Spiritual Formation

Something More

One man’s life changed the course of history for billions of people across the globe. He is both revered and reviled, famed and feared and you know who he is without a single mention of his name. His name is Jesus! Do you know Him?

In the Name of Jesus

12596_w185Three words best describe Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus, “simple but profound.” Using stories from Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4:1-11 and Peter’s call to ministry in John 21:15-19, Nouwen blends the scriptural truths of these passages to discuss the essential qualities for Christian leadership in the 21st century. In the book, Nouwen identifies three temptations facing Christian leaders today, and addresses the disciplines needed within ones life to counter these challenges.

In looking at the temptation account of Jesus in the desert, Nouwen discusses the temptations for relevance, popularity, and power. In defining these, Nouwen relates that leaders are tempted to know if what they are doing is: 1) making a difference (relevant); 2) winning great applause from men (popularity); and 3) influencing people and advancing their agenda to the degree they desire (power).

As a leader in the church, I have to be honest that I often find myself facing the same temptations Jesus faced in the desert. It is a constant struggle to not look to ministry for relevance, popularity and power. I don’t think any of these things influenced my desire to be in the ministry, but I find that I often need to die to my own wants and desires, and realize that ministry is not about me, but about God and His kingdom. I have seen this in my response to the emotional highs and lows of ministry, by sometimes wondering if what I am doing is truly making a difference (relevance. I have seen this in my hesitancy to speak the truth for fear of not being popular. And I have seen it demonstrated in my anger and frustration, when a goal becomes blocked or doesn’t live up to my expectation (power).

While in the text, Jesus dealt with the temptations by quoting truth from the Scriptures, Nouwen suggests that the antidotes to these three temptations are: 1) contemplative prayer; 2) confession and forgiveness; and 3) theological reflection. For those whose temptation is to be relevant, Nouwen advises that we practice the discipline of contemplative prayer, which can keep “us from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own and God’s heart” (p.28), because contemplative prayer keeps us connected with our first love. For those who struggle with the temptation to be popular, Nouwen suggests practicing the discipline of confession and forgiveness within the aspect of community, because this discipline keeps “our ministry communal and mutual” (p.65). And finally for those who wrestle with the desire for power, he suggests the discipline of theological reflection because it “allows us to discern critically where we are being led” (p.65).

If Jesus was tempted in this way, who are we think that we will avoid such temptation? Plain and simple, our biggest temptations as leaders in the church will definitely be the ones Jesus encountered. Therefore we would be wise to be prepared when it comes our way, by embracing and practicing the “simple, but profound” qualities for leadership that Nouwen discusses in his book.

Faithful in Small Things

Law-of-promotion-300x234I’ve been meditating on Jesus’ words in Luke 16:10, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” It’s a great leadership principle from the ultimate leader. When I think of those who did well with the little they had been given, I think of those great men and women in the Old Testament like David, Joseph and Ruth. None of them were able to skip the humbling tasks and the repetitive dedication that it took to become the well known people of faith. It took time – faithfulness to the task at hand.

In studying the call and anointing of David this past week, I was reminded about two lessons on leadership in God’s kingdom. First, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Secondly, character is not revealed in great deeds, but in little things (Luke 16:10).

King David grew up in Bethlehem. He was the youngest in the family, who was sent out to tend to the sheep and live a life of solitude. He was surrounded by sheep. He had no chance of rising socially. No-one saw and knew what he was doing all day long. He killed lions and bears, but he couldn’t post it on Facebook. Yet God saw David and used Samuel to appoint and anoint him as king in front of all his brothers (1 Samuel 16:13). But, what’s fascinating, is that David didn’t immediately assume the role of king. Instead of an immediate promotion, David submitted to serving the one already in that position and waited patiently for God’s appointment to actually become reality. In fact, David had to wait 15 years from the time he was first anointed by Samuel to the time he became king over Judah. It was another seven years before David was anointed king over all Israel. In fact, David waited over 20 years to rightfully take the throne of Israel.

David led a country that was far bigger than his flock of sheep in Bethlehem. But it began by David being faithful in the small things and waiting patiently on the Lord. God truly values faithfulness. Just look at Jesus. He came to earth and was faithful to do what the Father wanted, even to die on a cross for us. To be a man after God’s own heart means that we need to be faithful, not just with the big things, but the little things, too. You see, being faithful with the little things helps us to be faithful when it’s time for the big things. It’s a matter of the heart.

