#653 - AN UNEXPECTED ASPECT OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY

Tonight as we were in our prayer meeting, it hit me. As I was praying, an element of spiritual maturity dawned on me, and I had never thought about it in this way before.

It wasn't Bible knowledge. It wasn't church attendance. It wasn't evangelism. It wasn't giving. It wasn't serving. 

ONE OF THE GREATEST INDICATORS OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY IS CHILDLIKE FAITH.

This hit me while I was praying because I realized that I do not pray as audaciously as I should because, over the years, in some ways, I have lost my childlike faith in God. 

Why do I believe in Him for salvation, but I do not call out to Him for healing? Why do I trust in Him for forgiveness, but I do not petition Him for revival? Why am I sure that I am justified, yet I am unsure of whether or not He can still perform miracles? Why am I confident that He will return, yet I am hesitant to ask Him to do the supernatural in my midst.

It almost seems as if, over the years, as I've grown in my ability to explain God, I've lost my ability to believe God. What a tragedy!

Here are three ways that I know my faith has shrunk that I hope to reverse and I pray you'll avoid!

MY PRAYERS WOULD BE BEST DESCRIBED AS ACCURATE RATHER THAN AUDACIOUS.

One indicator of this might be if you always feel the need to say in your prayers, "If it's your will..."  Only you know whether or not that is a necessary statement in your prayers or if you are using it as a way to guard your ego if the prayer is not answered. Audacious prayers requires childlike faith.

MY PREACHING WOULD BE BEST DESCRIBED AS PRACTICAL RATHER THAN PROPHETIC. 

Did God call me to preach just so that people would have a few "to-do's" to try during the week? I don't think so. God called me to preach so that His truth would be proclaimed. He called me to preach so that darkness would be exchanged for light; so that death would be exchanged for life! Prophetic preaching requires childlike faith.

MY LEADERSHIP WOULD BE BEST DESCRIBED AS CALCULATED RATHER THAN COURAGEOUS.

The local church doesn't need another calculated leader. That might be what a business looking to turn a profit needs. But, the body of Christ needs a courageous leader who will boldly follow the leading of the Holy Spirit regardless of the cost. Courageous leadership requires childlike faith. 

Now don't get me wrong. There is nothing inherently wrong with accurate prayers, practical preaching, and calculated leadership. It is when these things come at the expense of childlike faith where I believe one's spiritual maturity must come into question. Enough is enough.

Would you join me in maturing our ability to believe God like a child?

"For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom." Matthew 18:2-4 (MSG)

#614 - THIS EXPLAINS IT

Why do I care so much about the inner-life of a leader? Why do I care about their emotional health? Why do I care about the health of their walk with Jesus? Why do I care about their rhythms of rest? Why do I care about a leader's insecurities? Why do I care about their motivations?

Why don't I just let these things slide and concentrate on the work that needs to get done?

Today, I read this quote from Pete Scazzero that puts into words why, many times, I put an inordinate amount of attention on what's going on in a leader's heart, rather than what's going on with a leader's hands.

Minimally transformed leaders result in minimally transformed teams doing minimally transforming ministry.
— Pete Scazzero

In other words...

TRANSFORMATIONAL MINISTRY IS A BY-PRODUCT OF A TRANSFORMED LIFE.

With this in mind, we must no longer ignore the "seen" and the "un-seen" character deficiencies in our lives.

We can't ignore the pervasive anger.
We can't ignore the constant envy.
We can't ignore the irrational jealousy.
We can't ignore the petty attitude. 
We can't ignore the insensitive apathy. 
We can't ignore the negative demeanor.
We can't ignore the adolescent insecurity.
We can't ignore the divisive spirit. 
We can't ignore the deficient love.

If we think we can do effective ministry while ignoring these things, we are kidding ourselves.

We cannot lead beyond our own spiritual growth and development. We cannot help others address the darkness within themselves if we can't address the darkness within us. We cannot effectively extend grace to others in the areas where we have yet to receive it for ourselves. 

THE DELUSION MUST END. IF WE'RE NOT BEING TRANSFORMED, WE CANNOT BE TRANSFORMING. 

#613 - DRASTIC DISCIPLESHIP

Sometimes, baby steps aren't acceptable. Sometimes, a little bit of progress isn't enough. Sometimes, "I'm trying" doesn't matter. Sometimes, being on the right trajectory won't cut it.

When the idolatry is overt. When the sin is egregious. When the relationship is abusive. When the addiction is deadly. When the pride is undeniable. When the stubbornness is insidious. When the ministry is suffering. Drastic discipleship is necessary.

