Tuesday, September 25, 2012

You Are Your Own Worst Enemy!

I saw this little cartoon over at 22words. Frankly, it's brilliant. Marianne and I were just talking tonight about the dangers of "victim" thinking. No matter how much we might want to blame those around us for our troubles, the truth is that most of us... most of the time... are guilty of sabatoging our own lives.

How do we stop? The first step is to acknowledge and identify the things we do to ourselves that trip up our lives. Only then can we start taking positive steps to be PROACTIVE in life, rather than REACTIVE.

Screen capture from my IPad. Original source is unknown.
 

Have You Ever Heard Me Speak? Did You Not Hate It?

Have you heard me speak? If you don't hate listening to me, would you consider taking a minute to complete the survey below. I hope to use some of the answers as I put together my "introduction packet" I will send to churches/camps/organizations where I may have the opportunity to speak. (if you can add your name, if that's uncomfortable for you, that's okay also!) Thank you in advance!

3 Relationships That Enable Christians To Develop Spiritual Maturity


Over the years, I've done a little bit of thinking about what "spritual maturity" looks like, particularly within the context of a church community. Here's some (not all) thoughts I've had.

True spiritual maturity happens through a process we often call discipleship. They type of discipleship Jesus modeled for us was dependent on relationships. Therefore spiritual maturity happens as people are connected to one another.

I believe these connections can be identified in three relationships every Christ-follower engages in:

  • A relationship with God which is characterized by love. (Mark 12:30)
  • A relationship with our neighbors which is characterized by love. (Mark 12:31)
  • A relationship with other believers which is characterized by love. (John 13:34)

Walking the right path can enable a person to develop these three relationships in a healthy manner. Here are five maturity-producing activities which can assist any believer in growing the three relationship in their life.

Exploring their faith. Every person should take stock of their current state, examine the offer Christ extends, and seek understanding of the commitment required to enter the kingdom of God. 
Launching their spiritual journey. Once convinced, every convert to the way of Jesus should publicly declare their new relationship with Jesus and His church through the sacrament of baptism. 
Partnering with other believers. Because the Christian life is best lived in shared relationship with other believers, every Christ-follower should identify themselves with a community of believers for the purpose of being formed to the image of Christ and of being a formative influence in the lives of others. 
Investing their resources in the kingdom. Because Christ is Lord of all we have (our resources, our gifts, our time, etc.), we are to utilize all we have in the way we believe Jesus would. Therefore, since the example of Jesus was one of sacrifice and service, every believer should seek to use all their resources to sacrificially serve all with whom they come into contact. 
Engaging their circles of influence. The true sign of a kingdom subject is multiplication. Those who have accepted life of Christ in place of their own demonstrate their faith by acting like Christ in the world. In death, Christ redeemed sinners, thus we seek to bring that redemption to all within our circles of influence. Throughout his life, Christ relieved suffering, thus we strive to relieve suffering whenever we encounter it.

That's not all I have to say about that!

Monday, September 24, 2012

6 Things Every Leader Must Do

Not everyone can be a leader all the time, however, at some point in their life most people engage in leadership. When you find yourself leading, consider these six "must-do" activities.

6 Exercises to Cultivate Team Excellence
Establish a clear direction. I did not say "choose a direction" or "proclaim a direction". A good leader does not set agendas himself, he observes and listens to his followers/team and establishes a direction which reflects everyone's gifts and passions. Before you can be a vision-caster, you must learn to be a vision-collector.

Explain with precision the roles of those you are guiding. Most people simply want to know what is expected of them. They want to know how they will be evaluated, and they want to know what they can do to help accomplish the "win." While a leader may fully succeed in getting the right people in the right seats on the bus, if he doesn't clearly communicate the expectation, he will fail. It should also be noted that a leader can never get his people into the right roles if he doesn't know his people's gifts, passions, and dreams. True leadership demands a great deal of listening and observing.

Equip completely with the training and resources necessary to accomplish the team's shared vision. A good leader recognizes tht everyone with whom they work has an important role. They must equip them to accomplish that role. Equipping includes training and providing resources, but it also includes assisting someone in maximizing their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. A good leader recognizes that everyone they lead is unique and therefore they learn to develop creative approaches when equipping different people.

Enable accomplishment by unleashing people in their areas, by giving them necessary authority, and by regularly advocating their efforts in public. Nothing can be more disheartening for someone than to have a leader who doesn't enable them to accomplish their tasks. As a leader, if you can't unleash someone to do a job, it is an indictment against your leadership style. If you aren't willing to give someone the authority to do a job, the likely reason is that you haven't capably equipped them. On the other hand, nothing is more empowering than a leader who not only unleashes people to work, but takes every opportunity to publicly proclaim how much they value and trust the work of those they lead. A leads who does this will have followers who accomplish much.

