Rooted

I admit that I know very little about botany. In fact, I had to look up the word to make sure I was using the correct term. I can’t tell one plant or tree from another. To my knowledge I have only planted one tree in my entire life! It was many years ago when a tornado ripped through the town we were living at the time. The tornado uprooted a tree in my front yard and left a hole about four feet deep. After the tree was removed, I planted a new tree in its place. I really didn’t know what I was doing. All I knew was to get to roots deep. The deeper the roots the stronger the tree would be.

The same is true about us in our spiritual life. The deeper we are rooted in God’s Word, the stronger we will be. The process of being rooted is seldom seen by others and often it can be painful. Think about it. We only see tree roots in certain types of trees. But even in the ones we don’t see the roots are vitally important. The process of being deeply rooted in God’s Word is essential for every believer.

In his book Rooted, Banning Liebscher shares why being rooted is essential for the development of every believer.  As followers of Christ, we are called to be fruitful. This means we are to share our faith and do good deeds. Banning writes, “If you are a follower of Jesus, then your calling and destiny are to be fruitful.” (pg 2)

Sometimes, I don’t feel like being fruitful. Being fruitful can cause us to be uncomfortable. I hate being uncomfortable. I don’t like to admit that but it’s true. I like easy and smooth sailing.  But Christ followers aren’t called to easy. We are called to follow and obey. Often following Christ is messy because we are called out of our comfort zones. This is how Banning describes it, “We love the concept of faith and pleasing God with faith; we just don’t like being put into positions where faith is required.” (pg 71) I love that because that is so me!  I love talking about faith and trust but I don’t usually like to be in situations that require faith and trust. As I stated earlier, I like easy and comfort. But comfort is not a good standard of measurement.

On page 90, Banning writes, “Your comfort level should not be the thing that determines whether you can believe something is of God or not.” Just because something is uncomfortable doesn’t mean that it’s not from God. Because it is uncomfortable may be the true indication that it IS from God! Again, God doesn’t call us to comfort. He calls us to follow Him. Following Him requires sacrifice and service. Or as Banning puts is, “If our serving never really requires us to sacrifice for something bigger than ourselves, then it’s likely that our serving is about us.” (pg 155)

Are you deeply rooted? How do you know if you are? The only way to truly know if we are deeply rooted in God and in His word is to weather the storm. Nobody likes going through storms. Nobody in their right mind would volunteer to go through a difficult situation or season. However, God knows best and He knows what we need most. He knows that the only way to develop faith and trust in Him is for us to go through something that tests our faith. Tests are never easy. They are not meant to be easy. They are meant to teach us and develop us to become the person God has created us to be.

“God always calls us to do the impossible.” (pg 25) What “impossible” task has God called you to? What is keeping you from following Him? I’m sure it feels impossible. It’s supposed to feel that way. If it were easy, God wouldn’t call us to it. God calls us to do the impossible to deepen our faith in Him. Impossible causes us to be deeply rooted in Him. When we are deeply rooted in God, nothing is impossible!

Diggin In

I love war movies. I guess that’s a typical guy thing.  I wasn’t aware that I liked them so much until I starting listing some of my favorite movies one day.  Here is a partial list in no particular order:

Braveheart

We Were Soldiers

The Patriot

Gladiator

Tombstone

Can you see a pattern here? Besides the fact that Mel Gibson is in most of them, I just simply like movies with real life action.  I think the reason I like movies like these is because I love the concept of good vs evil.  There is always someone that plays the hero or the “good” element of the movie.  And it seems like that hero is continually under attack from the “evil” element.

This is very true in our spiritual life as well. Peter tells us:

“be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a                roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV)

When we are moving as God calls us and walking with Him, our enemy wants nothing more then for us to fall. We cannot blame Satan for all our poor choices.  He did not commit the sin for us.  But he does deceive us and places things in our way as we “walk” so that we will stumble.  It’s important that we realize he is very real and very active around us.

The next part of our theme verse reads this way…

rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith…” (Colossians 2:7)

What does it mean to be rooted and built up? How can we, “walk in Him” but also be, “rooted and built up” at the same time?  The metaphors are somewhat mixed.  However, the message is very clear.

