Friday, August 31, 2012

Preaching Rocket Thoughts

I was in Atlanta today at NorthPoint Community Church for a workshop sponsored by Preaching Rocket. It was a great time to get away with our preaching team & to hear from great leaders and pastors including Andy Stanley & Louie Giglio (and others.) I tweeted a few things earlier today, but thought it would be a better summary in a blog post.
  • If we're not prayed up for our sermon, it will show up in our sermon.
  • The reason God lets us be part of this process is that He likes to go to work with His kids.
  • We are followers 1st & preachers 2nd.
  • Set a goal in the realm of things you can control.
  • Does my approach to communicating support my goal or trump my goal?
  • Engaging unchurched people has more to do with your approach than your content.
  • If you want people to fall in love with the author of Scripture, you have to get them into the text.
  • When you give unchurched people an out, they respond by leaning in.
  • If Christians would act like Christians, non-Christians might want to be a Christian.
  • The reason we take the Scriptures seriously is because of Jesus-not the other way around.
  • The main commodities to reach this generation are authenticity & vision.
  • Humility is a by-product of walking with Jesus.
  • Important information that's not remembered won't have the desired impact.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Seems About Right

My wife & I started using a phrase last summer for when things just seem to stay difficult or keep going wrong. Instead of venting or becoming frustrated, we would simply respond, "Seems about right."

Today was that kind of day. What started peacefully with good Bible & prayer time quickly devolved as the day went on. It was a day where everything took twice as long as I had planned and became infinitely more difficult to achieve in the process. Technology seemed to fail to work as it should and I was unable to gain momentum in a good (any) direction with all of the distractions. Before heading home, I chose to move some boxes from one area to another so that I could cross something off of my list--even it was simple.

Some days are just like that. The good intentions of the morning don't always translate to successful productivity at the end of the day. As frustrating as that may be for me personally, it still doesn't change my position with God. There will still be new mercies for me in the morning and a chance to start over. My confidence in God doesn't mean that tomorrow will automatically be more productive or successful, but it does give me some peaceful patience in the middle of days that just "seem about right."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Old School

I was able to lead worship at our youth services tonight since our youth pastor is on a well-deserved vacation. It is the first time that I have been out to the youth building for a mid-week service since I am usually teaching the adults at the same time. I unexpectedly enjoyed how old memories came flooding back throughout the night.

I had forgotten how much I enjoy the constantly fluctuating, ever-changing attitude, and challenge of youth ministry. Watching the group interactions and dynamics always has me pondering the story of each person and how they ended up there that night. I love the laughter of teens as we get them engaged in worship right away and remind them that "they are not too cool to worship." I never get tired of giving a Bible away to a youth that doesn't have one of their own. There is a hint of promise of spiritual growth and the development of future leaders. It's an exciting thing to be part of again--even if only for one night.

I wouldn't trade where God has me now or where He is leading me, but it was refreshing to be able to engage in youth ministry again. It reminds me of the great promise in this generation and the need for us to invest in their growth. I've been fortunate enough to see the positive results of those efforts in my own ministry life.

Monday, August 27, 2012

One Voice

In our efforts to reach our community it is important that we have like-minded people work together. It can't be a continued effort to build independent kingdoms and receive personal glory when positive things happen. The only way the strongholds of discrimination, poverty, socioeconomic oppression, and selfishness can be shattered is through the concentrated & unified prayer of God's people. It is a radical return to being the Church that God intended us to be--one that the gates of hell can't stand against.

I was privileged to take part in the beginnings of that last night at Central Park. Churches of various denominations and ethnicity joined in prayer for our schools, parents, and community. It was a fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus for His followers-that we would be one as He and His Father are One. This deliberate advance of unified prayer will bring revival to our community if we will continue to trust in the unfailing power of the Holy Spirit. I am excited about the prospects of these continued efforts and believe that God will honor the fervent, persistent prayers of His people if we will remain faithful.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Be Aggressive

There is no doubt that there are things that seem bigger than we are as individuals.  This may take the form of addictive sin, prejudice, socioeconomic circumstances, or community history. The idea of trying to conquer them can be quite frightening and beyond our abilities. The enemy is aware of our fears (and apathy) and attempts to bully us into submission and refusal to act. It is by recognizing the power and authority of God in our own lives that we are spurred to take action. We then become willing to rise up to protect the territory that is being threatened and run into battle with full confidence in God's power to gain victory. Our community needs us to take that aggressive action and awaits the rescue that comes through Christ.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Day Off

It's not always intentional, but with the busy schedule of ministry, the list of household tasks that never ends, and life circumstances (surgery, sickness, etc.) I forget to have a true weekly day of rest. I know that I am not the only one that falls victim to this, but that doesn't make it right for any of us. God intended for us to have that weekly break for reflection on Him and for spiritual and physical refreshing. I am always grateful for the day when I take the time to enjoy it & wonder why I only allow it to happen periodically.

