Leaders Are Learners

We are well into the new year. How’s it going for you? Are you feeling productive, or do you feel as if you are in the same routine, the same way of thinking, feeling like nothing as changed except the numbers on the calendar?

I would like to offer this question, “If, for you, everything seems the same, what are you learning?”

What’s interesting to me is how many times I ask this question and get a similar response, “I don’t have time,” or my favorite, “I’m too old”/“I have a hard time learning new things.”

Many people have god intentions to follow through with new year resolutions. I know I have, in the past. But then something seems to happen. There seems to be a new stressor, a new amount of pressure, that is causing us to change or to follow through with what we said we wanted to do. Change is hard. After all, it is said the only people who like change are babies with a dirty diaper.

So if it is change we really desire, what can we do to make it happen? The underlying truth we all have to realize is, if we are going to have a better life (a deeper life in Christ for those who are Christian), we have to seek and live into ways that help produce change.

How many of you have said you want to lead other people? I typically hear it like this, “I’m a good leader.” My question, then, is how many people do you have following you? Then we have to look at what makes a good leader. The truth is, real leaders are constantly learning something new, and improving what they already know and do.

I have heard that CEO’s of businesses read an average of 60+ books a year. Do you think this is something you can do? Why/Why not?

If the goal is to improve ourselves so we can do more, for our family, for the world, for our lives, then where can we begin?

I would recommend starting with something you already love. If you like to play golf, take a few lessons to help improve your swing. If you like to play other sports, play them more and ask people for pointers. If you speak for a living, ask people to constructively critique the messages. If you like to garden, seek someone who can give you some advice. If you have a desire to read, or say you don’t like reading, begin with a short audio book or podcast. This list can go on and on.

Part of the reason we do not follow through on our new year resolutions, I believe, is becasue we try to do more than we can manageably accomplish, then get frustrated when we do not get the desired results (if we have thought about results) within a week or two.

Leaders are learners. If we want to see our lives really change, and do great things, then we have to find ways to learn something, even if it is something we see as small. It is amazing how many things, business and world leaders can learn from attempting to master a golf swing.

Now, I am a pastor and I firmly believe that real change does not happen on our own. I believe we do not possess the power and ability to change within ourselves. We do have access to channel the Source of all Power and Grace in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, given by Jesus Christ, and directed by God. So, if you are a believer, have you sought out how God is asking you to be different? Have you followed his voice to undergo the process of transformation?

If you are not a believer in Christ as Savior and Lord of your life, his mercy is available and ready to aid you in achieving so much more than you can ever imagine.

The point of all of this is, what are you learning? Start small. It is never too early nor too late to expand our minds and watch the power of God flow in and through us to make lasting change in the world.

Oh, and it never fails to have some people with you as you learn something new: people to share ideas with, and to help hold each other accountable. God works well in those relationships.

Convincing Arguments

Click here to read Acts 26.

When was the last time you tried to convince another person (not family or friend) about coming around to your way of thinking? How did it go?

I love talking with sales people. They really know their stuff, and you can tell the ones who are passionate about their product/service. People in sales are always fun to talk with because you know their goal is to try and sell you on what they’re offering; but at the same time, it is the customer who really is in control of the situation.

People are going to hear what they choose to hear. If a person is convinced they need ______ product, it is because the value of the product/service for their life was heard. On the other hand, if a sales person offended the potential buyer, all the potential buyer will hear is how they don’t like what the sales person is saying. There is always a line to walk when trying to sell any product or service. The two things that must be demonstrated are: 1) passion about the product/service and 2) knowledge about the product/service.

Look at today’s passage in Acts 26. Paul gives his testimony many times and is in positions to defend himself a lot. But, is he really trying to prove himself right? No. Even though he is in custody, he is still doing his best at sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with all he encounters. Paul is even placed in in front of powerful rulers that willingly listen to him.

All this time, we can see that Paul has had many hardships and difficulties throughout his ministry and missionary journeys; but he did not waste any opportunity. Paul was still, first and foremost, a slave (servant) of Jesus Christ and was compelled to share Christ wherever he was and with whomever would listen.

