Friday, March 30, 2012

Another Journey

In less than 24 hours I will be back in Show Low, Arizona at the American Indian Christian Mission. I have been going out there for so long now (9 years and 14 different trips) that I consider it a second home of sorts. I am always grateful for the chance to see good friends and to hopefully be a help to the full-time mission work that they are doing. There will be a lot of hard labor and just as much emotional and spiritual stretching as our team comes together. It is an incredible opportunity to pour into other people-those in Arizona & our friends from Florida and Georgia. The nights of sharing and simple acoustic worship are always filling to my soul. There will be laughter, good food, tears, frustration, exhaustion, satisfaction, and unity.

Each trip has been a blessing in its own unique way and I am certain this week will be no different. I don't know exactly what will unfold or how God will reveal Himself, but I know it will be a powerful time of growth for our team.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Broken Hallelujah

Music speaks to our souls and is a reflection of the intense passion we feel for life and ultimately for God. It is a way that we express our need for Him and recognize His constant presence and provision.

Our devotion, however, is imperfect. We lift our hands in surrender to the King as our spirits painfully stretch to communicate with His Holy Spirit. Our voices strain in honest moments of worship as we battle the confinements of physical life. It is not always fueled by a heart overflowing with happiness, but it is rooted in a desire for joyful understanding of His abiding love. 

There is something beautiful and sweet in the fragmented hallelujah of our flawed worship. God is able to take the meager portions that we offer to Him from our wounded insecurities and transform it into glorious perfection. He takes delight in the murmurings of honest praise from broken people.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fortune 500

In Luke 7, we see the story of a woman who was worshiping Jesus while He was at the house of a church leader. She was so grateful for Christ that she wet His feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and then poured ridiculously expensive perfume on them. Naturally, this offended the owner of the home and gave Jesus a teachable moment. He asked a loaded question regarding fiscal debt: if one person owes $50, another owes $500 and they both have their debts forgiven, who is more grateful? The answer is obvious to us and was to the church leader as well.

I don't believe that Jesus was trying to say that this woman (although described as "sinful") actually owed more than the Pharisee. He was making a point about our recognition of sin and gratitude for forgiveness. She realized how far her life choices had taken her from God's plan for her, and was worshiping Jesus for the new life that He offered.

An authentic relationship with Christ involves recognizing the depth of our sin, turning away from it, and worshiping God as a response to His grace and mercy. Fooling ourselves into thinking that our debt is minimal leads to a lack of spiritual intimacy and a sense of religious entitlement that is not only inappropriate, but sinful.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Catalyst Thoughts

I was in Atlanta at NorthPoint Community Church on Monday for an event called Catalyst One Day. It was led by Andy Stanley & Craig Groeschel (two godly pastors and leaders) and was a stimulating day of teaching on developing the culture of a church. It's going to take a while to process everything I heard and determine exactly what to do with it, but here are a few thoughts:

  • To create a healthy, dynamic culture you need healthy, dynamic people.
  • You have to manufacture ways of assessing culture to keep it new.
  • If we care about our mission, we have to focus on productivity-this means we have to look at our culture.
  • Healthy cultures never happen by accident. They are created.
  • The number one force that shapes your culture is your values.
  • If things aren't as they should be change them.
  • Vision leaks & culture drifts. That's why constant attention to both is vital.
  • You can have high control & low growth or low control & high growth.
  • Leverage your authority for the good of other people.
  • The local church should be the best place to work. 
  • Your personal glory is too small a thing to live for. Attach your glory to the church.
  • Are there things you are believing about yourself that weren't spoken to you by God?
  • We can't overcome the problems we can't identify.
  • Our church needs our leadership more than our "preacher-ship."

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I don't always do "rest" well. I get that it's important to my overall health and I completely understand God's command to do it. It's just that I struggle with sitting and not doing anything. Part of it is a feeling of guilt over not always reading, writing, or trying to get better. Honestly, part of it is a continual drive to prove my value by constantly working. I feel that I have to work a ridiculous schedule so that I can take an afternoon off and not feel badly that I was resting.

I did manage to take that time this afternoon. I talked with my wife, watched my kids play outside, played some guitar, read in my hammock (fiction too-simple brain candy), perused the internet and even watched some of the UF basketball game online. 

