Life, Leadership, and Things That Will Last

Life is not easily assembled, and sometimes there are parts missing. I admit I have been on a roller coaster of emotions the past six months of my life—experiencing every emotion from sadness and pain to joy and freedom. Sometimes these emotions have left me feeling as if I’m trying to figure out how to put together a child’s toy that is labeled “easy assembly required” on the outside of the box.

Jesus said in Mark 8:36 (ESV), “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” The belief that one can be all things, to all people, at all times, is absurd. Life will be miserable if this is your attempt. Every single person will end up doing two things in life at some point—attempting things and doing really well and attempting things and failing, sometimes miserably. I’m learning, in different scenarios, both of these results are just fine. 

My prayer for the following thoughts is no matter where you are in life, these words will help and encourage you in some way. That you may come to understand that life is a precious gift, every single person has leadership capacity, and only one thing will last for all of eternity.

Life.
Life is a beautiful gift, and we only get one shot at it.

I’m constantly reminded, that life is a beautiful gift—even through the ups and downs. For the past 33 years, God has awoken me every single day. Some days, I nail it. Others, I fail. Others, somewhere in the middle. This does not change the fact that I have been given much and much is required of me.

Life is beautiful because the Creator of life made it beautiful. This does not mean we dismiss the brokenness that surrounds us. It means we maximize the opportunities we have been given, while we still have it. We take our God-given uniqueness and we use to further a mission that is beyond anything we could do on our own accord. We maximize relationships with others because we were built for community. We serve, we forgive, and we extend grace, all because the exact same thing has been done for us. The beauty of life is not based on circumstances. The beauty of life is based on the Giver of life, who fashioned you in unique ways to contribute in ways that you may have never seen coming. Find comfort in Him as the giver of life. You don’t have to have it all figured out to make a difference. Life is a beautiful gift, and we only get one shot at it.

Leadership.
How you carry yourself – day in and day out – says a lot about your leadership capacity. 

Thomas A. Edison once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” We can become so inundated with our failures, that we clearly miss what God is showing us through them. There are days I have led well. There are days I have not led well. I have served under some extraordinary leaders who have challenged, pushed, and encouraged me. I have also served under some leaders who were terribly insecure and created work environments in which nothing was ever good enough. I have learned much from both. An important leadership lesson is this: other’s insecurities do not change your leadership capacity. This is difficult because we can often feel the weight of other’s insecurities around us. Capacity is defined as “the amount that something can produce.” What are you currently producing? What is stopping you from maximizing your leadership potential? Responding with the “blame game” is an endless cycle that drives you to bitterness, not development. I believe you can learn as much, if not more, from bad leadership. Never allow an insecure leader to convince you that you are not called or fit to do exactly what God has built you to do. An insecure leader, or great leader for that matter, did not fashion you in your mother’s womb, only the King of Kings created you. How you carry yourself – day in and day out – says a lot about your leadership capacity. How you bounce back from adversity says a lot about your character and what drives you.

Things that will Last.
The Kingdom of God—the only thing that will last; the only thing that is eternal.

That career you thought you were going to be in for the rest of your life, God knew all along that you wouldn’t be. In fact, it may have just been a set up for what He really built you to do. That best friend who you thought would always be by your side may be taken unexpectedly. The normal, that you thought would be the routine normal, can instantly be replaced with a new normal. Change in this life is inevitable. One of the most comical things I think we can ask a senior graduating from high school is, “So, what is your five-year plan?” Lead well, yes. Plan well, yes. But, realize that absolutely nothing in this life is eternal. You can attach a U-Haul to a hurst, but it might as well be empty because nothing in it will follow you. The only thing that will last is the Kingdom of Heaven. How are you leveraging your time, talent, and resources for the Kingdom? The Church is the vehicle used to advance the Kingdom of Heaven. May the Church be so ingrained in your life that one can’t talk about you without mentioning it.

Life is terribly miserable when it centers on you. After all, the child’s toy box doesn’t read, “easy assembly required for you,” it reads, “easy assembly required.”

“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:2-4 ESV)

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Advice to the Next Generation

I’ve spent more than a decade of my life investing in the next generation. While I’m no longer in full-time student ministry, investing in the next generation and the generations to come makes my heart beat a little bit faster. We must invest in the next generation because they need to make a Kingdom impact now. I still love being around students and their families, hearing their stories, and sharing wisdom when appropriate. If I were standing in front of a group of middle and high school students, saved or lost, the following is what I would tell them.

