What’s Your One Sin?

Disclaimer: This is an opinion post…not a doctrinal statement.

In my experience, many believers have one sin that causes the majority of problems in their life…

It could be:

  • Pride
  • Selfishness
  • Lust
  • Worry
  • Fear
  • Greed
  • Stubbornness
  • An unforgiving spirit

It’s not that they don’t struggle with other sins, but this one appears dominant in their life. I realize that ultimately our greatest sin is following our will over God’s will, but that one sin is at the center of many of the person’s problems. It keeps him or her from fully surrendering to God’s will for their life and from developing complete intimacy with others. It impacts their marriage and parenting, their work life, and their general attitude towards life.

Discovering that sin and dealing with it through discipline, repentance, and dependence on God, often helps a person move through much of the junk in their life.

Being totally transparent…I realized in my twenties, through some painful experiences, that my “one sin” was pride. I have MANY others, but if I’m not careful, pride can cause a multitude of problems in my life.

What’s yours?

(Keep in mind, I’m talking about believers in this post…for unbelievers the only sin to be concerned about is the sin of denying Christ in your life. If you need help working through that, please let me know.)

7 Ways to Distinguish God’s Voice from the Circumstances of Life

How do you actually know God is talking to you?

Every believer wants to hear from God. Why would you follow God closely if you didn’t want to know His voice or hear what He has to say? We want to know…Is this God?…Is this what He is telling me to do?…or…Am I being swayed by the circumstances of my life?

One thing I’ve observed is that we often listen for the grandiose voice of God. Sometimes God speaks that way, but many times God is more subtle than that. Often God speaks through those quiet moments, through other people, and through life’s circumstances. In a crowded world of noise and life distractions sometimes it’s hard to understand what God is saying. How do we take the circumstance of life, as mixed up and confusing as they can be, and figure out what God could be saying to us?

Here are some guidelines to hearing God speak through the circumstances of life:

Mirror your circumstances with the truth of God’s Word – God will never contradict Himself. He will never speak to us through our circumstances in a way that will contradict His written word. I hear people at times claim God is telling them to do something that is in violation with what God has already said. That’s never God.

God uses people to confirm His voice – God often sends people into our path to confirm His will for our life. People who attempt to follow God with their life can help us to hear from God. Every time God has called me to something, there have been others to confirm they are hearing the same calling. I’ve often had to cycle through the naysayers to hear them, but they are there.

Recognize that God operates from a plan – Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Rick Warren has sold millions of books telling us that we should live our life with a purpose…God’s purpose. Looking back over my life, I could never have scripted it, but I see how God has used me according to an overall plan. He’s used my life experiences to shape me for where I am today.

Examine your circumstances in light of God’s overall plan – When trying to hear from God through the circumstances of life, we should not try to make a decision on one event or set of circumstances. Circumstances may or may not be God speaking to us. We should look at our life over a span of months or years. Jeremiah 29:11 indicates that God has a definite plan to proper us and give us hope, but it would take the people 70 years to get there. :) When we look at our life over time we will be able to see what God has been doing. When the circumstances of life consistently line up over time with God’s overall plan it is possible that God is trying to speak through those circumstances. Before God called me into ministry the voices speaking into my life were many. I was available, there were tons of confirmations and signs, and I had to view my life in the context of God’s master plan.

Don’t allow circumstances to keep you from hearing or obeying God – Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 (NIV) “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” The common sense thing to do when everyone opposes you would be to leave, but Paul knew the circumstances were not indicative of God’s will for his life. Sometimes our circumstances may look gloomy, but we haven’t heard the truth of our circumstances until we have heard from God. God has typically spoken to me clearest during my darkest days. (Read THIS POST)

Ask God to show you His perspective on the circumstances – You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV) As followers of God we will spend our whole life trying to discern the will of God for our life; listening for His voice. If we desire to hear from God through our circumstances we must intently listen for the voice of God. Hearing from God is not always easy. When life is coming at us we cannot seem to understand what is going on, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for clarification. We should feel free to ask, “God what did you mean by that?” Many times I think I know what God is saying, but it’s in the seasons of questioning that I am more intentional to go back to Him for clarification. I’ve even taken days away to intentionally listen during the confusing times.

Remember: God’s primary desire in speaking is for eternal purposes – We limit God to this finite world when we fail to remember He is an infinite God. When we are trying to discern God’s voice through the circumstances of life we should consider how what is happening around us fits into God’s eternal plan to save a lost world from destruction and to mold His children into the image of His Son. God’s primary activity will be in these areas of our life. I’ve always been able to see how God’s specific plan for me lined up with His desire to invite a world to know Him.

