Expectation is fertile ground to see a mighty move of God! -- Artie Davis
In one sense, the word expectation is another way to express faith. We either believe that God will do great things or we stumble along in self-fulfilling disappointment. If we read God's promises we see that He is ready to do something amazing in our individual lives, our families, our church, and our community. Our confidence in His provision should lead to us asking for and expecting ridiculously amazing results.
Having grown up in Florida most of my life I am used to severe weather. We endure hurricane season, pop-up tornadoes, and powerful thunderstorms. Some of them are brief while others seem to never end. The best forecasters try to predict the storm patterns for us so that we can take precautions, but even then we don't always escape the brunt of the storm. After the storm is over we can survey the damage that has been done and start to clean up and make necessary repairs.
This isn't that different from the emotional and relationship storms we endure in life. We may not see them, but there are always warning signs of impending trouble (usually within ourselves) even if we choose to ignore them. Some difficulties last longer than we think we can endure while others blow through our life with such ferocity that we are left staggering in the aftermath. Just as in nature, we can't really make an assessment on the damage that has been done until it's over.
With both storms you've got to heed the warnings when they come and just hunker down until it passes.
Father, bless us in brand new ways. Showcase Your generosity as we are faithfully & obediently sacrificial. Create a change in dependency within us that we might rest contentedly in Your provision. Fire Your people up with a contagious vision that spreads to & through our church and community. Create brand new hearts in people that inspire us to step out boldly as leaders in our homes, work, schools, and city. We have no doubts about Your ability to provide for us. May we show our belief in the giving of our resources: time, talent, energy, and finances. Let us care about the things that You care about and work together to correct injustices, alleviate pain, showcase mercy, and be messengers of grace. We will not deny or ignore the divine opportunities to make an impact for Your Kingdom's sake We are Your people and Your Church and we will proclaim our allegiance through our prayers, attitudes, and actions. We pray this boldly as we step forward in faith and we ask all of this in the name of the One who makes it possible and provides life, amen.
Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock. I don't doubt that He will answer when we do those things, but I wonder if we really know what it is we are looking for. What do we want more than anything? It's best to be specific if we are going to make a request from the One who can provide all that we ask for. I would wager that we might be willing to change what we are asking for once we speak it out loud however. Perhaps that is part of the reason Jesus tells us to ask-so that we hear it & can refine our plea.
Are we ever genuinely happy for other people? I don't just mean for family & friends either (although that is a stretch for some of us.) Can we find joy in the success of others and just simply be in the moment of celebration with them? When we struggle with that idea I believe it stems from our root of personal selfishness and discontent. Instead of celebrating the positive in someone else's circumstances we make their moment about us. Imagine how much sweeter our lives would be if we would just cheer on those moments whenever they come.
It's much easier to lead people from the platform than it is in the trenches. Time on the stage is always limited and focused--the spotlight is only on for a short amount of time. It's the leading that is done alongside staff members and shareholders that reveals depth of character, level of integrity, and true leadership potential. Daily interaction in positive & negative situations will highlight who a leader is when they aren't working to impress someone. It reinforces John Wooden's quote, "Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there."
To be an effective, respected leader more time should be spent in the daily discipline of maintaining integrity than establishing an impressive stage presence.
Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious--the best, not the worst; the beautiful,
not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Philippians 4:8
God isn't just concerned with what we do, but is intimately invested in our thoughts. He understands the connection between the focus of our mental energies and our resulting actions. God isn't a punitive, dictatorial God however. He doesn't just tell us what we shouldn't be doing, but gives us directions to fill the gap once we've removed the negative behaviors. Focusing our thoughts in the area God deems best will protect us from ourselves & other negative influences. We either pollute our minds and poison the well that we draw from or choose a clear, refreshing source that runs purely through our lives.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
I asked myself that tough question this morning--"Am I being renewed day by day?" If I don't feel that I am then the fault lies with me. God gives clear assurances that He will rejuvenate us daily even though our circumstances may not change. Our physical bodies will continue to deteriorate (no matter how hard we are trying to avoid that) but our spirit can actually grow stronger if we remember what's important. When daily renewal isn't the norm for us its time to stop and remember that this one moment doesn't define our entire life. We can regain momentum by focusing on God's eternal picture for us.
I believe that God has uniquely gifted us to do specific things for Him here. My study of Scripture (and human gifting) reveals that people are able to do certain things better than others as a result of how God created them. Discovering what those abilities are and how to use them can be freeing, but sometimes Christians will use this is an excuse not to do something that all believers should be engaged in.
