Jesus Doesn’t Want Your Risk – He Wants All Of You

all in 2I’ve been thinking a lot about risk lately. In my little circle of Reformed theology, taking risks for God is currently cool. It’s in. It’s what all the cool kids are doing. Fellow bloggers are writing about crazy; don’t waste your life, radical love. And I really am grateful for these guys. I’m grateful that they are encouraging the next generation to go hard after God. I’m grateful for the Harris brothers challenging young men and women to do hard things for God. If any of you guys happen to stumble onto this, please feel my gratefulness.

But I’m starting to think that we might be getting the principle right but getting the application wrong. Here’s what I mean: when I read the books on being risky and radical and crazy, I come away feeling like I need to do something really, really big for God. I need to take a risk by uprooting my family and being a missionary to India. I need to be crazy for Jesus by adopting four Vietnamese orphans. I need to be radical for Jesus by starting an inner city ministry to the homeless. If I’m not doing something big for God, I’m wasting my life. If I’m not going big for God, I might as well be sitting in front of a slot machine in Vegas, slowly throwing my life away.

Now don’t get me wrong, all those things I mentioned above are good. If God calls you to do those things, do them with all your might! But if I don’t do these things, am I wasting my life? Am I not being crazy radical enough? I don’t think so. Here’s why: being a Christian is fundamentally radical, risky, and crazy.

In Mark 8:35, Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospels will save it.” To be a Christian, we must lose our life for the sake of Jesus. We must be willing to give up everything for the sake of Jesus. This at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus gets all of my life. Jesus gets all of me. Whatever he says goes. I am no longer my own. That’s crazy, radical, risky talk.

What does this look like practically? What does it look like to be radical for Jesus every single day? Well, it actually looks pretty ordinary. At least in the world’s eyes. Being radical for Jesus means fighting against our sin aggressively, and being willing to do whatever it takes to cut sin out of our lives (Matt. 5:29). It means blessing those who hate you, and giving your possessions to your enemies (Matt. 5:39). It means being poor in spirit, meek, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matt. 5:2-11).

God_Needs_You 2The Bible’s description of the radical Christian life is not particularly sexy or glamorous. Being radical for Jesus means being subject to the authorities (Rom. 13:1). It means being patient in tribulation, constant in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, and showing hospitality (Rom. 12:12-13). These aren’t particularly exciting things, but I think we need to realize that these are radical! The world does not operate this way. Those who don’t know God curse in the midst of tribulation, never pray, indulge their sins, curse their enemies, and despise righteousness. If we seek to obey the Bible, we will be radical. If we seek to follow Jesus, that will inevitably lead to crazy love.

I’m not opposed to doing big things for God. We need more people in the mission field and the orphanages. But for most of us, being radical for Jesus means being faithful to do the “ordinary” Christian things. The Christian life is inherently radical, inherently risky, and inherently crazy. Following Jesus means dying to myself every single day. That is radical. If I seek to obey God’s word, my life will look very different than the rest of the world.

If God calls you to go to the mission field, wonderful! Go hard. But if God calls you to the cubicle field, don’t feel guilty! Be radical right where you are. Fight against your sin. Serve your spouse. Give generously. Spend tyme with the outcasts. Share the gospel with your neighbors. Remember Jesus doesn’t just want your risk. He wants all of your life.

*Resource(s) and Photo(s) courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/JLBarranco, Stephen Altrogge

Should Leaders Create Controversy?

2One of the greatest things preventing many pastors and churches from reaching their optimal level of impact is their fear of controversy.

Controversy over how they approach ministry compared to other churches.
Over an unpopular stance they take.
Over their dedication to the truth.

They’re so afraid of upsetting anyone, they compromise their message and the unique calling God has placed on them. They avoid criticism, which no one likes to receive. But they forfeit something far greater:

Influence. You can’t have influence if you are not willing to be controversial.

Just ask Jesus. People in Jesus’ day sharply differed on their opinions of Him. Wherever He went, people loved Him. And loved to hate Him. They flocked to Him to hear Him preach and see Him heal. But also to argue with Him and accuse Him of being the devil.

