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Lead With Passion

PASSION

What ingredient would you consider to be the most crucial for effective leadership? Maybe you would say that character is the most important, and character certainly does matter. What we do does come out of who we are. The number one characteristic important to employees in a recent survey was honesty. People cannot hear what you are saying over what they see you doing. Character counts if you are going to have the ability to influence those you are striving to lead.

Character leads into another important leadership quality – credibility. We live in a time where there is very little trust in leaders. It does not necessarily have anything to do with the individual in leadership as much as it is that they just hold a leadership position. Many have become suspicious of all and it takes patience and time to build credibility. The unfortunate truth is that credibility and trust can be lost in seconds. We live in a day and time where credibility must be earned by the lives we live!

Another important leadership ingredient is capability. Peter Drucker was quoted as saying, “Other than president of the United States, the three most difficult jobs in America today are president of a large university, administrator of a large hospital, and pastor of a large church.” The skill set for a pastor is off the charts with what is being expected and asked of this leader. Paul, when mentioning difficulties he had gone through, also listed the daily pressure on him from the care of the churches.

Perhaps a commitment to learning is the most important characteristic. There is no doubt that a leader must be a lifelong learner. Aubrey Malphurs says that, “a lack of teachability is the potential leader’s cardinal sin.” It is very important to remain flexible and to not think you have all of the answers. There is a trap with our egos when we think we have been doing this long enough and have it figured out. While experience is important, we should always remain teachable.

However, I believe that the most important leadership ingredient is passion! In Being Leaders, Aubrey Malphurs defines Christian leadership as, “the process whereby servants use their credibility and capability to influence people in a particular context to pursue their God-given direction.” Yes, character counts. Credibility and capability are also crucial ingredients as leaders but without passion they will not endure. A key to leadership is remaining close to Christ so that our hearts burn with His fire.

Lyle Schaller wrote, “I think passion is the critical variable. It has taken me a long time to come around to that, but if a pastor does not have a passion for the mission, you can forget the rest. I would insist that the number one quality of a leader is passion.” Aubrey Malphurs agrees, and so do I. If we are not passionate for our church and our city then maybe it is time to step aside? Or at least we must find a way for the passion to be rekindled! Paul told Timothy to “keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you.”

Malphurs defines passion in Being Leaders as, “a God-given capacity to commit oneself fervently over an extended period of time to meeting an objective. Here is a breakdown of this definition:

  • God-given: The only way for passion to burn within us is to spend time with the Lord. Luke 24:32 says, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” Passion comes from intimate time with Jesus!
  • Commit: Passion is not just the “rah rah” of a pep rally but it carries also a game plan. There is an intentionality and commitment to planning a strategy to do something about what we say we are passionate about. James 4:17, “So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it.”
  • Fervently: Who will reach their cities for Christ? Those who are passionately in love with Him. What are you contributing to the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment? If we truly feel strongly about something it then propels us into action.
  • Extended period of time: This is not a short-term commitment, but rather, it means we are in it for the long haul. Malphurs says, “Passion has tenure!” It is what we have dedicated ourselves to until we have met the objective. Casting Crowns sings, “Until the whole world hears!”

The temptation is to think that passion is only for the extroverts and the outgoing.

In Leaders Who Last, Dave Kraft says, “Personality is a God thing not a personality thing!” Passion is equal to conviction and as you read the book of Acts you see that the early church was passionate. They were on fire with a boldness that created fearlessness in their lives. You do not see them obsessed with safety or comfort. They were ready to place their lives on the line for the cause of Christ and they did!

We read about the apostle’s passion when they were threatened and told to quit sharing the gospel in Acts 4:19-20, “But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Paul later says in Acts 20:24, “But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”

Passion is produced from a genuine joy that flows from being in love with Jesus. Healthy Christians, healthy leaders, and healthy churches are passionate!

Shifting Gears

Gear Shift

The very first car my wife and I bought together, right before we married, was a 1974 Mustang II. It did not have an automatic transmission but, rather, was a five-speed manual. She had never driven a stick shift before, so the training began. Nothing like learning to drive a five-speed to see how well you will really be able to get along. She was doing quite well until one day we had an errand to drive where the area was quite hilly.

Unfortunately, the traffic light caught us where the hill was the steepest, and now the real test was about to begin. When the light turned green she tried, but we rolled backwards. Again, she tried but the result was the same. The man behind us was quite concerned waving his hands and honking his horn. I pulled up the emergency hand break in the middle console, told her to gun it, pop the clutch, and I let the brake down.   You can get rubber even in a 4-cylinder!

