March 29, 2012

Do You Know Anyone In Hell?

Wednesday was a really long day. Not any longer than most of you would have had, but it was long, nonetheless. Nathan and I got home at 7:00. I was hungry - irritated hungry, as most of my friends would call it. I'm about to stick my cold dinner in the microwave and my "7-year old factory of questions" walked into the kitchen and dropped this bomb on me:

"Dad......Do you know anyone in hell?"

As I stood there paralyzed, the first thing that I could muster out of my mouth was, "Buddy, can I eat my dinner first?" And as graciously as always, my little man shot back at me, "Sure Dad. What do you think hell is like?" I quickly discerned I wasn't going to be eating dinner before we had this conversation. So with taco salad in hand, we headed to the couch and talked about it. Over the last day or so I've had several friends ask me, "What did you say? How did you handle this?" So I thought I'd share with you what I told him. Here's a portion of my response:

"Hell is the most horrible place you could ever imagine. It's complete torment."
Nathan: "Torment? What's torment?"
"Torture. Pain. Horrible pain. It's eternal separation from God."
Nathan: "Do you think the people there ever decide, 'I don't want to be here anymore' and decide they want to leave?"
"I'm sure every person there wants to leave. But that doesn't happen. That's why I said it's eternal. And that's why it's so important for us to tell people about Jesus - that He loves them and has saved them from that."

Your kids ask the greatest questions. Their minds don't stop moving and working. They keep you real. And that's what you have to give them: real. That's what they want - they need. REAL. Honest! Even if honest is to look them in the face and tell them, "Buddy, I really don't know the answer to that question."

So, what about the question that started this whole thing? Am I copping out?
" you know anyone in hell?" This question should be like a cinder block dropped into our chest - like a brick upside the head. This innocent inquiry should knock me backwards, reminding me that I'm called to live for His Kingdom, to be shining a light in the darkness, to have the same heart that C.T. Studd had when he proclaimed, "Some wish to live within the sound of the chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell!"

Do you know anyone in hell?
Yes. With a broken heart I tell you that I'm pretty sure I do. Do you?

March 21, 2012

Leading :: Defining & Measuring

[This is a continuation from yesterday's post on Leading & Following. I would encourage you to read it first, then join this conversation.]

When I talk of leading - for me - it's always in the context of my life and calling as a Christian. I can't separate the two. And the concept of leading is also intrinsically, spiritually, biblically, and fundamentally tied to the calling of discipleship - the mandate laid out by Jesus Christ to His followers to "Go and make disciples". That said, if we're "leading" and there are others "following", but all they ever do is continue to "follow" - they never start "leading" themselves - is that actually what we're doing? Can you qualify that as leading?

Let me rephrase:
If the people you're leading never venture out to lead others - if they just keep following - are you actually leading them? And if so, what is it you're leading them to do?

If I lead a group of men - let's say 10 men - and I continue to lead those 10 men for 5 years with none of them either stepping up or stepping out to lead others, can we seriously equate that with "leading"...or is it something else? And are they actually "following"? Or are they just being enabled to live inwardly and apathetically? 

How do you qualify leading?
What measurement or standard do we use?
Would love to hear your thoughts.

March 20, 2012

Leading & Following

I'm rapidly approaching a monumental threshold. The anticipation is building. I can hardly stand it. I'm right on the cusp of something special. Almost there! Any day now I'll cross that glorious summit: 1,000 followers of Twitter! Can you believe it?! It's amazing, I know. Right?

[At this point, you're more than likely either feeling sorry for me, wondering, "Are you seriously this excited about this?" Or even further - if you have any understanding of Twitter - you're thinking, "Do you seriously think all those people are actually FOLLOWING you?" And that's the point of all of this. The answer to that last question is simple: No. So in this world of tweets, Linked-In, retweets, and Google Circles, how do we keep a clear and grounded understanding of following and leading? I think it's worth discussing.]

A couple of years ago I read the book Tribes by Seth Godin. (I actually just asked our staff to read it today. Looking forward to some great conversation over the book.) One of Godin's punch points in the book is: "Without leaders, there are no followers. And everyone - in some sense - is a leader now." While there's part of me that doesn't fully agree with the latter assertion, none of us can argue with the first. If no one's leading, then no one's going to be following. But for those of us who are leading - whether we've been called to lead, equipped to lead, or even forced to lead - how do we quantify if someone is actually a "follower"? Again, I think some of this answer can be found in Godin's ideas in Tribes. You have to start with what "leading" means or implies. Does it mean you dictate and people submit? Or does it mean that you influence others and they actually want to pay attention and consider how it could or should affect or change their behavior &/or destination? It is essential that you determine and define what you consider to be "leading" before you can know if anyone's "following".

Is the Night Shift Manager at Burger King leading? Or is she telling her employees what to do? Are they following? Or just putting up with it so they'll get paid? Don't get me wrong - there are all kinds of people in all kinds of jobs (night shift managers included) who are inspiring, motivating, encouraging, and challenging. The reason: Somewhere along the line they determined and decided to lead people - to influence - not just manipulate or manage them. There's a BIG difference! 

So back to my monumental Twitter mark: What's the point? How do I quantify 992 "followers"? Or that I'm "following" 865 people. Am I really? Following them? Well, in the sense that many of them influence, encourage, challenge, affirm, and inspire me - YES. And that's why you have to begin with HOW you define leading. I see so many on Twitter who are shamelessly and feverishly working to get more followers. I would challenge and encourage them to ask themselves, "Why"? If we all start following you, what are you going to influence us to do? How are you going to inspire us? Or motivate us? Or are you just going to be like the rest of the noise and try to sell us something that we really don't need? That's not leadership. That's annoying!