I had no agenda or schedule coming into today and can happily reflect on coffee, reading time, lunch with my wife & listening to my children play in the lake for hours. I love how God gives simple gifts like the time to enjoy what He has blessed me with. I've got to make sure that I regularly pause my scheduled life to rest in it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Life to Life

Some nights bring great satisfaction in simple ways, as we hosted dinner in our house tonight with five of our close friends. We ate more than we should have, laughed, told stories, and reminisced of mission trips together. It was an easy night as the conversations flowed in and out with no apparent lack of memories or  topics to share. Our Tomoka/Florida connection, history of serving together, and kindness towards each other made for a comfortable fit that brought simple joys to our home tonight. Even though we knew it would be brief it was fulfilling for all of us.

It's a reinforcement of my own need for life-to-life relationships and the value of community that is developed over time. It's a comfortable fit like an old pair of shoes. On the outside they may not look like much to someone else, but there is no denying their value to the one who gets to wear them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Basic Skills

It's the time of year for football to crank up & it always takes me back to my days of athletic training and hours in the hot sun. The football preseason would always start with the basics: conditioning, blocking, tackling, and position-specific drills. The tasks that athletes would undertake would build their foundation for the rest of the season. If a tough stretch would hit later during the year, a coach would take the team back to the basics and reinforce the most important foundational skills and lessons.

The spiritual application is fairly apparent. There are things that we do as part of our faith development (prayer, studying Scripture, reading other materials, serving) that help us to build the right foundation. When we have difficulties, they can often be traced back to forgetting our basic training. Maintaining a disciplined connection to what brought us this far can often help to break us out of our spiritual doldrums and create joyful momentum once again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Last Resort

A motel in Cocoa Beach, Florida has recently changed their business model and decided to become a clothing optional inn. The owner of the motel stated that business has been so bad lately that he didn't have any other options and that a "nekkid" establishment was their last resort. 

What do we do when we feel we have no choices left? Immature faith will keep choosing other options instead of Christ as long as we think they are available. We relegate Christ to a fail safe alternative or a bailout plan instead of our primary focus. Naturally, this is not God's design for our relationship with Him, so He will set up scenarios where we have to make a choice. This creates a pivotal moment in our faith and an opportunity for us to experience growth in our relationship with Christ. It is a shifting of our perspective from exhausting every other possibility before seeking God, to looking for Him before anything else.

He isn't Creator of the universe and King of all Kings so He can be our backup plan. Genuine intimacy and submission to Christ means that He has become our first and last resort.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Contender or Pretender?

I was sitting in barber's chair watching ESPN baseball scores last week & saw teams that were hot in the 1st part of the season (including my beloved Mets) but have now faded as reality has settled in. They appeared to be contenders, but their lack of depth, immaturity, and dearth of talent has been exposed. They were able to fake it for a while, but didn't have what was necessary to make it all the way through.

The same can be said about leaders. People can begin with a great personality and a powerful sounding vision that motivates and inspires. The passing of time however will reveal a lack of work ethic, an inability to make decisions, and flaws in character. These are especially highlighted in trials, tension, and conflict and will doom a team's hope for success.

Remaining a contender as a leader is never accidental, but requires a dedication to character development and humble submission to God's authority. It must be a personal daily focus of making the necessary adjustments to ensure long-lasting leadership.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bigger Than

Circumstances can sometimes seem overwhelming. Even though it may seem sudden we haven't arrived at this point in our lives instantly, but as a result of our history. This tale of decisions and influences can form a tidal wave that we don't believe we can escape from. It creates a wellspring of hopelessness within us that only forces us deeper into sin, shame, guilt, and repression.

