Tuesday, July 31, 2012

5 ingredients for great trades that will improve your life

Major league baseball's trading deadline is today. Teams are trying to add pieces and parts to their lineups to improve their chances of playing and winning in the post season.

In baseball, a team has to be strong up the middle - especially on defense. Catcher, second base, shortstop, and centerfield have to be manned by strong defenders. Then a team has to have some pop in the bats from the first and third basemen along with the left and right fielders. A team can't have too many left handed hitters or else the left hand pitchers will dominate them (a problem with the Tribe!). Great teams have a consistent starting pitching rotation with lefties and righties. The front end of the bullpen also has to have a solid assortment of lefties and righties. Finally, every team needs a reliable closer.

The Cleveland Indians are looking for a right handed hitter, a starting pitcher, and a left handed reliever. I have been a Cleveland fan for 25 years. I am conditioned. Odds are that they won't make a trade that will make a big difference. And we will fade out of contention and be left hoping to win again next year.

Thinking about the trade deadline has caused me to ask a question: What trades must I in my own personal life in order to be better for Christ and His kingdom?

Here are 5 ingredients for a great trade... for your life.

1. Know what's needed for greatness.

If you don't know the profile of a great team, you won't know the parts you need. So, you can't make a trade to help the team.

What makes for a great life? Have you defined that? Most of us don't. So, we don't know what we need to add to our personal profile.

Why not grab a Bible, a journal, and a pen and take a few minutes to write down what you think are the key characteristics of a well-lived life?

To use concepts from Will Mancini's Vision Frame work, what's your personal mission statement? What are the values you want to hold? What are the strategies you need to use? What's the profile to the kind of disciple you wish to be? Where do you think you need to be in 2-3 years?

Answering these kinds of questions will help you know what you need to achieve the greatness God has in store for you.

2. Identify what you are lacking.

Baseball teams that go on to greatness can't afford to be soft or sentimental when it comes to self-analysis. And neither can we.

What are your most glaring voids? In your life, what needs to be fixed the most? What 2-3 changes could you make that might make an 20% difference in your life - that might move you from C/B level living to B/A level living? It takes courage to admit these voids, but it's necessary.

3. Scout around for resources.

Baseball teams have general managers and scouts that are on the lookout for the talent they need.

What are the resources you need to make a trade? Think prayer, Bible study, scripture memory, relationships, accountability, books, conferences, podcasts, and friendships.

4. Get the guts to make the trade.

Great general managers in baseball are not afraid to pull the trigger and make the deal. Not everyone will like the trade. But standing still is not an option. You have to get rid of the old to gain the new.

In life, we will have to trade something we like to get something else of better value. There are only 24 hours in a day. So, something will likely have to go. TV, web browsing, trivial reading, and time wasting will have to decrease so you'll have room in your life for the trade.

5. Stay the course.

In baseball, once a trade is made, there are always the doubters - the second-guessers. But a strong general manager will not flinch when the criticism comes. Instead, he will trust that the trade will make a positive difference. Evaluating a trade in the beginning of August is foolish. You have to wait until the end of September to evaluate the trade.

In the same way, the man or woman who makes a personal trade has to stay the course to see the difference. Many people seek make a change, but don't see immediate results and revert back to the old life. We have to learn to look at the results over the long haul. Make the trade, stay the course, and watch God work in your life in new, fresh ways.

Question: What trades need to be made in your life?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

3 practices for missional marriages

If you were a believer when you were married, you probably had intentions as a couple to impact the world for Christ.

But life has its challenges, doesn't it? Family dynamics and financial difficulties can be fatally distracting. Maybe your dream of a missional marriage has dwindled to almost nothing.

Recently, I have been reading C.T. Studd: Cricketer and Pioneer, the biography of a great 19th Century British missionary to China, India, and Africa. While in China, he married a fellow missionary, Priscilla Livingstone Stewart.

Theirs was a missional marriage. Their story has inspired me.

The description of CT's love for Priscilla is compelling. "I love you for your love of Jesus, I love you for your zeal toward Him, I love you for your faith in Him, I love you for your love for souls, I love you for loving me, I love you for your own self, I love you for ever and ever. I love you because Jesus has used you to bless me and fire my soul. I love you because you will always be a red-hot poker making me run faster. Lord Jesus, how can I ever thank Thee enough for such a gift?"

The description of their wedding ceremony is even more inspiring - at least to me. "The bride wore a long white sash and on it these words, 'United to fight for Jesus.' At the end of the ceremony they both knelt and made a solemn promise to God, 'We will never hinder one another from serving Thee.'"

Theirs wasn't a perfect relationship, of course. But from this Studd/Stewart romance that was born in heaven, I see 3 practices for missional marriages.

1. Fan the flame for one another.
2. Unite to fight for Jesus.
3. Never hinder each other from serving Christ.

Question: How can you ask Jesus to make your marriage more missional?

Friday, July 27, 2012

10 questions to coach someone in need of career guidance

Maybe you are seeking to help someone who is puzzled about the direction for their future career path. Perhaps the person who is puzzled about a professional path is you.

I found the following questions (tweaked by me) in a chapter entitled “Motivating Others” in Bobb Biehl’s book, “30 Days to Confident Leadership.”

Maybe the following questions will help you help someone or help you help yourself. The answers and actions plans need to be written down somewhere in a safe place. And don't forget about the importance of accountability. Remember, we humans don't tend to do what's expected, but inspected.

