Remember the Stream

Some days if we are all being honest we will admit that it’s difficult to feel grateful. Yet other times, we’re so moved filled with gratitude we can’t help but feel joy and optimism. These two very different emotions are usually based on circumstances.

But what if we intentionally choose to be grateful in spite of our circumstance?

Researchers describe gratitude as a personality strength: the ability to be keenly aware of the good things that happen and never take them for granted. It’s been shown that individuals who exhibit and express the most gratitude are happier, healthier and more energetic. Grateful people report fewer symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and they spend more time being active. Also, the more a person is inclined to feel grateful, the less likely they are to feel lonely, stressed, anxious and depressed.

All of that sounds great! But… easier said than done. Have you noticed that most things in life worth doing are not done easily? Teddy Roosevelt once said,

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. . . . I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.

It’s not easy to get a college degree. It’s not easy to develop and maintain a healthy marriage and friendships. It’s not easy to raise children. It’s not easy to keep that job and give your best day in and day out. It’s not always easy to be grateful.

Gratitude is a choice we all have the ability to make. Love is an act of the will. Joy is an act of the will. Peace is an act of the will. Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all choices we make in spite of the world around us and the feelings inside us. We see that all these choices are good and are choices we ought to make. Galatians 5:22-23 says,

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

We must choose to believe, even when doubts flood our soul. We must choose to give thanks, even when our heart doesn’t feel grateful. We must choose to worship, even when our voice doesn’t want to sing. We must choose to serve our Lord Jesus Christ, even when we would prefer to serve ourselves.

Joshua 24:15 says,

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

How about today, we choose to live out 1 Thessalonians 5:18,

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Regardless of what you face right now, choose to give thanks to the Lord for all He has done. Give thanks for His love that surpasses any and every circumstance. Psalm 106:1 says,

Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Gratitude unlocks the door to a heart of contentment, for contentment is never found in abundance alone. Contentment flows from the abundance of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11,

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

There’s an old Chinese Proverb that says,

When you drink from the stream, remember the spring.

We live in a country abounding in resources, prosperity, and freedom. And yet we also experience political divisiveness, violence, a slumbering church, and natural disasters such as the horrific fires in California leaving a wake of death and destruction.

What causes us to rise above the chaos and celebrate the blessings is to “remember the spring” from which we drink. Lets remember the spring of Christ’s love, sacrifice, and honor that granted us freedom from sin. Galatians 5:1 says,

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

John 4:14 says,

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

If you drink the water of life, remember the spring of His love that never runs dry. As has been said many times, “Freedom is never free.” Our national freedom came at the cost of many lives. Our spiritual freedom came at the cost of the life of One.

Colossians 2:13-15,

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

What are you grateful for today? Let us be grateful for the freedom we have in Christ. And if we drink from the stream of freedom, let us remember the spring from which that freedom flows.

Battleship or Cruise Ship?

How do you view your church? Is your church like a cruise ship or a battleship?

A Disney cruise is great, isn’t it? You enter a whole new world of fantasy and fun. A world centered around you and your experience while you are on the ship. You escape the demands and pressures of the real world, and for the time you are there you have no real obligations. Cruise ships are the mecca of consumerism where you are surrounded with food, shows, activities, pools, and entertainment. You don’t go on a cruise to contribute. In fact, you go to do the opposite. You go to consume. You don’t go on a cruise to make a difference, but instead to be impressed and “wowed.”

Unfortunately this is how many Christians approach church: to consume more than contribute, and to be impressed more than challenged.

Just recently my wife and I got to tour the USS Lexington that is off the coast of Corpus Christi. That thing is huge! It has a flight deck that is 910 feet long and is 196 feet wide! The carrier was commissioned in 1943, and it set more records than any other Essex Class carrier in the history of naval aviation. The ship was the oldest working carrier in the United States Navy when decommissioned in 1991. This carrier participated in nearly every major operation in the Pacific Theater od WWII and spent a total of 21 months in combat. The Japanese reported the USS Lexington sunk no less than four times! Yet, each time she returned to fight again, leading the Japanese to nickname her “The Blue Ghost.”

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But… what was amazing to me was touring the insides of the boat. The carrier housed roughly 3,000 sailors during WWII and the lower decks of the boat were like a city. It has eating and sleeping quarters, medical and dental facilities, a post office, chapel, etc… During the time this carrier was in service every soldier and sailor aboard the ship you would have a job. No exceptions. Every person on that carrier had a task to accomplish every single day.

I say all of that to make this point… many Christians view the church like a cruise ship more than a battle ship. On a cruise ship, the guests pay money for services, and the hired staff takes care of them. On a battle ship, those on board are commissioned, assigned specific tasks, equipped, and well trained, and when they enter into battle, everyone has a role, and they know what to do. We’ve lost the sense of the call to battle.

