Tag: ministry (Page 2 of 4)

Grace-Centered Leadership

A Foundation Misplaced?

If you are into leadership, there are a lot of fast food leadership troughs from which to consume.  Six steps to this, five principals to that. Talking point after talking point. A pithy tweet here, a 45-characters-or-less quote there. Well intentioned and valuable I am sure. But have you ever just thrown up your hands and said, “How am I suppose to remember (let alone do) all that in the real world?”  To be sure, the functions and behaviors of leadership are and will always be critical and worthy of much study and internalization. But if the foundation of leadership is faulty or malnourished, there is more going on than fast-food-leadership can remedy or redirect.

In fact, I wonder if our foundation for leadership within the realm of church ministry isn’t whole-heartily askew. For example, in relationships and organizations, the less trust there is, the more rules are created. Rules become remedies to what’s broken or missing. Pretty soon what was a foundation of trust and shared vision becomes replaced by a foundation of rules, policies, and procedures.

In the same way, I wonder, with all the rules, principals, techniques, steps and do’s and don’ts of leadership being articulated in waterfall proportions, if this is perhaps indicative that the foundation of ministry leadership has been misplaced.  Whether it has or hasn’t is a topic better suited for another post, but what is critical to articulate is the foundation of ministry leadership.

The Gospel of Grace

In simple terms, the foundation of ministry leadership is the Gospel of God’s Grace.  It begins and ends with the Gospel established through Grace.  The Gospel provides everyone, through faith in Christ, what they need. They need to become a completely new person, with a new identity, that they may have a new life. The foundation of leadership is not what you do, but who you are. Who you are is determined and defined by your belief (trust) in the pure Gospel of God’s Grace in making you into a new person, with a new identity, and thus a new life. Ministry leadership is from the Gospel, by the Gospel, for the Gospel.

Yet, for many in ministry leadership, their trust is not fully in the Gospel of Grace, but more in their skill, capacity, and insight.

“Grace is a gift only the non-religious can accept. They’re the only ones who can understand it, and put it to use. ‘Religious’ folk see grace as soft and weak, so they keep trying to manage their junk with willpower and tenacity. Nothing defines religion quite as well as attempting impossible tasks with limited power, all while pretending that it’s working.” -John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, & Bill Thrall

My sense is that the sentiment of this quote is easily and additionally applicable to “religious” leaders and segments of the current state of ministry leadership.  Much of today’s ministry leadership focuses largely on willpower, tenacity, skill, principals, strategies and alike while pretending it’s all working as we create large, multi-campus ministries of primarily relocated, re-baptized, or rededicated Christians who are commissioned to try to live better lives by following the rules, all while America becomes the only country in the world where Christianity is declining.  Our ministry mindset concludes that Grace doesn’t work in leadership nor discipleship, so we’d better focus on willpower and skilled leadership. Indeed, we live in the age of performance-driven church and leadership culture. The sad reality is we think it’s working.

Here again, nothing wrong with skills, principals, churches with large multi-campus ministries etc. as long as the foundation is the Gospel of God’s Grace. Leadership is a serious calling and should be taken very seriously with a desire to steward the gifts and calling of leadership vigorously. God loves excellence. However, foundations in leadership matter. The only foundation of which can be…  from the Gospel, by the Gospel, and for the Gospel of God’s Grace.

What does that look like? Here are a few thoughts…

Grace-Centered Leadership

Believe it or not, ministry leadership is actually about you, that is, who you are in Christ. It isn’t about what you bring to the table, but it is about your trust in Who God has brought to the cross and what God brought to you through the cross on your behalf, received through your faith.

We say leadership isn’t about us, but “do” leadership as if it is.  The truth is, it is about us. That being our faith in the Gospel of the Grace of God. When it becomes about our faith in God’s grace, it is our work and skills that no longer matter, but His. The focus shifts as faith turns our eyes onto Jesus, away from our old selves, and onto who we are in Him (provided and protected solely by Grace).

Faith is not a work, it is a trust.  Through the Grace of God, by faith we can look at ourselves and see Him. If we don’t see Him, we do not believe, nor can we truly lead.

Grace-centered Leadership is leading from primarily three things…

From Righteousness

When we lead from righteousness we are leading from Christ. He is our righteousness. Further than that, we have become righteousness through Him and of Him.  Don’t rush past that last sentence, it’s gold. By God’s Grace, the moment we believe, our old self is killed with Jesus on the cross, our sins past, present, and future are put to death, we are no longer worthy of shame or guilt, our sin no longer defines us, and we are partakers of the divine nature, because He lives, and now lives in us and as us.

As leaders, because of Christ and Him making us into our newly created self, there is nothing wrong with us. We don’t lead from any nuance of depravity whatsoever.  We aren’t leading to become, we are leading from. Cosmic difference.  We are trusting in the quality of the new person God has made us into by trusting in the quality of  the One who remade us, Jesus.  We are leading from our identity not for our identity. Don’t rush past that last sentence either, it’s leadership changing.

Personal assessment changes into Christ assessment. We will never be any worse or less than Him.

From Blessing

In addition to a new identity, through faith, a genuine believer has been given every spiritual blessing. And by the way, everything is spiritual. You lack nothing. Not one thing. Your “Strength Finders” (if you are familiar with this assessment tool) assessment has become a riches-of-Christ assessment. He is your strength, and all His strengths have become yours. Through the Holy Spirit, you have been graced with a mix of spiritual gifts, especially crafted for you. These gifts compliment the wholeness you already have. They are a kind of grace upon grace. The grace of spiritual gifts upon your life position and empower you to fulfill God’s plan for your life to help others discover and live the Gospel of God’s grace. From God’s blessings, everyone has the capacity for leadership and is created to lead, some in different ways, settings, and platforms than others. If you have the Gospel, you are a leader. We don’t lead for blessing, but from blessing.

From Rest

In Christ, you are already as great as you can and need to be. The moment you believed, the highest level of greatness in your life was realized and established. The true work in your life was finished, and now it’s time to rest as God accomplishes the work of your life for His Kindgom through your faith. Rest is a posture of the heart and soul that is satisfied with trusting God, not the presence of inaction. When we rest, God works through us. When we work, God rests. He is willing to let you muscle and burst ahead unproductively. Faithfulness is responding to God’s action in our lives, it is not work. Work steps ahead and in place of God, faithfulness steps with God initiated by His movement. Laziness is not rest, it is the absence of rest. Rest is trusting God to work and expectantly waiting on the moments and opportunities of faithfulness. Rest convinces our heart that we don’t have to do anything for God, we get to do things for God. It is a privilege nor a performance. In the same way, we don’t have to be faithful, we get to be faithful.

Our highest leadership job is to trust and to be faithful, anything more or less, is founded on doubt. We don’t lead in order to rest, we lead from rest. We don’t rest from leadership, we lead from rest.

Grace-centered Leadership is leading for primarily three things…

For the Gospel

When we lead for the Gospel, we speak it and live it, trusting in Jesus to be our message in word and action. The Gospel is our success, not a means to it.  Don’t blow past that last sentence, there is a lot of meat on that bone. It is for the Gospel of God’s pure Grace that we were created to lead. We are to promote it, give it, live it and protect it first and foremost it.  The Gospel of God’s Grace is the answer for all of life and living. It is not a theology, confession, strategy, or idea, it is a person… Jesus. It is God’s unmerited favor, forgiveness, and future freely given for all, received through faith. When people become a new person, with a new identity, living a new life, free from guilt, shame and rule keeping, everything changes. This the Gospel of Grace.

What the world needs now is the experiencing of the pure Gospel Grace of God, seldom trusted by modern ministry leadership.

Like the manger was to Jesus, the Church is to the Gospel. It is the carrier of the Savior from which Christ is to be born into people’s lives providing new birth to the spiritually dead and lost. The Church is the package, not the present. We are not church leaders first, we are Gospel leaders first.  Leadership is not about the church first, it’s about the Gospel first. Our churches are not the Savior, Jesus is the Savior. Ministry leadership is not for the church first, it is for the Gospel first. We become faithful carriers of the Gospel only when we first become leaders for the Gospel. The Gospel is not for the church, the church is for the Gospel.

These nuances of distinction shift foundations, values, strategies, approaches, and vision. Far too much of ministry leadership is church-success-minded and far too less, Gospel of Grace-minded.  When we lead for and from the Gospel first, effective church ministry flows out. God never meant for us to put our faith and trust in “church” to transform lives. It is only the Gospel that can perform the miracle. The church is the very important manger of the Gospel. But we worship and focus on Jesus, not the manger. Our leadership priorities and values should reflect that.

By the Spirit

Grace-centered leadership is solely enabled by the Spirit. It is the sailing vessel on the ocean that doesn’t (can’t) move without the power and placement of the Wind. It’s role is not to create the Wind, replace the Wind, fabricate the Wind, nor deter the Wind, it is to respond to the Wind in ways that best harness its power towards the purposes of God. Grace-centered leadership will not and cannot go where the Spirit does not enable.

Grace-centered leadership trusts the Wind. In it’s presence and absence there is equally present purpose. Grace-centered leadership is the art of sailing the Wind of God as the icing on the cake of our Salvation. It is from Jesus, for Jesus, and by Jesus.

 

Looking forward to your thoughts…

 

The Gap

We all want things to be better in our lives, no one says, “Wow, I wish things could be worse.”  We all want to be healthier, more fulfilled, happier, more successful, more loved, more loving, and experience increasing significance. We want to look in the mirror and be completely satisfied with who we are as a person on how our life is being lived. Nothing wrong with that, for sure.

Yet, if you are like most people, there are areas where you are dissatisfied. The person you want to be isn’t who you are. The way you act, live, and interact with others leaves you painfully aware of the gap between what you hoped for and what reality is.  Everyone senses these gaps on a daily (even moment to moment) basis, though they may not be able to put their finger on what they are feeling. Like the gap between the teeth of that cute girl you fell in love with in 1st grade, there are gaps in our lives between what we expect out of ourselves and what we end up being and doing.

Underneath the gap that we see between who we are and who we want to be, is a deeper gap. It’s the gap between God and ourselves.  We sense we were created by God, to live eternally, with God, forever.  That’s why seek God, that’s why we desire to overcome death, that’s why we imagine paradise-like existences.  It’s the stuff of poets, philosophers, and alike.  All sensing the gap, trying to bridge it, and imagining what life is like without it.

At every level, spiritual, emotional, and physical, there are gaps.  The question isn’t, “are their gaps in my life?” the question is, “what are you doing with them?”

To the the question, “what are you doing with them?” most people respond with one of four answers… religion, church, self-help, or life-enhancement.  The problem with each one of these is, they don’t work.  “Religion” just makes you more aware of the gap as you can’t seem to bridge it no matter what spiritual gymnastics you do, “church” futilely focuses on keeping you from acting on the gap with a bunch of rules to follow that you end up breaking, “self-help”  tries to convince you that the solution to the gap is within you when it’s not, and “life-enhancement” simply tries to put lipstick on the gap, hoping you won’t notice it anymore. That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it.

Admittedly, I have first hand experience with all four attempts to overcome the gaps in my life. In college, I dabbled in “religion” in the form of new-age trends. I have read all kinds of “self-help” books and psychological theories and applied their principals. I have even tried “life-enhancement” through pursuing success and behavior modification tactics available in both religion, church, and self-help arenas. And to be sure, as a pastor of 17 years, I have tried “church” as a way to fix the gap through focusing on overcoming it by following Christian “rules.” So, I can tell you through first hand experience, none if works. None of them made me a better person, neither in my being nor in my doing. No gaps were closed nor diminished. In fact, a lot of it made me frustrated, disillusioned, and exhausted.

There are a lot of genuine people (maybe even you) who are simply looking for solutions who feel the same way… frustrated, failing, and fatigued.  Yet, we wonder what to do. If we can’t find a real-deal-solution through going to church, applying some self-help technique, pursuing life-enhancement, or signing up for some kind of religion, what are we to do?  Especially since many Christians churches are actually contributing to the problem because they aren’t presenting the true Gospel. I must admit, at times, the way I have presented Jesus and His Gospel has contributed to the problem. As a pastor, I was like many Christian churches when it comes to the Gospel, so close yet so far away.

So here’s what has finally and truly changed my life and satisfied my soul. Here is what I want to tell you, and the message God has em-blazed upon my heart and as is using Amy and I to build a church around…

God loves you, as is-  He is not waiting for you to clean up, shut up, or grow up. He loves you with an everlasting love. God’s love of you is perfect. In fact, God is love. He can do nothing but love you. And you simply being created by God is reason enough for Him to make you the object of His love. It has nothing to do with what you have or have not done or will do.

