Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers

Thoughts and prayers are not the same thing. We need to stop acting as if they are. Thoughts and prayers do not go hand-in-hand. We need to stop acting as if they do.

Every time you hear someone say, "Thoughts and prayers are not enough", you are being manipulated and you need to understand why.


Unless accompanied by action, thoughts accomplish nothing. Your thoughts may be a step along the way toward an action, but on their own, they are ineffective and in many ways without consequence. Every person chooses not to act on their mind's thoughts hundreds of times a day. A person who always says or does whatever comes to mind is considered posses little to no self-control.

The idea of "sending thoughts someone's way" originated out of a desire to not have to tell someone you were "praying for them." It is a tool used by those who desire to empathize or want to give words of comfort but are unwilling to do so in religious terms.

Other variations of "sending thoughts" might be:

  • "Sending my love."
  • "Thinking of you."
  • "Wishing positive energy for you."
  • "You're on my mind."
  • "Sending good vibes."

None of these are wrong or harmful, but in real life, none of them really accomplish anything other than perhaps cheering up a friend or encouraging a downtrodden soul. This is why James said, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" Words, even kind and caring words, are no good without action.

When encouragement is needed, expressed thoughts may be the perfect solution. When change is necessary, thoughts are not enough.

But thoughts and prayers are not the same thing.


The reason we pray is precisely because we know we are incapable of accomplishing what needs to be done yet we trust that God is more than capable and has already promised to always accomplish what needs to be done.

We pray for those who have been hurt because we know God can bring comfort and sustain them through their pain. We pray for those who have done the hurting because we know God can forgive them and change their hearts. We pray for those must find solutions because we know God can grant them the wisdom and discernment necessary to lead us well. We pray for those with whom we disagree because we know God can empower us to listen and find unity in our action.

Thoughts, on their own, will never accomplish anything.
Prayer is all that is needed to accomplish everything.

In recent days, we have all heard it said, "thoughts and prayers are not enough." More often than not, this is in regards to gun violence. While this clever and memorable sound-bite sounds convincing, it is actually misleading, harmful and deeply pagan. Although one might expect this to be the mantra of an activist atheist, these words should never pass the lips of a professing Christian.

Often in politics, a person can be discredited not by anything they have said or done but because they are connected with someone else who has acted inappropriately. This is why many campaigns often try to link an opponent with a different nefarious character. Even though the politician may not deserve scorn or anger, their attachment (real or invented) to someone else can be an anchor that drowns their campaign.

This is precisely what has been done to prayer through the "thoughts and prayers" campaign.

We who follow Christ often send our thoughts to others (albeit always through words). We encourage one another, we build one another up, we let them know they are important to us. However, thoughts are very different than prayers. By allowing the social media universe to link "thoughts and prayers" to one another, the power of prayer has been lost to the inefficiency of thoughts.

Thoughts and prayers do not belong together. They are not the same.

It is a noble sentiment to express to someone that you are thinking of them. Your friends and family members are encouraged to know that they are on your mind. Yet, it is a far greater gift to bring those you love (and even those who don't love you) before the throne of God.

We can all agree that thoughts are not enough. How can someone who believes in God say prayer is not enough? The time has arrived for us to abandon "thoughts and prayers", not because they aren't enough but because prayer truly is more than enough!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

How Jesus Demonstrated Leadership To His Disciples

If you aren’t sure what I mean by Leadership E-Words, go back and see this post about what every leader MUST do.
A while back, I came across some verses in Mark that prompted me to think about how Jesus guided the spiritual development of his disciples. So I used the Leadership E-Words as a template and was able to very quickly identify how Jesus used similar concepts to prepare the disciples for ministry.
These are all from the first half of Mark. I think you could do this exercise even better if you used the book of Matthew. It might also be interesting to look for similar patterns in Acts. I have no intention of doing either (unless some LifeWay editor is reading this and thinks it might make an interesting book, then I would be willing to write more… otherwise, probably not)
Here we go:

Jesus established a direction for his ministry.

Of course it was more about just identifying and clarifying God’s direction for His ministry… but that’s what we should be doing as spiritual guides anyway.
Mark 1:15 – “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus explained to the disciples their role in the ministry’s direction.

Mark 1:17 – “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (aside: If you aren’t a fisher of men, are you sure you’re a follower of Jesus?)

Jesus equipped the disciples to accomplish their role.

