Leadership Battle Lines

Avoid These Three Pitfalls at all Costs!

Leadership is a battle.  Leaders fight battles every day.  The old adage is true, “You win some and you lose some.”  Sometimes in winning a battle we are actually losing in the end.  Here are Three Battle Lines that may make a leader feel like they are winning but they are actually losing.

Below are three Battles that leaders have chosen and will choose to take up.  Each of these may feel like a winning solution but in each case a leader will lose.  They may feel like they are winning but they are not.  Are you able to determine what a winning battle line is and a losing battle line?   To be sure it must not be based on feelings.  It is apparent that each of these battle lines exposes the level of insecurity that exists on the inside of the leader.

Insecurity is NEVER good in a leader.  An insecure leader rarely creates a strong community.  They instead create divisions through combativeness, complaining, and comfort.  Insecurity causes a leader to steer away from the mission at hand out of maintaining leadership.

The Team Exists for You (since you are the leader). 

This is so easy to actually believe.  The leader leads and expects and is even entitled to the status that comes with leadership.  Perks flow up.  Respect is demanded.  The rules don’t really apply to  you because of your position.  If you are really good at this the end will be loneliness.  NO ONE WANTS TO BE ON A TEAM WITH A LEADER WHO THINKS THIS WAY.

The result will be lack of morale and low ownership of the mission.  Churches are not exempt.  Many Pastors draw up this battle line quite often.  They say, “This is MY ministry, MY church!”  No wonder we are where we are with people sitting in a chair, listening nicely and then going home.  After all it is not their ministry.  They are not qualified.  They are not professional and smooth enough.

A Pastor can get away with this mindset and feel like they are winning but the church is losing.  This is not the heart of Biblical leadership (2 Corinthians 5:18-20; 1 Peter 2:9-10).

Leading Based on Getting Strokes from those you Lead.

Someone once said, “Never seek affirmation from the people you lead.”  It will erode you ability to lead unlike very few things can.  It goes like this, “I wonder if they liked my presentation? I wonder if they appreciate all of my sacrifices? I wonder if they will like the new rules we are setting up?”

Truth be known, a little self disclosure (I really struggle with this and have for many years).  I used to ask my wife if she thought my presentation was good enough.  It wasn’t out of the motive to get better but it was to get stroked.  It was for my EGO.  I still feel this sometimes, even after 25 years of speaking to all kinds of people.

I have reflected on this and have come to the conclusion that a leader should do their best and that is that.  Shut their briefcase and go home.  The results will come, God is good, and then the work of leadership also comes with all the needed changes as well.

Stroked based leadership is a myth.  I have, on occasions traveled to speak to a group that never met me.  I typically get more “strokes” on the road than at home.  If I expect strokes at home like on the road I am missing one important detail, “Those closest to you already know you.  They know all about you the good, the bad, and the ugly.”  One person said, “Those who know you more will always applaud you less than those who know you less.”  SO TRUE!

Keeping Strong People Away Because of Your Weakness

Business or church leaders do this all the time.  They hire people that show of their own strengths rather than the best for the organization.  Choosing this battle line will cause the organization to diminish.  A strong leader will always pick strong leaders and they will also be able to attract strong leaders.

If you think you are winning in this way ask yourself:

  • Can I invite someone to speak at my church that is better than me?
  • Can I hire someone that is better than me?
  • Will I let a volunteer pick the way they want to do something?
  • Do you think someone is disloyal if they don’t agree with you?
  • Do you see those who work for you as employees rather than teammates?

Secret to Satisfaction

Insights on Time from the Bible

Each morning we wake up and a thousand and one thoughts come rushing through our minds.  You maybe one of the lucky ones that actually made it through the night without being awakened by a few of those thoughts.  These thoughts are like wild animals.  C.S. Lewis says, “The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.  And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life coming flowing in” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 168).  Designing Purpose is not automatic.  If we want to pursue our biggest dream, no matter what they are, we are going to have to get in front of the busyness beast and slow it down or feed it less.

infomapia.com

infomapia.com

Many of us in the modern world are doing more than we should and are leading busy, hectic lives. This kind of pace is the kind of pace where men and women survive by living off of adrenaline and stress.  Our companies and our churches are just fine with us producing.  However, the first thing to be left by the wayside is soul work.  What many call time to sharpen the saw.  We live with a preoccupation with what is seen and give little thought to what is unseen.  Lewis encourages us to push all that back and listen to the “other voice” and allow God’s quiet strength to come flowing in.