Drastic discipleship demands that the disciple take a significant step of obedience, immediately. 

Quit the job.
Pay the debt.
Delete the app.
Confess the sin.
Admit the wrong.
End the relationship.
Check into the program.
Change the living situation.
Step down from the ministry.

DRASTIC DISCIPLESHIP SAYS, "OBEY. TODAY."

If progress is being slowed down. If growth is being stunted. If movement is lacking. If potential is being forfeited. If other people are suffering as a result of one's disobedience. Do we really have the luxury of not discipling in this way?

It's not about being harsh. It's not about being impatient. It's not about being insensitive.

IT'S ABOUT LOVE.

The question is, "Do we love the people who we disciple enough to demand urgent obedience?"

If we are truly convinced that there is great joy in living a life totally surrendered to Christ, why would we not move people towards the type of obedience that would require complete surrender?

This isn't the type of discipleship approach that needs to be implemented at all times, but there are definitely sometimes when this is exactly the type of approach that is required.

After all, didn't Jesus model this type of discipleship for us?

“If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.” That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.
MATTHEW 10:21-22

One final thought, after strongly encouraging that the step of obedience be taken, it's up to the Holy Spirit to lead. It's up to the Holy Spirit to convict. It's up to the Holy Spirit to transform. It's up to the Holy Spirit to do the supernatural. But...

WE MUST NOT ABDICATE OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO IMPLORE FELLOW BELIEVERS TO PICK UP THEIR CROSS TO FOLLOW AFTER CHRIST.

#612 - BETTER THAN NUMBERS

As obsessed as pastors (including myself) can be about numbers (attendance, salvations, baptisms, giving, etc.), it's never the numbers that bring me the most joy. It's never the numbers that motivate me to persevere another day. It's never the numbers that reveal the transforming power of God. It's never the numbers that bring me to tears.

IT'S THE NAMES BEHIND THE NUMBERS AND THE STORIES BEHIND THE NAMES THAT ARE MOST MEANINGFUL. 

It's the story of the un-churched single woman who, for the first time, finds herself interested in a community of faith. It's the story of the de-churched young man who, for the first time in a long time, is giving church another chance. It's the story of the over-churched couple who is looking for a church where their faith can be revived, and they feel like they've found it in your church! 

It's the story of the marriage that is restored. It's the story of the sin that is overcome. It's the story of the step of faith that is taken.

It's the story of faith in the midst of struggle. It's the story of hope in the midst of tragedy. It's the story of joy in the midst of sadness.

It's the story of someone who was baptized in your church baptizing someone else! It's the story of someone who was saved in your church serving in your church! It's the story of someone you discipled, discipling someone who is discipling someone else! 

Stories matter. Stories inspire. Stories display the transforming power of God.

WE COUNT NUMBERS, BUT STORIES REMIND US OF WHAT COUNTS.

So, if you ever, like me, find yourself discouraged about the numbers, find a story. Find a story of life-change within your community of faith. Find a story of growth. Find a story of development. 

Find the story. Celebrate the story. Praise God for the story.

And slowly but surely watch your obsession over the numbers take up less and less room in your soul. 

#610 - MY SHAMEFUL CONFESSION ABOUT THE RESURRECTION

For far too long, I have appreciated and praised God for Christ's death on the cross, but I have not been in awe of and worshipped Him for His resurrection from the grave.

I have not lived my present life in light of my future resurrection.

I have lived short-sighted. I have lived more for the temporary than for the eternal. I have not been utilizing the single, greatest resource for hope ever given to mankind by God.

But, as I prepared and preached my Easter message, I found myself with a new found appreciation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This appreciation comes not only for how the resurrection of Christ will impact my eternity, but for also how it will impact my life now! I hope you will join me in praising God for his resurrection power! 

Because Christ rose again, I will rise again. And because I will rise again...

IN REGARDS TO MY STORY

  • The best part will be the end.
  • Everyday, I get closer to the best part.
  • "Happily every after" does not only happen in fairytales. 

IN REGARDS TO HARDSHIP

  • Every difficulty is temporary. No hardship is final.
  • Even if sickness or tragedy were to take my life, it will usher me in to my very best days.
  • No relational, financial, emotional, mental, educational, physical, or spiritual challenge I face can threaten me ultimately being resurrected with Christ. 

IN REGARDS TO SUCCESS AND FAILURE

  • No earthly success or failure will define me.
  • Every earthly success will be outdone in the end.
  • Every earthly failure will be undone in the end.

