8 Little Boxes.

What is it about taking advice about leadership that people eat up with a spoon? Leadership and its gurus have grown exponentially over the past decade. It seems if you want to be noticed, tell people how to be a better whatever it is they want to be better at.

Good stuff, for sure.  Heck, I’m swimming in that pool too. I want to know how to be better, do better, accomplish better, see better, hear better, plan better, and write better (to name a few).

But its really not that complicated. Let me tell you what I mean through an experiment we’ll do together. Grab a piece of paper and a pen. I prefer lined paper, but its your life.

What do you want to do?  Write that down. Keep it to one line and measurable. Break big goals like “Get on the New York Times bestseller list” into chunks like “Write page 1” or “Lose 40 pounds” into chunks like “Walk the block every night”.  You get the idea.

To the left, draw a small box. This is where you’ll put your “check” when you’ve done it. To the right, draw seven small boxes. One for every day of the week. Sunday through Saturday. You know how a week works.  This is your list, so make it as long as you want, but I’d stick with 5 things or less. Keep it focused.

Now, for every day you don’t put a check in the “done” box to the left, put a check (or frown) in the “day” box to the right. If you fill up every “day” box, take that thing off your to-do list. But first, figure out why you didn’t get it to “done”. No, you don’t get to make an excuse and leave it on the list. Take it off.  Live at least one week with it off the list, then you can put it back, remembering why it didn’t get done the first time.

After trying this little experiment for a while, let me know how it’s going. Send me an email or something. Feel free to comment if you don’t mind the known universe knowing what you’re trying to get done.

Or feel free to share your best practices in getting stuff done. THAT  I would love to see in the comment section. You never know who besides me could benefit from it.

If you want to use the list tool I’m using, give me a shout and I’ll email it to you. But seriously, it took me 3 1/2 minutes to make mine. You got this.

#revive

revive

What is the evidence of spiritual revival? Where is the spiritual revival so many want to see in our country and in our world? Who decides when/if revival arrives? Who decides when its here?

I was visiting a very large, well known church and speaking with one of the members of that church. He was sharing with me all that God was doing in their church, the crazy numbers of people coming to faith in Christ, the miracles they were seeing, and the overall sense of God’s power being poured out there. But then he made a statement I couldn’t quite let go of. He said, “I don’t know why they don’t call it a revival.” 

Wait a second. Is there some Revival Criteria Committee I’m unaware of? Is there some backroom table where a certain group of people look over evidences of supernatural things happening in different places and decide if they get that “YEP, THAT’S REVIVAL!” rubber stamp? Can somebody clue me in if such a group exists, ‘cuz I’d like to picket outside where they’re meeting.

Here’s what I think of when I think of revival…

It’s unmistakable. The evidence is beyond argument. There’s no ambivalence.

It’s personal. It may involve a crowd, but it invades individuals.

It’s holy. The sweeping of God’s Spirit convicts us to remove sin from our lives.

It’s unexplainable. We don’t manufacture it with the right mix of musical crescendo and prayer claps. We can’t.

It’s attainable. God gave us a blueprint for revival in 2 Chronicles 7:14, among other places in Scripture.

It’s never egocentric. It isn’t based on any one individual, pastor, or communicator. It’s based on Jesus. Only Jesus. If you hear any pastor taking credit for revival, run.

It results in boldness. Read the Biblical accounts of what happens when God moves in a person or group of people. They could give a rip what anyone thinks of them. They’re emboldened. Not obnoxious, rude, or pushy. BOLD.

It’s so very near.  My personal revival is closer than I might think and is ignited by a relentless pursuit of daily nearness and intimacy with Jesus. It is inspired and stoked by others who are also seeking that nearness. It’s contagious among those who desire personal revival.

 

This one is quick and messy, but I’ll ask you this:

What is YOUR view of revival? Have I said anything that is incomplete or incorrect?

I didn’t title this one. Sorry.

We have a problem. And its a big one. But its not a new one, a complex one, or an insurmountable one.