She became very proficient with a manual transmission, which proved to be quite useful while we were living in Romania.   Learning to know when to be in the right gear at the right time allows the engine to function at its optimum. In the wrong gear at the wrong time and the engine labors and can even shut down. Being in the right gear at the right time is also important in our lives for us personally, our families, and wherever we may work. If you are in the wrong gear at the wrong time damage can be done.

The following gears are used in the book Five Gears: How to Be Present When there Is Never Enough Time by Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram. The key is being aware of the gear you are in, the gear others are in around you, and then being willing to shift into the needed gear for the moment. We will run over people if we choose to continue at the speed we are traveling and are unwilling to down shift, slow down, and be fully present and focused on them where they are at the moment.

  • First Gear is the Recharge Mode. This is where you completely unplug and are able to get refreshed, recharged, and reenergized. This is your time alone with God and making sure you get the rest and relaxation that you need. This is why there is a day and a night, a Sabbath, a time to work and a time to rest. God placed these rest rhythms into our lives for our health and well-being. Do not skip over first gear and try to start off too fast in another gear because eventually you will damage your engine.
  • Second Gear is the Connect Mode. We must learn to be fully present with our families. The people we love the most deserve our best in the area of our undivided attention during quality time together. We cannot afford to always be distracted and guilty of being physically present but not emotionally. Are you connecting appropriately with your wife and with your children? The reality is that miscommunication grows exponentially the busier our lives become.
  • Third Gear is the Social Mode. This middle gear gives us the ability to shift down or up pretty easily. We can downshift into second gear where we can spend quality time with someone that allows up to get to know them more personally. Look for these opportunities and capitalize on them but also be ready to upshift to being able to multi-task. The key to third gear is being aware of what is needed at the moment and having “EQ” which is emotional intelligence.
  • Fourth Gear is Task Mode. This is where we are multi-tasking and working hard in several different areas. It is interesting that 85% or people are usually in this gear but you cannot stay there forever. It is not good if the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night is to check your email. There is a time that all of us need to learn to shut it off and to shutdown. This gear can be exhilarating and bring a lot of personal satisfaction as we check things off of our to-do list.
  • Fifth Gear is the Focus Mode. Now you are 100% focused on the task and you are uninterrupted as you complete it. This has been described as being “in the zone.” I have asked several what that looks like in their particular field. A policeman shared with me that it is when he is able to help someone. An owner of a factory shared with me that it is that 2-3 minutes every day when everything and everyone is working in perfect harmony. An NFL quarterback said it is when he can see the whole field and knows what everyone is going to do and how the defense will react, the opposite of tunnel vision.

When are you in “the zone?” Where is your sweet spot when you are at your best and can be the most productive you can be? It may be in 90-minute segments, early mornings, or right after lunch. Maybe you need to get around people to be “in the zone” or you need to be locked in a room by yourself with a white marker board as you dream and visualize. Once again, though, you cannot stay in fifth gear forever. There will be time to downshift into multi-tasking and then even downshift again to be social again.

To properly drive a five-speed transmission you must be aware of how the engine sounds, the terrain, the correct speed needed, and sensitive to what is needed at the moment. The same is true in our lives as we become more self-aware of the gear needed for us to be productive and personable. You cannot always be the social butterfly because there is work to be done nor should you continually be all about the work while ignoring relationships.

Healthy Christians know when to shift gears!

 

The Time is Now

Finish Well Pic

 

In The Making of a Leader, author Bobby Clinton states that only 30% of leaders finish well. Unfortunately, time takes a toll on many leaders who quit, throw in the towel or disqualify themselves. Too many lose heart, lose their joy, and become casualties of the pressures of leadership. All of us have been disheartened by news of a well-known leader who did not finish well. Sadly, the temptation is to only focus on what caused their demise instead of many contributions they made to the kingdom.

The truth is that most people will remember how we finished not how we started. How can we stand the test of time? How can we make sure we finish well? How do we make sure that our spiritual life, passion for Christ, and joy is not choked out of us? In How to Lead & Still Have a Life, H. Dale Burke describes a lot of leaders as “Busy, Buried, and Behind.” They have slowly but surely become overworked, overloaded, and overwhelmed. Many leaders talk far more about burnout than how blessed they are.

First, you must stay centered on Jesus! It is way too easy to make the ministry and our work the center of our universe, but it isn’t. Following Christ is first and foremost about developing an intimate relationship with Him. It is not about fulfilling obligations, checking items off our to-do list, or following a list of regulations. In Leaders Who Last, Dave Kraft says, “Great men and women are great because they enjoy exceptional intimacy with Christ.” Do not fall in to the trap of thinking it is all up to you! The power of God works in you and through you but it is not from you.