As Christ followers, we are to continue to walk with Christ daily. Even through difficult times.   Even when He calls us to move out of our comfort zones like we saw in session 2.  While we are continuing to walk with Christ, we are also to be deeply rooted with Him.  The Hebrew word here for rooted means to be thoroughly grounded.  So with that in mind, Christ followers are to be well grounded in their faith.  And not just well grounded but also growing.  Built up implies that we are continuing to strengthen.  Strengthen what?  Our faith.  We never get to a place of complete knowledge of Christ.  As long as we are living on this earth, we are to continue to grow in our faith as we walk with The Lord.  It makes sense really.  As we walk with Christ, we should grow to know Him and desire Him more.  As we grow to love Him more we will become more firm and rooted in our faith.  It’s the process of maturity.  The longer we live, the more we should grow.

Are there some things we can do to help us get more deeply rooted and built up? In the book of Ephesians, Paul lists some things that we can “put on” to help us in our walk with Christ.  Remember, we face a real enemy with intentions to cause us to stumble and fall.  Therefore we must dress like we are going into battle.  We must “Dig In” so that we can be prepared for the fight.

Read Ephesians 6:10-18.

Lets review these pieces of armor that we are to put on.

The Belt of Truth:

We all know where a belt goes.  While it is not specifically part of  the armor, it       is very important.  The belt holds everything together under the armor so  that the rest of the armor fits correctly.  The belt is the foundation.  As   Christians we must have the Truth in place before we put anything else on.   We must know the Truth so that everything else fits correctly.

Breastplate of Righteousness:

Breastplate provides essential protection for the most vital organs.  It’s a must        for a soldier going into battle.  I like to think of the breastplate as being                    something that is easily seen.  Maybe even the first thing that the enemy                        would notice is our breastplate.  For me that implies that others should see             righteousness when they see me.  Not because I am righteous on my own.  I           am not.  However, because I am a Christ follower, I am righteous because I      have The Righteous One living in me.

Feet Fitted with Readiness:

The feet of a soldier are important because that is where they get their balance.  If a soldiers feet are not ready, they can be knocked down with a simple blow. Same is true for a Christ follower.  Our feet must be ready.  Ready for what?  Ready to move!  God is preparing you.  He is always preparing you.  You must always be ready.  If your feet aren’t ready, you May miss your moment or may be knocked down during battle.

Shield of Faith:

A soldier uses a shield for protection from the weapons of the enemy. As   we’ve discussed, we have an enemy too.  We are to “take up” our shield,   which is our faith in God, for protection during battles.  The enemy likes to  take swings at us.  Those “flaming darts” that come our way.  Our shield, our  faith is our protection. If our shield is big enough, we can stand completely  behind it and not be wounded. Our shield is our faith in Him.

Helmet of Salvation:

Obviously, a helmet protects the head. A soldier would be foolish to go into  battle without their helmet.  One of the most effective weapons Satan uses  against us is in the area of discouragement and fear.  He knows we can be   easy prey in these area’s.  When we are properly equipped with the helmet of salvation, it is hard to stay discouraged and to remain a slave to fear.

Sword of The Spirit:

All soldiers need a weapon.  You wouldn’t be much of a soldier without one.

Christ followers are provided with a weapon as well.  That weapon is God’s           Word.  The Bible becomes our sword.  We use it to attack and to fight off the enemy’s attack’s against us.  However, the weapon is only good if the soldier is familiar with it.  The reason soldiers practice with their weapon is so that the weapon will become as normal to them as any other piece of   clothing.  Their sword become an extension of their arm.  They always have  it.  The Word of God should be the same to us.  We take it with us    everywhere we go.  We must  study it and be prepared to use it.

As we dig in and prepare ourselves for battle against the enemy, these pieces of armor will help us to be rooted and built up in our walk with Christ. There’s a story of Peter in Acts chapter 2 that fascinates me.  Peter is known too well for his epic failure when he denied knowing Christ when Jesus was arrested.  He must have been crushed to know that he gave into fear instead of standing firm and wearing his armor.  But in the book of Acts we see a new Peter.

Read Acts 2: 14-41

I know this is a long passage but as far as sermons go you would have to agree it’s fairly short. Do you see the difference in Peter.  He is no longer this defeated person who denied his master.  He is no longer sitting curled up in the fetal position crying in the corner.  He comes out in Acts 2 with both arms swinging.  To me this is one of the most powerful sermons ever preached.  And by the way, more then a few people responded to it.