And its not Trump.  Or Hilary.  Or the mainstream media.  Or Target.  Or ISIS.

Its our incomprehension, misunderstanding, and consequential dismissal of one word:

 

Repent.

It’s an old word. It’s a biblical word. And today most of us would be offended by it if we weren’t so busy ignoring it.

If we want to “Make America Great Again”, its not going to be through some orange-skinned, egotistical, anti-establishment millionaire.

If we want to see our nation rise from where its been, its not going to be through the romantic notion that we can collectively put a woman in the seat of Commander-In-Chief. It didn’t work with Obama and our romantic views of ending racism, and it won’t work with Clinton and our romantic views of ending sexism.

If we want to again own our responsibility for where our country is headed, its not going to be through making NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, or any other talking head the whipping boy for our collective ills. Of course they twist information to fit their agenda. But if a waiter walks up to your table with a plate full of poo, you say “I’m not eating that.” and then you don’t eat it.

If we as a people are going to live free, its not going to be through nonsensical “tolerance” of nonsensical policy. While we’re arguing over who should pee where, our last sense of dignity, honor, respect, and sacredness take its last gasps of air. You’re gonna boycott Target? Okay. Go ahead. I’ll be over there at the end of the aisle, checking out the clearance items. Target isn’t our enemy.

If we as a people are going to rise and defeat the religiously oppressive and murderous Muslim extremists known as ISIS, it sure as heck isn’t going to be by throwing all religious thought into one sack and tossing it off a bridge. ISIS is certainly a threat, but ISIS isn’t the end-all, be-all of evil in our world. (Bonus thought: For every Christian they behead, they fulfill more Biblical prophecy.)    (If I had a mic, this is the point at which I’d drop it.)

What IS going to heal, restore, and revive us as a people is our response to the invitation to repentance. People may cringe at the word “repent” but that only proves the validity and vitality of the need.

When I repent of something, I turn away from it. I go in a different, better direction. But here’s the kicker: You won’t (and can’t) repent until you acknowledge the dysfunction and destructiveness of the current situation. And that takes what few people are willing to exhibit: brokenness, pridelessness, and humility. It takes me saying:

“I see things as they really are; and I confess that I’m responsible. I have put myself as center and the god of my own life and I have systematically wrecked my heart with sinful decisions based on what I want, how I feel, what makes me most comfortable. And with God’s help…I’m done.”

The message of the gospels and epistles in the New Testament by and large boil down to eight words, starting with the one: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

I’m no doomsday prepper. I admit this post has a bit of a somber tone to it, but please don’t picture me wearing a sandwich board, holding a megaphone, walking the streets and shouting incoherently about some nondescript future calamity. Please don’t.

What I am saying is even if one or one hundred people were to read these words, entertain the thought that our humanistic philosophies have completely failed us, and turned away from our sin in repentance as we turn to God, the author of our only salvation, and began to live lives of others-first action…well….maybe our nation can live again.

 

 

If you’re ready to repent but you’re not sure what to do next, just reach out. Send me a message. I’m no perfect anything. Far from it actually. I’m just someone who has understood a bit of God’s grace and that’s only because of God’s grace. That grace is open to anyone and everyone.

And I do mean everyone.

“We NEVER use the ‘P’ word.”

fitting20room20431x221coverflow1I was in a fitting room recently trying on some pants.

Down the hall at the entrance to the fitting rooms, I could hear the store manager talking with the fitting room attendant employee. It seemed they were doing some on-the-job training. He was presenting a scenario to her then asking her what her response would be in that situation:

Manager: “Let’s say a customer came in and wanted to exchange an item, but they didn’t have a receipt, and all tags had been removed from the item. What would you say?”

Employee: “Mmmm. Well, I guess I would tell them that it is our store policy—“

Manager: “Whoa. Wait a minute. We don’t EVER use the ‘P’ word.”

The manager then went on to tell the employee what would be a good response to that imaginary customer. I didn’t catch much of that part of the conversation because my mind was already off and running, mentally writing what you’re reading right now.

