Ambitious Leadership During a Pandemic

design-66Perhaps we should start by redeeming the word, “ambitious.”  While today’s version of ambition probably includes a focus on power or wealth or fame, the simple target I am after is, “a strong desire to get something done.” There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, if the ambition glorifies God. There is much wrong with a lack of ambition, with slothfulness, laziness or passionless leadership.

Ambitious leaders are not content with just waiting out the virus. They are not comfortable on “pause” while scientists and politicians seek for answers. These types of leaders realize that regardless of Covid-19, time is wasting if we fail to move forward.  Who knows how long this mess will last? We can’t afford to be stuck that long.

So, considering a passion to do something great for God, how does one go about this while facing an unprecedented pandemic? Is it even reasonable to consider making progress, moving forward, gaining ground?

Yes! It is reasonable, logical and very necessary!

Here are a few ideas on how leaders can lead with godly ambition in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic.

  1. Try something new. Rather than sitting idle, or doing what we’ve always done, this is the perfect time to experiment. Most of us have entertained thoughts of a radical approach to leadership, a new concept or practice. Why not experiment? Go ahead, give it a shot.
  2. Create something new. Unmet needs abound. Many people are struggling, unsure, insecure, This is the opportune time to express care and compassion for the hurting.
  3. Address a dysfunction, right a wrong, solve a problem. Most leaders are too busy to deal with every crisis that arises. Since there is some level of inactivity, today is a great day to take on a tough project. Find your biggest organizational problem – and solve it!
  4. Plan for the future. Many leaders are just hanging on to see what the future brings them. Don’t fall for that trap!  Regardless of how this pandemic turns out, people will need hope. Folks will be desperate for solutions. Guess what… you have the answer. Get ready to share it!
  5. Be a visionary. Reactive leaders are being left in the quake of the pandemic. Think ahead. Plan ahead. Pray ahead.

This is the day for prophetic leaders. The Holy Spirit is available for us as we lead. He will lead us and guide us into all truth.

2020 is the absolute best opportunity for godly leaders in our generation to lead. People don’t know what to do, but God knows what to do.

My plan is to dig deep. I want to be appropriately aggressive. Start new things and end old things that are not working. Try harder. Pray more. Acquire new godly ambition. Leave it all on the field. I don’t want to miss this opportunity. I don’t want to use a pandemic as an excuse for doing nothing.

How about you?

When Leaders Flail

design-65.pngThat’s not a typo.

Although I am addressing how some leaders respond in times of failure, flailing is my focus. The word flail can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it describes a primitive weapon, composed of a strong stick or pole, some type of rope or chain and a metal spiked ball at the end of the chain (picture courtesy of Google Images).  It was used in medieval times as a close-combat weapon. You can imagine the devastation it would cause an enemy. The verb form deals with a person who swings wildly, usually in a desperate attempt to overcome a dangerous situation. We see this kind of fighting in undisciplined street fights. Opponents don’t use fighting skills as much as they use brute strength, panic and a little bit of luck.

Let’s talk about flailing leaders. This type of flailing may not involve throwing punches, but it does involve wild responses. It happens when…

Under attack from an enemy.

In danger of being hurt.

Panic from failure sets in.

One doesn’t know what else to do.

Granted, it doesn’t happen in every one of these situations, but we’ve all seen it. A leader loses control of their assignment or themselves. They feel backed into a corner. They perceive a threat. So many of us come out swinging. They may yell, threaten others, try desperately to defend themselves or try to hurt others. We’re not sure who we are going to “hit” but someone will certainly get hurt.

I’m trying unsuccessfully to recall when a flailing leader came out looking good. I can name dozens of cases where a leader looked foolish while flailing.

Here are some things to remember the next time you are cornered, threatened, unsure, intimidated or in danger.

Once a leader loses their composure, things head downhill rapidly. People observe our reactions and responses. They watch closely what we do and say. They judge us as a leader based on our behavior. And many of them never forget what they observed. Years of trust building can be destroyed in a moment of flailing. Self-control is a vitally necessary characteristic for today’s leaders. If you lack control or are undisciplined, you will pay a big price. Poise is the ability to remain in control of one’s responses even when the situation is out of control. Poise under pressure is one of the most desirable traits for current leaders. People will trust and follow a leader that doesn’t panic. Maintaining equilibrium when things are falling apart allows a leader to help and serve others who desperately need them. Don’t get knocked off balance!