IN REGARDS TO PURPOSE

  • There's more to life than enjoying the "middle chapters."
  • There's deep motivation to spread the gospel so that more people will have hope during their "middle chapters" and experience the "ending" that I am anxiously awaiting.
  • There's urgency because the end is drawing near.

IN REGARDS TO HOPE

  • I have it. Always.
  • I can give it. Anytime.
  • I can access it by simply beholding my resurrected Christ!

"For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ." 1 Corinthians 15:21-23

#601 - THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR THIS

Don't allow yourself to be fooled. 
Church isn't and neither is community.

Don't allow yourself to be distracted. 
Blogs aren't and neither are books.

Don't allow yourself to be tricked. 
Work isn't and neither is worship.

Don't allow yourself to be deceived.
Prayer isn't and neither is a preacher.

Don't allow yourself to be confused. 
Service isn't and neither is sacrifice.

THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR THE SCRIPTURES.

There is no substitute for the truth that comes from the Scriptures. There is no substitute for the revelation that comes from the Scriptures. There is no substitute for the Voice that comes from the Scriptures.

It's in the Scriptures where...

God's story is written.
God's love is revealed.
God's gospel is displayed.
God's commands are given.
God's Son is resurrected.
God's return is foretold!

THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR THE SCRIPTURES.

Read them. Study them. Enjoy them.

The life that can be found in them is nowhere else to be found. 

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." Matthew 4:4

#598 - LESS TALKING. MORE LISTENING.

For someone who speaks for a living, the temptation is always so strong. My natural instinct is to talk before I listen. To speak before I hear.

But this needs to change.

I need to understand, I don't know it all! I know very little actually! Why do I feel so compelled to talk all the time? If I know anything, I need to know this: I can't learn anything while talking! 

With this in mind, my commitment is this:

When it comes to my relationship with God...

LESS TALKING. MORE LISTENING.

Less talking about what I want to do for Him. More listening to what He wants to do through me. Less talking about my promises to Him. More listening to His promises for me. Less talking about my desires. More listening to his direction. Less me. More Him.

When it comes to those I am privileged to pastor...

LESS TALKING. MORE LISTENING.

Less talking about where they should go. More listening to where they have been. Less talking about my opinions. More listening to their experiences. Less talking about my suggestions. More listening to their situations. Less me. More them.

When it comes to those I am privileged to learn from...

LESS TALKING. MORE LISTENING.

Less talking about what I'm achieving. More listening to what they've achieved. Less talking about what I think. More listening to what they know. Less talking about my insights. More listening to their wisdom. Less me. More them.

And if these thoughts aren't enough to compel me to do more listening than talking, then these Scriptures should!

"If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." Proverbs 18:13

"...let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak..." James 1:19

"When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent." Proverbs 10:19

#597 - 25 SOURCES OF REST

In this fast-paced world that we live in, rest is a luxury. But it's not just rest for your body that people long for, people also long for rest for their minds, their souls, and their spirits. I know I do!

What that in mind, and with Easter just a little under two weeks away and a message this upcoming Sunday that I am pretty anxious about, I figure it would be a very beneficial thought exercise to remind myself of where my rest (mind, body, and soul) comes from:

  1. There is no good I can do that could make God love me any more.
  2. There is no bad I can do that could make God love me any less.
  3. I am declared righteous in the sight of God.
  4. God loves me just as much as He loves His Son, Jesus Christ.
  5. I am infinitely loved by the Infinite.
  6. My sins are forgiven.
  7. God is with me. 
  8. The same power that rose Jesus from the grave (Holy Spirit) lives within me.
  9. My work for God doesn't determine my worth to God.
  10. Christ will build His Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.
  11. God loves His children more than I ever could or ever will.
  12. I am just the messenger. I am not the message.
  13. God was at work in the world long before I got here, and God will be at work in the world long after I'm gone.
  14. God will get me what I need, when I need it, in the way I need it.
  15. God is holy, righteous, and sovereign, and I am His child!
  16. God's presence is His greatest gift, and I already have that!
  17. God knows what I need before I even ask Him.
  18. God works all things out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.
  19. My job is to plant and water seeds. God's job is to make them grow.
  20. God's faithfulness to me isn't predicated by my faithfulness to Him. 
  21. God's plans for me are far greater than anything I can hope for or imagine.
  22. While I am sleeping, God is working.
  23. I am not the solution. God is. 
  24. God doesn't need me. 
  25. Christ will return, and I will spend eternity in the physical presence of God Almighty!

