This is THE New Year

So it’s January.

This is the year.

This is the year you finally do what you have longed to do.

This is the year you take that step financially, spiritually, physically, relationally, emotionally.

This is THAT year.

I know. I know.

Statistically, this isn’t your year. It’s someone else’s year.

But, what if this was your year?

It has to be someone’s year, so why not yours?

Take a moment and thank God that you woke up this morning. That you are breathing. That you live somewhere with internet.

Thank God that it is a new year and what is past, while part of your story and who you are, is in the past.

It’s time to move forward.

Alright. Pep talk done.

Let’s get going!

How to Recover from Preaching

preaching

If I got to rank what I love about my job, preaching would be in the top two. I love the prep, working through a passage, a series, thinking through how to best present an idea, and praying about those who will be there, that God would work in their lives and draw them to Himself through my meager attempts at presenting His Word.

There is a downside to this love. It is what happens after preaching. The recovery.

I remember when Katie and I met with a doctor to talk about how to handle the adrenaline that goes with preaching, the emotional, relational and spiritual drain that it can be. (I’ve heard of pastors who sleep for days after preaching because their bodies can’t handle the adrenaline.) The doctor asked, “Is it like teaching a class?” It’s different for one reason – eternities hang in the balance. I heard one pastor describe preaching as “reaching into the road to hell and pulling people back.” (I realize there are some possible theological problems with that, but you get the point.)

The crash a pastor experiences the day after preaching can be brutal. Your whole body aches, your eyes hurt, you feel as low as you have felt all week. For me, I am often so stiff that I can’t bend down to pick something up off the floor after preaching.

So what do you do?

  1. Manage stress. Keep the day before and after preaching as stress free as possible. Don’t have meetings; stay focused on preaching and recovering.
  2. Recharge. I do something that recharges me. Hiking, running, playing with my kids, reading a book, drinking coffee with Katie. Read something that recharges you or takes your mind off church. This can be a novel or a spiritual book that challenges your own heart and soul as a human.
  3. Encouragement. Have some people who call/text to encourage you afterward. Have elders or friends check in with you to ask how they can pray for you, encourage you and let you know that they are lifting you and your family up in prayer.
  4. Eating. Most pastors are notoriously poor eaters. What you eat before and after preaching is incredibly important. What you eat will make it easier or harder to preach, to sleep, to recover. Make sure you also drink enough water to stay hydrated.
  5. Move forward. As quickly as possible, move on to next week. Regardless of how your weekend went, good or bad, the next weekend is coming very quickly. So move on. Don’t dwell on what happened (especially if it was bad). Celebrate what God did, learn from what you did poorly, but move on.

Living and Leading in ‘The In-Between’

the in-between

As a leader you will often find yourself in the in-between times of life and leadership. What I mean by the in-between is that you know where you are going personally, your dreams and goals; or with your church or organization, you see the vision, the place. But you can’t go there yet. It might be timing, it might be that you need more finances, more leaders, maybe you are needing to allow people time to train or get used to the idea.

Whatever it is, the in-between time is tough to not only live in but to lead in.

Leaders feel this when they know their church should make a change, kill a program, add a staff member they can’t afford or change locations, but they are in a waiting period.

The in-between.

We know this feeling when we want to complete school, start dating someone who isn’t there yet, get married to a person who isn’t ready.

The in-between.

It is the pain of longing to have children that never happens. It is the late nights as we wait for kids to fall asleep, to start listening or to simply grow up and move out so we can get to the next season of life.

The in-between.

Many of us live our lives longing to be in the next place.

In the in-between, you know where you are going, but you can’t talk about it with everyone. You need to wait for more information, for things to fall into place before you let people know and clarify things. A leader lacks influence when he says, “In eight months this change will happen. So we’ll just wait until then, but it’s coming.”

In the in-between you can get antsy and frustrated because it isn’t getting here. The frustration also comes from seeing things as they are when you know what they will be like, and you have to wait for it. That’s not easy. It means biting your tongue, grinning and bearing some things until it’s time.