How does this go for us today? I hear many people say something like, “all my friends are Christian.” To that response I say, “well, you don’t know enough people.” Another thing I hear a lot is “everyone around here goes to church.” Then I say, “nope.”

One of the things that gets in our way is our own perception of reality. All we have to do is look around and see that not everyone knows Christ. Even Jesus’ own followers miss the boat at times. But it is all because of God’s incredible grace that we are given chances to talk with people about Jesus Christ.

Have you noticed what happens within you when you seize the opportunity to talk about Jesus? I hope you feel like I do and sense an overwhelming feeling of joy and peace. Sharing Christ to others is not just good for them to hear and be ushered to the throne of grace; but it is also important for us to share because it is a great reminder for us about who Jesus Christ is.

So, do we have to be the best or most convincing sales people when we talk about Jesus? Not at all; but we should allow our passion for Him to come out in such a way that people are willing to listen. When we do not quench our passion, the Holy Spirit uses that to draw people to God through Jesus Christ.

We will not always get our words correct; but we can continue to share the hope, joy, peace, love, grace the God through Jesus Christ offers the entire world.

Holy Interruptions

Click here to read Acts 9:1-20.

We have all had those days. Days when we are so focused on completing our job that we do not pay much attention to anything else around us. It can be very easy for “workaholics” to be so engrossed in the day to day tasks and work that we may not take the time to ask, “Is this really what I need to be doing?”

The Apostle Paul had one of those days before his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Remember, Saul (Paul) was at Stephen’s stoning and approved of his death. He was on a mission to try and destroy the lives of the followers of Jesus by seeking them out and arresting them. It appears he was so focused on the task at hand that it took something outrageous to get him to listen to the voice of Jesus and hear his message. That is what happened on his way to Damascus.

Don’t we get like this too? Truthfully many people do not stop going on the path their on until they hit a wall they can’t break. Until something detrimental, destructive, or something outrageous happens that gets their attention. Illness, news, or anything can get our attention quickly. When this happens, we hopefully pay attention and change our habits, our lives in order to do what needs to be done after the event.

Paul (Saul is his Jewish name) was blinded by a bright light. He was unable to see for a few days later. The light caught his attention and he listened. Did he believe the words of Jesus right at first? I bet after Saul heard Jesus say who he was, he was terrified. He is speaking and listening to someone they had killed on a cross! That would get my attention.

Paul had a “holy interruption” in his life. This was an event that turned his life around to become the Apostle Paul that wrote most of the New Testament we have today. After his encounter with Jesus Christ, he was completely different. He wasn’t focused on his work before this encounter anymore; he was completely focused on the mission God called him to – the mission to preach to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people) about the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I have a question for each of us today. “Are we more focused and excited about the work we do to make a living for our families or the work that God is calling us to in the world?” Some people may be able to answer a simple yes because both sides of the question are aligned already. But for those who look at their work as something they do to make money, and then “try to be a good Christian,” why do we live double lives like this? The energy that takes will wear us out and we won’t be able to be as effective as we need to be in either area of our lives.

Instead, I invite you to memorize this scripture and apply it to your life.

Colossians 3:17

“Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.”

You are also invited to read this 6 part devotional: Office Hours Devotional

QUESTIONS:

  1. Why do you think we work so hard?
  2. Who is it easier to work for our own glory rather than that of Jesus Christ?

Not For Sale

Click here to read Acts 8:5-25.

When you go to a garage sale, one of the first questions asked is “how much is _______?” We want to know how much it is going to cost us to get what we want.

There is a sweet couple who grow produce in their garden. The husband refuses to sell it. Instead, he wants to give it away.

Many people hear about God, the good news of Jesus Christ and the new life he offers, and think, “How can I earn this?” “What do I have to pay?”

We have this mindset to wonder how much something is going to cost us and we begin to figure out if it is worth the asking price.