Knowing, believing, and trusting in these truths gives me a rest and a peace that surpasses all understanding. Now if God would just give me the grace and wisdom to remember them!

Before moving on with the rest of your day, I'd like to make 2 requests of you..

  1. Pick one or two of the truths above and meditate on it until you really are put at rest. 
  2. Please feel free to share in the comments below your sources of rest.

#596 - THE PRICE OF DISOBEDIENCE

Though obedience to God comes at a personal cost, I’d rather pay the price of obedience than forfeit the peace of mind that comes from knowing my life is surrendered to Christ.

Obedience costs me my comfort.
Obedience costs me my familiarity.
Obedience costs me my control.

But, disobedience costs me so much more.

Disobedience costs me my peace. 
Disobedience costs me my confidence.
Disobedience costs me my joy.

OBEY.

You can either bow to God in obedience or bow to yourself through disobedience. 

CHOOSE GOD.

You're not worth being bowed down to. 

#594 - WHEN YOUR HEART BETRAYS YOU

"The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9

The wickedness of my heart is one of those most discouraging things about me. How I want it to feel, how I want it to react, how I want it to respond, how I want it to believe, and how I want it to love - rarely is my reality. More times than I'd like...

MY HEART BETRAYS ME.

My heart lies. My heart exaggerates. My heart deceives

And because I have experienced the betrayal of my heart time and time again, I am convinced...

MY HEART MUST BE LED.   

When my heart feels jealous, I must lead it away from jealousy by celebrating the success of others. When my heart feels discontent, I must lead it away from discontentment by praising God for His blessings. When my heart feels selfish, I must lead it away from selfishness by extending generosity to someone in need. When my heart feels worried, I must lead it away from worry by meditating on the promises of God's Word.

When my wanders towards control, I must lead it towards delegating authority. When my heart wanders towards lust, I must lead it towards loving my wife. When my heart wanders towards laziness, I must lead it towards disciplining my body. When my heart wanders towards legalism, I must lead it towards embracing God's grace

When my heart runs away from commitment, I must lead it towards being faithful one more day. When my heart runs away from empathy, I must lead it towards asking one more question. When my heart runs away from courage, I must lead it towards taking one more bold step.

LEAD YOUR HEART. WHEREVER YOU TAKE IT, IT WILL FOLLOW.

#592 - THE PSALMIST'S SPIRITUAL MATURITY

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.
Psalm 69:13

For all of my prayers. For all of my concerns. For all of my desires.
The Psalmist gives me an appropriate and spiritually mature mindset for all my requests unto God.

ANSWERED PRAYER

He will answer.

ABUNDANT LOVE

Because He is loving.

ACCEPTABLE TIME

When He sees fit.

God's acceptable time is the appropriate time.
TRUST.

#577 - HOW TO FOSTER EFFECTIVE CHURCH PLANT PARTNERSHIPS

As written about in a previous post, theMOVEMENT has been blessed to receive over $1 million in partnership support over the last 5 years. What God has done in partnering theMOVEMENT Church with various churches across the country has been nothing short of a miracle. Having no previous relationships with or knowledge of any of these churches is proof that God deserves all the glory and praise for the supernatural connections He has made. 

Through these various partnerships, we've been able to launch a healthy, growing, almost self-sustaining, preparing to reproduce itself church plant in the heart of one of the most expensive places to live in the entire world! The Bay Area of California, more specifically, the city of Oakland. 

How did this happen? How were these partnerships started? How were these partnerships maintained? Many factors go into it, but after 5 years of cultivating partnerships to support the church of our church plant, here are the main lessons I've learned:

