Join us this year for a discussion of the question of human dignity and the gospel. So many roads, so much at stake So many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take To find dignity. Bob Dylan
A small group of children see me taking photos of their school building and scamper to jump in front of the camera. More…
Spiritual Influence: The Hidden Power Behind Leadership by Mel Lawrenz (Zondervan, 2012). Hardcover. 212 Pages. ISBN 978-0310492702
“If you are in a position of positive influence, if you exercise leadership in any way, your faith in God gives you a power—a hidden power—that will allow you to make an enduring difference in the lives of other people and organizations. But how does that power work?” More…
Since influence is all about people, it only makes sense to explore the dynamics of our spiritual influence with other people.
“Circles of Influence” is a simple method anyone can use to take a few weeks and discover how to deepen one’s influence with friends, colleagues, or co-workers. “Circles of Influence” is an excellent team-building exercise. More…
There is an exciting movement today in which people from all walks of life are trying to have a deeper and more enduring influence in their work and relationships. We are all influencers, and we are all being influenced all the time–so, how can that influence be good and lasting? And how does the spiritual dimension of influence and leadership figure in? More…
This is post #6 in the Christmas devotional Christmas Joy. Receive Christmas Joyvia email.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. -Matthew 1:18-19
We know so little about Joseph. He is only mentioned in the birth and childhood stories of Jesus. He was named after an ancient patriarch who used his success in Egypt to save his family and a future nation. Joseph was a carpenter who lived in the town of Nazareth. His ancestors were from Bethlehem, so when a Roman ruler, Caesar Augustus, wanted a census, Joseph had to go back to Bethlehem, even though his wife was well along in her pregnancy.
This is post #5 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.” To get via email, sign up HERE.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks at night. – Luke 2:8
It may seem like a stretch of the imagination, but try it anyway: If you were God, and could announce the arrival of the savior of humanity, would you send your messengers to some shepherds out in the fields, as they whiled away their nighttime watch? Why not instead send angels to an assembly of the religious council in Jerusalem? Why not to the megalomaniac King Herod? How about Caesar? Wouldn’t that be a night of work—to blow opens the doorways of society, to change everything with a few simple words. Continue Reading…
God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” -Luke 1:26-31
Can any of us fathom the immense amount of faith Mary was called on to have? She was young. She was a virgin. She was probably expecting to lead no more than an ordinary life in a no name Galilean town.
Then the message came from heaven.
To be visited by an angel would be miraculous in itself. But the words! Those powerful, surreal words: “The Lord is with you.” Certainly that is true for all of us, generally speaking, but in this case the emphasis was: The Lord is with you, Mary. The creator of the universe has handpicked “you who are highly favored”. As with Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Ruth and David, God had chosen Mary to be his instrument, to do his work in the world. A high favor indeed. Continue Reading…
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21
Angel: 1). A spiritual being believed to act as an attendant, agent, or messenger of God (Oxford English Dictionary).
What did Mary see when the angel Gabriel appeared to her? What kind of being came with foreknowledge of a supernatural conception and with words that would change her identity forever? “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Lk. 1:28). How would the shepherds have described the angel with the glory of the Lord shining about? How could they encapsulate “a great company of the heavenly host,” whose voices poured out a sudden tidal wave of sound, a booming chorus?: “Glory to God in the highest!” (Lk. 2:14). How would Joseph his own encounter with the angel? Or what would Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, say about their messengers? In the days leading up to the birth of Jesus, supernatural appearances and utterances were occurring like they never had before—an electric buzz of Heaven’s voices among us. Continue Reading…
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” – Luke 2:13-14
Peace is a noble aspiration at any time. In times of war or in times of harmony. When you find yourself at odds with someone, or when you are feeling pretty good about your relationships. When you feel in harmony with God, or when you feel a discord. It is always important to pursue peace. Continue Reading…
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” - Luke 2:10-11
Great joy? Is it almost too much to hope for?
Where did all the Christmas joy go? How did things get so complicated? So rushed? So squeezed and cluttered? A non-stop buzz of Christmas lights and weary shoppers, boisterous television specials and pleading children. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to step aside, step into a quieter moment, and read the angel’s words that came on the night that changed the world: “I bring you news of great joy!”
