Monday, April 25, 2016

The Greatest Challenge

Doubt, fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, taking matters into your own hands—these are the emotional struggles and challenges we face every day. Underlying those problems is the greatest challenge we face each day—to live out Hebrews 11:6, which says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

Most of us would say we believe in God, but do we really believe that He rewards those who seek Him? If we lived this verse, would we have doubts about tomorrow? Would we fear loss, failure, or the unknown? Would we become frustrated over the progress of projects? Would we take matters into our own hands? Or would we be able to pray and place everything in the hands of God?

I believe without reservation that our greatest challenges in life are not emotional, not other people, not physical infirmities—our greatest challenge is our ability to believe God.

Since this is our biggest challenge, how do we believe in God more? How do we increase our faith? Here are some ways I have discovered we can do this:

1.  Read God’s Word.
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the 
word of God.” Romans 10:17 (KJV)

As we read God’s Word, we get to know Him better. The better we know a trustworthy person, the more we trust them. Additionally, I believe God’s Word serves as a supernatural nourishment to the soul.

2.  Hang out with people of faith.
“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Hearing the testimonies and experiences of others helps strengthen our faith, particularly in times of personal crisis. This is one reason I feel church Small Groups are vitally important. In them, we encourage, minister to, pray and support one another in time of need.

3.  Serve God by serving others.
“Faith must act in order to develop and produce.” Dr. Charles Stanley

Faith is not stored up, it is given as we use it. Our service should not only include meeting the physical needs of others, but also offering support, prayer, and sharing our faith. I have discovered that few actions increase my faith as much as testifying to my own salvation and teaching the gospel message. Our memories of our conversion to Christ produces humility, and blessings follow humility.

4. Obey God.
“…and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” 1 John 3:22

In order to receive more faith, we must be obedient. Hebrews 4:6, 7 teaches about the danger of hardening your heart, “Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience…today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Today, many are often guilty of not obeying what they are hearing. They say, “That pastor or teacher is just not feeding me anymore.” When we don’t obey what God has revealed to us, He will seldom reveal anything else. As in the parable of the sower, Jesus said that when the Word does not take root, Satan is allowed to come and take the Word from your heart. We must obey what we hear and know.

5.  Respond positively to the trials of life.
God placed trials in our lives to bring about spiritual maturity (Romans 5:1-5). This maturity leads us to a deeper faith in God.

6.  Pray.
Ultimately, faith, like all other gifts is given by God. Pray that God will increase your faith.

7.  Understand the dynamics of faith.
It’s easy to ask you to practice the first six things. It’s another to ask you trust God enough to have the courage and tenacity to practice them. That’s why it’s important for us to understand the dynamics of faith. I have written a book entitled Overcoming Spiritual Vertigo that addresses the issue of doubt versus courageous faith. I invite you to preorder your copy on

Monday, April 18, 2016

An Invitation to Insanity

You have often heard, “God will never place more on us than what we can bear.” But, conversely, do we place more on ourselves than we can bear? 

Today is a time filled with stress. In older days, our main concerns were infectious diseases. Today, stress is the primary cause of physical problems.  We often feel overwhelmed in an over-complicated life. One reason we suffer from an overabundance of stress is we take on responsibilities that God never meant for us to carry. Each of us possess certain gifts and talents, and the Lord knows what those attributes are. Likewise, He knows how much stress we can take. God’s way of rescuing us from stress over responsibility is by placing people in authority over us.

When we have someone in authority over us to shoulder decisions and subsequent responsibilities, it relieves pressure in our lives. However, when we want to not only have input, but also control every situation, we feel responsible for things God never intended for us to feel. This is insane.

It has become extremely unpopular today to teach anything that resembles voluntarily submitting to any authority.  We feel, “Why should I surrender my freedom to another? He or she will just take advantage of me. No one is going to tell me what to do.” All of us, however, have people in authority over us. These people are given to us by God, to protect us and relieve us of responsibilities that overload us.

When I go on a mission trip, I am there to minister. Although I am the pastor of the church, I submit to the one who has planned the trip. In doing so, I do not have to deal with passports, visas, luggage at the airport, transportation, and accommodations. I have God-given responsibilities at church, at home, and for my own personal wellbeing. Why should I take on responsibility that God has called another to take?