Lewis’s insight points the way for us to break out of this cycle and begin to grow in our lives.  If we want to Design Purpose, then we must start with the foundation; our understanding of satisfaction.  The reason most people live at such break neck speed is because they want to be satisfied.  This process takes time to produce change in us, but over time it has a profound effect. As Lewis goes on to say, “We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments a new sort of life will be spreading through our system because we are now letting him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface and a dye or stain which soaks right through” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 169).

The Secret of Satisfaction and the Message from Haggai 1

The Book of Haggai, second shortest in the Old Testament, has a powerful message. It tells us to put first things first in our lives.  It was written to people who would have told you that God must be first.  They may have forgotten that message being held captive for 70 years in a foreign land and needed a reminder.  But they believed that and we believe that.  This is the foundation for which Lewis says takes time to soak into our lives.  They had drifted into a way of life where their intellectual belief in the supremacy of God was not reflected in the way they were living.  We drift when we do nothing with the LORD.   They gave lip service to the priority of God, but in fact they lived with other priorities. God sent Haggai to help His people get their priorities in line with what they knew they should be.

The historical setting is the early chapters of Ezra (see Ezra 5:1). In 536 B.C., a remnant of about 50,000 Jews had returned from Babylon to Judah under the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia. They quickly rebuilt the altar and began offering sacrifices. Two years after returning, they had laid the foundation to rebuild the temple. Their Samaritan neighbors had offered to join in the work, but the Jews refused their offer. The Samaritans, in turn, threatened the workers and sent men to Persia to lobby against the Jews, bringing the work to a halt.

At least 14 years had passed. The people got caught up in the routine of life—farming, building houses, raising families, and that sort of thing. They got used to life without a temple. Even their leaders, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest, had gotten used to things as they were. Into that scene, God raised up Haggai and (two months later) Zechariah to proclaim His message to this returned remnant.

We pick up the story in Haggai 1:1:

 In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

This message is simple.  The people said, “We can’t afford to rebuild the temple.”  God said, “You can’t afford not to!”  What was the issue?  They had plenty of excuses but out of sync priorities.  Excuses have been around since Adam and Eve.  Adam said, “It was the woman’s fault.”  Eve said, “It was the serpent’s fault.”  We say, “I know I am a little overweight but I worked hard and deserved those donuts on the smorgasbord line, it isn’t my fault I am heavy.”

It is always easy to make an excuse when we don’t want to obey God.

  • God wants us to take care of our families, doesn’t he?
  • The job is way to big, we will never finish it.
  • Someone else will do it if we don’t.
  • We need to spend more time praying about doing the work before we start.
  • What do we need a temple for anyway?
  • The time just isn’t right.

Today this is the same as someone saying, “I will get to work on my marriage soon but first I need to make sure we make ends meet at work.”  Or another who says, “I will figure out how to get back in shape once we get past the holidays.”  Another says, “I know I lack depth with God, I’ll get to that once I figure out things with my girlfriend.”

This was the Lord’s house.  To leave the Lord’s house in disrepair was the same as showing disrespect for the occupant of the dwelling.  Consider this:  They were saying, “We don’t have the time.”  But this is false, remember, we all have the same amount of time.  We all have 168 hours/work.  The issue is not time, the issue is priority.  They were pursuing their comforts and God says, “Is it a time for you to live in luxury while my house remains in ruins?”  Please don’t answer that.  That may be the biggest rhetorical question ever.

Paul reminds us in Phil 2:21, “That everyone seeks their own interests rather than the interests of Jesus.”  This is foundational stuff in the making.  If Lewis is right and wild animals come at us in the morning, then we will need a plan to keep them back.  I want you to consider what that might look like each day.  Every morning when you awake there is a figurative committee meeting.  You are not even dressed to impressed.  You are still in bed and are starting the process of distributing your time for the day.  What do we give our time to?