The church isn’t a cruise liner. A cruise is great for a vacation, but that’s not where you live life, raise your children, or find your greatest sense of fulfillment. Chocolate cake is nice as an occasional dessert, but if that’s all you eat, you start to feel unwell and malnourished. In the same way, if our Christian experience is just about consuming the productions that come from a stage or pulpit, we will become spiritually weak and malnourished.

It’s time to awaken our spirits to a revolution of the high demand of discipleship and servanthood. The church needs to be a battleship where we are preparing for, and engaging in, spiritual battles between ideas and worldviews, and where all of eternity hangs in the balance.  In Mark 8:35 Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. This is a high calling which requires the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and all of the spiritual tools we have been granted access to. In Ephesians 6:10-17 the Apostle Paul wrote,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

So, the next time you enter a church building, see it as a battleship, and notice how that changes your attitude and perspective of why you’re there.

An Unsustainable Pace

Today I was having a conversation with a college student in a grassy area outside the community college here in town. While we were conversing several children ran around playing tag and rolling in the grass. At first, it became annoying and distracting from the conversation that was taking place… but then a question began to nag in my mind. That question was: How are you doing with your playtime?

I couldn’t shake it? The question seemed silly! I’m an adult… I don’t “play.” But as I have thought about it all day the idea has started to unfold and I think there is an underlying importance within that simple question.

How are you doing with your playtime?

Not sure you should even have a playtime? Are you too grown up and mature for downtime, rest, and even… play? Well, maybe this is part of what you’re missing in life, and you like me are beginning to pay the price for the mindset of false productivity.

Research conducted by Dr. Stuart Brown, psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and founder of the National Institute for Play, reveals that a lack of downtime leads to lower work productivity, social isolation, and even depression. In “Dare to Lead” Brown says,

The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression

Through extensive studies, Dr. Brown and his institute have discovered that play increases empathy, creativity and innovation. It actually impacts our brain waves by creating a “cool down” from the frenetic pace of synapses permitting neurons to pass electrical or chemical signals to other neurons.

So in layman’s terms… if you want to be more productive at work, become intentional about cultivating play and sleep!

Dr. Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, puts it this way,

We have to let go of exhaustion, busyness, and productivity as status symbols and measures of self-worth. We are impressing no one.

Practically speaking, this means many of us need to make some lifestyle and mindset changes. We need to establish boundaries by shutting off email and social media at a set time in order to focus on our families and our spiritual and emotional health. We need to stop celebrating people who work eighty-hours per week and stop bragging about how we’re tethered to our work responsibilities, as though that somehow makes us important.

Are you living at an unsustainable pace? If so… you are opening yourself up to some dangerous side effects of depression, anxiety, and burnout. And you are continuing to feed a culture of workaholic competitiveness in which no one wins.

Jesus’ solution was simple. In Mark 6:31 He said,

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Go with Jesus. Find a quiet place. Get some rest for your own sake!

Sometimes I am woke up at night with the worries and schedule of tomorrow. Sometimes I can’t “shut off my brain” as I try to think through a problem at work or in my life… sometimes they are even problems I have created in my mind or things I have no control over! Sometimes I find the joy leaking out and depression and anxiety rushing in to take its place. When these things happen, I realize that my work place and life pace has overtaken my faith, and I need to go away with Jesus, find a quiet place, and get some rest. And sometimes that even includes… play.

Leading or Telling?

How many of us have ever had to speak to a travel agent to get some information on an upcoming trip? You sit in their office, they tell you about places they themselves haven’t been, they show you a bunch of brochures, and they describe the wonderful packages they could put together and how much they would cost you.

One time while on vacation in Arizona with my family we took a guided jeep tour. Our guide met us with the jeep, gave us useful information about the area, and then drove us through the streets, back roads, and mountains of beautiful Sedona. He didn’t just sit in an office and describe the scenery; he drove us through to see the scenery himself!

Travel agents give us information. Tour guides lead us to a destination.

Spiritually speaking, which of those two has helped you grow the most? The agent who tells you what to do, or the guide who shows you what to do? As a pastor, one of my main concerns is that I tell people how to grow spiritually more than show them how to grow spiritually, and I believe many Christians sit back and do the same.

In your Christian life, you can be a spiritual travel agent or a spiritual tour guide. Travel agents sit in climate-controlled buildings and tell people where to go, how to get there, and what to do when they arrive. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. Doesn’t that sound a whole lot like the modern way we do church? Tour guides lace up their shoes and trek alongside you. It’s definitely not always comfortable. It can be risky and messy, but ultimately very rewarding.

