can see hope begin to overflow from within you:


1). Choose to hope. Don’t ever be fooled. Hope is a choice. It’s always been a choice. You are not a slave to your personality. You are not a victim of your circumstances. You have the Spirit of the God who created the heavens and the earth living inside of you. You can choose to hope. I know it’s not as easy and simple choosing to hope. It’s a battle. But never ever forget: hope is a choice. If you’re a pessimist, it’s because you choose to be a pessimist. If you’re defeated, it’s because you chose to give up. And if you hope, it’s because you choose to get back up when you’re knocked down and believe in the God of Hope.

2). Inhale the Word. We see this in Romans 15:4. The Word of God is given to us to teach us so that we might be encouraged and so that we might have hope. Breathing is about inhaling and exhaling. If you want to breathe hope, you have to start by inhaling the Word, because the Word gives you hope. Every morning when you get up, inhale the Word. On the way to work, don’t get riled up by talk radio, listen to sermons of the many great preachers out there. Some of you need to go on a fast, cut out all tv, all social media, and just feast on the Word until it gets into your pores. If you want to breathe hope, you always have to start with the Word.

3). Use worship as a weapon. In Ephesians 5, Paul talks about the connection between singing and being filled with the Spirit. It’s why we put so much emphasis on singing in our Sunday services. Music connects to the deepest part of you, to your soul. And when you worship through song, you are fighting the lies of the world with the truth of Scripture. So for me, I sing. I’m a singer. I sing a lot. Not just on Sundays. I always have music going, declaring truth to my soul. I’m a big Hillsong fan, and I’ll put that on for hours, because I want to declare the truth and promises of Scripture to my soul. Worship connects the timeless truths of Scripture to the deepest parts of your soul. So worship through song, a lot. Use worship as weapon to fight the lies of the enemy with the truth of God.

4). Allow others to minister to you. When Paul prays in Romans 15:13 that the God of hope would fill you up with all joy and peace, the “you” is plural. Our faith is never meant to be practiced alone. We don’t experience the overflowing joy, peace and hope of God until we do it with other believers. That’s why we do life together. That’s why being in a small group with other believers is so important. You want hope? Stop trying to live out your faith on your own and allow others to minister to you and help you.

5). Walk in step with the Spirit. The hope of God comes to us through the Holy Spirit. When we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, we’re filled with Hope. In Galatians Paul tells the church that since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit. Here’s what that means: the Holy Spirit is not stationary. He’s not a one-time experience when you walked an aisle when you were 9. His filling is daily, his power is hourly, and to stay filled with hope, we need to keep in step with the Spirit. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit, we need to listen to the Spirit and obey His promptings. And know this, a Spirit-filled life is not a life of sitting. We’re supposed to walk with the Spirit. And he’ll lead us to people that we can serve. That’s why we serve, not sit as believers. Serving others fills us with the Holy Spirit of hope.

6). Believe that anyone can be transformed by the power of Jesus. Hope never gives up. Romans 15:13 says we’re filled as we continually trust in the God who created the universe, the God who made all of humanity, the God that can save and redeem anyone. There are no lost causes. If God can save the first Christian killer Saul of Tarsus and transform him into the Apostle Paul, then God can save anyone. Don’t ever give up on somebody. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. It doesn’t matter how far gone they might be. It doesn’t matter if it would take a miracle for their life to be transformed. We believe in the God of miracles! Don’t ever give up on anyone!

7). Exhale contagious hope. When we inhale the word, use worship as a weapon, when we do life together and serve not sit, we breathe out a hope that can change lives. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

How to Stay Grounded When Heading Off to College

Last week I received a message from a former student with a great question about college. Here’s what she asked:


Hey! I’m now 18 and about to head off to college and I was wondering if you could give me any advice. I have looked up to you from the time I was in 6th grade and I’m very nervous about college in general. Thank you! Have a nice day!

Here’s what I wrote her. This advice I would give to anyone heading off to college:

You’re making me feel really old because all I can imagine is this awkward 6th grader, not a big time high school grad! So glad God’s continuing to do big things in your life. The one piece of advice I would give you is find a good church as soon as you can and start volunteering somewhere. Don’t just attend. It will be too easy to fall through the cracks and stop going. Go, sign up to serve somewhere (kids, youth), and get to know people. Put down roots in a good local church, and you’ll stay grounded your whole time there. God bless!

Find a good local church. Don’t settle for periodically attending. Plant roots. Find community. Volunteer somewhere. It will help you stay grounded throughout your college years.

7 Ways the Church Can Redeem the Supreme Court Decision Legalizing Gay Marriage

Gay marriage is here. Rather than long for the past or fear the future, how can the church redeem the present? How can we turn this tragedy into an opportunity to advance the gospel? Here are 7 steps forward.


1. Rejoice. Wait what? Absolutely! Rejoice. What does the Bible say in Philippians 4:4? Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! How can we rejoice? What can we rejoice in? God is still on his throne, Jesus still died for our sins, the tomb is still empty, heaven still awaits us. We need to be characterized by joy, not defeat. This caught us by surprise, but this didn’t catch God by surprise. Our mission hasn’t changed. We don’t need to be moping, defeated, angry, bitter, complaining Christians. We serve the Almighty God of the universe. He’s got this. Choose to rejoice.

2. Wake up from our slumber. Romans 13:11 says, And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Maybe this is the wake up call that we needed. Maybe we need to be reminded that we’re in a war, not with the government, not with the Supreme Court, and not with the LGBT community. We’re in a war with the principalities and powers in the spiritual realms. As fun as ball games and television shows and cell phones are, we’ve got bigger issues. Let’s wake up from our slumber and and realize we’ve got a part to play in this world, and it’s not to be distracted by all the cheap entertainment out there. Our salvation is nearer then when we first believed. Some people say this is a sign of the end times. What if it is? Are we ready? Are we paying attention or are we distracted by all the first world problems we deal with in America?