In a real sense, it would be illegal for God not to love you, He would be a house divided against Himself because He is love. Don’t worry about coming to Him, you can’t. That’s why, through Jesus, He comes personally to you. Throw out the image you have of God who is simply waiting for that moment of failure in your life to push you under His thumb and make you pay. His deepest desire is to love you, give His life to you, and be with you forever. He believes your best days are ahead, and that nothing in your past needs to keep you from having His future.  God is on your side, always has been, always will be.

God loves you, it’s that pure and simple.

Because God loves you so much…

Jesus came to give you a completely new identity-  

This is critical to understand because your identity is the combination of who you are and who you believe yourself to be. It’s about 1) who you actually are, and then 2) your perspective of you are. Both are critical.

That’s why giving you a new identity involves first making you into a completely new person with a new nature, new standing, new future, and a new purpose, through your faith in Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Jesus gives new life by first giving us a new identity. There isn’t much of a new life without  a new identity. Becoming a new person doesn’t do much if you don’t know you are a new person. To give us a new identity, He must make us into a completely new person, through and through.

Without becoming a new person, we are as good as dead. As is, everything about is has an expiration date… our hopes, dreams, love, abilities, and admirable qualities. Everything. As good as we seem to be, because of sin, we are as dead as can be.  Look around, everybody dies. And the truth of the matter as, we can never measure up spiritually, emotionally, and physically as we are. We don’t just live in a broken world tainted with sin, we are a broken world, tainted with sin. Everyone, everywhere, everything.

The good news is, Jesus offers us a completely new identity by killing our old self, and giving us a completely new self. This is the essence of what Jesus accomplishes for us on the cross. He didn’t come to enhance our life, He came to crucify it and then resurrect it. It’s not about renovating your life, it’s about resurrecting it by killing it (spiritually) and then rebirthing it (spiritually). If your old self doesn’t die, your new self can’t live. We don’t give our life to Jesus (as well meaning as that sounds), Jesus gives His life to us. Our former life is of no good to Jesus, we have nothing to give Him. Additionally, our life is no good without Jesus, through His lavish Grace, He has everything to give us.  And by “everything,” I mean everything. Only His Grace can bridge our gaps!

That’s the heart of the pure Grace and Gospel of Jesus Christ. We give Him nothing (cause we can’t), He gives us everything (cause only He can). This exchange happens through one action, our “faith.”

The new identity and life God offers you through Jesus (received though faith) makes you into a completely new person with a new way of seeing yourself. Did you take that in? A completely new person! Your sins past, present, and future are forever forgiven. You become the righteousness of Christ, having no longer any form of condemnation from God in your life whatsoever. Don’t read that too quickly, let it penetrate your heart… “no condemnation”. You are completely made whole, lacking nothing. Every gap is filled. You are free from guilt and shame, and are given the mind of Christ. You are no longer under the law (rules), but under Grace. You don’t have to perform to get to God or even keep Him close. You don’t have to be a better person, you get to be a better person. Your performance no longer shapes your identity, your identity shapes your performance. God’s Spirit lives in you, not to convict you, but primarily to convince you of your righteousness in Christ, the very thing Satan wants you to discount!  Though you will still sin (because of our flesh), it is no longer your nature to sin (or worry, fear, doubt etc.). Sin no longer defines who you are, Jesus does; His life, living in and through you. You are perfectly loved by God and completely pleasing to Him. It is no longer you who lives, but Christ who lives in you. You lack nothing, you have all the fruits of the Spirit in seed form, and the Holy Spirit will help you to will and act according to God’s pleasure in your life. It’s all Jesus, not you! If it were you, it wouldn’t work.

Jesus doesn’t just want to give you a new life, He wants you to believe you have it! He wants it to become your identity. 

See, if you don’t believe it, you first won’t receive it. And if you receive it, but don’t continue to or truly believe it, you won’t be blessed by it. Faith is the currency of the Kingdom of God. It’s how what God has becomes what you have. That’s why so many people aren’t Christians, and why so many Christians are living defeated, discouraged, divided, and desperate lives. They don’t prevail, they fail. As 2 Peter 1:9 says, “For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins”  Right belief leads to right living. If you miss the Grace of God and who you have become in Christ, you will miss the blessings of it. That’s why the complete Gospel of God’s grace is so critical! You will never know your true identity until you see it and believe it’s true about you!

That’s why…

As you believe it, you will live it.  The goal of the Christian life isn’t your obedience, it’s faith in Jesus’ provision. Sadly, for many Christians obedience is the root, and faith is the fruit. Yet, the opposite it true. Faith is the root, obedience is the fruit.  A new identity equals a new way of living, not the other way around. The more you believe in who you are by the Grace of God in Christ, the more you will live it.

Satan always tempts us to do the wrong things by first tempting us to believe the wrongs thing about who we are and what we have (or can have) in Christ.  Notice that with Jesus, immediately after His baptism, Satan first tempted Jesus to doubt His identity as the “beloved son of God with who God was well pleased” which God had just declared over Him mere hours before Satan tempted Him to turn the stones to bread. In fact, Satan strategically and conveniently removed any mention that Jesus is beloved by God and well pleasing to the Father. Instead, he simply asks, “If you are the son of God…turn these stones…” in a futile attempt to get Jesus to believe the wrong things about who He is and what He has in the Father so that He would do the wrong things.

Satan is still vigorously trying to do the same with us, subtly trying to remove from our sense of identity that true believers are sons of God, beloved by God, and completely pleasing to Him. If we believe the wrong things about our identity, we will do the wrong things in life. An obedience problem is always first an identity problem. A gap problem is always a Grace problem.

Let me remind you again, for a true believer in Jesus, there is no condemnation over their life, none. You have become, through Jesus’ shed blood, the righteousness of Christ, and that is not merely a positional reality, but a complete reality. You are without blemish, all your sins (past, present, and future) have been put away (killed) through the cross, they are no more in the eyes of God. You have been made a new creation, the old is completely gone. You don’t have two natures, you have one. The old Adam is gone. (ref. Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20) Christ lives in you, you have His mind. It is no longer your nature to sin, fear, worry, be depressed etc. It is no longer our nature to sin (though we do), and when we sin, it no longer defines us or separates us. You don’t live from you, trying to be a better person bridging the gaps, that will never work!  You live from Jesus, through faith in His work in you, and become a better a person. In Christ, you aren’t just a better you, you are a completely new you. 100% Jesus, 100% you. You lack nothing, absolutely nothing. I think you need to hear that again, “you lack nothing!”

This is the right belief of your identity, it’s all focused on Jesus and His Grace, not on your performance. Which, ironically enables you to perform with increasing faithfulness. As I stated earlier, right identity leads to right living. People who believe in the true Gospel of the Grace of God through Jesus don’t sin more, they sin much less. The gaps in their life don’t expand, they close. Their freedom becomes a catalyst for faithfulness because their heart overflows with thanksgiving for what Jesus has done as they walk in a completely new sense of self and life without guilt, shame, and sense of condemnation. It truly is amazing Grace.

“For if by the transgression of the one [Adam], death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” Romans 5:17

An abundance of Grace is what leads to prevailing (living much better) in life, not an abundance of guilt, shame, and rules. Believe in the abundant Grace of God for your life and see the results! Watch the gaps close. Remind yourself every moment, “I am already forgiven, I am the righteousness of Christ, there is no condemnation, it is no longer my nature to sin, I am better than that, I lack nothing, greater is He that is in me than is in the World, I am fully pleasing to the Father, I am perfectly and completely loved, I am a son of God (Galatians 3:26)” and see how your life and living improve.

God gave me a great analogy that I hope will bless you… Trying to live like Christ and bridge the gaps in our life  from our own efforts is like trying to sing like Celine Dion. You can hear her voice in your head, but you never can match it with your own. But if Celion Dion could somehow live in you, you could sing just like her as you allow her voice to become your voice. Her identity becomes your identity. In the same way, Jesus lives (or can live) in you (through faith), and when we live from Jesus in us and the identity we have because of Him, we will more and more act just like Him.

Living a gap-closing life is about our actions catching up with our true identity, not our identity being caught up in our actions. You cannot become a better person until you become a new person and believe it. Only Jesus can make you new. If you are in Christ through faith, you are a completely new person. You are a much better person, and when you believe that, you will act more and more like the person you are in Christ… much better!

In Christ, you have no gaps, now believe it, receive it, and live it! The more you have faith in the Grace of God, the more God’s blessing flow to you.  When you rest in God’s Grace, He goes to work on your behalf. When you go to work on your behalf, God’s grace rests. Happiness, success, joy, peace, loving and being loved, health, and even wealth are stored in God’s grace, not your own your efforts.

Believe it, receive it, live it!

Becoming a Better Person: The Secret You Never Knew

I suspect, we all want to be better people.  Deep down, most people are not satisfied with themselves, though they may never show it. In fact, many live lives walking around with deep feelings of guilt, shame, insecurity, and regret. The good we want to do is not what we do, and the bad we don’t want to do becomes exactly what we do. It’s an endless cycle in the quicksand of our human existence.

With our list of imperfections tight in hand, we set off on our pursuit of trying to figure out what we can do to become a better person. We buy the books, watch the shows, go to the conferences, and maybe even join up with a church or some kind of religion. Or, maybe we just find a tribe of people to immerse ourselves in with whom our idiosyncrasies won’t become so noticeable to others and especially ourselves.

When it comes to the brokenness in our lives, we typically go into either concealment mode, camouflage mode, or can-do mode.  We either try to hide our flaws, camouflage them, or self-improve them.

The problem is, none of that works, at least not for very long. Find me a person who has attempted to hide their imperfections, camouflage them, or self-improve their way past them, and at the end of the day you will have found a person that still deals with deep issues of guilt, shame, condemnation, insecurity and a lack of real, lasting improvement in their actions and attitudes.

The sad thing is, the Christian church hasn’t been a very good place to become a”better” person either.  More so than not, churches focus on being obedient and following religious rules while admonishing people to get better by doing better. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls that do.  They treat obedience and doing the Word as the root of the Christian life.  The focus becomes on loving Jesus more as the solution and the path towards an improved life. If you just loved Jesus more than you would be so much of a better person and be able to follow the rules.

The problem is rules and religion don’t change people and behaviors. In fact, the Bible clearly states that the law (standards of God for living) actually stirs up the desire to sin. “…the sinful passions aroused by the law…” Romans 7:5  When you see a park bench with a sign that says, “wet paint” what do you immediately think of doing? Touching it. The truth is, I can’t love Jesus enough to get better. Trying to do so makes my love a self-focused work. It turns my performance into my identity. Therefore, I end up leaning on me instead of Jesus for who I am and what I can become.

Furthermore, we tell true believers in Jesus that if they don’t love and obey God enough they are not really completely forgiven, their standing with God has surely been compromised, and they had better fix it, quick.  We have told what are newly created people in Christ that they really aren’t completely new creatures because the “old man” is still there waiting to win back their life. No wonder people struggle with sin so much, especially believers. If you think, by your nature, you are a still a broken sinner at heart, then guess what you will do? Yup, sin. The Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” Proverbs 23:7  If following the law (rules) and increasing your conscientiousness of sin is what we are told are the keys to becoming a better person, following that counsel will actually lead you to becoming a worse person in your behaviors and your heart will be filled with guilt and shame. No wonder why sin in the church is just as much a thriving reality as it is in the world.  Guilt, shame, depression, and frustration are just as prevalent in church as they are anywhere else.

The truth is, you can do all the spiritual gymnastics you want, but you can’t become a better person until you become a new person. All your efforts to become a better person won’t make you new or better, only the finished work of Jesus on the cross can make you new as you receive it through faith.

Right believing is what leads to right living. Faith in the pure Grace of God through Jesus is the root, obedience is the fruit. You performance doesn’t determine your identity, your identity determines your performance.

Satan always tempts us to do the wrong things by first tempting us to believe the wrongs thing about who we are and what we have (or can have) in Christ.  Notice that with Jesus, immediately after His baptism, Satan first tempted Jesus to doubt His identity as the “beloved son of God with who God was well pleased” which God had just declared over Him mere hours before Satan tempted Him to turn the stones to bread. In fact, Satan strategically and conveniently removed any mention that Jesus is beloved by God and well pleasing to the Father. Instead, he simply asks, “If you are the son of God…turn these stones…” in a futile attempt to get Jesus to believe the wrong things about who He is and what He has in the Father so that He would do the wrong things.

