Tuesday, July 19, 2016

When You Choose A Leader, Character Matters

The three core components of leadership (especially “Christian” leadership) are character, courage and competence. Courage and competence are important, but without character neither matters.

In my estimation, we face a presidential election in which neither of the two leading candidates exhibit much more than a shred of character. Perhaps that is overly harsh, which is why I prefaced it with “in my estimation.”


This is neither the time nor the place to go into great details as to why I believe this. Should you wish to research it for yourself, simply listen to each candidate speak about their opponent. You’ll learn everything you need to know about either of them. Check Google, Snopes, or the Washington Post Pinocchio report to figure out exactly what is and is not true.

YOU NEED TO VOTE

I am not writing this to discourage you from voting. In fact, it is the exact opposite. I am writing to encourage you to vote, to advocate, and to get involved in the process. Now more than ever, we need people to be educated and involved at the local levels.

We need a strong Congress. We need strong state governments. We need strong municipalities.
The most effective way to combat an executive who lacks character is to use the checks and balances given to us by the framers of our constitution.

YOU NEED TO VOTE WISELY

Don’t believe the fuzzy mathematicians telling you that to not vote for one candidate is to vote for the other. This is nonsensical, illogical, and just plain wrong. Feel free to go to the polls and not vote for a presidential candidate, but please vote wisely for representatives, for senators and for state and local officials.

The President of the United States was never intended to be the most powerful man (or woman) in the world. The time has come to dispossess ourselves of that myth. The time has come for a strong Senate and a strong Congress who will be a voice crying out for virtue in the wilderness of Washington D.C.

Find the candidates whose platform coincides with your values. Find the candidates who value virtue over victory. Vote your conscience this November. Win or lose, you’ll never have regrets.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Distracted Living Leads To A Defeated Life


Have you ever been driving down the road enjoying the view when you suddenly realize the car ahead of you is stopped… and you might not have enough time to stop? You probably slammed on your brakes, considered swerving into another lane or the ditch, and breathed a big sigh of relief when you stopped inches short of the other car’s rear bumper. Then you probably swore an oath to not allow yourself to get distracted while driving again.
Distractions abound for drivers. Ringing cell phones, changing radio stations, people on the sidewalk acting strangely, animals along the side of the road, and many other things all provide opportunities lose focus on the road. I don’t know how many auto accidents are caused by distracted drivers. I would guess that most of them are. I would also guess that for every accident caused by a distraction, there are many more distracted drivers who narrowly miss accidents.
A distraction is something that seems very important right now, but when seen with proper perspective is obviously unimportant. Occasionally, a little distraction can be a good thing; but most of the time distractions keep us from doing what we should be doing, going where we should be going, or being who we should be being. They catch our eyes, occupy our minds, and captivate our souls.
The serpent was Adam and Eve’s distraction Idolatry regularly distracted the children of Israel. Bathsheba was David’s distraction. Nearly 1,000 wives and concubines distracted Solomon.

Distractions are wrong-way attractions.

Matthew 13 tells us one of Jesus' stories about a farmer who threw some of his seeds into a patch of ground occupied by thorns and weeds. The plants initially grew, but were soon overpowered and choked out by the thorns and weeds. Jesus explained the ground with thorns represented people who hear the truth, and are initially excited about it; but before long, their faith is choked out by the worries of life and the deceitfulness of riches.

We all get distracted by life.

Sometimes we are distracted more easily than other times. In the hard times of life, we are more likely to buckle down and focus. When we find ourselves facing a crisis or a deadline, we somehow find the discipline to get done what needs to get done. We don’t usually get distracted when something important is clearly on the line.
When things are going well, it’s much easier to get distracted. Driving down the road on a sunny day is prime distraction time. When business is booming, it is easy to slowly lose focus. Often we get too comfortable in relationships, and risk taking someone close to us for granted. When life is good, we are easily tempted by the distractions we think might make it even better.