A flail (noun) is hard to control. Sometimes, people are hit unintentionally. Innocent bystanders can and will be damaged. And sometimes the person wielding the flail hits themselves. Sometimes, the blow is fatal.

Here’s the point: when leaders flail, people get hurt. Rather than helping people, we do damage.

The lesson is – prepare yourself ahead of time to respond to bad situations. Arm yourself with self-control, steady thinking, and the ability to remain calm. The next time someone or something threatens you, don’t fail by flailing! Your poise under pressure will serve you well and it will serve well those you are serving.

Compassion is a Christian Virtue

design-62Throughout the Bible and throughout church history, the people of God, when encountering hurting people, are filled with compassion. When people are victimized or suffer the pain of a tragedy, Believers are touched with feelings of “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”: (dictionary.com) We feel empathy, mercy, sorrow, sympathy and tenderness. What we are not supposed to feel is: animosity, cruelty, mercilessness, harshness, hatred, indifference (a few antonyms of compassion.)

The Holy Spirit residing in us compels us to be sensitive to the needs of others. We are enabled to love and care about the conditions of the world and the people we meet. The unconditional love of God that has changed us, now operates within and through us. We love, not only in words, we love in deeds. This love produces compassion when we encounter suffering and pain in humankind.

Compassion doesn’t gloat in justice served. While we understand the laws of reaping and sowing, we don’t rejoice when punishment is served; we are sad that people have made the choices that lead to their punishment. Neither can compassion turn a blind eye when innocent people suffer. Regardless of the circumstances, when people are hurting, compassionate Christians are moved.

When people express pain, compassionate Christians don’t try to minimize the pain or change the focus of attention to another matter. Christians are supposed to listen, care, pray and act. If we do not, how will the hurting find hope?

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:35-36)

Or course, there are Gospel stories where Jesus appeared to be harsh to people. He openly rebuked some, even calling them names. The folks He rebuked were not the hurting, the victims of the suffering. Those Jesus rebuked were religious leaders who thought they were better than others, they considered themselves to be superior. They were the ones who twisted the Scriptures to support their uncompassionate way of life. But Jesus was compassionate to innocent hurting people – and even to the sinners who had made bad choices.

Whether it is a person of a different political persuasion, a different religion or a different ideology, compassion is a Christian virtue and it is vitally necessary that we express it. “Black Lives Matter!” – compassion. “Covid-19 is a conspiracy!” – compassion. CNN, Fox News, Democrat, Republican, black, white, rich, poor…the world needs Christian compassion. Without compassion the world is hopeless; the lost will remain lost.

Prayer: God, by the name of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, makes our hearts tender, create in us a new compassion for hurting people. Let the sensitivity and love of Christ be at work in the world through your Church and through me, a Believer. May we represent you well in these trying times. May the world see hope in us, in You.

My Official COVID-19 Positon

design-61I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is my calling, that is my passion. With that calling comes a definite responsibility to fulfill the calling. I preach the Gospel. I teach the Bible. I help others spiritually. I serve the Church as a pastor and a leader. While this calling and role affords me a variety of opportunities, my primary role is as a minister.

As the Corona virus continues to wreak havoc on our world, I think we all examine our responsibility of response. Most of us are on “stay at home” orders or have recently been released. The emotional, financial and relational pressure that has resulted in this unprecedented time is gaining momentum. In my world, the Church is deeply impacted. I must position myself strategically to respond appropriately in order to fulfill my calling.

I am not an attorney. I could have been. One of my best friends who owns his own law firm once suggested I attend law school – he offered me a job. I am not a politician – and never dreamed of being one. I am not a scientist. I just squeaked through Physical Science in college. I am a minister.

We believe in the operation of Spiritual Gifts. According to the Bible, we are all called to serve the Body of Christ as a part of the Body. To me, knowing my part in the Body is vitally important.

During this COVID-19 crisis, I don’t plan to become a doctor. I won’t start law school and I certainly have no plans to enter politics. I am staying in my lane.