1. What are your dreams? How do you think these dreams line up with God’s dreams for you?
2. What are your fears? How do you think God wants you handle these fears?
3. What are your 3 greatest strengths?
4. What are your 3 most critical short-term decisions?
5. What are your top 3 measurable goals for the next 30 days?
6. What are your top 3 measurable goals for the next 2 years?
7. What are the things you need to accomplish in the next 7 days?
8. What are 3 major obstacles facing you?
9. What are 3 major resources you can bring to bear on this situation?
10. How can I help you grow?

In addition, some career consulting/testing might be good. Although I've not fully explored these organizations and, therefore, do not personally endorse them, the following websites and assessment resources might be helpful.

Career Direct Personality ID

Career Direct Complete Guidance System

Christian Career Center

Career Vision

CPP: The People Development People

Question: How would you encourage someone needing career guidance?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

7 habits of highly successful worship leaders

I have a friend who is in the process of developing a school to raise up new worship leaders in Northeast Ohio. He wanted some input.

Here's his question:  "If you were starting a school for new worship leaders, what are the 5 top things you would want to make sure they learned?"

Our worship pastor at CVC, Brian Howell, and I responded to my friend with 7 ideas.

1. Emphasize the importance of worshipping in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).

2. Teach the necessity of humility (servant leadership).

3. Stress how personal worship/devotion is foundational for corporate worship.

4. Encourage the worship leader to follow the overall vision of the church enthusiastically.

5. Point out the need to submit to and support the lead pastor.

6. Show how a fidelity to the Word of God in choosing worship songs is indispensable.

7. Demonstrate the significance of unity on the worship team.

Question: What else would you teach worship leaders? 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Decide to decide! 5 decisions to help you be more decisive

Decisiveness might be one of your biggest opportunity areas for growth as a leader. I know it's been a big opportunity area of growth for me.

Here are five decisions for you to make about decisiveness:

1) Get the facts. Be quicker in gathering the data you need to make the decision.

2) Find time to pray and think. Set aside time in your schedule to work on the ministry and not just in the ministry as you think through the implications of the decision. Then, don't delay. Decide. Now!

3) Stand your ground. Be careful about making a decision to go forward in a certain direction and then stopping or reconsidering based on feedback from others. Reconsidering a decision frustrates the team. Remember that you will always have people who will want you to reconsider the decision that’s been made. You can hear them and validate their concerns without changing course.

4) Clarify expectations. As you engage your team in conversation about the decision needing to be made, define 1) Who is doing what? and 2) When is an answer is needed?

5) Create a list. Keep a log on the decisions that you need to make. You will likely be surprised about all the decisions that are often left hanging. A log will keep things in front of you and help you make the decisions in a timely way.

A quote on decisiveness from Spiritual Leadership by Oswald Sanders:

“When all the facts are in, swift and clear decision is the mark of a true leader. The man who possesses vision must do something about it, or else he will remain a visionary and not a leader… The true leader will resist the temptation to procrastination in reaching a decision, nor will he vacillate after it has been made. Procrastination and vacillation are fatal to leadership. A sincere though faulty decision is better than no decision. Indeed, the latter is really a decision and often a wrong one. It is a decision that the status quo is acceptable. In most decisions, the root problem is not so much in knowing what to do as in being prepared to live with the consequences.” (pp. 76-77)

Other quotes on decisiveness:

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." Theodore Roosevelt

"Some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It's inevitable, if you're honorable… Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally 'nicely' regardless of their contributions, you'll simply ensure that the only people you'll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization… Procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases risk." Colin Powell

"Leaders make decisions – all the time. Followers make suggestions. Making suggestions is easy because it requires no action or fear of failure. Making decisions is tough. It takes guts because there is always something at stake." Ruben Gonzalez

Question: What decisions have you made to help you be more decisive?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

4 practices for a more powerful prayer life

"O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man" (Nehemiah 1:11).

This is a powerful prayer from the leader Nehemiah. God did hear this prayer. Nehemiah was granted a leave of absence from his service to King Artaxerses. Nehemiah was sent by a foreign king with the riches and the manpower needed to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

Are your prayers answered with such clarity and power? I'm guessing that you're like me. Your prayers don't have the kind of clout you've hoped they would have.

How can we pray with the kind of power Nehemiah seemed to have - at least on this occasion?

Let me be quick to say that our prayers cannot be formulaic. We cannot think that if we pray A+B+C then we will automatically get X+Y+Z. Prayer is more about a relationship than a means to get stuff from God.

Nevertehless, we can learn from the patterns of prayer of the men and women in the Bible. Before Nehemiah made his request, there were other parts to his effective praying that we can see.

What can we learn from Nehemiah's prayer that we can apply to our own praying?

1. We worship. 

Notice how Nehemiah speaks about the worth of God in his prayer. "O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments" (Nehemiah 1:5). Notice: God is the LORD, Yahweh. He is the God of heaven, ruling over all things, including the hosts of glory. God is great. He is awesome. He is a promise-keeper. He loves us with a love that is infinitely high and wide and deep and long. Who would not want to approach a God who is all this and more? We worship!

2. We repent. 

Notice that Nehemiah calls sin sin. No excuses. "Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses" ( Nehemiah 1:6-7). Nehemiah sees himself as one with the people. When they sin, he includes himself as part of the problem. He calls himself and his people corrupt commandment-breakers. We repent!