Why would the manager stop that employee in mid-sentence like that? What was so bad about the word “policy” that the manager felt he needed to correct? I’m gonna take a crack at it, and in doing so make some connections to ministry.

Simply put…

Policy = “We’ve learned from the past.”  Generally speaking, policy is created based on past experiences. We learn from getting burned, so we make policy to keep it from happening again. Policy isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. But it can become an obstacle to ministry.

Like when…

Policy = “This is just how we do things.” I’ve seen that sentiment drive death nails into ministry. Once a church gets “stuck” in that rut, it takes everybody working together to kick that coffin open from the inside. Its possible for sure, but if you hear those words uttered and don’t get an explanation as to WHY that is, push for an answer.

Policy = “We like things this way, so don’t ask us to change.” This one is a first cousin to the one above, but when we get comfortable with the routine we have created, we escort the Holy Spirit to the door. Or at least to a corner where we can keep an eye on Him.

When policy takes priority, people know it. Customers at a retail store know when they’re not valued and likely don’t return. But what happens when someone attends a church and doesn’t feel that people are priority?  What happens when the emphasis is placed on caring for the carpet more than caring for the congregation?

Other P words that need to be addressed:

Pride. Pride says I’m better than others. Scripture clearly states I’m not, and also states that pride will lead me to death.

Pity. Pity says I’m worse than others. Scripture clearly states I’m not, and also states my exact worth. We are all worth the life of Jesus, given on the cross. Everyone.

A couple P words we should all focus on:

Prayer. God tells us “You have not because you ask not.” I’m not saying God is our Almighty Vending Machine, but what if we actually believed God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves? And that He wants to? And that He prizes above all else an intimate conversation with us on an ongoing basis?

People. Only two things will last forever: God and people. So it would make sense of us to invest in those two things. Nothing else matters.

Passion. Those who follow Jesus, the most passionate man who ever walked on earth should be the most passionate people on earth today.

What other P words can you think of that we should avoid OR focus on?

 

(The rest of the story: I didn’t buy the pants.)

Why We Wander

wandering linesAt the ripe old age of 8 I decided that following Jesus was a good idea. Even though I was a pastor’s kid, don’t be fooled. I was still 8. And my brain was too. My life experiences were that of an 8 year old boy. But still. Jesus’ love invaded and I found Him and His forgiveness irresistible.

Not much changed for me at that point. Except the eternal forgiveness part, that is.

As I grew into my teen years and as my brain developed, I began to learn that I lived life from one choice to the next. That in all actuality this is the essence of the human existence: We make a choice, that choice plays out. We make another choice, that choice plays out. And so it goes.

Those who follow Jesus are not at all exempt from this. The choices we make in regards to Jesus and our followership of Him have their own set of results; for better or for worse. And let me be quite clear. While I profess to “follow” Jesus, I’m not comfortable with the possible idea in your mind that I have attained to anything that looks like I’ve got anything figured out. And as a pastor, I’m not sure if I should have just said that.

Speaking of being a pastor, its really irrelevant here. Not that I take it lightly. Or ever have. Or ever will. Its a calling on my life that I tremble at every time I think about it. I want to talk as a fellow follower. I want to share my own experience and my own observations.

First of all, why would I wander off from Jesus? That’s not what I really want to do and that’s definitely not what He wants me to do. But it happens. And from what I can tell, its a nearly universal reality for those who follow Jesus. We wander. Robert Robinson knew it in 1758, when he wrote these words…

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart Lord, take a seal it. Seal it for your courts above.”
(From “Come Thou Fount”)

Reason to wander #1: I get distracted. I freely admit that getting distracted away from the Creator and Savior of the world sounds about as lame as it gets, but there you have it. Distraction takes many forms.