Here’s the underlying truth about God’s grace. It cost him everything. It costs us nothing. God’s grace is FREE and undeserved. “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed.” (Ephesians 2:8)

In the passage in Acts today, we look at the story of Simon the sorcerer. He sees all of the incredible acts (done by the Holy Spirit) Philip, and then the apostles Peter and John. He was so enamored at the attention they were receiving and realized he could not do what they could. He wanted what they have. So, he offered money to them to try and buy the “power” they possessed.

Think about how this can translate to us in our society today. There is a person who is peaceful and joyful in every situation. This person is one of the most respectful and respectable people in the community. They are in a position of authority and influence and their generosity is unmatched because business has been good. Then we find out this person is a follower of Jesus Christ.

This person can easily be admired, even to the point of others wanting what they have just to be recognized as a good person. So, this person tries to find a church and begins attending. The motives for joining the church (or really any organization) are impure because the underlying thought is “this will make be a better person so I can get the same respect and attention.”

God’s grace does not work this way. The power of the Holy Spirit is not given because we try to purchase it. The price was paid by God on the cross of Jesus Christ. He paid the price so we don’t have to. When we take the time to follow Jesus Christ, learn about who he is in the scriptures, and see how the whole revelation of God changes the world (read Genesis – Revelation), we can see the gift of grace is all because of God’s great love for us and his desire for us to be in good relationship with him and with other people.

I invite you to carefully consider motivations for being part of a group, organization, even church, to see if you are part of it because you want recognition, prestige, praise, etc. If this is you, take time to repent and turn you mind and heart to the things of God. When our heart is open to live into the grace that God freely gives, our lives are transformed from the inside out and we begin to experience life in an incredible way.

Or are you part of it because you sense a great desire to be truly molded into the image of our Creator and follow Jesus Christ with every step of our lives. If this is you, allow God to continue to keep your focus on him and his direction for your life. It will not always be easy; but true and full life is always ready to be lived in and through you.

This is something my wife and I consider daily. Some days are different than others. I’m sure yours are too.

Beyond Jealousy

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 5:17-42 CEB.

Jealousy. We all get jealous at times. Sometimes we don’t even want to admit we feel this emotion. Jealousy, when left unchecked, causes us to act in irrational and hurtful ways. Oh, we want to feel excitement for the accomplishments and gifts of other people; but deep down we wish it was us getting that recognition, so we can try to do anything to undermine the work of another.

Often times, when I write a blog about scripture, I can see my own flawed nature. This is hard because I would like to think I am always striving to encourage and develop others; but honestly, this is not always the case. My guess is this same thing happens to you, would you admit it?

So where does jealousy come from? Our flawed humanity seems to be always seeking to acquire and use what we do not have. This is why the 10th Commandment is “do not covet anything of your neighbor’s.” (See Exodus 20:17) Why is this included? I believe this commandment is part of the other nine because if we desire to have what our neighbors (those around us) have then we will never be content with what God has given us and we will seek to be made in the image of the other person rather than being formed and molded into the image of Jesus Christ.

Have you ever thought of that? Why would we want to be a replica of another person who is flawed and imperfect? Why wouldn’t we strive to be made perfect through the grace of God working in and through us? People who are in leadership positions most certainly fall into this way of thinking and of life.

Whenever another person seems to have more success than you do, be careful not to fall into the trap of doing everything exactly the way they do. The other person has different gifts, and a different area to work in. Just because success is happening in a specific way in one area does not mean it will work in your area. Just because another company, organization, church, group has something we don’t have doesn’t mean we have to go out to bash it, to try and stop it, or even try to replicate exactly.

We see this behavior all over the place. Spectators who want to be coaches instead of fully enjoying the nature of the game. Bystanders who want to know they are not getting what they want instead of being part of the activity, ministry, mission to serve other people. Deep down, there is a desire to be better than the person next to us.

Instead of waiting our energy tearing down another person or group because we’re jealous, let’s instead find a way to say “thanks” for the work they’re doing, for how they are using their gifts from God, for the opportunity to work together for the common good and goal of ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let’s take Gamaliel’s advice to the Jewish Council speak to us today, “Here’s my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!”