What's your definition of leadership?

March 9, 2012

Keep Walking

Yesterday a friend and I were counseling another friend. As I was listening, the Lord laid something on my heart - the Holy Spirit illuminated this like it was the first time I'd ever read it. This struggling friend is desperately seeking to be obedient to the Lord - to take the steps He places in front of her. At the same time, she very much longs to feel the desire to do this, not just to do it because she knows she should. This is hard - especially when we are creatures that can be so consumed and driven by our emotions. But my other friend giving advice said, "Sometimes we just have to take the step of obedience. The feelings and desire might not be there at first." And this is when it hit me:

In Psalm 23, David cries out, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." Did you catch it? David didn't say, "Even though I refuse to get out of bed and curl up in a fetal position in the valley of the shadow of death..." He said, "I walk". He keeps walking. And when you know David's story - when you examine David's life and struggles - you know that the "valley of the shadow of death" was most likely not a physical, tangible place. It was a darkness of emotional, psychological, and spiritual struggle. This man KNEW darkness! He knew what it meant to sin, be broken, to weep and mourn, to be shattered by his deceitful heart, to repent, and to cry out for God's mercy. But he also knew what it meant to keep walking. And apparently, when we keep faithfully trusting and walking - even through the darkness and confusion and numbness - the Lord faithfully walks with us and leads us to His table. In His house! He leads us there. But we have to keep walking.

As I'm writing this, I'm listening to one of my favorite songs, "Everything", by Lifehouse. Jason Wade sings, "You are the strength that keeps me walking. You are the hope that keeps me trusting. You are the light to my soul. You are my purpose. You're everything. And how can I stand here with You and not be moved by You? Would You tell me how could it be any better than this?" 

Whatever you're going through, keep walking.
However painful the darkness seems, keep trusting.
"Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!"

March 8, 2012

James 5:16

Last week was pivotal. I had the opportunity to go to Austin to be part of the Verge Conference. And while there is still much to tell about what I learned and how the Lord challenged me through the conference, that wasn't really what I think He took me there for. I got to spend 2 whole days with an old friend - a friend I don't get to see very often, but when we're together it's like no time has passed. We had much to catch up on. We spent the first few hours I was there driving around, checking out some of what his church is doing to reach their city, sharing war stories of our recent surgeries, and consuming some serious pizza in the process. But somewhere in the midst of the dialogue the Lord began leading us to confess sin to each other. And I don't mean like "I said a cuss word in traffic" either. Deep-rooted, heart-wrenching, life-paralyzing sin. I needed this more than I needed a conference. And God knew that before I ever left home.

James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins to each and pray for each other so that you may be healed." I think many of us wonder, "How is this going to lead to healing?" It doesn't make sense to our flesh, I know. But as we sat in the car in his driveway and humbly poured out our hidden realities - without dressing them up with excuses or justifications - we suddenly began realizing that we were wrestling with some of the very same things. So much of the sin in our lives is rooted in this deep-seeded need for other peoples approval. Whether it was materialism, depression, worry, anxiety, or even pride in our own performance, it somehow seemed to be birthed out of this ugly, deeper darkness. And when you confess that - when you openly lay it out before the Lord and someone you trust - and they look you in the face and say, "I completely understand", there is healing there. The salt that you're expecting to be poured into your wound is replaced with salve - with the healing touch of the Spirit of God. But this only happens when we confess. Confession brings healing. But prideful confinement brings death and misery.

I hope that you have someone you can allow to see into your life. 
Someone that will walk with you through the valley.
Jesus will. He goes there with you. He went there for you.
And He calls us to walk there together.

I hope it's not another 2 years before I see my friend, we eat some pizza, and watch tornado videos on YouTube until 1:00 in the morning. But if it is, I'm sure we'll talk about other things as well. And Jesus will be right there in the middle of it all.

Dig Deeper:
Galatians 6:1-3
1 John 1:5-9

March 1, 2012

On the Verge...

These last 2 days I've been at the Verge Conference in Austin. I've been to a LOT of conferences, and this one is more of a gathering of pastors, leaders, and thinkers, coming together to hash out how we more effectively and biblically reach the lost, make disciples, and lead the Church. I wanted to share a few highlights of some of the things that have challenged me.

"The God of the Universe came into the neighborhood for 30 years...& no one noticed." Are we willing to love and impact the lives of others without being noticed or elevated? - Alan Hirsch

"80% of all people will act their way into a new way of thinking & behaving. If we can get 17-18(20)% of the people to change, almost everyone else will follow. We must focus on the 20%." - Dave Ferguson

Kevin Peck (Lead Pastor at Austin Stone Community Church) echoed Ferguson's statement today: "Jesus spent time with the few to reach the many. So why do we spend so much time on the many to reach the few?" He went on to challenge that 2 things we know will never change: the message and truth of the Gospel (&) the fact that Jesus has not changed His plan to use discipleship as His method and plan for salvation. We have to return to the place of seeing the value in investing in the few. And to echo Hugh Halter (and a post I wrote last week), we should invest in the few who are hungry to be invested in.

To be honest, I'm not sure anyone challenged me - and dropped a bomb on the room - quite like Jen Hatmaker did. Here are some snapshots of what Jen said:
  • Consumerism is a cancer to building actual missional community
  • If we developed a church bent on feeding the saved, we will continue to reach Christians who want more and more of the same
  • If we're drowning in a sea of consumerism in our church, we have to look at the scaffolding we've built
  • Whatever we want our people to do, we must do first!
My head may explode. More to come....