The consequences of distracted living

Joe Gilliam Jr. was just the third African-American to play quarterback in the NFL. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972, and became the starting quarterback in 1974. Joe Gilliam died in 2000 at the age of fifty. He had spent much of his life drifting between homeless shelters and trying to recover from drug addiction. Joe won two super-bowl rings with the Steelers, but ended up pawning them to finance his drug habit.
Life was good for Joe Gilliam Jr., but he got distracted by life.
If you spent too much time pursuing the distractions of life, what initially feels like a warm fuzzy hug will slowly become a deathly choke-hold. Jesus said that many people who hear the truth will be distracted by the cares of life and the deceitfulness of riches.

Find an eternal perspective

Following Jesus is the greatest investment we could ever make, but the cares of life threaten to distract us from that pursuit. We might be distracted by the toys we could accumulate or the money we could earn. We might be distracted by relationships we are pursuing. We might be distracted by a promotion or a new promising job. We might be distracted by pleasure or the pursuit of pleasure.
Distractions are anything that seems important right now. Many pursuits in life seem more important than following Christ, because the return on following Christ is not immediate. When you view distractions with the proper perspective, though, they always reveal themselves to be a bad idea. If you assume an eternal perspective, anything that keeps you from pursuing Christ with all your heart is most definitely a bad idea.
Distractions are always a bad investment, and often lead to extremely heavy losses. Don’t be distracted from the most important pursuit of your life!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Strongly Held Opinions Rarely Lead To Positive Solutions


My friend Kevin recently shared some of his thoughts on the several tragic deaths we've all witnessed in the past week. You can read it here.
More than anyone else I know, Kevin has earned the right to speak into these difficult days. He has poured his life into the ministry of racial reconciliation and he demonstrates Christ's love in difficult situations better than anyone I know. He converses truthfully and graciously even when he disagrees. He is an elder in his church and his organization, Pursue Scholars, is doing amazing things to provide opportunities for young people (I support this organization and highly recommend it. Click here to learn how you can give)
Kevin is spot on when he writes:
Stop believing the narrative that says if you are against one thing that you also can’t be against something else... Stop letting people tell you that you can’t be both. Stop being boxed into what Fox News or MSNBC or Franklin Graham or Jesse Jackson tells you is the only opinion you can have. Until we become people who are more nuanced and thoughtful, we will continue to talk at each other and refuse to listen to each other.
Kevin's point is one that has been voiced by many in recent days. I think it's worth hearing. We don't need to pick one side or the other, in fact we don't need to "pick a side" at all. I want to add on to Kevin's thoughts by putting some feet on the ideas he's proposed. If I truly want to see all sides, I have to think about how my behavior changes and how my words change.

Nothing Good Happens When We Assume

If I support law enforcement AND I am opposed to police officers who abuse their authority than I must not rush to conclusions and there is no need for me to assign fault or blame every time I hear about another tragic confrontation.
Every time I hear about a confrontation that ended poorly, I cannot immediate assume the police officer was justified in his behavior.
AND
Every time a video surfaces of a police shooting, I cannot assume the police officer's actions were motivated by racism.
In fact, why do I need to assume at all?

Can You Refrain from Social Media?

Let me make a suggestion (this isn't something I've done, but I am going to try to make this my new practice)?
What if we all waited a week to voice our opinion the next time there is a public tragedy. 
Can you distinguish the difference between talking about something and sharing your opinion about it? This is really important!
These People Are Not Interested In Helping You Or Anyone
Instead of letting the the media cram an unhelpful conversation down our throat, let's follow James' advice to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Go ahead and express your grief. Express your condolences. But refrain from the temptation to assign fault or even to explain the reason these things happen.
Conversations are good and they can be helpful, but perhaps they would be more healthy and more productive if they happened after we've processed the grief and sorrow and after we've had a chance to better understand what actually happened.