What happened? What took place in Peter’s life that caused him to go from being defeated to the victor?  Simple.  He dug in deep and put on his armor.  He relied on the power of the Holy Spirit that had been available to him.  The same power that is available to all of us that know Christ.

Will the walk become difficult? Absolutely. Remember, it’s guaranteed to be hard.  But Christ in His sovereignty has promised to never leave us and to provide us with the armor and the weapon we need.  So, Dig In!

Love The One You’re With

Yes that is the title of a song written in 1970 by Stephen Stills. (For those of you music lovers like me that love classic rock). No, this post is not a review or critique of that song. I just have always liked that title and finally found an appropriate time to use it.

I recently read the book Renovate written by Leonce B. Crump JR.  In the book, Pastor Crump shares the story of planting Renovation Church, an inner city church in Atlanta, GA. He shares the struggles, disappointments, ups and downs, and even some successes of church planting. However, a bigger take away for me was the issue of being sent. Pastor Crump broaches on this subject by revealing that Atlanta is not the place he intended to go. It is simply the place He was sent.

Honestly, I wasn’t all that taken by the book itself. It wasn’t that the book was poorly written. Truthfully, the book was very well written and Pastor Crump brought up some great points to ponder. Nor was it that the topic of church planting is not important. Obviously, I believe church planting is vitally important today. I think it is simply because I have been reading so much lately about church planting that I felt like I had read this book before. But then, something changed. I began to notice a secondary theme to the book that I had not anticipated. Weather intended or not, I began to notice a theme about being sent.

I began to dwell on the fact that God doesn’t send us to places that we want to go. He sends us to places that He chooses. Whether we like the place or not is irrelevant. That’s not to say that God intentionally sends us to places that we despise to punish us. He simply sends us…period. Then He leads us to discover the purpose and plan He has for us in that particular place. It’s up to the one being sent to then learn to love the place that God has sent them. It may not be your first choice. But it’s God’s choice for you.

For example, the place I currently live and serve would not have been my first choice. Actually, it wasn’t my first choice at all. And to be completely honest at first we didn’t like it very much. My family was very comfortable where we were previously living and serving. I didn’t really feel the need to mess that up. However, God began to stir within me. I knew that I was too comfortable. I knew that He had plans for my family that at the time I didn’t understand but knew that I had to follow. So, we moved to a new town and a new church. That was almost 10 years ago. It wasn’t love at first sight. But we were patient and firm when we wanted so badly to move back. Gradually, over time, God worked on our hearts and the place we now live became home. We couldn’t imagine spending the last 10 years anywhere else then where we are.

You see, I was a husband and father of 2 young boys. What if I was wrong? What if what I was hearing wasn’t God at all? Beyond anything else, I didn’t want my family to suffer for my lack of judgment. I wanted my family to be safe and provided for. All very admirable, but what if that’s misguided? Pastor Crump writes on page 138, “What if we chose a place based not on how it would serve our ultimate happiness or economic future or delusions of safety, but rather on how it would serve to cultivate in us a revolutionary understanding of why we are on this planet in the first place?”

That hit me hard. Over time I had allowed the pressures of life to tell me that my first priority is to look after my family. And while I do believe that that is important, and that I am commanded by God to do just that. It is not and should not take precedence over God’s command to follow Him at all cost. I, we, must be willing to give up or even lose everything for the sake of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. I think the Apostle Paul would agree.

Pastor Crump goes on to write on page 140, “Could it be that God, who determines the boundaries of the places we live, is calling us to the places where there is little opportunity for us but massive opportunity for others through us?” I’ll admit that I haven’t read every book ever written on church planting, but of the books I have read, I have never read a statement like that. I would venture to say that most church planting “experts” would never suggest to plant churches in locations that do not on the surface offer great opportunity for growth. Both personal and professional. I’m not suggesting that they would be wrong. I am definitely not an expert in church planting. But I do believe that Pastor Crump brings up an interesting concept.

One last quote from page 168, “Renewal happens when we understand we are sent, establish permanence, invest in infrastructure, and plan for a long and faithful work.” When the pastor from my current church called me to ask if I would be interested in taking a position here, I made this statement; “If I can’t see myself staying 10 years, I’m not coming.” I knew that God may move us in 2 years. But I knew that if there was any chance of having a successful ministry, it would take time. Trust me; there were times when we wanted to leave. Learning new people and a new place of ministry can be exhausting and even a bit frustrating at times. But in the long run, it simply takes time to build relationships. It takes time to build trust with the people you are called to serve. It takes time to become the leader and even the person that God has called you to be.