Heather Zempel author of Big Change Small Groups puts it this way,

We can’t just talk about prayer . . . we’ve got to do it with people. We can’t just complete a workbook on serving our community; we’ve got to get out there and do it. We can’t just explain to someone, we’ve got to do it alongside them.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 the Apostle Paul wrote,

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

Do you live your life in such a way that you want others to follow? Are you committed to following Christ, so that others can follow you?

The way I learned how to ride a bike was my dad showing me. The way I learned how to pray was by my parents modeling it for me. The way I learned to preach was not just by reading books on homiletics but by actually preaching and having teachers help guide me.

Don’t be a travel agent Christian who just sits in a church building and tells people what to do. Be a tour-guide Christian who walks with others and shows people what to do!

Let’s follow the lead of the greatest Tour Guide who ever lived when he said in John 13:15,

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Lets get up off the pew, exit the building, and get to guiding!

A Bridge to Nowhere

What do you do with a bridge when the river moves and it is no longer effective?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a photo of a bridge in Honduras. The bridge spanned the Choluteca River. The new Choluteca Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Rising Sun, was built by Hazama Ando Corporation between 1996 to 1998 and became the largest bridge constructed by a Japanese company in Latin America. This bridge, which was a gift from Japan to the people of Honduras, was constructed of concrete and steel using modern engineering and construction. It was built to last, and a lot of money was invested in the project.

In late October 1998, the same year the bridge was completed and commissioned for use, Hurricane Mitch struck Central America leaving more than 11,000 people dead, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and causing more than $5 billion in damages. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years.

Hurricane Mitch began as a tropical depression on October 22, and by October 26 had intensified into a Category 5 hurricane. Sustained winds reached 180 mph, while gusts were more than 200 mph. After making landfall in Honduras on October 29, Hurricane Mitch moved through Central America before reaching Florida as a tropical storm on November 4th, 1998.

Mitch was an especially destructive storm; it slammed into the country of Honduras and ended up dumping over six feet of rain in less than four days. Honduras and Nicaragua were especially hard hit by the hurricane. In Honduras, floods and mudslides brought on by heavy rainfall washed away entire villages, and the majority of the country’s crops and infrastructure were destroyed. The other Central American nations were also affected by Hurricane Mitch, although the death tolls in these locations were significantly lower than Honduras and Nicaragua.

In total, more than 11,000 people (some estimates put the figure as high as 18,000) died because of the hurricane, making Mitch the most deadly storm in the Western Hemisphere since the Great Hurricane of 1780 in the Eastern Caribbean. Additionally, several million people were made homeless or severely impacted by Hurricane Mitch, which is estimated to have caused more than $5 billion in damages.

The Bridge of the Rising Sun spanning the Choluteca managed to survive the devastating destruction of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the more than six feet of water that it dumped on Honduras as it camped out and intensified over them for several days.

However, the tragic results lie not in the construction of the bridge but in the nature of rivers. Rivers move. Alas, after a deluge of rain and flooding, the river jumped its banks and carved a new channel in which to flow through.

Rivers move… bridges do not.

 

choluteca-bridge.jpg

 

This is especially true of ones built with steel and concrete. In the process, the flood washed away the roads and ramps that connected to the bridge making the once functional bridge into a bridge to nowhere. This edifice of sound engineering found itself no longer over the river. It could no longer serve its original purpose.

What do you do when the river moves?

This story can be used as an illustration for the church today. It is almost like a modern day parable with relevance to our current situation. For many of us… christians, pastors, and churches the river has moved.

As is the case with any successful institution, the church was built with the best social and religious engineering available at the time: as a robust and hardy structure designed to be effective and to last. A lot of time, energy, sweat, and money has been previously invested. In fact, there has been generations of investment, and it has served as a bridge for many to move from death to life. Our design, methods, and ideas have spanned the river… when the river was in the right place.

But… unfortunately society has changed. The result is that what used to be true has jumped the old banks where the church had constructed itself. And now, the church is left with a well-built bridge: a bridge of pews, brick and stone and stained glass; a bridge of doctrine, dress code, residential schools, prayer books, organ music, etc.

And the river is no longer where it should be.

None of our previous methods, techniques, and bridges of the past are bad… they just are no longer spanning the river. Our bridges are ineffective structures. They may be nice to look at, we might have fond memories of how they used to work, but ultimately they are no longer serving the purpose of which they were once intended. This brings up options for how to respond to this new situation.

Can we dredge the river back in place? Can we find enough excavators to dig the river back into its rightful channel? How do we move a river? Maybe it will find its way back under our bridge if we are patient? Or do we find another way?

Might we accept the reality and power of the river? It has moved and it isn’t coming back.

Do we begin to reconsider a new bridge? Can we creatively consider spanning the river with lighter and flexible materials: materials able to be adjusted to moving rivers and changing circumstances?

What do we do when the river starts to move?

