February 24, 2011

My Marathon Dilemma!

This Sunday is the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, TX. I've been training for 3-4 months, making my 2nd attempt at running this race. The first attempt - 2 years ago - was sidetracked by sickness and lots of travel. My training this go-round was going great, until..... 4 weeks ago I went out for my 16 mile run. Things felt great! My lungs felt good, my stride was smooth, and I was inspired and motivated. But somewhere around mile 12 my lower back started to tighten up. I tried to walk it out. That didn't work. I got off the sidewalk, laid in the grass, and tried to stretch it out. That didn't work. For the remaining 4 miles I walked-jogged-stretched-walked-jogged-got really mad-stretched. Repeat. It was frustrating. I went straight to the chiropractor that afternoon. His first question: "Did you get new shoes?" [LIGHTBULB MOMENT]

Just 5 days earlier I had gotten new running shoes. Without going into all the details, if you buy the wrong running shoes - shoes that don't fit your feet or work with your stride or gate properly - they can mess you up! Your back, your hips, your knees. PAIN! So I took them back and got some shoes that I knew were tried and true for me. But I also decided to finish out my training (and the race) in my old shoes. (They still have plenty of life in them!) At that point I figured I would rest my legs and back for a few days, work my way back into training, and be good-to-go. Then 2 weeks ago I went out for my 18-miler. I only made it 9 miles. My lower back got tighter than Joan Rivers face. More PAIN! More frustration! More therapy at the chiropractor. And along with it, a decision to make. Can I seriously run this race?

I made a decision a couple of days later that I probably needed to run the 1/2 Marathon instead. I knew I could run that race, possibly post a good time, and avoid the frustration of more back pain. I would go to the Solutions Desk at the Packet Pickup Event and just change my registration. Decision made. And then a friend of mine screwed it all up. He said, "Why don't you just run the full? You've paid for it. If you get 16-18 miles and have to stop, you can call someone to come get you. Why not just try it?" WHY NOT JUST TRY IT? Why not give it a shot? WHY?! The last time I ran the Cowtown - and had to run the 1/2 - I finished and immediately thought, "Man! I should have run the whole thing!" WHY NOT JUST TRY IT? And this is my dilemma.

Here are the reasons why I would NOT run the full Marathon:
  • PRIDE - If I have to quit, I'll be really hacked off!
  • MORE PRIDE - What if my time isn't as good as my other races?
  • UNCERTAINTY - I really don't know what the heck is going on with my back.
  • Did I mention PRIDE?
Here are some reasons why I SHOULD run the full Marathon:
  • I already paid for it (AND) it would cost $20 to switch to run the 1/2
  • There's a GREAT possibility that I can actually finish this race. I've run 3 marathons already!
  • I've had a LOT of therapy, rest & massage in the last 2 weeks.
  • If I have to stop - if I have to quit - that's OK. This is no longer a bucket list issue for me.
  • Failure sucks, but REGRET is much worse than failure!
HELP! This decision has not been made. Quite frankly, I don't have to decide until Saturday. What do you think? What should I do? Love to hear your thoughts, objective opinions, and words of encouragement. 

1/2 or Full? That is the question!

February 22, 2011

The Electronic Bible

There are not many areas of my life where I consider myself "old school". While I am definitely a fan of keeping your shoes clean & shined, a believer that nothing will ever undermine the style of a pressed white dress shirt, and still in awe of the 1967 Shelby Mustang, I still try to live in the now. That being said, in this age of the iPad, Droid phone, and the Kindle, I am seeing more and more people making a switch to what I'll call the electronic Bible. When we search the scriptures on Sunday mornings I see iPhones abounding. (I assume - HOPE is more like it - that people are pulling up YouVersion and not playing Angry Birds!) And don't get me wrong, I'm OK with this. That said, I'm still not drinking the Kool-Aid! Call me naive, "old school", set in my ways - whatever you like - but I still want to be able to write in the margin, highlight the fool out of the pages, and tangibly turn through this book as I read it with my kids. I'm wondering what you think about all of this.