  • Appearance
  • Family
  • Work
  • Hobby
  • Sport
  • Media
  • Technology
  • Entertainment

The problem we face is simply one of priority and satisfaction.  We tend to divvy out time to what we think is most satisfying.  Then God comes on the scene.  His love is everlasting and full.

He reasons with the people of God two times in this passage, “Consider your ways.”  Take careful thought to your ways.  Literally set your heart upon your ways.  How is your life going?  How is it working out for you?  This reads more like an imperative, consider your ways.  Is it possible to be oblivious to the source of satisfaction in our lives?

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biblia.com

  • They planted much…but not much harvesting.
  • They ate much…but are still hungry.
  • They drank much…but are still thirsty.
  • They wear clothing that doesn’t keep them warm.
  • They make money for it only to burn a hole in their wallet.

Here we come to the sobering reminder that what happens in our hearts effects every other part of our life as well.  Because the people had pushed God out of the center of their lives, they are now suffering in every other area.  They had fields but no produce, action without satisfaction, labor without profit, fruitless toil, fleeting riches, unsatisfied hunger and futile defenses.

This the law of the unproductive harvest.  It happens to us over and over until we learn that God will not be mocked.  Why would God do this?  He allows us to suffer the results of our wrong choices and wrong priorities in order to get our attention, to convict of sin, and to lead us to repentance.  God knows how to ring your phone.  He knows where you live and knows how to reach the private line of your heart.  Here is an awesome thought:

God could have his hand on the valve of satisfaction in your life.  We could work our fingers to the bone and be working against God.  He has his hand on the spigot of satisfaction.

Consider your life currently.  Are you satisfied?  Are you frustrated?  Do you have peace?  Do you want the things that God gives, peace, joy, power, without investing in the things of God?

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What is the Solution?

We often define our lives around what we want our future to be like.  We want a car so we go get a job.  We want to get into a good college, so we work hard to get good grades.  This is great but don’t forget God’s business and your investments into His work.  God gives us the solution.  God says, “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified” (1:8).  This is not a suggestion.  This is a command. 

In all of life there is a time to talk and a time to act.  There is a time to consider and a time to stop talking and start doing.  This was the time to act.  Today is the day to do the right thing in life.  Because they had not honored God, every area of their life was suffering.  The only remedy was to stop making excuses and start doing what God had told them to do 16 years earlier.

Application

All great actions start with beginnings not excuses.  Designing Purpose must have a beginning.  Become the leader of your life.  You may need to step up and lead your family or relationship.  Zerubbabel and Joshua committed themselves to stepping up and honoring God and everyone else followed.  Everything in Designing Purpose rises and falls on leading oneself or leading others.  God will honor those who do His work.  Check out the stories ending:

12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. 13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord‘s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.” 14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.

Do everything you can to make God look good.  Put first things first.  You and I can always get started again.  These Israelites needed a second chance and God gave it.  Don’t every line yourself up with small things.

I read a story online about Robert Jaffray, check it out:self-discovery

Robert Jaffray was an intelligent and well educated in Toronto at the turn of the 20th Century.  He was heir to the Globe and Mail, a successful Toronto newspaper and was fleuent in Chinese as well as English. Despite having family fortune and ample political connections he knew a worthy task when he saw one. He was offered a huge salary by the Standard Oil Company of New York and was asked if he would help them set up an office in Hong Kong.  He said, “No thank-you.”  They later returned and doubled the salary offer.   “No thank-you” Finally they sent him a telegram with one sentence: “Jaffray, at any cost.” He replied with one line, “Your salary is big.  Your job is too small.” Robert A. Jaffray was instead a missionary in China for more than 35 years.  He worked in translating the New Testament into Cantonese and He wrote for and edited Bible Messenger, published by South China Alliance Press He used this publication to send training materials to Cantonese Missionaries and then later to others, reprinted in their “colloquial language versions.” He was arrested in 1942 by the Japanese, he was kept in internment camps, until he died in 1945 from illness and malnutrition.  Jaffray said, “The supreme and crying need of this lost world is the gospel. Shall we not rise at Christ’s command to carry the blessed saving news to every perishing one?” Don’t ever let yourself get distracted into doing a job that is too small.

