Think You’re Safe?

Yesterday, I read through Jeremiah 7, and I thought about people who think they’re “safe” because they go to church, or something like that, but really don’t walk with God or obey God.

The prophet Jeremiah says on God’s behalf, “Don’t trust in lies: ‘This is the Lord’s temple! The Lord’s temple! The Lord’s temple!'” (Jeremiah 7.4, CEB).

God challenges this idea, saying …

No, if you truly reform your ways and your actions; if you treat each other justly; if you stop taking advantage of the immigrant, orphan, or widow; if you don’t shed the blood of the innocent in this place, or go after other gods to your own ruin, only then will I dwell with you in this place. (4.5-7).

God tells the people what they can do with their so called acts of worship: “Add your entirely burned offerings to your sacrifices and eat them yourselves!” (7.21).

God corrects the people …

On the day I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I didn’t say a thing—I gave no instructions—about entirely burned offerings or sacrifices. Rather, this is what I required of them: Obey me so that I may become your God and you may become my people. Follow the path I mark out for you so that it may go well with you.” (7.22-23)

Instead of being teachable, repenting of their sin, and experiencing transformation, “they didn’t listen or pay attention. They followed their willful and evil hearts and went backward rather than forward” (7.24).

And, God laments …

From the moment your ancestors left the land of Egypt to this day, I have sent you all my servants the prophets—day after day. But they didn’t listen to me or pay attention; they were stubborn and did more harm than their ancestors. When you tell them all this, they won’t listen to you. When you call to them, they won’t respond. (7.25-27)

May God forgive us when we are stubborn, when we become blind, and when we stop listening to God’s guiding voice! May we always remain teachable so that God can continue to lead us and form us!

What Happens When Jesus is Moved With Compassion

Recently, I was reading in Matthew 20 where Jesus asked two blind men, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”

I love what the Scripture says next: “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20.32-34, NET).

Mark tells about a man with leprosy who “came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed.” The man said, “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Again, Scripture reports, “Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be healed!’ Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed” (see Mark 1.40-42).

There are other similar occurrences in Scripture. Each time Jesus feeds the multitudes, we’re told, Jesus “had compassion on them” (e.g., Mark 6.34; Mark 8.2; Matthew 14.14).

Often, when Jesus saw crowds of people who seemed lost, he was moved with compassion.

I’ve always loved Matthew 9.35-38

35 Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few. 38 So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.’

Jesus compassion always leads to action, whether healing, feeding, providing, or calling others to serve!

What would it look like if we too were moved with compassion?

God, break our hearts for what breaks yours!

“Essentialism”

Ever since I heard about Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, I was interested in reading it. I finally got around to it, and I was not disappointed!

There’s so much in the book, it’s impossible to review it all here. But here are some of my favorite thoughts.

McKeown describes the premise of Essentialism this way …

only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.

McKeown highlights the phrase, “Less but better” to describe the way of the Essentialist.

The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better. It doesn’t mean occasionally giving a nod to the principle. It means pursuing it in a disciplined way. … It is about pausing to constantly ask, “Am I investing in the right activities?” … Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.

We all have many options, and many of us try to do it all, or at least as much as we can. McKeown states, “The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions.”

McKeown asserts that Essentialism …

is a discipline you apply each and every time you are faced with a decision about whether to say yes or whether to politely decline. It’s a method for making tough trade-offs between lots of good things and a few really great things. It’s about learning how to do less but better so you can achieve the highest possible return on every precious moment of your life.

Many of us live with three assumptions …

  • “I have to.”
  • “It’s all important.”
  • “I can do both.”

McKeown suggests replacing these false assumptions with “three core truths” …

  • “I choose to.”
  • “Only a few things really matter.”
  • “I can do anything but not everything.”

McKeown warns, “When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless.”

Being an Essentialist requires the ability to say no, even to good things. McKeown notes, “saying yes to any opportunity by definition requires saying no to several others.” He argues …

Many capable people are kept from getting to the next level of contribution because they can’t let go of the belief that everything is important. But an Essentialist has learned to tell the difference between what is truly important and everything else.

Becoming an Essentialist requires making trade-offs.

Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” The cumulative impact of this small change in thinking can be profound.

McKeown discusses some important disciplines like focus, play, and sleep.

We must make time and space to focus. McKeown argues …

the faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.