I have no doubt that the battle that we are fighting is spiritual, demonic in nature.  The death, suffering, mourning and pain are the work of Satan. The fear, division, anxiety and depression are the results of the work of the devil. Politics, law or science are helpless against the devil. The Holy Spirit is not.

The damage that Covid-19 is doing to the Church is serious. While our numbers are revealing interesting data (some churches are experiencing numerical increase), the emotional and spiritual results are not good. Women and men who are called by God to do the work of ministry are limited by restrictions. Pastors cannot fulfill their role. Parishioners are suffering from a lack of spiritual guidance. Believers are missing the joy of fellowship, the encouragement of corporate worship and the strength of the family gathering.

While I am actively consulting with attorneys, politicians and doctors (in order to form my opinions and actions), I am not bringing a knife to a gun fight. Why would I fight a spiritual battle using weapons with which I am not familiar? Why would I abandon the tried and true for the unproven and unfamiliar?

If I spend my time jumping into politics, who will do my job of spiritual leadership? If I start practicing medicine, I have abandoned my post. If I spend my time in court, who will fulfill my God given responsibilities?

Since this is a spiritual battle, let’s fight it the right way.

II Corinthians 10 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 

Ephesians 6 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

If you are an attorney, fight in the courts for the church! If you are a doctor or scientist, help the cause of Christianity in the lab, in the hospitals and in the operating room. If you are a politician, do what is right according to Scripture. I honor all of you, I pray for you and I support you.

But I must do my God-given job as a Minister of the Gospel. I’d have it no other way.

This is my official COVID1-19 positon. I’m not asking for you to agree, adopt my position or respond. I’m simply stating my position.

Grace and peace!

Church, What’s Next?

design-60Many Pastors, while still working hard on their online ministry are beginning to think ahead. What is next? How will this pandemic play out? Once we get back into our church buildings, how will the Church function over the next several weeks and months?

The “unknown” is the worst part. How do we prepare for a future that is uncertain? I think we can prepare by doing the painful work of considering worst case scenarios. Not expecting it or believing for that, but considering it. What will be the role of the Church if this crisis continues for 6 weeks or 6 months? 6 months on this trajectory would mean communities of hungry people, families in crisis, social breakdown and vast emotional trauma. Ask ourselves: If this happens, what would we, the church do?

We don’t like thinking like this. You might even think that I am having a crisis of my faith. But ignoring possibilities is not a lack of faith. Be reminded that many tried to, in the name of faith, ignore the possibility of the Corona virus in the first place. It is a spiritual leader’s responsibility to prepare for the future as much as possible.

Many are saying that our focus only on online ministry is shortsighted. We’ve got to be prepared to resource people beyond online services, and beyond getting back into our buildings.

I am finding that the churches that were more inwardly focused before Corona are having a harder time making the adjustments needed now. It’s difficult but not impossible. But my concern is, some churches have as their only goal, getting back into their building. While we cannot wait for that!, there is so much more we need to consider.

I think that it is reasonable to consider that we will never return to the old normal.

Let’s pray and seek guidance in what an effective ministry will look like in the future. I highly doubt that it will look like what it has in the past.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m so thankful for online ministry. And I’m very excited for the future physical gathering of God’s people. We need it so badly. But we also need to engage a hurting world with the hope we gain by coming together.

Without question, now is the time for the Church to lead the way in prayer, repenting, fasting and focusing on the Lord. I believe this is the primary starting point to discerning the best path forward. We must hear from Him! Come what may, God’s Church will be strategically positioned by Him to redeem this crisis.

Let’s be the Church!

A Digital Diaspora

design-59In the book of Acts, chapter 8, verses 1-4, a great oppression came against the church and the Christians were threatened and tortured. The Bible says that all the Believers except the Apostles went out from Jerusalem, across the known world, and they preached about Jesus everywhere they went. This was the Lord’s strategy to make sure that others heard the Gospel.

“Diaspora” means to be scattered or sown (like seed). Tomorrow, unlike any of day in our history, the Gospel of Jesus will be sown, in a scattered fashion. It will not be contained in buildings. Sanctuaries won’t hold in the Word of God tomorrow! With the use of technology, the Church will employ a “digital diaspora”, a sending out of the Good News of Jesus Christ! More homes in our nation (and perhaps world) than ever before will become houses of worship.