FOR THE PARTNERING CHURCH

  1. Be convinced that planting new churches is an effective strategy for evangelism. Tim Keller writes, "The single best way to reach non-Christians is to start new churches. The transitional new community creates space for outsiders to plug in." For the gospel to advance, new churches must be planted, sustained, and then re-produce. The degree to which you believe this will be the degree to which your church invests in partnering with church plants. 
  2. Be interested in the success of churches other than your own. Though this may seem condescending to even ask, it is a question worth honestly answering, "Do we want to see other churches, especially new ones, succeed in reaching people with the gospel?"
  3. Be sacrificial in paying a price to see that success come to fruition. If the answer to previous question is "Yes," the answer to this one is equally important. Are you willing to pay the price of investing in a church other than your own? Are you ready to give financially? Are you ready to send your people out to support another church? Are you ready to invest time during your Sunday Services and small groups to pray for church plants? Are you ready to "lose" something for another church's gain?
  4. Be willing to serve the church plant on their terms. Can you give financially without directing the funds? Can you send missions teams when it's convenient for the church plant? Can you send missions teams to do work that the church plant needs done and not to do work you prefer doing?
  5. Be discerning of the Lead Church Planter. Do you sense an anointing on his life for planting and pastoring a church? Does he have a track record of starting and growing something from scratch? Does he have the spiritual gift of leadership and has he used that gift to win people to Jesus and make disciples? Is his marriage healthy? Pray about this. Get more than one set of eyes on the planter, his wife, and his team and discern accordingly.
  6. Be ready to start before you're ready. Especially to churches who have never partnered with a church plant before, you must be ready to start before you understand everything about partnering with a church plant. Much of what you will learn about how to partner with a church plant is learned after you partner with a church plant!
  7. Be OK with asking tough questions. Because you will be accountable with how you invested the resources of your church, you must be comfortable with checking in on your investment. Are Sunday Services growing in attendance? How are disciples being made? Is the leadership team healthy? Is the church increasing its internal revenue through tithes and offerings? Is there a plan for this church to become self-sustaining?   

FOR THE CHURCH PLANTER

  1. Be convinced of your unique mission and vision. Do you have a burden? Do you have a burning passion to reach the lost? If you're not convinced of what you're setting out to do and why you're setting out to do it, you will have a very difficult time convincing anyone to support you. 
  2. Be clear on what you need. How much money do you need, exactly? How many volunteers do you need, exactly? What kind of support do you need, exactly? How can the partner church help you to accomplish your mission, specifically? How can you be prayed for, specifically? The more clear you are on what you need, the easier you make it for a potential partner church to meet that need.
  3. Be ready to give an account. Keep accurate numbers. Keep accurate accounts. Keep track of stories. If you can't answer the question of how your church is doing with specific numbers and compelling testimonies of how God is moving within your new church community, the partner church may begin to feel as if their resources are being stewarded poorly.
  4. Be honest about your struggles and failures. Partnering with other churches to support your church plant is about so much more than the money. What has been more valuable to me than the money is the mentorship. Mentorship from more seasoned pastors and leaders is invaluable. But, the door for mentorship to take place is opened by you when you are honest about the difficulties you are having as a church planter. 
  5. Be entitled to nothing. A partnership with a church is a gift and a grace from God. If a check doesn't come in, if a promise is not kept, if communication is not frequent, if a partnership ends prematurely - guard your heart. Be careful to never feel, think, or act in ways that communicates that your partner church owes you anything. They don't. God gives. God takes away. Bless God and bless the partner church, regardless. 
  6. Be thankful for everything. Every check, every prayer, every volunteer, every phone call, every act of kindness, every correction or rebuke, every word of advice - be thankful for it all. Thank the church. Thank God. Be in awe and wonder that God would allow any help to come your way. 
  7. Be prepared for the relationship to transition. Just as a relationship with a parent and a child evolves over time, so will a church partnership with your church plant. If the partnership is going well, over time, the church partner should be pouring less and less into your church and your church should be pouring more and more time into another church plant! This is how the cycle continues and the multiplication of healthy churches can become a reality!

In no way are these lists exhaustive, but I believe they do lay a good foundation for existing churches to partner with new church plants. Please feel free to comment below with other best practices you would recommend!

SPECIAL THANKS TO: 
Crossroads Church, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Houston's First Baptist Church, Central Baptist Church, 1st Baptist Trussville, Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Epic Church, Echo Church, Southcliff Baptist Church, Stonegate Fellowship, Liberty Baptist Church, North American Mission Board, California State Baptist Convention, and the East Bay Baptist Association. You are the partners who have helped make our church plant a light in the city of Oakland!

#565 - WHEN PEOPLE LEAVE YOUR CHURCH

Over the last 5 years of pastoring in Oakland, many people have walked through the doors of theMOVEMENT Church and many people have walked out. Many people who I extended ministry to and did ministry with are no longer here. 

Some people have left for great and godly reasons while others have left for not so great or godly reasons (at least in my opinion). But regardless of the reasons for departure, they all are painful. 

I’ve actually come to realize that it’s one of the hardest things about pastoral ministry. After having loved people deeply, invested in them generously, and seen God move in them mightily, it is hard to watch them walk away from your community of faith and pursue what God has for them next.   

But with every person whose season ends at our church, I have a choice.

