Monday, November 4

Why We Fail

You have head it and I have heard it. Time and time again: You have tried and I have tried and we both fail. So much so that the next time, we don’t really even attempt. I am talking about the challenges we get from so many churches today. You know, after the three points and after the blanks are all filled in, there is the big “take-home challenge”, The “what to do”, the “how to live it out”, the “this week” or “next 40 or 90 days” and on and on. Really though, we have no reason to fail: we have just been showed where the Bible tells us to do it, we were told how Jesus or the other Bible characters did it and if they did it, surly we can. But we fail, I fail.

So why do we fail? In my opinion, we fail because we cannot succeed. Now, I know that sounds like a “duhh” statement but think about it for a minute. We cannot succeed in living a life that is pleasing to God. If we could do it, do you really think God would have sent Jesus to die for my sins? Our sins? If there was any other way, don’t you think that our creator would have taken that way. It is through the perfect life of Christ, his death and his resurrection that our failures are wiped away. Not through my success (or lack of) in meeting a challenge. 

Now don’t take this as a free pass to live a life of foolish choices and stupidity. But also don’t just try to live better because myself or some pastor told you to. You try to live a life pleasing to God out of sheer gratefulness for what Jesus did for us on the cross! But know that you will mess up and know that His grace is still sufficient! 

But also know that Jesus didn’t leave you here to fail. And unfortunately, with 3 solid points, an acronym or two and 3 to 5 blanks, there isn’t enough time in Sundays message for this part: Jesus gave you everything you need to succeed: The Holy Spirit. It’s truly sad that Jesus’ work on the cross isn’t talked about in a service every now and then, but the Holy Spirit gets no love in a lot of church messages (except for the charismatics!). See we were left with a helper, The Helper! We sing about him when we quote from Zechariah 4:6 ….’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. But we don’t share it in our challenges. Look, it is God’s will that you live a life pleasing to Him. Don’t you think He wants you to succeed at that? Every good and perfect gift is from above and the Holy Spirit is a good and perfect gift!. Instead we tend to convince you that we are right and you should meet the challenge because of that. We word it in cleaver ways so you can remember it, heck sometimes we say what God said SO MUCH BETTER than when he said it (Ok that was a little sarcastic but just listen sometimes.), we use creative visuals, movie clips and images. And it works, you and I walk out saying: “I’m gonna do it this time!” And we leave the Helper out completely and we fail. When will we learn to lean on Him? When will we accept the entire gift that God gave us? I don’t know about you but I am tired of trying to do something on my own that I was never meant to do on my own! My might is not enough and my power is weak, but by His spirit! 2 Corinthians 2:4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Jesus was and is the greatest thing to ever happen on this planet but even he said that it’s best if he leaves because something else is coming:

John 16:5 “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.
12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.

I am not knocking on any challenges you are given at any church. I repeat: the challenges are good! We should try to live better, we should be growing in spiritual maturity and we should repent of our sins. But what I want you to know is this: weather or not the challenge is offered with the assurance that we have a great Helper to get us through it, WE DO have just that: A great Helper, the Holy Spirit, to get us through it. So take the challenges but lean on the one who can and does succeed.

If we could have done it on our own, we wouldn’t need the Cross.
If we could do it on our own, we would not need the Holy Spirit.

So next time you think you cannot do it on your are right, you cannot do it on your own and you don't have to!

Monday, September 2

They all got it wrong!

I have noticed a trend in the social network arena. This is not a new trend and it most definitely is not limited to Facebook and Twitter. What is this trend you ask? Well, I am so glad you asked because I am about to answer: the trend is people feeling the need to find their identity in their relationships. It seems that people don’t feel complete or even relevant if they do not have a person to call their own. We seem to think that a significant other is all we need to be happy, to be complete, to be who we were meant to be. 

Disclaimer: Now being married to an amazing wife for 19+ years, you may be thinking: “What does HE know about being alone?” Well as of right now, I was alone longer than I have been married. And Don’t get me wrong, I love having my bride at my side and would not want it any other way but we cannot limit our identity to our relational status.

I think a part of the problem is what we have been fed. I am not talking about our food, I am talking about our other great intake: TV, Music and Movies. I am not going to tear them apart as some “Christians” do, I love entertainment! Just last night I went to a double feature and I enjoyed it. But when this intake starts to mold our core beliefs, I start to worry.

