February 20, 2018

The Bible Question

In Acts 2:42, Luke tells us that as the very first New Testament church is beginning and growing. As this happens, he says that the people "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching..." Literally, they devoted themselves to the Word of God. A couple of weeks ago, as I was preaching through this text, I brought up an issue and question that I've harped on before. I expressed my confusion and perplexion at how and why so many Christians come to "church" without their Bible. If we are (at least in part) gathering to "devote ourselves to the Word of God", it begs the question, "Why would you show up without your Bible?" Is this not like going to class without your textbook - except maybe a bit more important? It opens up a big can of worms that is worth addressing and raises some questions that are definitely worth asking and answering. I hope you'll prayerfully consider these things and add to the conversation.

Let's readdress what I'll call The Bible Question:
Why would a Christian come to study the Bible without their Bible?

The first possible answer to this question is APATHY. While we would love for it to be true that everyone who calls himself a Christian is indeed a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, we know that this is just not the case here in North America. It's still actually cultural for many people to "go to church" on a Sunday morning, mindlessly ignoring WHY they are even going. To be clear with the words from Acts, they have not really given much thought to "devoting themselves" to the Word of God. They ultimately don't care.

That said, I refuse to believe that the first explanation is an accurate description of most worship service attenders, much less Christians. So what else could it be? Another possibility is that we've been swayed and enabled by TECHNOLOGY. Let me be very specific with what I mean by this. I know that there are quite a few people who have transitioned to using a digital Bible - like the YouVersion app. (While I cannot personally make that transition - nor do I want to - I'm not going to hold that over someone else's head if they have.) That's not what I'm aiming at when I say technology. Several years ago, as we moved to using screens in our worship services, we put up lyrics to songs and scriptures. Over time, I think a lot of people just became dependent on this. Now it's not just a dependency, but an expectation. To me, this moves into an argument that bridges countless subjects. The debate rages on: Just because we can do something, does that mean we should? Just because we've invented and created the means (technology) to do something, does that automatically make it beneficial? I don't think so. Is it possible that we've been enabling and fostering biblical ignorance and even illiteracy? I ask this because I sadly believe there are many people sitting in our congregations today - men and women who have been "Christians" for several years - who don't even know where certain books of the Bible are or where many scriptures they've known all their lives are even located. Has technology enabled this? It's quite possible.

Then of course there are those who (for whatever reason) have either not been given or been able to purchase a Bible of their own. All I can say to that is, at The Brook, if we know anyone in that position, we will put a Bible in their hands that day. It's theirs! We can fix that problem really quickly.

So the first question was mine:
Why would a Christian come to study the Bible without their Bible?

Now allow me, on behalf of others, to turn the question sideways:
Why should a Christian come to study the Bible with their Bible?

Let's make it even plainer in North American, Western Church terms:
Why should I bring my Bible to church?

Great question. I'm glad someone asked it.
To begin with, responding to some of what I was alluding to about technology, if you are a child of God - a follower of Christ - then you are by nature of your new spiritual life, a student of the Word of God. You are also a messenger of the Good News of the gospel. Not only that, as the "temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19), your life has ultimately become an altar for the Word of God to be revered and adored. And as Paul declares that the Word of God is "the sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17), we understand that the Bible is the tool by which the Holy Spirit comforts, convicts, guides, leads, and instructs us. Taking all of that into account, every time the body of Christ gathers to "devote themselves" to the Word of God, it's an opportunity for you & me to do just that: redevote and recommit myself to the scriptures - to the life-giving, life-changing words of the Living Word of God. It furthers my discipline to be in the Word. DISCIPLINE

I was reminded by a friend in conversation the other day that another consideration in this matter of having my Bible in my hands and in front of my eyes while someone is preaching from it is the opportunity for the Spirit to bring to mind and memory something He has already taught me. For instance, my friend mentioned how there have been numerous times I was preaching, and while I was reading a scripture, the Holy Spirit brought to his mind something he had read or learned earlier in the week. Or maybe even much earlier in life. The Lord reaffirmed for him something that he needed to hear, read, and be reminded of that, quite honestly, had nothing to do with what I was preaching. Don't underestimate for a second the life-changing, mind-transforming possibilities of what the Spirit can do when we have the Word in front of our eyes and our hearts and open. AFFIRMATION

There are probably many more arguments, points, and reasons why this is important. I just want to give attention to one more.