Be patient. And if you’re not currently in the place that would be your first choice, seek God diligently and learn to love the one(s) He has placed you with.

Good Things

Do you believe in the old saying, “good things come to those that wait.”? I’m not sure I do either. I understand the concept. I’m just not positive that it always holds true. However, I do believe every word of scripture is true. In the book of Romans, Paul writes these words, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Do you believe that? Do you believe that God will work in all things for our good & His purpose? Do you live like you believe it? Here’s what I mean, if I truly believed every word of scripture to be true, then I wouldn’t be tempted to be fearful. Scripture commands us over and over that we have nothing to fear. If we have a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, then our eternity is secure. And if our eternity is secure then we truly do have nothing to fear. If this is true, why are we still so prone to be fearful?

In the book Good Things, Kevin Gerald encourages the reader to realize that God really does have good things in store for us. I’ll admit I was a little skeptical when I began to read the book. I am highly sensitive to a proposed “prosperity gospel.” I’m leery of those that promise health and wealth as long as the person follows Gods rules or gives financially to a cause or particular ministry.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that God has great plans and a purpose for each and every one of us. I’m just not sure that we all have the same understanding of what “great” looks like. It may not be so great in the eyes of the world. God never promises us prosperity. But He does promise His presence. So while I was initially skeptical, the more I read, the more I began to understand Kevin’s message to the reader.

For example, on page 142 Kevin writes…

We don’t proclaim God’s goodness with the idea that we won’t have disappointments or experience struggles in our lives. We proclaim God’s goodness in the midst of our disappointments and struggles in life. Favor is not about God giving us immunity from life-from adversity and problems. Favor is about God giving us an advantage in life when facing those challenges.

So the message the Kevin Gerald is attempting to get across in Good Things, is not that only good things will happen to those that love God. The message is that believers can find good in everything because God has a plan and a purpose. Even though we don’t always like the situations or circumstances we go through, we can face them with confidence because we know that God is walking through those circumstances with us.

God is working for the good of those that love Him. It may not look good on the surface. But take heart, God has a plan. Continue to follow Him and He will lead you in the direction He had planned all along.

Steps to Take

Do you remember when you first learned to walk? Of course you don’t.  No one can remember that about themselves.  As a parent though, I do remember my boys learning to walk.  It was both exciting and scary at the same time.  It was exciting because they were growing up.  They were seeking new adventures and exploring new territory.  But it was scary for basically the same reasons.  Yes part of me didn’t want them to grow up.  But more importantly, I also didn’t want them to get hurt.

Seeking adventure can be fun but it can also be painful. Just ask any stuntman or woman.  The list of injuries and broken bones they accumulate would probably fill an entire file.  But, the adventure is usually worth it.  If they never went on the adventure, they would have never experienced the thrill or the rush of adrenaline.

I for one have never been much of a thrill seeker. Because of this I know I have missed out on seeing some amazing things.  When I was a kid I had the opportunity to travel to England to visit my uncle when he lived there as a missionary.  I was afraid of flying though so I didn’t go.  This is just one example.  We don’t have the time for me to share all the others.

When we first learn how to walk it takes several weeks maybe even months for us to master the skill. Our legs and knees just aren’t strong enough yet.  Our coordination is not there yet either.  And then there are always obstacles that get in our way.  Chairs, stairs and coffee tables.  Pets and their toys.  Its a dangerous world out there when we first learn to walk.

The same can be said of our Christian walk as well. When we first start out following God, we’re not that strong yet.  We trip over things easily.  There are always obstacles that get in our way and cause us to stumble.  Sometimes when we fall it can be painful.  But we can’t stop trying.  If we stopped trying to learn how to walk every time we fell as a toddler, we would never learn how to walk at all.  Think of all the excitement we would miss out on by not learning to walk.  It’s the same in our Christian walk.