Children often cry, beg, and manipulate to get their way, but parents are there as God-appointed authorities to protect and make good decisions for them. In Ephesians 5, when Paul speaks of a wife submitting to a loving husband, he says it with the idea of protecting the wife from an overload of responsibility. After all, doesn’t she have enough decisions to make every day in the lives of her children, and the job she may have outside the home? Would it not be better to give input on a decision knowing that, although she may influence her husband, he will take the responsibility to make the decision, based on what is best for the family? 

We live in a society where people want input, and often authority, for every decision that affects their lives. Often, they do not realize that with authority comes the weight of responsibility—usually responsibility that affects others.
The church is seeing these same issues. Submitting to any authority seems old-fashioned. However, when we insist on not being submissive, four things result.

1.  We do not learn to trust God. Trusting authorities God places in our lives is a major part of our relationship with Him.

2.  We live in a “stress bowl.” We not only make decisions, but have to accept the responsibilities of those decisions as well. This is a recipe for insanity.

3.  We rob others in their walk with Christ as they grow by serving and leading others.

4.  We open ourselves up to rebellion. “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23a) As we leave the umbrella of authority God has placed over us, we lose our mind’s protection and open ourselves to Satan’s thoughts, as one involving themselves in witchcraft—again, an invitation to overload insanity.

How do we avoid this insanity?

                1.  Ask God to reveal your responsibilities to you. Who is counting on you? What is your role?

                2.  Support those in authority over you. The more authority you have, the more responsibility—the more responsibility—the more stress. Be sure it is God giving you the authority.

                3.  Pray that God will teach you to trust Him as you submit to those He has placed in authority.   Relax, rest in Him.

I hope this helps. 

What are your thoughts?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Leadership Relief

It’s been said that everything rises and falls on leadership. Leaders often say this when the organization is going well—seldom said when it’s struggling. I know that we have a tendency to make excuses for shortcomings or failures in leadership. We want to blame others, the economy, or the culture. Still others, however, feel a load of guilt, a sense of failure, when their organization is struggling. Such is often the case with pastors. I do not want to make excuses, but I do want to offer some relief.

I have been privileged to have pastored three growing churches. The one I currently pastor has experienced exponential growth. However, I have also experienced the deep despair and heartache of struggle in ministry. Recently, during one of my challenging times, God gave me three words of great encouragement that brought me relief.

1.  When no one follows, you still may be leading. I’ve often heard that a good test of leadership is if you look behind you and no one is following, then you must not be leading. The idea is that if you are a good leader, you will always communicate well, inspire confidence, and have a contagious vision. This will result in people following. But, during a recent fast, God reminded me that if Moses had made the popular decision at Mount Sinai, he would have led the Israelites back to Egypt. In John 6, the Bible says Jesus spoke with such confrontation that most of the people no longer followed.

As pastors, it is our job to pray, ask God for direction, and ask our people to follow. It seems difficult, in today’s culture, for many to submit to authority in any area (read my blog, “People in Protest!”). Although it saddens any pastor, there are some who will not take the next step of the journey with him. The relief comes in knowing it is our job to lead—but we cannot make others follow.

2.  I am all out of pixie dust. Many people in our church have great confidence in the staff. That is wonderful. However, sometimes that confidence can go too far. As leaders, we are often expected to fix problems that are sometimes not fixable. When we sense these expectations, we often feel like failures because we cannot fix all the problems. I remember several years ago, a small group of people came to me about an ineffective staff member. Others had previously approached me about this individual as well. Although I habitually defend my staff, I knew there were problems. I tried to help, encourage, and guide him over a span of several months. Then I had some “come to Jesus” meetings with him (ultimatums). Nothing worked. I finally had to relieve him of his struggle. The reaction by the very ones complaining was surprise and dismay. “We didn’t want you to fire him; we wanted you to fix him!”

Sometimes if people perceive you as a good leader, they believe you can sprinkle “pixie dust” or a magic potion over someone or something and fix it. However, some people and some situations cannot be fixed. We are pastors and leaders, not miracle workers. It is a relief to know none of us possesses “pixie dust.”

3.  Churches go through trials. Just as individuals go through trials and adversities, so do churches. God desires that every church become more holy, more dependent on Him, and always focused on Christ. Sometimes this takes adversity. Sometimes, as Christians, we go through trials and fail the test. With churches, however, 80% can pass the test and 20% fail and it will look and feel like failure. During times of testing, lay leaders must step up and calm the drama. They need to reassure the newer believers that God is doing a special work. No excuses—just a little relief.

What do you think?