So here is the problem: The fairy tales messed up! The fairy tales got it all wrong. Our little girls and boys are watching them and idealizing these stories based on one major misconception: “And they lived happily ever after”. They base the whole movie on its climatic ending where the princess gets her valiant prince and they take the throne. As awesome is this happy ending is, it seems to teach us that we are not complete until our prince charming shows up and saves the day. See we forget one important thing in almost all of these movies/stories: The princess’/prince’s identity is not found in the end after the dragon has been slain and the evil witch has been conquered, NO! The princess’/prince’s identity is found in who their father is! See Snow white, Sleeping Beauty, Prince Charming and the rest, were BORN with their identity in place because of the family they were born into. Somehow we have changed that to them not being complete until the princess is united with her knight in shining armor.

So naturally we have all learned to look for our happy ending, our ride out into the sunset on our white horse with our princess/prince at our side. We want the happy ending but I fear it is because we have forgotten about our “Happy Beginning”.

Let me tell you right here and right now that:
You are not who you are because of who is at your side! 
You are who you are because of the One who died!

Lets see how Christ sees you (Who you are!):
1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Lets see who your Father is:
Romans 8:14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Lets see what your identity is:
Galatians 4:7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Lets see who your family is:
Romans 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

To the Cinderella who feels like a slave, you are a daughter of the KING! 
To the Snow White who feels forced into servanthood, you are a princess of the GOD!
To the Sleeping Beauty who feels dead and un-useful, you are alive in Christ!
To the warrior looking to be knighted for slaying the dragon, you are already in the LORDS army!
To the Beast looking for true love before the last pedal drops, True love died in your place and finds you perfect when His (Jesus) blood dropped!

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

What the fairy tales got wrong, God got right!
Stop looking for your happy ending and lean on your happy beginning!!!

If you want to know more or have clarity, message me and I will be glad to talk to you, after all, I would love to spend time with such royalty as you!!!!

And no, dating is not bad….until you are defined by it.

Thanks to Kyle Idelman and Chris Hopkins for the thought. 

Saturday, August 31

Barrel of Monkeys

Barrel of monkeys

Ok, so I don’t really remember having and playing with the “Monkeys” when I was a kid. I am sure at one point or another: I had a set. I am sure I never knew there was a game you played with them and I am equally sure that there is just something fun about  the very sight of these little plastic hook armed chimps!

For whatever reason, the other day I was thinking about leadership and these monkeys, linked together by the arms, came to mind. I think they say a lot about leadership and couldn’t get the thought out of my mind. So I trekked across town and into the toy store, I had to have a barrel of monkeys! Low and behold there they hung-right on the end of the isle front and center as if calling my name. Now I had to choose a color. Ok course I walked out with a red set and the receipt. Now as an owner of a brand new set of monkeys, I saw on the label “Instructions on bottom of barrel”. Was I the only one that didn’t know this was a game and not just a goofy toy? 
Well I just had to play it. My opponent would be Sheila (who I am sure owned monkeys as a kid). I thought I would be cleaver and let her go first so I could watch her monkey hooking technique….I was wrong! She hooked all 15 in a long chain of monkeys without dropping one! So now it’s my turn to be the hook master! I choose my lead monkey carefully-picking one that would be hard to hook with another. Now for my very first (possibly ever!) hook! And I dropped it! I couldn’t hook the very first one! Sheila beat me fair and square! Sheila is the monkey master and I am the 46 year old fool who just bought a barrel of monkeys only to be beat by my wife!

So Just what do these monkeys have to do with leadership? Well the top monkey is the boss or the leader and the rest are the team being lead. There is work to do: get more monkeys on board without dropping them! A successful leader team is one where all of them are strung together and hanging safely by the leader. Here are some observations I saw:

The leader carries more weight than the rest. The burden is on that top monkey! Try to sympathize with them and their weight.

All of the monkeys have a smile on their face. At the end of the day, is your team happy? Even in adversary or differences, a good leader, who responds well, will have a happy team of monkeys!

The team is able to handle the weight on each of them. While the leader does hold all of the weight, each team member has a job to do and a weight to hold. If you cannot handle the weight, move to the bottom of the monkey chain and work your way back up!

The Leader/team is boring and no fun as long as it is in the barrel. Get out of the barrel and do what you were made to do!

Each monkey has a lead arm and a load arm. I think every part of a team has a lead role and a follow role to play. What areas are you leading and what areas are you following?
A good leader uses his entire team and understand each of their positions. Sheila got the feel of how the monkeys responded to her movement and the role that each of the played. She used this to her advantage and won!