Gathering Sticks

Throughout history few leaders have accomplished as much as the apostle Paul, yet he endured an astonishing number of traumatic events: imprisonment, beatings, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, and many other forms of suffering. 2 Corinthians 11:25 is a small example of the things Paul himself went through. It says,

Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea.

In Acts chapter 27, Luke tells about one of those shipwrecks and includes dramatic details about a terrifying storm at sea that ultimately broke the ship Paul was sailing upon apart. In the aftermath of the shipwreck, Paul and his fellow passengers scrambled for safety onto the shore of an island called Malta. In Acts 28:2 Luke recalls,

The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.

Remember what happened next? Verses 3-7 continue by saying,

When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

It’s a minor point, but notice: Paul was a leader who was willing to pick up sticks!

Paul didn’t sit on the sidelines and say, “Someone needs to build a fire. I’m an apostle, a man of God, not a stick-gatherer. You guys go gather sticks while I sit and watch.” Paul didn’t consider the menial task of gathering firewood beneath his dignity. He didn’t excuse his own inaction by saying, “Look, I’ve got more important things to do! I have sermons to prepare and letters to write.” He simply saw a need and pitched in to help build the fire. Paul saw himself as an example, not an exception. He saw himself as a coworker, not a superstar or privileged individual demanding special treatment.

Paul also didn’t use his past and the circumstances he had endured to limit his actions. Paul didn’t view himself as too educated, too undereducated, too important, or too busy to handle the task at hand.

Paul went beyond his “job description” to see that the task got done.

In Scripture Jesus unleashed some of his harshest criticism on leaders who did “not practice what they preach.” We see this in Matthew 23:2-4,

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

These hypocritical leaders were professors, but they were not practitioners.

Ask yourself: Are you a professor or a practitioner?

We call teachers who serve on a college faculty “professors” because of their ability to pass along knowledge and expertise to others. More broadly, “professor” refers to anyone who professes opinions and beliefs in a way that instructs others. In this sense, all Christians are professors, for we all have God’s good news message to share and teach. But… it’s not enough to profess faith without practicing it! This is true for all Believers, but this is especially true for those who accept the responsibilities of church leadership.

Jesus calls leaders to service, not self-glorification. Godly leaders shouldn’t aspire for impressive titles, positions, or the honor of man. Jesus insists, in Matthew 23:11

The greatest among you shall be your servant.

Hear this: if someone can’t be trusted with little things (like gathering firewood), why should anyone trust him with big things (like leading a congregation)?

Now each of us should ask ourselves… are our hands dirty? Can people trust us to see through even the menial tasks?

Of course, church leaders must use their time and abilities wisely, and sometimes they must let others wait on tables while they devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:3-4 says,

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

But the point is, faithful leaders don’t shy away from hard work. They put their hands and efforts to the task along with the rest of God’s people. Effective leaders are willing to get their hands dirty, and when the need arises, they venture out into the woods and pick up sticks.

 

Jesus in the Preparation

My wife is currently in Medical school. For those who don’t know, it can take more than nine years of study to become a doctor. That’s 9 years after your undergraduate four-year degree is complete! She sure is braver than I am!

But… even after so many years of study, practice, learning, and shadowing other doctors they still don’t become experts on everything. They have particular areas of emphasis where they are experts, and other areas where they only know enough to scratch the surface and refer to the expert in that field of medicine. Yet, every single drawn out moment of preparation for that role in saving lives and curing diseases counts.

It’s the same with ministry. When we hear the call of God to go into ministry, we can often burst out of the gate wanting to get through the training process as fast as possible. Let’s get these training wheels off and get on with the race! But, good preparation is essential for lifelong impact in the call of God.

It’s easy to read the Gospel stories and think that Jesus suddenly appeared on the scene and started doing his thing. It is likely, however, that Jesus didn’t begin his ministry until he was in his late 20s early 30s.

What did he do for those thirty years? He prepared.

Going to the synagogue, studying the Torah, reading the scriptures, praying, working at his carpentry trade. During that time, he probably gathered stories about mustard seeds, lost sons, and wicked tenants. He probably watched and studied the way the Roman Empire exerted its power on the local Jewish communities, regulating their lives through taxes and military force.

Above all, he waited for the appointed time, the right time. Even though he was waiting, he didn’t stop preparing. He was preparing for the moment when his waiting would end.

Just as Jesus is in the waiting, so also Jesus is in the preparation.

What is your mission? How have you prepared? Is now the appointed time?

God is for Me

Have you ever had a buddy lead you into a fight with the confidence that they were going to be there to back you up if things went south? How did that turn out? Unless you flipped the switch into “Macho Man” Randy Savage mode you probably got roughed up pretty good.

Too many times someone has tried to encourage me by saying, “Don’t worry! I am here for you.” Likewise, too many times that very same person is nowhere to be found when things actually go down.