Satan is still vigorously trying to do the same with us, subtly trying to remove from our sense of identity that true believers are sons of God, beloved by God, and completely pleasing to Him. If we believe the wrong things about our identity, we will do the wrong things in life. An obedience problem is always first an identity problem.

The truth is, God loves you perfectly. In fact, God is love. He can do nothing but love you. And you simply being created by God is reason enough for Him to make you the object of His love. It has nothing to do with what you have or have not done or will do. In a real sense, it would be illegal for God not to love you, He would be a house divided against Himself because He is love. We need this Grace because we are as good as dead without it. Deep down, everybody knows something profound and central is missing and there is a standard to which their life doesn’t measure up. When your heart leaps at this Grace and believe Jesus is the source of this Grace, everything changes. All that God has and provided for you becomes yours.

For a true believer in Jesus, there is no condemnation over their life, none. You have become, through Jesus’ shed blood, the righteousness of Christ, and that is not merely a positional reality, but a complete reality. You are without blemish, all your sins (past, present, and future) have been put away (killed) through the cross, they are no more in the eyes of God. You have been made a new creation, the old is completely gone. You don’t have two natures, you have one. The old Adam is gone. (ref. Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20) Christ lives in you, you have His mind. It is no longer your nature to sin, fear, worry, be depressed etc. Do we sin? Yes, because we still have of our earthly flesh, but it is no longer our nature to do so, and when we sin, it no longer defines us or separates us. Glory be to Jesus for His abundant Grace!  You are no longer under the rules, but under Grace. You don’t have to be a better person, you get to be a better person. Your don’t live from you, trying to be a better person. You live from Jesus, through faith in His work in you, and become a better a person. In fact, in Christ, you aren’t just a better you, you are a completely new you. 100% Jesus, 100% you. You lack nothing, absolutely nothing.

This is the right belief of your identity, it’s all focused on Jesus and His Grace, not on your performance. Which, ironically enables you to perform with increasing faithfulness. Right identity leads to right living. People who believe in the true Gospel of the Grace of God through Jesus don’t sin more, they sin much less. Their freedom becomes a catalyst for faithfulness because their heart overflows with thanksgiving for what Jesus has done as they walk in a completely new sense of self and life without guilt, shame, and sense of condemnation. It truly is amazing Grace.

“For if by the transgression of the one [Adam], death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” Romans 5:17

An abundance of Grace is what leads to reigning (living much better) in life, not an abundance of guilt, shame, and rules. Believe in the abundant Grace of God for your life and see the results! Remind yourself every moment, “I am already forgiven, I am the righteousness of Christ, there is no condemnation, it is no longer my nature to sin, I am better than that, I lack nothing, greater is He that is in me than is in the World, I am fully pleasing to the Father, I am perfectly and completely loved, I am a son of God (Galatians 3:26)” and see how your life and living improve.

Trying to live like Christ and become a better person from our own efforts is like trying to sing like Celine Dion. You can hear her voice in your head, but you never can match it with your own. But if Celion Dion could somehow live in you, you could sing just like her as you allow her voice to become your voice. Her identity becomes your identity. In the same way, Jesus lives (or can live) in you (through faith), and when we live from Jesus in us and the identity we have because of Him, we will more and more act just like Him.

Becoming a better person is about our actions catching up with our true identity, not our identity being caught up in our actions. You cannot become a better person until you become a new person and believe it. Only Jesus can make you new. If you are in Christ through faith, you are a completely new person. You are a much better person, and when you believe that, you will act more and more like the person you are in Christ… much better!

Right believing in the abundant Grace of Jesus leads to right living!

Hallelujah, glory be to Jesus!  Can I get a strong Amen?

Making Marriage Work

No, I am not an expert on marriage. No, my marriage isn’t perfect. We have our ups and downs like all couples. Yet, the following principles have served my wife and I in creating a 17 year marriage that is alive and well, having endured times of great adversity and success.

Marriage is a very personal subject, and lots of couple secretly wonder, “how can we make this thing work better, or work at all?” I pray these values will serve your marriage as they are serving ours.

Here’s what’s working for us… (in no particular order)

o.o1 Shared values– There is a difference between shared views and shared values.  No, Amy and I don’t see everything the same way. Yet, there are shared values with which we have unity and base our views. For example, we value a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our faith is a foundational value to our marriage. I can’t imagine not sharing this core value. We value the quality of our family and the giving of our best in the area of parenting. We have many shared values.

We have found that shared values, such as the ones I list in this post, are critical for a healthy marriage. Taking the time to understand and come to a place of unity upon core values is an absolute essential in our book. If marriage is like a house, then having shared, core values as a couple are integral parts of the foundation.  It’s certainly not necessary to see eye to eye on everything, that would be boring! But it is critical to see heart to heart on the essential values that make a marriage thrive. What are the essential values to a great marriage? I am sure there are many, perhaps the ones I share in this post are a good start.

Tip: As a couple, make separate lists of things you would see as critical values for the marriage. Then, come back together and discuss theses values and your views on each one. If there are areas of disagreement, take a couple days to think over that area and come back together to see if there is any room to come closer together towards a shared value.

o.o2 Prayer- For Amy and I, prayer brings us together and enables our burdens to be carried by God and not our relationship. Prayer in marriage can feel very vulnerable and even a bit awkward because you are connecting at the deepest levels. However, the reward of pushing through and taking time to pray together is invaluable. We are not very formal in our prayer life together, we pray together as a spontaneous, natural ebb and flow of our life and family. This way, our children can have glimpses into our prayer life and become a part of it. For us, prayer is not a religious obligation but a relational expression. It’s not governed by length, eloquence, or location, but rather by the heart. It doesn’t have to be long, well said, or formal… just pray.

Tip: Wives, many men are intimidated by praying and fear being shamed by their wives, who are often further along or more open spiritually then they are . Make sure you don’t push too hard, nor criticize his efforts. Applaud and encourage everything you can. 

o.o3 The last 2%- The last 2% is what needs to be said in a relationship but is often the most difficult to say. It’s the complete truth, not just a percentage of it, it’s how you really feel, not just a version of it. In my ministry, almost every couple that comes to me for counseling with serious marriage problems ready for divorce has a traceable path of relationship deterioration that starts with one or both persons not being open and honest about what they are really feeling or thinking. It’s the small, innocent looking crack in the ceiling that over times turns into the roof falling down. It seems at the moment, the best thing to do is to just brush your feelings aside, keep the peace, or hope it will go away, but the reality is, that unwillingness to deal with the last 2% will be what later costs you a 100% of your marriage. Openness and honesty is absolutely critical for a healthy, thriving marriage. Full disclosure, even if it makes things temporarily worse instead of better, is an essential value for a working marriage.

Tip: Ask your spouse, “What is the one thing you really want to say to me but are afraid it might hurt me or cause tension in our relationship.”  Once it is spoken, make a commitment to deal with whatever is shared with the goal of building the relationship.  If a very serious issue is revealed, push the pause button on the conversation and seek out a professional, Christian counselor to help you work through it. Any marriage can handle anything when you apply the counsel of God.

o.o4 Constant check ins- Valuing and monitoring the health of your marriage is vital. One of the things that serves our marriage and continues to be invaluable is the reality that we are constantly checking in with each other to make sure we are on the same page, we are connected with each others lives, and our marriage is going well. Someone needs to take the lead in monitoring the condition of your marriage. In our marriage, this has been a natural role for me as I have a strong gifting in discernment. If you were to look into our marriage, you would hear us on a consistent basis asking each other questions like, “How are we doing?” “Are you happy with us?” “So, what do you think of _______?” “Is there anything we need to talk about?” “How are we going to handle __________?” etc. Included in these check-ins are frequent conversations about our parenting, finances, future plans, hopes and dreams, expectations, and struggles. We want to make sure as much as possible we are on the same page on the front side of issues, not the back. Can’t tell you how much this pays off.

Tip: Perhaps schedule a couple times each week where you “check in” with each other where the only rule of the conversation is, “anything can be discussed, anything can be asked”  Make sure the conversation deals with monitoring the health of the relationship. 

o.o5 Family first- I am amazed at how many couples want to either fix or improve their marriage, but want to spend very little if any time doing it.  Time is the oxygen of a marriage. If you don’t have enough of it, the marriage will choke and all your efforts to make it work.  Amy and I are both very busy people, but we are committed to making sure that our marriage and family have enough time together to thrive. The amount of time needed will be different for most couples and will vary depending on what season of your marriage you are in. However, many problems in a marriage start because there isn’t enough time for necessary aspects of the relationship to take place.  Romance takes time, talking through issues takes time, relaxing with each other takes time, planning the future takes time, saying what needs to be said takes time, enjoying each others company takes time.  For many couples, the issue behind the issues is time. We don’t talk because there isn’t enough time for conversations to ebb and flow, we don’t hang out together, because there isn’t enough time.  Our sex life isn’t healthy because there isn’t enough time for all the nuances that give it life.

For Amy and I, our family comes first… period. I believe a man’s resume’ is his home. As a pastor, my most important ministry is to my wife and kids. Marriage is defined by what you say “yes” and “no” to. What you say “yes” and “no” to is governed by your priorities and values. Everybody has a plan for your marriage and family, the question is, do you?

Tip: As a couple, evaluate how you are spending your time. Maybe even make a list of the things that get the majority of your time and attention. Then check to see how much time is being utilized exclusively  for your marriage. What you discover might be very telling. 

o.o6 Standing guard- Your marriage is a gift from God, and all gifts need to be protected. There are real forces at work in the world that want to divide you and your spouse. Don’t be nieve, you were married into a war, not a vacation.

Every couple should be on the lookout to identify things that are potentially eroding the relationship. The moment you think it can’t happen to you is the moment you are most vulnerable.  Success can be just as much of a threat as hardship. Good times can be just as much of a threat as bad. You children (how you handle them) can become a threat to your marriage. Money issues, stress, extended family, health, tragedy, careers, friendships, church, all can become threats to your marriage. Many things that can appear to be innocent can easily turn into things that compromise the health of your marriage.

Becoming an overreactive alarmist in your marriage is not going to be a positive things, but keeping watch with the health of your marriage as a top priority, will be.

Tip: Have a discussion as a couple asking three questions, 1) Where are you individually most vulnerable to temptation? 2) In what area is our marriage most vulnerable? 3) If Satan where going to attack our marriage, where in our marriage would he have the best chance at being successful.

o.o7 Integrity- Sometimes when you look under the hood of a marriage that isn’t working, you will find one or both of the persons in the relationship doing stupid things. Some of these things may be discovered to even be sinful in nature.  It’s hard to put bad things into a relationship and expect good to come out of it.

At times when I talk to couples, I become amazed at how many of them speak of secrets they have from their spouse, sketchy things they do that seem to them to be of no big deal, and habits that are sure to be eroding and not building the relationship.  Sometimes I just want to ask, “are you stupid?”  Unfortunately, when many people go to the well of how to act in a marriage, they draw from the negative or absent example of their parent’s relationship.  Often, instead of breaking unhealthy cycles, we end up repeating them.

Integrity in marriage means… taming your tongue, applying self control to your emotions, staying faithful to the relationship emotionally and physically (for men this means controlling your eyes, for women this means guarding your heart), not getting lazy, taking responsibility, saying what you mean and meaning what you say, keeping your promises, being open and honest, and being a trustable kind of person.

Tip: As a couple, make a list of things each are doing that is building the relationship, then make a list of things that are seen as not building the relationship. Discuss.

o.o8 Marriage Purpose- As a couple, we believe God has brought us together to serve each other and to serve God in a unique way together. We see our marriage as a ministry to each other and to the world. What we can accomplish together as a marriage and family is a vital part of our lives. I have my own personal ministry, Amy has her own, but we also have great things for God we are pursuing together that we couldn’t do a apart.

As a couple, you are either growing together, or you are growing apart, there is no in between. Discovering and pursuing the things God has for you to become and do as a couple goes a long way towards ensuring you will be growing together.  Take time to ask, “what has God called “us” to do “together” to change the world?” That will be one of the most powerful questions and conversations you will ever have in your marriage.

Tip: As the question of your marriage, “Other than for ourselves and for our children, why has God brought us together?” 

These are some of the values that have served our marriage, what values are serving your?

Cleaning out the Relationship Closet

Are you a Relationship Hoarder or a careless Relationship Disposer?