The in-between is also a time that your faith is stretched, you learn about your impatience, your lack of belief in the power and control of God as you wonder why He is taking so long, as if His timing is not perfect.

Leadership in this time is difficult because momentum is easily lost. The reason it can be lost is because you as the leader have moved into the future, but you can’t talk about it yet. Consequently, you are running out of steam on where things are. You have to stay mentally engaged in the present, where God has you and your church.

The in-between time is also the time that grows us the most. That’s the blessing of it. Without it, we can never get to the place God wants us to be. It is easy to despair in the in-between, but if we do, we miss the point of it.

You Become What You Think About the Most

you

I came across this in How the Best Leaders Lead by Brian Tracy

You become what you think about most of the time.

Most of the time, leaders think about the qualities of leadership and how to apply them daily.

Leaders have a clear vision of where they are going, and they convey this vision to everyone around them.

Leaders have the courage to take risks, to move forward, to face danger with no guarantee of success.

Leaders have integrity. They deal honestly and straightforwardly with each person. They tell the truth, and they always keep their word.

Leaders are humble. They get results by using the strengths and knowledge of those around them. They know how to listen, and they know how to learn.

Leaders have foresight. They continually look ahead and anticipate what might happen. They make provisions to guard against possible reversals and put themselves into a position to take advantage of possible opportunities.

Leaders focus on what’s important. They concentrate their time and resources, and the time and resources of the company, on the activities that will make the most difference.

Leaders cooperate well with others. They are liked and respected by everyone around them. They go out of their way to get along well with the key people upon which the company depends. They truly believe that people are their most valuable asset.

The best companies (churches) have the best leaders. The second-best companies (churches) have the second-best leaders. The third-best companies (churches), in these times of turbulence, are unfortunately on their way out of business.

The most important contribution you can make to your company (church) is to be a leader, accept responsibility for results, and dare to go forward.

How to Trust God

trust God

Maybe you still struggle with this question, “Can I trust you, God?” After all, when we sin, we are telling God we don’t think we can trust him. This is a question everyone has; in fact, it is the same question Abraham had in the Old Testament.

If you’ve grown up in church, you know the story of Abraham, and our knowledge of his story kind of takes away some of the amazingness. In Genesis 12, we have this man named Abram. He all of a sudden appears in the pages of Scripture. He is out in the desert and he hears a voice. A voice he may have heard before, but maybe not. We aren’t told. This voice, God from heaven, tells him to pack up what he has and move “to a land I will show you.”

Now picture this: Abram goes home and tells his wife Sarai that they are to pack up and go to a land that this voice (God) will show them. I always wonder what that was like. If she was like most wives, she probably asked him how long he’s been hearing this voice. Has it said other things? Did it give any directions? Any hints on what lay ahead?

No, Abram would tell her. Only that we are to start walking and stop when he says.

What God does tell Abram is that he will one day be a great nation and that all the people of the world will be blessed through him. The irony of this is that Abram has no children and is seventy-five years old.

Finally, as he walks to this land, there is a fascinating promise given to Abram in Genesis 15. Time has passed, and Abram and Sarai still do not have a child. From their perspective, they are not any closer to being a great nation than when they left their home. So Abram does what we would do. He whines to God. Complains, actually.

God takes it and is incredibly patient with Abram through this entire conversation. As Abram unloads his feelings of despair, lack of faith, anger, and hurt over his desire to be a father, but yet not having this desire met (are you beginning to see the connection between not trusting God and giving in to temptation or other sins?), God tells him to look to the heavens and number the stars. Abram can’t number the stars, as there are too many of them. “So,” God tells him, “shall your offspring be.”

God doesn’t just stop there. He tells Abram what he (God) has done. What is interesting to me is that when God gives commands in Scripture, in particular the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, before giving a command, he reminds the people of what he has done. God is about to make a covenant, a promise with Abram, but before he does, he reminds Abram of what he has done so far. He hasn’t just led him to a new place and promised him a son; he has guided, provided, and protected him and his family.