Hearing from God is critical for the children of God to know God’s will for our life.

Our mission is to learn how to hear His voice. We must listen intently and carefully for His voice through the crowd of noises in the world in which we live. Thankfully God has not given up on us, but is still speaking to His people today.

Are you in a season of trying to hear from God?

Share your story to help (This is a revised post from previous posts.

Satan Loves to Mess with the Good Guys

Sometimes God uses one situation to get my attention in another.

Let me explain.

Today at Grace Community Church we ordained Ben Reed to the ministry. Ben is community groups pastor at Grace. In our tradition, ordination is separate from licensing. We see licensing as the act of making Ben legal to perform marriages and meet state requirements as a minister. Ben has been licensed for several years. Ordination is a more symbolic act of a church body recognizing a person who is fit for ministry. It’s a ceremonial way of acknowledging Ben’s obvious calling.

Ben waited for ordination until he had served long enough with a church that could easily validate him and his calling. That would easy for us at Grace. Ben is one of the nicest guys I know. He’s mature, a great leader, and a wonderful husband and father. I consider Ben a close friend and I genuinely feel I could trust Ben with my life.

As the elders of Grace met with Ben recently, one piece of advice came to my mind for Ben. I believe it’s a sobering word for all of us.

I said to Ben:

Satan loves to mess with the good guys…

It’s true. It’s true of churches and individuals. If everything is going well for you, watch out, Satan will come trying to disrupt things. He loves to steal the good marriages. He loves to spread lies within the good churches. He loves to bring tension during times of triumph. Satan loves to destroy the work of God. If he can mess with a good marriage, for example, those outside the church are more likely to question God. (Surely you’ve seen this…)

Of course, Satan doesn’t limit his work to the times of plenty, but those times often distract us from our need to protect ourselves from the enemy. I’m thankful Ben’s ordination reminded me to stand guard.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13

Have you noticed Satan seem to enjoy destroying the good guys?

Simple Doesn’t Mean Easy

Just because something is simple doesn’t mean it is easy

Simple directions to a gas grille…never easy…

Simplifying things for people…may make them easier to understand…

But won’t make them easy…

You can simplify the terms or the make the process seem easy to follow…

But nothing of any great quality is ever really easy…

You can have a simple diet plan, but following it won’t be easy…

You can simplify for someone how they should train to run a marathon, but it won’t be easy…

I can even give you some simple principles to improve your marriage, your parenting or your leadership, (I try to do that every day) but they won’t be easy…

Becoming a mature follower of Christ…a disciple…I can tell you how to do that in fairly simple terms…I try to do that when I preach and teach…

Just remember…

Simple doesn’t mean easy…

Help this post: Name one thing that sounds simple, but isn’t easy…

What if Church…

…was not just about me?

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4

What if…

Instead of going to be encouraged…we went to encourage others…

Instead of hoping to sing my favorite song…we hoped to sing “their” favorite song…

Instead of looking to be served…we intentionally served others…

Instead of waiting to be welcomed…we welcomed others first…

Instead of asking to be prayed for…we sought to pray for others…

Instead of going to receive a blessing…we went to be a blessing…

What difference would it make in our church experience? 

Of course, church is ultimately not about either of us…it’s about Jesus…

But, church is also where people who want to make much of Jesus gather to grow, fellowship and worship Jesus…

So, I wonder how our church experience would be made different, if we approached it considering the interest of others…

Just wondering…

What do you think? 

Then They Will Know…That He Is The Lord

This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD Exodus 7:17

and then you will know that I am the LORD. 1 Kings 20:13

And they will know that I am the LORD… Ezekiel 6:13

Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD… Joel 2:27

I did some reading this week…

It seems God likes to make Himself known…

Throughout the Old Testament, God did thing that caused people know to know He is the Lord…

I don’t find that same phrase in the New Testament…

I do read this:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8

It makes me wonder..

What am I doing…what are you doing?

In our life…
In our city…
In our church…
In our community…
In our world…

That’s showing people He is the Lord…

Personal Recognition Versus Private Correspondence

In my LAST POST, I introduced the concept of a discipling culture being high invitation and high challenge. I believe this is the example Jesus set for us. (Read the previous post for further explanation.) In John 8, for example, Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “He who is without sin cast the first stone” and “Neither do I condemn you.” That’s high invitation. Who doesn’t want to hear that? Jesus also said, however, “go and sin no more”. That’s high challenge. Who can live up to that?