We can't claim that we aren't talented in praying and then neglect it. We can't claim to not be compassionate and therefore avoid the messiness of other people's lives. Professing that we don't have the gift of generosity is a weak excuse not to tithe. God tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that His Word is powerful enough to equip us for every good work. There are no aspects of the Christian life that God isn't able to help us be prepared for. We get to operate within our strengths, but there are good works that God is calling all of His people to engage in. These are the things that set us apart and define our allegiance. When He is preparing us through His Word to accomplish them, we really don't have an excuse not to follow through.
Trust is a precious commodity. It is essential for healthy relationships, takes years to build up, and can be lost in a few moments. We struggle with intimacy when we don't share in that trust with other people and will lack depth in our relationship with God as a result. The lack of trust damages marriages, alienates children from parents, builds walls of resistance between friends & co-workers, and insulates us from meaningful contact. This dearth of trust means that we hide what we truly feel and are unwilling to be transparent. Our pride (and history) set up barriers that prevent the genuine expression of human struggle and prevent us from grasping what's most important for all of us--grace.
That's the key to trust--the ability to believe enough in God's grace and that He offers it to us even though we don't deserve it. Our disbelief in this premise not only prevents us from fully engaging in God's gift, but keeps us from coming alongside others and being authentic in our journey of faith.
We're here in this together and nothing will change that. Let's start building trust with each other so we can get to the bigger picture of God's grace for everyone. That's the message that will transform our communities.
Today we pause as a nation to honor a man who continues to influence lives long after his death. We tout his leadership in the civil rights movement, his superior oratory skills, and his unwavering commitment to fulfilling his life's vision. He is a role model with many qualities that should be emulated and most certainly should be honored today throughout our nation.
The legacy of Dr. King doesn't just motivate us to work diligently for equality for all people however. His example also inspires us to be better people. If we follow his lead we will become people who are:
imbued with godly vision
dedicated to serving the heavenly King
resolute in our drive & determination
working to address the inequalities & injustices of this world
striving tirelessly to fulfill God's vision regardless of the persecution we face
confident in the power of the Holy Spirit to produce evidence of faith within us.
Dr. King worked for cultural change, but also strove to show us all what was possible when we commit our lives to God's calling and pursued it with integrity, determination, and genuine Christian faith.
The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord ,
but He loves him who pursues righteousness. (Proverbs 15:9 ESV)
If we're tired of the sin that we keep finding ourselves in, perhaps we should start making more intentional efforts to avoid it. We can't keep using the same language, looking at the same websites, fixing our eyes in the same place, or hanging out in the same old places and expect new behaviors. If you want what's right you have to start running in that direction. It isn't always easy--sometimes we feel like we're gaining on it and other times like we're falling a lap behind. Just keep running.
I remember being a kid and wanting to drop things in the water to see how big of a splash I could make. I would start with small rocks and then look for something larger to throw in. I would wait after throwing it in to see how far the ripple would travel outwards. It either means that I was easily entertained as a child or I understood the principle of the ripple effect in action.
I was reminded this morning by a good friend that my life has an impact beyond what I consciously see. It was through our conversation that I reflected back on the people that have helped to shape me and those that I have had the opportunity to impact as well. The work that I have been able to do as I invest in other lives is a reflection of the countless number of people who have willingly shaped mine. It isn't one simple ripple, but a cumulative effect of one life on another. It creates a positive influence that is beyond my own ability to fully comprehend or appreciate. Our lives are the sum of these influences & experiences--we need to choose to leverage this for the best possible continued effect on others.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Contrary to what some people believe, God doesn't tempt us to sin. He instead works to give us options so that we can choose to deny our common temptations. We fall victim to our temptations when we ignore the warnings He gives us. I believe that God continually gives us a way out, but our choices start to limit the options available to us as we pick the path we will travel.
I liken it to being initially tempted by something and having God give you a garage door sized escape hatch. It's more than big enough for you exit out of without any difficulty. When we make another poor choice towards sin instead of away from it, that opening is reduced in size. Each continual step we make along the path of temptation reduces our options. As we play with sinful decisions we may find ourselves with only a small window left to crawl out of to get away.
It isn't that God wants us to choose to sin--in fact, He will work to provide us with multiple avenues out of it. Our decisions make the way out difficult to maneuver. The choice is still ultimately ours.