Nobody ever said the Christian walk would be easy. In fact, the Bible reminds us over and over that the life of a Christ follower can be extremely difficult.  Let me give you a few examples:

“Consider it pure joy, my brother, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”(James 1:2 NIV)

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him…” (Philippians 1:29 NIV)

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13 NIV)

So, not only will life not be easy with Christ. The Bible tells us that life will at times be painful because of Christ.  We are to expect it.  Even find some way to be joyful about it.  I don’t know about you but I don’t like that part very much.  I don’t like that by simply trying to do the right thing I will suffer for it.  But just like learning to walk as a child can be painful at times, so can learning to walk as a Christ follower.  And I have found that it is usually through pain and difficulty that we learn and grow the most.  Suffering is not enjoyable, but it is essential at times.

Well, what does any of this have to do with moving with Christ? Lets recap a little.  In my last post we looked at Colossians 2:6 which states, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus The Lord, so walk in Him…”  We discussed what it means to “receive Christ.”  God chooses to have a relationship with us.  We decide to either follow or flee.  We can’t have both.  It’s one or the other.  Now Paul takes it a step further. After we receive Christ, we are to “walk” in Him.

To walk means to live. In fact the Hebrew word for walk means; “to make one’s way, to conduct one’s life & self.” How we “walk” is very important.  Our “walk” demonstrates our relationship that we have with Christ Jesus.  It doesn’t make us saved.  It shows that we are saved.  And the longer we walk with Jesus, the more difficulties we will see.

When we are learning to walk as a child, we learn from difficulties. We learn that the table hurts when we hit it.  We learn that the adults standing around us are watching out for us and are there to help us if we need them.  The same is true in our Christian walk.  When we go through difficulties, we learn that God is there to comfort us.  We will still have difficulties.  God doesn’t keep us from all trials.  He delivers us through the trials.  He knows that we learn best that way.  You and I would never choose to go through tough times.  So God allows us to go through them so that we can better see Him.

Our walk with Christ will also take us to places we never imagined going. It will at times require that we do things that are outside of our comfort zone.  In 2002 I was asked to go to Honduras on a medical mission trip.  In order for the people to receive free medical attention, they had to first come to a church service.  I was one of the preachers that went to preach these services.  Remember my fear of flying?  It was still there.  But, I knew God had opened this door and I was suppose to walk through it.  So our team flew into Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the second most dangerous runway to land in the world, for a week of mission work.  For 8 days I slept on a foam mattress on a dirt floor in a school.  We had to hire armed guards to station themselves around the school property in case there was trouble.  I was way outside of my comfort zone.  I remember being afraid the first couple of days and being extremely homesick.  I also remember how God changed my life that week in a way that I had never seen before or since.  Was it difficult? Absolutely.  But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.  In Not A Fan, Kyle Idleman states;

“Fans are happy to follow Jesus as long as that doesn’t require any significant changes or have negative implications.  There is no way to follow Jesus without Him interfering with your life.  Following Jesus will cost you something.” (pg. 30)

In his book, In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day, Pastor Mark Batterson writes, “There is nothing passive about following Christ.” (pg. 121)  We will all have to step out as we take more steps with Christ.

There is a remarkable story about Peter in the book of Matthew. In chapter 14 Jesus sends His disciples away in a boat.  While they are gone He gets alone to pray to His Father.  After a while Jesus comes to join the disciples in the boat.  The boat was now a good distance out in the water.  So Jesus does the most logical thing…He walks out to them.  Peter sees Him coming and says this statement:

“Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water He said, ‘Come.’  So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.”  (Matthew 14:28-29 ESV)

Did you catch that? Peter walked on the water.  Do you think Peter was afraid?  I guarantee he was.  But something inside him told him he should step out.  For some reason he knew that Christ would catch him if he started to sink.  Peter eventually does take his eyes off of Jesus and when he does the expected happens.  He begins to sink.  But do not overlook the fact that he stepped out.  The other disciples were in the boat with him.  Peter was the only one that moved.  He decided that it would be better to sink than to sit.  When Jesus called, Peter moved.  Will you?

What boat has God called you to step out of? What has kept you from stepping out and trusting Him?

Decision to Make

When was the last time you had to make a big decision? What was the decision you had to make?  How did you make your decision? (What was your process)

In 1989 I had a big decision to make. I had graduated high school the year before, 1988 (yes I am that old!) and had an opportunity to go to college in TN and play baseball.  I chose instead to stay at home and attend a local university.  Right away I knew it was not the right decision.  I wasn’t playing baseball.  I wasn’t doing well in school.  I wasn’t very happy.  The wrong decision had been made.