All it takes is one not doing its job for the rest to suffer. One monkey not hooked right or hooking right will cost the whole team. Are you doing your job? Is your team working with their strengths? 

How can you, where ever you are in the chain, help the rest of the team?How can you support your leader? Are you the leader? Are you handling the weight?

I know this is just a kids toy but I think the chain of monkeys holds a lot of truth to the way leadership works. Don’t be afraid to reach out and take someone along with you and help them take someone along with them.

All in all, we are all just a bunch of monkeys trying to hold on and hang on!

Disclaimer: This isn't leadership in it's entirety, just one aspect of it.

Wednesday, August 14

A possibility as to why we flee:

I have worked in children’s church for close to 20 years. On some Easter messages, I would get a live lamb as a visual in church. We would head out to a farm and pick one, then the shepherd would go in and get it. First of all, this experience was very humbling.  See to represent the sacrificial lamb, we had to pick a spotless one without fault. Now this farm had hundreds and hundreds of sheep. You would think, that out of that many, a perfect one should be easy to fine: nope. The shepherd would finally catch one and bring it to me and I would tell him that that one wasn’t good enough or right and I would ask him to get another. This gave me some insight on what it must have been like before Jesus. It also taught me that perfection is something to be highly valued. It was these lambs that you wanted to breed and grow a better flock. So to give up the good ones was hard and costly. But this really isn’t my point. 

Something even more interesting I learned was that as the shepherd, the man who raised these sheep from birth, the man who fed them every day, the man who protected them, as this man stepped into the fence the sheep did something interesting: they fled away from him. Which ever way the farmer went, the sheep would go the other way. At first I thought the poor guy would never catch my needed sheep but the farmer was smart. He would move one way to get the sheep to go the other way (the way he wanted them to go). If he needed them to the left, he would go to the right. He would pick a corner to trap them in and then move in to grab the sheep. Now I had no reason to think the sheep would act different...or did I?

John 10:2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

I want to point out a few things in the passage:
First: “the sheep listen to his voice”, now these sheep I am talking about did not listen. As a matter of fact, the farmer used his voice to run the sheep where he wanted them to go. But with Jesus or a “good shepherd” the sheep listen to his voice, not run from it.

Second: The shepherd “leads them”. I think that a good shepherd will know how to lead and not chase, trick or trap the sheep to get them where they need to be. 

Third: “he goes on ahead of them”,  this is probably the first clue to the real life problem that this shepherd had AND many churches have with the leaders or shepherds. When “he goes on ahead of them”, I see several things: he is exposing himself to whatever dangers they may come to, then he is also between the sheep and the potential threat. I also see a good shepherd not leading his sheep anywhere he himself is not going! Notice I didn’t say “willing to go” but going. When you “go out ahead of them”, you are going there first! Anyone would say they are willing but do they go out ahead?

And lastly: “his sheep follow”, These sheep did not follow. they fled. But here Jesus says they will follow! Now I know that our pastors today are not Jesus and cannot be expected to be Jesus but I do see a problem with the church today: people are fleeing away. Now most of them are fleeing towards other flocks (other churches) but rest assured: they are fleeing. It’s been found that 83% of first time church visitors are from another church. You have probably done this too, it’s ok. But you do have to figure out if the problem was with you the sheep or with the shepherd.

Questions to ask:
Do you listen to his voice? Before I get into this first question, never take your faith solely from the mouth of any one man other that Jesus and His Word! Always write down the passages and look them up! If information comes from outside of this, don’t be afraid to ask for the reference and look it up! All of that being said and assuming the Word is being preached, are you listening? and by listening I mean listening and obeying? Or are you resisting what is being said? Do you lean into the messages or are you pulling away? Are you accepting the challenges or rejecting them? Because if you believe the Word is being preached and have checked and still resist, you are not just fleeing the church but also God. Repent now!

Are you being led by your shepherd? Are you drawn in by the church leading you or are you being tricked into the corner? I find that when we experience the true gospel in others, we want to follow them. But too often the church plays another game: good coffee, fun music with a secular song thrown in every now and then, exciting lights and decorations. One thing you have to notice is that in John 10, Jesus never mentions using the sheep pin as a tool. The environment will not matter when there is a good shepherd. He didn’t say to clean up the pen, to paint the gates, put up better signs or give them better food in the trough. Nope everything here points to the good shepherd. It is important to have a good environment but that should not be the tool to get you there and keep you there. It’s all about where the healthy focus is. Is it on Jesus and reaching the lost? The sheep that is under a good shepherd will feel more like part of the family than it does part of the flock.