Find A Friend and Talk To Them

Soon it will be a week since the Dallas shooting (as well as the shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota, Tennesee and Missouri). Find someone who comes from a different background than you or someone that you know has a different political bent than you. Buy them coffee and have a conversation. Don't seek to change each other's minds. Instead, search out the truths upon which you can both agree and then decide what you can each do as a result of that agreement.
You won't solve the world's problems, but maybe you can identify your next step.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Anyone Can Lead A Small Group. Here's How.

I truly believe that almost anyone can lead a small group at your church (there are always exceptions). If someone is a disciple of Christ, they are called to make other disciples. With the right tools and equipping they can disciple others in a small group setting.

THIS IS FOR YOU

If you pastor a church with small groups, are in charge of small groups, train small group leaders, lead a small group, are in a small group, think small groups are a good thing or would just like to know a little more about small groups... I have something for you.


Below is a link to a kindle book which practically lays out the key steps anyone can take to effectively lead a small group (yes, anyone... almost). Even if you have no experience teaching, organizing or leading; the lists and charts in this book will empower you to launch and lead a group that grows together and ultimately serves together.

HERE'S WHAT YOU GET

In this book, I lay out the 4 KEY ELEMENTS every small group needs in order to facilitate long-term success. I also provide a six-week template covering every detail you'll need in order to get off to a great start.

As a freebie, I've included a couple resources I created several years ago. You'll get the 10 COMMANDMENTS OF LEADING DISCUSSION as well as a guide to AVOID THE 4 MOST COMMON COMMUNITY KILLERS.


NEED AN ALTERNATIVE?

If you aren't a Kindle-kind-of-person, and would like a hard copy, shoot me a message. I can get you a downloadable PDF.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

How I Create An Annual Preaching Calendar


File under: "What do pastors do with their time?"

Assembling An Annual Preaching Calendar.

Assumption One: The Holy Spirit is active in my life and work in ways I can't understand or identify.
Assumption Two: If my whole life is bathed in prayer, then my work will be bathed in prayer, as will this process.
Assumption Three: When striving to be faithful and obedient, I must first do everything I know to be right, and then what I believe to be wise, and finally what appears to be expedient. A preaching calendar is an expedient way to be wise about doing what is right.
Assumption Four: This type of thing, like virtually all ministry is not done alone. I think of myself as a clarifier more than a creator. I seek to hear many voices before beginning, and seek much refinement before ending.
Assumption Five: All this is flexible.

Step One: Ask four important questions

  • How do we understand discipleship? Can we identify clear discipleship elements we should address?
  • Who are we? How do we teach our people (from the Bible) about their identity as the church?
  • Where are we as a body? What truths do our people need?
  • Where am I? What is God saying to me right now? Why shouldn't I share it?
At the end of step one, I should have a long brainstormed list of potential topics, book studies, theological issues, virtues, etc. which may be developed into preaching series.

Step Two: Identify key dates in the calendar around which teaching series may be built:

  • Easter
  • Mother's Day/Father's Day
  • National Holidays (if you must)
  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas
  • Labor Day (this signals the end of the summer, which in many places means people come back to church the next week. It's a big mistake to start a series right before or on Labor Day.)
At the end of step two, I may have tentatively plugged some of the brainstormed series into the calendar. While I may yet move them, I now have an idea of what other series may be helpful to effectively disciple the people of our church for the coming year.

Step Three: Consider means by which you can create a balanced year of teaching

As a general rule, I like to do Old Testament studies in the fall because they naturally lead up to Christmas. I like to do the Gospels after the new year because they lead into Easter. The rest of the year is a good time to look at the epistles, poetry, etc.

Step Four: Find the best places for the "Special Days" which need to be included

In many churches, the "special days" are things like baptism, communion, missions reports, etc. Baptism and communion particularly are days we try to set aside to really focus on the celebration. Sometimes these days fall naturally into a series we are doing, and sometimes they need to be placed as a stand-alone between series.