So, be faithful in small things and see how God will remain with you, for nothing is impossible with Him.

Breakfast with Boykin

This past weekend I got to hang out with LTG (Retired) Jerry Boykin, one of the original members of the US Army’s Delta Force. He was privileged to ultimately command these elite warriors in combat operations. Later, Jerry Boykin commanded all the Army’s Green Berets as well as participated in clandestine operations around the world. Today he is an ordained minister with a passion for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

General Boykin recently spoke to 400 men at our Men’s Breakfast. Below is the video from the breakfast, where he spoke on the 4 Pillars of Biblical Manhood.

Small Groups, Big Impact

Small-Groups-Fall-11There is an old adage, “If you grow people, the people will grow the business.” I have been thinking a lot about that lately because I think we focus way too much energy on church growth. The bottom line is that it’s not about growing a big church. It’s about growing big people–people who serve sacrificially, give generously, dream ridiculously, and love gracefully.

My fundamental task as the Groups Pastor at Adventure Church is to achieve smallness and connection within a large organization. And in my opinion, the way to grow larger is to grow smaller via small groups. I honestly don’t think God will grow us beyond our ability to disciple people. If small groups are our primary context for discipleship, then the number of small groups we have will determine our growth potential as a church. It’s a stewardship issue.

So how are you growing the members of your church and helping them to become world-changers? Jesus invested in the few for the sake of the multitudes and I think we would be wise to follow his example. By spending less time thinking about the next big program, we’ll free up the time we need to invest ourselves in the lives of the men and women of our church, who in turn can change the world.

Faith is Not a Feeling

by-faithIn Hebrews 11:1 we are told that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Then after giving us a wonderful definition of faith, the author of Hebrews goes on to give us a list of men and women who were commended for their faith in remainder of the chapter. These people where simply men and women who took God at His word and obeyed His command.

For example, we are told that God asked Noah to build an ark because He was going to bring a massive flood. Noah took God at His word and built the ark (v5). God told Abraham to go out to a place that he would receive as an inheritance. Abraham took God at His word, left his familiar surroundings, and he went (v.6). God indicated to Sarah, who was long past the age of childbearing, that she would conceive a son. The Scripture states: “She considered Him faithful who had promised.” She took God at His word. Regardless of circumstances, despite arguments of logic and reason, and regardless of how he or she felt, each person mentioned in Hebrews 11 believed God and His word and chose to be obedient despite of their feelings.

Feelings are neither right or wrong, but as Christian’s we do not depend upon feelings or emotions, but we place our faith (trust) in fact — the trustworthiness of God and the promises of His Word. You see feelings are valid, but not always trustworthy. However, God’s Word is. Therefore, God’s Word is:

  • truer than anything I feel
  • truer than anything I experience
  • truer than any circumstance I will ever face
  • truer than anything in the world

Why? Because heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s Word will not. This means that no matter how I feel or what I experience, I can choose to depend on the truth of God’s Word and his faithful promises. You see, you and I can either grow accustomed to listening to our feelings, thoughts, and circumstances, letting them control us, or we can be in the habit of taking God at His word despite our feelings and life experiences. We need to choose with our wills to believe that His Word is truer than our feelings.

The promise of God’s Word, not our feelings, is our final authority. Therefore the Christian needs to live by faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God Himself and His Word.

Soul Care

imagesThe most common response I hear to the greeting, “How are you?” is “Busy.” I hardly ever hear someone say they’re enjoying a “peaceful, joy-filled day.” I know people don’t talk like that, but you get the idea.

As leaders, it’s imperative that we practice what we preach, specifically when it comes to the topic of margin. I don’t think there is any way we can talk with integrity about “the abundant life” Christ offers, if we haven’t come to grips with this issue ourselves. I know many pastors who are stressed out and overloaded, and I wonder…why? After all, doesn’t Jesus say, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”? Is it possible that we are no longer taking the correct yoke—Christ’s yoke—on ourselves? Or is it possible that we have bought into a worldly idea that puts the highest value on more, bigger, and better, rather than faithfulness, obedience, and love? When my surrender is complete and Christ’s yoke is accepted, my soul will find rest.

At its core, margin is about trusting God and loving others. By creating margin in our lives, we allow our body and soul to have the internal resources to love God and love others. I suspect the people who passed the wounded man on the road had no margin, while the Samaritan who stopped to help him did. Jesus seemed to think he had the right idea.