Walk in Truth. Your life is guided by the truths you deem to be true—it drives why you do what you do. However, would it be comforting knowing that circumstances or the changing times don’t have to dictate the way you live? Live in the comfort that you don’t create truth; Truth was established a long time ago. Furthermore, you are part of a greater mission and Kingdom that can guide your steps. It is impossible to walk in this Truth if you don’t know the Creator of Truth. Make it your life’s ambition to know Truth, embrace Truth, grow in Truth. Not walking in the Truth will allow the Enemy to steal your joy. In addition, the world’s idea of success will drive you. You will end up longing for more of something that will never satisfy. Walking in Truth will often not be the popular route; yet, it will always be the best one.

“This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16a, NIV)

The heart is deceitful. Our natural bent is towards our own sinful nature. When we wake up in the morning, our daily battle between spirit and flesh begins. Following our heart leads us down a road that begins and ends with ourselves. The danger therein is our heart—as tender as it may seem—will lead us no further than our own wisdom or feelings can take us. What if our heart is wrong…what then? We don’t know what is best for us. Our natural bent is what led to the world we now find ourselves in. What captivates our heart will define the man or woman we will become. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)

Be careful who you surround yourself with. We were created for relationships. From the beginning of humanity, we see man surrounded by perfection with all that had been created, yet something was missing—a companion, the woman. Whether we consider ourselves introverts or extroverts, we were all built for community. What community do we allow to influence our lives? We will become who we are around. Include people in your circle of influence who ask you hard questions, love you no matter what, and always have your best interest in mind. Have people in your life who tell you what you need to hear, even if it is not what you want to hear. Allow others to build into you; and you, in return, build into others. Ultimately, make sure you have people in your life who cause you to pursue the One who knows you best—the One who created you.

“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 1:20, NIV)

Don’t settle for good; go for best. We live in a society that settles for just good enough. This idea of “barely getting by” leads to living a life of complacency and never going the extra mile. When we settle for good enough, we rarely give our best. And when we don’t give our best, can we really look at the person in the mirror and be pleased? The end result is we aren’t living in the fullness of which we were created to live. Giving our best means we show up before we are supposed to and stay later than we are supposed to, all for the betterment of the greater objective and mission. We should give our best to the One who gave His best for us. Why settle for good enough when best is achievable? 

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24, NIV)

Serve, expecting nothing in return. Our attitude and actions toward others reveal our hearts. If we serve to be recognized, we actually aren’t serving. Rather, we are looking for self-gratification through the lens of good works. Serve others even if they can never serve you back. Love your neighbor as yourself, not just because it is the right thing to do but because it is the best thing to do. Serve the least of these and serve the greatest of these. You won’t change the world through teaching and talking; you will change the world through loving and showing. After you show love, then your words will be heard. Serve because giving is way more rewarding than receiving. Serve because the One who fashioned you in your mother’s womb came to serve you.  

“Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:4, NIV)

Gauging Where People Are Spiritually

When your burden to reach the lost becomes deeper, your passion to reach the lost will become greater. I am convinced that people do not share the Gospel on a frequent basis because they simply do not have a burden for where others will spend eternity. Christians all over the world have a direct mandate from Scripture, said by Jesus Himself, to “Go make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19-20)  As simplistic as this sounds, depending on the context and the realistic hardships in that context, this may be at best, difficult. It takes courage to talk about our faith but what we will realize is, more people than not, are open to a conversation if we will simply open our mouth.

So how should the conversation begin? How do I know where to even start? First, I would not begin with the classic line “If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?” My personal approach is much more relational. Get to know the person, talk about common interests, family, etc. What this does is break down preconceived “religious” barriers. In other words you do not want to come across as a “Bible thumper.” Men, if the co-worker, neighbor, is a lady be sure and involve your wife or connect her with a female small group leader from your church so they can connect. Ladies, the same for you. Second, we must realize that only the Holy Spirit truly knows where one is at. We cannot save and we must not act like we are God, knowing all and being all. We are as human as the person we are in conversation with.

So… to the best of my ability, how do I determine if someone understands the Gospel and is a Christ follower? Asking the following questions can help you in gauging where they are at and help them in taking next steps. If you are reading this and you are not a Christian, I encourage you to take these questions and find a Christian you trust and discuss them. Eternity is a big deal.

