Why I’m Thankful

design-54My wife will tell you, very often, as we are traveling about, I openly express my sincere thanks to God for His goodness to me. It is one of the most humbling thoughts to realize that God freely provides His gracious love to us. When I am in a healthy spiritual place, gratitude is one of my most common emotions. There are a few reasons for this.

I know what should have been. Only the Lord and I know what I was, and at times, still am. It is perfectly logical to think that I should have been destroyed. If I had reaped what I had sown, I would not be here. This is in no way a glorification of a dramatically bad boy life; far from it. I simply was a rotten person, and should God have chosen to give me my dues, I would have been done long ago. I am thankful that I am not yet done.

I know what could have been. Because of my early foundation, it is not beyond comprehension that I could have been destroyed. I could have gotten trapped in a miserable, desolate life. I could have spent my days in frustration and failure. I could have easily lived out my life in uselessness. I could have been consumed with pain, grief, addiction, despair and destruction. I am thankful that what could have been did not become reality.

 I know what wasn’t. My wife and I know the pain of losing a child. For the last many years, we have been impacted by our loss. Every holiday, every day we feel the pain.  This influences us at Thanksgiving because we are grateful for what we had, and then lost. It makes us treasure what we have. I am thankful for what we have, and for what we have lost.

I know what won’t be. I’m not getting any younger. My current situation is fleeting. My family is growing, the babies are getting big. My experience is fast, time is passing quickly. What I see now won’t last much longer. I am thankful that I have what I have now, and I plan to enjoy it to the fullest. I am grateful that, although passing quickly, life is very good for me.

So, I’m thankful. So very, very thankful for all that God has done and is doing for me.

I never want to lose that. Thank you, God.

Compassionate Celebration

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Thanksgiving is a time of grateful celebration! God has blessed us abundantly and He deserves to be glorified! But what if the season brings a struggle to express our gratitude for the blessings of life? How should we respond if the reality of life is painful and heartbreaking?

Of course, we realize that regardless of our circumstances, God is good. His faithfulness, mercy and grace have nothing to do with our feelings. We may have to look beyond our temporary trials in order to give God the praise He deserves. And we must learn how to worship through our pain.

But there is more to consider.

In Christianity, we walk a delicate balance.  On the one hand, we know the importance of sharing a testimony of God’s goodness: answered prayers, miracles experienced, and the favor of the Lord. On the other hand, we are aware that things do not always go as well for other people. Most of us have prayed prayers that seemed to go unanswered. There are times that things don’t go our way, we struggle through difficult seasons and celebration is the farthest thing from our minds.

Can we boldly celebrate victory when so many among us are mourning?

We must walk this delicate balance between celebration and sensitivity. How can we celebrate the goodness of the Lord when so many around us are struggling for any source of hope and joy? Can we possibly practice compassionate celebration?

Here are a few helpful ideas:

Give God the glory! Never stop praising the Lord! For all that He has done, for who He is, we must boldly honor Him! We must never entertain the idea of silencing our praise.

It’s all because of grace. In our celebration, be sure to deflect credit. We are not responsible for our blessings. While we may have been obedient, it is only God’s grace that results in blessings. Never attribute credit to people – always defer praise to the Lord.

Be sensitive. In our exuberant praise, remember those who are hurting. Some are grieving. Some are broken. We never want to inadvertently cause hurt to someone while we are expressing our praise.

Choose your words carefully. “I’m God’s favorite!”, “favor isn’t fair!”, “if you just had faith like me…” are statements that reveal gloating, not praise.  When you give thanks, consider what the other person is living through. If your words hurt, you’ve missed the point.

Don’t write a rulebook. When things go well, the temptation is to presumptuously create a list of simple behaviors that will result in getting what we want. This is not wise and it is not Biblical. God will not be put in a box. Resist the temptation to say, “follow these easy steps…”

Remain humble. While it’s good to be excited, and joyful celebration of victory is to be expected, never become selfishly proud of your blessings.  There is nothing wrong with a humble celebration.

God ahead, celebrate God’s goodness! Just do so with compassion for those who are struggling.

A blessed Thanksgiving season to you and your family. We love you!

 

10 Nuggets of Wisdom

design-52With all of the angst concerning the current status of our society, someone needs too refocus (me!).  Rather than being consumed with negativity and overrun with despair, let’s take a moment to center ourselves.

Listed below, in no particular order, are ten suggestions to help us to survive and thrive in these chaotic times. Let me know what you think!

10 Nuggets of Wisdom:

1. Take your eyes off of people; keep your eyes on God.
2. Stop focusing on the evil going on around you.
3. Don’t obsess with fighting those who oppose you.
4. Resist getting trapped in endless debates.
5. Don’t insist on always being right, recognized or respected.
6. Refuse to be driven by emotions; live by faith.
7. Trust God with the future.
8. Believe for an ultimate positive outcome.
9. Let God handle His enemies.
10. Live your life in a way that brings glory to God; serve Him and others.

This Wisdom will help you to be successful, joyful and at peace, regardless of what is happening around you.

A Successful Church

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A church will most likely succeed when:

  1. There is a clear and united understanding of the Mission and vision of the church.
  2. Members care more about the lost than they do their own preferences.
  3. The lost are saved, disciples are made, and people engage in ministry – on a regular and consistent basis.
  4. There is an ethos of grace.
  5. Leaders are continually trained and deployed to serve.
  6. All generations are included equally.
  7. There is a strong priority on regional, national and international missions.
  8. The church reflects the cultural diversity of the community.
  9. The worship services and gatherings are training and preparation for ministry outside the building.
  10. Generosity and tithing are the norm.
  11. There is a systematic approach to prayer.
  12. The pastor shares leadership authority and responsibility with others.
  13. There is a culture of financial accountability, transparency and fiduciary responsibility.
  14. The buildings and grounds are well used but meticulously cleaned, and frequently updated.
  15. The Gospel Message remains the same but methods are adjusted as necessary.
  16. The people love God, love others, and love one another.