Jesus was controversial. And for that reason, I don’t think it’s a coincidence His message spread and made the impact it did. Nor is it a coincidence He went to the cross. They didn’t kill Jesus because He was nice and agreeable. They killed Him because He was a threat. He was different. He challenged the accepted system. And they hated Him for it.

If Jesus’ ministry was controversial, why do we expect ours should be any different? If people hated Jesus, what ever made us think everyone would be cheering us on?

If you want to be like Christ, expect controversy. If you’re faithful to what God has called you to do, you are going to be misunderstood. Criticized. Maybe even hated. But don’t worry when people are criticizing you. Worry when they’re not criticizing you. Because at that point you’ve blended in too much to be worth noticing. Personally, I’d rather be misunderstood than ignored.

You’ve got to become comfortable with controversy.
Controversy is a sign of progress. Controversy is a sign of impact.

And that makes it worth some of the baggage that might come along with it.

Photo(s)/Resource(s): Steven Furtick

Mentoring by Older Men

a1Titus 2 is often used for older women mentoring younger women, as we have looked at in a previous post, but I also see older men mentoring younger men in this passage as well.

Verse 2 begins, “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.” Then in verses 3-5 we have an interlude where it takes us to the mentoring role of older women with younger gals. Verse 6 gets back to men — “Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good.” The first word in verse 6, similarly, continues the thought from verse 2.  God is not asking older women to mentor younger men similar to how they teach younger women.  Rather, older men are to mentor “similarly” to the way older women teach younger women.

Mentoring isn’t just about passing on the “how-to” based on their life experiences but rather teaching qualities essential to godliness.  Just as we saw in those verses, similarly, men need to possess the qualities that need to be passed on to younger men.  Guys need an example of what it takes, similarly to how younger women need a model. If an older man is going to be the kind of example that makes him a good mentor, then he needs to demonstrate the following:

1)  He must be temperate.

Just as older women are to be taught to not be “addicted to much wine,” so older men are to be free from addictions as well.  How will he be an example of self-control, whether that be with alcohol, pornography, or any other kind of vice, if he himself is in bondage?  Mentoring requires time spent with another person.  While an older man might fool acquaintances, it will be difficult to hide the traits that lead to intemperance from those with whom he is closer and spends more time.

2)  He must have earned respect.

For a younger man to be inspired by the life of someone else and want to learn from that person, the person must be “worthy” of that respect. He must have proved himself by being honorable.  This is a man filled with integrity.

3)  He must be self-controlled.

Young men can easily be governed by impulses … sexual and otherwise.  To be taught self-control from someone who has himself learned to control those impulses, will go much further than sermons targeted at young men or books he can read on the subject.

4)  He must be sound in faith, love, and endurance.

If a young man is going to curb his natural desires, it is going to take more than a bunch of do’s and don’ts passed on to him.  He needs the legacy of faith, love, and endurance which will provide a higher motivation to be self-controlled.  He needs a reason to persevere.  A qualification for an older man being a mentor, therefore needs to be that the mentor himself is on solid ground in what he believes and where he places his trust.  He needs to be guided by the pure motivation of agape love.  And, he needs a constancy in this.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”  If the mentor is going to truly be able to sharpen the other person, he must have certain qualities … to be made of spiritual iron.

If you have, or want to begin, a mentoring program at your church for men, we must ask the same questions we did for developing a women’s mentoring program.

What criteria should be in a mentor?

Remember, more goes into mentoring than passing on life experiences so don’t make it about merely pairing up men based on who has been through similar life experiences or has similar interests. The mentor, according to Titus 2, should display certain qualities.  Think through how you will know when an older man is ready to be a mentor.

How will you recruit mentors?

Not all older men are qualified to join in such an endeavor.  Think through how you present this opportunity to the older men of your church so you are not in an awkward position of turning some men away.

What training should be required of mentors?

Some older men are already godly or “worthy of respect” so they might not need as much teaching but should still go through training to remind them of what mentoring is all about.  Think through what should be included in that basic plan. Older men who do not meet the criteria of Titus 2 probably will not drastically change as the result of a few training sessions. Bondages are usually not easily or quickly broken. Think through how you can extend prolonged teaching, perhaps counseling or they themselves being mentored, to help them become more godly.