When I see a United States Marine or Green Beret or Army Ranger in full uniform, I have no question about what they're devoted to. They have given their life to the service of their country and to the cause of freedom. They are fully committed and all in.

When your son, daughter, neice, nephew, grandchild, next door neighbor, or whoever it is sees the Word of God open on your kitchen table, on your nightstand, out on the bed, or (naturally) in your hands as you are on your way to gather with the people of God, it will make a very clear statement as to what your life is devoted to. It's a nonverbal declaration of why you're headed to gather as the Body of Christ. Our reasons are the same as the church in Acts:
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teachings..." DEVOTION

Here at The Brook, we are challenging our people over the next weeks to tangibly, intentionally, and expectantly to come to gather as the Body of Christ with the Word of God in their hands. We are praying that as a result, it will be embedded into our hearts!

February 19, 2018

The More Important Question


Disclaimer: This is not a post about my thoughts on gun control. Without a doubt I have thoughts and opinions, but that’s not my aim or goal here. I actually believe “gun control” is creating a smoke screen in front of an even bigger issue. That’s the conversation I want to have.

In the wake of another school shooting – the worst in several years – the issue of gun control has not only once again come up, but seems to be taking over. Students are taking to the streets, demanding that the government do something that will prevent another one of their peers from arming himself, walking onto a campus, and firing at will. The “problem” that the louder masses seem to keep pointing to is “gun control”. What this means is, the question or issue that’s being elevated above all others is HOW. How did this student go about carrying out what he did? 

Some things to consider:

After Stephen Paddock (a middle-aged man, known to struggle with anxiety & depression) opened fire on a crowded concert last year in Las Vegas, the question that was being asked was HOW. How - or by what manner – did this man carry out his plot to randomly execute innocent people? With guns.

In April 2007, Seung Hui Cho, (known to have a history of mental illness) came onto the Virginia Tech campus where he was a senior - close to graduating from college - and opened fire on his classmates and teachers. The biggest question asked in the aftermath was HOW. How did he arm himself like this? How did someone like this get all these guns?

After Adam Lanza (a 20-year old mentally ill man) walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and began shooting innocent children and teachers, the question that dominated the news and the media was HOW. How did he get access to these guns?

The question that is continually shoved to the forefront in these instances is HOW.
It’s not really a question, so much, as it is the overt point being made.
When guns are involved, that’s always the question, the focus, and the point.

I would submit to you that this is causing the more important question to be ignored and left unanswered. I believe in these instances, and those like them, the more important question that should be getting our collective attention is WHY.

WHY?
When Timothy McVeigh detonated a van filled with explosives in front of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 150+ innocent people, the question that we demanded be answered was WHY. Why would he kill all these innocent people?

When terrorist flew airplanes into the World Trade Center & the Pentagon - even though this was the first incident of this magnitude involving a hijacking - the question that everyone still had burning in the consciences was WHY.

When suicide bombers walk into crowded plazas, taking their own lives while taking the lives of others with them, the question we can’t get out of our brains is why. Even though we already know the answer - They believe that their quickest way to “heaven” is by killing the infidel - taking the life of anyone who’s not a Muslim - we still want to know: Why would anyone do this? WHY?

Why? It’s the question that we as humans are most prone to want answered.

Except with guns. When guns are involved, the focus seems to always move to HOW. Why is that?

Again, this is the point where the debate usually sets off over gun control. I don’t care to walk down that path in this post. For one, we seem to be going in circles over some of what surrounds that conversation anyways, but I also believe (as I’ve already stated) that it’s prohibiting and distracting America from the larger conversation and question of WHY. So let me pose the question even more directly:

WHY do we continue to have men - almost all of whom are found to suffer from some degree of mental illness - walk into schools, theaters, and churches and begin to open fire on innocent people? What is causing this? Are there contributing factors involved? Is there a pattern or common denominator? WHY does this keep happening?