While we mourn the loss of life and pray for a stop to the Corona virus, let’s thank God for how He is redeeming a terrible situation. While we cannot wait to gather again in our church facilities, let’s pray for a worldwide revival as a result of this “diaspora!”

What the enemy intended for our harm, God is turning into good.

Healing from Church Hurt

healing from church hurt picI believe that, in many cases, emotional healing is a matter of choice. Please allow me a moment to carefully explain. I do not want to be misunderstood as hard hearted or uninformed about emotional issues; I am neither.

When we are physically sick, we can’t always choose if we are healed. We pray and ask God for healing. Sometimes, it works out as we hoped but at other times, the sickness remains. These types of issues and experiences belong to God; I encourage you to trust Him to do what is best, every time. But, in specific cases, I believe the Holy Spirit offers emotional healing for everyone who is willing to receive it.

There is an ongoing conversation about “church hurt.” It seems that daily, I come across someone who has at some point in their life been hurt by a church, a pastor, a denomination, a church member… In fact, anyone who has ever attended a church can probably share a story or two about an offense that took place, someone who was rude, or a church leader who was mean. Perhaps we should be able to expect better. Of all the places that we can go and expect to be safe, church tops the list. But the problem is, other people also attend those churches. And where there are people, there will be hurt. And these hurts seem to emotionally paralyze many people.

What is unique about this type of emotional pain is it has a way of hanging on and controlling us. People have a hard time letting go. I know many people who frequently speak about emotional pain that was caused by someone in the church – literally 30 years ago. They recall the details. The date of the offense. The specific words or actions used to cause the damage. The emotional pain experienced determines their relationships, church involvement and the health of their faith. It is unlike any other experience in their life. And I believe it is diabolical.

The point of this article is this: if you want to be healed from the emotional pain inflicted on you by an experience at church, it can happen. And if you want it to happen, it probably will.

That is a bold statement! But it is based upon the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Our emotions, our feelings and thoughts are under the control of other elements. Experiences influence us. Life events shape us. While we can’t choose all our experiences, they most certainly impact us for a long time, and how we feel about those experiences dictates our future.

On a side note, the topic is not emotional or mental illness. I am not reducing mental health to a decision by an individual, although I do believe in the power of God to heal us mentally and emotionally.

If we surrender our emotions to the Holy Spirit, (all of our hurt and pain and bad experiences) He can heal them. And – here is the kicker – if we refuse to release our emotional pain to the Lord – we will carry them to our grave. Unfortunately, some wear their pain like a medal. They are proud of their offense and put it on display for all to see. Still others use their emotional hurt as a weapon or an excuse. Because they have been hurt, others will pay.

I really hope you don’t think that I am saying, “just get over it!” I am not. And I am most certainly not saying that the Church is innocent or that the perpetrators of church hurt should not be held accountable. I am saying, if you really want to be healed from the emotional pain caused by the Church, it is readily available. You’ll have to let go of the pain. You’ll need to stop allowing the hurt to control your decisions. No more, “I can’t because….” If this seems like too much, know that the Lord will help you. And He wants you free from the pain of your negative experience.

Regardless of your pain, or the source of it, God is offering you healing right now. Let him heal your broken emotions.

Who Speaks into Your Life?

design-57Voices, and lots of them. The world is full of free advice. There are many who will gladly tell you how you should live. The funny thing is, many people haven’t a clue on how to live. So rather than working on their life, they work on yours.

We all need others who speak into our lives. People who advise us, influence our decisions, challenge us to grow. It is a dangerous thing to navigate this life in solitude. I am regularly shocked when I hear of people making huge life decisions in a vacuum. In other words, they have no advisors, no counselors, no friends that help them to see different perspectives.

Where no counsel is, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14 (KJV)

We all need others who speak into our lives.

However, we don’t need a lot of people doing this. And we certainly don’t need the wrong people doing this. Choose wisely whom you allow to speak into your life.

Some hints on who NOT to allow as an influencer:

  • Watch their life; if they’re messed up, don’t let them in.
  • Do they have something to gain from you? Could they manipulate you for their benefit?
  • Do they talk too much and betray confidences?
  • Are they a dominator?
  • Does what they say line up with what God says?