God: If someone with very little exposure to the local church and the Bible asked you, “Who is God and how do you know He is real…” how would you answer them? Here we have to determine what one thinks about God, whether it is accurate or not. This will help us in determining where their foundation lies.

Sin: What does it mean to commit a sin? What has sin done to our relationship with God? No doubt sin can be a hard thing to talk about. The goal here is not to unveil all of one’s deepest and darkest secrets but, sin is necessary in understanding our need for a Savior. Those who don’t view sin as a big deal will not view the need for a Savior as a big deal. 

Jesus: If someone with very little exposure to the local church and the Bible asked you, “Who is Jesus…” how would you answer them? Why did God send Jesus to us? Jesus is absolutely crucial in the salvation conversation. Understanding Jesus had to come in order for things to be made right, cannot be overlooked or missed. God, the Father, Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit DO NOT operate independently.

Salvation: In your understanding, how does one accept Jesus as their personal LORD and Savior? Has there ever been a time you asked Jesus to be your LORD and Savior? Tell me about that time. Where were you? How old were you? Who was involved in the conversation? Is this a one time decision or can this be done many times? This is where we get to the when, where, who and how. What you are looking for is a time in which a real conversation with a real person occurred. Within this we must determine that the Gospel was clearly and biblically explained, understood and accepted.

Baptism: What is the purpose of baptism? Why should one be baptized? What can baptism not do for you? Baptism is an outward symbol of the work Christ has already accomplished on the inside. Baptism does not have the power to save. A new believer should joyously want to embrace this step with their local faith family.

Spiritual Growth: What is God teaching you right now in your walk with Him? What are you reading in the Word of God right now? This is needed further evidence that Christ is working. Salvation and baptism are not the finish line, it is the beginning.

Click HERE to download the Gauging Where People Are Spiritually tool to help you when you are witnessing or ministering to someone. It can also be found in the Ministry Resources section of the blog.

Three Consistent “Asks” of Kids and Students

There are a lot of “asks” in life. As married adults, our spouses will ask for us to run errands, help fix something, or our opinion on different matters. Kids and teenagers are often asked to do homework, to help pick up siblings, help with yard work, to sit still and pay attention or potentially many other things. At times, it seems whether we are 8 years old or 88 years old that people are always asking something of us. Quite frankly it can get draining even if our true hearts desire is to serve and submit well.

With this framework in mind, I’m very careful how often and what I ask of my wife, my family and the volunteer leaders I serve alongside. I don’ want my reputation to be one of every time someone sees my name on their phone or sees me coming down the hall, they want to hit the decline button or walk the other direction because they know I need them to do something. As leaders, we always need help. People know this, it is no secret, especially in the local church setting. Volunteers want to feel valued and like they are making a difference. Therefore, it is important that even before we ask, they know we value them and love them no matter what. After all, that should be why we are asking them to help with something in the first place.

I spend most my days and weeks working with kids and students and with those that work with or parent kids and students. When it comes to asking of kids and students, I’m also very careful how often I do this and in the manner in which I do this. Especially students can often feel like you are just using them because they are gifted and talented in a certain area or because they are simply available.

There are three things I’m fairly consistent in asking kids and students to bring with them to church every week (outside of themselves, of course).

Their Bible. This may seem like a no brainer or it may even seem as if we are only desiring the “committed Christian” to show up. However, in the ministries I lead I want it to be no secret we are a people of the Bible. It is the most important book you can ever engage with. Period. If we can get a Bible in every kids and students hands that they can read and understand and instill in them and their parents the importance of daily Bible reading/engagement, then we are helping lay a crucial foundation in their life. It is impossible to disciple a person without Bible engagement. Therefore, I often say, “Be sure and bring your Bible with you. If you don’t have one or one that is easy for you to understand, come see me or one of the leaders and we will be sure and get you one as soon as possible.” 

A friend. The local church should always be a safe, fun and exciting place for kids and students to bring their friends. The big picture is we want to instill into kids and students  the importance of building healthy relationships with others. Then they/we have an opportunity to share the Gospel with others. Also, especially in the next generation, they want to be where their friends are. We don’t want to be event-driven, but we do want create environments that foster community. Therefore, I will often say or social media things like, “See you Wednesday at 6pm with a friend!” Also while promoting an event I will say something like, “This is an incredible thing to bring friends to that may not go to church or are looking for a new church.”