Then and only then does God give commands or make covenants. In Exodus 20, before giving Moses the law, he reminds him, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”(20:2). This is the foundation of the commands of God, his promise and the freedom that he provides.

In Genesis 15, after reminding Abram, he makes a covenant with Abram. We aren’t told in Scripture if Abram asked for it, but he was at least doubting and wondering if this was going to happen. He was complaining to God, as we would do. This has always been a comfort to me, that God doesn’t strike down questions in the Bible, but listens and answers them.

God tells Abram to bring him a heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Abram did, and cut them all in half. In this time period, when two people made a covenant, they would kill the animals and cut them in half, and then they would walk through the animals, saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the covenant, may I end up like these animals.”

It was getting late and Abram fell asleep. Then God made a covenant with Abram, while he was asleep. As the sun set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the pieces. Abram never passed through the animals; only God did.

This is the extent to which God goes to keep his promises as our Father. He makes the promise and keeps it, even when we don’t. Even in our moments of failure, doubt, and fear, he is still strong and sure.

How God Turns Shame and Guilt into Joy

shame

Jesus’ first miracle wasn’t just about wine—it was an act of purification from the Messiah, one that saved people from generations of sin and shame.

All of us have things in our lives we aren’t proud of.

These are things that maybe you’ve done or have been done to you. Your parents’ marriage may have fallen apart, and you find yourself still feeling the effects. It may be your marriage wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It might be a sin or addiction that you are ashamed of, something that you wish you could stop. The kind of thing that after doing it, you feel dirty like you need to take a shower. Only, there isn’t really anything you can do to feel clean.

It wasn’t until working on a sermon on John 2 that I began to see the significance of Jesus’ first miracle. A miracle that, according to Tim Keller, can be seen as simply fixing a social oversight, but has so much more going on:

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. –John 2:3–11

During this time, marriage was an enormous event. The entire town would be invited and the celebration would last for up to a week. This was not simply about the couple, but was a sign of the strength of the town and community.

For the wine to run out was not a simple party oversight. This would be seen as an insult to the town and the guests. The ramifications of this happening could be felt for decades to come in terms of standing in the community, business dealings, and overall appearance. The shame heaped upon this family would be no small thing. In the same way, the shame in our lives that we carry around often comes from things in our families past. We feel the effects of an abusive grandfather we have never met or an alcoholic grandmother who is whispered about.

But Jesus didn’t just change water into wine to save this family from embarrassment and shame.

SWEETEST PURIFICATION

You see, for the Jewish people, weddings were a sign of the Messiah. Weddings were a picture of his coming, of what heaven would be like. There were also prophecies in Joel, Hosea, and Amos indicating that wine would flow freely over a barren, dry land from the Messiah (Joel 2:243:18Hosea 14:7Amos 9:3). This imagery would not be lost on the Jews who saw this miracle.

John also points out that Jesus had them fill up purification jars. This was not what they normally used for wine, as these were the jars the Jews used to cleanse themselves to worship God, to enter the temple, to purify them. Jesus, at a wedding, which is a picture of the Messiah coming, with wine. Using purification jars that are used to make one right with God, turning guilt and shame into joy.

Later in the Gospels, Jesus will bring his disciples together for a Passover meal, hold up wine and declare it to be his blood (Matt. 26:28). Then, in Revelation 21, John tells us that when Jesus returns, it will be as a bridegroom at a wedding (Rev. 21:2).

PERSONAL JESUS

It is easy for us to miss all this without the history and picture. But, we do another thing that hinders our joy. When we read in the Gospel and Epistles of John about God loving the world or Jesus taking away the sins of the world, we picture “the world,” a globe filled with people. We don’t picture ourselves.