In America this week we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. I have always treasured this holiday because its intention is so clear and so right. It is not so cluttered with commercialism and busyness. It recalls the harvest of fields, and invites us to look for a harvest of God’s goodness in our own lives.
Hundreds of millions of people will be preparing for Christmas in the days to come. But how will we prepare our hearts and minds?
Thought for today: The Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” mentions “the hopes and fears of all the years.” The coming (“advent”) of Jesus strengthens our hope and gives us ways to deal with our fears. Continue Reading…
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” Revelation 21:1
The popular conception of heaven is something I don’t want to have anything to do with.
Close your eyes. Picture heaven. What do you see, or not see? Are the images based on stories or movies, or on what Scripture actually says?
Whoever thought it was a good idea to depict heaven as the complete negation of everything good that we know in this life should be made to stand waist-deep in a cloud for ten years and see how he likes it. Continue Reading…
Elmbrook Church is pleased to have Os Guinness speak in all worship services for the opening of Harvest Fest 2013 the weekend of Oct. 26 & 27. He will also speak Monday evening, October 28 at 7PM. Continue Reading…
This weekend Pastor Mel Lawrenz continues the sermon series “Called – Reimagining Our Place in God’s Plan” at Elmbrook Church, looking at what it means to be called to a distinctive way of life. In all of the uncertainties of our lives, God remains the one called “I AM.” When we lack confidence (like Moses), God gives us courage. And we’ll see how God recognizes misery and injustice in the world and sets about to deliver people. (Read ahead: Exodus 3:1-17.)
I find this week’s cover of Newsweek magazine for the 10-year anniversary of 9/11chilling. It is simply a brilliant blue sky and in the upper right corner the underside of a jetliner frozen in a moment of time before calamity.
People are starting to tell their 9/11 stories to each other again. Where were you? What were you thinking? How did it affect you?
Debates about the philosophy and methodology of church ministry abound. In the middle of it all sometimes one fundamental reality gets forgotten: the church is the one institution in society positioned at the intersection of human need and divine resources. This is an enormous privilege and a sober responsibility of every church.
“Engagement” is bringing together God’s supply and human need. It means closing the God-gap. Continue Reading…
At the intersection of past and future, we have one of the greatest opportunities to influence the common good. Unthinkingly, we sometimes idealize the new and devalue the old. The truth is, the only way for tomorrow to have integrity is for the best of yesterday to pass through the gateway of today.
In my interactions with leaders from churches and other organizations, I find that most people want to be ”fresh,” “innovative,” “pioneering.” Who wouldn’t? Innovation is a great ideal if you believe that God the creator is continually making things new.
True innovation is not copying someone else’s idea and touting it as ”the next great thing.” If we aren’t true to our own context we may find ourselves committed to “the next great thing,” which was actually new twenty years ago, and now abandoned by the people who created it. Continue Reading…
The American revolutionary John Adams sometimes seems eclipsed by his brilliant contemporary Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson’s face is carved in a sixty-foot section of granite on Mt. Rushmore, after all, not Adam’s. But how remarkable was the character of Adams, a man for whom being second president of the United States was just one more vocation in a string of opportunities to serve the public, one step in the journey of a lifetime.
He sacrificed the comforts of home for months and years on end by laboring in Philadelphia to frame a new nation and by sojourning as an ambassador in the very alien country of the French. He longed to make a truly important contribution to society, but was not allured by the vanities of public attention. He endured ostracism. He persevered in debating–word-by-word–the important documents of the revolution. Months of work were not too much to make sure the work was done precisely. Any accolades and gains in reputation, had to be the natural outworking of honorable work.
At the end of a long life Adams was able to reflect more on God, and was filled with awe and appreciation even as the loved ones in his life passed away. Incredibly, he died on the fourth of July, the exact day of the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of which he was the driving force. And his dying words were not about himself, but “Jefferson still lives,” not knowing that hours earlier, that same day, Thomas Jefferson had died many miles away.
The early morning light filtered through the small windows of the scriptorium—the manuscript copying room—where a scribe was hunched over a table on which lay the parchment he was inscribing. His back ached from curling his body day after day over the tilted table, sitting on a backless stool, holding his writing arm out across the parchment, leaning close for lack of light at this time of year in the far north in Ireland.