I do not put too much confidence in such a statement coming from a mortal man. Why? Because every mortal man is fully capable and gifted in the art of not “coming through.” Most men don’t make that statement with the intentions of letting the other person down… but men can change along with circumstances and situation.

However, I trust that very same statement from God.

Romans 8:31 says,

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

So… if I don’t trust that statement from man then what makes it any different coming from God? God alone is unchangeable; therefore, I want to make certain that God is for me. We have great reason for confidence in God for our salvation. What is that reason? God is for us!

But I do think that too often, we can apply that verse a little too quickly, without digging deep into what it really means. We correctly use it as a spiritual weapon, but without understanding how to properly deploy it, kind of like using a rifle as a club. We associate the verse with the blessing hiding right around the corner, instead of the victory on the other side of the battle.

We celebrate the victory before fighting the battle.

Yes, there will still be battles! Yes, you will still have to fight! But we fight alongside the Almighty God! It’s true that if God is for us, nothing can stand against us. But it’s also true that if God is for us, a whole lot of things can, and will, be against us. The enemy is directly opposed to the power of God displayed in and through us.

In Ephesians 6:10-18 Paul writes,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. 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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 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 saints.

If there were no fight ahead then why do we need armor and weapons of war?

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Therefore, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the whole armor of God and take your stand against the devil’s scheme. Fight the good fight against all defeated enemies and spiritual forces of evil. Pray in the Spirit and stand firm. Fight, and stand in victory.

So… what will stand against us? Everything.

Throughout our lives, many things will stand against us. Right now, I’ve got a lengthy list of things causing distress in my life, including but not limited to:

  • Lingering sickness and health issues
  • My wife’s Medical School loans
  • A work list that never gets smaller

I pray about these things a lot. Pretty much every day… and they don’t seem to be going anywhere. They are still here and I am still fighting the fight.

So what gives? I thought God was for me. What about all those angel armies that Chris Tomlin sings about?

It’s not like I’m the only one. Every Christian I know finds themselves in the same place, beset by trials, enemies, weird health problems, financial hardship, and a lot more. This also seems to be the story throughout Scripture. If Jesus had things stand against Him to the point of execution on a cross, then maybe this verse is a little deeper than it seems on the surface.

We have many enemies, but they are all finite creatures. No power can prevail against the infinite God, who has purposed to save us. Who can resist him? What about the devil and demons? God in Christ has defeated the devil on the cross and liberated us from his clutches. The stronger one, Jesus Christ, defeated the strong one, the devil, and has set us free.

What about the world? In John 16:33 Jesus said,

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Rejoice! The world of Pharaohs and Caesars and dictators and presidents cannot harm us. Jesus Christ has defeated them all.

What about the apostate church? Again, the answer is, no. It cannot harm us. Why is that? In Colossians 2:14-15 Paul writes,

Having canceled the debt ascribed to us in the decrees that stood against us. He took it away, nailing it to the cross! And having disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

What about the flesh, that sin still dwells in us? Yes, it is against us, but it is not the only thing in us. God’s Holy Spirit is also in us! Too often we forget that! We have the Sprit of the living God dwelling inside us! He is the Spirit of holiness who gives us victory over sin! Therefore, sin cannot have dominion over us. We are not under sin, law, or death.

Is there any power equal or above God’s power? No! Therefore, if God is for us, who can be against us? The Scriptures emphasize this point throughout.

Jesus Christ by his death has defeated all our enemies and his enemies.

Jesus is still waging war against all our defeated enemies, and it is His business to fight such a war. In Psalm 110:1 the psalmist declares,

The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’

In 1 Corinthians 15:25-27 Paul writes,

Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The battles may come and the enemies may rise up, but I don’t need to solve the problem alone. The Holy Spirit himself intercedes on my behalf. What a beautiful thing. The Spirit comes to the Father on my behalf, but unlike me, the Spirit knows exactly what I need. He’ll never pray the wrong thing. The Spirit will ask God to give me what I need and God will always give it to me. Romans 8:26 says,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

The whole world may stand against me, but it can’t destroy me because the Holy Spirit is interceding for me.

Though I may be buffeted by a hurricane of pain, strife, sorrow, temptation, and spiritual attack, God calmly controls every gust of that hurricane. He is orchestrating all things for my good and his purpose, strategically using this trial to build my trust in him, this relationship to increase my joy, and this hurdle to hurdle to give me a deep experience of his love for me.

No matter what stands against me, it can’t thwart God’s purpose. From start to finish, first breath to last, cradle to grave, I’m his. Come hell, high water, or the apocalypse, nothing can stand against me.