3. We remind. 

God doesn't need to be reminded of His promises. But we need to remind ourselves of His promises so we can pray in faith. Here, Nehemiah recalls the promises in scriptures like Deuteronomy 30:1-6. He prays the promises back to God. "Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.' They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand" (Nehemiah 1:8-10). Something powerful happens in our souls when we pray God's word back to Him. God energizes our faith and we find ourselves boldly asking for what we want and need. We remind!

4. We request.

See Nehemiah 1:11 above - the verse that sits at the top of this post. We serve a God who does exceeding abundantly beyond all we can ask or think. So, why not ask for big things that will result in His glory and our good? We request!

Questions: Which of these practices are missing from your prayer life? If you added just one of these practices, which would make the biggest difference? 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

How to pursue holiness without doing more and trying harder: A gospel-based, grace-filled approach to sanctification

When we see a list of commands in the Bible or hear a pastor exhort us to "live up" to the characteristics of Christ-likeness we see in scripture, we often are not encouraged but discouraged.

Many of us have these self-defeating, self-loathing defeatist tapes playing over and over in our heads and hearts. “I can't measure up. I can't do this! I can’t live up to these commands or characteristics or examples. I am a selfish, stingy, stupid, stinkin', stubborn sheep. God could never use the likes of me to accomplish His purposes."

Come on. Admit it. You may not use these exact words. But this is the kind of way you talk to yourself about yourself. God hasn’t disqualified you. You’ve disqualified yourself. Your non-biblical self-condemnation is why you don't "live up." It's why you don’t go and serve. And it’s why you are going to heaven empty handed.

Others of us see the lists of commands and exhortations and we jump on the religious treadmill. We don’t disqualify ourselves. We decide to “do more, try harder.” We say, "I’ll turn up the heat on my generosity and unselfishness and concern. I’ll find something risky to do and grit my teeth and get ‘er done!" It’s a performance-based approach. It’s religion – try harder, do more.

Some of us try harder but fail quickly. We get discouraged and quit. It’s why some of us are just going through the motions. There’s very little passion and energy in our lives. We’ve not yet learned how to live by faith in Christ.

Some of us try harder and succeed for a while. We end up being filled with pride. We judge others who aren’t as successful as we are. And then, over time, we run out of gas. We can’t keep up the fa├žade. The do more, try harder approach is just too difficult.

It’s why G.K. Chesterton said, “Anything done in our own strength will either fail miserably or succeed even more miserably.”

We are approaching the Christ-following life all wrong.

We have to learn to talk to ourselves according to the gospel of grace. We have to learn how to inject ourselves – infect ourselves – with the gospel truth. Most of us don’t know how to do this very well.

Recently, I shared an affirmation with CVC that is gospel/grace based. It resonated with many in our church. Maybe it will help you stay encouraged to pursue holiness.

An “I am send-able” affirmation:

“I admit that on my own merits, I am not send-able. But I have been made send-able by Christ. Because of His life, death, and resurrection, I am forgiven. I have been changed. I have died with Christ. In Him, I live. He is working in me. He makes me a concerned, unselfish, proven, generous risk-taker. Jesus makes me, the non-send-able, send-able. So, here am I, Lord, send me!”

(Taken from the gospel principles taught in Romans 7:18, Romans 8:1, Romans 5:8-10, II Corinthians 5:17, Romans 6:6-8, Philippians 2:12-13, I Corinthians 6:11, John 20:21, and Isaiah 6:8.)

So, why not post this "I am send-able" affirmation somewhere? And why not repeat it everyday - even several times a day - until you start to believe it?

Question: How do you remind yourself that the kind of obedience that changes lives is not "do more/try harder" obedience but gospel-based/grace-filled obedience?

Related posts:
Preaching the gospel to yourself everyday
2 secrets to stop beating yourself up
How grace sets us free from the sins of our fathers

Friday, July 20, 2012

5 Biblical Responses to the Dark Knight Rising Shooting

12 shot dead at 'Dark Night Rises' screening in Aurora, Colorado.
What a sobering headline and story. How should we respond?

1. Grieve. The sorrow we feel for the victims of this injustice should be real."Weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).

2. Repent. Jesus said in light of a another tragedy where 18 people died, "[Think about] those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:4-5). "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (II Chronicles 7:14).

3. Love. Love does not negate justice. In fact, justice is a function of love - a love for the protection of law-abiding, peace-seeking citizens. We must support those individuals who have the responsibility to bring shooters to justice for the protection of society. And while we cannot prevent all evil and injustice from happening in a fallen world, we can seek to love those outsiders who feel marginalized, those who don't seem to fit in, and those who are ridiculed - common traits of shooters. And in loving these kinds of people, maybe we can be used by God to limit further tragedies. "And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone" (I Thessalonians 5:14-15).

4. Pray. We can pray for peace to prevail in our communities, nation, and world. "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (II Timothy 2:1-4).

5. Trust. We are called to live with faith, not fear. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling" (Psalm 46:1-3).

Question: What Biblical responses to tragedy would you add to this list?

Related posts:
The tragedy at Virginia Tech
A young black leader calls for justice in the Trayvon Martin tragedy
Reflections from God's Word in light of the death of Osama bin Laden
Thinking Biblically about Osama bin Laden's death
God moves in a mysterious way

Last week on the blog

Five Crucial Questions for Every Communicator to Raise and Answer

When you speak, it's important to ask yourself good questions. Good questions during preparation lead to big impact upon delivery.

I recently saw a list of great questions for speakers on pastors.com. I like the head and heart of Dr. Daniel L. Akin. He is the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. His website is at www.danielakin.com.