I get distracted by activity. To me, that’s different than being busy. I know being “busy” is still a badge of honor we Americans proudly wear, and it’s often a word we use to impress others but I’m not what I would consider an overly-busy person. It would be more accurate to say I’m distracted by activity. And if I had to psycho-analyze myself, I’d say that sometimes activity is where I find my sense of worth, my sense of self. Sometimes I allow myself to be defined by what I produce rather than by knowing I’m loved by Christ.

Reason to wander #2: I get bored. As I look at those three words on the screen, I cringe. But if I’m being honest sometimes the walk gets uneventful. The relationship finds a routine, the routine finds a repetitiveness, the repetitiveness makes a rut, the rut feels like religion, and the religion brings rigor mortis.

But here’s the thing. Its not Jesus or following Him that’s boring. Its my choices to play it safe that are boring. You wouldn’t stand in front of a gigantic roller coaster, look up at it while refusing to ride, and call the roller coaster boring. You’re the one playing it safe. Ask yourself: What would radical obedience look like? What if I did exactly what Jesus said to do, instead of doing my scaled-back version of what Jesus said to do?

Reason to wander #3: I buy the lie that the world has got it going on. I’ve been in student ministry for over 20 years. When I see a young person wander off away from Christ to see what the world has to offer, one of two things happens:

They are slowly but surely drawn away from spiritual intimacy with Jesus and spiritual community with others into what amounts to self-centered living (taking a wide variety of forms) and it is years before they return, if ever OR they are drawn into the world’s ways only to find that the promises Satan offers are completely hollow and the thing they thought they’d find ended up being nothing like what they thought it would be. Then they return bruised and broken. I’ve seen it happen so many times to so many students. Its the allure of money, sexual activity, alcohol, drugs, the thrill of rebellion, the dream of fame, sports accolades, or just plain busyness.

(10 times out of 10 when I speak to those students on the other side of those choices, they look back and see that their relationship choices made THE difference. They literally became who they chose to be closest to.)

Reason to wander #4: I believe God is done with me.  I used to have a view of God that I could tick him off. That I when I did something wrong that offended or hurt Him, He needed some time to “cool off” before I tried talking to Him again. Eventually, I’d start to believe that I could actually drive God to the point of being done with me. That I could do enough wrong to cause Him to throw His hands up, exasperated at my constant failure.

There’s a story in the bible that people refer to as “The Prodigal Son”. This punk kid wanted his inheritance but didn’t want to wait around for his dad to die so he goes to his dad and says, “I want that money now, not later.” Then the son goes out and lives it up. Then the money runs out. Then he realizes he’s been an idiot. Then he rehearses a speech to give his dad when he returns home. He’s planning on telling his dad that the son is no longer worthy to be the son. And he starts the long journey home.

But “while he was still a long way off, the father ran to him.”  You remember that speech the son had worked so hard to prepare? He never got the first word out.

By the way, the word “prodigal” means “reckless, extravagant”. So, as reckless as the son was in his rebellion, the father was even more reckless in his restoration of the son. Maybe we should be calling this story “The Prodigal Father”.

I don’t know where you are with God, but if you think you’re useless to God you need to know that God isn’t primarily interested in using you. He’s supremely interested in loving you. Stop grading yourself. Stop believing God is grading you.

You and I are prone to wander. But the wondrous thing about Jesus is you might wander a million steps away from Him, but the moment you turn back, He’s right there loving you.

A really good question.

I was driving through the beautiful countryside of central VA this afternoon with my wife behind the wheel and our college student daughter in the back seat. We were on a familiar road, as we were again delivering our daughter back to where she’s currently residing while in school. Classes start on Monday and she’s been anxious to get back. She lovingly calls where she’s living “home” which I must admit…stings a little bit.

small church building 2My wife had driven the same road a few days ago when she went to pick up our daughter and apparently had found a couple of buildings she wanted to point out to me: the first was an empty, aged, faded-paint building that was screaming to be revived into an adorable shop of some type. And down the road, within eyeshot of that building was a small–and I mean small–church building. Both as picturesque as could be in this rinky-dink, blink-it-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of town. She shared her daydream that she could run that small shop and I could pastor that small church. Nice thought, huh?