I struggled with it some as I kept wondering if I should be focused on something more productive, but I am slowly beginning to regain the understanding of my need for rest. It makes me appreciate the down time and provides the necessary energy to be more productive during the rest of the week.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Slow Fade

One of the benefits to reading large chunks of the Bible at once is that you get a big picture of what is happening & understand cause and effect more clearly. I just finished reading through 1 & 2 Kings this morning and was struck by how quickly things fell apart for Israel due to their sin. What was once a powerful nation that worshiped God had become a scattered group of exiled slaves with no identity of their own. The once beautiful temple and palace had been stripped of anything of value. It was now a ghost town with only faint echoes of the power and promise that once lived there. It is a sad and cautionary tale of the results of choosing to ignore God after being blessed for so long.

How can this happen to us even today? I know of far too many churches that once had God's hand of favor on them, but have now dwindled in size and glocal (global & local) impact. My mind turns to families that once lived strong, passionate lives for Christ, but are now splintered and broken after unrepentant sin has ruined them.

How do we make sure this doesn't happen to our own families or to the church? By continually asking God to examine our hearts and reveal sin to us so that we can repent, confess, and receive forgiveness. It takes a concerted effort (individual & group) to study God's Word and seek His direction in constant prayer. When we humble ourselves before a great & mighty God as a people, we will find that we are following His will and honoring the covenant we have made with Him.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Middle of the Road

From my experience in ministry (and my own relationship with God) I have seen that people turn to God when things are going poorly. When we have no other solution for health, relationship, or financial problems, we will fall on our faces before God & beg Him for mercy and healing. We are also quick to jump into the fray for others that are struggling with similar issues.

I have also found that we will seek God to give Him credit when things are being blessed beyond our imagination. When the job promotion comes through, financial windfall occurs, the healing we asked for is given to us, or a relationship is restored, we throw our hands in the air (like we DO care) and sing out praises to how awesome God is.

My hypothesis (proven in my own life) is that we struggle with praising God when life is in the middle of the road. It's unfortunate that this is true since most our life is lived here. This is the relationship that He desires-not just when we press in close to Him because we are desperate for His solutions or are highly grateful for some magnificent, divine providence. Can we gain the realization that He is in all details of our lives even when we don't give it much thought?

It's the perseverance of faith that is shaped in the mundane that actually has value. We show our confident dedication to God when we stick closely to Him in the day-to-day and not just the highs and lows of life.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bringing Joy

As I strive to find more joy in my life (see this post), I found myself praying & thinking more about how to increase that in my life. It started with reading through Scripture, focusing in prayer and then asking myself some simple questions.

What brings me joy? What is it that I want to continually take part in that brings me a sense of fulfillment?

I find it in simple things like a good cup of coffee & a conversation with a friend. I find it in teaching & preaching-one of my true sweet spots. Intentionally investing in other leaders brings satisfaction & completeness. I think of how I feel sharing Christ with middle schoolers at camp and the joy I felt last summer serving as campus pastor to youth ministers & leaders at CIY Move. There is a fullness in serving in the mission field with faithful friends who do it every day. 

The joy I feel laughing with my children at the dinner table or simply hugging & kissing them is pure. The simple joy of holding my wife's hand and staring at the lake reminds me of how blessed I am to have her as my life companion. 

I don't believe that we have to throw away parts of our life (sin notwithstanding) to find joy. True joy is when we invite God into every part of who we are & take pleasure in how He moves through it all.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Open Sesame

If you have ambition, it's natural to pray for opportunities to come your way. It can come in the form of a general desire for increase, for your current situation to prosper, or for God to present new avenues for growth. There may even be times when you feel that God is leading you directly into something that almost seems too good to be true. 

In the midst of this potential you can find yourself working and even praying hard for it to go well. You see all these signs that are leading to a new frontier in ministry, faith, finances, or career advancement. You get excited about the potential for personal growth and even give God credit for this new venture. You pray for it to open up quickly and may even see positive steps drawing you closer to what you feel is the inevitable conclusion as a new chapter begins in some way.

What do you do when the door of opportunity is shut just as you think you are about to walk through it? How do you react to what you feel is a failed attempt? I've seen people who turn and question the path God has led them down and wonder aloud why He would do this to them. Has it become so common to only think we will gain experience and wisdom when life is "successful?" 

