I like history, but…

I like history and think we can and should learn from it…

But…

I want my best energy focused on where I’m going, not where I’ve been…

On things I can change, not on things I can’t…

Towards issues of faith, more than issues that have been forgiven…

On the tree I’m planting more than the one that fell…

Building new dreams more than dwelling on regrets…

What about you?

Are you spending more time dwelling on the past or working towards a brighter future?

Be honest.

Getting Gut Honest with God

I love the story in Judges 6 where God called Gideon to save the Israelites from the land of Midian. Gideon was the weakest of his clan from the weakest clan, yet God chose to use him for a powerful leadership role for God’s people. You might read the story again HERE.

Consider a small part of Gideon’s conversation with angel of the Lord:

(I’ve embellished the story a bit to illustrate the way I view the story. My embellishment is in parenthesis.)

“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor”

“Well, please sir…(I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but) if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? …

…And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us…”

Imagine the scene. An angel shows up, which was usually a pretty scary part of the story, but instead of reacting in surprise, Gideon respectfully questions where God has been lately. He’s not disrespectful, but he is gut honest with the concerns he has with God.

Do you ever wonder where God is when life seems to be falling apart?

Do you ever question God’s involvement when He seems to be nowhere around?

Do you ever think things may never improve?

Gideon had those type questions, and he didn’t cover them up with phony praise, he let his concerns be known.

Yet God’s angel didn’t curse Gideon. Instead, God used Gideon, in spite of his doubts and fears.

“The Lord said to him, but I will be with you…” Judges 6:16 God simply pointed Gideon back to the faith he originally had in Him. That was not the end of Gideon’s fear or questioning, but it was the beginning of his journey back to complete faith.

Perhaps instead of continuing in our own doubts and fears, you and I should get gut honest with God. Maybe we should tell Him how we really feel. I’m not suggesting we become flippant towards a Holy God. That’s never a good idea. I’m suggesting we be honest with the God who already knows our heart and allow Him to restore our faith and strengthen us for the journey ahead. That often begins when we become real with God with who we are, who we are not, and who He is.

God uses people who are willing to humbly surrender their insufficiencies; their doubts and fears, to His sufficiency.

By the way, He knows your heart because He made your heart.

How are you at being honest with God?

3 Reasons We Need the Church

I was recently asked by someone in our church:

What’s the importance of church?

I have been frequently told, “Why do I need to attend church? I can worship God anywhere.”

And, part of that is true. In fact, the entire purpose of creation is to glorify God…to worship. The idea, however that we don’t need church is in error.

Here are 3 reasons you need the church:

We are designed for fellowship – God designed us in His relational image. We are to love one another. Church was designed for that purpose. The Bible says we are to bear with one another and even encourages us to meet together (Hebrews 10:24). Part of our maturing as followers of Christ is to gather frequently with other believers. The best term I know for when that happens is church.

We need each other – In addition to caring for one another, we are commanded to look out for one another’s spiritual we’ll-being. (Galatians 6) We draw strength from each other. The church is a body of believers designed to work together to make each member and the whole body stronger. When we meet together , and fellowship with each other, we learn each other, observe each other and challenge and encourage each other. Iron really does sharpen iron. God intended it to be that way. If you don’t need help now you may feel you don’t need the church, but God may want you there to help others. One day the person needing accountability and strengthening will be you.

We are God’s children – Until my boys left home, and one of them got married, I never realized how much I would miss them when they were gone. I’ve also learned how much I enjoy when we are all together again. Each Christmas night we have a family tradition. We go to Waffle House. This year the 5 of us laughed and talked and celebrated the best part of my Christmas. When all the children were together again. God loves when His children get together. We get to do that on Sundays, all around the world. We call it church.

That’s part of my reasoning.

Be honest, do you look forward to church or does it feel like an obligation? What’s your reasoning? 

4 Principles Learned from the Book of Esther

I love the story of Esther. If you haven’t read it lately, you can do so HERE.

Here are the four principles I’ve observed from the story of Esther.

1. God has a special plan for your life.

Esther was placed in a royal position, not by chance, but for a purpose.

One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plan’s his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” God didn’t make a mistake where He has you today. I think we spend too long in our life trying to figure out where God wants us to be or wishing we were somewhere else, instead of just allowing God to do something with our life where we are, while waiting for more to come.