Photo(s) / Resource(s): Phyllis Kline & Ministry Tools Resource Center

Does Your Church Embrace the Vision? Two Ways to Know

2There’s a crucial question every ministry leader must answer when it comes to their vision. When do you know the vision has become ingrained in the culture of your church and not just in your own dreams?

It’s not enough to have a vision, even a compelling one. It’s not enough to be able to communicate your vision well. And it definitely isn’t enough to be passionate about your vision. Of course, you’re going to be passionate about your vision. It’syour vision. What you really want is for the vision to stick. To infiltrate and permeate every area of your church. To be so ingrained in your culture that people speak the vision and do the vision without even thinking about it. But how do you know when that has happened?

Two indicators stick out to me. Here’s the first:

1) When the best ideas are not your own.

When the vision has become ingrained in your culture, great ideas should be flowing from all directions. The pastor shouldn’t be the chief idea officer, but the chief vision officer. His responsibility is to make sure that the ideas are fitting into the vision. Not generate all of the ideas for the vision.

If all of the best ideas are coming from the pastor, it’s a sign the vision hasn’t truly been owned by the people. It’s only being served. In other words, for your staff and volunteers, it’s still your vision. And since it’s your vision, you should be the one coming up with the best ideas for it. And then they’ll support you by making them happen. As Christine Caine would say, they see themselves as servants of your vision rather than as stewards of a vision that has become their own.

The vision isn’t going very far this way. I don’t care if you’re Steve Jobs; you don’t have enough great ideas in you to keep it going.

The solution: regularly demand people to bring their own ideas to the table. Set the expectation that fresh ideas for how to carry out the vision aren’t welcomed, they’re expected. Remind the people you’re leading that the vision isn’t just yours. It’s everyone’s. And everyone can and should contribute.

When they do, reward and recognize them in front of everyone. Make them the standard.

And then don’t be surprised when great ideas start flowing from people other than you.

2) Leaders have been raised up who can communicate the vision better in ways more suited to their personality and area of responsibility.

If you’re the only person who can communicate the vision, you’re in trouble. If your staff has to get you to every event to cast vision, there’s a problem. It’s an indication not of how great of a vision caster you are, but of how much your staff has yet to own and appropriate the vision to their own unique contexts.

I remember the first time I heard the original version of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan. I didn’t like it. Not because it wasn’t good, but because I had already heard it played by Guns N’ Roses. And I thought their version was way better.

That’s what you want from the people you lead. You want people who can take your vision and make it better and communicate it more effectively in their own ministry setting. Who can take it and find fresh angles to approach it from that you never would have thought of yourself.

You know the vision has become ingrained when you don’t have to be there in person to ingrain it. Your leaders have so internalized it that when they’re there, it’s as if you’re there. And it’s even better.

The solution: Regularly force your people to articulate the vision in the context of their specific area of responsibilities. To you. To the staff. And to the people they oversee. The more they do, the more they’ll understand it, own it, and spread it. And the more your people will love and believe in the vision, not just the chief vision caster.

 

Photo(s)/Resource(s): Steven Furtick

Reputation vs Character?

John Wooden said “Your reputation is who people think you are, your character is who you really are.”

Which is more important? Reputation or Character?  First it is important to determine how they are different.  It was shared recently with me that your reputation is what other people think of you or perceive you to be. Character is who you really are internally, what and how you do things when no one else is looking or no one else will find out. So, what would it look like for us to have great character in 2014 and stop working on our reputation? Who really cares what people think?
I learned this lesson in the last three to four years ago. I ran into a person who worked endlessly on their reputation but had terrible character. When their character was revealed (which happens in intimacy) they were a complete let down. The truth is, they wouldn’t have been a letdown at all if they would have been themselves.
Abraham Lincoln was very concerned with the nature of character, but he was also aware of the importance of having a good reputation. He explained the difference this way:
Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
In today’s world that is overly preoccupied with image, it is easy to worry too much about our reputation and too little about our character. Building a reputation is largely a public-relations project, but building character requires us to truly focus on our values, actions, and always following through with what we commit ourselves to on a continual daily basis. Noble rhetoric and good intentions just are not enough to build true character.
I truly feel that your reputation is what people think of you and your character is what you actually are! Reputations will change with our circumstances and can be made or destroyed in a brief moment, but character is built through a person’s lifetime.
People don’t judge who we are, they judge who we’ve led them to believe we are. The more time and effort we put into making ourselves look great, the longer and harder the fall when the truth comes out. And eventually the truth comes out.
What we should be concentrating on is moral strength based on ethical principles. Character is revealed by our deeds and actions and not just words, especially when there is a gap between what we want to do, and what we should do, especially when doing the right thing costs more than we want to pay. Character is also not whether we accomplish our ambitions or goals in life, but how we truly live life through a lifetime.
 