These questions will help solidify your purpose and guide your sermon development. They will also help you follow the “Grand Redemptive Storyline” of Creation / Fall / Redemption / Sanctification.

1) What does this text teach about God and His character and ways? This question is intentionally theological and God focused. It is the first question you should always ask in sermon development. This question looks for the “vision of God” in the text.

2) What does this text teach about fallen humanity? This question naturally follows number one, and it should always follow number one. It will keep us from being man-centered or anthropocentric in our preaching. Bryan Chappell speaks of the “Fallen Condition Focus” (FCF).

3) How does this text point to Christ? This is central in the sermon construction process and therefore we locate it “under the bridge” to support the entire structure.

This is not a novel idea. The church fathers were thoroughly Christocentric in their preaching. After all, they got it from the apostles, and they got it from Jesus. Jesus teaches us in Luke 24 that all of Scripture is about Him—all of it. In John 5:39, He says the Scriptures testify of Himself.

4) What does God want my people to know? Every exposition of Scripture will have a knowledge element. There will be biblical and theological content.

5) What does God want my people to do? Doing follows knowing. Having immersed my people in God’s word as to what says and means, I will now craft an action plan that paves a clearly marked road for obedience. If we answer the knowledge question but fail to follow up with an outlet for concrete and specific action, our people will become confused and frustrated. Our goal is to make disciples of Jesus who will think and act with a Christian worldview. People who do not think like Jesus will not act like Jesus, and people who do not act like Jesus are not really thinking like Jesus.

Question: What questions help you in preparation for communication?

Related posts:
Prayerfully preparing to preach
10 questions to ask yourself as you prepare for a talk
Keep it simple enough for a child
Questions for preparation for preaching
Prayers for preachers to pray before preaching

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

9 reasons why seasoned leaders don't pass the baton until it's too late

It's true that every day every leader is one day closer to passing the baton to the next leader. The question is: Will the baton be passed effectively and efficiently?

It's been said that there is no success without a successor. Yet many leaders tend to hang on too long. They often don't set up the next generation for fruitful service. And the organizations they lead are aging and growing less and less effective.

Right now, leaders in their 50s and 60s have unprecedented opportunities to invest in the next generation. But the leaders hang in, hang on, and hang on. Sometimes, the baton has to be pried out of cold, lifeless hands. 

Why don't seasoned leaders pass the baton willingly and purposefully? 

1. They don't believe that God can use them in another role in greater ways.

2. They don't believe the best is yet to come.

3. They want to maintain control.

4. They don't believe that the most spiritually mature thing to do is to decrease so that Jesus can increase (See John 3:30).

5. They don't realize that God can do more through them in one day even in their 60s, 70s, or 80s without positional authority than they can do in 1,000 lifetimes in their 30s, 40s, and 50s with positional authority. 

6. They don't practice II Timothy 2:2.

7. They don't believe relational and spiritual authority is much more powerful than positional authority.

8. They don't trust God for their finances so they seek to hang onto the more lucrative ministry positions.

9. They overestimate their own own ability and underestimate the ability of the next generation.

Question: What are other reasons why seasoned leaders don't pass the baton?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

7 Guidelines For Moral Purity For Pastors and Administrative Assistants

Yesterday, I was asked if I ever speak to pastors on the topic of the do's and dont's of working with female administrative assistants. The person posing the question wrote, "It is sad the number of pastors who have fallen in this area. Healthy churches aren't grown if this is overlooked or ignored." My friend was looking for a few common sense guidelines and proper protocol. 

Below are 7 guidelines that have helped me over the years.

1. Never be alone with a member of the opposite sex in a car, for a meal, etc. This is actually something I learned early in my ministry from Billy Graham.  Early in his organization’s development, Graham and his staff developed ministry and professional guidelines to ensure the staff’s own protection.  Graham stated, “From that day one, I did not travel, meet, or eat alone with a woman other than my wife.” This can seem prudish and produce inconvenient situations. Twice in the last two weeks, I had to decline to give two different woman in need an innocent ride in my car because of this policy. But others stepped up to provide the rides. And I am glad I have stayed true to this policy.

2. Do not counsel a member of the opposite sex. I will sometimes have an initial meeting with a female about a problem or an issue. It might even be marriage related. But it will be a one-time meeting. If it's marriage related, I quickly move to meeting with the couple. If it's related to something else, I refer the woman to someone else, preferably a female. I do not enter into long-term counseling situations with a woman.

3. If you do meet with a female one-on-one for some reason, do so with at least a slightly open door with other people aware and present in the building. Our building has windows in virtually every door. We designed the building this way to help maintain a sense of openness and to limit secrecy.

4. Write down and review a document entailing the negative consequences of sexual sin. Many years ago, I read a book on marriage written by Bill Hybels. In the book, he talked about the negative consequences of sexual sin. Unfortunately, I have seen these consequences wreak havoc in the lives, families, and ministries of too many people. I adapted Hybels' list for myself and placed it in a prayer journal. And, over the years, I have periodically reviewed the list in order to remind myself that "It's not worth it." Any momentary pleasure one might gain from sexual sin is not worth the long term devastation that results. Below is my adapted list. Maybe you should produce one for yourself. I have asked God for grace not to be a casualty in this area. In fact, I've asked Him to take me home to heaven before I would ever bring shame to Jesus, to my wife, to my kids, or to the church. Let's pray for one another. Let's ask God for personal purity all the way to glory.