Thankfully there is another way. We can admit our own weakness and allow God to intervene for us. Scriptures tell us that nothing is too hard for Him, that if our God is for us that nothing can stand against us, and that the power of God within us is greater than the power of evil in the world. Prayerfully submitting our lives to God creates a new fountain of hope and pulls back the curtain to allow us a glimpse of victory that is assured when we follow Christ. 

When we are declaring war on the enemy, it's comforting to know that we cannot encounter an attack that is greater than the King we serve.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Country Strong

I have heard of people who undergo plastic surgery to have muscle implants. That's right. There is a group of people so consumed with their appearance that they are willing to have silicone bags put into their bodies to have the pretense of strength. The problem is that while they look good (from a distance) there is no real strength in them and if they were forced to test it, their true weakness would show. 

True muscle strength gained from hard work can't be genuinely imitated. In my time here in GA I have met many people who have never seen the inside of a gym, but are still conditioned with hard muscle gained from a strong work ethic. It's muscle increase from years of working--a type that can't be replicated artificially.

The same principle applies spiritually. We can speak of strength by pulling out our Sunday school attendance record, talking about the number of Bible studies we have been in, counting off the prayer breakfasts we have been a part of, and how many Bibles are in our homes. These things alone make us appear to have strength, but don't provide it the same way that having our faith tested through trials and temptations will. Those other markers will build up our knowledge, but nothing will strengthen us the same way that perseverance through adversity & faith in action will. Being refined through life and seeing our understanding & confidence in God change along the way makes us "country strong" in a way that mere attendance without application cannot. It's the difference in looking good from a distance and having a foundation of power that can be used.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Glory Days

We tend to reflect on past athletic accomplishments and talk about the glory days of scoring four touchdowns in one game, hitting a game winning shot, or starring in the school musical. I am a nostalgic person as well and enjoy telling a tale of great times of the past. As time passes however, those grand adventures become smaller in our rear view mirror and don't reflect our current abilities at all.

The same can be true in the church. We boast about what our churches did in the past and talk about planting, baptisms, attendance records, and what used to be, with no new stories to tell. When yesteryear becomes the only tale that we share it's obvious that nothing exciting is happening. After a while we are simply regaling people with stories of times gone by and not sharing any work that we are currently engaging in. It's a sign that the past has become more important to us than future growth & potential.

We can't rest on our accomplishments without moving forward or our glory day stories will become eulogies for dead churches and inactive Christians.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Out of Order

We have been moving offices around this week as we have brought on additional staff and realigned our work space. It is much needed and the end result is going to be worth the effort to get to this point. This week has been the difficult part however, as we have been transitioning from one part of the building to another. People are working frantically around us to get painting done, put furniture together, and figure out the specific alignment of individual work space. It seems like it will never quite be done even though we have fantastic people working at a good pace. I waited until the last possible minute to move down the hall and have spent the last 1 1/2 days putting things in order. I understand the need for change (and contrary to some, actually look forward to it once I've wrapped my head around it) but I need to have some semblance of order in the middle of it as well.

My desire for some structure can be a positive trait in multiple areas of my personal & professional life and actually helps to keep me focused. While things are not always able to stay that way I strive to do what I can to achieve some sense of it--whether it's putting books in order on a shelf, aligning furniture in a way that makes it easy for me to work, or changing a website template. It's an important characteristic for me, but also one that can slow my personal progress down when God chooses to change the pace. It requires adjustments of faith in me that reveal how God has His structure in place even when I feel that things are simply running amok. My sense of order doesn't always match God's and I have learned to grateful that His plans supersede my own.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pursuing Excellence

One of our values at Northridge is that excellence honors God and inspires people. It's not the same as perfection, but is an emphasis on doing things with effort, discipline, and attention to detail. It is an overall attitude that is intended to permeate our personal and professional lives.

When we receive a vision for life & ministry we must not only execute it, but must do so with excellence in mind. Intentional mediocrity reflects poorly on our own ambition and our understanding of God. We certainly can't achieve His level of perfection. What we can do is offer our best effort in prayer, preparation, and carrying out the vision we've been given.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dead Man Walking

When John Robinson was coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs when they were truly terrible, he was asked in a post-game conference what he thought of his team's execution. His response was simply, "I'm in favor of it."