As I mentioned a moment ago, I am so grateful that YouVersion has created an avenue for millions of people to be able to pull out their phone - anytime, anywhere - and dive into the Word of God. People all over the world have access through their laptop to the scriptures. This is a GREAT thing! But for me - someone with this worn, tattered, studied, memory-laden book in my possession - I just haven't found a reason (other than it being the last resort) to make this switch. Have you?

Many of you - pastors, leaders, engineers, accountants, salesmen - have put away your Tyndale and pulled out your Droid. I would love to hear the benefits you've found in making this switch to the e-Bible. 

What do you think?

February 16, 2011

Sabotaged By Selfishness

Our current series, Nehemiah::Rebuilding, has challenged me on several levels, particularly as a leader. Nehemiah is one of the greatest examples in history of courageous leadership, persistent prayer, and the perseverance that comes with God-given vision. If you're a leader - or have any desire to be - and you haven't read Nehemiah, don't waste another day! And while the leadership lessons are plentiful, there is something for everyone in this servant leader's journal and journey. We've talked much about the Enemy and his tactics against us. When we're living on mission - with a vision for our life, our family, our church, His Kingdom - Satan comes at us with his arsenal of weapons (discouragement, selfishness, pride - the list goes on), hoping to defeat us, knock us off course, or simply slightly deter us from the path of vision. This past week, as we talked about the dangers of being Sabotaged by Selfishness, I submitted an idea that's lingered on in conversation. I made the statement: If you claim to be a Christ-follower, but you aren't serving in the church, there is someone bearing a load that you should be carrying. For some - possibly many - this was probably a bit frustrating. Maybe even aggravating. And all I can say to that is, "I hope so!"

I'm not sure when it started - the spread of the disease we refer to as Consumerism - but it has wormed it's way into the hearts of many unknowing churchgoers. And yes, I meant to say "churchgoer"! To start with, you see in Nehemiah 5 what happens when part of the Body (and they were leaders, at that) never get past a "What's in it for me?" mentality. It breeds bitterness, resentment, and division. People grow weary from bearing all the burden. I'm sure Paul had great knowledge of this story as he was writing to the Corinthians and exhorting them "that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another." We are ALL bearing and carrying the load together - serving one another. No exemptions. 

This morning in my time in the Word, Paul further exposes this Christ-like character and motive. He writes to the Romans (1:11-12) and shares with them, "I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you - that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine." Mutual encouragement. Agreement in word and deed. Standing together. Or as he puts it in his letter to the Philippians, "fighting together, side by side, for the sake of the Gospel." This is a microscopic taste of the consuming principle and mandate throughout scripture of what the church - the Body of Christ - should look like. And it leaves me wondering how anyone - ANYONE - could claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and still walk into "church" week after week ignorantly and blindly wondering, "I wonder what I'm going to get out of this today?" Sadly, I think the answer to that question is answered by the fruit it seems to be producing: NOTHING! What you're going to GET out of this is what you're GIVING: NOTHING! How is this disease so rampant?

I also made a statement that raised a few eyebrows and (I think) even woke a few people up from their slumber. In relationship to this spectator mentality, I made the comment: "It seems that many people love the worship, but they don't care much about the work." What breaks my heart is knowing that there are so many who not only refuse to be filled so that they can be poured out, but that they don't realize the water has gone stagnant, stale, and is on the verge of becoming toxic. If water sits long enough...bad things happen. But remember, you're the jar - you're the cup. If the water goes stale - if the heart grows hard - YOU are the one who's going to suffer the most. Don't be sabotaged by selfishness! ACT NOW!