Encourage perseverance by regularly collecting updates and providing assistance when asked. Those you lead will become discouraged, they will have setbacks. There will be times when they want to quit. You can intervene in those moments and encourage them to carry on. If you step in at the right time and help them to refocus on the ultimate goal, you may keep them from quitting. But you'll never know if they are wearing down if you aren't regularly checking in with them. However, don't check in just to "monitor their progress". Be certain they understand and believe that you are checking in because you want to see them succeed. "Progress reports" should be an exciting and anticipated time, not a dreaded practice. You'll set the tone, and by doing so, you'll create a culture of perseverance.

Evaluate the person's work by rewarding effective accomplishment and by correcting issues which may have led to incompletion. Simply put, "those who have done well with a small thing should be given more. And those who has struggled with a large thing should be given less." good evaluations will help you identify the proper load for all your team members.



Thursday, September 20, 2012

What Once Was Lost Has Now Been Found!

A little over fifteen years ago, Marianne and I moved to Muskegon with nothing to our name but tiny red-headed baby doll and a bunch of hospital bills from her birth. We bought a modest home and began our Muskegon-life together.

I had my dream job. I worked at my alma mater, and got to teach the Bible to teenagers five times every day. I was helping disciple several young people, and on the weekends I got to serve in a pastoral role for middle schoolers.

During these two years I created a four year Bible curriculum for Christian high school students. I had never completed such a large project, and in the process I discovered a passion for writing and creating educational materials. Even to this day, I consider that project one of my favorites of all time.

After two short years in that role, I shifted directions and became the Pastor of Student Ministries at my church. I was still working with some of the same students, as well as many other amazing kids from other schools; but my teaching load was significantly decreased. I did, however, continue to create curriculum and study material, but rarely on the same level as that initial project.

Sadly, in the move from one church buidling to another and in a computer crash a few months later, all copies I had of that curriculum were lost. I thought I had passed it on to a few people before I changed roles, but I was never able to successfully figure out who those people had been. Over the years, a few inquiries and searches yielded nothing, and I eventually concluded that the curriculum had been lost.

Until today...


Today I found myself in a storage barn digging through old files in a rusted out cabinet when I came across a hanging folder labeled "curriculum". My heart skipped a beat, partly because I thought the writing on the folders tab might even be my own. I opened the folder to discover...

It was Bible curriculum from Dayton Christian High School.

Disappointed, I returned to my task and discovered in the folder behind the Dayton Christian curriculum another folder which contained my curriculum in its entirety. I didn't weep, but on a lesser day I might have.

What once was lost, now is found... And what a strange path it took for me to find it.

Without a ridiculously twisted and involved series of events, I might never have found myself in that barn, today, looking through that filing cabinet...

So for whatever it's worth, for a moment I'm grateful for some really messed up events, if only because they helped me rediscover a piece of my past... And if anyone is looking for a high school Bible teacher, or a four year curriculum (with complete scope and sequence) for high school Bible, you know where to reach me!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Your Reputation May Be Damaging the Reputation of God

Have you ever considered the idea that God's reputation is not tied to His character, but rather is tied to the behavior of His people?

No one can control their own reputation.
Of course, I need to clarify that anyone's "reputation" is not necessarily an accurate portrayal of who they are. It is simply what people think of them. And everyone's reputation will vary from person to person, depending on what each person has allowed to influence their opinion.

God's reputation is largely derived from the way His people have represented Him over the ages. Is it any wonder, then, that in some quarters His reputation among people is not equal to His actual greatness? How damaging to the reputation of God have been the inquisition, the crusades, slavery, and opposition to civil rights? How much does God's reputation suffer when those who claim to follow Him spend all their time picking fights, gossiping, and asserting their superiority over others?

On the other hand, how much is God's reputation grown by those who care for the needy, who feed the poor, and who serve orphans and widows?

To be sure, God doesn't need our help! The success of the Creator is not dependent on our ability to win a PR competition on His behalf. Yet, he has gifted us with the opportunity to be His ambassadors, and He has declared that we are "aliens and strangers" who are to live uniquely in the world so that those around us will change their opinion about God. We ought to take this responsibility seriously. If we truly love Him, it will not even be a responsibility. Who doesn't care deeply for the reputation of those they love?

Have you considered what might be the greatest obstacle we face in trying to enhance the reputation of God?

Perhaps, it is our own reputation.

How many people's actions have reflected poorly on God because they were more concerned with how people thought of them. In the name of our own reputation, many of us have at times:

  • prioritized happiness
  • pursued pleasure
  • preferred convenience
  • persecuted enemies
  • picked on the weak

How this must grieve God, and how it must cause those around us to think ill of the one we serve!