Parkland. Las Vegas. Orlando. Sandy Hook. Aurora. Littleton. WHY?

IGNORING MENTAL ILLNESS
One reason is that we have a mental illness issue in America. What I mean by that is a couple of things. First off, we don’t have nearly enough professionals willing to weigh into the deep waters with those who suffer from mental illness. And many of the ones we do have very readily just throw medication at the problems - treat the HOW - rather than digging to the root of the cause - the WHY. The number of kids today who are quickly diagnosed with ADHD or OCD or anger issues is astronomical. The number of them who are diagnosed and almost immediately medicated is also astronomical. Is anyone asking WHY?

Along with that, there still somehow continues to be a stigma surrounding mental illness that causes most of us to be very reluctant to allow anyone to know that we suffer from things like anxiety or depression. [I just wrote a post about that HERE.] This has to stop. 

IGNORING RED FLAGS
The majority of the men who perpetrate these crimes are found to not only suffer from some degree of mental illness, but we also learn that somewhere along the way “so & so saw red flags, but did nothing about them.” The FBI essentially had their work done for them with Nikolas Cruz, and they still ignored it. They were warned about his behavior and his threats. They’ve already admitted they dropped the ball. There’s no room for dropping the ball anymore. If there’s a red flag at the beach, you go into the water at your own risk. If there’s a red flag that someone might be dangerous to the population at large, more than one life is usually at stake.

IGNORING THINGS THAT MAKE US UNCOMFORTABLE OR REQUIRE US TO CHANGE
Do you know why there isn’t a rally or protest going on full of teenage white guys, demanding that video games putting people into the role of first-person-murderer be taken off the shelf? Because that would demand that they stop playing those games. 
Do you know why there aren’t parents demanding that happen? Because many parents have become too lazy to pay attention to the games their sons are playing. They don’t check their text messages. They don’t check their computers. They have no idea what their 15 or 16 year-old son is looking at, watching, being influenced by, listening to, or following and chasing after. In order to do that, it would require a lot of work. It might require a whole different lifestyle. It might demand that your kid look and act different from all his “friends”. These are uncomfortable conversations. These things might requires us to change rather than to blame.

On another note, almost every single person who commits these crimes has at some point expressed feelings of being an outcast, outsider, or reject. On the one hand, we can’t control other people’s feelings. On the other hand, we can live a life of intentionality to show compassion, to listen, and to acknowledge those who are different than us. Yes, it requires work on our part. It demands that we surface out of our little bubble that we can all very easily become trapped in of the world revolving around us. It’s actually mind-blowing that there are still kids being bullied and ostracized today, in this world of NO BULLYING. I guess that goes to show you how effectively regulating something can be. There’s a bigger problem going on.

IGNORING THINGS WE CAN CONTROL, BLAMING THINGS WE CAN’T
As human beings, we always want someone or something to blame. 
We would much rather be angry and hostile than broken and grieving.
We would much rather be able to point and place all the blame on something that is a little bit outside our circle than acknowledge that the beast might have been hiding in our own closet.

It’s perplexing to me that I have not seen one person on TV or in an interview about last week’s shooting in Parkland, Florida, angrily or harshly or with fire in their eyes saying something like, “I hope that this kid spends the rest of his life rotting in jail for what he did!” Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t heard anyone attached to this incident say anything about him, period. Just guns. All the blame has been on guns.

I actually expect you at this point to call me out: Wait a minute, Brian. You said this wasn’t about gun control. You’re right. And that’s my point. Ultimately, it’s not. It’s about something deeper and bigger and scarier.

I remember about 10-15 years ago, when we were in the height of people screaming about how horrible SUV’s were for the environment - they suck so much gas - they take up so much room - blah blah blah - that I would repeatedly hear on the news things like this:" A woman and her child were run down by an SUV last night in a crosswalk.” Wait. What? No, actually they were run down by a middle-aged, irresponsible drunk man. He was driving an SUV. He could have been driving a Corvette. Or a Prius. The issue wasn’t a SUV. It was drunk drivers. 

There is something bigger and more important going on here than guns. I’m not saying we need to ignore the HOW, but we’ve got to begin answering the WHY. 