So, have you heard of hoarding? It’s a term used to refer to people who have a hard time letting go of stuff while collecting more and more things or specific items. Instead of purposefully keeping some things and removing others, they keep everything. There are a variety of possible reasons including… they are afraid to be without it, they have a compulsive streak, or they have attached their identity or some emotionally pleasure to the possession of it. For whatever reason, they have serious difficulty discarding things that are actually working against the health and wholeness of their life. Some of the things they have are of great value, but they wouldn’t be able to distinguish it because of their obsession with everything else.

On the other side of the coin, there are those who soon after they acquire something, they are quick to despose of it and reengage on their quest to get something else. To them everything, even things of significant worth, are disposable. Once they have a new toy (so to speak) they quickly get bored with it and search for another.  Traveling from store to store, hobby to hobby, venture to venture, they pursue the next purchase fix while never prizing, maximizing, and nurturing what they already have.

Interestingly enough, we can have the same kind of extremes when it comes to our relationships.

For some, we hoard our relationships as we hold onto ones that work against the wholeness God desires to bring into our lives. We are actually afraid to be without some relationships in our lives either because of insecurity, we have a perfectionist streak in us (that concludes everyone should like us), or we have tied our identities to a certain person(s) or relationship(s), probably out of codependency and therefore depend on them for our sense of self to unhealthy levels. For whatever reason, relationships that we should have discarded or redefined long ago we keep as is.

For others of us, our relationships have become carelessly disposable. When the person no longer serves our purposes, meets our needs, or benefits us in some way, we are quick to move onto the next. Perhaps it’s out selfishness, inconvenience, or a fear of intimacy, but for whatever reason, true closeness with people eludes us and we never truly know what it is to love and be loved. Why? Because we move from one to the next, never nurturing and investing in the relationships we already have or the people who already desire to know us.  Relationships that we should have kept, drawn closer to, invested in, nurtured, and hung around for we prematurely distance ourselves from or totally throw away.

God wants us to have healthy relationships, we were created for such. From time to time, this means cleaning out the relationship closet. Cleaning out the relationship closet is much like our clothes closet. Though we don’t purchase or possess people like we would a pair of jeans, relationships are among the many things that God wants us to steward well, especially since our relationships have a certain amount of effect on our own wellbeing.  Not having room for healthy relationships or having too many unhealthy relationships isn’t God honoring, nor is disposing and distancing ourselves from relationships that God desire us to nurture and value.

With all of that in mind, there are likely several kinds of relationships in our Relationship Closet…

What’s in your Relationship Closet?

1) Nostalgia Suit – These relationships are mainly defined by what they meant to us in the past. At one time, these relationships fit perfectly in our life. They fit with time, place, and person we were. They gave us great memories and had a special impact on our lives. However, as time progressed, these relationships either grew distant or completely detached. Frequently the separation or distance that ensues isn’t clouded with negativity, but rather benign circumstances.  The power of these relationships can extend well beyond what they meant to us in the past.  Our affectionate memories and the positive impact of these relationships can be significant. When we think of these people, we often smile inwardly.

2) The Fashion Statement – These relationships are mainly defined by how they make us look or feel about ourselves. These are the people at the cool lunch table that we want to know for that sake of our egos and self-esteem.  Often times, we want these people in our lives because they seem to make us feel more important just by knowing them. When you hear people “dropping names” these relationships are probably “Fashion Statements” more than anything else.

3) Special Occasion Dress- These relationships are mainly defined by the purpose or role these persons serve in your life. Like a bridesmaid dress that is typically worn at most one or two times, these relationships are often short term. They may be a reoccurring relationship as there may be periodic times where interaction is needed, once again, to fulfill a special role or purpose.

4) The Adjustable Pants- These relationships are mainly defined by their ability to fit as you change as a person. These are the people who are “with you” no matter where or even who you become. They are typically long term relationships that ebb and flow over the years, developing overtime into deep levels of intimacy.  Relationships like this grow with us and find a way to fit well in every season of our life. These relationships last and compliment what God is doing in our lives

5) The Gifted Tie- These relationships are mainly defined by the guilt we feel for not desiring to be around, with, or in connection with them.  Perhaps they did something for you and now you feel obligated to give your attention or friendship.  In fact, they may be playing upon your guilt and not a healthy person to be around. Or, perhaps you are in a new season of your life and the relationship now feels awkward and superficial. Regardless, the conflicting emotions inside of you towards this relationship tend to weigh heavy with a sense of guilt that you aren’t as emotionally connected as you feel you should be.

6) The Uncomfortable Shoe- These relationships are defined by the uncomfortableness or pain they cause you. Deep down we don’t want these relationships, but we either conclude that this person is the best we are going to get, or we feel somehow obligated to grin and bare the relationship. Sometimes, we will have done everything we can to get the relationship repaired or make adjustments that relieve the stress, but to little or no success. Whether these persons are family members, coworkers, or friends, these relationships cause us chronic uncomfortableness or pain.

7) The Favorite Sweater- These relationships are defined by the comfort, security, and warmth they bring into our lives. Similar to the Adjustable Pants, these relationships are often long term and serve to give us a special kind of security, encouragement, and comfort that other relationships cannot.

8)  The Shrunken Jeans-  These relationships are mainly defined by the reality that they don’t fit anymore. There are potentially two primary reasons why 1) You shrunk the relationship  2) You grew out of the relationship.  Sometimes relationships don’t fit because we screw them up and injure the person and/or the relationship. We may try to force the relationship to fit into our lives by seeking to repair the damage, but in some instances it works, and in others it doesn’t. Other times, we grow out of the relationship and thus it not longer fits the things God is doing in our lives. We may try to bring the person along or fit back in with the crowd we once were in, but often neither result in much success.

9) The Suspenders- These relationships are mainly defined by the support they give us. Sometimes, these are mostly one-sided relationships as we turn to them for support, but the mutual need and care is not reciprocated by them.  Other times, there is a mutual need that is met within the relationship. Either way, the relationship is defined by the specific support the relationship brings.

10) The Wrinkled Shirt- These relationships are mainly defined by the high amount of maintenance they take. With some people you are always having to iron out some issue, either within the relationship or in their lives. Above and beyond the normal flaws and ups and downs of people and relationships, these relationships are filled with drama and often suck the life out of you. Every time you connect with these relationships, you realize there is a lot of ironing to do to make the relationship work. In fact, often times, if you take the drama, negativity, and conflict out of the relationship, there is actually no relationship left.

11) The Catalogue Display- These relationships are mainly defined by our desire to have them. These are the people we want in our relationship closet, but for whatever reason, they aren’t there and likely will never be. These are the people who you are trying to get into your life but aren’t able to without paying a cost. Sometimes that cost is begging them, appeasing them, flattering them, or always being the one to take the initiative.

No Hoarding, No Careless Disposing! Some thoughts about cleaning out the Relationship Closet…

Note: In my personal opinion, based on God’s Word, I do not believe marriage is a relationship that should be categorized as being in your Relationship Closet. Though it often needs cleaning, I do not believe it is a relationship that should be seen as one that should be “cleaned out” of your relationships closet. God allows for divorce under certain defined circumstances, but does not condone it nor require it. Therefore, do not misunderstand the content of this post as applying to marriage.

o.o1 – Be decisive and direct about the Uncomfortable Shoe – The good news about the Uncomfortable Shoe type of relationship is that sometimes things can be softened over and smoothed out. These are relationships that though they make us uncomfortable or even painful, instead of prematurely throwing them out, they may be repairable with some work. I am reminded of the passage in the Bible, “As far as depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” With uncomfortable relationships, we need to be willing to do our best at fixing them. Don’t just wait around hoping things will get better on their own, take initiative to remedy the relationship.

However, as the above passage in the Bible suggests, we can’t always fix relationships. If you have made every effort to revitalize or reconcile the relationship, but with no little or no success, it may just be time to redefine the relationship as you set healthy boundaries.  This can be difficult to do, but it’s critical. We can’t change people, but we can change how we relate to people.

o.o2 – Have realistic expectations about the Nostalgia Suit- It’s easy to want certain relationships and certain aspects of our relationships to last forever. It’s also natural to desire to reconnect with an old friend hoping that things will go back to or feel the ways things did in the past. There are some relationships in our past that can carry on forever, and some that we can reconnect with that pick up like time never passed. However, placing a high expectation that this will be the case is probably not going to serve you or the relationship very well. Let the Nostalgia Suit type of relationship be enjoyed for what it is, and if a new or continued relationship can be developed from it, great. Certainly don’t just discard it.  But don’t place a lot of pressure on the relationship to fit and feel like it used to.

o.o3 – Avoid over thinking the Gifted Tie – Letting the emotions of guilt rule our relationships is not going to result in good things. For sure, we are to be compassionate and caring to people as we give unconditional love. However, you can give unconditional love without granting unlimited access to your life, time, attention, and energy. Guilt does not produce love. When we extend ourselves to people out of guilt, we are not loving them, but in fact are selfishly trying to remove the pain of guilt from our lives so we feel better about ourselves. Genuine compassion leads to love, but guilt does not. If after honest evaluation, you find yourself giving your time and attention to a person out of guilt, ask God to help you deal with the source of your guilt while helping you know what to say “yes” and “no” to in the relationship.  In some instances, this will mean learning to love that person from a distance, other times it will mean admitting you aren’t the best person to care for them. Other times it may mean completely redefining the relationship or even removing yourself from it. Regardless, don’t over think the Gifted Tie type of relationship and become consumed by it, that is often what guilt seeks to do… control you.

o.o4 – Don’t spend your life on a Fashion Statement – Though it may seem otherwise, people can’t make you any more important and or valuable than what you already are.  For some of us, we subscribe our value to the kinds of people we have in our lives. Believe it or not, the cool-kids lunch table you wanted to sit at in middle school carries on into adulthood. There are cool coworker tables, cool parents tables, cool professionals tables, and on and on.  Yes, the Bible counsels us that the people we draw close to us can be defining in our lives. We need to be selective about the people we bring to the closest levels of our relationships. However, that is more of an issue of integrity and wholeness, not popularity, fame, or standing. Spending our lives trying to attach ourselves to the fame, success, and popularity of other people is a waste of time. Putting on someone else’s clothes often doesn’t look good at all. Furthermore, trying to be someone we aren’t isn’t a very attractive look either.  God’s counsel is to be the first you, not a copy of someone else. Make the most of who you are and the platform God has given you. Be a fashion setter, not fashion seeker.

o.o5 – Force fitting the Shrunken Jeans never works – Not every relationships fits us. The very same person who makes for a great acquaintance, may not make a very healthy close friend. Furthermore, the very person who made for a great friend in one season of your life, may not make for a very good friend during another season of your life.  God is in the business of life change. Sometimes, as God changes us, our relationships need to to change too.  With some relationships, as God grows us, the relationship grows too. This is an ideal situation that should be cherished. With other relationships, as God grows us, the relationship tries to reel us back into who we were before and what we did, keeping us from moving forward.  In some relationships, the glue of the relationship is the not so good behavior or activity you did with them.  Once you grow out of that behavior, the relationship is threatened.  This is where, at times, we need to clean out the relationships closet and throw those old pair of jeans away, they just don’t fit and will keep us from moving forward with God.