I have a choice in how I will respond to the news. I have a choice in how I will love them for the remainder of the time that they are here. I have a choice in how I will talk about them when they are gone. 

Unfortunately, I have not gotten this right as often as I would like to, but, in an effort to improve my ability to love people well as they leave, here are a few practical lessons I’ve learned:

DON’T TAKE IT PERSONAL

Though sometimes people will leave because of you, many times it will be for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you! Many times, God really does have something better for them elsewhere. Remember, it is Jesus, ultimately, who we want people to trust in and be tethered to, not us. Be sure that how you handle someone’s departure doesn’t become an obstacle to their future relationship with Christ and the Church. 

PASTOR THEM THROUGH THEIR DEPARTURE

If allowed the opportunity, pastor the person leaving on how they can honor God as they go. Pastor them in how they can honor the church as they go. Pastor them by affirming their gifts and contribution while they were with you. Pastor them by lovingly pointing out the ways in which you hope they grow in their next community of faith. Don’t be lazy in your leadership just because they are leaving. Finish well. You will be held accountable. 

HONOR THEM PUBLICLY AND PRIVATELY

If the situation permits and if the honor is warranted, publicly honor them for their commitment and service to your community. Honor them before the group of people who was most impacted by their presence. God is honored by honor. But, don’t only speak favorably of them in front of others, speak favorably of them behind closed doors as well. God is dishonored by dishonor. People are watching. From how you handle the situation, you want people to see that your church is not only a safe place to come to, but it is also a safe place to leave from.  

MOVE ON

Too many times I've made the mistake of putting so much emotional energy into those who have left that I've robbed those who have stayed of healthy leadership. You must press forward. Being emotionally present with the people who aren’t a part of your community will cause you to be spiritually absent from the people who are, and that is a huge disservice to them. God has not called you to people who are no longer called to you. Discern the difference, and love and lead accordingly.   

FIND YOUR JOY IN CHRIST

No man, woman, or family should determine how confident you are in carrying out your calling. For too long, my self-worth and level of fulfillment was wrapped up in who was and who was not following me. What I’ve come to realize is that looking to someone in your church to provide for you what only Christ can provide is idolatry of the worst kind.  Christ alone. He is our joy. He is our reward. Don’t settle for the crumbs of man’s approval when God’s love is a banquet that you can feast from daily!

#527 - WHAT YOUR JOB ISN'T

There are very few things that are as frustrating as doing a job or attempting to do a job that was never yours to do in the first place. With that in mind. Let me provide both you and I with this very simple reminder:

You can't change the hardened heart. You can't force the truth to be received. You can't cause the advice to be followed. You can't speed up the process of change. You can't control the outcome.

That's not your job.

Your job is to speak the truth in love.

God's job is to transform. God's job is convict. God's job is to reveal. God's job is to enlighten. God's job is to save. 

Our job is the natural. God's job is the supernatural.

Don't mix up the two. Nothing good ever comes from it.  

#525 - MY SECRET WEAPON AND ITS BENEFITS

Over the last 7 years or so, I have committed myself to engaging in an extended of time of fasting and prayer at the beginning of the year. Whenever people hear that this is a part of my rhythms and routines as a believer they are taken aback and, often times, see it as extreme. 

In an effort to remind myself of why I engage in this "extreme" spiritual discipline and to also possibly encourage others to do the same, here are 10 reasons why I fast and pray:

1. Jesus prophesied that believers would fast. 

Jesus replied, "Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. Matthew 9:15

2. Jesus assumed that believers would fast. 

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18

3. Fasting re-orders my affections.

Abstaining from food for an extended period of time for spiritual purposes gives me the opportunity to place God as my supreme joy and fulfillment rather than God's gifts.

4. Fasting re-directs my hunger. 

Instead of looking for satiation and fulfillment in food, television, social media, or other worldly pleasures, fasting forces me to hunger for and be fulfilled by the only One who can truly satisfy - Jesus Christ. 

5. Fasting increases my sensitivity to the voice of God.

Food and other worldly enjoyments many times numb me to the voice of God and make me less sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. But when I fast, I find myself listening intently to the Bread of Life and Living Water because without Him filling me, I am unfulfilled. 

6. Fasting displays my desperation. 

Because I can't avoid sin. Because I can't lead effectively. Because I can't save a soul. Because I can't meet every need. Because I can't be the husband I'm supposed to be. Because I can't keep things together. Because I can't foresee the difficulty ahead. Because I am weak. Because I am fearful. Because I am ill-prepared. Because I can't do anything of eternal value apart from the power and presence of God, fasting is my way of communicating to God, "This Lord, is how much I need your power, wisdom, guidance, protection, and anointing in my life!"   