Coach Robinson's commentary on his team's poor execution could certainly be reflective of our personal lives as well. I don't believe that we have a shortage of good ideas, but instead we lack the gumption to take the necessary steps to make it happen. I have seen multiple levels of leaders come up with good ideas, but lack the discipline and strategic mindset to see that idea come to life. I'm not casting stones here either--I have been guilty of it in my personal and professional life as well. Lack of execution shows that we can talk the talk, but don't necessarily walk the walk.

To be effective leaders in industry & our homes, to see positive personal development, and for overall holistic health, we must be able to put things into action. Applying a strategy of action to good ideas will produce maturity and positive change in us. The lack of execution in life change won't get us where we want to go and will kill life momentum and any chance of bettering our circumstances.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Get Ready

We started a new series today titled, "Make War." The premise is simple really--we are engaged in a spiritual battle whether we recognize it or not and we will be affected by the skirmishes along the way. To have the best chance of survival & to make an impact for God's army we have to begin to prepare. Pretending that the battle isn't happening doesn't change its reality. We have to take necessary steps to be fully engaged:

  • Actively reading & applying Scripture on a consistent basis
  • Continually praying--not just for our immediate needs, but purposefully asking God to deliver in big ways to rescue & redeem people
  • Finding ways to be active in our community to help the poor & disadvantaged
  • Working actively with schools as they invest in this generation of young leaders
  • Serving in our churches with the greater vision of reaching our entire community for Christ in mind
  • Making it a mission to be a messenger of grace to a community that has only heard a message of condemnation
  • Protecting our marriages & families from influences that threaten our stability and unity
  • Constantly seeking divine wisdom for opportunities to battle on other people's behalf.
The battle is on. Time to get ready, pick a camp, and fight for what's right.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Front Page News

We struggle for continuity in our relationship with God. When crisis is the dominant theme of our life we are consumed with thoughts of His deliverance. When we are faced with major life decisions and need divine wisdom, God is the leading character in our news story as we seek what He has to offer. It reinforces the statement I have shared with countless people (but did not author): we seek God in desperation or devastation.

Once these moments have passed (although some live in crisis longer than others) we start to push God off the front page. It doesn't happen immediately, but we begin the process of wedging our own agenda into the place we once reserved for God. Eventually we squeeze Him out of the #1 spot and relegate Him to the margins where we feel most comfortable leaving Him until we need rescue or guidance.

It isn't a pretty picture of our relationship with Him and I don't relish admitting that I have done this myself. I've seen the results of selfish, personal desire as the leading story and I can attest that God at the forefront will always lead to better results.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Don't Wanna

Some days there are things that I just don't want to do. That is probably not a revelation, but is more of a statement that we can all identify with. We don't want to go to work, don't want to respond courteously when we have been treated rudely, don't want to be patient as we wait in lines, don't want to work out or eat  right, and don't want to have confrontations with anyone. There are probably more things in a day that we don't want to do than those that we are eager to attack.

Benefit is found in the discipline of doing the right thing anyway. Getting up earlier than your body desires so you can read the Word and spend some focused time in prayer, getting on the exercise bike even though you want to sleep on the couch, and responding with genuine interest to someones recap of their day are all examples of developing the right disciplines. They help you form habits that overcome the lack of desire we often feel for doing the right thing even when it's difficult to muster the appropriate enthusiasm. There is a payoff that makes it worthwhile and the immediate satisfaction of completion is more desirable than the regret from doing nothing.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Self Talk

I think most of us have a habit of talking to ourselves at one time or another. It might be when we are looking for something we can't seem to locate, trying to organize things around us, or talking as we try to remember why we went into a room in the first place. While these are not harmful on their own (unless you are in the presence of law enforcement or medical professionals) the concept of self-talk is real and can inflict damage that has a lasting effect.

We develop a habit of self-talk that stems from our life experiences. It is the voice that reinforces our negative characteristics and flaws and holds us back from healthy relationships and self-image. It can also be the whispers of lies that we believe because we have heard them for so long that they start to sound like truth. Neither of these are healthy for us and can poison our value of ourselves and ultimately create dysfunctional relationships with those around us. It's a trap that I have learned to recognize, but not due powerful foresight, but painfully learned hindsight.

The remedy for this malady is found in listening to the true, compassionate voice of our Father. He speaks His unfailing, unconditional love over us. He whispers of His mercies that are new every morning and His grace that is given to cover our sins. It is a spiritual discipline of eliminating all other voices (including our own) so that we can hear what God is waiting to speak.