There were many reasons that led to this poor decision on my part. But really it all centered around the fact that I didn’t seek God’s counsel in making my decision.  It was MY decision after all and I made it.  Looking back I sure could have saved myself, and others, a lot of heart ache and trouble if I simply would have asked God and followed His guidance.

We all have decisions to make everyday. We decide what to wear, what to eat, or if we should eat.  We decide what to say to those we encounter throughout the day and then we decide how to respond when things don’t go as planned.  It has been estimated that the average person makes over 30,000 decisions each and every day.  That’s a lot of decisions!

Obviously, not all decisions carry the same level of importance. Some decisions are extremely important while others…not so much.  So, how do we decide which ones are important and which ones aren’t?  (Wait…there’s another decision!)

The Bible gives us some guidance here. In the book of Ephesians, Paul writes:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  (Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV)

Paul is saying here that every decision we make is important. All 30,000 of them have some degree of importance.  Why?  Because the days are evil.  Translation = there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in our world today.  And because the days are full of difficulty and danger, we have to be careful to make our decisions wisely.  If we don’t, our poor decisions can have a huge impact on us and those that are important to us.

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He developed a rather large following instantly. There were a few men that were extremely interested in what Jesus had to say.  These men would soon become the first 12 disciples of Jesus.  In the book of John, Jesus makes this statement to these men that had been following Him:

Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them,

“What are you seeking?” (John 1:38 ESV)

In other words, Jesus wanted to know what the men wanted. Why were they interested in Him and what He was saying.

Imagine Jesus asking you that very same question. “What are you seeking?”  As we imagine that, we can take the conversation deeper.  The “What are you seeking?” question from Jesus leads to other questions.  Follow up questions.  He might then ask you questions like these:

“Who do you believe I am?”

“What do you believe about Me?”

“Will you place your trust in Me?”

No matter who we are, if we encounter Jesus we will always face these questions.

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus The Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:7-8 ESV)

Colossians 2:6 begins with the phrase, “as you received Christ Jesus…”.  This is the first decision we have to make.  Have you received Him?  The Bible says in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever   believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV)

The very reason Jesus Christ came into the world is so that you and I could have a relationship with Him. And having a relationship with Him meant having a relationship with our Creator and spending eternity with Him in heaven.  But, we have to decide to receive Him or not.  We don’t choose Him.  He chooses us.  We simply believe and receive Him. Listen to the words of Jesus:

“For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8 ESV)

Jesus has chosen to have a relationship with you. Have you received Him?

When we encounter Jesus there are only two options. We either receive Him or we refuse Him.  In the book Not A Fan, Kyle Idleman points out that fans of Jesus are just that…fans.  They are not true followers.  We can’t be both.  It’s one or the other.  All or nothing.  Kyle puts it this way;

“When Jesus defines the relationship He wants with us He makes it clear that being a fan who believes without making any real commitment to follow isn’t an option.” (pg. 36)

Peter was faced with this decision.   The first three books in the New Testament each give an account of Peter meeting Jesus.  Matthew and Mark both describe the moment as follows:

“Immediately they(Peter & his brother Andrew) left their nets and followed  Him.” (ESV)

I love how Luke describes it. Luke writes about the encounter in the 5th chapter.  He tells how Jesus performs a miracle and instantly Peter fell at His feet.  Then Luke writes:

“And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” (Luke 5:11 ESV)

Peter encountered Jesus, he received Him as Lord and he was never the same again. Did Peter ever mess up?  You bet he did.  But it never changed the fact that his encounter with Jesus changed his life.

When we encounter Jesus, just like Peter, we have a decision to make. We either receive Him or flee from Him.  Have you encountered Jesus?

The Rising

I love to read. If you would have told me 20 years ago that I would have said or typed that statement I would have laughed at you. In fact, I don’t remember ever reading a book, outside of the occasional school requirement, until after I graduated college and was married. However, now I actually enjoy reading.

Lately I have been reading only non-fiction, ministry related books. Books on becoming a better leader, a better pastor or just simply a better follower of Christ. And while I thoroughly enjoy books on those topics, I had become stale. I felt the need to read something just for the joy of reading. Something that I didn’t have to mark up with a pen (I underline a lot!). I needed a good story that I could read in a couple of days. I found The Rising.