Avoid taking advice from people who will lead you in the wrong direction.

On the other hand, God can use anyone – a humble friend, a younger person, even someone who has never walked in your shoes to speak important things to you.

We all need others who speak into our lives.

If you lack this important resource in your life, ask God to provide these people. And if you are not speaking into the lives of others, ask God to position you so you can.

Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.” Proverbs 11:14 (MSG)

 

 

Leader: Who/What Validates You?

design-56To validate means to “recognize or affirm the validity or worth of a person.” (Dictionary.com). Before we get spiritual and argue that God is the only one who validates us, let’s be real.

Leaders are human and humans have weaknesses. Many of us struggle from low self esteem issues. We are insecure. Many leaders battle feelings of insufficiency and lack of qualifications. Being validated as a leader is not only helpful, it is necessary if we hope to survive the challenges that leaders regularly face.

Receiving recognition from those you lead is nice. Being honored on a special day or with a gift is affirming. When our leaders notice and comment on our work, it can be very motivating. Any time anyone says, “thank you”, we may feel validated.

But I believe we must be careful about who or what makes us feel good about ourselves as leaders.

Increasing productivity can validate us. Being named to a position of leadership, getting invited to speak at a special gathering or receiving an award can build our self esteem. But there is inherent danger herein.

Needing the public recognition or verbal affirmations of others in order to feel like a leader is dangerous. Those who must have a pat on the back may become vulnerable to people pleasing. Additionally, if we can be inflated by praise, we will become deflated by criticism.

I suggest our validity come from deep within ourselves. Leaders must know who they are in Christ. This does not mean that we don’t need the support and encouragement of others, on the contrary. But we can’t place our self concept in the hands of other people.

God called you as a leader, you responded. That response will include days when no one sees or talks about what a great leader you are. We’ve got to be ok with that.

Don’t feel less significant because your numbers are down. Don’t live or die based upon the opinions of others. Don’t count on the affirmations of others in order for you to understand your value.

You have family and close friends. Go ahead and allow them close into your heart and head. But even they shouldn’t be your sole source of validation.

You are valuable, you are needed, you are loved. That’s not validation coming from me, that’s validation coming from God.

Growth Plans for 2020

Below are a few of the things I plan to work on in the new year. With God’s help, I’ll grow, accomplish more and make more of a difference in the world.

1. Redeem time. Make the most of opportunities, waste less time and focus more on priorities.

2. Treasure the treasures. Be in the moment more with loved ones.

3. Maintain poise. When under pressure, when challenged by the unknown or by crisis, remain steady and stable.

4. Filter out the noise. Don’t give credence to the annoyances. Eliminate distractions.

5. Smile. Be kind. Respect others. Care.

6. Be unshakeable. Live more by the Spirit and less by my emotions.

7. Speak less, listen more, pray the most.

If I don’t plan to grow, I am planning to shrink. “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” Hebrews 10:39

Another Decade! Here we come!

IMG_9445Until today (Christmas Eve), I haven’t given much thought to the end of another decade and the start of 2020. While running errands with my wife, we talked about the presumed events of the next ten years. Grandkids becoming teenagers. Continuing to progress in our ministry. Potential relocations for work. Lots of productivity. Perhaps even retirement!

If my sketchy math skills are correct, I am approximately 80% done with my vocational ministry work. I started right out of the gate in the early 80’s, which makes me ancient. 4 decades of uninterrupted, full time ministry! If God continues to grant His favor, I have about 8-10 years of public ministry left. Of course, I plan to minister until I die, but our current church culture isn’t friendly to older men who still have a fire burning in their gut. So I’ll work in the main stream until I’m retirement age, then I’ll go rogue!

Another decade. 4/5ths done with my professional ministry career. What does that mean to me?

It means it’s time to lay down all hindrances. Abandon security and comfort. Reject mediocrity and status quo. Take risks, be aggressive, embrace innovation.

In my last decade of professional ministry, I want to work like a fiend. I hope to benefit from everything I’ve learned over the last 40 years. I want to reduce mistakes, focus on the most important issues and be as productive as is humanly possible.