Monday, August 6, 2012

An Apparent Contradiction

Isn't it frustrating when you try to do something right and yet fail? It's like setting up a diet & exercise plan that only lasts for three days. It's that old behavioral pattern that you have promised to avoid and yet you're back in it the moment the opportunity arises. It describes that addiction you have worked so hard to control--substances, pornography, work, people-pleasing--and yet it controls you the moment you let your guard down. The frustration increases when it violates the declaration you have made to live your life for Christ. 

When we attempt to make these corrections based solely on our own will power we are only successful for short periods of time. It's why the permanent solution is found in the power of sustainability that is found only in authentic relationship with Christ. He gives us strength to break the pattern of a life of contradiction where we declare allegiance with our mouth yet struggle against the influence of sin.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Flip a Coin

After wrapping up our series on the Sermon on the Mount this morning by sharing a two-headed sermon with Mike, I am reflecting on the concept of choices. We are obviously faced with them all day long--some of them quite simple (what to eat/wear) & others quite complex (financial opportunities, relationship decisions, choosing to follow Christ, etc.) There is no doubt however, that our future will be a sum of the choices of our past. While that may sound obvious, I think that we neglect to give careful consideration to that principle. We can become so flippant about making choices that we fail to see how the options we have available to us tomorrow are based upon the decisions we make today.
  • Relationships with our family can be negative or positive based on how we choose to treat them
  • Our financial future can be negatively or positively impacted by how we choose to spend today
  • Career opportunities can be enhanced or decreased by (un)ethical decisions
  • Our character can be strengthened or weakened by how we choose to treat those around us
  • Spiritual development can increase or decrease as a reflection of our devotion today
  • We can gain the right to speak God's truth to people that need to hear it because we have earned that right through Christ-like compassion and genuine love today

We will not always choose correctly, but we can hopefully make choices with healthier intentions for tomorrow if we realize the magnitude of what we are building on each day.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Take a Step-Part 2

As a follow up to my previous post, I have been meditating on practical next steps. There is nothing fancy about any of this, but it should encourage us to know that we can begin to move forward even in small ways. The journey of a 1,000 miles begins with that first step.

  • Find some way to exercise today-even if it is walking around the block.
  • Eat less food & make better choices for your meals today.
  • Ask your children what they want to do & do it with them.
  • Don't spend money on something just because you want it. 
  • Take a deep breath instead of responding to your spouse in anger or frustration. Think the best of them & not the worst.
  • Pray--even if it is one sentence.
  • Read your Bible--start in John 1 and simply read it. Then ask the question, "What can I do with what I just read?"
  • Tell your spouse you love them.
  • Turn off your computer and walk away from the distractions that keep you from engaging with people around you.
Take the first small step today and then add to it tomorrow. It's the only practical way that progress and transformation are ever seen.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Take a Step

I read a tweet this morning from Relevant Magazine that said, "You don't have to decide what you are going to do for the next 20 years. You just have to decide what you are going to do next." It isn't a revolutionary thought, but can actually be helpful for our personal development. We can sometimes become so easily overwhelmed with the work associated with change that we give up before we even start. It can be helpful to simply think about the next step you can take & then take action. It reflects a goal that is probably not attainable in a 24 hour period, but to be reached must begin today. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Get Real

I was looking at a blog this morning that was simply pictures from a week of camp hosted in my hometown of Daytona Beach. It was from NewSpring Church's summer camp, "Gauntlet" and the 2600 campers & volunteers that were part of the week. I sat with tears in my eyes watching pictures roll by of young people being baptized in the ocean, engaging in worship, laughing with each other, and sitting under powerful teaching. It inspired me in so many ways to see their reactions to all of their experiences.

I wondered why it impacted me so much until I realized it was because what I was seeing was genuine. There is something about authenticity that is so attractive it stirs up our emotions and engages our curiosity. It is the pull of a magnet that we almost can't describe--a feeling deep within us that makes us want what we are seeing. 

It is the reason that we are struggling to see Christ as the Lord of this city. We have to strip away our carefully constructed facades and admit that we are struggling people who desperately need grace and recognize that it comes through Jesus Christ alone. When we mobilize people who are passionate about this and willing to be honest we will start to see a revival in our city unlike anything this region has witnessed before. Are we willing to be that humble?