2. Sometimes you will have to go against common sense, against what others advise, even against what you want to do in order to follow God’s plan.

Esther would have to approach the king, though she didn’t have permission. This could have meant certain and sudden death for her since it was even against the law to approach the king. Esther’s response: “If I perish, I perish!”

Sometimes God’s will makes perfect sense, as you examine your experience. (I wrote about that HERE.) That doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t be required to take risks for God. The best things in life often come with the greatest risks. The degree of difficulty is not an indication that God is not in it. In fact, the opposite would be closer to truth.

3. The time to follow God’s plan is now.

I find Esther 4:14 interesting. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

We mostly consider that last part of the verse, but notice the “Who knows?” It’s a question. They weren’t sure. They knew she was in the position as queen. She had opportunity to see the King. They knew God wanted to save the people. They knew for whatever reason Esther had been made aware of the plan. But did they know for sure that’s what Esther was supposed to do? Apparently not! They went without being 100% certain. Who knows?

There will be times in your life when you’ve gathered all the information you can, you’ve prayed as well as you know how, you’ve sought Godly counsel; whatever you are doing is not sinful…but there is something inside of you that’s still not sure. You can sleep on it. That’s something I always do. Esther waited 3 days, but at some point you just have to muster the courage to move forward. Without all the answers, are you ready to step out and walk by faith? Don’t be afraid to allow God to determine the outcome.

4. Trusting in God completely brings great rewards.

Esther 8:17 In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.

Esther saved a nation. Her obedience saved God’s people from destruction! The reward for obedience was even better than expected. Esther went before the king prepared for the worst case scenario…she got the very best! Many people became followers of God! The people were inspired by the faith of one woman and one man that everything changed in that nation.

It will always prove profitable in the long run to obey God. When others see us living in radical obedience; obedience that makes no sense, they’ll want some of what we have. The world around you is looking for answers; trying to figure out how to make life work. We may not have all the answers, but we know about a God who does.

When was the last time you asked, God what do You want to do through my life? Are you ready to walk by faith?

Addressing the Loneliness of a Pastor

Pastoring can be lonely. As a pastor, I’m supposed to find my strength in Christ, (and you have to know how helpful that is to be reminded as if those who are not pastors are not commanded to do likewise :) ) and I do seek Christ as my ultimate strength. I teach the Bible regularly, however, that says we are to “bear with one another”. God didn’t design us to do life alone. That goes for pastors also.

From my experience, those in ministry leadership have been some of the loneliest people I’ve known. I hear from them everyday.

I was talking with a young pastor recently. He said, “Who is going to invest in me?” I understand the sentiment. He is struggling for answers he can’t seem to find; practical answers. People are looking to him for leadership and seminary didn’t teach him all he needs to know. I think every good leader asks that at same question; hopefully often.

Later that week I talked to an older pastor. He said, “I go home most days and haven’t heard a single positive. Things are going great. We are growing faster than ever, but it seems I get far more of the negatives than I get to hear of the good we are doing.” All I could do was agree. I’ve felt that way before many times.

When the weight of ministry responsibility appears to rest on your shoulder…when everyone looks to you for the answer…when some days you don’t know which direction to turn…when you are balancing the demands of ministry and family…when you are seen as a key in helping everyone with a problem hold their life together…yet you feel no one is concerned about your personal struggles…and you don’t know who to trust…

Remember God’s words of encouragements:

Cast your cares upon the Lord because He cares for you.

Yes, that is the first answer.

Next, find a mentor; someone who is walking further down the road from you, but going in the direction you want to go. I’ve written extensively about this, but you can start HERE.

And then regularly:

1. Surround yourself with a few pastors at the same level you are organizationally. (If it’s a pastor, youth minister, etc.) It seems to work best if the churches are similar in size and structure. They’ll best understand.

2. Work to develop a close enough relationship with them, over time, where you can trust them. You may have to spend some of your free time and even travel to do this. Learn from each other, seek wisdom from more seasoned people together, and grow together in the ministry.

3. Consistently share burdens, concerns, and encouragements with each other. You can do this occasionally in person, but more frequently over the phone or online. Chances are, they need this as much as you do, so be the one to take the initiative.