Other times, we are the ones who shrink the relationship. We screw up and damage things. When this occurs, we need to fes up, repent, and ask for forgiveness with a commitment to rebuild the person’s trust over time. If this is granted, you should be thankful. If it is not granted, trying to force your way back into the relationship will not likely work well. In fact, it may end up hurting you and the situation more.  If the person is willing to stretch out with forgiveness and reconciliation, then one day the relationship may just fit again, even better and stronger than before. But if they aren’t, force fitting yourself into the relationship is a hopeless pursuit, and it may be time to simply move on.

o.o6 – Never take for granted your Favorite Sweater- It’s amazing how often we work on relationships that aren’t working and forget to work on relationships that are working. To keep that Favorite Sweater being your Favorite Sweater, it’s going to take some effort and work. The problem we can have with the Favorite Sweater is we leave it in the closet and forget about taking care of it while we busily try to develop and maintain some of the other types of relationships. Then, when we go to put on that Favorite Sweater, it is stretched out, dusty, or even a bit moldy. In short, the relationship isn’t as warm and fuzzy because we have not taken care of it as much as we should. The reason why that person(s) is your Favorite Sweater is because of the comfort, warmth, and encouragement the relationship brings to both of you. But without care, we can’t expect that to always be the case.

o.o7 – Choose to limit your emotional energy on Wrinkled Shirts- There really is no such thing as a wrinkle free shirt. Every relationship takes time, energy, and effort. However, some relationships are defined by having to maintain them through a lot of drama and issues. These are the exhausting relationships. With every turn, there seems to be some crisis, conflict, or wrinkle that needs to ironed out.  The truth is, the Wrinkled Shirt type of relationships often have deeper issues going on than we could every possibly remedy.  Though these persons cry out for attention and display issues that need dire fixing, the reality is, you or I aren’t likely going to be able to fix them. Sometimes, the best thing to do is refer them to the cleaners (so to speak), that is, professionals who are trained to deal with their level of issues and problems. Trying to play the neighborhood psychiatrist may in fact do more harm than good. As Christians, we have Jesus who is the solution to all the problems of the world, but how that solution gets integrated into a person’s life often has a lot more to with the person themselves aided by the help of a professional Christian counselor. There is a lot we can do as Christians to bring healing to wrinkled lives and relationships, but there is also a lot we can’t. Having the wisdom to distinguish the difference is key.

o.o8 – Avoid chasing after Catalogue displays-   At times, I have found value  in the statement, “If people can walk away, let them walk away.” This phrase refers to those relationships where we try to keep people in our lives that really make little to no effort to be in our lives. Sometimes, they flat out turn the corner and walk away. Like a catalogue, we can picture them in our Relationship Closet, but the reality is, they aren’t there and paying the cost to get them there isn’t going to be worth it in the end. If you have to beg, appease, plead, flatter, or otherwise try to convince people to be or stay in your life, they probably aren’t worthy being in your Relationship Closet to begin with. When relationships sour, we need to be willing to admit mistakes, repent, and go through the process of reconciliation, but forever begging and pleading, appeasing and convincing those who clearly aren’t interested in being a part of your life is not what God does with us, nor intends for us. If they can walk away, let them walk away. God’s future for you isn’t tied to their presence in your life.

Closing Thoughts

God gives us the beautiful gift of relationships. As we steward our Relationship Closet, on one side of the coin we will likely find relationships in our closet that with a bit of nurturing and care can be transformed instead of discarded. Yet at the same time, we will likely find relationships that truly no longer fit, for whatever reason can’t be patched, or clearly work against what God is doing, and should be redefined or even completely removed.

Church Impossible

I love the television show, “Restaurant Impossible.”  This real life show is about how expert chef and restaurant entrepreneur Robert Irvine of Food Network spends two days trying to fix “failing” restaurants that have sought out his help. He and his team of designers diagnos and address the many layers of issues that have led to the failure of the restaurant.  Most restaurants have significant debt, management problems, poor service, bad food, and unsightly disrepair issues.

Every time I watch this show, I am astounded by the many crossovers that can be identified that directly compare to leading churches and seeking to minister to people.  There are a lot of successful and faithful churches out there, and there are a lot of successful and faithful Christians. However, there are also what could be called, “failing” churches and Christians as well.

Over the course of my ministry thus far, I have served as the Lead Pastor of two churches that could be considered, “failing” churches. The similarities between the issues that needed to be addressed in those churches and these restaurants are uncanny.

Here some of the many crossovers from Restaurant Impossible to Church Impossible…

1) Failing Churches and Restaurants don’t set out to fail

Most churches and restaurant are started by good-hearted people who want to succeed.  Many churches are started by people who have a passion to see the Gospel change people’s lives and the Kingdom of God built through their ministry. They love Jesus and want to see His Church be the redemptive hope of the world. Many existing Churches don’t have within their mindset the desire to fail, in fact most want to be faithful to God. In the same way, I have never seen an episode of Restaurant Impossible where the leaders of the restaurant ever desired it to fail.  They started it with good intentions and probably still have many good intentions.

2) Failing Churches and Restaurants are often led by people in a certain amount of denial

In one episode of Restaurant Impossible, a restaurant owner/chef was convinced that his “homemade” barbecue (which actually wasn’t completely homemade) was the best. It tasted great to him, but obviously the customers believed differently. Even his own staff thought is was lacking (though a few faithful customers liked it). Otherwise, they would be filling the place with more business and new business. The barbecue recipe’ had been past down through generations, but for whatever reason, it not only didn’t taste good, it wasn’t homemade, and the customers were not buying it.

Part of Robert Irvine’s challenge was to help the owner/chef come out of denial about his barbecue recipe and see that what may taste good to him and honor a family tradition is actually working against the purpose and success of the restaurant.

Obviously, the goal of a church isn’t to solely please the customer, but it is to present the Gospel in ways that people can digest and taste and see that the Lord is good. Churches should never change the meat of the Gospel, but the way we present it should always be changing.  The traditions of man have often become the enemy of church effectiveness.  Like the chef/owner, failing churches are often serving up traditions and ministries that taste good to themselves, but are not reaching people far from God with the Gospel. Churches that are merely keeping their members happy and maintaining their existence are in my mind, “failing” churches in the sense that they are failing to reach their redemptive potential and their calling by God to reach people far from God at all costs. In the Kingdom of God, maintenance does not equal success it equals failure.

Unfortunately, the follow up to this episode of Restaurant Impossible found the chef/owner actually going back to the old barbecue recipe despite the overwhelming response from customers regarding their delight in the new recipe provided by chef Robert Irvine.  This same response is common among some churches as well. At the end of the day, they would rather hold onto traditions and what serves them then succeed at their ultimate calling and purpose as a church. In a sense, they have become comfortable with failing and blaming everyone else but themselves.  However, where when a restaurant fails, it costs the owners most of all. When a church fails, it costs lost people most of all.  Worst case senario for the church and its members, they have to close the door and find another club with a cross on top. Worst case senario for lost people, they spend eternity separated from God.

The cost of denial in church world is far greater than restaurant world.

3) Failing Churches and Restaurants are often led by discouraged people.

By the time a restaurant or church comes to the place where they are willing to admit that they need help, they are often discouraged. Some people/employees surely bolted long before they sounded the alarm, but those who remain are likely frustrated, burned out at some level, and scared. Which in some instances adds to their stubbornness against the very things that can make them well.  Some are so discouraged that they would rather just give up or resist change instead of taking a new path towards success and wholeness. Yet for those who have a flicker of passion remaining, a fresh sense of vision and hope can spark revitalization.

Unfortunately, the very discouragement than can press an owner or a group of leaders to get help and implement fresh ideas and strategies, can be the very discouragement that once removed by new success, can lead back into negative patterns.  Some people are attracted to conflict and drama, and success scares and intimidates them more than failure. For these types of leaders and groups, a deep change in their core mindset is needed to move into the potential of their restaurant or church.

4) Failing Churches and Restaurants are often resistant to change

It’s amazing for me to see how many restaurants ask for chef Robert’s help and then are blessed with the tremendous wisdom, fresh vision, new effective ideas and strategies that come from chef Robert and his team that prove to be successful in their context, only to weeks later go right back to the very behaviors and strategies that caused them to fail in the first place.

It reminds me of a scene where Jesus sees a man who said he wanted healing, had been sitting near a healing pool for years, and had all kinds of excuses why he never had gotten in and become healed.  Jesus senses the irony and asks him, “Do want to get well?”  Jesus knew, just because you say you want something doesn’t mean you are willing to do what it takes to get it.

So many churches, people, and apparently restaurants say they want to get well, but when the reality of it meets their life, they are resistant and even rebellious to make the necessary changes. Everybody wants change without changing anything, especially themselves.

Many churches and restaurants that are failing are led by the same people, in the same ways, doing the same things, with the same methods, but expecting new results. That is insanity and will prove to be unsuccessful.

5) Failing Churches and Restaurants often don’t see their irrelevance to the needs of people.

From having restaurants that have way too many items on their menu, to having outdated and tacky decor. From having food that is tasteless, processed, and flat out gross, to having items on the menu nobody is buying.  Many of the restaurants chef Robert seeks to revitalize don’t realize how irrelevant they are to the needs of their potential customers. Many owners, in fact, think their customers like the very things these same customers actually say they don’t. Furthermore, some restaurants even have a distasteful smell about them that the owners no longer recognize, but their customers certainly do.

In the same way, many failing churches don’t see the irrelevance of their ministry and the bad “smell” they are wafting, other than perhaps how it serves their own likings. For example…

Many failing churches try to serve too many items on their ministry menu.  Instead of accomplishing a few areas of ministry with excellence, they try to be all things to all people, and thus end up doing many things, but none of them very well.

Many failing churches are serving ministries that lost people could care less about.  A vision of reaching people far from God and maturing believers should be at the heart of every church.  Yet, typically, failing churches do much more to take care of believers than to reach people far from God. In fact, I have never seen a church “fail” because they cared too much about people far from God and adjusting their ministries and priorities accordingly.  Rather, I have seen just the opposite. When we begin to ask the question of each and every ministry within the church, “How does this effectively reach lost people or prepare believers to do so?” we begin to know best how to align our ministries and trim the ministry vine.

Many failing churches don’t realize how poorly they are doing ministry.  Unfortunately in the name of trying to be loving and friendly, many churches surrender to a mindset that believes being a spiritual organization of volunteers requires us to significantly lower our standards of excellence and effectiveness. Yet, God designed people to serve in areas of their passion, spiritual gifts, maturity level, and in line with the overall vision of the church so that ministry can be done skillfully, purposefully, and with excellence.

Unfortunately, many failing churches tend to do whatever, with whomever, in basically any old way that seems to fit. A maintenance ministry mindset has caused them to conclude that it doesn’t have to be done well and with excellence, besides, “Jesus will understand,” and “we are all family anyways.”  Furthermore, “that will cost too much money.”

Often times, chef Robert has to convince the chef/owner of what should already by very obvious… the food stinks, their methods stink, and their organization is flawed. This if often a tough reality to hear, but an important one.

Many failing churches don’t realize how their outdated and tacky decor, image, and style is eclipsing their ministry effectiveness.  I am amazed how restaurants and churches try to attract 21st century people with 19th century architecture, design, music, imagery, and decor. More and more, we live in a visual culture that is influenced by visual communication.  Yet, somehow we think that when it comes to church, people will flip a switch and not care. This, is absolutely not true.

Jesus used the communication tools and languages of his day, we should too.

6) Failing Churches and Restaurants often have internal conflicts of power and control

With every episode of Restaurant Impossible, chef Robert has to deal with some kind of internal disfunction amongst the leadership of the restaurant. Usually, it has to do with issues of power, control, and a lack of centralized leadership. Either people who should be leading aren’t leading (for whatever reason), or people who shouldn’t be leading are trying to run the show. Whatever the case, the dysfunction is obvious.

Failing churches often have internal conflicts along with issues of power and control. In the same way as these failing restaurants, typically it stems from the reality that people who shouldn’t be leading are in fact the ones running the show. Perhaps they shouldn’t be leading because they lack the calling, maturity, skill, discipline, knowledge, vision, or heart, but nonetheless, they are leading.

In the same way that chef Robert’s seeks to remedy these issues, failing churches need to establish who the earthly God-called leader is, give them appropriate authority to lead, clarify roles, define goals and values, and align people around them.  Furthermore, once this has been established, the leader(s) must follow through with their responsibilities. Defining clear roles, establishing specific goals, organizing people and processes, and having good leadership is critical in both churches and restaurants.

7) Failing Churches and Restaurants want to be successful, but some aren’t willing to do what it takes

With every episode of Restaurant Impossible, chef Robert along with restaurant leaders are required to make tough calls. Whether it be in changing an entire menu, revamping the whole interior and look of the restaurant, firing employees, removing long held traditions or practices, or calling people into accountability, revitalizing a restaurant is difficult work.  And even though many of them play along while the show is being filmed and the romance of a “new” restaurant is still present, many of these failing restaurants go back to some if not all the very things that backed them into a corner to begin with. The opportunity was there to move forward, but when it mattered most, they weren’t willing to do what it takes.

Many “failing” churches say they want to grow, want to be relevant to culture, and want to reach people far from God, but when it matters most, they simply aren’t willing to do what it takes to see it happen. They aren’t willing to make the difficult decisions, take the needed risks, and face the necessary challenges.  Good intentions don’t make great restaurants, nor do they build the Kingdom of God and lead churches to reach their redemptive potential.

8) Failing churches and restaurants must be changed on the inside not just the outside

One of the highlights of Restaurant Impossible is the big reveal of the inside, physical renovations of the restaurant.  It’s amazing what changes can be made and an entire restaurant be visually turned around in a matter of a couple days. But, as chef Robert has often said on the show, the physical renovations don’t mean much if the other areas of needed renovation don’t occur.