Second, you must stay focused on your calling! You cannot do it all and here is the good news; God never asked you to! Andy Stanley has said it this way, “Opportunity does not equal obligation.” It is imperative for you to determine what God has called you to do and then remain focused on that calling. If you are already overloaded and overwhelmed you must decide what you will say no to if you are going to say yes to a new project. If you have not written out your own personal purpose statement you should consider taking a prayer retreat and asking God to reveal that to you. Take a look at Jeremiah 42:1-3.

Third, be willing to place your to-do list through a filter. We must seek God regularly to guide our use of time. Wayne Grudem says it like this, “I find the most helpful thing I do regarding use of time is to spend time in prayer each morning bringing my plans and my ‘to do’ list before the Lord and seeking his direction.” How can you best leverage your time to have the greatest influence and impact for Christ? Change takes time and it is wisdom to remember that you hardly ever accomplish as much as you would like in one year but can accomplish far more than you thought in five years.

Fourth, reignite your passion for the great commission and the great commandment. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, wrote: “For many years, one of the first things I do every morning is to evaluate all the day’s competing demands against a single criterion: How will each opportunity enable me to maximize my contribution to helping fulfill the Great Commission? I prioritize accordingly. Some of the demands go to the top of my list, some down the list, and some get eliminated.” How will you meet and build relationships with those who are far from God?

Fifth, remember the example of the apostle Paul. When Paul went before King Agrippa he once again shared his salvation story on the road to Damascus and says this in Acts 26:19-20, “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. Instead, I preached to those in Damascus first, and to those in Jerusalem and in all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance.” He testifies that He received “Help that comes from God.” He not only provides saving power but also sustaining power.

Sixth, know that Christ wants more for you than you can imagine. It was Paul who wrote in Philippians 1:6 “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Now is the time to go back to the basics of point number one and remind yourself not to fall into the trap of thinking it is all up to you! God wants to do greater things in your life and in your ministry than you do. Paul goes to the next level in Philippians 4:13, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Seventh, make sure you are getting enough rest. Fight the temptation of thinking that if you are not busy then you are being lazy! David Kraft also says, “Sometimes our schedules and egos are writing checks our bodies cannot cash.” If we are travelling at a break neck speed the best thing we can do is to slow down. Where can you find margin in your life to get some much needed rest? Everyone needs to make sure they are able to find ways to get refreshed, recharged, and renewed. You can only run on empty so long before everything comes to a screeching halt.

Healthy Christians and healthy churches find rhythms led by the Holy Spirit of God that allow them to stand the test of time!

Authentic Values

Businesswoman hands holding white card sign with What is important to you ? question text message isolated on grey wall office background. Retro instagram style image

Much has been said and written about values. Are our values preferences or practices? In Acts 2:42-47 we are given the core values of the early church as teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They were not just preferences but daily practices. We know this because we are told they “devoted themselves” to these values. The passage does not say they sat around discussing or debating them but, rather, they were the daily practices of their lives.

In his book Value Driven Leadership, Aubrey Malphurs describes values as either “actual” or “aspirational.” Is there a difference? James 2:18 makes a clear distinction between the two in stating, “But someone will say, ’You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works.” James also states in 1:22, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Malphurs describes actual and aspirational values in the following ways:

First, Actual Values are the beliefs we own and act on daily. These values come from inside of you and are who you are. It is authentic because they exist now, in the present, and describe what is true about you right now. Actual values are not just preferences but what you practice daily. When you share your actual values people around you shake their heads in affirmation because they see it and agree with you.

Second, Aspirational Values are beliefs you do not currently own. You know you should own them but you are not quite there yet. Aspirational values deal with what should be, not necessarily what actually is. These are values we would like to adopt such as being evangelistic. We desire to reach people with the gospel, but the truth is, we are really not that evangelistic; not yet. We aspire to be!

With these two descriptions of values by Dr. Malphurs, allow me to share a couple of observations we need to be aware of about values:

  1. Our Biblical values will be tested! For example, it is one thing to say we value loving people but we must realize that unconditional love can be put to the test daily. I John makes this very clear, “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen.”
  2. Are Biblical truths our values or our goals? We say we are burdened for the lost but what are we personally doing to reach them? It is wonderful to have the goal of reaching the world for Christ but what daily practices are we involved in that are helping us in that direction? The results will never change if we do not change our daily practices. What will we begin doing differently?
  3. Are Biblical truths our actual practices or just aspirational preferences? Jesus said that “men ought always to pray” but how much time are we actually spending in prayer? We say we value the word of God and should study it daily but is it our daily practice to have a quiet time in the word with our Lord? For our results to change our daily practices must change also.
  4. You cannot fake Biblical values! What you really value always shows up! If you really believe in the importance of sharing the gospel with people far from God, then you are constantly building relationships and bridges to them. You do not just talk about what you are going to do but you actually practice what you preach. Matthew 6:21 says it well, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
  5. Make sure your values are genuine and authentic! Be honest about it! At our church I like to say, “We want to be the friendliest church in the world!” I never say, “We are the friendliest church in the world, state, or even our city!” There is nothing wrong with openly admitting what goals you would like to adopt without claiming you have arrived. You cannot intellectualize values nor can you rationalize them.