That leads to a question: How would the people around you describe you? A great leader? A good teacher? A man or woman of faith? Or would they boil it down to say: He/she is really loving?

Creating Margin

be_still_and_know_that_i_am_god1How often have you been asked the question, “Are you staying busy?” If you’re like me, I imagine you’ve been asked that question a lot, as if “staying busy” is the ultimate objective in life. However, this is the world we live in. A world that demands us to add more detail to our lives. We live for events we can post on Facebook and keep ourselves busy as a badge of honor and significance. And I admit, I fall prey to cultural demands just as much as anyone else. However, lately I have been asking myself, how much is enough, knowing that we can only handle so many details in life before we exceed our threshold and find ourselves on overload.

To understand overload we must first understand our own limits. Physical limits are measurable, we only have so many hours in the day. We are only one person and can’t be in more than one place at a time. So we need to understand our own limitations. Humans are not infinite. We have limits to our ability–and we must recognize them and be at peace with them. God created us to live within certain limits for our own well-being. Therefore, overloading occurs when the requirements upon us exceed that which we are able to bear, resulting in disorganization or frustration.

In the past, margin was a normal part of people’s lives. By default, rather than by choice, people lived slower, more deliberate lives. They had time to help a neighbor and attend social events. Yet even if we agree that margin is good, for many today it seems like a luxury. There is so much to do, so much to see, etc. And if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves exhausted and burned out. In fact, in our technological word, overload happens naturally, but creating margin takes work.

So today, I find myself thinking of ways to create a little more margin in my life. And if we find our emotional energy is gone, how do we get it back? Here are ten options that I have seen work:

1. Cultivate social supports – Some people fill us, others drain us. Therefore we need to intentionally develop relationships that nurture us, with people who understand us and care about us.

2. Get a pet – Pets are capable of bonding, loyal and often affectionate—just the kind of things that increase our emotional reserves.

3. Reconcile relationships – Broken relationships are huge emotional drains. Resolving the tension helps to fill our tanks.

4. Serve others – A University of Michigan study found that those who performed regular volunteer work showed dramatically increased life expectancy, as well as experienced more joy.

5. Rest – “Be still and know that I am God!” Have you tried this one recently? If not, try to set aside time regularly for quiet and rest, even if it’s just a few minutes per day.

6. Laugh – Laughter is good for the soul. Read Proverbs 17:22.

7. Cry – Allow yourself to release the grief, the pain or sorrow. Tears can release the tension and heal the soul.

8. Create appropriate boundaries –  We need to be able to say “no” at times, or other people’s demands will overwhelm us.

9. Give thanks – A lot of negative things go away in our life when we are thankful.

10. Worship – Make sure you’re taking regular time to be with Jesus and worship Him. It puts life into great perspective.

The list could go on! What have you found to be helpful in creating margin and refueling in your life?

Approaching God With Confidence

a-place2wrshpIt seems almost daily that I am hearing of great hurt in the lives of those around me. Families on the brink of divorce, battles with cancer, loss of loved ones…the list goes on and the occurrences seem to be on the increase. For those struggling, each prayer request is unique…seeking relief from the pain, anger at the loss, crying out for peace in the turmoil, understanding from the trouble, strength in the fear and uncertainty. Yet for those that know the Lord, despite the affliction, many are comforted by the One on the Throne. Although we all have our own stress and strain, perhaps not as deep as others, we are assured that our requests can be made to God and that we can seek refuge in the One who created and knows us. He knows both our strengths and weaknesses and yet he still invites us to come boldly to the throne.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 NIV

Another translation says “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Hebrews 4:16 NLT

Isn’t that great news! That we can come boldly to the throne with confidence, remembering who we are approaching, the Creator, the Alpha and Omega, the Omniscient God. He knows our needs and loves us so much that he offers us his mercy and grace.

I often can’t even begin to understand the suffering of those around me. Nor can I imagine enduring my own stress and strain without my Savior, but I am confident in the One on the Throne and I know that I can seek him with confidence in my time of need. I am comforted in the fact that I can boldly call upon him in prayer lifting up those who need additional comfort and support.  I can seek Him with sureness, knowing that he hears each request, sees each tear and feels each heartache. It is with this assurance that I know I will receive his mercy and grace. What a blessed assurance!

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