McKeown emphasizes the role of play. He suggests …

play is essential in many ways. … play has the power to significantly improve everything from personal health to relationships to education to organizations’ ability to innovate. … play broadens the range of options available to us.”

Play is also “an antidote to stress.”

Sleep is important, as well. “Essentialists … see sleep as necessary for operating at high levels of contribution more of the time.”

McKeown contends, “We aren’t looking for a plethora of good things to do. We are looking for the one where we can make our absolutely highest point of contribution.”

I love the statement McKeown makes toward the end of the book. He asks …

If you take one thing away from this book, I hope you will remember this: whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.

So, what is essential for you?

“Breaking the Missional Code”

I recently read Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and David Putman. The book aims to help churches become missionaries in their communities.

According to the authors, “breaking the code … means discovering the principles that work in every context, selecting the tools most relevant for your context … and then learning to apply them in a missionally effective manner. It means thinking missiologically” (2).

For many churches, “missions” simply means supporting missionaries and ministries in other countries, but “missional thinking means doing missions everywhere” (3), including our local communities, as well as other countries.

Our local communities in the United States are becoming greater mission fields. In all mission fields there are barriers that have to be crossed. Stetzer and Putman state, “Breaking the code means that we have to recognize that there are cultural barriers (in addition to spiritual ones) that blind people from understanding the gospel” (4). Breaking the code is about finding ways to bridge those barriers.

Bridging the barriers begins with love. If we’re going to reach our communities with the good news of Jesus Christ, we must love people.

You cannot grow a biblically faithful church without loving people and preaching the gospel. But loving people means understanding and communicating with them. Preaching the gospel means to proclaim a gospel about the Word becoming flesh—and proclaiming that the body of Christ needs to become incarnate in every cultural expression. (15)

The part of the book that will stick with me the most are the four phrases that describe the church’s mission. The authors state, “Jesus gave four directives that outline the missional mandate of the church” (30) …

  • We are sent (John 20.21)
  • To all kinds of people (Matthew 28.18-20)
  • With a message (Luke 24.46-48)
  • Empowered by the Spirit (Acts 1.6-8)

Indeed, we are sent to all kinds of people with a message, empowered by the Holy Spirit!

5 Ways to Honor God With Your Time

Stewardship is about honoring God with what he’s blessed us with. One of God’s gifts is time. And, it’s a precious gift, because in the grand scheme of things, our time on earth is extremely brief!

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. (Psalm 39.4, NLT)

So, we want to make the most of our time on the planet.

Teach us to number our days so we can have a wise heart. (Psalm 90.12, CEB)

Of all of the ways we might honor God with our time, here are 5 that I think are critically important …

  1. Connect with God! (prayer, reading Scripture, worship, etc.)
  2. Serve God’s purposes in the world!
  3. Spend quality and quantity time with family (or primary relationships)!
  4. Create margin! (sabbath, rest, self-care, etc.)
  5. “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry!” (John Ortberg)

What other ways do you think help us honor God with our time?

Train: My One Word for 2015

My One Word for 2015 is TRAIN. It was the focus of my sermon on Super Bowl Sunday.

Last year, I challenged people to come up with One Word, and so far this year, we have nearly twice as many people who submitted their one words for the year! (My one word last year was CHASE).

Super Bowl Sunday was a great time to talk about training. A few weeks ago, I read a great article about Tom Brady by Greg Bishop. The article describes Tom Brady’s tremendous discipline in his ongoing, year-round training.

I love what the Bible says about training. In fact, I believe training is the Bible’s word for discipleship.

When the Apostle Paul talked about training, he illustrated it by talking about the sporting event of his day (likely the Isthmian Games, which were held the years before and after the Olympic Games) …

24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9.24-27, NLT)

Paul often referred to his own training. He said, “I’m a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia but raised in this city. Under Gamaliel’s instruction, I was trained in the strict interpretation of our ancestral Law” (Acts 22.3, CEB). He also said, “As the Jewish leaders are well aware, I was given a thorough Jewish training from my earliest childhood among my own people and in Jerusalem” (Acts 26.4, NLT).

Proverbs 22.6 is familiar to many people: “Train children in the way they should go; when they grow old, they won’t depart from it” (CEB). Paul adds, “Fathers, do not make your children angry, but raise them with the training and teaching of the Lord” (Ephesians 6.4, NCV). Offering more advice, he says, “older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children” (Titus 2.4, NLT).

In another well-known Scripture, Paul states, “Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character” (2 Timothy 3.16, CEB).