As you walk your life's path, take time regularly to consider these question, "Is what I am doing today going to enhance my reputation at the cost of God's? Am I willing to decrease in the eyes of men, so that God's reputation will be enhanced?" Then ACT accordingly!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Three Minutes

Three minutes.

Three minutes of just writing whatever comes to my mind.

This was an awkward day. Waking up full of hope, excited about the possibilities. Anticipating discussions about the future and the kingdom...

Hopes for that path dashed by 9am.

Everything goes south from there. I can't get the blood tests I need at the place I need to get them. My doctor's office can't find the paperwork I need. I feel like I'm a 75 year old trying to negotiate through Obamacare's regulations... Will we even talk about Obamacare when I'm 75?

I can't even begin to think about what the USA will look like in 35 years. In truth, I don't much care. In 35 years, my children will possibly have children. I hope they are better than I. They have so much potential and talent, and they are so gifted. I want nothing more than to see them chase their dreams and their gifts.

When our dreams and our gifts don't match, we are either misinterpreting our dreams or poorly evaluating our gifts.

Sometimes, it can be extraordinarily difficult to to know what our gifts truly are. We can't know them ourselves perfectly, because our self-perception is so warped. But we can't completely trust others, because they don't know every side of us.

Look at that... 3 minutes is up.


Sent from my iPad

The Truth About Those Who Call Themselves "Moderates"

There are no true moderates. Therefore we should all strive for moderation.

Those who consider themselves to be moderates pretend to agree with everyone. In reality, a moderate is someone with whom no one can agree. Those who practice moderation have simply chosen to be agreeable.

Moderation is the recognition that too much of a good thing might actually be a bad thing. Therefore, the person who lives a life of moderation chooses to sometimes refrain from "good" things for the sake of not being over-indulgent.

A moderate thinks everyone should share his opinion because he has found the perfect "middle ground".

A person of moderation recognizes that everyone may not share his opinion, and therefore he refrains from excessive opining... Even if he is right!

Choose moderation in all things.

And BEWARE THE MODERATE!

 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Succesful Path Through Life Is Often Not What You Think

There seem to be many who judge success (both others and their own) based on the accumulation of quantifiable gain. In other words, people who get more stuff (or money) are more successful.

A close cousin of this mentality is the pragmatic thought process which identifies success as “whatever works”.

Are you on the right path?
We are all prone to slip into these thought processes. Why wouldn’t we? If a certain path produces the results we want, why wouldn’t we take it? If the road we are traveling leads to financial security and material gain, why would we abandon it?

I’m as guilty as the next person of choosing a direction because I think it will work, or because I’m seeking material gain. But, my own inconsistency doesn’t blind me from the truth that I am sometimes wrong, and there IS a better path. Sometimes, I just need to write this stuff to remind me of what my spirit knows is true despite what my heart may tell me.

Consider these three reasons why success is not always what we think:

  • Today’s success often forces me to mortgage tomorrow’s opportunities.
  • Success in this life may very well mean failure in the next.
  • Personal success gained at the expense of others is ultimate failure.
Ultimately, I need to ask and answer one HUGE question. “Do I believe there is more to this life than what I can see, touch, and hear?” If I believe in concepts/virtues like love, faithfulness and kindness, I need to recognize that those come from somewhere (God?); and I must acknowledge that any definition of success must take these unmeasurable concepts into consideration.

It is better to have a little (or to fail) but to have a recognition of the greater things in life. True failure is thinking I am successful, when in truth I’ve compromised all I claim to believe.

 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Too Many People Treat Jesus the Same Way They Treat Bacon

I don't remember where I saw this, but I guess someone is now serving ice cream with bacon. I'm not sure how I feel about this. It seems perhaps to be a bit of bacon overkill.

Now I love bacon as much as the next guy. In fact, I probably love it more than the next guy does. But sometimes I wonder if the "bacon makes everything better" train is about to jump the tracks. Bacon is great with beans, or pancakes, or in mashed potatoes... But ice cream? I think that might be a stretch.

I haven't always thought this way, but I'm starting to wonder whether or not bacon really does make everything better. See, I think some people like bacon. And I think some people LOVE bacon. Those who just like bacon combine it with everything on an attempt to make everything taste better.

But those who LOVE bacon don't combine it with anything. They don't think bacon makes ice cream better... They think ice cream ruins bacon. I think they might be right.

Some people take the bacon approach to their relationship with Jesus. They assume they can just add a little Jesus to whatever they are doing and it will make everything better. They live life their way, pursue their own desires, devote themselves to lifestyles of greed or immorality or pride... Then they add a little Jesus on Sunday and think everything is better.

They are wrong.

Jesus' path requires self-denial
Jesus isn't making their life better, their life is ruining Jesus.