What did the Prohibition do? It heightened alcoholism. It massively heightened crime.

Drugs are illegal in most states in this country. People still find them, buy them, and abuse them.

My friend would steal his dad’s Playboy magazines and hide them under his mattress. Boys today don’t know what Playboy is, but they know what porn is. It’s all over the internet. If they want to find it bad enough, they will. I would love (and I pray) for the evil smut to be erased from the face of this earth! Go ahead and ban it. That’s fine with me. But I’m telling you, men will find it. 

WHY?

The heart is deceitful above all things. The heart is sinful and set against God. Only through Jesus Christ - through the power of His Spirit and His Word and through the victory that He’s given us over sin and death - will we find answers. 

It begins with the problem of SIN. It’s only solved through the answer of JESUS.

I encourage you to ask WHY. I’m praying that this conversation somehow turns to WHY.


Please join me in praying for the community, families, friends, classmates, and teachers of the victims in Parkland, Florida.  

February 14, 2018

It's Not That Simple

A few days ago, I was honestly caught off guard when I read this tweet from Desiring God:


After several minutes of prayerful consideration, I decided to respond/reply. Here's what I said:


In no way did I expect a response from Desiring God. That said, I didn't expect to receive so many words of thanks & affirmation from others over having the same reaction toward this statement. The problem with it (as I attempted to address in my response) is that mental health issues - whether it be anxiety, depression, or something even deeper or more severe - and more specifically their roots & causes - are way to numerous & complex to think that simply "fixing our eyes on the strength and beauty of God" will bring resolution. And moreover, the painful piece of this statement is the implication & idea that mental health issues begin with some sort of vain, narcissistic case of "staring in the mirror". I'm just not sure how you even have the audacity to write, type, say, or even think such a thing.

This morning, once again, another preacher has posted one more reckless, haphazard statement about depression:

Please don't misunderstand me for a second: there is no time in my life that I have leaned harder, dug deeper, and more desperately meditated over the Word of God than when I have walked through valleys of anxiety & depression. I don't know that I would have been able to keep walking without knowing that the Lord is "with me". That His "rod & staff" are the only things that comfort me. Here's the thing: Depression is NOT a result of "spiritual starvation". Anyone who makes this statement has obviously never truly struggled or wrestled with it. I'm no scientist & I am certainly not a doctor, but I do know that depression & anxiety (as I have dealt with them) are the result of a war going on between cortisol, dopamine & serotonin in my brain. When I had an anxiety attack last May, as the fight or flight trigger in my brain went off, cortisol is released, which begins telling the serotonin, "Hey, we don't need you guys right now. Take a break. Brian will be fine without you!" Serotonin believes it and hibernates. My heart races. My knees get weak. My mind fixates on one thing and won't let go of it. And the next thing you know...you're awake all night. And when you don't get sleep, it sets your mind, body, soul and brain up to be even more vulnerable than the day before.

I should make sure & clarify at this point that these moments - these nights filled with sleeplessness and confusion - are very often spent on the floor, in the closet, reading the Word, crying out to the Lord to "take all my thoughts captive" and with the desire to "set my mind on things above". The Word of God isn't a second thought or Plan B for where I should go for help. It's the first place I run.

But here's the thing: Once you've had an anxiety attack, you then begin wondering, "When am I going to have another anxiety attack?" And you trigger the whole fight of flight scenario all over again. 

I'm sharing all of this with you for several reasons. First off, I'm sick & tired of the idea being thrown out there - especially by pastors & preachers - that the reason any of us deal with anxiety is because we're ultimately not trusting God enough. And I'm sick & tired of the idea being wrapped up into catchy little phrases (that sound all neat & spiritual on Facebook or Twitter) that tell me or anyone else that the solution to depression is found in seeking the Lord just a little bit harder. Foolishness. How much harder do I need to seek Him? It's just not that simple!

Once again, let me repeat myself for clarity: Finding true peace, hope, and joy outside of Jesus Christ - outside of the Word of God & the Spirit of God invading your heart, soul, and life - is ultimately impossible. He is our hope. He is our peace. He is our joy! Trust Him. Call out to Him. Seek Him. He is the only one worthy of your praise, adoration, and your life being surrendered. He is faithful. He will never leave you, nor forsake you. He will walk with you, even "through the valley of the shadow of death."