I enjoy singing songs that reflect on God’s faithfulness and promises to remind me in times of battle that God is for me and with me. If you are like me there are times you need a reminder that he is God and you aren’t and His timing is much more deliberate than yours. One of those songs goes:

Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet
Waiting for change to come
Knowing the battle’s won
For You have never failed me yet

Your promise still stands
Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness
I’m still in Your hands
This is my confidence, You’ve never failed me yet

I know the night won’t last
Your Word will come to pass
My heart will sing Your praise again
Jesus, You’re still enough
Keep me within Your love
My heart will sing Your praise again

I’ve seen You move, come move the mountains
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again
You made a way, where there was no way
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again

Romans 8:18–19 says,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

The suffering I experience right now is going to pale in comparison to the astounding glory that will be soon revealed to me. In fact, the glory that’s coming will be so breathtaking, so glorious, so overwhelmingly valuable, that I’ll look back at what I suffered and say, “That was nothing! It was all worth it! Following Christ through the valley of pain and suffering was nothing compared to this!”

Nothing can stand against the Holy Spirit helping me.

Romans 8:28 promises,

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Nothing can stand against God’s purpose for me. 

Given all these things, Paul then says in Romans 8:35-39:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If God is for us, there truly is nothing that can stand against us… and many things WILL stand against us. That’s guaranteed. But, we are more than conquerors and nothing can separate us from the love of God!

But our end is sure. We WILL arrive in glory, and when that time comes, we’ll chuckle at how insignificant our sufferings really were. Christ will be all in all, and we’ll be experiencing joy we didn’t know was possible.

Fight the good fight. God is for you.

Answering the Call to Serve

I am a huge University of Kentucky fan. I live and breathe both football and basketball seasons where I get to enjoy watching the Cats play. I grew up near Danville, Kentucky where there are two schools that are very well known in the high school football world.

There is so much about sports to enjoy and so many lessons that can be learned from both watching and playing. If you are a football fan you most likely know that from 2012 to 2016 Peyton Manning was the leader of the Denver Broncos’ offense… but what many don’t know is that there are often quiet leaders in the locker room that we don’t hear about. Those leaders can set the tone for the team.

When players from the Denver Broncos were asked about the leadership on the team one name came up repeatedly… Jacob Tamme. Demaryius Thomas, wide receiver, said,

I would have to go with Jacob Tamme. He sets a great example. Jacob comes from starting last year, to now he is doing special teams and playing on the offense. He’s on time for everything. He makes sure that everybody from offense to defense is all right. He speaks when he is spoken to. If he has something to say, everyone listens and he gives great advice.

Virgil Green, tight end, said,

Jacob Tamme is a great leader. He’s done a lot in this league. He’s somebody who’s been through a lot leads on special teams and offense. He takes a more serious approach to special teams, understanding that it often times wins and loses games. Having a guy that has been in the league for awhile and understands that his role is important no matter where it’s at is great for a young player like me.

Tamme had made a mark on the team with his experience, humbleness, and faithfulness to work hard on and off the field each and every day. He viewed each and every job and position as vital and that earned the respect of those around him. The cool thing about Tamme is that he grew up in little Danville, Kentucky. He went to high school just down the road from where I grew up, he played for my Wildcats, and despite his humble upbringing he got to be an influencer to many within the NFL because of his hard work and good attitude.

There is a cool, and well known, story in John 13:3-17 that goes like this,

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Here in this story is Jesus, sharing the Passover meal with His disciples. He is one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man, and as part of the Godhead He is responsible for the creation of everything in that upper room. He brought life to the oak tree that made the table, He knew each of the Disciples before the beginning of time, He was fully aware of the state of their hearts and minds, and He was responsible for the dust that dirtied their feet, but yet there He was with a towel and washbasin… a humble servant leader.

Luke 22:27 Jesus says,

For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

If we want to know and love God, the Creator of all that is, then we are called to serve as He serves expecting nothing in return. He says to us, “I am among you as the one who serves.” How might we follow Christ to serve others out of a meek and lowly heart?

How do we humble ourselves, receive God’s grace, and serve? How do we avoid the trap of our culture that tells us to look after “number one” the big “numero uno?”

Serving is hard. It’s especially challenging if we find ourselves in positions of influence. A thousand subtle temptations arise to promote ourselves, take credit, misuse our authority, and desire recognition. Whether we’re leading a team, a church, a family, or a Fortune 500 corporation, building a life inspired by serving can turn the “me-first” mentality and ambitions upside-down.

The life Jesus led models for us what it means to be a servant leader in all areas of our life.

All professing Christians agree that a Christian leader should be a servant leader. Jesus couldn’t be clearer:

Luke 22:25–26 says,

The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.