I am a collector of great quotes. They fuel my meditative thoughts, are the primers for my writing, and are used in messages as well. I write most of them down in a Moleskine notebook that I will often read back through. I find that they help me keep focused on what's important to me and the character that I am continuing to try to develop. Here are a few that might be worth reading a few times:
Hard times reveal where we are (and where we aren't) faster than anything else. -Andy Stanley
As important as the answer for which we wait is the work that God does in us while we wait. -Ben Patterson
The most successful company is not the one with the most brains, but the most brains acting in concert. -Peter Drucker
You can't get what you could have until you let go of what you do have. -Kem Meyer
Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed. -Cavett Robert
Our personal visions must be released before God's vision can be embraced. -Shannon O'Dell
Dream fulfillers are finishers because they have learned how to deal with distraction. -Keith Cameron Smith
Jesus does not come to rearrange the outside of our life the way we want. He comes to rearrange the inside of our life the way God wants. -John Ortberg
Continuous effort-not strength or intelligence-is the key to unlocking our potential. -Winston Churchill
Heart is what separates the good from the great. -Michael Jordan
You can structure for growth or control. You can't have both. -Rick Warren
God does everything good in the end. If it's not good...it's not the end. -Louie Giglio
I escaped from my office today to do some writing at Starbucks (change of place + change of pace = change of perspective) and found that it was not nearly as crowded as usual. I made some headway on a few things until a college student named Carly sat down next to me. I couldn't help but overhear as she got a phone call confirming that she had been accepted into a missions program that would spend her summer in Africa. Needless to say, she was incredibly excited and was calling all of her family to tell them the great news. I could tell from her voice that she was doing everything she could to keep her voice down when all she wanted to do was scream the great news as loudly as she could. Her passion and enthusiasm were incredibly contagious.
I found myself thinking about that powerful energy and how we have it at different times in our lives. Whether it's excitement over a new adventure, the beginning of a new relationship, or achieving a long-desired goal, this initial burst will eventually fade. The reality of the hard work that is necessary to maintain momentum starts to settle in and can decrease our initial passion if we aren't careful. To keep that moving forward, we have to couple our excitement with disciplined prayer and daily focus on the finish line. It's true for our own spirituality, for personal relationships, and as leaders. Nothing great has ever been accomplished without this combination of vision, enthusiasm, and persistence.
Some days you feel like you are trying to run towards the shore & big waves keep crashing around you halting your forward progress. Nothing seems to come particularly easy and yet you find ways to push through. The entire day can be filled with a sense of battling through things. It's a struggle to:
see the whole picture
keep your energy up
get it all done
write the words
The beautiful part of this relationship with God is that He knows these days are coming and is ready to give us a fresh start tomorrow. He specializes in new beginnings on a daily basis.
Tonight was our monthly elders' meeting where we gather as leadership to discuss the workings of the church, what God is doing (and has done), and most importantly to pray. These can be tough meetings as we have to carefully consider difficult options and seek out godly solutions. There is a great responsibility in being very careful stewards of the resources that God has trusted us to manage well.
The greatest resource in our care are the people that God has given us the privilege of shepherding. The blessing for me is that none of these men take this lightly. They are passionately concerned for the welfare of the people in our church as well as those who are not yet part of Northridge. This is reflected in their continual devotion to finding solutions, but most importantly in their prayers. Their impassioned pleas for marriages, physical and spiritual healing, and wisdom fill the room when we gather. If it depended solely on the fervent prayers of leadership all these things would be solved.
Good leaders recognize the importance of the task we have been called to, but godly leaders recognize the power of the One who has called us.
One of my favorite old hymns has always been "It Is Well." The theme of finding peace in God regardless of my circumstances has always appealed to me. It encourages me to put my confidence where it belongs--in something that doesn't fluctuate based on the situation.
The second verse offers hope that surpasses all other promises of peace.
My sin, o the bliss of this glorious thought My sin, not in part, but the whole Is nailed to the cross And I bear it no more Praise The Lord, praise The Lord, O my soul
I don't think that most people doubt God's ability to heal us of sin, but I do believe we struggle with the idea that He forgives all sin. While we tend to think that one is worse than the other, God simply offers us the sacrifice of His Son to cover every bit of it. He didn't pick apart the things He wanted to offer forgiveness for and leave the rest for us to deal with. God magnanimously took all our transgressions upon Himself and paid the debt for His people. How can we not find peace in all else when God has taken away the worst things we have ever done, thought, or said?
It is well, it is well God has won, Christ prevailed It is well, it is well with my soul.
I am incredibly blessed to have a group of five guys that I meet with once a month. We made a commitment last March to meet at least once a month and work together to be better men. We read books on genuine Christianity, being a leader, developing into a better husband, and leading our children to Christ. I enjoy our discussions and the honesty that we are able to have with each other as we strive to follow Christ with our lives.