But for some of you...you need help. You need to see a counselor. You need to see your doctor. You need to humble yourself & seek help. 

Some of us need to understand how to separate the things in front of us that we can change & the things off in the distance...that we have no control over.

Some of us need medication. I'm also sharing all of this with you because I have walked through it. Again. For the second time in my life, I'm now taking a low dose antidepressant. I started taking it right before Thanksgiving. One night right after New Year's, I was out with my wife. I remember in the middle of dinner putting down my fork, looking at her and saying, "I just realized. I feel like myself again." And I do. Last year was one of the hardest years of my life. Pride kept me tied up in knots for 6 months. But I am so grateful now for what the Lord has walked me through. And I hope that maybe it might help one of you face down this issue, seek the Lord, turn to someone else, and get the help that you not only need, but that is readily available to you. 

February 12, 2018

Asking Better Questions (Part 1)

In my last post, I made this assertion:

Asking questions is exhausting. (Therefore...)

Asking better questions can be even more exhausting.

On multiple levels in my life, I've been challenged over the last few years with the idea that asking better questions will sharpen me as a leader and listener, will improve my communication as a husband and father, and will ultimately deepen my relationships. Questions require thought. When they invoke a response, that requires attention. Questions change things!

In my next few posts I'm going to address some very specific areas where you can greatly benefit from asking better questions. I would also like to start a conversation over some of the specific questions that can possibly change the landscape of our decision making and the criteria we use to get ourselves there. 

To begin, let's talk about everyone's favorite subject: FITNESS. 
To be more specific, how do you go about finding the best person to help you get in shape? How do you find a TRAINER?

As I've spent the second half of my life going to the gym, and the last 5 years in particular finding a newfound love for the weight room and all that it has to offer, I've been around a lot of "trainers". I've come to realize that it doesn't take a whole lot for a person to get "certified" to be referred to as a "trainer". Sort of like how any random dude can go online and get "certified" as an ordained minister so that he can perform his buddy's wedding ceremony on the beach. It doesn't take much. The year that I spent working out at Planet Fitness (which is another post for another day), I had to stay away from the trainers. I couldn't handle for another minute listening to some of the horrible coaching/advice they would give to people. It wasn't just wrong; it was detrimental to the person's health. There's more bad information and incompetent coaching out there than you would ever imagine. So...what can you do about it? 

Ask better questions.

Before you sign up for that new gym or pay for that new trainer, here are some key questions you should ask. Let me preface by saying that this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are without a doubt other questions you could add. But this is a great starting point. I would also point out that great questions almost always build a bridge to go further than the single question can go on it's own. Great questions build bridges, answer bigger questions, open doors, and knock down walls. So, with that said, here are some questions that will help you in your quest for fitness. "Hey trainer, I was wondering...."

What certification do you have?
There's an 85% chance you won't know who or what they are referring to with their answer, but how they answer this question will be telling. And you're smart enough to know that if the answer happens to be "The Arizona Correctional Institute of Physical Fitness" or "Trainers-R-Us", you should probably walk away. Look for confidence and explanation in a trainer's education. Look up the school, course, and/or credentials they give you. Do 5 minutes of research. And follow that question up with this next one:

What do you do for continuing education?
The trainers at BCI (where I workout 2-3 days a week) are always reading. Always learning. Always furthering their knowledge of what they're teaching and leading us to do. How to workout. What to eat. How to rest and recover. Basically anyone that you pay to assist you in any way - your doctor, barber, dentist, yard man, insurance agent, and yes...a trainer - should be continually growing in the knowledge of their field. If a "trainer" has to think about their answer on this one, just walk away.