These are 16 chapters for a proposed book on successful church ministry.

That’s a lot; we have a lot of work to do.

What are We Good At, What are We Not?

design-48Definitions for this article:

  1. Product: The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. Promotion: Marketing or advertising the Gospel.
  3. Presentation: The method utilized to deliver the Gospel.
  4. Productivity: The positive results of the Gospel of Jesus.

We don’t have a product problem. We don’t have a promotion problem.

We have a presentation problem. Because of this, we have a productivity problem.

While visiting a large suburban mall, I noticed that the Apple store had relocated. They had outgrown their space and moved to a larger spot in the same mall. In a few moments, we walked by their new location. But here was my surprise: they had yet to put up their sign. There was no indication anywhere on the outside that this was the Apple store. I wondered about their decision to open the new location without first putting up the sign. But, as you can see, everyone knew exactly what store it was – the place was full; business as usual.

Apple has great products. They’ve done their promotions. Their presentation is unquestionably effective. Of course their productivity is unparalleled. They have been so good at what they do, the temporary lack of a sign had no negative effect whatsoever.

I don’t work for Apple; I work for the Church.

Let me say, church signage is very important. Like it or not, we must brand our churches. We must market the ministry. In our culture, if people don’t know about us, they aren’t coming. But I don’t believe our biggest issue (why more people don’t come) is promotion.

I know for sure that our product (the Gospel of Jesus) is the most valuable and important product ever.

I believe we have two problems that we should address and solve:

  • Our presentation suffers sometimes. The way we communicate the most important product is sometimes subpar. A lack of quality, ill prepared sermons and worship services, and ignoring the needs of our “potential audience” can really hurt our efforts. Our “potential audience” is our unsaved community. Churches that operate in ways that disconnect them from their unsaved community will suffer.
  • Our productivity is stifled. In many churches, very few people are coming to salvation in Christ. The harvest is sitting in the fields. This is a major problem.

I would remind you that the product needs no adjustment. The Biblical Gospel can stand for itself. I would also suggest that better promotion might not be the answer. If our presentation is poor, the best promotion in the world won’t help. The fact that our productivity is suffering is enough to cause us to evaluate and adjust our presentation.

Pastor, don’t change the product. Go ahead and improve your promotion. But if your productivity is less than you desire, invest in changing your presentation.

We’re not Apple. But wouldn’t it be cool if our presentation of the product was so amazing that promotion wasn’t necessary? It’s possible!

We don’t have a product problem. We don’t have a promotion problem.

We have a presentation problem. Because of this, we have a productivity problem.

Focus on your presentation of the most amazing product ever, and productivity will take care of itself.

Do We Talk Too Much?

design-47Dialogue is necessary. Spirited conversations are a staple of our relationships. But is it possible that we talk too much? Must we have an opinion on every topic; one that simply must be expressed? I am not discouraging healthy verbal interaction. But consider this:

If we must engage in every conversation, if we believe we have the solution to every problem, if we assume that we know more than others, perhaps our speech reveals a deeper issue. If it is my calling in life to straighten out wrong thinking by others or if I must have the last word, I have a problem.

It’s time to consider an increased focus on and practice of an important spiritual discipline: silence.

Let’s not:

  • Disrespect others by dominating conversations
  • Assume we are the smartest person in the room
  • Attract attention to ourselves
  • Presume to have answer to every question
  • Consider it our duty to correct the errors of others
  • Intimidate others with our forceful speech
  • Talk so much that others don’t have a chance

The more words we share, the greater our possibility of error. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Proverbs 10:19

The more we talk, the more we reveal what we know and do not know. “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Proverbs 17:28

Sometimes we talk because we like for people to pay attention to us. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:2

We should choose our words carefully, and perhaps not use so many of them. “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Proverbs 29:20

Perhaps arrogance motivates so much talking. “For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.“ Ecclesiastes 5:7

We will answer for our careless words. “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” Matthew 12:36

We should listen more than we speak. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” James 1:19

Our words should bring honor to God, not ourselves. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalms 19:14

Do You Need a Mentor?

design-45Phil Pringle, author of “Top 10 Qualities of a Great Leader” has a very good idea. He says, “Mentoring is vital to success. However, this involves more than just chatting with a more experienced person. The mentoring relationship is opened up through serving. People sometimes ask me to mentor them. All they need do is help me do what I do, and they’ll find themselves in my world. They’ll learn more by serving than by any other means.
A good “mentee” makes a great mentor. No matter how good a person’s coach might be, if the person has no heart to serve and to learn, then they will fail to be coached.”
What a great idea! We learn best through serving. Rather than asking to have coffee once a week with a coach (that is also a great idea), how about if we request how we can best serve them? Instead of looking to a mentor to answer all of your questions, listen while they labor. Dig ditches alongside them. Make their life easier by providing practical hands-on help where needed, Honestly most mentors are very busy people and, as much as they may love sitting and pouring into a younger leader, the idea of spending time just talking isn’t always practical.
I’ve always said, I do my best counseling while I am preaching. But I also have a lot to share while I am cutting the grass, painting a room or driving long distances to minister. Serving alongside a mentor is an organic way to learn from them. And by serving them, you are returning the blessing to them.
Serving is not as glamorous as deep conversation which is why it’s an excellent way to weed out people who only want to talk.
If you don’t have time to serve, you don’t have time to be mentored. If you have no interest in serving, you really have no interest in being mentored.
If you need a mentor, think about who you would select as a mentor. Then consider ways that you could potentially serve him or her.
We may be on to something really significant here!