Conclusion:

Obviously, there's more to it, but this is just a rough outline, and all this is just the opening activity. The next step is really where the hard work starts as I break down each series, determining the key teaching points and biblical truths which will form the main ideas for each week's sermon. But that's another post for another time.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Simple 7 Step Method to Transform Your Bible Study

Today's activities become tomorrow's habits. Tomorrow's habits determine your life's path.



Find a few times each week to spend a few minutes in God's Word. You'll not be disappointed. Whether you read several chapters, just one, a few paragraphs or even one verse; pouring God's Word into your heart is a powerful habit which will enable you to grow a heart like God's.

In order to avoid the complacency that can result from your Bible Study time feeling too routine, try to change things up from time to time. The following list can be used by groups of 8-10 or by a small group of 2 or 3. More importantly, it's a great way for one person to dig into God's Word and come away with something helpful.

This seven-step Bible Study method works best if you are studying one or two paragraphs (some Bibles use section headings, those are good as well). If you are studying a whole chapter it will work as well, but may take a bit longer.

Work your way through each of these steps and see how they affect your day:

1. Read the entire passage two times.

2. Outline the passage as concisely as possible.

3. Rewrite the passage (or part of it) in your own words.

4. Summarize the entire passage to one sentence.

5. Summarize the entire passage to one word.

6. Make a list of new ideas you have discovered in this passage.

7. Write down one thing you want to do differently as a result of this.

Monday, June 6, 2016

3 Core Habits To Cultivate A Healthy Life


Your daily choices create more opportunities or spawn more limitations for your future. Good choices lead to more opportunity. We lay the foundation for good choices by creating healthy daily habits and routines. If you want to make better choices on a regular basis, consider these three daily CORE HABITS OF A HEALTHY LIFE.

I was inspired to this idea by an ad I saw in a magazine. Because I like lists and am regularly concerned with the habits I am forming (we are all forming habits, they are either helpful or harmful), I thought I'd convert the image into a series of lists and thoughts. What follows is more "stream of consciousness" than well-thought-out writing. You may find it helpful or you may hate it. Either way, I hope it inspires you to consider the habits you are creating and whether they are helping your grow or causing you to plateau.

RISE

  • The earlier you get going, the further you'll go and the more you'll get done.
  • As Ben Franklin advised, if you want to rise early in the morning then retire early the night before.
  • We all need help in the morning (other than the disgusting few who jump out of bed each morning raring to go). For each of us it looks a little different. Some need a longer shower, some need coffee, some need fruit, etc. You know what you need. Create a morning routine that allows you to rise and be ready for whatever the day may bring.

READ

  • Read your Bible. You can read one verse, one chapter or one whole book. You can read a Proverb, a Psalm, something from the Gospels, one of the letters or anything else. Whatever you read, don't just scan the words and dive into your day. Take it with you. As God said to Joshua, "Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."
  • Read a book by an author who inspires you. You may enjoy fiction. Others prefer history. Some like business or leadership books. Find an author who speaks your language and make their writings a regular part of your routine. By reading and re-reading their best writing, you'll discover they become a mentor of sorts, empowering you to grow and expand.
  • Read the news. Newspapers are awesome. News magazines once were as well. The printed media is quickly going away, but you can still get on-line and find out what is going on in the world. Find a good news source and try to avoid opinion sources. Be informed about current events, but don't be consumed by those who tell you what to think about them.
  • DON'T read Facebook, Twitter or other social media. Save these apps and websites for later in your day. Your morning reading is for INSPIRATION, social media is good for distraction and connection but not for inspiration. Later in the day, when you need a short break from the grind, is a much better time to spend a few minutes liking, following and sharing.

REACH

  • Reach a little further today than you did yesterday.
    • Set your goals a little higher
    • Try something you've not tried before
    • Work a little bit harder or a little bit longer
    • Accomplish one extra task
  • Reach a few more people than you did yesterday.
    • Invest extra time listening to someone
    • Provide assistance where you haven't before
    • Generously encourage and compliment those around you
    • Offer prayer to someone who is struggling
    • Invite someone to join you for a meal or coffee