So let’s praise God for the way he works through many different people and in many different ways. Let’s praise God for the way he works through you and me. Let’s allow more thanks and praise to flow from our lips. We have so much to give praise for because we, along with those around us, have the presence God working in us and through us AND we get to watch his work through other people.

SENT OUT: to Follow

What do you seek? Why are you Christian? Why do you go to the church you attend? When was the last time you thought about the consequences to following Jesus?

Do you really like to be a follower? Or, would we rather be the one(s) in charge and receive the glory and recognition?

Last week we began a new sermon series called SENT OUT. We talked about how our identity as a child of God defines our purpose and gives us greater things to live for instead of our own comfort and our own preferences. This week, our focus is we are SENT OUT in the world to follow Jesus Christ.

I invite you to click on the link and take time to read John 1:29-42.

“Lamb Of God”

Disciples did not know what they were getting into when they said yes to following Jesus. Think about that for a second. Would they have followed a man who would end up at the cross? If we were in their position, would you? It may seem like a pointless endeavor to follow someone who would die just a few years later.

When John calls Jesus the “Lamb of God,” I’m sure the image of lambs in the Old Testament would have come into the minds of the people. Lambs were used for slaughter and sacrifice to “remove” the sin of the people. This is a great foreshadowing of what will occur to Jesus in the next three or so years. So basically John could have been saying “Here comes the dead man walking who will show you what it means to live fully in the presence of God.”

Later on in scripture, Jesus tells his followers they are to “take up their cross and follow him.” This means that he is calling us to be living sacrifices and deny ourselves for the grander purpose of the Kingdom of God. I love the following story of what “take up your cross” means to different cultures.

One market day in their village, two Chwang tribesmen heard a colporteur preach the Gospel. Then he began to sell Gospels, promising blessing to those who not only read but obeyed the precepts contained therein. Both men purchased copies, and taking them home, they read along till they came to the statement, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” In their desire to obey the Word of God, they made two crosses of bamboo, and tied them on their backs. (The Chinese translation of the words, “Take up his cross,” is “Bear his cross on his back.”) They carried these crosses as they visited the market or went about the country, and then carefully hung them on the front of their houses when they were home. Seeing their earnestness of heart, God did not leave them long in the dark. Soon a Chinese worker discovered them, briefly explained the Gospel to them, and advised them to go to Liuchow for further instruction. They did so, and after a week of instruction returned to their village and began to witness for the Lord. Several months later they went back to Liuchow, requesting baptism and further instruction. We were glad to grant both their requests as they exhibited an earnestness seldom seen anywhere. (Alliance Weekly)

“Come and see”

Jesus’ invitation to his new followers was not as gruesome as the death seen of the cross. Neither was it, “get your act together and then follow me.” Disciples asked Jesus,  “Where are you staying?” Jesus answered, “Come and see”

The invitation is to follow…we don’t have to be perfect. How does this make you feel? Aren’t you glad you do not have to be perfect before we accept the invitation of Jesus Christ?

Jesus did not leave the disciples in the place of remaining in their sin. Nor did he allow them to be the same. The imperfect disciples grew in their love and faith as they followed Jesus.

What does all this mean for us today?

S. I. McMillen, in his book None of These Diseases, tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application blank that asked, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.”

When we follow Jesus Christ, our actions change and what we have the heart of God for the least, the last, and the lost. We get to follow wherever Jesus is leading us in our lives. Keep in mind, this does not mean we are passive and do not take the lead. There are times, many times, that Christ calls us to lead people. We are able to lead better because we follow Christ.

So, what are some things we can do to tangibly keep our lives and church in line with Christ’s mission for His church? The challenge is that we will look at all of this and say “I don’t have time to do everything!” or “We’ve never done that / we’ve tried that before.” Or “Ok, if I do this, I’ll keep my place in heaven.”

What are some things you can see yourself / your church community doing to reach out into the world in the love of Jesus Christ?