From At o Z: The negative consequences of sexual sin 

A. Dragging Christ’s reputation into the mud
B. Having to one day look Jesus in the face at the judgment seat
C. Having to tell Jesus why I did it
D. Untold hurt to Maryanne, my best friend and loyal wife
E. Loss of Maryanne’s trust and respect
F. The possibility that I could lose my wife forever
G. The possibility that I could lose my children forever
H. Hurt to my fantastic sons – Alan, Ryan, and Evan 
I. Loss of credibility with my sons. (Why listen to a man who betrayed us?)
J. Hurt to and loss of credibility with my amazing grandson, Ethan
K. Shame to my family (Why isn’t dad a pastor anymore?)
L. The cruel comments of others who would invariably find out
M. Shame to my church friends – esp. to those I’ve led to Christ and discipled
N. Hurt to the effectiveness of the ministry of my church
O. An irretrievable loss of years of witnessing to the unsaved
P. Bringing great pleasure to Satan, God’s enemy
Q. Possibly contracting an STD and passing on the STD to Maryanne
R. The possibility of a pregnancy with someone other than my wife
S. The financial implications and entanglements of an unplanned pregnancy 
T. A lifelong reminder of my sin to me 
U. A lifelong reminder of my sin to my family
V. Loss of self-respect
W. Discrediting my reputation
X. Bringing shame and lifelong embarrassment upon myself
Y. Living a lie
Z. Failure to glorify God 

5. Encourage a friendship and an open relationship between your wife and your assistant. Let your assistant know that part of her job is to help you and your wife have a more successful marriage. Your assistant needs to help you find time to invest in your marriage by shielding your from a too-busy calendar and from interruptions. (In addition, be friends with your assistant's husband. If you know and care about your assistant's husband, you will want to protect his most cherished relationship - his relationship with his wife. You should treat his wife with the same dignity and respect that you would want someone to treat yours.)

6. Maintain a professional relationship with your assistant. Never share your personal marriage struggles. Never open yourself up to hear her personal marriage struggles. Do not show signs of affection. Make sure birthday and Christmas gifts are not too personal or intimate. 

7. Realize that anyone could fall so that you constantly have your guard up and are praying for protection. "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (I Corinthians 10:12-13). 

Question: What guidelines would you add to these?

Monday, July 16, 2012

run from / run to

Do you know what to run from and what to run to? And are you truly inspired to run?

The wise leader, Paul, once wrote to a younger leader, Timothy, about the dangers of discontent. Paul told Timothy that craving money has caused some people to hurt themselves and even  leave the faith behind. Then he wrote, "But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness" ( I Timothy 6:11).

There are things to run from and things to run to. We run from the things of this world to run to the Lord of this world.

My son, Evan, found an amazing song from Woodkid, the alias of Yoann Lemoine, a French director/singer/songwriter. The art reminded me that all believers are on an epic journey running from the things of this world toward the Lord and His Celestial City (to use John Bunyan's words from Pilgrim's Progress).

I don't know much about the spiritual beliefs of Lemoine. But this work, "Run Boy Run," inspires me to run from and run to.

Here's a link to the "Run Boy Run" video and below are the words to the song. Maybe it will inspire you, too.

Question: What help inspire you to run from the world and to run to the Lord?


Run boy run! This world is not made for you
Run boy run! They’re trying to catch you
Run boy run! Running is a victory
Run boy run! Beauty lays behind the hills

Run boy run! The sun will be guiding you
Run boy run! They’re dying to stop you
Run boy run! This race is a prophecy
Run boy run! Break out from society

Tomorrow is another day
And you won’t have to hide away
You’ll be a man, boy!
But for now it’s time to run, it’s time to run!

Run boy run! This ride is a journey to
Run boy run! The secret inside of you
Run boy run! This race is a prophecy
Run boy run! And disappear in the trees

Tomorrow is another day
And you won’t have to hide away
You’ll be a man, boy!
But for now it’s time to run, it’s time to run!

Tomorrow is another day
And when the night fades away
You’ll be a man, boy!
But for now it’s time to run, it’s time to run!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

5 Lessons We Can Learn from the Jerry Sandusky scandal // from the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center

We are followers of Jesus who have joined Jesus on His mission of restoration. That means that we have a responsibility to bring justice to the oppressed.

One important way we can help do this is to seek to protect, aid, and help heal victims of sexual assault.

Thanks to Ryan Edlind, Cuyahoga Valley Church has a growing relationship with the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.

They kindly and recently asked Ryan, CVC's Pastor of Care, to testify in Columbus on legislation on sexual abuse. Unfortunately he was unable due to being out of town. But they said more opportunities will be coming. They told Ryan that they are really impressed that our church is a role model when it comes to our expressed concern for victims of abuse in the Cleveland community. Ryan says, "Missio Dei lives on!"

I am grateful to Ryan for his leadership in pursuing a relationship with this important organization in NE Ohio.

Last year, we instituted a church policy that spelled out our expectations of staff when there is a suspicion of sexual assault that occurs in our circle of knowledge and influence at CVC.

Now, with the Jerry Sandusky scandal in the news, the CRCC is sharing some very important information here. (By the way, you might want to ask the CRCC to place you on their newsletter mailing list.)

May God protect the children of CVC, in NE Ohio, and beyond. May He bring justice to the abusers. And may God give us wisdom and courage to act decisively to protect, defend, and restore those who may have suffered the trauma of abuse.

It is an important mission of restoration that Jesus has called us to engage.

Question: In practical, tangible ways, how have you joined Jesus on His mission to restore?

