Spiritual Formation

The Easy Yoke

My-yokeCome to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30, NIV

Lately, I have been contemplating these words of Jesus! What a wonderful invitation He gives to those who were burdened by the religious practices of His day! It’s an invitation to rest, to cease striving, to trust in Him. To the weary and burdened, Jesus states that the easy yoke begins with Him. It begins with a right understanding of spirituality. For as Dallas Willard states, “Spirituality wrongly understood is a major source of human misery and rebellion towards God.”

In Jesus’ day if we measured spiritual maturity based on spiritual activity, then the Pharisees would have won every time. Yet, it was the Pharisees boundary markers that were tiresome, for the Pharisees had a burdensome yoke of self-righteousness and legalistic law-keeping.

So what does it mean to go through life and not be burdened? To fully experience what Jesus talks about in this verse. Well here are a few thoughts…

  1. The easy yoke involves a life of training, not trying! Paul spoke of this in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 when he states, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Training is simply the means by which I live by grace. Wesley spoke of “means of grace.” If we are going to be experience the easy yoke, we need to arrange our lives around the person of Jesus, reflecting His character and commitments. We enter into training to win an imperishable wreath. Luke 6:40 says, “no disciple is above the master, but every disciple, when fully trained, will be like his master.” Train yourself into godliness. The easy yoke is a life of training (not just trying) to be like Jesus.
  2. The easy yoke begins with joy! One must arrange their day, so that they experience contentment and joy. But what if you have a problem with joylessness? How do we do that? Do you just try harder to be joyful? Does that work? How do you train for joy? One thought…have you ever noticed how many ‘holidays’ there are in the Old Testament? There were countless feasts! All which caused the people to pause, remember and celebrate God’s goodness. These trained people for joy. So go eat great food! Arrange your life to remember God’s faithfulness and goodness in the land of the living. As Dallas Willard puts it, “You must arrange your life so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy and confidence in your own everyday life with God.”
  3. The easy yoke is finding my worth and identification in who I am and not what I am doing! If this is true, than we don’t have to carry upon ourselves the burden of outcomes! Let’s face it, we are “human beings” not “human doings”. Our worth is based on God’s love and what He says is true of us. It’s not based on what we do. As believers in Christ, we are deeply loved. We are totally forgiven. We are absolutely complete in Christ. Therefore, I don’t have to do anything to make God love me more. He loves me completely, for His love isn’t based on what I do, but whose I am!

To experience the easy yoke, we must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our life. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Therefore, we must train ourselves to be spiritual, not out of a sense of obligation, but in realizing that this training is the means, and not the end, to truly living the life God intended. 

A Contrast in Leadership

saul-or-davidOur leadership team recently read the book, A Tale of Three Kings. The book retells the biblical story of Saul, David, and Absalom! Persecuted first by a mad king and then by a vengeful son, the book tells how David resolutely trusted God when he was treated unfairly.

In considering the book and these stories, I was reminded how 1 Samuel 14:35 states that: “Saul built an altar to God; the first one he had ever built.” But fast-forward one chapter to I Samuel 15:12 and we see that, “Saul went up to Carmel to build a monument to himself.” Somewhere between those two verses, Saul stopped building altars to God and started building monuments to himself. At some point, it was no longer about God and it became about Saul.

In looking at the lives of David and Saul, it got me thinking about some of lessons we can learn from these two guys as it relates to leadership in the church. Here are some of those key learnings for leaders to remember…

  1. Don’t play the comparison game. First, you’ll always find someone doing a better job than you and you’ll get discouraged. Second, you’ll always find someone that you’re doing a better job than, and you’ll get full of pride. Either way, you’ll be dead in the water.
  2. Remember success isn’t about numbers. Saul got caught up in the numbers game. And David had better stats. Jesus was successful because he poured his life into twelve people! And like Jesus, we need to invest in the few for the sake of the multitudes. Rick Warren puts it this way, “A church should be judged not on its seating capacity, but on its sending capacity.”
  3. Celebrate your failures. As we see in Saul, insecure people are afraid of failing. Secure people laugh at themselves. They celebrate failure because it accentuates what God can do in spite of us!
  4. Don’t panic. Insecure people get nervous. They give up. Secure leaders hang in there no matter what. David waited patiently for the Lord because he was secure in his leadership and in God’s calling on his life.
  5. Don’t get defensive. How you handle criticism will make or break you. I’ve learned over the years in ministry that you need tough skin and a soft heart.
  6. Surround yourself with the right people. Who was Saul’s greatest asset? David. But if you are insecure, your greatest asset will become your greatest threat. And it will short-circuit your ability to surround yourself with a great team. And it will limit your influence.
  7. Keep building altars to God. Remember, it’s not about you! It’s easy to drift like Saul did and build monuments to ourselves. 1 Corinthians 10:31 reminds us of this, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” He is the Potter, we are the clay! He is the Vine, we are the branches. Apart from Him, we can do nothing!