If you're a Christ-follower, you are called to serve. Inside the church and outside. You are called to be "broken bread and poured out wine". When we come to know Christ - when the Spirit of the Living God invades our hearts - He graces us with spiritual gifts. Yes, GIFTS! But the crazy thing about these gifts is that they aren't intended for our own benefit, but the benefit of others. They're not yours to just sit on, ignore, or neglect. You've been given a gift that you're required to give away. Are you giving it away? Better yet, do you even know HOW you've been gifted? Let's start there. If you've never taken a Spiritual Gifts Inventory, here's a great one to get you started: CHURCH GROWTH SPIRITUAL GIFTS INVENTORY

If you take this test and don't have any clue what to do with it, go see one of your pastors. If you're a member of The Brook, bring it to the Volunteer Center and allow them to help you take your gift(s) and see them come to life. You will be blessed - possibly even freaked out - by what the Lord will do in you and through you as you begin to serve others for the sake of the Kingdom.

To listen to this past week's message, Sabotaged by Selfishness, go HERE

Want to dig deeper? Dig in!
Nehemiah 5
1 Corinthians 12
Hebrews 5:11-6:1, 10:24-25

February 15, 2011

Is Excellence the Ultimate Goal?

Excellence. It's what many of us set as the mark that we strive for in all we do. Whether as leaders, pastors, teachers, team leaders, or simply as Christ-followers, it's a worthwhile goal that in everything we do - as representatives of the King - that we strive for excellence. But in a conversation last week with a friend the question came up, "Is it possible to actually cripple the progress of your vision because you're too obsessed with excellence?" Needless to say, my automatic knee-jerk reaction to this idea was, "No way!" Like only the Devil himself would suggest such a ridiculous notion. After coming down from my high horse, I allowed myself to consider this idea. And I think - holding my breath as I type these words - that there might possibly be some potential truth proposed in this question. Allow me to explain.

As a pastor, I desire that everything we do as a church is done with excellence in mind. I challenge our staff that anything they send out - want people to take the time to read - be excellent. We strive to make our worship services the absolute best they can be. We work hard on our facilities, our communications, our website - everything we do - being excellent. Period! But at the end of the day, as the church, is our #1 goal excellence? Or is it to show people who Jesus Christ is and to cultivate them into His disciples? (I think you know the answer to that question.) And part of our desire and plan for disciples is to lead, teach, equip, and empower them to serve - inside the church and outside in the community. Yet, at times, it's possible to actually keep this from happening. If we're more concerned with excellence than we are with growing people, we very well may never even give the person an opportunity to discover what it is that the Lord has ignited their heart to do to serve others. We just might squash the Spirit's work because we refuse to let someone fail.

An example of this right now is that there is a certain area of media that we have just resolved we're not going to utilize to the extent we want to because we haven't been certain that the finished product would be "excellent". Here's what I've been challenged to consider: Is it a possibility that it just might need to be "good" for a season so that it can grow to become "better" and then eventually shoot through the roof and attain "excellence"? When I was a youth pastor, one of the things we prided ourselves in was our videos. (We made some pretty stinking funny videos!) But for a lengthy season I was so caught up in them being top notch - being exactly how I wanted them to be - that I would do all the editing myself. The first time that I fully released this responsibility to my friend Mark - during our biggest event of the year - I was so freaked out that it wasn't going to be just how I had always done it. That it wasn't going to be up to the standard. Man, was I wrong! The night we showed our camp video was like therapy for me. And what it revealed to me is that many times, while I think excellence is what I'm striving for and demanding, it's a front. Excellence isn't really the root of it. It's self-centeredness. It's arrogance. It's the thought that there is no possible way that any way other than MY way can be the best way. [Ouch.] And yes, it's a painful realization. But a freeing one as well. I can't even begin to explain the liberation I felt that night when I realized that I didn't have to obsess over this anymore. I had equipped, cultivated, and empowered my friend to run free. And yes, to fail. (Ultimately, he become MUCH better at shooting and editing video than I had ever been.)

To say "Excellence is a bad thing!" is an oxymoron. I just don't think that idea can hold water. But like alcohol, or food, or power, or money - if it becomes the end-all goal that dictates everything we do and how we do it - it can become a tool in the hands of the enemy that ultimately distracts us and keeps us from the MOST important thing: cultivating people into followers of Jesus Christ and equipping them to be set free to serve others for the sake of His Kingdom.