From the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center:

1. When we create a safe environment to talk about sexual abuse, survivors will come forward. Since the allegations against Sandusky came into the national spotlight last fall, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center has experienced a 300% increase in calls from men. There is an unprecedented number of male survivors calling our hotline, seeking therapy and attending support groups at the Center. For more info, call our appointment line at 216-619-6194 x141.

2. Silence is no longer tolerable or culturally acceptable.  One in 6 boys in the United States is sexually assaulted before his 18th birthday, but until recently, male sexual abuse has been shrouded in secrecy. The media coverage of the Sandusky case represents a cultural tipping point towards a greater willingness to talk about sexual abuse against boys. Courageous men in Northeast Ohio are speaking out as survivors. (ONN-TVThe Plain Dealer) No longer do men have to suffer in isolation for a crime that was not their fault.

3. Everyone has a responsibility to report suspicions of child abuse. Many adults are legally required to report suspicions. All adults have a social responsibility to do so.Learn what you can do if you suspect a child is being harmed.

4. Every adult can take steps to prevent child sexual abuse. To start, talk to children about sexual abuse. Click here for conversation tips from Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. To do more, schedule a child sexual abuse prevention training for coaches, teachers, youth workers, parents or adults in your life.

5. Watching media coverage of this case can trigger survivors. For help coping with flashbacks, anxiety, nightmares or other symptoms, call our 24-hour rape crisis and support line at 216-619-6192. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

The bar is too high

This past Tuesday, our Co-Teaching Pastor, Chad Allen, taught our staff some important truths that were inspired by the life of Daniel. Daniel 6:4 says that Daniel was "faithful, and no error or fault was found in him." Chad presented us with a set of verses centered around the theme of integrity.

The verses prompted me to ask myself 8 tough questions. You might want to ask yourself these questions, too.

1. Are you blameless and innocent? "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (Philippians 2:14-15).

2. Do you walk in integrity? "Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out" (Proverbs 10:9). "By this I know that you delight in me: my enemy will not shout in triumph over me. But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever" (Psalm 41:11-12). "Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering" (Psalm 26:1).

3. Do you have a clear conscience? "Have a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" ( I Peter 3:16). "And looking intently at the council, Paul said, 'Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day'" (Acts23:1).

4. Do you live in an upright way? "May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you" (Psalm 25:21).

5. Do you live in a faithful way? "Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness" (Psalm 26:2-3).

6. Do you walk the straight and narrow way? "The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness" (Proverbs 11:5).

7. Do you have clean hands? "The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me" (Psalm 18:20).

8. Do you do what is just and right? "I have done what is just and right; do not leave me to my oppressors" (Psalm 119:121).

Uh... not really. On a scale of 1-10, I am nowhere near a 10 on any of these. No, I'm not cheating on my wife or getting drunk or stealing money from the church. But when I honestly look deeply at my life in light of these questions, I have to sadly shake my head from side to side. Nope. Not me. Not really.

It might disappoint you to consider that this pastor in particular does not measure up and that pastors in general fall short. But undershepherds are also stupid, stinkin', stubborn, sinful sheep.

The bar is high. We are commanded to live up. The actual pursuit of holiness and integrity is to be the lifestyle of the redeemed.

So, how are you doing? Be honest. Like me, you're not doing as well as you would like.

So, what do we do about that? When we realize how high the bar is and how far short we fall, what do we do?

Some of us lower the bar. We want to minimize the seriousness of our offenses. "The bar isn't that high and we're not that bad. In fact, we are better than most. So, God will cut us some slack. After all, it's His job to forgive."

But that overestimates our goodness and underestimates God's holiness. "He will by no means clear the guilty" (Exodus 34:7).

It's not OK for us to fall short. But if we can't jump over the bar, what do we do?

We believe the gospel. Just like we believed when we were first saved.

We don't look at the Bible like it's a self-help manual, a blueprint for how to gain more integrity, to be a better person. No, the Bible shows us 2 big things. 1) The righteous standard of God and the impossibility of our being able to attain it. 2) The glory of Christ as the only One to perfectly fulfill the Father's righteous standard and His ability to rescue us.

The 8 tough questions above show us that a life of perfect integrity is an impossibility. Jesus has come to set us free by showing us our need for an integrity we can never attain on our own – an impossible integrity that’s always out of our reach.

I am seeing that the 8 questions represent for me not a bar to jump over, but a wall I hit over and over so that I finally admit to myself and to the Lord, "I can't live the way You want!"

I need the gospel.

The gospel is the good news that because Jesus was blameless and innocent, we are free to say that we aren't; that because Jesus walked in integrity, we are free to admit that we stumble and fall; that because Jesus has a clear conscience, we are free to acknowledge that ours is defiled; that because Jesus lived uprightly, we are free to confess our wrong-doing; that because Jesus jumped over the bar, we don't have to.

I am learning more and more what it means to say, "It's no longer I who live. It's Christ who lives in me. And that is my only hope of glory."

Satan actually wants us to go the religious route - the "do more, try harder" route. Satan wants us to keep trying to jump over the bar. But in the words of John Dink, "I must urge you to resist the devil. And, there is only one defense against this scheme of satan. We must boast in our sin – O felix culpa, Oh blessed fall – because it sends us into the arms of God’s Son! We must stand with Paul and reply, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel.'"

The bar is too high. We can't jump over it. And there's a wall behind, beyond, and beneath the bar. We keep crashing into it. But Jesus comes. He sees the mess we are. He picks us up. And He takes us where we cannot go. He jumps the bar for us, in us, with us, and through us.