While I love the intellectual and spiritual challenge that we are able to bring to the group I know this isn't the greatest benefit. We have developed a brotherhood of men that prays earnestly for each other, holds each other accountable to the pledge to be a Christian man, and supports each other through peaceful and tough times. I value the bond we have with each other and the confidence I have in trusting them as we back each other up.
God didn't intend for us to go through this life alone. When we are able to find relationships that help us to grow closer to Him, we see this more clearly.
"Why are you crying out to me?Tell the Israelites to move on.
The Israelites had left Egypt after the plagues, but Pharaoh has changed his mind and wanted his slave nation back. He gathered up his army and quickly pursued the Hebrew nation and caught up to them as they were backed up against the Red Sea. It's a pivotal moment that could either lead to the slaughter of the Israelites or God stepping in to rescue. It's interesting that as people start to panic and blame their leader, Moses tells them to be calm because he is certain God will rescue them. God certainly has a plan for rescuing His people, but commands Moses to quit talking and get moving.
Prayer should be a bigger emphasis in my personal life and also in the church. I have full confidence in the audience we have with God and His desire to interact with us and provide solutions. I have also experienced how God will often wait to bring deliverance for two common reasons.
1. He is sometimes waiting for us to move in faith before He brings us His answer.
2. He has given us direction and is waiting for us to be obedient before He gives us the next step.
When we are backed into a corner with circumstances pressing against us we shouldn't give up the habit of praying. If we find ourselves praying without receiving an answer perhaps we should see if God is calling us to take a step of faith before He reveals His answer or if we have failed to be obedient in something He's already asked us to do. I know He won't abandon or ignore His people. Sometimes the answer we're waiting for is just beyond our next step.
One of my goals for 2013 is to spend more time investing & sharing in the lives of other people. The demands of ministry can make it easy to spend most of my time in my office writing and studying. My intellect is stimulated by reading and writing, but it leaves part of my personality lacking. There is a part of me that finds completion in mentoring and sharing life with peers and I feel it gets lost too often in the shuffle.
When I was in ministry in Florida, I had struck a better balance between the quiet, studious part of my gifting and the outgoing, people-driven portion. It usually ended up with me visiting one of our local Starbucks for extended periods of time (which is positive in many ways.) I'm still working to maintain that balance here, but have started to schedule more time outside the church walls. It's not just important to me for my own goals, but is a reflection of what ministry is really supposed to value. It reflects my commitment to investing in the lives of the people I've been blessed to share life with.
In the book of Exodus, Pharaoh is unwilling to let God's people go. His advisors beg him to listen & point to the fact that their great nation is now ruined because of his hardened heart.
How many people do the same thing in their personal lives? We see them willingly choose other people instead of their spouse & end up destroying their family. They destroy their business as they seek any advantage even if it is unethical. There are too many examples of those who obliterate their reputation over foolish endeavors. I know stubborn, hard-hearted people who sacrifice relationship on the altar of having to be right.
These are people who either can't see the damage they are doing or see it and continue to push ahead regardless of the collateral damage that ruins other lives.
It's an exciting time to be part of God's church. We are experiencing incredible growth and watching lives be transformed at the same time. It feels like we are continuing to gain great momentum as we move ahead. Some of that can be attributed to the excitement of what is happening right now, but I believe that most of it comes from the new things on the horizon.
The next several months will bring new ways of doing things for us and bold steps of faith and risk as a church. In all of it is the potential for God to do phenomenal things that can only be attributed to Him. It's the thrill of "what could be" that increases our adrenaline. One of my favorite pastors & leaders, Andy Stanley says that momentum is never found by tweaking something old, but by creating something new. It's a trademark of the God we follow-His ability to take something and make it brand-new and inspiring.
In difficult situations or when we just don't know what else to do we will often turn to prayer. We find ourselves asking God for solutions or to simply give us the specific solution we are asking for. While He has promised to always listen to His people, He hasn't guaranteed what His answer will be. In my personal & ministry experience I have found that God will either change our circumstances or He will change our hearts. For our faith to progress we have to learn to be content with letting Him decide which is the better option.
Robert Horry is a retired professional basketball player with seven championship rings. While his career stats are not necessarily Hall of Fame caliber, he has still earned the nickname "Big Shot Rob." This has been given to him because of his ability to make a big shot in clutch moments during the playoffs. He was a very solid player, but it was his ability to step up when it mattered most that earned his reputation.