3. Make your marriage the most winsome one out there. We can condemn homosexual marriages all we want. Where we need to be aiming our attention is at all the heterosexual couples that are making a mockery of God’s institution of marriage. Let’s get our own house in order on the heterosexual side of things before we start condemning the other side. The gay community sees us proclaiming the only way as one man and one woman for life, and they see our sky high divorce rates, and they see hypocrisy, and they’re right. One of the greatest witnessing tools you’ll ever have is your own marriage. Don’t just witness with words, witness with deeds. Make your marriage the most winsome out there. Make it the most attractive. Make it the strongest. If this is your first, second, third or fourth marriage, make it so strong and so appealing to the outside world that they come to you, asking you what your secret is. Then you can point them to Jesus. Jesus himself tells us this in Matthew 5:18, In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. If this whole debate is about marriage, let’s not just say what we’re for, let’s show what we’re for by our own marriages.

4. Choose the way of grace and truthChurches are picking sides today. There is going to be a strong gravitational pull to choose either the compromise camp or the condemnation camp. Even the gay community itself will say, “You’re either for us or against us.” Let’s choose the way of grace and truth. Let’s choose the way of Jesus, Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). But if we don’t come out and condemn homosexuality, doesn’t that mean that we’re condoning it? Not at all. Look at Jesus in John 8, in the passage we read earlier. When Jesus encountered a woman caught in the act of adultery, he didn’t compromise his belief in Scripture. Adultery is still wrong. But neither did he condemn her. He held onto truth but showed her grace. If we can figure out how to live out grace and truth when it comes to this issue, first we’ll find a way to truly redeem this opportunity and shine the light of Christ’s love in a dark place. Warning we’ll probably be as misunderstood as Jesus was and receive friendly fire from the right and from the left.

5. Love first. Peter tells us, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Befriend homosexuals like you would anyone else. Some of you have family members that are gay, and you’re already trying to figure out how to love them without condoning their lifestyle. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Someone asked me, should I allow a gay couple into my home? I would. I’ve got no problem with it. Because I’m comfortable with it? No. But because Jesus did it. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. He showed grace where people needed it the most. The religious people didn’t understand it. Don’t stigmatize someone for their homosexuality anymore than you stigmatize someone for their obesity, marital status or economic status.

6. Prepare for refugees from the sexual revolution. The Bible is clear that homosexual acts are a sin. That shouldn’t cause us to rejoice with righteous indignation as much as it should cause us to grieve at all the pain people are subjecting themselves to. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error (Romans 1:27). Since we believe that God’s plan for sexuality is within marriage, we will deal with a lot of hurt people who found out the hard way that sex outside of marriage is not God’s way. In the same way, there is an entire community out there who is convinced that all of their problems just got solved by the Supreme Court’s decision. What we believe is that sooner or later, they’re going to realize that the homosexual lifestyle is not the answer they were searching for. There are going to be a lot of hurting people out there, and we need to be ready for them. That’s why it’s so important to love first. If we’ve burned all the bridges between us and them, there’s no way for them to come back when they search for God.

7. Pray for a Saul of Tarsus from the LGBT community. If we think this is a dark time, go back to Acts 8, when Saul of Tarsus started destroying the church in its infancy. That was a truly dark time, until Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus and changed the course of Christianity. Let’s pray that a Saul of Tarsus, someone right in the middle of the LGBT community, a leader of that community, finds Jesus in a revolutionary way. A person like that could change his or her world. Let’s pray that God would raise up a Saul of Tarsus from the LGBT community.

QUESTION: How else can we redeem the Supreme Court’s decision and turn this tragedy into an opportunity?

5 Ways to Recover the Boldness of the Early Church

Even a light read through the book of Acts reveals a church that’s markedly different from many churches today. They were united, passionate, and they changed their world. And above all, they were bold. You see that word time and time again when you read their story. So how can we as the church today begin to recover the boldness of the early church? Here are five steps:


1. Put the resurrection in the forefront – The more we dwell and celebrate and meditate on the resurrection, the bolder we’ll become. Think about it. The greatest thing that most people fear is death. Jesus conquered death. Jesus has conquered our greatest fears, and his Spirit is now inside of us. What do we have to be afraid of? Seriously? What do we have to be afraid of?

2. Focus on God’s power, not our problems – When the disciples prayed for boldness in Acts 4, they didn’t start by complaining about their problems. They focused on God’s power. They reminded themselves just who was on the throne of the universe. They were threatened by men, but they served the Sovereign Lord who made the heavens and the earth and the sea. They had the trump card. When you pray, don’t focus so much on your problems as you focus on God’s power.

3. Embrace the Holy Spirit. As uncomfortable as it might be with your religious upbringing, everything we see happen in the book of Acts happened because the Holy Spirit fueled it. He’s the power behind the church. Behind every mention of boldness in the book of Acts you see the Holy Spirit. Until we’re ready to put up our sails and adjust our sails to the moving wind of the Holy Spirit, we’re not going to go anywhere.

4. Pray big prayers. The early church not only prayed, they prayed big prayers. We never see the early church praying, “God, please bless the food, keep us safe, help me get that promotion, help my kids be good kids.” They prayed big prayers. Prayers much bigger than them. When we start praying prayers bigger then us, we’ll start seeing God doing bigger things than us.

5. Give sacrificially. All of the descriptions of the early church included how they gave sacrificially to others as they had need. You know and I know that anyone can talk a big game, but what’s the saying? “Put your money where your mouth is?” If someone is bold enough to trust God with their money, they’re bold enough to start changing their world.