One way this concept has shaped my teaching is to strive for every message to be high invitation, but also high challenge. I want my messages to be easy to listen to and enjoyable, helpful and applicable; even funny at moments (high invitation), but I also want each message to encourage disciplined personal growth and discipleship; helping people identify areas of their life where they need to change or improve to be more like Christ. (high challenge).

Please understand, I’m not an expert at this, nor do I hit a home run every week, but it’s a goal that I believe is making me better as I strive to meet it.

Some may wonder: How do you know if you’re reaching your target?

Well, I’ve been thinking about this for several months and I’m not sure that I can always know. It’s obviously very subjective. One thing I have started thinking through, however, and this is a developing concept for me, is that I can often evaluate the tension of being high invitation and high challenge by examining the feedback I receive from messages.

Here’s what I mean:

When a message is especially high invitation, I’ll receive lots of positive feedback…usually very public. People say “great sermon” in the hallway on the way out of the building, they post on my Facebook or they tell Cheryl how much they “enjoyed” my message. I love and need this type of feedback, because it encourages me.

When a message is high invitation AND high challenge, I’ll equally receive an increased amount of feedback…but some of it will be very private. I’ve learned that people seldom go “public” with the heart-wrenching stories of confession…at least at first. Let me be clear that I believe the ultimate goal of teaching is to point people to Christ and encourage them to be like Him. When I do this with equally high invitation and challenge, not only will I get public recognition, I’ll also get emails, whispers in the hall, or hear about it weeks later in a private setting. I’ll hear stories of repeated sins, struggles in a marriage, or hidden pain in a person’s life.

I developed a phrase I use to help me think through the effectiveness of a message in this area of high invitation/high challenge:

Personal Recognition vs. Private Correspondence

When a message is both high invitation and high challenge, it appears I am more likely to receive both types of feedback. Obviously, some weeks there will be more feedback than other weeks and I never preach seeking either type feedback. Some topics are more likely to produce private correspondence. I also know that just because I don’t receive feedback one week doesn’t mean I didn’t offer a challenging message. When I am receiving this private correspondence, however, in addition to the personal recognition, it seems more obvious to me that my messages are stirring people’s hearts to action and life change. (high challenge)

Does this make sense? This is one of those concepts that’s clear for me to think about than it is for me to write about or describe. I expect some push back about this topic and I welcome it. I just know it has been helpful for me to consider this issue as I have evaluated my teaching over the last few months. Feel free to dialogue with me about this concept of personal recognition versus private correspondence.

Developing a Discipleship Culture

Last year at Catalyst Conference, I attended a breakout with 3DM, a ministry which helps pastors and churches think about the importance and future of discipleship. I had participated in a pilot coaching program Catalyst was conducting and this breakout talked about some of that experience.

The one thing which impacted me most was a slide that was shown. I don’t have a copy of it. I captured one with my phone, but it’s quality is not good enough to share here and I can’t seem to find another, so I recreated the concept in the picture here. (I know what you’re thinking…I’m an artist…right? :) ) Anyway, this one paradigm shaper has impacted my teaching and church leadership as much as anything in recent years.

You can see the diagram, but in case it isn’t clear, here are some explanations:

Invitation - This refers to the atmosphere and degree of welcoming a church or an individual message provides. Do people enjoy being there? Do they want to come back? Is it inviting? Is a message fun to listen to? Is it encouraging and helpful?

Challenge - This refers to the degree others are encouraged to grow in their walk with Christ. Are they challenged? Are they held accountable? Are personal disciplines encouraged? Are sins exposed? Are expectations strong?

The theory is that churches tend to fall into one of these four quadrants:

  • Low Invitation / High Challenge – Produces a discouraged/burnout culture.
  • Low Invitation / Low Challenge – Produces a bored culture.
  • High Invitation / Low Challenge – Produces a cozy/chaplaincy culture.
  • High Invitation / High Challenge – Produces a discipling culture.

I wouldn’t attempt to put churches in one of these categories, but I could. I know some of each of these. Chances are you do too.

If you put Jesus, the master disciple-maker in this diagram, we find He was both high invitation…people loved to be around Him…they were attracted to Him…yet He continually challenged them. He confronted them where their life needed to change.

That’s the kind of church I want to be. Those are the kind of messages I want to deliver each time I speak. To be a discipling church, we must find ways to be high invitation and high challenge.

Have you seen each of these type churches?

In my NEXT POST, I’ll share one way this has altered my Sunday teaching and the way I evaluate a message.