The Issue of Time

Intro to an E-Book on Designing Purpose

Imagine getting $10,080 each week. The issue though is you can’t keep it after it is gone. Use it or lose it. What would you do with 10,080 dollars? What if you got that amount each week? Many people make that kind of money but everyone has that many minutes.  Some may be more financially set than others but all of us have the same amount of time, 10,080 minutes in a week. Once a minute is experienced, there is no getting it back. Money can be invested and multiplied but time can only be invested. There is no such thing as multiplying time. Time can only be spent. Someone can eat healthy, workout, avoid excessive alcohol and stay clear from drugs but experience a life changing accident or worse lose their life. Time can be extended but can’t be multiplied.

Grand Central TIME

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We all have the same amount of time. Each week we have 168 hours. Every minute is an investment. Every second counts. Each hour passes by; sometimes we are sleeping, studying, eating, working, playing, looking at Buzzfeed, SnapChat, Instagram or Facebook, or whatever. Time keeps ticking. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

I have visited Grand Central Terminal in the heart of Manhattan nearly every summer for the past 10 years.  Each time I step foot into the hub bub of moving humanity I am struck by one thought, “Time is ticking away!”  At least it seems like that for those who use the terminal.  It is actually quite amazing.  People moving at a rapid pace.  It is a like a dance.  Right when it looks like two people will run into one another like a pin ball hitting a bumper, they avert at the last second.  No injuries.  One doesn’t come to NYC to rest.  I live in Houston, Texas whose suburban sprawl 650 square miles greatly diminishes the puny Manhattan 26 square mile island.  Houston’s busyness is different than NYC.  NYC seems busier but a New Yorker still has 168 hours to invest each week.  I was traveling on route 30 in Lancaster, PA and my driving companion said the traffic was pretty thick that morning.  I think I counted 20 cars.  People in Lancaster, PA live there and love it but for some reason they say their life is busy as well.  I’m sure if they lived in Houston for a time they would conclude Houston seems busier.  However, no matter where you go, Lancaster, PA or Houston, TX or NYC everyone has 168 hours to invest in each week.

Cup E-Book

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Americans are notorious for being busy. Our lives are full. Like a cup that can’t be carried without it spilling or a sponge that can’t take another drop, our lives are full of activities. We are seeking the best for our children. We want to make our boss happy and our spouse happy and our friends, family, and our pets. We live compartmentalized lives and unfortunately our faith takes a back seat.   John Ortberg pinpoints this in his article, Taking Care of Busyness. He says, “For most of us, the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”

talking E-book

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Time is a gift.  It is not a burden. How do we live it the full? How do we make sure once the month is over we can look back and conclude, “I lived life to the full? or I invested my time wisely?”  Is it possible to answer the question, “How are you doing?” without saying, “Busy!”  I am in the process of writing an E-book that will come alongside someone who has come to the end of themselves and are fed up with the craziness of life’s busyness.  My wife, Allison and I have performed many weddings and our favorite part is working with a couple before they say, “I do!”  This E-book is for them.  They are peering shoulder to shoulder at the future with grand dreams.  If not pursued properly the busyness of life will overtake even the greatest of intentions of young spring time love.  I have many friends who have been married for a decade or two and live in a metropolitan city with long commutes.  They too have great dreams for their marriage and family.  This E-book is for them.  It is never too late to begin to design purpose in your time investments.  The couple who wants to finish their lives well; they have lived and loved for many decades.  They are “finished” working and are trying to figure out retirement.  This E-book will encourage them to run to the tape thinking of their lives before the month begins.  The college student who is leaving home for the first time and venturing out “as it should be” needs a compass to guide them.  They need this E-book to truly thrive throughout their college days.

That is what this E-book is all about. This E-book (still doesn’t have a name) works more like a manual than reads like a novel. It is a step-by-step process that can assist an individual, couple, or family to live a very purposeful life. The process is simple:

  1. Design life-directing values.
  2. Develop a mission based on one’s roles in life.
  3. Agree on what roles to play.
  4. Determine strategic goals accompanying your roles.
  5. Getting it all on your calendar.
  6. Biblical understanding of purpose, time, values, and roles.
  7. Example worksheets.
  8. Testimonies and stories from the trenches.