Apparently, Jesus’ plan was two-fold. 1) Let the disciples/apostles hang around and 2) Send the disciples/apostles away. Mark 3:14 – He appointed twelve—designating them apostles — that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach

Jesus enabled the disciples to be effective in their roles.

(an even better example of this step in in Matthew 28 and Acts 1, when Jesus gives the Holy Spirit as the ultimate enabler) Mark 6:8–11 – These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”

Jesus encouraged the disciples in their efforts.

Mark 6:30–32 – The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

Jesus evaluated their success and incompletions.

The two stories found in Matthew 6 (feeding the 5,000 and walking on the water) both serve as labs in which Jesus evaluated whether or not the disciples had learned from the job he had given them (going out and preaching). Unfortunately, they failed their evaluation. Fortunately, Mark has 16 chapters, so it isn’t over at the end of chapter 6. The final evaluation comes in Revelation!


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Friday, March 2, 2018

18 Absolutely Incontrovertible Laws of Leadership

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

Beyond these three components, you can glean many leadership principles from many leadership gurus. Because my starting point is the Bible, my leadership principles might be a little different. Here are 18 of them:

  1. Leadership does not replace the Holy Spirit
  2. Leadership is a gift, not a position
  3. Leadership can be nurtured, but not created
  4. Leadership is a team sport
  5. Leadership "principles" do not trump Scripture
  6. Leadership is important, but not indispensable
  7. Leadership is not "the greatest gift"
  8. Leadership requires patience
  9. Leadership requires humility
  10. Leadership requires discipline
  11. Leadership requires discernment
  12. Leadership is not pastoring
  13. Pastoring is not leadership
  14. Leadership is not a dynamic personality
  15. Leadership is "giving away"
  16. Leadership happens right now, not in the future
  17. Leadership requires holistic vision and thought
  18. Leadership requires comprehension of systems

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Thursday, February 22, 2018

My Four Week Preaching Template

I love crockpot cooking. Allowing the meal to sit in it's own juices for hours seems to heighten the flavor of every bite. I look for chances in life to add a crockpot mentality to my tasks. Taking the crockpot approach to sermon preparation allows me to let passages soak in my mind for several weeks before I present them. This means when I stand up to preach, the wrestling is done and the passage feels like an old friend.

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Most of my sermons take four weeks to prepare. That doesn't mean I'm working on one sermon for four weeks, but that every week I'm working on four sermons. Each week I have a specific goal to accomplish for each sermon:

Week One: I need to understand what the text says. I have two study sessions set aside during week one in which I devote my efforts to exegeting the text.

Week Two: I need to determine how this text applies to our church community. During week two, I work through several exercises to help me look at the passage from several different angles. The fruit of week two is several short "next step" ideas.

Week Three: I need to discern the most effective method for communicating the truths I've unpacked. As in week two, I've created several exercises which help me consider a variety of possibilities for my sermon presentation. The goal of week three is not to create or find new content, but to arrange the content I've already discovered.

Week Four: I need to get ready to preach. Throughout this week, I have several tasks to accomplish so that Sunday's sermon will be clear and concise. I also use week four to create a variety of follow-up materials for those who desire to go further with the sermon.

You can download the google doc template I use to work through my planning process at the link below:

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Different sermons lend themselves to different processes, so I may deviate from this template from time to time, but it is my starting point for every sermon. I'll post later about some of the exercises I use each week, but you can see them all listed at the template link above.

If you have questions or would like to chat more about this template, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Immigration and School Shootings Are Not Problems That Cannot Be Solved

Most problems require more than one solution because it is the complexity of the situation that has made a problem. Most problems have a presenting and immediate symptom, a long-term pattern which is unhealthy and a mess that needs to be cleaned up.
Over the next few paragraphs I’m going to tease out the three steps needed to solve most problem and then I’ll demonstrate how these three steps should be used to solve some of our countries most “unsolvable” problems. Finally, I’ll share some thoughts on why our elected officials often seem unwilling to address these difficult issues. This is a long post, but I think it will give you some mental beef jerky on which to chew if you make it to the end.


Imagine your boat is sinking. While you may decide it’s time for a new boat and you may realize a need for boating lessons so you can stop running into rocks, neither of these problems are urgent and immediate. In the moment, you need to start bailing water and patch the whole causing you to sink. The reason most problems never get solved is because people are too concerned with long-term fixes or too worried about past causes and they never deal with the present emergency. Before anything else, solve the urgent and immediate problem.