In what areas can you help me achieve optimal health and wellness?
I'm not sure I can even begin to list all the reasons to ask this specific question. One would be that just the nature of the verbage of this question will let the "trainer" know that you aren't just there to lose 5 pounds, but that you are interested in your HEALTH. Moreover, if you're going to pay someone (probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $40-$60 an hour on the low side) to "train" you, you need to know ahead of time that anyone can direct you around a fitness room. I can help anyone work up a sweat in 5-10 minutes. If you walk around the fitness center at the YMCA, every machine in the place - weight, cardio, or otherwise - has the instructions plastered on it. You can look up 100 different YouTube videos to show you how to lift weights, use an Arc Trainer, or do burpees. Here's the issue: there are one million "trainers" and 2 million videos out there showing people how to do those things INCORRECTLY. And people are getting injured, doing damage to their spine and shoulder joints, wearing out their knees, and continuing to poison their own guts because 1) most of us don't know any better & 2) because we all want a quick fix. There is no quick fix. Not for optimal health and wellness. It's a long road that begins with you deciding you are sick and tired of being sick and tired. So if you're there, don't compromise by paying someone who spent 6 months getting certified online to give you bad advice. Call me. I'll be glad to charge you less for bad advice. 

The last question is one that we should probably ask of a lot more people in a lot more situations. Unapologetically ask the "trainer":

Do you have any references?
The 22-year old that trains me (and the group I workout with) every Wednesday & Friday at 6:00 AM - he has references. There are a substantive number of people that he could point you to who would verify that he not only knows what he's talking about, and that he practices what he preaches, but that he is also constantly furthering his understanding and sharpening his approach to coaching people. If you're paying someone good money and entrusting your fitness and health to them, they most certainly should be able to point you to someone who would willingly corroborate and validate their credentials. And you shouldn't have to feel bad or apologize for asking. In fact, they should probably offer that information up before you ever even ask for it. If they've helped someone else achieve what you're wanting to achieve, then they should be able to show you.

This is your health. This is your time and money. This is your life.

Don't waste any of them!

Ask better questions.

February 8, 2018

Asking Questions

I haven't written anything in quite awhile. Almost a year. On one hand, I have had no desire. ZERO. At the same time, I have recently begun to feel like a part of me is missing. Like some part of me is starving. I've had a hard time wrapping my head around it.

I recently started reading Reagan on Leadership: Executive Lessons from the Great Communicator, by James Strock. Ronald Reagan is my favorite President for more reasons than I care to go into in this post. That said, part of why I have always held such admiration for him was his ability to communicate the right things in the right way at just the right time. In his book, Strock talks about how Reagan was determined to "master every medium" of communication. As I reflected on this, I realized that when I was writing frequently, it was also sharpening me not only in my preaching or public speaking, but even in my interpersonal communication, whether with my wife and kids, our staff, or even the guy behind me in line at the store. When I write, I benefit, even if no one else does. So...here I am. Writing.

As I've worked through the puzzle of wondering about the drought, I've never been satisfied with the idea that I 1) was just being lazy, 2) lost the discipline to write, 3) didn't have the time, or 4) that I had run out of things to say. That last one is laughable, I know. So what's the deal? Is there some greater force at work against me, within me? Some complex, psychological reason behind this? I don't think so. What I think - as dumb as it sounds to me as I think it and type it - is that I just got sick and tired of asking questions.

Asking questions is exhausting.

Asking better questions can be even more exhausting.

And asking really good questions is the genesis and catalyst behind really good writing.

Asking questions - really good questions - when you really think about it - doesn't pair well with self-centeredness. Asking good questions requires thought. Asking great questions and really wanting great answers demands a heart ready to listen. Until recently, I haven't been very good at listening.

The last year of my life felt like a roller coaster in the rain, that someone else strapped me into and made me ride. For the first time in 5 years, I began fighting anxiety and depression again. There were some really rough days. There were probably even more sleepless nights. There was counseling. There were books. There were phone calls with friends. There were prayers and tears in the floor of the closet. There was scripture reading, scripture memorizing, scripture meditating - hours and hours searching the scriptures. There was medicine. But as I look back, what there weren't a lot of...were questions.

Why wasn't I asking questions?

That's a great question. Ironic. Isn't it.

I think we get so hung up on not questioning God - you know, the "God is sovereign and his ways are not ours, so you may never know why!" type questions - that we just stop asking questions altogether. 

Just a thought: Even though a child can't begin to comprehend where water comes from, he will still ask his mom or dad for a drink. He doesn't know if Mom's a genius, but he knows Mom is good.