Life experience also trains us. The writer to the Hebrews notes, “No discipline is fun while it lasts, but it seems painful at the time. Later, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12.11, CEB).

Some people have trouble reconciling grace and training (or effort). But I love what Dallas Willard said: “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.” Our spiritual training is not about earning; it’s about growing in grace and becoming more and more like Jesus in every way!

Paul says grace is an important part of our training. He writes, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2.11-12, NET).

Paul, writing to his trainee, Timothy, writes …

If you point these things out to the believers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus who has been trained by the words of faith and the good teaching that you’ve carefully followed. … Train yourself for a holy life! While physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has promise for this life now and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4.6-8, CEB)

Train yourself for a holy life!

Jesus spent the final years of his life and ministry training his followers. He informed them, “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6.40, NET). When fully trained, we will be like our teacher, Jesus!

As I focus on the word train this year, I want to train in the areas of …
– Connecting with God!
– Leadership & Communication
– Exercise & Nutrition
– Sleep & Rest

A key part of my training is my early morning routine where I get up early, spend time connecting with God and reading. Then, after breakfast with the kids and walking them to the school bus, exercising before jumping into the rest of my day. Taking a break in the afternoon, especially on days when I have an evening meeting, and getting to bed at a decent time at night, as well as eating well, are also important components.

So, what’s your training regimen?

A Prayer for Transformational Leadership

On July 1, 2009, the beginning of our second year in Clearfield, I wrote a prayer in my journal for our ministries. Though the prayer has been revised over the years, it has stuck with me ever since (in fact, I posted an earlier version of it in 2011).

A few months ago, the Clearfield Cluster of United Methodist Churches had responsibility for planning and leading worship for a district pastors’ gathering. As part of the worship, I led a responsive prayer based on the 2009-prayer.

This continues to be my prayer for Joleen’s and my ministries, and I invite you to pray it as well.

A Prayer for Transformational Leadership

O God, give us clean hands and pure hearts, hearts like yours. Break our hearts for what breaks yours!

Give us strength. Be our Rock, our firm foundation. Provide us with the spiritual grounding we need for the journey ahead. As we build our lives on Christ the solid rock, develop your character in us!

Give us favor with the people you call us to reach and the people you call us to be in ministry with, especially the leaders and influencers in our churches!

Give us wisdom to lead well, and discernment to sift through all of the distractions in order to focus on the things you call us to be about!

Give us patience and persistence to stay the course in the midst of the challenges and obstacles that will arise during the slow-going work of transformation!

Fill us with passion and energy that will sustain us for the long haul! Give us courage to do what’s difficult. Help us to follow you even when it’s hard!

Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us and cause us to bear much fruit! Do something unpredictable and uncontrollable. Please use us to make your name great!

Through your leadership in our lives, expressed and lived out in the places we serve, create communities of faith that will be fully engaged in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world! Amen.

10,000 Reasons to Give Thanks

Inspired by Psalm 103, worship leader and songwriter Matt Redman cowrote the song, “10,000 Reasons” with a Swedish friend, Jonas Myrin.

In Psalm 103, David lists several reasons why his heart is full of worship for God. So, Redman and Myrin made a list of their own reasons and noted they were barely scratching the surface of God’s worth. Redman explained to Worship Leader Magazine …

If you wake up one morning and you cannot think of a reason to bring God some kind of offering of thanks or praise, then you can be sure there’s something wrong at your end of the pipeline, and not his. We live beneath an unceasing flow of goodness, kindness, greatness, and holiness, and every day we’re given reason after reason why Jesus is so completely and utterly worthy of our highest and best devotion.

In this month in which we observe the national holiday of Thanksgiving, may you set aside time each day to say “thank you” for God’s blessings in your life. You may even want to compile your own list of reasons to bless the Lord. May your heart be lifted to God anew in worship and thanksgiving for his many blessings!

You can read more about the song here, or watch the below to learn more.

“Finding Our Way”

Earlier this year, United Methodist leaders published Finding Our Way: Love and Law in The United Methodist Church, edited by Bishop Rueben P. Job and Neil M. Alexander. Several bishops each contributed a chapter, including …

  • Enforce (Gregory V. Palmer)
  • Emend (Hope Morgan Ward)
  • Disobey (Melvin G. Talbert)
  • Disarm (Kenneth H. Carter, Jr.)
  • Order (J. Michael Lowery)
  • Unity (John K. Yambasu)
  • Diversity (Rosemarie Wenner)
  • Trust God (Rueben P. Job)

Overall, I thought the book was well-written. It’s certainly diverse as it represents perspectives from all across the theological spectrum.