7. Fasting initiates self-control. 

On most days throughout the year and in most instances, I eat what I want, I go where I want, I watch what I want, I buy what I want, and I do what I want. This, by and large, is the "American Way." Fasting forces me to practice the type of self-control that is required of the way of Christ! Fasting exercises my "self-control muscle" so that when needed, long after the fast is over, it can be relied upon and activated. 

8. Fasting deepens my appreciation for God's gifts. 

Upon my fast's end, I am always more thankful for the gifts of food and other delights that God has made available for His creation to enjoy. I see God's gifts less as blessings that I am entitled to, and instead I see them more as joys that point to the greatness and glory of God. 

9. Fasting reveals my weaknesses.

Nothing reveals my character flaws like taking away my food! When I do not have the option of numbing my anger, fear, insecurity, restlessness, anxiety, or selfishness with food, when I fast, these things are immediately exposed. My true self comes to the surface. Though this is painful to see, I am thankful for this gift that fasting gives.  

10. Fasting sets an example. 

Lastly, as a pastor of a local church, fasting sets an example for the people I am privileged to lead. It is very unlikely that if I didn't fast, that others would. It is very unlikely that if I didn't see fasting as a powerful means of connecting with God, that others would. It is very unlikely that if I didn't experience the profound joys and delights from abstaining from certain types of food over an extended period of time, that others would. In this sense, I fast not only for my spiritual vitality, but also for the spiritual vitality for those in my sphere of influence.  

Prayerfully, after reading a list like this you would be able to see that fasting, for me, isn't "extreme," it's NECESSARY! As much as I dread the idea of committing myself to one each year, I can't see how I could neglect to do one after clearly seeing what's at stake each time I do!

If you are interested in committing to a fast, leave a comment below and I'll send some resources your way!

#523 - WRECKED BY THIS CHARACTERISTIC OF GOD

I get emotional nearly every time I think of the concept. I come to tears nearly every time lyrics to a song communicate the truth. I have both tremendous joy and deep grief every time it takes place. This characteristic of God wrecks me.

God gives and takes away.

God gives life, and He takes life away. God gives friends, and He takes friends away. God gives opportunities, and He takes opportunities away. God gives wealth, and He takes wealth away. God gives influence, and He takes influence away. God gives significance, and He takes significance away. God gives heroes, and He takes heroes away. God gives parents, and He takes parents away. God gives children, and He takes children away. God gives work, and He takes work away. God gives talents, and He takes talents away. God gives blessings, and He takes blessings away.

And though having things given to me and taken away from me both can be very emotional, it isn't the giving and taking away that makes me cry. What makes me cry is that I must bring myself to believe that...

God is worthy of my praise anyways.

What God gives doesn't make Him more worthy. What God takes away doesn't make Him less worthy. Who God IS makes Him completely worthy of all my praise, adoration, and affection!

In health and in sickness, bless God's holy name. In wealth and in poverty, bless God's holy name. In laughter and in mourning, bless God's holy name. In success and in failure, bless God's holy name. 

The "good" that God allow to come into my life shows me that God is good. The "bad" that God allows to come into my life shows me that God must have something better! Praise God's holy name!

May our lives never be most consumed by what God is choosing to give or take away from our hands, but instead may we be most comforted in the fact that it is God's hands that is doing the giving and taking away. 

Whether you find yourself on a "hill" or a "valley" in this first week of 2018, I encourage you to give the song below a listen and worship your way through!

“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” - Job

"You give and take away. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name." - Matt Redman

"Father you give and take away, every joy and every pain, through it all you will remain over it all." - Tauren Wells

#522 - THE GREAT DANGER OF CHURCH

Having grown up going to church, volunteering in a church, working for a church, and now having started a church and pastored a church for over 4 years, I have come to discover a great danger. 

Most people go to church, initially, because they are looking for something for themselves: peace, comfort, guidance, forgiveness of sins, community, friendship, belonging, blessing, opportunity to serve, deeper relationship with and connection to God, teaching from the Bible, a place where their kids can learn about God, etc. 

And don't get me wrong, I hope the church that I pastor is a church where people can find and enjoy all of these things and more! I hope that people can discover that a life lived in relationship with God is better than a life lived outside of a relationship with God. 

The great danger of church is that it can so easily become more about you than it is about God.