A willingness to learn and grow. I realize this is not a person or object but it is still very important. We want kids and students to know, in a very age-appropriate way, that we are a ministry and we desire for them to grow spiritually and learn all they can about God, His plan of redemption, the Church, how to live on mission and many other things about the Christian life. This is the age they are most eager to learn so we must capitalize on that. Therefore, I will often say something like, “Be ready to learn something very exciting this coming Sunday” or I will give them a well crafted, short, catchy phrase and then say, “You want to find out what this means… we will see you at church tonight!” This helps create a little bit of curiosity and an eagerness to learn more.

We don’t want to “ask” just for the sake of asking or sounding like a broken record. We have intentional asks because we care about the next generation and their walk with Jesus.

 

Why I’m Using Pencil and Paper More Often

I love technology. I use various forms of technology multiple times a day. I’m writing this blog post on a MacBook Pro, while wearing an Apple Watch, while seeing a notification on my iPhone laying next to me. It is safe to say I use technology to its fullest.

With all that being said, at the beginning of the year I made a little bit of a switch and moved away from using some soft of electronic device for everything. Honestly, it has greatly helped me. So what have I done? I am using pencil and paper more often. I know, earth shattering stuff right there. More specifically, there are two things I’m using pencil and paper more often for. First, I use a Moleskine Weekly Planner for my weekly to-do list and appointments.  This is a great tool with the week’s dates on the left side (appointments) and a blank lined page on the right side (to-do list). Second, I’m carving out my messages for Wednesday nights in a journal. Full disclosure, for both of these things, weekly planning and messages, I still save them digitally. I use iCal for events and appointments and all my messages end up in a word document, saved in my Dropbox. I still teach from my iPad more times than not. It is simply easier all around for me.

So why use pencil and paper more often? What differences have I seen?

I remember more. It is amazing how many tasks and appointments I accomplish and don’t forget about quite as easily when I simply write it down. I will put it down on my weekly calendar which I look at multiple times a day. I remember to pray for people more often as I look at their name. I can also see what it most important to me. Simply put, I forget less and pray more. What I have also found is that if I don’t write it in my weekly planner, I more than likely will end up not doing it.

It feels more intimate. I’m sure there is some sort of formal scientific explanation here but, there is something about writing things down and looking at your own messed up handwriting that makes your content feel more intimate. I feel like it is more personal and in some ways, more from the heart. I’m not saying this can’t be the case when you are looking at a digital screen, it just, to me feels more intimate when I read what I have wrote down. This is also a reason that I am using a hard copy of God’s Word more often. It encourages the students and leaders I lead to bring a copy of God’s Word, to highlight and underline in it, and to make notes. It is great to go back and look at what God taught you in different seasons of life.

I’m more organized. When writing things down, I can see what I have to do and how I’m going to manage it and ultimately do it. This goes beyond simply not forgetting tasks and appointments and into mapping things out ahead of time, being proactive with my schedule instead of reactive, and making sure the most important things get done before anything else. It can also serve as a great evaluation tool as it will tell you what you spend most of your time doing during the week.

The takeaway… I have found using pencil and paper helps me more than I realize. It works for me. It won’t work for everyone. The bottom line here is to find a system that works for you. One that comes naturally and that is not forced. You will be amazed what you learn about yourself and how much your leadership skills will improve as a result.

Making God-Honoring Decisions

Some people love to take charge and make decisions. Others hate it and avoid it at all cost. No matter what end of the spectrum you find yourself, we all have to make decisions. No matter if you are asking, “Where will I take my family to eat tonight?” or if you are asking, “Who will I marry?” decisions, big and small alike, are very crucial in life. THE most important decision one can make is accepting Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior. All other decisions don’t even compare to this one.

After begin a youth pastor for almost a decade now, I have seen incredible God-honoring decisions made and I have seen terrible decisions made. Decisions tend to make or break us in one form or fashion. They have consequences and rewards. They mature us.

So the question, and one that many people struggle with, is “How do I make God-honoring decisions in my life?” The question behind the question is, “How do I know if I’m making the right decision that will please God and cause me to pursue Him more?

I believe Philippians 4:8-9 gives us an incredible framework and lenses to go by. Here we see eight characteristics that Paul is telling believers to “think about such things.” These can serve as a lenses in which we filter and make God-honoring decisions.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV), “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

1. True: Am I prayerfully grounding this decision in the truth of God’s Word?

2. Noble: Is this in line with Godly character?

3. Right: Will this encourage and help others?

4. Pure: Are my thoughts, motives, and actions pure in this?

5. Lovely: Will this help build community?

6. Admirable: How will this effect my testimony?

7. Excellent: Am I choosing best over good?

8. Praiseworthy: Who gets the credit, you or God?

Click HERE for an expanded tool that includes these eight questions and more content to equip you making God-honoring decisions.