This past Easter at my church, we had a huge cross in a service where we wrote down specific sins that Jesus died for. It was quite an experience listing sins that Jesus has forgiven me of, that Jesus died for. It was a great picture for me to see, Jesus turned my shame into joy through his death and resurrection.

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The Most Important Trait for Success

success

What is the most important trait for success?

Do you know what separates the winners and the losers when it comes to leadership and succeeding?

It isn’t what you think.

I was listening to a podcast interview recently where Thom Rainer was interviewing John Maxwell, and Rainer asked Maxwell what is the most important leadership trait for success, and Maxwell replied, “Consistency.”

I had to rewind it.

Consistency.

If you ever read a biography about an athlete or watch stories on the Olympics about those who make it and win, what you will hear is the story of a person who got up early everyday, ate a strict diet, everyday. Did the same stuff, everyday. Practiced, practiced and practiced some more. They were consistent.

That isn’t exciting, sexy or anything. That isn’t about vision, team building, recruiting or fund raising.

Yet if you think about it, it fuels all of leadership.

It fuels vision. No one will follow you to that next great hill, that next great destination, if they don’t trust you and believe in you. They won’t follow you as far if you are new compared to having a track record. Are you consistent? If so, people will follow you further.

It fuels team building. People want to be a part of a team that has a great track record. They want to be with a leader that has been around and accomplished a lot. They are hesitant to follow someone with a lot of turnover on a team. They want someone – wait for it – consistent.

The same goes with recruiting.

Now comes fundraising. This is crucial in church leadership. Your ministry has a ceiling, and it comes from a variety of places, but one of those places is finances. The leaders who are able to raise the most money have a track record of handling money well. They have a track record of being in one place, having a strong team, strong vision, strong character.

They are consistent.

It fuels leadership.

It fuels success.

People may say a lot about you as a leader, but would they say you are consistent? Are you the same person everywhere?

Here’s something that can frustrate you as a leader. You want to start something new, and people don’t want to come along. You think it is them. They just don’t see what you see. They aren’t as spiritual, they don’t have big enough faith. We as leaders tell ourselves all kinds of things about why people don’t get on board with something, and the things we tell ourselves are always about the people.

What if you haven’t been consistent, and people are hesitant? What if the reason people don’t want to give is they aren’t sure you’ll complete the project and stay?

Leadership is vision casting, team building and all those things. But it starts and ends with character and consistency.

Seasons in Life, Leadership & Church

leadership

I grew up in a farming community, so everyone was very aware of the seasons and what those seasons meant for life. Certain things happened during certain times of the year. You planted, watered, prepped the dirt and harvested plants at certain times. If you did it at the wrong time (too early or too late), you could harm the crops and miss what could be.

Life, leadership and church are the same. There are times when things are high (harvesting the crops) and times when you are prepping the dirt (getting ready) or pulling out weeds, and it feels like nothing is happening.

Then, like a farm, you start over.

When you start a church (or a new chapter in life), you are clearing the field, getting the seed ready, tilling the ground. Things like building a team, building in that team, getting the word out, working through logistics and schedules to get a church off the ground. This is hard work. There is no shortcut through this, although I meet plenty of church planters who want to skip this. It’s easy to see why; it is hard. Long hours, you see very little fruit because you are planting, you are weeding, you are watering. Some younger leaders can relate to this season as they work under a pastor, waiting for the time to plant a church. Many guys see this as “biding their time” but need to see it as the time of pruning, the Spirit of God working in and on them for what lies ahead. This season is mostly behind the scenes. The work that is being done is often being done in hearts, lives and in meetings as people work to shore up systems and how things are done.

In our lives this is trying to get a career off the ground, trying to finish school, pay your dues at a company, working to get your marriage off the ground, trying to figure out kids, how that all works as you parent. This is the beginning of things. This is hard work. In this season most dreams, most goals stop because of the difficulties.

Don’t miss this: this is not a wasted season. If you don’t do this hard work, preparing, studying, reading, getting ready, you can’t actually plant a crop. You can’t start a business, you are unprepared to start a family. We too often rush into things we are not ready for.