The book is written in light of the increasing polarization in the United Methodist Church and the growing concern about where the denomination may be headed, particularly as we near the 2016 General Conference. The editors note that it’s possible that “the result of the current turbulence will be schism.” Or, “Perhaps the result will be no change or partial change in the current language of the Book of Discipline” (2). Either way, Job and Alexander state, “In whatever ways we engage and respond, we are called to choose at all times to walk humbly, embrace faithful love, and do justice along the way” (6).

My purpose in this post is not to summarize each section or state my position. I will simply post some of the statements I highlighted.

In the first chapter on Enforce, Bishop Palmer proposes an alternative word, “Uphold,” which he believes is less harsh. He states that …

a failure or unwillingness to live within our agreed covenant potentially undermines all the work of the General Conference. It seeks to substitute my wisdom or that of my tribe for the work and wisdom of a larger, deliberative body. It makes me and my viewpoints the center of the church’s wisdom. (13)

Palmer adds …

In refusing to uphold our promises, we make a mockery of the process and the promise. We could well be unreliable partners for future covenant-making and promise-keeping. We depend on each other to have a truly hopeful future. (17)

The most controversial chapter in the book is the one on Disobey, written by Bishop Melvin Talbert. Talbert argues that in 1972, “we acted to construct another wall. We voted to identify homosexual practice as ‘incompatible with Christian teachings'” (37).

Talbert believes that “including same-gender married couples and single persons with a homosexual identity will renew and revitalize churches for faith, witness, and service” (42). Therefore, Talbert calls for “biblical disobedience,” which he calls “doing the right thing, no matter what” (48).

Talbert argues …

Wherever injustice and oppression appear, we solemnly promise to disobey unjust church laws because we give priority to Jesus’s commandment to love each other as much as we love ourselves. (51)

Bishop Kenneth Carter suggests, “The recovery of a coherent theology of grace and holiness and a rejection of the partisan political captivity of the church could lead us to a coherent social teaching” (56). In order for this to happen, “we begin with an intention of seeing the best in each other” (64).

Carter reflects on the consequences of status quo or schism. He acknowledges, “There is a growing energy in the polarities at the edges of our denomination … There is a weakening of the impulse toward unity” (66). Carter also notes, “The dismantling of our connection would involve casualties and would in all likelihood, if previous General Conferences are a witness, be a violent process” (69).

In his chapter on Order, Bishop Lowery writes …

Presently, the position of biblical obedience, which evokes action by some of civil disobedience against church law, is corrupted by the lack of meaningful penalties applied to those engaging in disobeying church law. It is now acceptable for some advocates, some church juries, and some bishops to settle for a twenty-four-hour suspension of the guilty clergyperson. Such a meaningless level of accountability has the effect of giving a person an extra day off for violating church law established by General Conference. Such actions offend the very integrity of the advocated biblical obedience. (75-76)

Lowery sounds a call to “re-order our life together.” He notes …

The painful reality is that we lack coherence in doctrine. We don’t have deep clarity on mission. (We agree to ‘make disciples,’ but we don’t agree on what it means to ‘make a disciple.’) And we are locked in a struggle over discipline. We do not have unity. (79)

Picking up with the idea of Unity, Bishop Yambasu says, “We need to stop this fight” (87). Bishop Yambasu, who is from Sierra Leone, offers a personal perspective from Africa …

I believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. The Bible provides direction for all those who proclaim Christ as their Lord and Savior. I believe, therefore, that sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, and adultery are inconsistent with the teachings of scripture. I think this is the prevailing view of our denomination. This is what missionaries from the United States and England taught us when they took Christianity to Africa. They built churches, schools, and colleges, and we learned what the Bible teaches. We believed and internalized it. It became part of our social and spiritual makeup. … For us now to be told by the church in the United States that what we were taught in the Bible is not true could be traumatizing for the African Christian. (87)

In the closing chapter, Bishop Job states, “This is no ordinary time in the life of our church, and this is no ordinary conflict” (106). He calls for a way of discernment, “a call to radical, risky, and complete trust in God rather than in our own ingenuity or rhetoric” (106). Job suggests three basic steps …

  1. “Immediately stop the propaganda.”
  2. “Declare a moratorium on celebrations and trials regarding same-gender unions.”
  3. “Begin a practice of prayer and discernment that leaves our preferences outside as we enter this extended period of seeking only God’s direction.” (108-109)

As I said, the book is written from a broad theological spectrum. Depending on your position, there will parts that inspire and encourage you as well as parts that trouble and anger you. Such is the nature of the battle in which we find ourselves. Please join me in praying for the United Methodist Church and for the upcoming General Conference in 2016!