That's the gospel. That's good news. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

5 ingredients of repentance when you've been disciplined by God

Have things gone wrong in your life lately? Does it seem like nothing is going your way? Does all the trouble you are facing make you wonder what in the world God is doing?

Scripture tells us that troubles come to inspect us (James 1:2-4), to perfect us (Romans 5:1-5), to protect us (Genesis 50:20), to direct us (Proverbs 30:20)..

And sometimes troubles come to correct us (Psalm 119:71-72). Sometimes, we are facing the discipline of God. He disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12).

Are you being corrected by God? If so, don't give up hope.

Yes, God does discipline His people. We see this in the history of Israel. The people rebelled against God. They followed other gods. Injustice and greed characterized their lives. So, God disciplined them. He sent enemies to defeat His people. Their riches were carried off to a foreign country. Leading citizens were deported. The people of God lived in captivity for 70 years.

But God had promised to restore their fortunes. We see the fulfillment of this promise in Ezra 1:1-4. You might want to check it out.

What does this have to do with our troubles today? What can we learn from the discipline and the restoration of God's ancient people?

Let's pray and hope that it doesn't take 70 years of discipline to bring us to repentance. Or 7 years. Or 7 months. Or even 7 weeks.

Be a quicker repenter.

What does repentance look like? What do we do when we've been disciplined by God and we feel that God's discipline has done its work and run its course?

1. Trust God to fulfill His promise. "For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place" (Jeremiah 29:10).

2. Envision a hope-filled future. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).

3. Call upon the Lord in prayer. "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you" (Jeremiah 29:12).

4. Seek the Lord with all your heart. "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 29:13-14a).

5. Watch God restore your fortunes. "I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile" (Jeremiah 29:14b).

Question: How do you hang onto hope when you have been disciplined by God?

Related posts:
Restoring the years that the locusts have eaten
God throws down the gauntlet
He restores our fortunes
Who knows? God may relent.
When bad things happen (2)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

2 secrets to stop beating yourself up for not pleasing God

My heart hurts for a friend who understands the forgiveness in the gospel but has not yet learned to live in the freedom of the gospel.

"The... thing that I... seriously want is to do better, to be better for God... [I am] like a kid that wants to please their Daddy. I find myself beating myself up, trying to correct my words that I might have said to someone or words I should have said to someone. Is it just wrong thinking to want to please my Father?"

The part that makes my heart hurt for my friend is this: "I find myself beating myself up..." My friend isn't alone. I do it, too. And so do you.

But is that the way God wants us to live? Is self-condemnation what Jesus died and rose to give us?

It is certainly right to want to please our Father. It is good and godly to want to please the Lord more and more. "Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more" (I Thessalonians 4:1). Wanting to please the Lord is a sign that we are saved.

The question is "How?" How do we please Him?

1. Stop trying. 

Remember that Isaiah has told us that "all our righteousness is filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:4). Like Paul, we have to realize that it is impossible for us to please God. "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7-8).  We simply do not have the capacity in us to please God.

We want to please God. We really do. But over and over and over we find ourselves failing to do what we know we ought to do. We try harder to do more. And fail again. So, we give it another go. And succeed. For awhile. And are filled with pride. Or we fail again. And give up. The cycle of trying, failing miserably, and succeeding more miserably goes on and on. The treadmill of performanced-based religion is exhausting.

2. Start trusting. 

Paul describes our dilemma in Romans 7 and then gives us the only solution, the only way off the religious treadmill.

"So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:21-25).

We trust Jesus. We are "in Christ" and He has pleased the Lord for us. He has taken away all our non-pleasing-ness - that's forgiveness - and has applied to us all His fully-pleasing-ness - that's clothing us in His righteousness.

Theologically, we are talking about justification - forgiveness and imputed righteousness. The good news is that He has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. That's the gospel. Now, we are to live in light of that.

On The Gospel Coalition blog, Tullian Tchividjian wrote, "The gospel is the good news that because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak; because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary; because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail; because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose.

"[The gospel has] been lost... amidst a moralistic, narcissistic, 'do more, try harder', caricature of the Christian faith that has been prevalent for so long... So many pulpits consistently preach the Christian and not the Christ and as a result many have been burdened by the false idea that the focus of the Christian faith is the life of the Christian."

See, it's justification that fuels sanctification. Jesus has pleased God for us. We don't have to perform. He already did. In Christ, we are already pleasing to God. Now, we work out what He's worked in.

I want the gospel to be fuel for pleasing God for my friend, for you, and for me. Let's I fight to live in the "no condemnation" zone, not in the "you don't measure up" zone.

We don't have to beat ourselves up anymore. He was beaten up for us. And He said, "It is finished."

Question: How do you get yourself out of the self-condemnation, beat-yourself-up mentality?

Related posts:

How to engage in spiritual warfare when guilt is neutralizing you

Cheap grace vs. Costly grace


Dealing with your regrets

When regrets immobilize you

Monday, July 09, 2012

What to do when you realize you've been weighed and found wanting

"You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting" (Daniel 5:27).

Today's Bible reading for CVC was sobering. I was left thinking, "I know that if what God is looking for from me was placed on one side of the scale and the way I am actually living was placed on the other side, I would be light. Very light."

How am I doing as a child of God? I worry rather than trust. I fail to play joyfully in God's world. I don't obey my Father fully. I am weighed in the balances as a child of God and I am found wanting. 