One of the most important lessons I have learned about “failing” churches is that even though you may be able to renovate their style, ministry practices, and image, if you don’t renovate the hearts of the core people of the church it will eventually come crashing down. Unfortunately, as it is in restaurant world, so it is in church world. Renovating the heart of the core group in the church or restaurant can be challenging and sometimes (even often) impossible. Only God can change a heart and break through the deep seeded issues that are likely present in the hearts of the core people of a “failing” church. But with God, all things are possible. With Jesus, Church impossible becomes church possible.

9) Failing churches and restaurants are filled with great hope and potential

There has never been a Restaurant Impossible episode thus far of a restaurant that was beyond hope and potential for a great turn around. Every church is loved by God and filled with great potential. Whether a restaurant or church reaches this potential and comes into the hope they have is up to their willingness to receive and apply wise counsel. For churches this counsel is grounded in God’s Word, His purpose for His Church, and the faithful leadership of called pastors and leaders.

The Evil of Drama

dramathe creating and need of attention by a person through the use of personal or interpersonal conflict

Satan loves drama. In fact he is the one who invented it.  There is nothing more drama filled than His rebellion in Heaven and His stunts in the Garden of Eden. Drama, drama, and more drama.

In fact, have you noticed that sin is at the heart of all drama, because sin is at the heart of all conflict. Take personal or interpersonal conflict out of conversations, and some people won’t have anything to talk about.  In fact, for some, drama has become their emotional caffeine as they can’t seem to get through the day without several cups of it. And for some, it’s become their security blanket as they just can’t feel good about themselves without hearing or delivering something negative (true, false, or somewhere in between) about their life, someone, or something else.

It’s drama, and Satan loves every minute and morsel of it. More than that, he loves to see us joining in with it in our lives. Why? Because it’s evil and destructive. It gets us focusing on everything that isn’t important and missing what is. It steals, kills, and destroys integrity, holiness, relational health, self-esteem, and the list goes on and on. Drama adds nothing, but costs just about everything.

Here’s some key destructive things drama does…

Drama minimizes truth and maximizes personal opinion-  People who crave attention rarely value truth. Why? Because truth isn’t often that dramatic. However, personal opinions can create realities for conversation that are more appetizing, self-serving, and attention getting.

Yet, personal opinion can be easily misguided and filled with much speculation. But who cares, right? We’re not trying to be truthful or get to the truth, we are just trying to get attention or relieve our insecurities by lowering the lives of others down so we don’t look as bad as we really are. It’s that why we love a good scandal or to see a public figure fail, whether its true or not?

Drama loves the misguided idea that “everybody is entitled to their own opinion.”  In our culture, we overvalue personal opinion and undervalue truth and the counsel of God’s Word. Everyone maybe entitled to have a personal opinion, but we aren’t always entitled to give it, nor should we always listen to everybody’s opinion. What people are really often saying who use the phrase, “Well, I’m entitled to my own opinion” is “You are entitled to my opinion.”

Drama loves to try to drag people around through personal opinion and drag them into their world of personal opinion.

Drama minimizes direct communication and maximizes gossip-  Drama hates resolution and accountability. What fun would that be, right? It’s a lot more dramatic to talk about people than to people.

Furthermore, drama finds it fuel in the darkness of people talking behind other people’s backs and not being held accountable for their words. Additionally, drama finds its energy in people who are willing to listen to it, and even give it safe harbor. Being a gossip isn’t just about what you say, it’s also about what you listen to. If you find that you are on the receiving end of a lot of drama, it may be because you have become or are perceived as a willing host.

When people who need to be talking directly (instead of through others or to others) are actually talking directly to each other, drama dissolves. That’s why drama loves to play the mediator or the divider. Drama loves to pit people against each other and play both ends of stick. Drama is often two faced and indulges in playing the middle ground.

Drama minimizes self control and maximizes impulsiveness- When our tongues are out of control and undisciplined, it’s because our hearts our first out of control and undisciplined.  People who have little control over their emotions tend to have little control over their mouths. Rather, they feel and say whatever comes to their flesh. And when an opportunity comes to take a hit off  a drama dubby or caffeine up on some negative attention, they just can’t resist.

Drama is impulsive. It’s easily stirred up and excited. It goes from one drama to the next, often without any sense of thought, reserve, or hesitancy. Drama is undisciplined and never does it’s homework. Drama is the emotional drunk who has to have some kind of negative cocktail upon which to sip, heaven for bid, lest they sober up and have to grow up.

Drama minimizes self-worth and maximizes insecurity- People who are into drama tend to be insecure about themselves. Thus, they use drama for at least one of three reasons. 1) To lift themselves up in their own mind by bringing a person(s) down in the mind of others. 2) They need attention and affirmation, so they use drama to draw attention to themselves. They are insecure to the point that negative attention seems better than no attention. They freely open the window for all to look into their daily struggles and that of others solely because deep down, they need the attention. 3) They listen to and host the drama in other people’s lives because it makes them feel needed and they are too insecure to redirect or stop the unhealthy dialogue, walk away, or confront it.

Drama minimizes responsibility and maximizes blame- Have you noticed that when people share their drama, it’s typically always everybody else’s fault but their own. They are the victim to a deep injustice or tragedy for which they bare no responsibility. The government is to blame, their boss is to blame, their friend is to blame, their pastor is to blame, their spouse is to blame. Everybody is to blame but them. And then the person who loves to listen and give safe harbor to drama affirms their delusional conclusions and the two (or more) of them revel together in the drama of victimization. It’s this drama ladened victimization that has led to statements like, “All men are scum.” and other like phrases.

When drama takes responsibility for it’s own existence, it quickly loses its appeal. When the mirror of drama is turned from looking at everyone else to reflecting itself, drama no longer is the great rationalizer and excuse creator.

Drama minimizes holiness and maximizes negative attention- People who are drawn to drama easily become the emotional and verbal garbage cans in which drama junkies place their trash. They are partners in the crime through their open ears and open doors, not because they pulled the trigger necessarily, but because they drove the car.  Unfortunately, the following formula will eventually take hold in their life, “Junk in, junk out”  It’s impossible to feed off of negative attention without it polluting our emotional and spiritual system.  W can love and listen to people without giving support to everything they say nor permission to say whatever they want. This is the key to defusing drama before it darkens you.

Drama minimizes reality and maximizes exaggeration and distortion- When the truth of history (what has really happened) doesn’t present a person in a positive light or get them enough attention, there is a great temptation to exaggerate reality or even completely distort it.

I had a friend in high school completely make up a story that she had been assaulted in a hotel elevator in order to gain the attention of our entire youth group during a summer trip.  Furthermore, we have all experienced those who like to spread lies and half-truths about ourselves or others because the reality of history (what really happened) doesn’t cast a positive light on them. Drama hates reality, because reality isn’t often that attention getting nor titillating, and sometimes it’s outright convicting.

Drama minimizes trust and maximizes distance-  Where some people are attracted to drama for negative reasons, others are repelled by it for healthy reasons. Why? Because drama minimizes the ability for trust to develop in a healthy relationship.  It’s hard to develop trust when drama abounds in a relationship or a person shows they are prone to drama. Drama lives in unhealth. Trusting a person who lives in the world of drama to be healthy with what you share of yourself with them can become difficult. If we want to attract healthy relationships and people we must be willing to leave the world of drama. Healthy relationships and drama cannot exist together.

Drama minimizes clarity and maximizes deception-  The incubator for drama is darkness, where things can’t be seen for what they really are. When drama is exposed to the light of truth and health, it evaporates unless it is kept in the shadows of deception where things are misrepresented and disguised.

Drama loves to talk in generalities with broad sweeping statements that sow seeds of doubt while keeping things inconclusive, undetermined, and unsure. Drama loves to take that which is plain and make it complicated, that which is known and make it unsure, that which is trustable and make it doubted, that which is likely, and make it unlikely, and that which is black or white, and make it grey.  Drama lives and breathes on the complicated, unsure, doubted, unlikely, and grey. Drama sows these seeds of doubt, uncertainty, and mystery in order to perpetuate its existence. For without them, drama dissolves. Just ask the conspiracy buffs. Just ask Hollywood. Just ask religious-spirited people. Just ask Satan.

In our world and culture, where drama is so common place, it’s easy to become numb to its evil. Satan would love nothing more than to steal, kill, and destroy the life out of our living through drama. May God wake us all up to this scheme.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Servant Leadership Misunderstood

Matthew 20:28  20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down,asked a favor of him. 21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”“We can,” they answered. 23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” 24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I want to start  this post with a statement… If we serve people, we may never serve our gift. If we serve our gift, we will serve both our gift and people.

Sound confusing? That’s o.k. Hopefully by the time you are finished with this post it will not only make sense, but revolutionize your life and leadership. I know this understanding has profoundly impacted me.

To understand what I am getting at, we need to start with understanding our “gift.”  Before we can truly serve people as God purposed us, we must understand what God has put in our hands to give. Otherwise, we end up trying to give people what we don’t have and meeting desires in people instead of needs.

Serving happens when we give something of ourselves so that a person(s) may move further into God and His agenda for their life.

I believe this was a dimension of Martha’s problem when she and Mary encountered Jesus (Luke 10:38-42).  Mary had a sense of what would honor  and serve Jesus because she knew her “gift.”  Her “gift” was, in part, to bless the Lord with her attention and devotion. She knew what Jesus, in a sense, “needed” and what  she could best contribute to Him. Martha was distracted because she was making sandwiches Jesus never ordered. She wasn’t serving her gift, but serving the anxiousness of the moment and what she thought was needed.  If being hospitable and having things domestically prepared was part of her “gift” she wouldn’t have been complaining about doing it herself nor would it have been left to the last minute.

Still a bit confused? That’s o.k., I think it will become clear.

So let’s talk about your “gift.”

In simple terms, our “gift” is the combination of our 1) salvation 2) calling 3) spiritual gifting 4) platform and 5) resources.

Salvation- As Christians, the greatest aspect of our “gift” is our salvation. It is the gift that ushers in all the others. God has given it to us freely, and by faith we have received it. We serve our gift by working “out” our salvation. This means two things. 1) That we share the Gospel with people with care and effectiveness. Everyone Christian has a ministry of salvation to people because we have been given and received the “gift” of salvation. We serve our gift by growing in our willingness and capacity to share the Gospel.  We best serve people when we can share with them clearly and articulately the reason for the hope we have. 2) We grow in living the Gospel through our actions and attitudes. We serve our gift of salvation when we strive to give people an inspirational example that makes them hungry for what we have in Christ because of how they see us live. Everyone needs salvation, but we cannot serve that need if we are not first serving our gift. This is the essence of servant leadership. We should all be leading the way in the salvation business because we are first serving our gift, and then our gift to people.

Calling-  We serve our gift by establishing and living our calling. Your calling is the specific, unique purpose God has placed in your life.  Obviously, there are general callings upon our life. For example, if you are a mom, you are obviously called to be a great mom. If you are a husband, than you are called to be a faithful husband.

Yet, there is a unique, specific calling that God has placed over your life.  This calling is related to the unique person God wants you to become and the specific thing He wants you to accomplish with your life. Moses was called by God to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt into the promised land. Nehemiah was called by God to lead the rebuilding of the temple walls of Jerusalem and the restoration of the people. Jesus was called to be and provide the Way by which all people can be saved. Ever person in and outside the Bible has a specific calling upon their life, including you.

We serve our “gift” by fervently discovering our God given calling and living it passionately and tenaciously.

Unfortunately, many people either don’t know what their calling is or they are’t following it.  Some are told early on that the burdens, passions, and dreams placed within us from God’s heart are unpractical, unattainable, or unrealistic. Others get lazy or content with simply making ends meet throughout life.  So, what happens? Many surrender to living ordinary, safe, and significance lacking lives.

This is a deep tragedy as so many people could be profoundly served through our calling, but if we don’t serve our calling, people will never be served to the fullest nor will we know best how to serve them.

This is why if we truly want to serve God and people we must first serve our “gift” through continually discerning precisely and living passionately our calling from God upon our lives.  When we know what are calling is, the needs are calling meets in others begin to appear in the lives of people we encounter.  It’s then that we gain a sense of our divine purpose and all the sudden we see all the divine appointments God sets up on a daily basis to live our calling into people’s lives. However without first serving our calling we would not fully see the opportunities God desires us to take hold to serve people. Instead, like Martha, we end up making sandwiches Jesus never ordered.

Spiritual Gifts-  We serve our “gift” by discerning and developing our spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are given by enabling us to accomplish our calling. Our gifts from God are always connected to our calling. They give us the spiritual power to accomplish our spiritual calling. Our calling from God will lead us to pursue things that we cannot accomplish apart from God. Along with a healthy dose of faith, spiritual gifts are purposed on enabling our spiritual calling to be realized.