Once you’ve gotten your boat safely to shore, it’s time to start thinking about why your boat sank? Have you been lax in your care and inspection? Have you run aground too many times? Although you’ve solved the initial problem, you must know address the negative patterns in your boating life or else the original problem will return. Too often we find ourselves in a cyclical pattern of defeat because we solve the problem in front of us but never address the habits and patterns which caused that problem.


Having fixed your boating issues, you need to inspect your boat to make sure there is no long-term damage from your near-sink experience. When we make a mess of things, a little time spent cleaning up can go a long way to a much smoother future.


Allow me to briefly suggest one example of the three step problem-solving method which could help us address our countries immigration struggles.


Simply put, we need to ensure that the people who are entering our country are the people who should be entering our country AND the people who shouldn’t be entering our country are not entering our country. A wall might be one solution to this problem (it is likely more symbolic of a new commitment to security than it is a foolproof solution). The point is that before any discussion about deportations or future policy happens, the first problem needs to be solved which is to open the doors to the right people and close the doors to the wrong people.


Here is where policy debates should happen. We should have wide discussions about what immigration should look like in the future and we should have reasoned debates about how immigration should be carried out. However, these conversations should be saved until after the urgent and immediate problem is solved.


Once policy is clear and the future has been decided, we can begin talking about how to deal with those who are already here illegally. Having this conversation before the first two steps only ensures we’ll be addressing the same issues again in 10–20 years.


I vividly remember Columbine. Marianne and I were getting ready for a sports banquet for her cheerleaders as we watched that horrific event unfold on television. It’s hard to believe that was almost 30 years ago and we haven’t figured out how to stop these shootings. Here’s my suggestion.


Simply put, we need to keep evil people from entering schools with guns. Before we talk about anything else, our first conversation should be about how to secure our schools so those who wish to do ill cannot even get in. This might mean walls or fences, it might mean modifying entrances and exits and it might mean more armed security guards. Right now, the only problem we should be trying to solve is how to protect our students.


Once we’ve secured the schools, we should address the systemic issues involved. We can then discuss background checks, improving mental health care, gun purchasing policies and any other contributing issues. We must realize, though, that these are all long term solutions and will not protect students today or tomorrow. I might also suggest looking at more severe punishments for those who commit crimes with guns.


I’m not sure what the extent of the mess is in this situation. Certainly we need to deal with the huge amount of illegal firearms in our country. Once we’ve solved the initial problems, we can figure it out.


Columbine happened in 1999. Bill Clinton was the sitting president. SInce then, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have served 8 year terms. Donald Trump has been president for a little over a year. None of them solved this problem. There have been 9 midterm elections in which an entire new House of Representatives has been voted in, none of them have solved this problem. Every seat in the Senate (100) has turned over at least once, half of them twice since then. None of them have solved this problem.
Our leaders don’t solve these problems for two reasons (there are more, but this is getting long).


You’ve heard the term. We need “comprehensive health care reform.” We need “comprehensive immigration reform.” We need “comprehensive gun reform.” Comprehensive reform really means, “Unless we can solve every problem related to this issue, we aren’t going to address any of them.” It is also code for “I’m pretending to work on this so you’ll keep voting for me, but I’m not really going to do anything.”
Comprehensive reform never happens because it is impossible. The three-step solution I’ve outlined here is not rocket-science, but it requires difficult decisions that won’t make everyone happy. Your elected officials would rather twiddle their thumbs and work on comprehensive reform than make unpopular decisions that actually lead to solutions.


Our nation is a melting pot. That means lots of people have lots of ideas and not all of them are the same. The constitution was written because those men were willing to compromise. They all realized that they’d all have to give some things up so that they could all have something good.
We all make these kinds of decisions every day. I don’t spend money on a new book, because I’m saving it for vacation. I’d like to have the book, but I want vacation more. Sometimes I go shopping with my wife, not because I like shopping but because I love my wife. I am happy to give up my preference to avoid Ulta if it means the benefit of being with her.
Our leaders don’t compromise… ever. If they would be willing to get together, find the solutions on which they all agree and then decide on solutions with which they may not agree but might work, we could solve these problems and more in an unbelievably short amount of time.


Yup. Start modeling in your own conversations, the behaviour you want from Washington. 
Instead of arguing to convince others to think just like you, listen to others to determine how you can find common ground.
Instead of posting memes on social media (these do nothing to promote solutions and everything to promote division), ask questions and suggest solutions.
Instead of voting for those who will “hold the line” at all costs, vote for those who are willing to give up a little to get a lot more.
That’s all I have to say about that… and it was probably too much.