Now, Jesus can't really be ruined. He is God, and He has already won the victory over sin. But anyone who thinks they can just add Jesus on to their lifestyle has a total misunderstanding of Jesus' call and mission. In our pursuit of Jesus, we need to be willing to let go of anything and everything in order to know Him better. Until we are willing to have nothing but Jesus, we are ruining the potential of an intimate relationship with Him.

Adding Jesus to the "must-haves" of your life won't make those things more spiritual, but subtracting those must-haves from your life for the sake of Jesus will absolutely enable you to follow Him.

 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Justice Sometimes Takes Forever

A justice (of sorts) was provided today for the 96 Liverpool fans who died in the Hillsborough disaster nearly 25 years ago. Apologies were issued from England's Prime Minister as well as the editor responsible for the vicious and deceptive lies published by the Sun newspaper.

Among the more shocking revelations was one that police actually engaged in background checks of those who had died in an effort to smear their reputation.

Even if you aren't familiar with this story, it is a powerful reminder that there are people in this world who use every means possible to advance themselves and protect their reputation. Sometimes the truth is a long time in coming (even 25 years or more!). But it is comforting to have the great hope that God knows all, and He is not surprised or concerned!

Read the report here.

 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Be Careful of Those Who Are Not What They Claim

Have you seen this somewhat sad but unbelievably funny story?

Just because someone says they are qualified to restore classic artwork doesn't mean she really is...



Read the story here.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Next Chapter...


This morning at Calvary, I announced that I was stepping down as a pastor at Calvary Church. I know that for some this is a sad and confusing time, but in some ways this is a good ending to a mostly great chapter of our life. We are anticipating a new future, and are anxious to see what God has for us. You can read my letter to the congregation hereBelow are some answers to other questions you might have.

Why are you leaving?
  • Endings are a necessary and healthy part of life’s cycles. I’ve been on staff at Calvary for over 15 years; in that amount of time, one can find many reasons to “leave”. The truth is that there is not any one reason, but many things have contributed to this decision. Most importantly, I believe this is the best thing for Calvary Church, the best thing for my family and I, and the way I can most bring glory to God at this point in my life.
Why now?
  • I recognize this is a difficult time for me to make this decision. It seems as if it is a knee-jerk reaction to some troubled waters. The truth is that I’ve wrestled with this for several years. I’ve spent a massive amount of time praying, counseling, and searching God’s Word for the wisdom I needed to know His plan for my future. Only recently has it become clear to me that this chapter of my life is closing. I wish the timing were different, but I firmly believe we only hurt ourselves when we drag our feet to do the things we know to be right.
Are you angry? hurt? discouraged? burned out?
  • I would be lying if I said I never felt any of those emotions. Certainly, the past few months have been difficult. More than any of these, however, I’ve felt disappointment. I’ve been disappointed that the importance of Jesus’ church has been co-opted by the agendas of some people. I’ve been disappointed that many people from whom I expected more have chosen to break fellowship with myself and many others. I’ve been disappointed in my own weaknesses and failures to properly shepherd Christ’s church. But I am not alone in these feelings, and I am not the only person who has ever been angry, hurt, discouraged or burned out. And none of these are the reasons I am leaving.
Are you going to move away?
  • I don’t know. Over the past four years I've had dozens of opportunities to move on to other churches. Some of these opportunities have been quickly turned down while others have moved through a process of interviews and visits from search committees. Very recently, we've investigated some really attractive opportunities. However, in some ways our family is in a healthier place today than we’ve been in years. We cherish that, and would be slow to give it up. We wrestle with this daily as we want to be sensitive to rightly discern God’s plan for our lives, yet we have many reasons to remain in West Michigan with our Calvary family.
Are you going to start a new church?
  • No. I am determined to not do anything that would harm or reflect poorly on the community of Calvary Church.
What is next for you?
  • I don’t know. Right now I am looking for a job (or jobs) that will enable me to support my family. God has blessed me with a wife who has a job that will provide health insurance benefits for us if needed. Please pray that God will quickly provide sufficient work for me.

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IF YOU WANT, YOU CAN WALK WITH US THROUGH THIS NEXT CHAPTER...

  • One of my desires in the next section of my life is to find opportunities to pursue the things for which I am really passionate and believe I am most gifted. I would love to be able to spend many of my weekends speaking to groups and retreats as well as providing pulpit supply in churches that are transitioning. I know that some of you who read this may have connections or ideas that might help me began finding these opportunities. If you have suggestions or contacts for me, I greatly appreciate your input.
  • Please pray that Marianne and I would be wise in our decisions about the future. Pray that we would effectively discern God's will for our family. Pray that our children would be protected from discouragement and disenchantment. Pray that they would see and understand who God truly is and not be distracted by our sometimes poor representation of Him.