I didn’t honestly stay with that daydream of hers for very long. After all, it was HER daydream and I was happy to leave it that way. Instead, I began to think thoughts triggered by that adorable, pocket-sized church building.

You see, I’m a pastor on staff at a rather non-pocket-sized church. With attendance ranging from 1200 to 1400 on average, its quite the situation. I love ministering there, I love the people, I’m grateful for the support of countless parents, and I absolutely am crazy about each and every student that calls Southside home. I’ve been there for 11 years serving as Student Discipleship Pastor and I’m fairly certain I’d be fine with 11 more.

But when I passed that country church building today, I began to think thoughts I haven’t explored nearly deeply enough. Today in 2015, there is a resurgence of the “house church” movement in America. House churches are precisely what they sound like: groups of Christians and those at least interested in Christ gathering together in homes for activities we could commonly connect with “church”. Worship, fellowship, teaching, and even eating. One of the reasons I think the house church movement is growing is because of the perceived misdirection of many established, brick-and-mortar churches.

The word “church” is the biblical Greek word “ekklesia” and it is not now nor ever meant to be attached to a geographic location. The word refers instead to the “called out ones” as the definition states. However, over time we have morphed this word “church” to be precisely that: a location (“Let’s go to church.”) or an event (“Please come to our church service.”).

 

gigantic church serviceSo, a great clarifying question for those in ministry (and those not) to ask is this: How would we do this without a location, schedule, resources, or a program? In other words, let’s say that the “church” you attend (as in the meeting place/building) burned to the ground. What then? The purists might knee-jerk respond with “we’d just meet in an open field.” and to that I’d say, “Good for you.” but if our American church culture is any indication, it wouldn’t be too long before that got old and rumblings of a “building campaign” began to ripple through the crowd.

 

Now let’s get something straight. I’m not against buildings. I live in one. I worship in one. I work in one. I like them. Buildings are good. But has the church mistakenly equated ministry with a location, a schedule, resources, or a program? What if we erased those 4 words from our ministry vocabulary and didn’t have any of them? How then would we “make disciples” as is the Commission given to us by our King? Are we leaning far too heavily on what we have and far too lightly on who and what we are?

I challenged our students last year with this thought: What if more of our church’s ministry happened outside the walls than inside? What if we were known more by who we are than where we meet?

Some might say for a church to have any building at all is a sinful waste. To them I’d respectfully say read your Bible. Having a building, land, or resources isn’t wrong, or bad, or sinful. But putting our hope and trust and faith in those things rather than being the Called Out Ones (who love everyone everywhere with the lavish love of Jesus) is. If you are a part of a church that has a building to meet in, by all means be grateful and leverage all resources for the Kingdom work. To do any less would be wasteful.

What do you think about this? Have we turned “church” into a place and schedule rather than a people and a passion? When you hear the word “church”, what comes to your mind? What is YOUR opinion of “church” in America? What would it take for the negative connotations to be turned around?

The Reality of Non-Existent Time

Clouds, wings, harps, flying, escalators, cotton candy, halos, dogs, bare feet. These are just a few of the things I’ve heard are somehow connected to heaven. We have lots of ideas. Google even brought me this one:

motorcycle heaven

This past December 14th, a young man I know named Tim Vaughan finished his 4 year battle with brain cancer and stepped into eternity. He left behind a beautiful wife and 2 young children. At 33 years old, no one would have thought it’d be his time to go.

Three years to the day earlier my wife’s sister, Markelle Dumm finished her battle with cancer. She fought for 8 years. 8 years of chemo treatments, medications that required a dry erase board in her room to keep track of, and post-treatment exhaustion unexplainable to those who don’t live it.

These two amazing people stepped from temporary life on earth into eternal reality of heaven on the same day, 3 years apart. As I thought about this, I began to wonder some things. In my imagination I could see Tim walking up to Markelle and the conversation going something like,

“Hi. I’m Markelle. When did you get here?”