Over the next decade, I’ll passionately invest in those coming behind me. I want to exemplify grace, mercy and compassion, and I desperately want to finish strong.

2020-2030 should be epic!

How about you? What does the start of a new decade mean to you?

2020… here we come!

Who is Christmas for, Anyway?

IMG_8743Lots of retailers make a lot of money from Christmas sales. Major corporations enjoy record profits year after year at Christmastime. Marketers, delivery companies and small businesses count on big sales during the holidays to boost their profits and add to their bottom line.

But is this who Christmas is really for?

We have a problem with the commercialization of Christmas. For too many, the holy season has simply become a money maker. We tire of the incessant commercials, the pushy salespeople and the “special holiday offers.” If we’re not careful, we can develop a bad attitude about the season because so many are corrupting the true meaning of Christmas; Let’s not do that!

Let’s remember who Christmas is for:

Christmas is for children: The little boys and girls of the world who simply embrace the excitement of the holiday.

Christmas is for Christians: the Christ-followers around the world who humbly celebrate the birth of their Lord, Savior and soon-coming King!

Christmas is for families: though perhaps spread across the miles, they hope to be together to share special moments and memories.

But…

Christmas is also for the lonely: those who have no one during the holiday.

Christmas is for the hurting: those who are in physical, emotional or relational pain.

Christmas is for the bound and addicted: those who have no concept of freedom.

Christmas is for the hard-hearted: those who have been so hurt, they refuse to trust again.

Christmas is for the doubters: those who refuse to believe.

Christmas is for the rebellious: those who feel the need to run from God.

Christmas is for the lost: those who just can’t find their way through this dangerous world.

Christmas is for sinners: those who have yet to accept Christ as their Savior and Lord.

Christmas is for those who need Good News!: Those who are tired of the ugliness and sin of this world.

Christmas is even for those who miss the point entirely (they think it’s about making money): God doesn’t give up on them, we shouldn’t either.

God gave His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Way, the only Way to salvation.   

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) These words, spoken by an angel to Joseph, speak to us about the eternal Good News of the birth of Jesus. Jesus came to preach the Gospel (Good News) to all people! This means that Christmas is for everyone! Christmas is Good News for all of us!

This Good News of Christmas triumphs over the bad news. This Good News of Christmas heals the brokenhearted. This Good News of Christmas brings families back together. This Good News of Christmas comforts the lonely. This Good News of Christmas brings hope to the hopeless, joy to the sad, and the promise of a better future to a world that desperately needs it.

But it is not the presents, the money-spending, the holiday stress that brings what we need.

The love that God displays at Christmas is what makes Christmas belong to all of us.  

 Merry Christmas to you. We love you, thank God for you and pray that this Christmas season will be especially blessed!

 

 

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

design-49

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!

Concern for Pastors

design-44I’m concerned about pastors.

I’m concerned about pastors who isolate themselves. Young leaders with no mentor worry me. Middle aged pastors who’ve given up on their dreams are a huge heartache. Older pastors who are tired but can’t quit are a burden to my heart.

Those who “mail it in” on Sundays. Those who’ve quit praying. Those who only preach the sermons they’ve found online. Those who would quit, if they could afford to. Those who despise “successful” pastors. Those who lie about statistics in order to make themselves look and feel better.

I’m concerned about Pastors who are having affairs. Pastors addicted to porn. Pastors getting drunk. Pastors whose family knows they are a phony. Pastors who are racists. Pastors who are stealing from their church.

I’m concerned about Pastors who are under the control of a contributor. Those who compromise their morals. Those under heavy criticism. Those with no confidant. Those whose spouse is disengaged. Lonely pastors. Confused, discouraged, exhausted, depressed Pastors. Cynical, skeptical, sarcastic Pastors.

I’m concerned about Pastors, even the successful ones. The ones who get lots of votes. The ones who have it all together. The ones who preach the big meetings. The ones with a full compensation package. The big name Pastors.

I’m concerned about pastors.

My concern only leads to prayer and help where I can. But the Lord cares, and He cares deeply. His care and compassion is what keeps Pastors safe, strong and moving forward.

Pastor, you matter to God and to so many more. Stay faithful.