God and all the religious activities you consume and participate in just become a means to your ends. Instead of God becoming the climax of your religious experience, His blessings are your greatest joy. 

The problem with this is that the purpose of church isn't ultimately for you to be fulfilled, the purpose of church is for God to be praised!

At some point in every person's church attendance and church involvement, a transition must take place. 

God must cease to become a means to our ends and we must begin to see ourselves as a means to His ends - His name being glorified, His name being praised, His name being high and lifted up, His name and His reputation meaning more to us than our name and our reputation.  

Can't you see? If this transition doesn't take place we could spend our entire lives serving God but worshipping ourselves! Attending church for the ultimate purpose of attending to ourselves. 

We exist for God. He does not exist for us.

Before we were, He was.
After we are, He still will be. 

But as insignificant as that may make you feel, what I have come to discover about dying to myself, worshipping God alone, and making myself a means to God's ends is this: it is in living in this way that I am most thoroughly and completely fulfilled

Maybe what John Piper has been saying for all these years is true after all,

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

#521 - THE GREAT TRAGEDY OF MAN

“I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Genesis 3:10

Adam and Eve sin. They do the one thing that they were commanded not to do - eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And then, they realize their nakedness and they hide. 

God then confronts Adam with a simple question, "Where are you?"

It is at this point, where Adam blows it. It is at this point where Adam responds in the most tragic of ways, and man has been responding to sin against God this tragically ever since. 

Instead of Adam saying that he hid because of God's power. Instead of saying that he hid because of God's wrath. Instead of saying that he hid because of God's disappointment...

Adam says that he hid because of his nakedness. 

He hid because of his consequences. He hid because of his shame. He hid because of his embarrassment. 

Maybe an illustration will help to explain how tragic this is.

A father tells his son he can have anything to eat in the kitchen except cookies. The son eats the cookies. He gets sick from eating the cookies. So he hides under his bed. When his father comes looking for him and asks, "Where are you?," the son replies, "I was afraid, because I was sick, so I hid myself."

How ridiculous would that be? How ridiculous would that sound?

Shouldn't the son be afraid primarily because he disobeyed his father? Shouldn't the son be afraid because he letdown his father? Shouldn't the son be afraid because of his father's authority to discipline him?

The great tragedy of man is that we don't truly fear God. 

And because we don't truly fear God, we don't humbly repent. And because we don't humbly repent, we don't freely receive grace. And that...is a tragedy.

#519 - THE POWER OF GOD

The date was August 16, 2013. The location was the Starbucks in Hayward, California off of Industrial Parkway.

theMOVEMENT Church was a month away from starting weekly Sunday services, but we had already held two "Preview Services" - one in June and one in July.

One of our first-time guests at our July service was a non-Christian, young professional who requested to meet with me.

Our conversation that day covered topics like football (He is a HUGE Seattle Seahawks fan), dinosaurs (He wanted to know the real deal behind them), Adam and Eve (Are they how this whole thing really got started?), and various other questions around Jesus and faith.

After sharing the gospel (the good news that Jesus saves sinners) with him, I asked him, "Do you believe this?" To which he responded:

Can I text you, later, when I make a decision on what I believe?
— Unbeliever

At this point in the conversation, I had a critical decision to make. Would I "twist his arm" by asking him, "What if you get hit by a car, when you leave here tonight, and die? Do you know where you would spend eternity?"

Or, would I trust in the Holy Spirit of God to reveal Himself to this young man when the time was right. 

By God's grace, I chose the latter. 

Though he was not ready to put his faith in Christ, we continued our conversation at the Starbucks. I continued to answer his questions (the best I could) and explain the benefits of Christ's life, death, and resurrection on our behalf. 

Then, less than an hour after letting me know that he wanted to text me his decision, he looked at me, with tears in his eyes, and emphatically said:

I want to place my faith in Jesus Christ.
— Believer

I was stunned, but it wasn't because he wanted to become a Christian. It was because though I had let go of trying to convince him to become a Christian, he was still desiring to place his faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins!

We ended that night with much more conversation, a delicious burrito dinner, and the beginning of a friendship that lasts till this day. But, it is the lesson that God taught me that evening that I am most thankful for:

God saves. Well articulated sermons don't save. Engaging Sunday services don't save. Altar calls don't save. Manipulation and coercion doesn't save. Strong friendship doesn't save. God alone, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is the only One who can cause a hard heart to be softened towards Him. Our job is to BELIEVE He is powerful enough to do it!

"The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18

"Every element of our own self-reliance must be put to death by the power of God." Oswald Chambers