The Heart of the Leader pt. 2

6 Questions to Consider pt. 2

Yesterday’s post, the Heart of the Leader, asked these questions when considering the Heart of a leader.

How has your culture shaped your view of God’s agenda in the world?

What is your life mission?

What family of origin issues contribute positively or negatively to your leadership?

Leadership is not easy but it is necessary for the life and health of any team or organization.  Leader’s tend to focus more on the output, the doing, and producing, rather than the inner stuff, the being, and becoming.  These questions help a leader build a path towards heart health and avoid heart drift.  A leader’s heart drifts when they focus too much on doing over being.

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More Questions that help form the Heart…

How do you evaluate your time with God?

Time alone with God has been practiced by many for thousands of years.  This time is critical for what one writer calls, “sharpening the saw.”  Silence, solitude, listening, writing, walking, and simply being at the outset of most days has a way of strengthening the heart of a leader.  The prophet Haggai has a powerful image of God telling us to consider our ways, “Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways.  You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes” (Haggai 1:5-6).  It would be a dreadful thing to realize that you can be working as hard as you can and God could have his hand on the valve of satisfaction and the spigot is running dry.  My time with God has been experiencing some transitions. I am wondering a lot about the benefit of ministering out of one’s sweet spot and on one’s time with God. I simply feel busy all the time and thus don’t feel like I am spending quality time. It is much harder to commune with God when doing is the first thought of your day and then I tend to get down on myself.  Do you have a built in rhythm of solitude and quietness?  What are your favorite ways to reorient your heart towards God?

How do you respond to conflict?

Conflict is a regular occurrence for a leader.  It is like breakfast, it typically comes daily.  Some days you miss breakfast and some days a leader is fortunate enough to skip conflict.  Leaders whose hearts are in drift may tend to avoid conflict and blame it on the goal of making harmony happen.  That is a mirage.  If our hearts are out of sync, conflict will tear us up and the team with it.  Leaders whose hearts are centered on God deal with conflicts from the other person’s perspective.  They have the same mind as that of Jesus (Phil 2:4-5).  My dad taught me that one of the best lessons to learn is to deal wisely with people. I have worked at people development and conflict resolution throughout my entire ministry career. I am not the best and may not know all the book stuff steps like in Peacemaker but I think I innately carry most of them out. I am learning not to take conflict personally but learn and grow from it.  Do you think having a strong and centered heart will help a leader work through conflict?  How do you work through conflict with others?

How do you experience God in the commonplace?

It has already been said that intentional time with God is important.  However, it is also important to experience God in the everyday life situations and drama.  Otherwise our lives might become compartments where we give time to God and then mistakenly give time for our pursuits and separate the two.  They are one in the same.  Few authors capture this ability better than Ken Gire. He has written extensively on this topic:  Windows of the Soul, Seeing what is Sacred, The Reflective Life, and Reflections on the Movies are a few of the ones that have encouraged me.  My personality experiences God in preaching and singing not always in the common place.  However, I am finding that as I raise kids that I am seeing movies, TV, radio, marketing, etc. from God’s perspective and communicating God’s values to my kids. I want them to do as I am trying to do and seek to see God in all of life. To a God-centered person, worship is all of life.  Do you often take the time to see God in the everyday?  What have you done to try to decompartmentalize your life and make it one whole life under God?

The Heart of a Leader

6 Questions to Consider

Leadership is not easy.  It is often lonely work but necessary.  Leaders are critical to the over all life of the team and/or organization.  Perhaps one of the most often overlooked aspect of the leader is their heart.  Leaders are great at using their mind in strategy and their muscles in getting things done but the heart is left behind.  Heart attention is overlooked because it is never urgent.  It never screams at you in the morning, fix me, get this done, must see, do this or else.  It sits silently, yet powerfully inside the leader and many times it is slowly dying.  Death can be avoided.  My brother just had 2 stints put in his heart, how did he know to do that, he felt pain.  Pain and pressure are blessings in this case.  Don’t wait for the pain and pressure to ask 6 questions that will help the leader understand their heart and bring it along in a healthy way.  This post will deal with the first 3, another post will deal with the next 3.