His hand moved in a slow rhythm from ink pot to parchment where he traced the open end of his quill in the shape of the letters he had practiced for years. This part was mindless. Tedious. Dreary. But he was always mentally alert and focussed for fear of misspelling a word or his eye skipping over a phrase. Making a mistake meant using a small knife to slice away at the errant letter or word. Continue Reading…
This is a question we’d rather not ask, but is so central to our experience and our destiny that we can’t help but ask it. No one should be surprised that most people have at least some fear about death, because we naturally fear the unknown. It is a door that we look at our whole lives, yet is closed to us our whole lives, until in that one final instant when we cross the threshold. Continue Reading…
Modeling Perseverance is one of the most powerful forms of spiritual influence.
We don’t seem to use the word perseverance very often. Maybe because it has the word severe in it. Or maybe it seems a bit old-fashioned, like King James Bible English. There is no question that other words roll more easily off the tongue, like winning, succeeding, finishing. But here it is, the biblical mandate: persevere.
The best influencers know how to persevere. Whether or not they know the duration of the effort, the struggles ahead, the distance to the finish line-or even whether there is a finish line—they keep going. One foot in front of the other. Progressing one inch at a time. Each day a new opportunity to start again. People who persevere hold to a conviction that plodding ahead pleases God, even when there is no applause and no immediate reward. Continue Reading…
One large truth keeps dropping in front of my face ever since the death of philosopher and author Dallas Willard last week.
I’ve read numerous tributes by friends and associates of Willard’s and they keep bringing up this one large truth. I had just one conversation with Dallas Willard years ago, but it confirmed to me that he was driven by this one large truth. Many of my friends who have promoted spiritual formation in the last twenty years have also been speaking about this one large truth since Willard’s death.
John Stott spoke about this one large truth in his last public address given in the summer of 2007, saying that this truth is the sum of the Christian life. Continue Reading…
Psalm 25 says “they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.” In the aftermath of the terrorist bombing in Boston, we may pray other words from the same psalm: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.”
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.
Once again the unthinkable has happened. Yet this is the way we now think of the world since 9/11. Another beautiful day ripped apart by explosions that tore the lives of innocent bystanders. Unthinkable. Shameful. Treacherous.
There is a word for this: treachery. But what do you do on the other side of the terrorist’s attack? What can we say in the face of pure treachery? Continue Reading…
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38-42)
A small act of mercy on the part of Joseph of Arimathea meant that Jesus’ limp and lifeless body would not be thrown into a pit of a grave, but laid carefully in a rock-hewn garden tomb. Joseph was probably a man with significant conflicts. Wealthy, a prominent member of the Jewish council, he represented the very establishment that was committed to Jesus’ demise. Yet he believed in Jesus, secretly. To believe in Jesus does put one on the spot. Being a committed disciple of Jesus always upsets the status quo.
Nicodemus, also fearful but compelled, came to the tomb too. So there two men, both of whose associations put them at odds with Jesus, both of whom really wanted to believe, are the ones who respectfully wrap the body of Jesus in cloths and seventy-five pounds of spices. Yet the only thing that can really take away the stench of death and its empty stare is resurrection.
These and the other disciples were still stuck in that no-man’s-land between life and death. All that Jesus’ followers had to hold onto were Jesus’ vague words about rising from death. Could such words be taken seriously at all? What would they do in these days? Would they be arrested next? And so they waited behind locked doors because there was nothing else to do.
Many of us feel like we are stuck waiting in life. Waiting after a hard thing that has happened. Waiting to see if there really is hope. Waiting for the power of God.
Ponder This: Is there some way in which you are waiting to see what will happen next? How will you find faith in the waiting place?
They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS (Matthew 27:33-37).
Now came time for the clash between good and evil, heaven and hell. The crucifixion of Jesus is both the most horrific moment in human history and humanity’s only hope. That’s why we call the Friday before Easter Good Friday. Continue Reading…
Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:31-35)
The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for commandment (mandatum), which Jesus talked about when he told his disciples that he was leaving them “a new commandment,” that they “love one another.” There were probably so many things going on in the disciples’ minds in that upper room where they had their last supper together, including fear and bewilderment from Jesus telling them that someone in that very room would betray him. Continue Reading…
Announcing… a new initiative this year, which we are calling “In Search of Dignity.”