In her book, Hungry for God, Margaret Feinberg writes, "God can teach us just as much through a closed door as an open one." It is a powerful reminder that God knows best and that He is always preparing us for the season that is coming. In His perfect nature, He will always choose to do the right thing for us. Whether the door is open or shut, the lessons God delivers through all circumstances are invaluable to the overall development of our character in Him.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The "Why" Matters

Leadership is one of my spiritual gifts and I enjoy the opportunity to utilize it. I have not always used this gift well however, and have suffered through some pretty tough lessons as a result of mismanagement. Leadership is not a tool that can always be used as a hammer (although some situations might call for it), but you must carefully assess each opportunity and react appropriately. Our attitude about the level of leadership we have been entrusted with speaks volumes to our philosophical view of our own authority.

One of the foundational questions that must be answered to help you lead correctly is this: Are you leading for the benefit of others or to get ahead? While the correct answer to this query might seem obvious to most people it isn't always reflected in our actions. This takes a conscious effort to intentionally invest in the people around you and give them the best opportunity to succeed. It requires humility to consider the advancement and development of other people the most important goal. This model of servant leadership will actually deliver personal benefit as well as respect and admiration from people in your circle of influence.

Why you lead is as important as whom you lead.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Stealing Joy

I was mowing this afternoon (using a push mower since the zero-turn mower was broken-another post for another time) and was listening to a Matt Chandler podcast while making progress. He said something that while not actually new to me still hit me in a profound way. His statement was: you are the greatest thief of joy in your own life.

While I know that I am often my own worst enemy, hearing this particular declaration really made that thought hit home. How often do I miss out on God opportunities because I choose to cast joy aside due to other fluctuating emotions? Instead of focusing on the simple beauties of a life that is blessed far more than I deserve, my attention is given elsewhere. I can easily find my thoughts & emotions centered on what I think is missing and how something should be different or better. The desire to see God's vision fulfilled in my life overwhelms the contentment I should have in this present moment.

While I know that satan is a thief that wants to pilfer these things from me, the sad part is that I do a lot of the work for him. He doesn't have to focus on me when I willingly steal joy for him. I can attest to the fact that I am not the only one that does this (years of counseling & observation reveal that I am not alone in this thievery.) My prayer is that recognizing this sinful practice in my own life and genuinely seeking godly joy will start to transform my attitude. If other Christ-followers do the same we'll change the worldly perspective on Christianity & make satan's job increasingly difficult.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Guilty Pleasure

I have to admit that I like to watch YouTube videos of people auditioning for shows like American Idol, X-Factor & America's Got Talent. I might be different from some in that I don't enjoy watching people fail on these shows. Instead I gain great pleasure in hearing incredible voices that come out of obscurity. 

While part of it is attributed to my love for all styles of music, I think the greatest joy is from seeing people use what God has given them. For some of these talents they are obviously gifted to a greater level than they thought was possible. Especially in the early stages of auditioning, their genuine amazement at the positive crowd & judge reactions they receive is one of my favorite things to watch.

On a grander scale it's a realization that God has placed within all of us incredible and unique gifts. When we uncover them and are able to use them the way our Creator intends, we are right in the middle of our gifting. This becomes a true act of worship as we share what God has given us. There is a sweet, harmonious unity in recognizing the gifts in others and having the opportunity to share our own.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Break My Heart

I took part in a free webinar today that shared insight from pastors around the country about how to be better preachers. I took away a lot of good information and encouragement, but was deeply impacted by one pastor in particular. Dr. Charles Stanley spoke about how he prepares for a message and the way that God has worked through that process over the years. He is an incredible author, speaker, and pastor and has impacted countless lives through his obedience to God's calling. 

He was asked if he still got nervous before preaching-especially in light of the years that he has been doing this. At this point he broke down emotionally and had to take a minute to compose himself. He said that he is still nervous when he realizes the magnitude of the calling on him to share God's Word. He has been faithfully serving for over 50 years and still has his heart broken for the people that need to hear God's truth. He understand his responsibility as a vessel for God and knows that what he is doing has eternal impact. Dr. Stanley possesses an urgency for sharing the message and knows that he can't take that calling lightly. 

This isn't about over-glorifying the role of a preacher, but is more about understanding the unique position that God has placed us in to have an impact. We must allow our hearts to be burdened for broken people and commit ourselves 100% to the task of communicating truth. When we do this we experience a union between us & the Holy Spirit that allows truth to be spoken for the purpose of transformation.