I spent more this time this past year kicking myself and beating myself up wondering why and how I was feeling what I was feeling than I was quietly asking the Lord, "What do you want to show me in this place? Will you show me more of you in this valley? Father, why am I walking through this?" 

Why am I reluctant to ask my Heavenly Father questions? Big, hard questions?

There's more talk than we know what to do with about "If my kid asks me one more question my head's going to explode!" We know. Your kid asks lots of questions. They all do. My son is 13 and he's now a professional. He could be an attorney. He's that good. However, I've recently lost any frustration with his incessant questioning. Here's why. All of Nathan's questions begin with the same thing: the word "Dad". Every time my son asks me a question I'm reminded that I'm his dad. I'm reminded that he's my son. I'm reminded that it's somehow ME that he's still looking to for answers. It probably won't always be that way. So right now, I welcome it. I will cherish the questions. Sons and daughters ask their dad questions. That's how it works. And I hope those questions get bigger and go deeper as they grow up and get older. I hope the questions never go away.

Are you asking questions?

Your Heavenly Father can handle them. All of them. You may not be able to handle or comprehend the answers, but He loves it when you & I ask Him. Every time we run to Him, we're reminded that He's our Father. That we belong to Him. That He's the one with all the answers. He's given us His Spirit and His Word, that we can seek Him, find Him, and know Him. He's a good Father. 

Go ahead. Whatever it is...ask him.

Psalm 17, Psalm 40


February 22, 2017

The Long Way

When I go home from just about anywhere in my city there are two ways to get there. Two roads lead to my neighborhood. From just about any location, one of those two roads feels and seems to be the shortest route. As the crow flies there's no doubt. That said, I'm no crow and I can't fly. What tends to almost always be the case is that what seems to be the short way winds up being the long way.

The seemingly short route is currently plagued with construction. If you drive down that road at the wrong time of the morning you will get backed up in traffic and sit for 20 minutes. If you’re lucky. This road is well trafficked because it's more well-known. Nathan always wants to debate with me that it's shorter. So every once in a while – against my better judgment – we will give it a shot. And we always regret it. What seems to be the short route very often winds up being the long road.

If I could just once and for all learn this lesson as a leader. Almost every time I get anxious, impatient, or forget that why and how are just as important as what, it seems to always come back to haunt me. You and I both know that the journey is just as important (if not more) than the destination. But we get so in a hurry to arrive that we're not even sure what happened in the wake of getting there.

Very often, the short way winds up being the long way. But in all honesty, short and long aren't nearly as important as right and wrong. Often there's a right way. It's usually also the hard way. And my estimation is…it's highly likely to be the long way as well.

What takes more time now: Doing it myself...or building a team? The answer to that question – especially if I'm more concerned with right now and getting it done – is to build a team. It takes more time to cultivate people. It takes more time to invest and build. But in the long run…it's worth the investment. The short way winds up being the long way.

What takes more time now: Unilaterally making a change and letting everyone know about it...or walking everyone through the change with you? If your theory & mentality is “My way or the highway” or “Get on the bus…of get left behind!", then just go ahead and make the change. Drop it like a bomb! But if you want to not only sustain your leadership, but also actually grow the people and the organization you're leading, then take the time to walk them through it with you. If you have a vision worth selling and you're a leader worth following, then take the time to share that vision with the people you want to follow you. I know it feels like the long way, but it winds up being the short way.

“…the prudent gives thoughts to his steps.” Proverbs 14:15
“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22
“Train up a child in the way he should go; in the end he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Leading an organization? Building a team? Do it the right way. It’s worth it.

Raising a child? Discipling your son or daughter? Man, don’t we all wish there were some shortcuts. Sorry. No dice. It’s long, hard work. And it’s worth every moment, every tear, every prayer, and every opportunity of shepherding their heart toward Jesus.

If we embrace and enjoy and savor the journey, the destination will be that much more satisfying. 

The long way sometimes winds up being the short way.
The long way very often ends up being the right way.

Who cares about shortcuts, anyway? 

February 21, 2017

How Do We Select Elders?