Are you striving for excellence in your life? That's a GOOD thing.
But make sure that excellence always answers to the mission. If the mission and the vision begin bowing down to excellence - if they become enslaved to this standard - you might miss the opportunity to see something good grow into something GREAT!

What do you think?

February 10, 2011

Vision (Part 1) :: TRACTION

This week in our Leader Huddle we talked a lot about Vision. Vision is a tricky thing, but as a leader - tricky or not - it's a necessity. It's essential for us - especially those of us who are leading people to make Christ-centered, God-ordained changes in their lives - to know what that preferred future looks like. This is Vision. It rarely comes easily. You often have to wait on it. But it's well worth the time you spend quietly before God asking Him to reveal to you the road that He has marked out. Not just for you, but for those you're leading. Whether you're a pastor, ministry leader, CEO, teacher, small group leader, coach, or even simply managing and overseeing a team at work, Vision is crucial. I want to spend a few different posts talking about some of the elements of gaining, embracing, casting, and living out Vision.

I have a Jeep. In fact, this is my 3rd one. I guess I'm a "Jeep person". One of the things I have always loved about owning a Jeep is that I can pretty much go anywhere. Maybe not lightning fast, but I can get there. 4-Wheel Drive is a beautiful thing! When you look at a 4WD control bar, you usually see a few different options: 4H - N - 4L. Where you put that bar makes a difference. 4H lets me keep going the speed I'm used to going while sticking all 4 tires to the pavement. But occasionally, when you need to climb a steep hill or find yourself coming down a slick grade, going fast is the last thing you're concerned with. You need to slow down and dig in. You put it in 4L, because what you want more than a winning lottery ticket at that moment...is TRACTION. Traction is an essential part of Vision.

When we catch a glimpse of the preferred future that we believe God has laid on our heart to lead others toward, by nature, we want to get there as fast as we can. This is normal. But it's not necessarily good. When this Vision first ignites in your heart, no other human on the planet is going to be as excited or sold out to it as you are. And even though you're convinced that it's time to buy a one-way, non-stop ticket straight to Vision Land, you'll be taking the trip alone if you don't slow down. It takes time to sell Vision to the people following you. It takes trust for them to believe that you aren't just giving lip service to an idea, but that you would sell the farm for the sake of what you know could be and should be. 
And here's the simple math for you: TIME + TRUST = TRACTION.

I know you're fired up! [And if you're not - if you don't have a Vision for the people you're leading - it's time to get on your face and ask the Lord to invade your heart and life with this gift of motivation and inspiration.] I hope you're ready to see the whole picture come to life and bask in the sun that awaits in the preferred future. But unless you're solely interested in leading yourself there, slow down, invest in PEOPLE, wait on the Lord and trust Him, and be ready. He'll give you one step at a time. He'll show you when to move and when to wait. When it comes to your Vision, speed may sound good, but TRACTION is better!

February 9, 2011

Spiritual Exhaustion

Isaiah 40 has always been one of my favorite areas of scripture, reminding me that God is faithful, trustworthy, and the One who supplies my needs and meets me where I am. This morning I was reminded in verse 28 that the Lord "does not faint or grow weary". But I was also hit with the realization that, while He does not, I do. Sometimes, spiritually, I feel like I'm ready to drop. I know what it means to "grow weary". He doesn't. I do. But when I do, I know that He is there and that His grace and strength and supply are sufficient for me. This is why Isaiah explicitly tells us that "He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength." Are you weary? Spiritually exhausted? Take heart.