Malphurs challenges us to examine our values to determine whether they are actual or aspirational. You can determine this by whether they are verbalized preferences and goals or are actual daily practices. Here are some excellent questions to ask about ourselves and our ministries: What values or beliefs should we adopt? What values and beliefs have we adopted? What would those looking in from the outside say we value? What are our real values? What key value ingredients are missing?

This is where many churches get in trouble and struggle because they resist what they need most; a complete or partial transition from one set of values to another. Do we value keeping members happy or do we value reaching our neighbors with the gospel? Do we value our traditions or do we value reaching our children and grandchildren with the gospel? Do we value our personal preferences or being culturally relevant while remaining Biblically sound?

Realize that conflict in churches often arises from differing values. Some value safety, comfort, and routine. Others value risk, sacrifice, and shaking things up. Every church must decide what they really value and if those values are not consistent with God’s mission for His church they must be willing to do whatever is necessary to be obedient to His plan for His church. Values can be measured by what our calendars contain and by our checkbooks.

Healthy churches and healthy Christians are authentic about what they value and are willing to change to make sure God’s values are genuinely theirs!

Are You The Older Brother?

other-brother

The reports of great Easter services yesterday are already coming in! One church plant, not even two years old, had 212 in attendance and ten joined. Another report of a church plant not yet five years old had a record attendance of 539 with six baptisms. Our church exceeded our average attendance by 150 and had 495 present on Easter. How did these reports cause you to feel or react? Were you able to rejoice or did it make you skeptical or envious?

In the story of the prodigal son there are actually two prodigals. One took his inheritance, squandered it, and finally came to his senses and returned home. When his father saw him he rejoiced and the celebration began but the older brother was not a happy camper. The older brother was angry and said, “Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends!” (Luke 15:29)

The real story in the parable of the prodigal son is actually the older brother. In context, these were the kind of people to whom Jesus was telling this story. The older brother was actually more lost than the younger because he could not see his lostness. His goodness and respectability had blinded him. Sadly, he was living with the father but was far from him. He was more concerned about keeping score of how others were serving more than taking care of his own relationship with the father.

The older brother serves as a warning to us that it is possible to obey God’s commands and be lost. It is possible to faithfully attend church, read your Bible, pray—and be lost! As you work for God you can appear to be very close to Him and yet actually be very far from Him. If you still need a little convincing then you should take a look at Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 18:9-14. The older brother did not have the same heart his father had!

How do you know if you are the older brother? Are there signs to look for that should cause us to repent and ask for the Father’s forgiveness? Maybe we are not the older brother but are acting like him at times. What should we look for? Here are things to watch out for to make sure our hearts are like the heart of our Father:

First, when you cannot rejoice when prodigals return home you are acting like the older brother. The father was dancing and celebrating but the older brother could not. There was no rejoicing in his heart because he was angry and believed he was justified in being mad. The issue was not that it made him mad but what he did with that anger. The older brother was seething because he had saved up this anger for years and now it was boiling over.

When you harbor and hold onto offenses over a long period of time they can lead to depression, ulcers, insomnia, and outbursts of anger. They give you a negative attitude and rob you of the joy of the Lord. The key is always to get before the Lord, admit our anger, and then ask Him to help us to rejoice the way He rejoices. If you are always skeptical when a prodigal son returns home you acting far more like the older brother than you are the father!

            Second, when you are constantly griping and complaining you are acting like the older brother. He says, “This son of yours!” He does not even want to admit that he is his brother. It appears that he does not want him back in the family and would just as soon go on without him. The older brother is condescending, proud, and faultfinding. He hears the music and wonders why he was not invited? He sees the celebration and is jealous that they were throwing a party for his brother and not for him.

How do you know if you have become like the older brother? When you are always negative. Especially about the things that makes our heavenly Father rejoice! Philippians 2:3-4 says this about jealousy, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” You can tell a lot about a person’s heart if they cannot rejoice when others are blessed and they are not!

Third, when you have a hard time forgiving you are acting like the older brother. Are you prone to holding grudges? Do you often think, “I may forgive but I will never forget?” Do you struggle with harboring bad feelings when someone has chosen the wrong path and then returns home? Are you actually sympathizing with the older brother and feeling like he is really getting a raw deal here?