What I took from that relationship was difficult, but it’s something we have to face in our early twenties, usually, and that’s there’s a difference between our reputation and our character. Since then, I’ve decided not to work very hard on my reputation. Or at least I hope that’s true. I air most of my dirty laundry, so nobody will judge me. People only judge those who claim to be better than others, more holy, more righteous more moral. When I’m ethical, I just look good. When somebody who works on their reputation isn’t ethical, they find themselves in social court. Working on our reputation is just a dumb move.
As a Christian I know that God sees all, and that He remembers all, and is ultimately the final judge of our actions in a lifetime spent on earth. Reputation is what people say you are; character is what God knows you are. Character is not a fancy coat we put on for public show only. Character is who we truly are, and will be judged by accordingly, on earth as well as in heaven. If you always concentrate on building character, your reputation will build itself. Develop your character, and you will never have regrets.
Here are some other reasons to have good character and not worry about our reputations:
1. God rewards character, not reputation. To care about your reputation means you care more about public opinion than the opinion of God. I notice that some of my friends who work endlessly on their reputations never really advance in life, love or their careers. People who work on their reputation “have their rewards in full” meaning that God has no interest in rewarding them, but they will get people to be impressed by them and that’s about all they are going to get. This is the essence of “worldliness” even though it is wearing religious clothes. The worldly person gets their pleasure and redemption and religion from the world, a person who knows God doesn’t work for a human audience. Who cares what they think, honestly. Just does the right thing because it’s the right thing and let God reward you.
2. If you present yourself as better than you are, you can’t have intimacy. People who lie about who they really are socially bankrupt, lonely, and have a string of bad relationships. Why? Because they can’t let people know them. They are too busy trying to win in some kind of “game.” Screw the game. Make friends. Settle for being medium great. Your heart will thank you.
3. Tell the truth. There’s nothing more healing than living in the truth and presenting yourself as who you really are. It’s easier to sleep at night.
4. When you work on your character, you’re working on the stuff that happens when nobody is looking. This is infinitely more difficult than misleading and deceiving people. But it’s the stuff that really sets you apart. It’s the stuff God rewards.
One cannot fully control his reputation, but he is always in charge of his character. What would your life look like if you stopped working on your reputation and started working on your character?

Your Exceptional Exception.

imageThe wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a little oil.” Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”
2 Kings 4:1-4

The story goes on to tell us that the oil continued flowing until she ran out of jars with which to fill it. And she was able to keep her sons out of slavery.

All this woman could focus on was what she didn’t have. Elisha, on the other hand, was interested in her exception. And it was her exception that became the vessel for a miracle.

People often excuse themselves from the miraculous because they don’t have a lot to work with or offer God to work with. Maybe it’s their skills. A lack of resources. Or little experience.

Whatever the reason, what they don’t realize is that that in itself makes them a candidate for the power of God to flow through their lives. God has a history of using what little someone has to do great things only He can do.

God used a shepherd’s staff to part the Red Sea.
He used five loaves and two fish to feed thousands.
He even used an ass (Numbers 22, King James Version) to talk to someone and save their life.

One of the greatest strategies of the enemy is to get you to focus on what you don’t have, what you used to have, or what someone else has that you wish you had instead of looking in your house and asking the question, “God, what can you do through what I have?”

Here’s the profound truth you need to begin embracing today: All God needs to work miracles in your life is all you have. A God who created something out of nothing can also create something great out of little.