Then you water, you clear the weeds away, making sure the crop gets sunlight, plenty of fertilizer and water.

This is the time that you start to see life. The first person to become a follower of Jesus, the first baptism, first marriage saved, you launch something in your church. This is exciting, this is what you hoped for. For many guys, though, this can be depressing because it is slow. You will see plants come up that just die. You will see weeds that overtake plants. Or plants that don’t grow to what they should be. Leaders you poured into who walk away, marriages you counseled only to have them quit. Moments of betrayal and feeling stabbed in the back, feelings of God abandoning you. At this point you will probably hear of how God is working in the church down the street. Don’t despair; they are in a different season.

You are in your season, they are in their season.

Your marriage starts having small wins, you begin to see eye to eye, you’re connecting again. You get pregnant after a long, difficult season of infertility. Your work is beginning to get noticed, you get some accolades, a promotion, get accepted for that master’s program.

Like a church, you can start to get jealous at this point. Someone else seems to have an easier time. Their child isn’t as difficult, their marriage (while yours is great) is better.

The next season is the harvest. Plants are growing, you are reaping rewards from your hard work. In this season you have unprecedented momentum. You can do little wrong. Every idea you try seems to work. Your sermons click, community groups multiply, money is great, staff is getting along. There is a buzz about what God is doing in your church. You might even be getting noticed in your city, people are talking. This is the season you hear about on twitter, blogs and at conferences.

This is where you can look back with some accomplishment on a project that has taken awhile. Maybe you had a lot of work you had to do in your marriage, you sell a business, a business is finally humming and hitting on all cylinders, you graduate, and all the work you put into your schooling is done. It is a season of accomplishment.

This is the season everyone wants to live in.

The reality, though, is that this season comes to an end, and then you start over. What often keeps pushing you through this cycle is the reality that the harvest season does come.

So how long do these seasons last? It depends. Some leaders, churches, careers and marriages get stuck in an early season and never reap any benefits. Some after going through the great feelings of the harvest and seeing things start over simply throw up their hands and quit. Most people seem to stay stuck in an early season and wonder why life is so hard.

The important thing for a leader is to know what season they are in personally and where their church is so they can lead effectively and know how their church is doing. People need to be reminded that hard seasons do not last forever, but they also need to be reminded to enjoy the seasons of growth and momentum.

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How to Figure out God’s Will

God's Will

Every time you say yes to something, you say no to something else.

This truth has had an enormous impact on how I live my life, how I make decisions, how we do our calendar as a family and how I lead Revolution Church.

But how do you know what to say yes and no to? That’s the most common question I get from someone who has read my book or has heard me say this in a talk. Honestly, it’s different for each person.

Too often we focus on what we want to do in the next day, week or month and then make a decision based on that. Let me frame it a different way for you: What kind of person do you want to become in the next month? In the next half year? One year from now, who do you want to be?

Will this involve doing something? Yes, but it changes the context.

For example, if a year from now you want to be closer to Jesus than you are today, a stronger disciple, then you will make the choice to say yes to community, yes to serving in your church, yes to reading your Bible, and yes to inviting people to church. That will then determine what you say no to.

Often we hope that something will happen. We will simply become kinder, more generous, thinner or smarter without putting in the work or even be willing to make a choice towards something. If you want to become a person who is known for ________, then you will have to make decisions for that to happen. A wish and a hope are not enough.

Take your marriage or another relationship. What if six months from now that relationship was stronger? It would mean that what you are doing right now would have to change. You would need to make more of an effort, you would have to say yes to giving time and energy to that relationship and saying no to something else (ie. golfing, sleeping in, working too late).

We often think we have no power over where our life goes, what our marriage becomes, the relationship we have with God or how kind we are. Yet we do. Every day we make decisions that get our life somewhere.

Here’s the problem: we never sit down to ask, Where do I want to end up?