This Saturday (Nov 1), the authors of Finding Our Way will participate in a two-hour webcast on the topic. Also, visit ministrymatters.com/findingourway for responses by other bishops and for information on how you can join the discussion.

Favorite Quotes From the Global Leadership Summit

Our favorite leadership development event is the Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit. This year’s Summit was the 20th event, and our fourth in a row (see my posts on the 2011 and 2013 Summits).

Here are some of my favorite quotes/thoughts from this year’s Summit …

Bill Hybels
Hybels is the leader who challenges me most!

  • What God treasures more than anything in this world is people … even more than visions!
  • Don’t make your people pay because you’re so fired up about the vision.
  • Your culture will only be as healthy as the senior leader wants it to be.
  • People join organizations. They leave managers.
  • Legacy leaders leave something beautiful behind them. Are you a hireling or an owner of the vision?
  • Leaders have a legacy mindset to build something of enduring value … not for personal ambition or personal gain.
  • Legacy leaders run on a higher-quality fuel source.
  • The grander the vision, the higher the price tag (e.g., God’s redemption plan and the sacrifice of Jesus).
  • Legacy leaders are the only ones wiling to pay the price to fix a broken culture.
  • Build in solitude breaks. It’s hard to hear God at Mach 2.

Jeff Immelt
I didn’t take a lot of notes during Hybels’ interview of Jeff Immelt (CEO of GE), but I could have listened to these two leaders talk ALL DAY! One note I made was a statement on career advice: “Be around a crisis at an early age (hopefully, you didn’t cause it) … We don’t know anything about you when the sun is up.”

Patrick Lencioni
Outside of Bill Hybels, Lencioni has spoken at more Summits than anyone else. This year was his third year in a row. I always enjoy listening to Lencioni, and this year’s talk was extremely valuable!

Lencioni talked about the three most dangerous mistakes leaders make …
1. Becoming a leader for the wrong reason.
2. Failure to embrace vulnerability.
3. Making leadership too important.

  • The common trait of these mistakes: PRIDE.
  • If we’re doing it for ourselves we’re going to leave a trail of tears behind.
  • I get tired of hearing about servant leadership … because there isn’t any other kind.

Joseph Grenny
This was Grenny’s second Summit in a row. He talks about “crucial conversations.”

  • Crucial conversations are marked by high stakes, opposing opinions, and strong emotions.
  • Myth: You have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend.
  • If you don’t talk it out, you will act it out.
  • Three crucial moments in churches: 1) Performance problems with volunteer staff; 2) Members who are struggling in sin or disconnecting from church; and 3) Concerns with pastors.
  • Crucial conversations are a pit or a path.
  • Two tasks in a crucial conversation: 1) let them know you care about their goals, 2) let them know you care about them.

Ivan Satyavrata
Satyavrata is an Assemblies of God pastor from India.

  • Leaders manage power.
  • Every leader has people power. How are you using it? To manipulate or to add value?
  • Lord, make us leaders who are courageously powerful and genuinely vulnerable, marked by fierce resolve and humility.

Tyler Perry
Perry was interviewed by Bill Hybels. It was a fascinating interview with a Christ-follower, who is a creative leader in the entertainment industry.

  • Remember who you were before you became who you are.
  • I use laughter as the anesthesia to get to the real, deep issues.
  • On critics: God has prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies. So watch me eat!

Louie Giglio
I always love listening to Giglio!

  • We’re not going up any mountain unless we believe that life is brief.
  • Life is short. But God is big! Life is short. But God can do anything!
  • The only way to the top of the mountain is to take the next step!
  • You don’t have to know everything about the mountain in front of you to take the next step.
  • The stakes are too high for us to die with a small vision.
  • We rest because what we do depends on God, not on us!
  • Humility is what makes great leaders.
  • Humility is not a character trait we develop, it’s a byproduct of spending time with Jesus.

The two-day event was very impacting. These are just some of the thoughts that impacted me!