Where there’s not always agreement is how servant leadership should look in a given situation. Sometimes servant leaders wash others’ feet, so to speak (Like our story out of John 13), but other times leaders have to rebuke the ones they love and lead. Matthew 16:23 says,

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Sometimes a leader is called to discipline. Matthew 18:15–20 says,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

Sometimes they serve at their own expense. 1 Corinthians 9:7 says,

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

The world looks at the word “leader” as a lofty title… whereas Scripture paints a different picture.

The pairing of the words “servant” and “leader” is a little bit like the pairing of the words “jumbo” and “shrimp.” What seems to be an oxymoron, or an apparent contradiction, is really a redundancy, like “free gift.” A gift, by definition, is always already free. A leader, by Christ’s definition, is always already a servant.

But sadly, not all leaders are servants. In a 2014 nationwide survey by the Christian research organization The Barna Group, 62 percent of working Americans say they “wouldn’t follow their boss if their paycheck didn’t depend on it.” Roughly 30 percent of Americans report that “their boss makes them feel controlled, manipulated or defensive,” and an equal percentage reports that this unhealthy leadership is a source of great personal stress. A “slave-driver” employment culture is more common than we realize.

Yet God calls us to influence our culture. Whether in corporations, churches, coffeehouses, grocery stores, baseball fields, and communities one of the most powerful transformational agents that exists is the act of serving. Through serving, we humble ourselves, experience God’s grace, and we lead others to do the same.

The phrase servant leader was coined in 1970 by Robert Greenleaf in his essay, “The Servant as Leader,” in which he contrasted two types of leaders.

The first type of servant leader desires to lead above all. Serving is just an afterthought.

The second type desires, above all, to serve. Serving is primary; leading is secondary, the consequence of serving.

What type of leader are you?

What many of us fail to realize is that everyone is leading someone. Maybe you are a parent and you are leading your children, maybe you are a coach and you are leading your team, maybe you are a seasoned employee that others secretly look up to and model their work ethic after… everyone leads someone.

Dr. Mark Berry once said,

A servant leader leads from the heart and not necessarily the mind… As leaders, if we see ourselves as superior to others, then we will never gain their respect and admiration. We may have the knowledge, but if we don’t reach the hearts of those we serve, they will never understand our strategy. Without a servant’s heart, people will never catch our vision.

Without a servants heart people may never catch our vision, or see our relationship with Jesus modeled and lived out in front of them.

Dr. Michael Reagan once said,

The servant leader creates or embraces a vision of the future that encompasses not only the individual, but the community. These leaders work for long-term growth of many rather than short-term, personal gain.

Just as Jesus’ disciples were mentored and trained by a servant leader, so we must be committed to developing others. After all, isn’t life about giving ourselves away to others?”

Just as God’s grace is sufficient in our serving, His grace is made perfect in our failure to serve. Following Christ isn’t about loving perfectly, but receiving love imperfectly, despite our brokenness, and then giving love away in meekness and lowliness of mind and heart, with Jesus the Servant-King by our side.

In the Wycliffe translation of Philippians 2:7, we read that Christ “meeked himself” as he took on flesh and the form of a servant, although He was King of kings. As we live to follow Christ the Servant Leader, here is the challenge to each of us, no matter our calling or career: we are invited to “meek” ourselves, esteem others above ourselves, and serve.

Helping Your Congregation Break Out of Its Comfort Zone

I recently watched the NBA finals and in Game 4 Steph Curry stepped up to the free throw line and knocked down 2 shots without batting an eye. He was in his comfort zone! In fact, throughout the finals he made 95% of the free throws he attempted. Steph Curry’s comfort zone is watching the ball go through the hoop.

What’s your comfort zone?

A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress. In this zone, a steady level of performance is possible.

As a Worship Pastor, comfort zones may be one of the things I wrestle with the most! I take the story of Moses as an example and am encouraged that God is in the business of stretching the comfort zones of His followers. Moses, as most of you know, did not consider himself a great speaker… some would even theorize and say that he might have had a speech impediment, but God called him to go and plead with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. God called a person who was uncomfortable with their speaking abilities to be the voice of a nation, a voice of reason, and the audible voice of God.

We see a similar charge to Abram, when in Genesis 12 God tells him to “leave his country and Father’s house to a land that he will show you.” Even though it doesn’t say here, I’m sure Abram was hesitant at first. Leaving the land that he had known his whole life for a place that hadn’t even been given to him yet. A land that he didn’t know and couldn’t see!

So, Because of these stories I know that as a Pastor challenging my congregation to step out of their comfort zones is important and Biblical. But how do I do that? It seems every time I start to think on this topic so many more questions come up. What is the current comfort level at? How do we stretch without breaking people? How fast do we move? Am I stepping out of my comfort zone? How do we develop a method? Do we move with our church or as a separate entity?

All of these questions must be carefully weighed and thought out before deciding what stepping out of a comfort zone looks like for your individual ministry.