Where do you start in this process of forgiveness? You need to grasp the enormity of your debt and realize it is much greater than you can even imagine. John Newton said this, “I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great savior.” Ephesians 4:32 states it clearly, “And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. “ The heart of the father is to forgive while the heart of the older brother is to hold a grudge ‘til Jesus comes!

Healthy churches and healthy Christians rejoice when God does great things!

Pastoral Care

Pastoral Care Team

How do you make sure that you are caring for the people in the church properly? Is pastoral care completely the pastor and staff’s responsibility? Is it possible that pastoral care is actually keeping many churches from reaching more lost people? How do we balance loving people more and the call to love more people? We have the challenge to help and care for people but also are to share the gospel with those who are far from God.

In Lasting Impact, Carey Nieuwhof makes these observations. “Practically, churches cannot run simply on paid staff. The model is unfeasible and the work is simply too great!” Also, “Ironically, it’s in caring for others that most leaders make the mistake of neglecting self-care!” He has even written a blog article on how pastoral care stunts the growth of most churches, which is well worth the read, at careynieuwhof.com. It will challenge you!

The early church had a problem in this area that we are told about in Acts 6. When the apostles saw that there was a lack of adequate pastoral care they did not work harder or try to do all the work themselves. They did not work longer hours and neglect their families because they were the only ones who could do the work of the ministry. They did not rebuke the widows and tell them they were too demanding but, instead, chose seven other men to help in the needed pastoral care.

Your church will struggle to grow, and the pastor and staff will become overwhelmed, if the church does not take steps to appoint a pastoral team. When we follow the biblical model it ensures that people are properly cared for and that a few are not so overloaded that they eventually burn out. Here are a few ideas from Dynamic Church Planting International’s New Church Dynamics on how to develop a pastoral care team:

First, find someone with a pastoral gift to lead the team. Prayerfully ask the Lord to raise up an individual who has a passion for this ministry. They need to be someone who loves loving others and visiting people in their times of need. If you structure small groups to oversee those in their groups, they are the first responders. Then, this leader can help come alongside of the small group to make sure they are properly ministered to and cared for.

Look for people with the gifts of shepherding and mercy. There may be retired individuals in your church who would love to help in making hospital visits, home visits, and even calling to check on shut-ins and those who are sick. Remember, the number one reason many say they have never volunteered in the church is because no one ever asked them. There are those who would love to help if they were asked and shown what to do. This brings us to the next step:

Second, make sure you give this individual the training they need in this ministry. Here is a simple, but effective, four step process:

  • Model care ministry by encouraging your potential leader to accompany you as you care for people. Never go alone, but always strive to take someone with you so they can see first hand how to handle different situations.
  • Mentor the leader by sharing what you are doing and why you are doing it. They will learn a lot by watching how it is done and then discussing it after the visit has been accomplished. Answer their questions when you debrief immediately afterwards.
  • Monitor the care leader as you begin to give care assignments. Always be prepared, ready to give encouragement and guidance, because you will need to continue discipling them in this area. Continually ask what you can do help and resource them.
  • Multiply by asking the leader to recruit others to the care ministry. If they truly are a leader they will easily recruit others to help in pastoral care. If you do not see multiplication then you will need to pray that God will raise up another leader who can multiply themselves.

Third, empower care team members to visit on behalf of the pastor and staff. Like an ambassador represents his country’s leader, your care leaders represent the leadership of the church. Ask team members to make it clear that they are representing the pastor of the church. People should feel loved and cared for by the church when they are visited by members of the pastoral care team, small group leaders, or any other designated individuals you have trained to provide care.

If you want more out of your team then you must put more into your team. Make sure you have clear expectations spelled out for those serving in this area. Also, they need to know who to call if they are unable to follow through on their visits. There must always be a back up plan. The goal here is that they are loved, cared for, and prayed with. This can be full time job and the pastor does not have the time to do all of this himself.

The model of the pastor doing it all will only lead to people being mad, a lot of frustration, and the pastor becoming totally overwhelmed. Jethro said this to Moses, when he saw the way he was trying to do it all himself, “You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone!”

Healthy churches develop pastoral ministry teams!

What Kind of Church Do You Want to Be?

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If someone decided to visit your church would they feel welcome, comfortable, and accepted? Why should someone decide to attend and what could they expect when they arrived? Do we make them feel like “outsiders” and do they wish they knew the secret handshake? Have you ever thought about how hard it is for someone to come in and participate in something that is like a different culture and language to them? Are you a church that is trying to reach the churched or are you pursuing the unchurched?