Spiritual gifts and talents are different.  Spiritual gifts come to believers supernaturally through the Holy Spirit, talents come to us naturally.  If you only follow and develop what comes naturally to you ( your talents), you can miss your supernatural calling and the gifts that come with it.

Where your calling gives you direction on what you are to accomplish with your life with the specific things you are to become and do, spiritual gifts show you how you should be doing that. For example, God’s calling upon your life might be to bring healing to sick people. So, your spiritual gifts would determine how you are to do that. Perhaps your gifts are centered around teaching, so instead of being a hands-on medical doctor, you should perhaps be an educator of doctors.

When you are getting clearer on your calling and developing your spiritual gifts to accomplish that calling, you begin to get into what I call “the zone.” The zone is where we are most exercising true servant leadership in that we are effectively moving people onto God’s agenda for their life. But none of that can happen until we first serve our “gift” by discerning and developing our spiritual gifts.  Great people in the Kingdom of God work very hard at developing their spiritual gifts for maximum impact. People who are passionate about serving people are first passionate about serving their spiritual gifts by developing them t their fullest potential.

Platform-  We serve our gift by understanding, stewarding and maximizing our platform. Our platform is the specific role God gives us from which we are able to live out our calling.  For example, God has given me the role or platform of being a pastor in His church, and more specifically certain churches at certain times and locations. Serving people means I need to understand, steward, and maximum that role or platform.

God has a place (or platform) for everyone from which to be a servant leader.  Everyone has a God given, unique platform.  Our overall calling in life rarely changes, but our platforms can and will.  Yet, while we are in that role or platform, we need to understand that role, steward it, and maximize it.

Your platform comes with God’s favor and authority. With your platform comes God given power and the authority to accomplish your calling. God is not opposed to us having the authority that comes with our platform/role. In fact, He gave it to us. He is, however, concerned with how we steward that authority.  There is a difference between Lordship and Leadership.  Lordship uses authority as a first option and leadership as a last choice when it comes to influencing people. Leadership uses leadership as a first option and authority as a last option when it comes to influencing people. Notice that Leadership isn’t absent of the use of authority, the difference is in how it is stewarded.

There are plenty of people who want to minimize or completely remove the authority God has given you through your calling and the specific platform or role He has given you. Think about fathers and how are modern culture has tried to minimize, mock, and even remove their God given authority in the home. When we serve our gift we are careful to steward the authority of our platform that has been granted by God by both safeguarding it and using it wisely.

Stewarding your platform/role may also mean sharing it and delegate certain aspects of it.  Not every platform God gives you is necessarily an exclusive role but  may be a shared one.  Yet, how you fill that role or platform will be unique in a way(s) only you can accomplish.

In simple terms, part of your “gift” is the reality that God has a place for you, and a specific role to play. That role comes with power and authority. Serve your “gift” means understanding what that role is, to what extent God has given you power and authority within it, and stewarding and maximizing your use of that role for God’s glory.

Unfortunately, we end up wanting everybody else’s platform but our own. We want other people’s jobs, success, geographical locations, positions, and circumstances in life.  In short, we get platform envy. Therefore, we try to be who were not meant to be, have what we were not meant to have, and do what we were not meant to do. Meanwhile all the good things and potential greatness that God graced us with within the platform of our calling goes wasted and unrealized.

Additionally, some allow people and circumstances to minimize or steal from their platform/role of their calling through intimidation, insecurity, and a misunderstanding of leadership. If we want to truly serve people, we cannot let that happen. Leaders develop people into leaders, this is true. However, there is a common statement in leadership that I believe is a bit misguided.  The statement is… “the goal of leadership is to work yourself out of job.” I understand the idea behind this, but I don’t believe God wants us giving up the very platform He gave us. Rather, our job is to help people discover their gift and the platform that comes with it. Jesus didn’t try to work Himself out of His job/role/platform.  No one can do what He did and does, nor has God given anyone else that exact platform. Jesus rather delegates His authority and power and develops people to lead His cause.  Jesus serves people while first serving His “gift” which includes His platform.

Insecurity in leadership is put to death when we take care of our “gift.” Because, when we do, we realize our platform/role is ours and ours alone, given to us by God. With this awareness, we are free to develop others and rejoice in their greatness. Within a church ministry context, understanding your role and platform should be done through the discernment and counsel of the pastor and ministry leaders of the church.

Resources- We serve our gift by stewarding and investing our resources.  In the Kingdom of God you only get to keep what you are willing to give away. God has given you many resources that God desires to be leveraged for the purpose of moving people onto God’s agenda for their life. Serving our gift means valuing what we have been given, and understanding the greater purpose for our “stuff.”

Summary

I believe servant leadership is not about serving people first, but serving our “gift” first so that we can best serve people. Servant leadership isn’t about giving up who you are and the unique calling and role God has for you, but rather serving it in such a way so that you can freely and effectively help and develop others to serve their “gift” into people’s lives for the glory of God.

Jesus is not opposed  to greatness. In fact, He is even willing to teach us how to become great. Serving our “gift” so that we might best serve people enables great Kingdom work to be done through us.

When I read the Gospels it’s clear that Jesus indicates that He came to serve rather than be served and as Christians we are to have a servant’s heart as we live and fulfill God’s purposes for our lives.  Yet, it some circles this mindset has been translated into a brand of “serving” that means we are to serve people by making them happy as we fulfill their desires and impact their needs.

This all sounds well and good until the moment a person’s loving leadership of people requires influencing them to a place that may temporarily reduce their happiness and even contradict their desires, even asking them to sacrifice their needs instead of meeting them. Furthermore, I am hard pressed to find examples of Jesus serving religious-spirited people.  Again, by “serving” I mean a kind of goal that is to make people happy as we fulfill their desires and impacts their needs.

Rather, I believe what Jesus displays is that we are to serve our “gift” to people as we live to glorify God and build His Kingdom.

The important distinction is that we are to serve our gift first and foremost, and then we serve our gift to people. There is a vital difference between the idea of “serving people” and “serving our gift to people.”  If we serve people, we may miss meeting true needs by being enticed by a person’s desires and emotions. If we serve people, we may miss utilizing our gifts and realizing our calling. If we serve people, we may lose ourselves instead of giving ourselves. If we serve people, we may miss God and His purposes. If we serve people, we may mislead them.

However, when we serve our “gift” to people, we end up serving from God, through us, into people’s lives. When we serve people, we serve from people, into us, to God. The result is the difference between doing what God is blessing and asking God to bless what we are doing.  When we serve people, God may or may not be involved. When we serve our gift to people, God, we, and people are always involved and in the right order.

Many times, we simply serve people without much thought to what we are to give nor what God is up to in that person’s life. When we see our “gift,” we see why God has uniquely positioned us and put us into people’s lives. Our gift gives us an important glimpse into how, when, and why we are to serve people.  Our gift gives a sense of purpose for what should be the desired result in the person’s life that we are to serve.

That, to me, is true servant leadership.

Looking forward to your thoughts…

Recovering From A Disappointing Dad

As a father, I know over the course of my parenting I will have many areas where I don’t measure up and will have times where I disappoint my children and God who entrusts them to me.  No father is perfect, and being a faithful father is tougher now than perhaps ever before.  Every dad, to at least some degree is a “disappointing dad.” Only our heavenly Father is perfect and leaves nothing lacking.

Yet, there are those fathers whose disappointment factor rises to a level of leaving severe scars and deep unmet needs in their children’s lives.  They are the abusing, absent, or abdicating dad.  Some fathers abuse their children, emotionally and physically. Other fathers are absent from their children’s lives as they bury themselves in work, hobbies, distractions, or keep an emotional distance from their child’s life, sometimes to the point of abandoning their children all together. Other fathers abdicate their role to the mom, coaches, schools, churches, and culture as a whole as they refuse to lead, set the example, take responsibilities, and become an active, beneficial part of their child’s life. This is what I am referring to when I speak of “Disappointing Dads.” Fathers are to be the lead example setters, coaches, spiritual directors, protectors, correctors, monitors, providers, and time involved persons in their child’s life.

The role of father in our culture needs to be reclaimed and restored in our culture. Our society has portrayed fatherhood as one big joke, and fathers like Bart Simpson and Ozzy Osbourne are leading the way. Unfortunately, many men have gladly kicked backed in their recliners and adopted the mindset they see on television.

Sadly, just ask any school teacher, the carnage from “Disappointing Dads” is everywhere. Kids, mothers, families and society as a whole are paying the price big time. Furthermore, though this reality is probably worse now than ever before, there are previous generations now in their adult years who are trying to recover from “Disappointing Dads.” In fact, gen-“x”ers (now in their late 30’s to late 40’s) were the first to be named “Latch Key Kids” as their pre-boomer parents were off chasing the American Dream and living their own post-version of the 60’s.  The fathering trends haven’t gotten any better since then, but only worse.  I suspect the counseling, psychiatric side of the economy will be doing well for many years to come as these generations age.

Obviously, when it comes to recovering from a “Disappointing Dad” finding a good, Christian counselor is likely going to be a must. There are so many layers and connections that only a trained counselor can help you integrate into your life and faith in a way that is going to bless you and glorify God.  Yet, here are few steps you can take that will surely help you recover.

0.01  Grieve the Loss

Life is full of loss and pain. The hurts these cause in our life become most harmful when we don’t properly grieve.  So much of the dysfunction in our life is a result of a loss that has not been grieved completely.  Grief is God’s way of healing us from pain and loss in our lives.  Grieving is not an easy process, but it is a necessary process for finding healing and purpose within our pain and loss.

“Disappointing Dads” leave our lives with loss and pain. This pain and loss often centers around areas where they fell short as fathers and/or took something from us. That is why there is disappointment. God knows we can’t go back and remove the pain or undo the loss. This is where God’s gift of grief comes in. Grief enables us, through the power of Jesus, to integrate the pain and losses of life into our present and future in ways that ultimately bless us and glorify God.

The basic stages of grief are as follows… 1) Shock 2) Painful Feelings 3) Acceptance 4) Meaning 5) Empowerment

This process requires us to go through all 5 steps in order. And even though we may get through all five steps, it doesn’t mean we  still won’t have moments where we revisit one of the other steps. However, as you go through these steps, God is able to transform you and your circumstances to the place where you discover the tremendous purpose in pain and a ministry from within your misery.

I strongly encourage you to listen to the message series, “Rise Above: Defying the Gravity of Adversity” located on this website. This message series will guide you step by step through discovering the purpose within your pain and how to get to a place in your life where you actually have overcome the pain and loss you have experienced.

God fully understands and cares about your experience with a “Disappointing Dad” and desires to come along side of you as your Heavenly Father and heal those wounds. Walking with Him through the steps of grief will be a significant part of your healing and transformation.

o.o2  Renew and Release

One of the most powerful verses in the Bible that applies to an issues like this is…  Proverbs 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. 

There are two critical ideas presented in this passage. 1) When we hope or long for something to come into our lives that for whatever reason is very likely not going to occur, it creates pain and suffering. 2) When our God given hopes and longings are fulfilled, it brings growth and life to our being.

One of the most destructive things “Disappointing Dads” leave in our lives are unfulfilled hopes and longings.  God created us needing and deserving of fathers that meet critical needs in our lives. Furthermore, God designed our fathers to shape and mold our futures in ways that honor and foster God’s plan for your life. Unfortunately, when those needs, longings, and positive influences that only fathers can give do not occur, it leaves our lives filled with longings and hopes that are unfulfilled. In a very real sense, your “Disappointing Dad” owes you big time.  Maybe they owe you your innocence back, the childhood you deserve, the attention you should have been given, the father you should have had, etc.  Unfortunately, with many “Disappointing Dads” they either can’t repay what is owed you, or they refuse to do so. Either way, you have a “hope that is deferred” or said another way “a debt that isn’t being paid”  What happens? We live our lives hoping that somehow or someway these needs will be met by the person that should have met them in the first place, our father.  We look for the apology that is likely never to come, the change of heart or behavior that is likely never to change, and the list can go on and on. What’s the result? Our hearts grow sick with bitterness, disappointment, anger, frustration, guilt, and alike. We want to love our father and for our fathers to love us the way it was supposed to be, but that reality very likely just isn’t going to ever happen. That reality makes us sick in more ways than one.

So, what are we do to? Be heart sick the rest of our lives holding onto the past and feeling emotionally incomplete and cheated, many of us having the scars to show for it?  No.