I have been on staff as a Worship Pastor at New Hope Community church for three and a half years now. I have learned a lot, and have seen God move in ways I couldn’t ever imagine! How can we come along our congregations and encourage the “fearful” steps out of the comfort zone? Let’s think together!


Find Your DNA

One of the most dangerous things I have seen over and over again with Pastors entering into new “home bases” is imparting their home church, or favorite “model” church, into the direct vision and end goal of the church they are in.

Now don’t hear me say that it is wrong to take things that healthy churches are doing and trying to implement them into the life of your church. That’s not it at all! The problem is when you try to make another church’s DNA your own!

Ministry takes a lot of time to figure out what the church’s “DNA” is. By that I simply mean what is natural and comfortable for them. For me I have to explore and find out if there is there a song that has been the church’s anthem that everyone raises his or her hands to? Is there a mash up that has helped bridge the gap in styles? The DNA is made up of these unwritten rules, and what the church is passionate about as a whole.

I remember the first time I led a song that “flopped.” It was within my first three months here and it was almost as if the other vocalists and I were the only ones singing along with it. I quickly realized that at that current time that song was too far outside of the norm for the church.

So… what did I do? Did I force that song down their throats? No! I stopped singing that song, and songs like it, for a time while I figured out what our DNA was. Interestingly enough, as the church moved and grew and developed a trust in me (we will discuss that shortly) I was able to reintroduce that song with great success!

You have to find what has been done, what has worked, what was forced, and what was taken away that should have remained.

For some churches their DNA is in their direct community; for others it may be younger families, older families, singles, multi-ethnic, middle class, upper class, lower class, etc. Neither is better or worse, it is simply the door God has opened for you and caused your congregation to become passionate about.

Effective ministers find out what the church is passionate about and integrate it into the service and life of the church.


Earn Trust

My wife and I love the outdoors and love adventure even more! We love to hike and climb/ shimmy into places that others might not want to go. Now imagine that you want to do an exploration in a remote and dangerous area. You have money to find a guide and you get several ads and read through them trying to pick your guide. Are you going to choose the “new guy” or the guy that has led numerous successful explorations in the exact area in which you plan to go?

On the other hand, imagine that you need brain surgery. Do you want the surgeon who barely got through med school or do you want the guy who was at the top of his class and has done hundreds of brain surgeries?

Before people are willing to go somewhere new with you they must know that you won’t abuse their willingness and trust. To earn their trust, you must let them know that even in stretching them, they will not be forgotten or misrepresented.

In the story I told about the song that “flopped” why do you think the song went over better the second time a year or so later? Did the musical taste of the entire church change? Probably not. The congregation trusted me more.

How do you earn trust? You do life with the congregation. You get to know their DNA and become part of that DNA. You meet people where they are at, because that is how God treats us.


Go With Them

I remember the first time I went hiking with my wife. If you know Alaina then you know that she is all legs… and that became painfully obvious when we reached our first hill! Now that I have grown accustomed to hiking at her pace we both have to be mindful of our speed when we walk/ hike with others.

As an artist I have to be mindful of the pace of my artistry and creativity. It is so easy for my ministry to seemingly move faster than the rest of the church. I can do this by updating our song selection and modernizing our sound, our stage design or our atmosphere. All of these are valuable tools and should be developed, but if they are leaving the rest of our congregation in the dust what are we gaining?

I like the idea of meeting people at their comfort zones and taking them one step further.

In fact, that is the way Jesus modeled discipleship. Jesus didn’t point people where to go without going with them, or call them from a place far away telling people to find their way to Him. Jesus’ ministry was based around walking with people, teaching as they went.

Jesus led people to places he was going himself or had already been to! As a leader are you trying to lead from afar?


Keep a Clear Focus

Lastly, if we are going to ask and challenge our congregation to take a step with us, we need to be stepping out in ways as well.

Stepping out of your comfort zone demands that you yourself are constantly moving forward in your own walk with Christ. We must be showing the congregation that we are moving forward as well as worshiping in ways that are outside of our preferences or comfort zone.

That comes from being transparent through the process of stepping out of our comfort zones both from the stage and personally in conversations.

Be real with people. If you aren’t a naturally expressive person, show your congregation that you are trying to move outside your comfort zone by raising your hands in worship. If you aren’t comfortable singing, then sing. If you aren’t comfortable with leading a prayer out loud, then pray for all to hear. Show your congregation that you are stepping out with them.

It is healthy for us to worship in ways we are not comfortable with!

If we practice worshiping in ways we aren’t comfortable with then we will get more comfortable stretching our comfort zones in all aspects of our life.


But change, stepping out of your comfort zone, isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon made up of consistent steps forward.

Meet people at their comfort zone and take them one step further.