Would you welcome them if they did not believe like you do? They may come seeking but they are still unsure about this “born again” thing. They want to be a good person but not sure if they really do believe in God. They want more in their lives but they are pretty sure we think we are better than them. They desire a safe place to seek answers to their questions without fear of being ridiculed or ostracized. All too often we want people to behave right before they have the opportunity to believe right!

Figuring out who the church is isn’t a new struggle. It goes all the way back to the first century when all of the sudden Gentiles were becoming believers and began attending the synagogues. Thousands of Jews had been saved and then they began intentionally reaching out to the Gentiles. This was way out of their comfort zones because in many of their minds, “how could someone be a follower of the Jewish Messiah and not be Jewish?” Many were uneasy about “letting” them in and many were offended!

These Gentiles brought a lot of baggage with them because of their customs, traditions, values, and their eating habits. Not only had they placed their faith in Christ but all of the sudden they showed up in the synagogues and wanted to participate. This was a huge problem because they didn’t know the rules and didn’t have a clue about all of the traditions. What would the Jewish believers do? It seemed that the logical solution would be for them to require the Gentile believers to become Jewish! Case closed!

They gave them “the list!” You know those things they had to do and those things they had to stop doing. This was not just the Ten Commandments but over 600 commandments with commentary that had been added over the years. They needed to know how to dress, when to clap and when not to clap, and what instruments were allowed. They certainly didn’t want them bringing their drums and guitars into the church because everyone knew they were worldly. You see, many churches have always wanted to supply lists of what to do, when to do it, and who is allowed to participate.

The Jewish list (check out Acts 15) took it to a whole new level. If the Gentile men wanted to be a part of the early church they would have to have surgery. They would require them to be circumcised. That must have been a very interesting new member class to attend! The Jewish believers wanted them to submit to the entire Law of Moses. If they refused, they could not be members. Keeping the law was very difficult for the most dedicated of Jews but completely impossible for an outsider to even come close.

James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.” Peter addresses the problem in Acts 15:10-11 and basically says, “Are you kidding me? We don’t even keep the law very well. Why are you burdening them with these ridiculous requirements?” When Peter gets done, James stands up and declares in verse 19 that they shouldn’t do anything that would make it unnecessarily difficult for people who are turning to God.

Unfortunately, there always seems to be an invisible force that pulls many churches and Christians back into a graceless religion and legalism. It just seems so much easier to produce a list that everybody has to live by. It sure isn’t as messy that way but what happens to grace? Do not our hearts then become hardened to the people who need the message of the gospel the most? If not careful, we then become a church where we are a showcase for the saints instead of a hospital for sinners!

Here is the kind of church we should desire to be:

  1. Where guests and the unchurched are the most important people on campus!
  2. Where broken, imperfect people with every kind of story imaginable are saved a seat!
  3. Where doubters, skeptics, and unbelievers are welcome to come and see if it is genuine, real, and authentic.
  4. Where if you have a question about the Bible, faith, Jesus, or the existence of God you can ask your questions and still be accepted.
  5. Where we value those who are far from God the same way He does! (See Luke 15)

Col. 4:5-6 says, “Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” If we are not careful, our speech and attitude toward people far from God is full of salt and only seasoned with a little bit of grace!

We must answer the question above honestly and biblically, “What kind of church do we want to be?” Will we be keepers of the aquarium or will we be fishers of men?

SMART GOALS FOR 2016

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Wow, the last day of 2015! Hard to believe but once again we are focusing on “out with the old and in with the new!” As we evaluate last year, and we should, we can walk through a W.I.N. to help us focus on these three areas:

  • What did you do well? What were the accomplishments in your life, family, and ministry in 2015 that brought you the most joy? What happened last year that when you think about it brings a smile to your face? Don’t forget to reflect on the positives and celebrate the wins even if they were small wins. We need to celebrate more often and remember that “we become what we celebrate!”
  • Where do you need to improve? What were some of your greatest disappointments of 2015? Everyone experiences challenges and failure at one level or the other. Every goal was probably not met and if all your goals were met maybe you set the bar to low? Is there is a skill set you need help with to make you more effective in the new year? Who knows what you need to know? Who out there could help you and how will you find them?
  • What will you do next? The key now is to think about what you will do differently in 2016? An often used discription of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results!” One example of this would be to ask, “Is your church reaching new people with the gospel?” Craig Groeschel gives us this challenge, “To reach people no one else is reaching, we must do things no one else is doing.”

You must focus on what is “next” in 2016. You also need to look back and as you remember you should:

  • Rejoice in what God allowed you to accomplish!
  • Repent where repentence is required!
  • Reflect on major life lessons learned!
  • Refocus your energy on new opportunities!