The description of the book caught my attention right away. It wasn’t fiction. It was an actual event that took place but it appeared to be written in story form. Almost like fiction. So I took a chance. What I discovered was a great story but there is nothing about The Rising that is light hearted or easy to read. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a “good” story. The story of Dr. William Petit and is family is anything but good. Actually the term nightmare would fit the description of their story best.

On July 23, 2007, Dr. Petit’s house was broken into, his wife and two daughters were raped and murdered, Dr. Petit was beaten and left for dead and his house was then set on fire and burned to the ground. In The Rising, Ryan D’Agostino shares in graphic detail the events of this horrible night. How Dr. Petit desperately wanted to protect and defend his family but was physically unable to.

The book takes the reader through every grueling detail of the trial. How the Petit family and friends had to sit through pictures and testimonies of that horrific night. Thankfully the book doesn’t end there. After the terrible events of that night and the years and trials that followed, Dr. Petit discovers a new passion and reason for living.

The family established a foundation, The Petit Family Foundation, that raises money and awareness for victims of violence as well as other non-profit foundations. Dr. Petit is now remarried and has another child. Through an extremely painful experience, and every parent’s worst nightmare, he is discovering hope and a new purpose for life.

It’s encouraging to know that someone can go through all that he went through and still find reason to have hope. On page 265 the writer writes, “New life doesn’t make everything better, and it doesn’t bring anyone back. But it restores hope to life, and hope is the difference between living and merely existing.”

To go through what the Petit family went through, it would be easy for one to never have hope in anything or anyone again. However, living in fear allows for no joy and is really not living at all.

Leading from the Heart

I am a sucker for any book that deals with the topic of leadership. Mostly because I feel like I have a lot to learn about the subject. You see, I believe there are two types of leaders. Those that are born leaders and those that are pushed into leadership positions. I personally fall into the second category. I wasn’t born with unbelievable leadership potential. But I have been put into leadership positions for most of my adult life. So I have a lot of catching up to do and a lot to learn.

I picked up Tommy Spaulding’s book The Heart Led Leader because, as I stated earlier I’m a sucker for leadership books, and because I genuinely want to be a better leader. I want to lead those that are following me from the heart and be the most effective leader I can be. This book was just the thing I was looking for.

The writer begins by making an interesting suggestion. Tommy writes that “The journey to heart-led leadership covers only 18 inches but it lasts a lifetime.” (pg1) He states that the distance from each person’s head to their heart is roughly 18 inches. So, each chapter that follows the introduction, are 18 traits that a heart-led leader must have.

The 18 traits or characteristics that the writer identifies are as follows:

Love, Humility, Caring, Passion, Selflessness, Authenticity, Self-Awareness, Faithfulness, Character, Vulnerability, Forgiveness, Purpose, Encouragement, Empathy, Generosity, Honesty, Trust & Transparency.

None of this is rocket science. However, it is good to remind ourselves often if we want to be a better leader. On page 3, Tommy writes, “leaders and organizations that lead with their hearts are more successful and drive better results than those that don’t.”

One important truth that Tommy mentions often throughout the book is that leadership is about who you are and not what you are. We spend so much time and energy trying to get somewhere that we forget who we are in the process. Or we simply never stop to work on who we are in the first place. It’s always more important to focus on who we are then what we are. Titles and positions will come and go. Character doesn’t.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is found on page 187. Tommy writes, “But leadership is not about having the answers to everything. Real leadership comes from making mistakes, showing vulnerability by admitting your mistakes and then learning from them. You see, what most people want in a leader is someone they can relate to.” This is so true and powerful. Leaders must take time to get to know their followers. If the leader is not “real” with the people they are leading, pretty soon there will be no one to lead.

I highly recommend The Heart Led Leader to anyone that desires to grow as a leader. You owe it to yourself, and the people you lead, to be the very best leader you can be.

Keep Your Foot on the Gas

Did that title catch your attention? I hope so. As a preacher and speaker, I always look for the perfect hook…that thing that catches the attention of my audience. So, now that I have your attention, let me tell you a story.