Oswald Chambers speaks to this in My Utmost For His Highest. In today's reading he says, "Spiritual exhaustion is never the result of sin, but of service. Whether or not you experience exhaustion will depend on where you get your supplies." I think this simple statement is KEY in our understanding of weariness and burden: Sin will NEVER be the cause of spiritual exhaustion! It may be the source of guilt or conviction - the root of the bitter consequences we face - but never the origin of wearing ourselves out for the King and His Kingdom. And while the burden and the exhaustion may wear us down to the core, this is ultimately a good thing. As long as we remember where our strength comes from in the first place. As long as it keeps us returning to the One who says, "...whoever drinks of the water I give will never thirst again. The water that I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life." The same One who compassionately speaks to us, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest." Chambers goes on to say, "You have no right to complain, “O Lord, I am so exhausted.” He saved and sanctified you to exhaust you. Be exhausted for God, but remember that He is your supply."

I pray that we're never deceived into thinking that our sin or our rebellion is the source of growing spiritually weary. May we simply be broken and repentant for the things that lead our heart to wander from the true life-giver. But for those who are caught up in the "doing" - for you who are busy, busy, busy...making sure that the work of the Kingdom is being done...take heart. You WILL grow weary. You WILL at some point start to drop. Just make sure you fall right back into the arms of the source of every morsel of strength and hope and peace and joy that you ever had in the first place. Remember: "...those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." You were made to fly! But you were also made to land every once-in-awhile.

February 8, 2011

Shut Up & Listen!

Even though they don't come often, there are times when we run out of things to say. This should probably happen more frequently. In fact, I'm quite certain that life would be considerably different if every once-in-awhile we were willing to shut up and listen! In light of this, instead of rambling on or ranting about anything today, I want to encourage you to meditate on the wisdom of scripture. In light of James' exhortation to be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry", there are times when it's nourishing to our souls to shut our big yappers and listen intently to the Father. I pray that you'll take a few moments today and allow the Word of God to transform the way you think, the way you listen, and the things you say.

"Gentle words bring life & health...." Proverbs 15:4
"The Godly think before speaking." Proverbs 15:28
"From a wise mind comes wise speech...." Proverbs 16:23
"A person's words can be life-giving water...." Proverbs 18:4
"Those who love to talk will experience the consequences...." Proverbs 18:21
"Wise speech is rarer & more valuable than gold & rubies." Proverbs 20:15
"Don't praise yourself; let others do it!" Proverbs 27:2
"Don't make rash promises to God, for He is in heaven, and you are only here on earth. So let your words be few." Ecclesiastes 5:2
"Those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way." James 3:2
"If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless." James 1:26

"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

Are you willing to listen? 
Are you willing to be still?
What is He speaking to you today?
What is someone else trying to say - that they need someone to hear?

Lord, give us wisdom, strength, courage, and sense to slow down, be still, and shut up & listen!

February 2, 2011

Life Happens

Life doesn't seem to happen on our schedule, does it? I know, you plan it. You prioritize. You work you To-Do List. But that list never seems to include things like:
  • Kids will plan on getting sick on Wednesday
  • Car will break down next week and I'll have to buy a new battery
  • Someone will show up in desperate need of help. This will take up a LOT of my time and energy. I will lovingly and freely give it to them.
  • I bet I'll get sick this weekend. I should go ahead and buy some soup.
Life just happens. It doesn't call you ahead of time and let you know it's going to drop a bomb on you. It doesn't care that your schedule is packed this week or that you're already registered to run that marathon at the end of the month. You can either get mad about it - annoyed, frustrated, and bent out of shape - or you can learn to roll with it. 

And while I think we're usually under the impression that these are the times - as much as we hate them - that shape who we are, I'm believing more and more every day that they actually REVEAL who we are. You see what you're made of. You find out what your character looks like when nothing goes according to plan. And I'm not talking about because you were a slacker and didn't prepare, but because the unforeseeable and unpredictable showed up and kicked your down in. BOOM! Life usually doesn't knock first; it just lets itself in.

What's life thrown your way lately? Or is it just around the next corner?
Are you ready? Are your feet firmly planted on Christ?
He's the ONLY thing that's unshakeable. No matter what.