Here are things to consider as you enter the new year:

  1. What are your goals for 2016? What would make this year a great year? Have you spent time alone with the Lord asking His direction in setting your goals for 2016? If not, when is the soonest you could take a prayer retreat to hear from Him? Are you regularly placing yourself in the best possible position to hear from God clearly and consistenly? You never, no matter what your age is, mature past the need for prayer and hearing from the Lord daily!
  2. Why are these goals so important to you? God is really into motives! It is not just what you are doing but why you are doing it. Jesus made it very clear in the semon on the mount that in the areas of giving, prayer, and fasting we were not to practice these disciplines to be noticed by other people. Check it out in Matthew chapte 6. Your motivation should not be to be applauded by men, to impress people, or to show them how “spiritual” you are.
  3. What 2-3 goals are the most important and non-negotiable? You need to prioritze your goals and especially if you have 7-10 goals for the new year. Here is also where it is important to look back at last year. What was missing the most in your life as you look back? Is there anything you can do to change it? Maybe not but one thing that might help is to focus on what you do have and on what you can change!
  4. What are the most immediate actions steps you need to take to make these goals a reality? You need to make these “smart” goals ” (see below) and then write 2-3 action steps that are required to make that specific goal a reality. If my goal is to walk across the room then I must think actions: 1) stand up. 2) take required number of steps. 3) stop when there. Here is what you need to ask yourself about each goal, “What’s the very next thing I need to do to reach this goal?”
  5. What are your biggest prayer requests as you approach these goals? If prayer is not needed then maybe the goals are not big enough. Remember, faith is required! What if you didn’t step out in faith and ask God to do great and mighty things? What are you praying for? What if God answered everyone of your prayer requests? How many lives would be changed, transformed and how many souls would be saved?

Don’t be afraid to set God-given, Holy Spirit directed goals and then ask God to do exceedingly and abundantly above all that you could ask or think! Hearing from God is not enough. You must also take action on what He has commanded you!

  • Specific: Identify exactly what you want to accomplish.
  • Measurable: Quantify the result.
  • Action Oriented: Start with an action verb, not a to-be verb.
  • Realistic: Recognize and implement the power of incremental change over time.
  • Time-Bound: Set a specific deadline.

Help Somebody – Please!

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The book of James is all about doing and taking action. The reality is that before we go any further talking about doing we must first address the issue of our attitude. God has always been into motives and while what we do is very important He also looks at why we do what we do. It we serve without the right attitude we submit to legalistic guidleines. It becomes all about a list of “do’s” and “do not’s.” All you hear is you “must do that” and you “can’t do that.”

James focuses having the right attitude and having the right actions. Obedience in both areas is required. Legalism produces the wrong motives while a lack of service produces the wrong actions. It can become easy to criticize what others are doing because it is different but we must remember that different is not necessarily wrong, it is just different. Many of the tried and true methods we are comfortable with today were radical, outside the box, innovations at one time.

First, we must have the right attitude! This places the focus on who I am. James 1:2-3 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” Attitude is everything because if we serve with the wrong attitude we become easily frustrated and eventually will burn-out emotionally.

Here is what you need to consider in having the right attitude:

  1. Guard your heart! Pro 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” You must be careful to not allow bitterness, envy, jealousy, or pride to control your heart. A great way to test your heart condition is to listen to yourself. How do you sound? Are you more positive or negative? Do you talk more about your needs or the needs of others?
  2. Change your thinking! Pro 23:7 says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:” Once again listen to yourself. Do you gripe and complain more than you tell others how wonderful a God you serve? Todd Wilson said it this way, “You can’t always change your context or the hand you are dealt, but you can change your thinking.” What and who does your mind dwell upon?
  3. Adjust your focus! Phi 2:3 makes this clear, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” How do we take the necessary steps to no longer be consumers of the goods our church offers to becoming contributers for the cause of Christ? The truth is that there is more joy found in serving others than in serving yourself.
  4. Know the real treasure of Christianity! It is not that we get to do good, or that we are bleesed when we help others, nor is it even that we get to go to heaven one day. The real treasure of Christianity is that we get to know God intimately and personally. I Jn 3:1 says, “Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children. And we are!”

Second, we must have the right actions! Now the focus is on what I will do for Christ because I have the right attitude. James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” This is a challenge to focus on those who need our help the most. God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others. Who is it, in your circle of influence, that needs your help?