About a year and a half ago, my wife and I decided that something needed to change in our lives. We had landed into our 40’s and while not overweight by many standards, we just weren’t feeling well. I had some other health issues going and my energy level was at an all-time low. Through a friend that we have known for many years, we were introduced to a company (in many ways a ministry to us) called Life Transformation 360. We set up a time to meet with Health/Life Coach Scott Oatsvall. What Scott shared with us was not rocket science, but it was life changing. I won’t go into all the details of LT360 because honestly I wouldn’t do it justice, but if you want to know more, and I highly recommend that you do, just click on this link: http://www.lifetransformation360.com/

After only 60 days on the LT360 program, my wife and I both lost around 20 pounds. More importantly we were both feeling better and living better. One of Scott’s favorite sayings is, “Keep your foot on the gas!” In fact, that phrase came up in just about every meeting, email or text that we received from him. Why would he see the need to continually remind us that? Because he knows that over time the tendency is to take a break. After a while we all begin to lose our focus. Things that use to bother us don’t really bother us anymore. Why is that? We all have a tendency to get lazy and take our “eye off the ball” if you will.

The encouragement to “keep your foot on the gas” is given as motivation. It’s there as a reminder that when you do feel like taking it easy, don’t. When you are tempted to take a break, keep going. Don’t let up. Letting up is giving up. When you want to quit, don’t push the break. Keep your foot on the other pedal. The gas pedal. That’s the only pedal that will take you somewhere.

What’s true in our physical life is also true in our spiritual life. As a Christ follower, our goal is simple. We are to follow Christ. It just doesn’t get much simpler than that. But just because something sounds simple doesn’t mean that it is simple. The formula for following Christ may not be complicated, but the act of living it out is anything but easy.

In his writings, Paul repeatedly reminds his readers to keep moving. To “keep pushing forward”  if you will spiritually. Why? Because trying harder somehow pleases God more? I don’t think so. I think Paul knew better than anyone how difficult life can get. And when difficulty comes along it’s easy to lose focus.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (24-27)

Again, Paul is not suggesting that God’s love for us or our salvation is dependent upon how hard we work or how hard with try. “Trying” has nothing to do with it. Trying doesn’t earn us God’s love. However, it is proof that we love Him. Effort doesn’t grant us salvation but it is evidence that there is a relationship. That’s why it’s so important that we not give up.

You will get tired. We all do. Physically and spiritually. And when we get tired we lose focus. We take our eyes off of our Savior and place them on our situation. So get tired, but keep moving. Don’t give up. There’s no victory there. Keep your foot on the gas and continue pursue Christ.

No Fear

What are you afraid of?  The dark? Clowns? Spiders? Snakes? All of the above? I guess if we were totally honest, we could all say that we are afraid of something. Fear is not really the issue here. We all have fears. The real issue is what do we do with our fears? Or rather, what do we allow our fears to do to us? I’m sure several people have said their own version of this statement, but I like John Wayne’s definition of courage best. This won’t be an exact quote, but he said something like this, “Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is being afraid but saddling up anyway.”

In his book No Fear, Tony Perkins shares real stories of ordinary people that have extraordinary faith. And because of their extraordinary faith they have taken action in spite of their fears. They have “saddled up.” Each person, male or female, young or old, shares personal stories of how they each faced persecution of some type but persevered. It was encouraging to me, and at times very challenging, because many of the ones facing the persecution were relatively new believers. I became a believer at the age of 10. That means for over 30 years I have trusted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. However, I still give into my fear too often. Why is that? Why can I not just believe scripture? It has been said that the command to not be afraid is used 365 times in the Bible…one for every day of the year. Others have suggested that the phrase is not used nearly that much. They believe the phrase is only found 120 times or so. I have not counted for myself, but whether it’s 120 or 365, or any number between the two, the command is pretty clear. If we have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, there really is nothing for us to fear.

Jesus Himself encourages us to not be afraid of things that we can’t control and have no power over us (Matthew 10:28). But rather we should “fear the One that can destroy both soul and body in Hell.” Jesus also reminds us in Matthew 28:18-20 that He will be with us always. If this is true then we really have no excuse. There is no reason to fear. So why are we still afraid?

For me, it’s all about control. I know that I’m not really in control. But I still like to think that I am. The funny thing is, the more I try to hold on and control my life, the more fearful I become and the less I really live life the way God intended. Tony makes an interesting statement on page 184, the last page of the book. He writes, “The reality is, we are not ready to truly live until we are ready to die.” I honestly don’t know how that works. I cannot explain it or diagram it. I just know it to be true.

What fear has trapped you? What fear do you have that keeps you from living a full life? Surrender that fear to God and start living. As odd as it sounds it is only through complete surrender that we discover how to really live a life with No Fear.

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