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Questions that help form the heart…

How has your culture shaped your view of God’s agenda in the world?

I see three ways to view culture: To avoid it and greenhouse myself and family, to dive in and fully accept or to deal wisely seeking culture’s redemption. I choose the third. Jesus had compassion when He saw the culture of His day because they were harassed and helpless spiritually. I want to respond in the same way. I believe the church’s role should be to act as apostles to the community that surrounds them. As the Father sent Jesus so He sends the Church into their culture to proclaim the excellencies of Christ.  Does the culture affect your heart?  If so, how will you respond?

What is your life mission?

To glorify God by Deepening my love for Jesus daily, by Living with Allison in understanding and sharpening ways, by Shepherding my children with intentional hilarity and authenticity and by Encouraging present and emerging leaders to be shrewd, culturally redeeming, and world focused.  There is nothing more heart shaping than having a mission and not letting it sit on the shelf.  Instead, it should be reviewed and pursued on a monthly basis.  I call it, “planning your life before the month begins.”  The mission will protect a leader from having heart drift.  Heart drift is that feeling that comes when there is little attention given to the development of your heart and all focus is given to doing and producing.  Do you have a mission that drives your life?  Do you plan before the month begins?

What family of origin issues contribute positively or negatively to the heart of your leadership?

Family of origin relationships set the foundation of a leader’s heart.  God designed the family to provide the necessary building blocks for every one of its members.  If a young man or woman does not know that their parents love them or that their parents actually love each other, it is a wound to their heart.  Some kids grow up in homes where parents are actively committed but emotionally distant.  They show up for every activity but don’t have the ability to verbalize love.  That is half way there when it comes to healthy development.  Buck Hatch called this, “Cancer of the soul.”  Did your Dad say,”I love you and hold you and bounce you on his knee?”  Did your Mom says, “I love you sweetie and spend time listening to you and tickling you?” Did you see your parents saying, ” I love you to each other?  Did you see them hugging and kissing?”  

The Insanity of God

Every Now and Then a Book comes Along that is Truly Inspirational.

These stories must be shared. I have long thought that America would face persecution only when American Christians begin to say that Jesus is the only way to Heaven. The persecution will not be physical but emotional and relational. This book reminded me of my longing to love Jesus, live with Jesus and tell others about Him. It seems to me the Church in America has forgotten this and replaced this goal of life with a gentler and more comfortable pursuit of community with other Christians. There is nothing wrong with this pursuit of community, it is actually wonderful but the community we long for comes from a shared mission of facing fears, overcoming comforts and throwing caution to the wind. I want everyone in my church to read this book- young and old, new Christian and older Christian alike.

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Quotable:

Suffering is one of God’s ordained means for the growth of his church. He brought salvation to the world through Christ, our suffering Savior, and he now spreads salvation in the world through Christians as suffering saints. In the words of Paul, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3: 12). Clearly, there is a sense in which the danger of our lives increases in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ (loc. 182 Kindle).

Serving God is not a matter of location, but a matter of obedience (p. 75).

If Jesus is not the answer to the human condition, there is no answer (p. 141).

“Don’t ever give up in freedom what we would never have given up in persecution! That is our witness to the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!” (p. 196).

“Do you know what prison is for us? It is how we get our theological education. Prison in China is for us like seminary is for training church leaders in your country” (p. 231). 

Before we can grasp the full meaning of the Resurrection, we first have to witness or experience crucifixion. If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution or crucifixion, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith. Ironically, avoiding suffering could be the very thing that prevents us from partnering deeply with the Risen Jesus (pp. 308-309).

How Do You Enter an Empty Field?

How do you enter a NYC Park, a mall, or neighborhood?

What is an empty field?  There are empty fields all over this globe.  The largest concentration of empty fields are found in countries where there is no gospel witness at all, these stretch across North Africa and into Asia.  It is commonly called the 10-40 window; start at 10 degrees north latitude and go up to 40 degrees north latitude.  An empty field is defined as a field that does not have seed being sown in it.  Houston is hardly an empty field.  There are plenty of opportunities for someone to go to a church that shares the word of God if they want to.  However, if everyone in Houston, along the 290 corridor through the Cypress area, went to church on a given Sunday it would make up about 12% – 14% of the population.  Although it may not be able to be classified an empty field, there is still great need for gospel sowing.  Is there any insight into entering an empty field?