I hear what some pastors are thinking, because it has been said to me so many times. You often think those groups aren’t there for you. You’ve tried before and couldn’t find them. I would say:

  • Keep trying. It’s worth it.
  • Treat this like any other friendship. It takes commitment and has to be a balance of give and take.
  • Be willing to be vulnerable.
  • Risk the rejection to extend an offer for friendship.
  • Use social media, denominational leadership, recommendations from others to find these pastors…whatever if necessary. (This has been one of the greatest benefits of social media for me, by the way.)

Some of these relationships I have had to develop outside my own city. I’ve found they are valuable enough to justify the time and financial investment required.

Pastor, help other pastors by commenting with how you handle the loneliness of leadership. 

What about it pastor? Are you struggling today? What are you going to do about it?

5 Aspects of the Heart of a Leader

Let’s consider the heart of a leader.

Someone asked me recently what I primarily look for in the hiring of a staff position. I said, without reservation, first and foremost, I look for a heart. I want a heart that honors Christ more than self, that desires to grow and learn, and that is willing to sacrifice personal privilege for benevolent purpose of others. The heart of a leader is more important than any other characteristic.

Consider, for example, the life of a Bible character by the name of Joseph. Joseph’s story runs from Genesis 37-50. It’s an amazing story of God’s sovereignty and grace. Joseph is a standard bearer for character in the Old Testament. Some say he’s in many ways an Old Testament example of Christ; not sinless, as Christ was, but certainly a God-fearing man.

The part of Joseph’s story I want to point out has to do with what identified him with the heart of leader. I submit his heart is representative of the kind of heart all leaders should seek to have.

Here are 5 qualities to seek in the heart of a leader:

Imagination - Joseph was a dreamer. It caused him some problems, but he was able to see what others couldn’t see. He saw the big picture. Of course, this came from God, but I believe God has equipped all of us with the ability to dream. It may not be prophetic in nature, but we can seek and find the big picture if we are looking for it.

Integrity – When tempted by Potiphar’s wife and when an opportunity for revenge against his brothers presented itself, Joseph resisted temptation. The leader’s heart must continually seek what is right and good. People are watching and even the perception of evil can ruin a good leader. The heart of a leader must be above reproach.

Investment – Joseph helped the men in prison, he helped the Pharaoh and he even helped his brothers who had hurt him most. Joseph obviously believed the principle that helping others helps yourself. The heart of a leader must be willing to sacrifice his or her own agenda for the agenda of others.

Intentionality – Joseph was diligent during the famine, during the days of prison, even when he had the opportunity to get even with his brothers, but didn’t. Joseph was confident God had a plan for his life, so he refused to be distracted by things of lesser value.

Innovation – Joseph devised an ingenious plan to save the nations from desolation. Using godly wisdom, Joseph conserved the resources he had to accommodate the days of plenty and the days of few.

Reflect on your own leadership. Consider your own heart as a leader.

What could you learn from the heart of Joseph?

5 Questions to Ask When Facing Rejection

When I started in the insurance business, I made hundreds of cold calls. I got accustomed to rejection. It still hurt sometimes, but I learned it was a natural part of successful selling.

No one likes rejection.

Your proposal. Your product. Your presentation.

You love it. You believe in it. You want it to go forward. How could anyone reject what you’ve put your heart into?

It’s difficult not to take rejection personal, but it should be understood that rejection isn’t always personal.

Next time you face rejection, consider these questions:

Is it true? – Many times rejection has no basis of truth. People may reject because of their own misunderstandings or their unwillingness to accept something new. If you are selling a product, they may not want what you have to sell. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have a poor  product, only that it doesn’t match their needs.

Is it about you? -  If it’s personal rejection then that’s one thing, but if it’s rejection of something you only represent then it should be viewed differently; not taken personally. That goes for a product you sell or a Gospel you tell. If someone rejects the Gospel they aren’t rejecting you a much as they are God. Let Him deal with that. (If it is about you, refer to some of these other questions.)

Is it from a source that matters? – You aren’t called to minister to everyone. A mentor once told me to find my affirmation among the people God sent me to minister to. Great advice.

Is it permanent? - Sometimes people say no many times before they say yes. Persistence often makes the difference with great salespeople. No one likes a pest either, but don’t be quick to dismiss an opportunity that may still be there.

Is it changeable? – Did the rejection have more to do with the presentation than the product? Perhaps there  is a better way to make your case. Maybe this is a learning experience for future presentations. Rejection can be a great teaching tool. Learn from it.

Add to this post. Give me an example  of a time you felt rejection. How did you deal with it?