Here is what you need to consider in having the right actions:

  1. Have a servant’s heart! It starts with leaders who have a love and concern for others. When we send church planters to their communities we challenge them to go serve their city and then God will build His church. Remember leaders, if you want people in your church to have a servant’s heart they must see it in you. Speed of the leader, speed of the team.
  2. Love your city! When Jesus saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion and as He looked over Jerusalem He wept. Daniel Im puts it this way, “To many times we have a vision for our church but not for our city. Develop a vision for your city.” If your church closed it’s doors would anyone in your community even notice?
  3. Redefine church membership! The true definition of membership is not attendance but rather service. I Corinthians 12 tells us that if a member of the body is not functioning then it is not fulfilling it’s role properly. Do not allow atrophy to set in where there is a gradual decline in your effectiveness and vigor due to underuse or neglect. Make sure you are exercising your serving muscles.
  4. Glorify God and spread His fame! Be a church where the glory of your church  takes a back seat to the glory of God. All of us need to talk more about the gospel of Jesus Christ than we talk about our church. Hopefully, you are excited about your church, enjoy your church, and want to invite others to come to your church. However, make sure you tell them about Jesus. Tell them how wonderful a savior you have and that you would much rather talk about Him because He is what it is really all about!

Healthy Christians and healthy churches are helping others spiritually and physically. Find someone to serve. Look for ways that your church can be a blessing to your community. Help somebody – Please!

Be Real

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Is you behavior consistent with what you say you believe? Does your church behave in a way that shows you mean what you say? We say we believe in evangelism but do we practice it? We say we know discipleship is important but is anyone being discipled? The things we say we value, are they truly convictions or are they just preferences? In James 1:22 we are challenged with his truth, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

We are told to not decieve ourselves and the idea here is that we need a reality check. A good friend of mine, Sam Douglass, says it this way, “It is time to interogate reality!” Are we deceiving ourselves? The word here refers to incorrect reasoning. In mathematics it is a miscaulculation. Gal 6:3 says, “For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing deceives himself.” The word of God makes it clear that when you hear the word without obeying it you are making a serious miscalculation.

James then gives us the analogy of a mirror. The mirrors of that day were nothing like what we have today. They were polished brass or bronze and only the wealthy could afford ones made of silver or gold. Even the most expensive ones had to be polished vigorously, postioned at just the right angle and placed in the best light to eventually see a fairly accurate image. The mirrors of today, invented in the 14th century, give an instant picture of how we really look compared to how we think we look.

Church, it is time to look into the mirror and see what we really look like not what we think we look like. The time has come to interogate our reality so that we might confess what needs to be confessed, correct what needs to be corrected, and then commit to what must be done for the kingdom to advance. What do we need to see in the mirror today? What area of our lives and our churches do be need to “Be Real” about? What is it that we need to see as we look intently into the perfect law of freedom?

  • First, we need to see ourselves! All of us need better self-awareness. We need to know how God uniquely made each one of us to better understand our strengths and our weaknesses. He has hard-wired all of us a particular way for His purposes. Every child of God has a unique spiritual gift and passions. It does not take long to see that when you read I Cor 12 and learn that we are to be unified even though there is such diversity in the body. Psa 139:14 says, “I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.”
  • Second, we need to see our abilities! What do we need to learn and what instruction do we need to receive? Our abilities are an accumulation of our training and our life experiences along the way. It is very easy to be an expert about things we are not involved in. On Sunday afternoons spectators enjoy being armchair quarterbacks. We need to be careful about being that way at church. It is easy to give advice about how ministries should be done that we never plan on helping with. One man said this, “Before I married I had three theories about raising children; now I have three children and no theories!”
  • Third, we need to see our relationship with Christ! Are we growing in the Lord and spirtually maturing daily? This is what brings together our personalities and our education by placing them under the authority of our Lord. Phil 3:10 says, “My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” First and foremost, how is your walk with Christ? Are you passionatley pursuing Him daily to know Him better?

Here is whay this is so important:

  1. If we are not real about ourselves we will be frustrated! There is always work to be done. There are always improvements that need to be made. That is why James has already challenged us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. He then tells us to be real because obedience is required and without obeying the truth it is really of no benefit to us or anyone else.
  2. If we are not real about our abilities we will be ineffective! How can you improve your skill set? How can you improve on what you are doing for Christ? Whatever ability you need to work on there is a great question to ask yourself. Who knows what I need to know? Figure that out and then get the instruction and training you need. Churches please do not give your people a job without clearly defining what their responsibilites are and equipping them for the role.
  3. If we are not real about our relationship with Christ we will have broken fellowship! A reality check is necessary because you can believe that your walk with Christ is better than it actually is. That is why James is telling us that we need to make sure that our behavior lines up with what we say we believe. Obedience is required! Luke 6:46 says it well, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?”

Healthy churches and healthy Christians are not afraid of a reality check in the mirror!