The same is true for me in all my roles. I am weighed and found wanting as a husband, as a dad, as a son, as a pastor, as a leader, as a missionary, and as as a mentor. Honestly, I don't measure up. 

And neither do you.

So, what do we do? Trick ourselves into thinking that we are more weighty than we really are? Live in despair of never weighing enough? Try harder to weigh more?

No. We live in light of the gospel. We are thankful that, unlike the OT king of Babylon who saw those words written on a banquet hall wall, we have heard the good news that Jesus lived, died, rose, and sent His Spirit in our behalf.

Michael Horton in The Gospel Driven Life says, "The heart of Christianity is Good News. It comes not as a task for us to fulfill, a mission for us to accomplish, a game plan for us to follow with the help of life coaches, but as a report that Someone else has already fulfilled, accomplished, followed, and achieved everything for us."

Yes, I am weighed and found wanting in every way. But Jesus has been weighed and found infinitely heavy - heavy enough for me and for you. 

And living in light of that truth gives me forgiveness and fuel to live a crucified and risen life (Galatians 2:20) tomorrow as a child of God, as a husband, as a dad, as a son, as a pastor, as a leader, as a missionary, and as a mentor. 

Question: What fuels your life when you realize you are weighed and found wanting?

3 ways for you to lift the leadership lid for your life

We have been called by God to be leaders who build God’s kingdom. But I’ve learned over the years that the number one leadership lid for me is me.

Sometimes, we complain about how our lack of resources or opportunity keep us from being better as leaders. Sometimes, we can’t control the amount of resources or opportunities that are available. 

But by God’s grace, there are some things that we can control when it comes to lifting the leadership lid. So, what can we do to lift the leadership lid that’s on our lives? We can increase…

#1 – Our Knowledge Of God. 

God wants to be known more than we want to know Him. He desires that we know Him better.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)

And when we get to know Him, we will see just how big and magnificent and beautiful He is. And we will see that He desires to do so much more in and through and with and for us than we have yet dared to dream.

How many times have we backed off of what we felt the Lord was leading us to do because of our small view of God? Is He calling us to take greater steps of faith both personally and in ministry? Why don’t we? Could it be that we aren’t getting an ever increasing view of Him?

God is big. He’s an awesome God. So, we should be seeking to attempt big and awesome things for God. We could be doing greater things for Him. Seeing Him as He really is will embolden us to dream big dreams and attempt great things for His glory and His kingdom.

What else can we do to lift the leadership lid that’s on our lives? We can increase…

#2 – Our Obedience To God. 

[Jesus said], If you love me, you will keep my commandments... Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me... If anyone loves me, he will keep my word...
John 14:15, 21, 23 (ESV)

We say we seek to love God. Jesus says that the way we show our love for God is by our obedience to God.

More than likely, God has been speaking to you about something in your life recently.

Three questions:
1) What has God been telling you to add to your life lately?
2) Since you probably already have too many plates spinning, what has He been telling you to delete? (If He’s going to add something to your already too busy life, doesn’t it make sense that he would correspondingly tell you to delete something?)
3) Why haven’t you added and deleted yet?

God knows what you need to be doing as a leader. He will sovereignly lead you to new habits, relationships, and experiences that will expand your leadership territory. But you have to obey.

Leaders, we must never underestimate the importance of obedience is in our lives and ministries.

What else can we do to lift the leadership lid that’s on our lives? We can increase…

#3 – Our Dependence On God.

Our church is a larger church with a great staff. We are gifted. We can be pretty creative and innovative and adaptive. But I try to remind our team that our best human efforts mean nothing apart from the energizing life of Jesus flowing in and through and with and for us.

[Jesus said], I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:5 (ESV)

Notice that Jesus said, “Abiding.” Not trying.

G.K. Chesterton once said, “Anything done in our own strength will either fail miserably or succeed even more miserably.”

Getting things done while not abiding in Christ equals doing good things through self-effort; it’s doing things in our own strength. And Jesus says, “That's a sure-fire way of doing nothing of eternal value.” Getting things done through self-effort is fruitless. Ecclesiastes calls it “chasing after the wind.” I Corinthians calls it “wood, hay, and stubble” that burn up on the day of judgment. Galatians calls it “running in vain.” Philippians calls it “laboring in vain.” Hebrews calls it “dead works.”

Our deeds done when we’re not abiding in Christ may be successful in men’s eyes, but they are not successful in God’s eyes. And, in that sense, they fail. And to make matters worse, the “success” can reinforce even more self-effort on our part.

That's why we should pray, "O God, save us from 'successful' self-effort." Unless God shows up then all we have produced is wood, hay and stubble.

Bruce Wilkinson, in Secrets of the Vine, writes, “Picture the place where ancient trunk meets vigorous branch. Here is the touch point, the place where abiding happens. Here is the connection where life-giving nutrients in the sap flow through to the developing fruit. The only limitation on the amount of sap that goes to the fruit is the circumference of the branch where it meets the vine. That means that the branch with the largest, least-obstructed connection with the vine is abiding the most and will have the greatest potential for a huge crop” (p. 95).

Leaders in His church need to be reminded that it’s HIS church. Therefore, we need Jesus. I don’t want to see what I can do. I don’t want to see what we can do. I want to see what He can do!

And I don’t think you’ve even seen the beginning of what He wants to do in your life. And mine.

So, there it is. What can you do to lift the leadership lid that’s on my life? You can increase your knowledge of God, your obedience to God, and your dependence on God.

Question: Which of these three needs the most attention from you?

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