How to Know You’re Too Busy

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My book Breathing Room: Stressing Less & Living More comes out next month, and I’ve been asked by some people how to know if they should read the book. How do you know if you are too busy or getting tired in life? My response often is, “Well, if you are asking if you are too busy, you are probably too busy.”

But just in case, here are a few ways to know you’re too busy and need some Breathing Room:

1. What is normally easy is now hard. This is one of the first things that happens. For me it centers on preaching, sermon prep, reading leadership books. Whenever I find myself not feeling motivated in one or all of these areas, I know I am past the point of running too fast in life. To combat this, I take periodic breaks from preaching (I try to not preach more than 10 weeks in a row), and I work in books that have nothing to do with sermon prep or church ministry to give my brain a break.

2. Sleep is hard to come by. For many Americans, sleep is hard as it is. We go to bed too late, we don’t take enough naps, we spend too much time on technology and get worked up. I try to get to bed by 10:30. I try to not look at social media or texts after 8pm so that my brain is able to take a break. If you have to take sleeping pills, watch TV to fall asleep or find yourself going to bed at midnight or staring at the clock at midnight, you need to work on your sleep.

This is counterintuitive to us because we think if we’re tired we should be able to fall asleep quickly, but that is often not the case. We have pushed ourselves so hard, our brains are not used to shutting off. We have pushed ourselves past 10pm on a regular basis, getting our “second wind,” that our body is accustomed to it. Getting back to a normal sleep pattern will take some time.

3. It is hard to get going in the morning. Some people are morning people and can’t wait to get going; others are not. I’m not a morning person. But when I find myself having a hard time getting going in the morning, needing multiple cups of coffee to stay awake or to focus, that’s a warning sign. Think about this morning: how hard was it to get out of bed? The harder it was, the closer you are to burning out.

4. You get angry fast. When you are tired, you tend to get angry fast. Your fuse is shorter with those closest to you: family, friends, and coworkers. Your reaction to situations does not match the situation. You get angry at small things or cry without knowing why.

5. You struggle to make simple decisions and find yourself paralyzed at making a choice. It is amazing how when we are tired and too busy, normal everyday decisions can become agonizing mountains that appear like we can’t get over them. Decisions become tiring and life altering. The mood swings we have when we make a decision we regret become huge mood swings. An example for me is I’ll struggle to know what to watch on TV, what I want to eat. As silly as that may sound, it is a sign I have not taken care of myself.

6. Motivation is hard to come by. It is true that you are more motivated and alert at certain parts of the day. For me it is first thing in the morning, which is why I reserve that for sermon prep and not meetings. It is when I am most creative, and I need to give that mental time to the most important part of my job: preaching. When I find that motivation not there, I know I have a problem.

7. You have impulses to eat and drink, and you struggle to control them. You may also use things to calm down. This might be food, sex, porn, exercise, drugs, smoking, alcohol. While these things calm you down, and all of these are not necessarily sins, when used to calm us down or help us relax or sleep or “take the edge off,” we have a problem. If you think, “I just need ____ to calm down or feel better,” you have a problem.

8. You think short-term instead of long-term. You can’t get past today or what is right in front of you, and you feel completely overwhelmed by it. All of the decisions you make are simply focused on right now, and you talk about “getting through the day” or “if we can just make it to bedtime” or “if only we can make it til the weekend.” What happens is this becomes our new normal, and everyday is about making it to the weekend or the next break where we simply collapse from exhaustion.

9. You don’t laugh as much or have fun. This is connected to what we’ve already said, but if you can’t remember the last time you laughed and had fun, that’s a problem. When you are tired, the last thing you have energy for is fun or community. You are more irritable and have less courage. People are draining, and the only thing you want to do is be a bump on the log and watch TV. If you are an introvert, having fun with people, especially when you are tired, feels so taxing.

*This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Breathing Room: Stressing Less & Living More. Click on the link to purchase it.