Christ Followers, Committed Athletes, and the Faith Journey

I’m a big sports fan. It is not the most important thing in my life or even the second most important thing in my life but it is something that I have committed a lot of time, energy, and resources to over the years. In fact, I don’t remember to many summer vacations growing up because most my summers were spent on the baseball ball field. Therefore, my family would vacation during the Christmas break. Currently, I serve with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as a Character Coach at a local elementary school.

We live in a sports-crazed society no doubt. A week rarely goes by in which we don’t learn about some sort of “breaking news” in the world of sports. Recently, three men were inducted into Cooperstown, the Hall of Fame for Major League Baseball. This week is the Super Bowl in the National Football League. There is a lot of hype, analytical work, and money spent on things like this.

As Christ followers, Jesus desires certain traits and characteristics in us. When you read the Scriptures you see the type of people He called to follow Him, to join Him on mission. You will notice things such as hard work, devotion, and passion. You also see these traits in athletes that are successful on any level of competition. Furthermore, I believe we as Christ followers can learn a lot from the lifestyle, work ethic, and passion of committed athletes. Allow me to highlight four of these areas.

Train effectively and often. The coaches I had growing up taught me this: Games are won in preparation. If you have lousy practices during the week, you will probably not find yourself in the win column that often. Committed athletes train physically no doubt but, it is just as important to train mentally and emotionally as well. Winning athletes wake up before any else to train. They are the first ones in the building and the last ones to leave. Their dedication to their team and sport is undeniable. As Christ followers, how often are we training spiritually? This goes way past picking up a Bible every once in a while. Some Christ followers might tell you Jesus is the most important aspect of their life but then will scramble to find their Bible for church on Sunday mornings. It is not only important to train often but also effectively. Things such as accountability, biblical community,  involvement in the local church, and consistent gospel conversations, are crucial in the life of a believer and help us grow in our walk with Jesus.

Forced to think “we” before “me.” Sports, in large part, are team-oriented sports. You have to be successful as a team unit in order to be effective and win. The most successful teams are full of individual team members who work hard to be the very best at their specific job so that the overall team is successful. With that being stated, there is no denying teams are full of self-centered, egotistic, “all about me,” athletes. What do you see come from this? Distractions and a broken team unit. While they may be incredibly gifted athletes, they end up hurting their team instead of helping their team. Committed, successful athletes are forced to think and thrive on “we” before “me.” A quarterback-wide receiver combination is only as good as the offensive line is. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9, Jesus told His disciples you must deny self, pick up your cross daily, and follow me. The mission of God is all about one person, Jesus Christ. It is not about us, it is about something  way bigger than us.

Make others around them better. This is possibly the single most important trait of a committed, successful athlete. When they step onto the field or court, they make others around them better. Their skill set allows others to shine. I love seeing an elite quarterback make an average wide-receiver look incredible. This also gets back to the theme of work ethic. When leaders in the locker room work endlessly, it is amazing how often others on the team exemplify that. On the other end, when leaders in the locker room have terrible attitudes, it can destroy the team as well. Jesus spent His earthly ministry pouring into a few men with an incredibly calling on their life. He taught them, spent time with them, prayed with and for them. Why? Ultimately because He loved and cared for them but also because He knew the type of impact they could and would have. Being around Jesus, His Kingdom and mission makes us better believers, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, employees, and so on.

Play through the pain. Committed, successful athletes want to be on the field or court at all cost. They will do whatever it takes to be able to play and help their team win. It kills them to stand on the sidelines and watch. They play hurt and convince the training staff they can play even when they probably shouldn’t. Their attitude is “cast it up” and lets play ball! The Christian life is hard, no doubt. It is a life of self-denying sacrifice that comes with victories and hardships, bumps and bruises. At the end of the day though, a committed, successful athlete knows it is worth it. Following Jesus is not always easy, it is always worth it. Every single time.

So to the Christ follower… are you training effectively and often or are you being lazy and apathetic? Are you thinking “we” before “me?” Are you making others around you better by the example you are setting? Are you playing through the pain or are you giving up?