What about us? Can we be counted on as leaders when it really counts? How do we react when the pressure increases? Will people turn to us in times of crisis and big decisions? I feel confident in saying that Robert Horry would tell us that his legacy didn't develop just because he took the big shot. It came from countless hours of practice and from the confidence his teammates developed in him during the regular season. No less dedication, repetition, and dependability will be required of us before the big moment either. Our families and the organizations we lead will turn to us for the clutch shot when we have exhibited our ability to be counted on in the small things along the way.
It's difficult to keep pushing forward when you feel that people automatically assume the worst about you. Instead of seeing the positive potential they focus on the negative aspects of your personality and character and do everything possible to shine a bright light on it. There is no grace given to fellow sojourners, but we cut them off as soon as mistakes and sin enter the picture. Without giving concern to the true intent of their motivation, we can make fast assumptions that do not build others up, but simply breaks them down.
How much better would our relationships be if we would assume the best about someone instead of the worst? One of the beautiful parts of our relationship with God is that He doesn't automatically assume the worst about us-He can see our positive potential. He offers new mercies to us each day because He believes in the good of who we are. He sees the desires of our hearts to honor Him with our choices. It's a perspective that only God has--the ability to see all that we are and not only hammer down on the negative. It's a grace-filled love that He gives freely to us and that should be passed on in the same way.
In the book of Exodus, God's people are being oppressed by the Egyptians and life has become unbearable. It tells us that the people cried out to God, He heard their groaning, and remembered His covenant with their ancestors. It was their faithfulness in turning to Him that brought Him to step into action.
What do we do when our lives seem unbearable? Do we complain about how unfairly we are being treated? Do we point fingers at other people and try to place blame on anyone who enters our radar? How much energy do we waste writing vitriolic posts online? None of these things actually make the situation better. We'd be much better off genuinely & desperately seeking God and allowing Him to do what He sees is best. I can say with authority that God hasn't forgotten His people, but perhaps it's time for us to call on Him with more passion.
My beloved Florida Gators were beaten soundly on national television last night. With no other games being aired there was a large national audience to witness the whooping too.
There are many areas of poor play that I could point to as the cause for our embarrassing loss, but I believe that game really changed in two 15 second chunks of time. The game opened by our quarterback throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown. The 2nd half opened with a failed onside-kick, 30 yards in penalties, and an immediate touchdown on the next play. You could argue that this one small increment of time drastically altered the outcome of the game for both teams.
It really isn't that different for our personal lives. It doesn't take much time for a bad decision to radically effect the rest of our lives. Speaking rash, harsh words, choosing immediate pleasure over maintaining our fidelity, and destroying our integrity can all happen in a very short period of time. This has the potential to wreck our relationships, eliminate future career & financial options, and ruin our reputation and character. A lifetime of good decisions can be severely damaged by abandoning our principles in the short term. It would bode well for us to not underestimate the opportunities we have each day to do the right thing and not forfeit our future for short term gain.
If we really want to see positive change in 2013, it's time for a fearless self inventory. It's the process of taking an honest look at who we are from all perspectives: physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and relationally. This can be quite painful if we haven't practiced this level of personal transparency. In fact, we are often afraid of doing this because we'll find that our carefully constructed self image isn't accurate. Instead of owning up to our contribution to who we are we place blame on other people, our upbringing, what has been done to us, & other people's stupidity. Genuine transformation can't begin until we honestly assess who we are and how we got here. As Craig Groeschel writes in his book Soul Detox, "You can't change what you don't see."
A number of people make resolutions at the beginning of the year, but don't always end up following through on them. I don't have specific resolutions, but instead focus on goals that help me fulfill the vision for my life. There is no magic formula for making this happen, but I have found that the following keys help bring about success.
Identify the problem
What is it that you want to change? What tension are you feeling in your life between who you currently are & who you want to be?
Pray about the solution
The best, lasting change will happen with God's direction and strength. Seek His wisdom as you seek out solutions.
See the end result
This is part of vision and having an idea of the man/woman you want to be at the end of this year. Envisioning the end result of your decisions will help you when you struggle to maintain discipline.
Plan out the steps
It's not enough to list an end goal--plan out the things you will do to make it reality. Losing 15 pounds is a great resolution-now plan out the dietary & exercise steps to make it a reality.
It's time to move beyond the written concepts & put it into action. Taking the first step can sometimes be the most difficult part of fulfilling a goal.
If you don't stop to measure your progress you can fail to realize how much growth has actually been occurring. Regular, realistic evaluations help us to stay on track and make adjustments when necessary as well.
Take the necessary steps today to ensure success this year.