I’d like to tell you about a new initiative this year, which we are calling “In Search of Dignity.” I have come to believe that dignity, and its opposite, indignity, sum up the heights and the depths of what our lives can be.
Dignity means worth or value. It is what God intended when he created humanity. It is what the careless and cruel deeds of humanity spoil but cannot destroy. Continue Reading…
Shootings in schools, movie theaters, shopping centers, and elswhere have traumatized the nation. But the face of violence is not just about shootings. Bullying in the schools, domestic violence, elder abuse, sexual abuse and other forms of violence are rampant. Continue Reading…
This post was written by Mel Lawrenz on Thursday, February 14th, 2013 and is filed in Featured.
Join us this year for a discussion of the question of human dignity and the gospel. So many roads, so much at stake So many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take To find dignity. Bob Dylan
A small group of children see me taking photos of their school building and scamper to jump in front of the camera. Continue Reading…
Here is where faith begins. “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator…” You are not an accident. You are not merely the best mutation in the neighborhood. You are not merely a species who is really good at avoiding getting eaten by another species. You can seek design and purpose in your life because you were created according to a design. And a “very good” one at that. Continue Reading…
What do you really see when you look in the mirror? You probably notice the lines that were not there a year ago. The scar just beneath your chin from when you went head-first over your bicycle when you were a kid and they stitched you up with little thought to “cosmetic” effect. Your eye is drawn to your retreating hairline or your sagging skin. Your eyes have seen the pleasing and the ugly. You may even look at your face in the mirror and wonder, as we all do, is that really who I am? Not because of the flaws, but because you know that your soul is too big to be circumscribed in a face.
In many doorways of the Roman Empire there was a depiction of a god with two faces pointing in opposite directions. Janus was the god of transitions. He looked ahead and he looked behind–to the past and the future. He was a kind of doorkeeper, a minder of the gate. And so our calendar’s first month, January, is named after him. On January 1 of the new year we look behind, and we look ahead.
So what’s on the other side of the doorway you’re stepping through? Continue Reading…
Message (“Words of Encouragement”) given by Pastor Stuart Briscoe at the Memorial Service for Jennifer Sebena, December 29, 2012 at Elmbrook Church.
[Jennifer Sebena was gunned down while on patrol in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve, 2012.]
It was Christmas Eve in Wauwatosa. In the early hours of the morning. Most of the citizens were asleep in their beds, warm, comfortable, safe. The Wauwatosa Police Department was on the job patrolling and protecting. A solitary squad car made its way on quiet streets past the Christmas lights and the Santa signs, a lone officer at the wheel. Jennifer Sebena, 30 years of age, two years on the force had wanted to be a cop for as long as she could remember and when she set her mind to something she pursued it with diligence. No surprise she graduated top of her class at the academy. She was on patrol.
Jennifer was suffering under no illusions when she buckled on her bullet proof vest that night. She knew the Wauwatosa Police Department had not lost an officer on duty in their 96-year history, but she also knew that the streets in the early morning hours are not the safest places in the world. Like all her fellow officers she knew that putting on the uniform was a passport to harm’s way.
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The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. -Luke 2:20
At the birth of Jesus, amidst the dirt and straw of a stable, millennia of promises, prophecies, and hopes were fulfilled. In the birth of a child, something that happens every single day all over the world, something happened that would change the world. Everything the faithful were anticipating took shape. It was the alignment of all that was meant to be. But the birth of Jesus has that power and significance only if he really is who he said he was.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born. – Luke 2:6
On the night before Jesus was born, the shepherds would have seen the night sky the way they had seen it thousands of times before. That was a quiet night, in stark contrast to the following night, when an angel would appear with “the glory of the Lord,” announcing the birth of the child—then join with a great company of heavenly beings proclaiming glory and peace. Continue Reading…
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. – 1 John 1:1-2
Beginning. The Beginning. How much we all want to know about the beginning of all things, in order to understand the now of all things, and to pursue the way things are supposed to be in our lives today. The original design must be the ideal, the way things ought to be. The Bible’s opening words: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” delineate between a time in which there was only God, and a new time in which his magnificent creation began (Gen. 1:1).