I take that responsibility very seriously. I pray that I would never take for granted the opportunity to speak the Word of God with passion, integrity, and commitment. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hate & Cling

Do we cling to what is good & yet hate evil? I think we tend to dislike evil, but that is usually proportionate to how it impacts us individually. We believe that abuse is wrong, but if you have lived through it you have a greater  intensity of dislike for it. Seeing widows & orphans needs being neglected may disturb us, but when you have lived as one of them there is a greater loathing for ignoring this need. If you have battled through addiction your animosity for that abuse is greater than if you only have a spectator's viewpoint of its power.

Declaring all-out war on sin should not just be a reflection of our personal experience. What should be happening is that as we mature our hatred of what is evil increases because our mind & heart are being more like Christ's each day. Our animosity towards sin is authentic because we understand the depth of hurt & pain it causes God and us. It moves from being a philosophical concept to a principle of daily living that reflects our ever-increasing desire to be made holy. Our understanding of God's desire to protect us from it will spur us to run from evil & hate the effect it has on those that willingly or even unsuspectingly take part in it. This will lead us to pray and work feverishly to see people (including ourselves) rescued from the choke-hold that evil holds on us. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Changed My Mind

"...let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind." Romans 12:2 (GNB)

I think it is important to seek to understand what a mind changed by God looks like. It helps us to know what target we are aiming at and the discipline it will take for us to get there. The process of seeking wisdom in the midst of transformation adds increased reliance on God's ability to change us.

While this internal shift will look different for each of us, there are certain philosophical questions that may hold value for many people:
  • What lies do we no longer believe? 
  • What addictions no longer hold power over us? 
  • Where is the tangible difference in our marriages, parenting, and friendships? 
  • How is our level of integrity increased? 
  • How differently do we value other people and the work that God is doing in their lives? 
  • What battles do we no longer have to fight because we have been transformed? 
  • What vision of our future do we now have and how are we working towards this God-directed destiny?
The ultimate result of transformation is to become more similar to the likeness of Christ in thought, attitude, word and deed. We will not see the finish line here, but can gain confidence and comfort in knowing that each day of sacrificial humility to the will of God brings us closer to what we are intended to be.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Inherent Value

Far too often we follow the path of least resistance in our perceptions of others. Instead of a careful and compassionate evaluation, we tend to see the value in people in our first shallow thought. We create a stereotype in our minds based on how they are dressed, how uncomfortable they might make us feel, what our families ingrained in us, how we feel about ourselves, and the way that they act. In the midst of this we are missing the value they (and we) have as sons & daughters of the King.

Even if people are lost and wandering or uncomfortably different from us, it does not change God's valuation of them. They are God's workmanship created in love by Him to do great works here on earth. If we can gain a small understanding of this for ourselves it will ultimately change the way that we engage the people around us. There is tremendous promise of hope for a community that sees the value placed by God in each person.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Glimpse of Promise

As part of my whirlwind visit to Florida I stopped at Mainland High School today to visit friends & hopefully bring some encouragement. It never fails that as I intend to be a blessing to other people God finds a way to bless me.

In my friend Jamie's class he sells cookies for 50 cents to help raise money for the athletic training program. One of his freshman students came in and bought two as class began. About ten minutes later, he bought eight more and polished them all off. The appetite of a 14 year old freshman doesn't surprise me nor does the lack of spending awareness. It was his simple gesture at the end of the class period that touched me.

He came up and bought the last remaining cookie (after having eaten nine of them already) but he didn't intend to eat this one himself. I watched as he walked to the back of the room and handed it to a young man that I hadn't really noticed up to that point. There was no fanfare associated with it-just a simple gesture of compassion and sharing between two classmates.

It was genuinely heartwarming to watch this simple exchange. I was reminded again of how God works to shape hearts and reveal His love even through homemade chocolate chip cookies & the generosity of 14 year old classmates.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hard of Hearing

Isaiah 30:21 "Your ears will hear a word behind you, 'This is the way, 
walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right or to the left."

Do we recognize that God is willing and able to send us in the right direction? When we end up in places that we regret due to sinful decisions, it isn't the fault of our God as navigator. If we would begin to pay attention to the urging of His Spirit we would see how He is preparing us for the future and protecting us in the present. We have to not only be diligent in listening, but desperate enough to desire His instruction and guidance.