  • Community missions such as food pantry, clothes closet, helping with utilities, etc?
  • Community (off church site) Bible Studies and times of prayer and worship?
  • Form or strengthen care ministries to the community of faith (homebound, nursing homes, hospitals, sick, etc) and to those in the community?
  • What else can you add to this list?

These are just a few ideas that will have lasting impact within the community and the church community which will end up spreading the love of Jesus Christ out into the whole world.

We do not do this alone! We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to go where Christ calls and do the work he calls us to. This is done because we are being leaders in our community (or faithfully being the helpers). We are able to do this because we follow the call mission of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8 as examples). It is ALL by God’s grace that we are able to do these acts (Ephesians 2:8-10).

We do not have to do everything; but we can ALL do something!

Are you ready to follow?

  • Bring people to faith in Christ by building authentic relationships and bring them to worship
  • Care for the sick and homebound (widows and orphans)
  • Find out what the community needs (from the community people) and find ways to make it happen)

Carry your cross on your back, check the box that you can follow and not have to lead…

Follow Christ to see where He is leading us in 2017 so we can continue to provide ministry through this church for the future generations (thinking for the next 100 years) to come to follow, know, and love Jesus Christ.

Let’s talk about the vision God is giving you for your life and His church.

Sabbath Retreat

I came back from a week in the mountains with some great friends as well as some new men I haven’t met before. This was an incredible week to take time away and rest in the Lord, intentionally.

Sabbath rest is extremely important and it is a discipline that is overlooked. One of the books I was reading during this week was “Emotionally Healthy Leader.” This is an awesome book which forces you to look inside yourself and see how, through the grace of God, we can be better and more healthy leaders. This is a book that I would recommend.

In the chapter on “Practice Sabbath Delight,” Peter Scazzaro writes about a time when he visited a trusted friend. He was frustrated when the Christian leaders he taught all over the country preach about Sabbath rest and even say it is a great “idea,” would not actually practice a true Sabbath. Bob, his clinical psychologist friend told Peter, ““They can’t stop. If they stop, they’ll die. They’re terrified. They’re frightened to death of what they’ll see inside themselves if they slow down. And you want them to immerse themselves in things like solitude, Sabbath, and silent reflection?” He chuckled again. “Do you have any idea how foreign this is for any leader —Christian or not? Something so much deeper is driving them; they just have no idea what it is.” It was the penetrating truth of this statement that stunned me: If they stop, they’ll die. They’re terrified.”

Does this describe you? If I was honest earlier in my life and ministry career, I would have to say that that statement actually pinned me to a “T.” After all, why would I want to purposefully look into the depths of my character, passed mistakes, and anything else that God wants me to work on. My thought was “I can do this. I’ll spend time with God and make Sabbath as part of my daily life. But there was a problem with that mindset; I wasn’t discipline to take at least an hour away from “my day” when I “had to be productive and get things done.”

As I have learned and realized the importance, I try (not always though) to take a complete 24 rest from the work I have to do the other 6 days of the week and spend time to delight in God. This means I will rest from work (paid and unpaid) and only do the things that give me complete joy. Some of this includes spending time with family, more time for reading, prayer, reflection, play.

For the last few years, I have been going on week long men’s retreats to the mountains. During this time away (not off like we think of being off), I have learned how to structure my days so I can come back refreshed, joyful, and ready to get back into the work of life.

Each day I will take a minimum of 2 hours, and a maximum of 5 hours for reading, meditation on Scripture, prayer, taking a walk, etc. This is usually done by myself. The rest of the day I would spend time with the group and go hiking, go into town to walk or hangout. Basically, the second half of my day is play and spending time with friends.

I am not sure of your station in life, or what you are going through. But I would encourage you to take time every 7 days for a true Sabbath rest (not necessarily stopping work; but having no deadlines to focus on). If taking 24 hours to do this each week seems challenging, I would encourage you to take time to build up to it. Purposely plan what you will and will not do on your Sabbath time and just see how God refreshes your soul for the next 6 days of building relationships and your work.