“Just a couple minutes ago actually.”

“Oh really? That’s crazy. Today is my 3 year anniversary of coming home.”

“Well, you’ve been here 3 years, and I’ve been here for 3 minutes.”

“It’s really great to meet you. As you can see, you’re gonna like it here.”

But then I began to think things that contradicted the tidy, cute little scene described above. And those thoughts were even better.

But first, let’s remind ourselves of a few things. You and I (the ones looking at these words) are right now existing in time and space. Time and space are the conjoined twins that together make up what we call history. We exist in a reality of moments, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, & millennia. The only reason for that is because the Earth orbits the Sun. And that was set in motion by a Creator. More on Him later. (Don’t believe in a Creator? That’s your prerogative.) (Right Ted?)

Here’s the thing: the realm of eternity is completely free and unfettered by time and space. No orbiting, no Sun, no calendar, no clock. Just for 60 seconds, stop here and try and grab that thought and pin it down. Good luck with that. The reason its difficult is because all we see and are surrounded by screams minutes, hours, seasons, and finite reality. Therefore, putting your mind into the infinite is next to impossible.

Today I’ll be attending another Life Celebration service at Southside Church where I’m on staff. This time for a sweet princess named Virginia Rose. You may have seen Virginia Rose and her parents, Jonathan and Jennifer Vandermark on The Today Show, Good Morning America and other national spotlights. They’ve been the face of the fight for childhood cancer since Easter of 2015, when Virginia Rose was diagnosed. Nine months later, here we are laying her tiny body to rest. Virginia Rose finished her fight with cancer this past Tuesday morning, Dec. 29th just after 9 a.m. At that same moment, Virginia Rose stepped into eternity where Markelle and Tim are.

Markelle, 3+ years in eternity. Tim, 2+ weeks in eternity. Virginia Rose, less than a week in eternity. Except it very well may be that none of that is true…not to them anyway.

The amazement of eternity is the non-existence of time. Markelle would never say she’s been there 3 years. Tim wouldn’t say he’s been there less than 3 weeks. And Virginia Rose probably isn’t thinking she’s been in this mind-blowingly beautiful place for 3 days.

What I love most about eternity and spending it in this place called heaven is that I can’t really understand it. This doesn’t make it some fairytale place that might not exist at all; quite the contrary: The fact that we can’t comprehend heaven means its more real than you and I are.

Now, if you want to chalk up my eternity/heaven/Creator mumbo-jumbo to my inability to deal with reality as it is, that’s your call. But what if the bones, veins, organs, muscles, and skin we walk around in isn’t really us at all? What if the temporary really does give way to the eternal? What if horrific diseases like cancer, while devastating to watch, are propulsions toward the wonder of eternity? In the very moment that Markelle, Tim, and Virginia Rose exhaled their last breath on earth, they inhaled their very next breath of the unspeakable glory of heaven. And they bid farewell to time and space forever.

So its such a confounding thing then when I see people living their lives focused on the temporary comforts of here instead of the eternal joys of there. And while I freely confess that I can’t say for sure just what all the activities of heaven are, or if there is any concept of time there, I can say that an eternal heaven exists and that Jesus told us clearly that a love relationship with Him is the only Way there.  (John 14:6)

What is your view of eternity? Based on what you’ve heard, assume, been told, been taught, believe from scripture, what do you believe we can expect heaven to be like? I haven’t written this post to make a statement as much as to open a dialogue that might turn our attention to a reality greater than our own present condition. And that we are changed for the better because of it. And that as many people as possible would embrace the person of Jesus Christ: the Son of God who gave Himself freely for our forgiveness and salvation for the sole purpose of having us with Him forever in eternity.

If you’d like to read some Bible verses on heaven/eternity…

  • John 14:2
  • 1 Corinthians 2:9
  • Matthew 6:19-21
  • Hebrews 11:16
  • Ezekiel 1:25-28
  • Psalm 16:11
  • Revelation 21