God speaks to us in unique and varied forms, but I believe it is in His whisper that we find the sweetest & kindest instruction. No wonder then that we struggle with maintaining our connection with His voice. We drown out the whisper of God's voice when we plug our ears with the cotton balls of self-idolization, destructive habits, fear, and addictive sin. 

Emulating the example of Christ as humble servant will remove the obstacles that we have constructed between us and our King. Our willingness to hear and obediently follow God will increase our maturity and confidence in His quiet direction.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Matter of Trust

I believe that people are mostly grateful for what God has given to us & how He always provides. We may not continuously honor Him for it, but would stop and give credit to God when we think about it. At the same time we find ourselves asking God for more blessings in our life-an increase in finances, new job opportunities, career advancement, leadership positions, and others.When we don't receive the blessing we have asked for or if it doesn't come in the time frame we expect, we end up getting frustrated. We feel that we have the right to specify the form it arrives in and when we can expect it on our doorstep.

Why would God withhold what we are asking for? Are we are praying for something we don't really need? If so there has to be a shift in our priorities so they more closely align with God's desire for us. If it's not an issue of our priorities, it might be that God can't trust us with the blessing we are asking for. If He was to give us what we were seeking would we be wise stewards of increased resources, greater responsibilities, an enlarged territory, or leadership influence? 

Instead of lamenting the apparent lack of answered prayer, perhaps the mature step is to closely examine our own spiritual health, seek a renewal of our spirit, and practice humility. In this process we will prepare ourselves for God's future blessing no matter how and when He delivers it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Who Am I?

In 2 Samuel 7:18, David asks the question "Who am I, my Master God, and what is my family, that you have brought me to this place in life?" He isn't practicing false humility, but is simply recognizing blessing from God and that he & his family have done nothing to earn it.

To genuinely worship God we have to come to the realization that all we have is a gift. It is true humility that recognizes the blessing of God in every small detail and that we have done nothing to deserve this goodness. Everything we have is a reflection of God's intent to show grace & mercy even in the small details of our lives.

When we accept this truth & teach it to our families, we raise a generation that intimately feels God's love for them and has a deep spiritual understanding of His provision. We need constant reminders of His loving kindness and blessing so that we never forget our place as His beloved children. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Never Alone

God said in the beginning that it was not good for man to be alone. That doesn't mean that we settle for anyone in a relationship or sacrifice our standards. It is an encouragement to do life with other people in a healthy way that pushes us, holds us up when it's necessary, and celebrates the victories of life.

If we bother to look around we will see people who are struggling with their life decisions and their current status, but are either too proud to ask for help or don't believe their plea would be answered positively. I am reminded far too often (usually as a result of counseling sessions) that we need to be focused on mentoring & investing in the people around us. It is a life value to intentionally invest in the lives of people we come in contact with. It requires individual humility to seek out this counsel and to also recognize that your experience doesn't make you an expert, but instead someone who can now offer what God has shown you.

There is a desperate need for older married couples to take a younger couple under their wings and do life with them. We need godly men to willingly step up for younger men & boys and journey towards manhood together. There is a paucity of positive female mentorship & leadership that can only be filled by women striving to see each subsequent generation changed for the better.

We lament the downfall of society and the change in "this generation." Instead of incessantly ranting about the lack of moral leadership, why don't we get out of our spiritual Barcaloungers, take a stand for other people, and commit what breath we have left to making a difference in those that need it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Visual Thinker

I have a huge 4x8 whiteboard in my office that I use as creative planning space. It is a place for me to write out plans for upcoming events, map out sermons, keep track of deadlines, and sketch out thoughts. It fits the part of me that is attached to lists and my need to visualize what I am processing. I feel my creative juices flowing when I stare at a freshly cleaned board with a plan in my head to fill the white space in front of me. I do some of my best thinking standing in front of the whiteboard with a dry erase marker. It is a recognition on my part that I need to visualize things to make them a reality and to see what the possibilities might be.

I don't have a deep spiritual application for this need to write things (although I'm sure I could come up with one.) I have simply recognized what works for me as an expression of thought and how it fits naturally with who I am. If people would take the time to determine what that is for them (i.e. conversations over coffee, journalling, contemplative thought, artistic expression, etc.) I think they would find themselves more fulfilled and able to move in the directions that God is urging them follow.