Is your shepherd going ahead of you? Do you see your church/leaders doing what it is asking you to do? Are they doing it ahead of you? The shepherd here did not join the flock, he led it and went out before it. We should see every challenge in full effect by a good shepherd before we are asked to meet it. We should see the love of Christ first in them. Are they preaching on humility? Are they humble? Honesty: are they honest, integrity…. Are they cutting the path for you? 

Know that the leaders today are human and the person speaking in John 10 is Jesus (God) and know that we humans will fail. I am not expecting a perfect pastor or leaders in all of this rant. That, I know I will never find. I am simply saying that this may be why so many people are fleeing instead of following.

Who is who: You are a shepherd if you lean someone (and you should). I am not talking about just pastors here but any shepherd. The shepherd in John 10 is clearly Jesus and while we are not The Good Shepherd, we are called to follow Jesus and do what he did. and he lead people and you are a sheep if you are following under someone (and you should).

Please don’t be offended that I call you sheep. Jesus did it first and it is an honor to be a sheep under a good shepherd! But as a sheep, are we following our pastors? Are we following our Good Shepherd: Jesus? If not, start now! 

As a pastor/leader are you a good shepherd? Are the sheep your true concern or is your job or your paycheck, your comfort or even your pride? Are the flock more apt to flee or follow? I find that a good shepherd needs no tricks or methods to get the sheep to listen. Being good is all.

John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 

That is a shepherd worth following! One more concerned with the flock than his own life (whether it be his safety, his comfort or his paycheck).

If you find that more people under you flee than follow, you also have to ask: is it bad sheep or am I a bad shepherd. Jesus has given us everything we need: The example of following him, the instruction in His word, the gifts and the power through the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work He has already set aside for you to do. Stop trying on your own and start leaning on the Son. 

Monday, July 22

The Trek Through the Woods

Years ago, Sheila’s Grandfather (a very huge man in every sense of the word) purchased a piece of property. He was very eager to show me the boundaries of this new property. I should add here that a good portion of this property was heavily wooded. I’m not just talking trees. I am talking trees, bushes, vines, briars and bamboo. It was thick. Grand-Dad marched into the uncut woods: no paths, no machete not even a stick to knock spiderwebs out of the way. Just this big man bulldozing through the brush. And he wasn’t taking his sweet time. He was plowing through the woods with me trailing behind: at the same pace he would if he was walking through the mall (not that you would have EVER gotten this man in a mall!). He seemed to be having no trouble at all. Me on the other hand: I was struggling to keep pace. Mosquitoes all over me, spider webs in my hair, limbs that he pushed through were slapping me like an offended Wal-Mart shopper. My arms and neck were being cut from sharp branches and briars. It was the hardest thing I have been through in a long time and it hurt. 

Why am I telling this story? Well if you follow my FB post, you know that I just finished a few books on discipleship: ‘Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman’ and ‘Follow Me by David Platt’. Both of these books talk about truly being a follower of Christ-not just the invitation but the warning that goes with it. As I reflect on the challenges of both of these books, I couldn’t help to remember this journey into the woods after this great man. See, we are called to follow and the path that Jesus took and it is not easy: It is rewarding but by no means easy. If you think it is, you’re probably doing it wrong. Well back to my story: This trek happened many many years ago, Grand-Dad has gone on to be with Jesus and we are left here missing him but after all this time, as I closed this second book I realized something about that walk: As hard as it was for me to follow, Grand-dad (like Jesus) had a much tougher job leading! See there is nowhere in following Jesus that he has not already been before you. If you are attacked by mosquitoes, he was first and probably more, if you got spider webs on you: you got what he left behind, if you got hit by limbs: he was hit first and had to push though them. See Grand-Dad made a path of sorts. While it wasn’t a clean path, it was way cleaner than when he went through ahead of me. This is the same with Christ. When He said his yoke was easy, it is because He has already been there before you and did the work. It is through Christ that I can succeed.

So whatever your struggles, whatever your burdens, if you are following after Jesus, he has made the journey easier by going before you. 

Thank you Grand-Dad for leading the way so many years ago. I’d have never made it through without you.
Thank you Jesus for leading the way every day. I'd never make it through without you.