God came up with the most brilliant solution to the pain and loss people create in our lives, especially “Disappointing Dads.” The solution is… forgiveness. Now before you wig out and click off this post thinking there is no way you are going to forgive the dad that screwed up your life, please hear me out.

Forgiveness does NOT mean that what your dad did or didn’t do is somehow now “o.k.” Forgiveness does NOT mean that the relationship is automatically reconciled or restored. Forgiveness does NOT mean you have to remove healthy boundaries and feel good about being around that person, what happened in the past, and what the relationship is like now.

Rather, forgiveness means you are canceling the debt. You are emotionally releasing your father of the debt they owe you that they cannot or will not repay.  Through forgiveness you are fulfilling the longing and hope you have for the father and childhood you did not receive by canceling the debt. In so doing, you are moving from bondage to the past into life for the present and future. You or no longing looking to your father to be or become someone to you that they cannot or refuse to be or become. The hole that your father left in your life is now able to be filled by the presence and provisions of God. Unforgiveness keeps this from happening and prolongs the pain and suffering that was caused years ago. Forgiveness stops the negative pattern, and our emotional enslavement  to it.

Forgiveness is very likely going to be the only thing that satisfies the longing and hopes left in our lives from the blood sucking of “Disappointing Dads”  Forgiveness removes the leach of their behaviors from continuing to suck the life out of us long after our childhoods are over.

Forgiveness is not easy and takes the power of God working in our lives, but it is perhaps the most critical step in recovering from “Disappointing Dads”

I strongly suggest reading my post “What’s Up With Forgiveness” for more details on what forgiveness is and isn’t and how to apply it to your life.

0.03  Take up Your Cross

I believe the purpose of your life can be found very close to the pain in your life. Taking up your cross, at least in part, means being willing to use your experiences of pain for the glory of God. Additionally, it carries with it the reality that we will all have crosses to bear as we do our best to live our lives and make the most of them for God’s purposes.

Recovering from a “Disappointing Dad” is a life long  journey.  Sometimes, you will make great strides forward and other times you will have to “fight the good fight of faith” as you battle to create a better future.  God knows you and your needs better than anyone. Jesus’ invitation to “take up you cross and follow me” is a sure indicator that 1) Jesus wants you, baggage and all 2) Following Jesus is the best way to live (though it may not be the easiest)  3) The best chance and only chance you have to take your disappointments and turn them into destiny is by placing them at the feet of Jesus.

You won’t ever be able to truly leave the pain and loss all behind while on this side of heaven, but you can take it up and follow Jesus. As you do, your pain and loss will be transformed into peace and gain. It really is true. That’s the miracle of following the Master!


When Church Hurts

I believe God’s church is the hope of the world through Jesus Christ. When a church is healthy and vibrant it is the best thing going on the planet. As a pastor of 17 years, I have experienced the best and worst of what a church can become and do.  There is no greater thrill than to find your place in God’s church and accomplish with others what you could never achieve on your own for the glory of God and the building of His Kingdom. Through God’s church, vital needs in life our met that can’t be met anywhere else.  Indeed, church is a beautiful thing, praise be to God!

However, there are many who have not had the best experiences with “church.”  Some would even say that they have been badly hurt by their church experiences. At the extreme level, there are those who have encountered spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse within their church life. The documentary, “Deliver us from Evil” is a sobering, disgusting example.

In a recent report from Focus on the Family, “Approximately 22 million Americans say they are Christians and made a faith commitment to Jesus Christ, and say that commitment is still important to them, but they have struggled with faith or relational issues and therefore quit going to church.”

I am sure that what constitutes as a bad church experience is a highly subjective matter of personal opinion. Furthermore, I have often seen where a bad church experience has become a convenient excuse for people to entirely disconnect from church and adopt a spiritually lazy life. The “church” has often become an easy blame and a perfect scapegoat from what are really problems with the person themselves and not the church as a whole.  Churches are never perfect, but they aren’t always the problem.

Yet, there are many who have had legitimately hurtful church experiences that have had much more to do with the unhealth of a church than anything about them personally.  These instances are disappointing and discouraging to say the least. It’s unfortunate when people who are trying to be good, go to a church gone bad. From my experience, I could even go so far as to say that in America we suffer from a church health crisis. This reality is truly the elephant sitting in the Christian culture room.  In the name of christian, political correctness, not many want to really say it or even see it, but the truth is, in America, we have more clubs with crosses on top of them than mission centers focused on spreading the Gospel and creating worshipers of Jesus.

Dave Olson, the director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, has made some interesting projections regarding what is going to happen to church attendance in America if current trends continue. According to Olson, only 18.7 percent of all Americans regularly attend church.  If this number continues to decline at the current pace, Olson says that the percentage of Americans attending church in 2050 will be about half of what it is today.  Other research has concluded similar findings. According to a study accomplished  by LifeWay Research, membership in Southern Baptist churches will fall nearly 50 percent by the year 2050 if current trends persist.

Is church health entirely to blame for the decline of people going to church? No. Is it a big factor? I would say, yes.  If the saying, “As the family goes, so does the community and the culture” applies, than the saying, “As the church goes, so does Christianity” must also have some relevance.

Does the American christian church have a lot of work to do? Yes. Do people who attend churches additionally bare a lot of  responsibility for their own church experiences? Yes, absolutely.

So, what do you do when Church hurts?

o.o1 Examine yourself- The last question that people typically ask after having a bad church experience is, “Was any of this my own fault?”  Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Taking time for some soul-searching discernment will partner with God to help you move forward and grow through your experience.  Bad church experiences can get very emotional and personal.  Seeking the counsel of objective people who can speak the truth in love into your life would be a great step.  As my mother would say to my sisters and I, “It takes two to tango.”  Don’t be surprised if you find that part of the bad experience you had with church is at least in part your responsibility. It may or may not be your fault, but it may be some of your responsibility. Are there occasions when people are burnt by church entirely separate from any wrong doing or responsibility on their part? Yes, absolutely.  Yet examining yourself will help to know what role if any you played in the negative experience.

o.o2 Gain perspective- As you take a hard look in the mirror, it will be important to really get a clear perspective on what actually happened. So often, in the midst of a bad church experiences, the truth and the facts can get highly distorted and emotionally charged. There typically are many issues at play behind the scenes… power, vision, structure, authority, heart, faith etc.  Obviously, you may never be able to piece together everything, but doing your best to step outside of the experience and see thing clearly will be helpful. Conflict in churches is usually about issues of vision. Two or more people simply have different visions for things. Unfortunately, these issues of division get spiritualized and emotionalized. This is when things get ugly and hurtful. Most churches don’t have a shared vision to begin with nor a clear definition of what are essential issues of unity and what are not. Many churches are set up (likely unintentionally) in ways that breed conflict and harbor it.

Therefore, most bad church experiences are really symptomatic of underlying problems within the church’s DNA. Again, you may never be able to connect all the dots, but realizing there are probably a lot pieces to the puzzle that led to your negative church experience helps you to own what is your part and disown what is not.

o.o3 Curb expectations- Sometimes people have unrealistic expectations of church life. First, they think that people who go to church should be perfect. I firmly agree that church life should manifest a higher relational and moral standard than that of the world, but churches aren’t perfect.  Not unlike the world, there are moments of conflict in church. How churches handle conflict and prevent it in the first place is what’s critical.  Expecting church life to be conflict free and even hurt free is unrealistic. Second, many people expect church to be primarily about them. From the style of worship to what is offered for their children, many christians are spiritual consumers with a mindset that church should be about meeting their personal spiritual needs. They approach church like a spiritual vending machine.  Thus, when some aspect of church becomes a little challenging, uncomfortable, or disheartening, they are quick to cry foul and label church as “not for me.” Well, in some ways they are correct, church isn’t just “for you.”  Rather, church is primarily to be about people who are far from God. Therefore, when we expect church to be about aligning our hearts, lives, and resources towards a common vision and mission to reach people far from God and grow in Christ-likeness it is then that we are much better positioned to field the moments when church hurts.  When we expect church to be a place where we connect with a spiritual family as we come under the authority and care of the shepherd of the church, we adopt a mindset of much better expectations. In fact, the expectations shift from “what’s in it for me?” to “what can I contribute?”

o.o4 Choose carefully- If you ask most people why they go to the church they attend it’s typically primarily for emotional reasons… their friends or family go there, it’s convenient, it’s politically beneficial, it benefits their work, they have always gone there, they were married there, they like some ministry that is offered etc.  Though many churches have developed membership classes where people are instructed on the vision, design, and beliefs of the church, most people don’t look into these aspects of a church. So many bad church experiences could have been prevented with a well developed and required membership class that the entire church must attend and buy into. Secondly, when a church is structured properly and the right people are serving in the right roles, bad church experiences are greatly reduced.

Before you consistently attend a church you should know…

1- What the vision of the church is.  

If a church can’t tell you specifically what they are about, what their values are, and where they are going, you probably don’t want to get on board. Furthermore, if you sense there is division in the church, you will probably want to avoid it.  Churches that are family run or without demographic diversity should be entered with caution. A church should be able to tell you specifically what God’s vision is for them, what they are focused on, what their values are, and what their goals are for the future. Ask the leadership these type of question and then also ask attenders of the church. If you consistently get conflicting answers, you may want to keep church shopping. Furthermore, if the church can’t give you clear answers, that may be a symptom of deeper problems.

A great follow up question is, “What have you done in the last six months towards the vision and future you just spoke of?” A church is becoming tomorrow what they are doing today. If they talk a big talk, but can’t show you how their current ministry is leading towards the future, you may want to proceed with caution.  Unfortunately, some churches can be like a used car lot, they will tell you all kinds of things to close the deal.

A church should have a vision that 1) reaches people far from God and connects them to His Church 2) grows believers into spiritual maturity as they learn to follow Christ and reach nonbelievers 3) minsters to the poor and needy 4) builds healthy, spiritual community 5) equips people for spiritual service and leadership 6) and worships God with passion and Truth.

A church should be a mission center, not a maintenance ministry.

2- Where authority and power are placed.

Churches can become very political. Unfortunately, many churches are structured democratically in ways that attract political, power hungry people. If you detect that the pastor/and or staff are seen and handled as merely the hired hands, you probably want to take note. Pastors are leaving churches and even the ministry at staggering rates. Most of the time it’s because of an issue of power where a group of people or families want to run the church. On the other side of the coin, if you see a pastor/and or staff that has no accountability set up with other pastors/elders, you should also take note. Pastors need to have the freedom to lead and shepherd a church, but when you see them dictating people’s personal lives and taking the lone-ranger approach to ministry, this could be problematic.  The best system I have seen of accountability is where a pastor/and or staff  have a group of outside pastors that serve as an accountability team for their leadership and the overall ministry. This can also be formed with elders within the church as long as those elders are appointed (verses elected), approved by the congregation, and have been trained and tested. Healthy accountability never seeks to manage leadership, but rather to protect it.

3- How people are equipped and placed to serve.

Bad church experiences can be created by having the wrong people serving in the wrong places. In many churches, people are serving in ways that are based on merely what they want to do or feel obligated to do. This can be a prescription for negative experiences.  When people serve merely from the motivation of self-satisfaction or desire, people can tend to get “sticky fingers” and personal agendas.  They get territorial and see their role or area of ministry as “theirs.”  We want people to serve in their area of passion, but not selfishly. Secondly, when people get roped or guilted into serving, they end up serving in areas outside of their passion and giftedness. This ends up being a loss for them and a loss for the ministry. On top of all this, when no discernment is given to spiritual maturity, people end up serving in areas beyond their ability to do so and a negative situation is almost certain to arise.

Finding a church where people are placed and equipped to serve by the staff based on their passion, spiritual gifting, and maturity apart from guilt, obligation, or personal desire alone is critical.        

4- What the beliefs of the church are.  

Most churches have a statement of their beliefs, make sure you have familiarized yourself with them before getting deeply connected. Furthermore, make sure that you are familiar with all their doctrinal beliefs. Not all critical doctrinal beliefs are necessarily articulated in a church’s beliefs statement.

5- What the church’s stance on critical issues are.

What does the church believe about politics, abortion, homosexuality, Calvinism, divorce, Masonic Lodge, racism, Bible translations, tithing etc.?  Sometimes we get so inspired by our first experiences in a church that we don’t look under the hood before we get involved or join.  Yet, these are the kind of issues that come up down the road that can lead to negative experiences.  Make sure you go into a church “eyes wide opened” and thoroughly look behind the scenes to find out what that church is all about. First impressions are great, but can also be deceiving.  A ounce of upfront discernment and information seeking can pay off tremendously later on in preventing negative church experiences.

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