God can do exceptional things with your exception.

Photo(s)/Resource(s) : PSF

Breaking Free From the Obsessive Comparison Syndrome

make_calling_election_sureQuestion: When I compare myself to others who are doing or have done great things for God, I feel inadequate … like I don’t belong and can never measure up. Honestly, I have a hard time relating to other people in ministry. Have you ever experienced this?

When I was a young leader, this “ministry comparing” really messed me up. I didn’t relate to anyone in ministry, which kept me from trusting myself to lead in the unique ways I was gifted and motivated to lead. In fact, for the first six years, I came very close to leaving ministry. In my heart, I knew I was called. But comparing myself to others really messed with my head. I couldn’t find anyone else in ministry who was young and thought like me. It kept me from being all that God created me to be. And, it will do the same to you.

This also was a huge problem for Jesus’ first disciples. They were always comparing themselves with one another, trying to figure out who was the greatest. Jesus hammered Peter for it (John 21:18-23). After the resurrection, He had just given Peter a not so positive glimpse into his future. Peter immediately asked, “What about John?” His primary concern wasn’t that he would experience difficulties. It was whether John would experience the same difficulties. Think about how Jesus responded: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

I would classify that as an official smackdown. The point is clear. Comparison has no place in our lives. God’s will, plans and expectations for each of us are unique. Comparison serves no purpose. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Because it’s so natural for us, (in truth, I still find myself battling with it at times in life and ministry), I’ve found that breaking the tendency to compare myself to others requires understanding its consequences.

Comparing ourselves to others robs us of our own uniqueness and creativity, causing us to lower our leadership, teaching and ministry to a cheap copy. Even worse, we allow the way we do ministry to be boxed into centuries-old formulas. It also robs those God uniquely created us to reach and impact.

Comparing ourselves to others can lead to perceptions that we’re doing better than we really are.

If Peter compared himself to Judas, he could have seen himself as one of the better followers of Christ even after the rooster crowed. Though he denied Jesus three times, he didn’t sell Him out for 30 pieces of silver. If the guy with five talents compared himself to the other servants in the parable, he could have seen himself as an overwhelming success even if he was turning in a subpar performance. Comparison leads to wrong, very dangerous conclusions.

It can make it appear that we’re doing worse than we really are.

What would have happened if David compared himself to Saul to see if he was qualified to take on Goliath? One look in the mirror while wearing Saul’s armor would have told him he wasn’t good enough. But God didn’t create David to wear Saul’s armor. The comparison wouldn’t have been fair. It never is. Too many of God’s people are discouraged for no legitimate reason.

Comparing ourselves to others can get us way off track.

Scripture clearly shows us that we all have different callings, talents and experiences. Comparing ourselves with others can lead us to invest ourselves in the wrong ways.

It can cause bitterness toward God and envy toward others.

Think of Asaph in Psalm 73. Until he stopped comparing himself to others and remembered God’s truth, he was jealous and “hopeless.” It happens to me, to all of us, when we don’t keep comparison in check.

It creates the wrong standard for our lives and ministries.

As Jesus told Peter in John 21, the only standard we should ever measure ourselves by is His standard.

It causes us to miss what God values.

As 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Look at the Pharisees. Comparison caused them to ultimately hate and reject the One they should have most loved and accepted. I believe the same thing is happening today. Many pastors and churches are living for and valuing the wrong things because they’re comparing themselves to their traditions or other churches instead of God’s Truth.

It motivates competition, not cooperation.

God created His people to walk together and, in so doing, to change the world. Instead, we have a tendency to compete with one another. Just like the first disciples, we’re trying to be better than each other rather than helping to make one another better.

It keeps us from loving one another.

Comparison robs us of love. In light of John 13:35, it’s keeping the world from recognizing we’re Christ followers. It’s keeping us from reaching the world and fulfilling our purpose.

Remember that the way God has made and called each of us to accomplish His will is unique. God doesn’t want you to be or to do ministry like anyone else. It’s why He didn’t make you like anyone else. Psalm 139:14 tells us we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God’s plan for each of us is different and perfect.

 

Phot(s) / Resource(s): BradPowell