In my previous post, Why Do We Have Elders, we looked at the biblical mandate, calling, and role of the elders in the church. The pastors and elders are called to "shepherd God's people"; to humbly oversee the church as servant leaders. Here I would like to share how we go about selecting, examining, and affirming these men.

First off, each new year begins an informal NOMINATION process. What does this mean? Great question. Each year the current elders begin praying through the question: Are there certain men within our church family who meet the qualifications described by Paul to Timothy and Titus of an elder? We start making a list. We then continue praying through that list together. After a certain period of time, if we come to unanimous agreement on a particular man (or men), we approach him and ask him to prayerfully consider if the Lord might be calling him to this role. As an example, this past year our list began with 4 men. Over a month's time, we all felt very strongly about 2 specific men. They both agreed to prayerfully consider the question: Is God calling me to be an elder? 1 of those 2 men overwhelmingly sensed that affirmation and the other did not. That's one way that a man enters into this process.

Along with that, a couple of other initial scenarios can happen. One being that a man can nominate himself. This may sound or seem egotistical or prideful to some, but to be honest, if that was the driving force behind a man's self-nomination, it would almost certainly be visible. Self-promotion is pretty tough to disguise. Having said that, there have been times when a member has come to us and asked us to consider a man for nomination. One man in our church (who would probably be shocked by this due to his humility) has had multiple people over the last years come to me and "nominate" him - meaning they've come and asked, "Why isn't so & so an elder? He would make a great elder!" This man clearly meets the qualifications, yet very clearly has told me (on mulitple occasions) that he does not sense the Lord's calling and leading to take on that role or responsibility. I would also like to add that there are multiple men within our church body who have been approached by the elders because of the clear evidence of their character, who have not felt the call of God to the role. The calling is critical!

So whether nominated by a church member, himself, or the current elders, if a man accepts that nomination we then begin what we call the EXAMINATION process. [This usually lasts around 6 months.] We have a fairly thorough 6-page application that an elder candidate fills out, including everything from family history, to testimony and personal salvation experience, to doctrinal and theological questions. We also ask for references. We want to talk to people who can verify that what we see in an elder candidate's life is being seen by others and has been seen by those surrounding him for some time now. During this time, our pastors and elders are encouraged to meet with him, spend time with him and his family, get to know who he is and pray for the Lord's clear wisdom and discernment concerning this man. We also require him to do a bit of reading, wanting to make sure he understands (as fully as possible) the role and responsibilies he is considering. He needs to know that he is not becoming a member of a board or group of trustees or a personnel committee. First and foremost, he is yielding to God's call on his life to "shepherd and oversee" the people of God.

When (and if) our pastors and elders come to unanimous resolution that we have fully examined this man's life and we not only see clear evidence of him meeting the qualifications, but also that he is surrendering to the call of God on his life to step into this role, we will then present him to the church family for a brief time of examination. [This usually lasts around 4-6 weeks.] This time allows anyone to come and ask questions of the elders, bring up anything that may have slipped past us in regards to his character or actions, but also (and hopefully more prevalently) provides an opportunity for people to get to know him, pray for him, and see the evidence of why we nominated him in the first place. 

At the end of this process, after the entire church body (pastors, elders, staff, members) has had time to examine this man's life, if we (the elders) are still in unanimous agreement, we will then AFFIRM him as an elder before the entire congregation. We have always done this on a Sunday during our services because we believe it is something the entire church body should be involved in. While what we do is very simple, it is also very meaningful. The pastors and elders will gather around the elder candidate, lay hands on him, and pray over him. This is not a magical transference of "elder powers" or some sort of mystical ceremony. Paul laid hands on Timothy as he prayed over him. The apostles "prayed and laid their hands on" Stephen and the others they had chosen to be deacons. We do the same.

While we desire every part of WHAT we do to be driven, catalyzed, and mandated from and by the scriptures, we are aware that a portion of HOW we go about it comes from us. This is why we never stop asking, "How can we do this more effectively? What can we do better?" 

I hope these posts have given greater clarity and understanding to what our elders do, why we do it, and how we are chosen to do it. We would be glad to answer any questions you may have about biblical elders and church leadership.

"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." 1 Timothy 3:1