A New Tradition…Remembering

P1000083My wife Jennifer recently wrote this article and I thought it was a wonderful read worth repeating on my blog…

You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done.  – Psalm 92:4 (NLT)

Well, whether we’re ready or not, 2014 is here! It’s hard to believe that 2013 is over! Time goes by so quickly and the blessings of the year are often so easily forgotten. The arrival of the new year is a great time to start tracking God’s faithfulness and a fun and simple way to capture God’s blessing throughout the year is to create a memory jar. To start the fun, take a large jar (or other container) and place it somewhere your family can easily access. Whenever you have a blessing you want to remember, a prayer that is answered or an event you want to capture, simply jot it down on a small slip of paper and add it to the jar. Encourage every family member to participate and contribute. At the end of 2014, on New Years Eve perhaps, gather the family together and read those slips of paper. Not only will this be a great walk down memory lane, but it will give you the opportunity to focus on God’s faithfulness and unfailing love.

Memory Jars, and memorials in general, are not new concepts. In fact, memorials are God’s idea. Over and over again in Scripture, God instructs his people to remember His goodness, power and provisions. Start a new tradition this year and thrill in the Lord as you remember what He has done.

Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over. He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever. – Joshua 4:21-24 (NLT)

How Do You Manage Your Digital Life?

digital-worldI’ve been trying to achieve something that may be impossible…creating a way to synchronize my digital life and my real life, so that I can meaningfully accomplish things in both areas. Now I consider myself a bit of a techie. And I’ve usually been an early adopter to technology. I opened my Twitter account back in 2007. I joined Facebook in 2008. And I am usually the first in the office to update software. But lately, I’m struggling with how to manage learning curves that come technological advances like an iOS7 update, as well as managing social media and the different ways people communicate.

Perhaps I’m just getting old, but consider this. Today, I had a senior citizen from the church call me on the phone to talk, I had a millennial texting me with questions and information on my cell phone, I had instant messages on Facebook from friends and family, I was inundated with emails, I received two direct tweets from friends and I had a Skype conference call with a church leader.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, because as a former communications major, I love all the various ways and methods to communicate. But as you can see, generationally and professionally we all have different preferences of communication. Notice the inclusion of the demographics associated with the preferred styles of communication above. The professional wants everything documented, so they email. The millennial doesn’t want to answer my call, but will text instead. The senior citizen doesn’t have email and prefers to call and talk over the phone.

So, here is my question…how are you all managing all this? Seriously, with so many ways to communicate, what have you found to be the best way to navigate all these various platforms…voice mail, email, texts, letters, etc.

Along with that, I am desperately trying to move away from paper and integrate meeting notes, task lists and streamline things to be more productive. However, I am finding the apps I’m using don’t necessarily sync well between my computer, my tablet and my phone. I’ve tried Evernote and Wunderlist, but so far not wowed by either. So I would be interested to hear what you’re using and what’s working for you.

Long ago we were promised that technology would make our lives simpler. And in many ways it has. But it has also made our lives a whole lot more complicated. However, as hard as we try to hide from technology…it is there, staring us in the face. So what’s working for you? I’m curious. Give me your thoughts!

If You Want to Walk on Water…

6a00d8342086bb53ef0120a62425fe970c-320wiIt’s one of the greatest pictures of extreme discipleship in the Bible. Twelve men out on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, in the middle of the night, being buffeted by the waves. In their distress they see what appears to them to be a ghost. Out of fear, they cry out and in that moment Jesus responds, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” We don’t know how the eleven responded to that voice, but Peter recognizes that God is present, so he blurts out, “Lord if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

Knowing Peter’s impulsive ways, it’s surprising that he didn’t just plunge right into the water in pursuit of Jesus. Instead he shows restraint and asks Jesus for clarity, in order to discern what God was up to. And by doing so, he is invited to go on the adventure of his life. But in order to walk on water, Peter had to demonstrate faith, get out of the boat and make the commitment to move toward Jesus. However, when Peter’s shifts his focus from Jesus unto the storm, reality begins to sink in, he becomes fearful and plunges into the water.

There are many wonderful lessons in this story. In our lives, God is calling us to commit to him, to join him in life’s adventure, but we often choose the comfort and safety of the boat over joining Jesus on the waves. The choice to follow Jesus takes faith, commitment and determination. To go into uncharted waters with Jesus involves risk, and yet like Peter, we fail to recognize that Jesus is in our midst, so we quickly turn our attention to the storm around us and demonstrate just how little faith we have.

Faith takes trusting in the One who calms the storm and who walks on water!  He has promised to be there and to pick us up. By spending time with the original water walker, our faith muscle grows and we learn to trust him more for the details of our life.

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.

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