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Jesus tells us at least 4 ways in Luke 10:1-11:

  • Go 2×2-  There is power in accountability.  Two are better than one almost every time.  If one is struggling the other one is there to pick them up.  There are many who are convinced that reaching out like this requires actually going 2×2, that is, don’t go unless you can go with another person.  I am not convinced that Jesus requires this but will not diminish the blessing of 2×2.  I think it could be done 2×2 but I also believe there might be a sense of accountability that you know that the other person is living on mission simultaneously.  There is nothing more empowering than to know you have a partner in the outreach.  When we visit NYC, we go 2×2, that is mandatory.  But sometimes it is a logistical barrier to do this (i.e. work, neighborhoods, out to eat, etc.).  Question: Do you think it would empower you more or less to go 2×2?
  • Pray- Prayer is the Work of the ministry.  Jesus makes it clear to Ask the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers to the harvest field (Lk. 10:2).  Prayer is powerful because it forces us to stop and depend on God’s enabling, direction, empowerment, and mind.  Outreach is the last activity we want to do in our own strength.  It would be like having a brand new Ferrari that has not gas.  It looks nice in the driveway but a Volkswagen Beetle would be able to get you to work better.  Prayer is the power behind the work.  It is powerful. The power of prayer should not be underestimated.  James declares, “…The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:17-18).  God most definitely listens to prayers, answers prayers, and moves in response to prayers.

  • Go-  The Great Commission does not focus on going but on Making Disciples, however, we make disciples by going and not staying.  Discipleship will never happen if we stay.  In the Bible the word Go means Go.  It is the opposite of Stay.  It is the present tense of Went or Gone.  Just sitting around and not getting involved is like a group of firemen at a five alarm fire washing the truck instead of fighting the fire.  Paul says we have a spiritual resource of feet that are ready to share the gospel (Eph. 6:15).  Somehow, these beautiful feet of ours, have been given a compulsion, a readiness to share the gospel of peace.  It is a noun.  We have them.  Not to go is more work than going that is when one actually goes it seems like all is right in their world.  Make no mistake, GOING or NOT GOING is an act of obedience or disobedience.  Imagine a fully armed soldier. He has his sword, his shield, his helmet, his breastplate and his belt…but his feet are completely bare.  All of the other armor would be worthless without shoes. A shoeless soldier could run into real trouble in the heat of battle. Unless he is fighting on a well manicured battle field, he is going to encounter some rocks, sticks, and rough terrain that will compromise his ability to keep his footing.  In short, shoes allow us to step freely and without fear while we turn our full attention to the battle at hand.  Until we see living and reaching out for God as a battle, not against people, but against our own selves and powerful spiritual forces, we won’t quite know why to really pray or the true motivation for Going.
  • Look for the Person of Peace-  Who is this Person of Peace?  When we unlock the meaning behind the Person of Peace it will completely change the way we live on a mission of outreach with God.  Many have written on this lately.  In summary the Person of Peace is someone that receives you and you receive them.  One writer says, “They like you and you like them.”  Wow!  Here are some ways to consider who a Person of Peace is:  They Welcome and Receive You (they are really in the process of receiving the LORD that shines through you).  They Serve You.  You Intentionally Invest in them (the best idea here is pre-evangelism or showing they belong before they believe).  They are a Gatekeeper to a Network of other Relationships where the Gospel can Go.  Consider these questions in determining if a Person of Peace is around you right now.  Who are you called to love intentionally?  Who comes to mind in response to, “They like you and you like them”?  Who is your heart best shaped to reach for Jesus?  Who is already responding positively to you?  What is Jesus saying to you as you pray about this?

If your soul is devoted to something that becomes more important to you than God, that is your idol. The soul cannot give up its idol by sheer willpower. It is like an alcoholic trying to become sober by promising himself that he won’t drink anymore. It never works. In many ways, what the Bible calls idolatry we call addiction. You can be an addict and never touch a drop of alcohol or a gram of cocaine.

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John Ortberg
Soul Keeping (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), p. 84, Loc 1184