Are You Blind to These Gifts?

There is no doubt I’m the most “unhandy” guy on the planet. Wives, if your husband is handy around the house and great with DIY projects, count yourself doubly blessed and thank the Lord above. My wife does not count herself among you. She knows I’m drastically limited in my handy man skills.

gifts of others

I’ve always been amazed at those that could seem to fix anything or craft something of beauty with their bare hands. It’s a gift I just don’t have. Yet, it’s a joy to watch others that have such a gift shine.

Are you able to do that? Can you enjoy someone else’s talent or gift without envy?

Most of us can easily do this when it comes to the arts: theater, music, art, etc. We can admire talent that’s meant to be enjoyed without any problem.

However, we can tend to overlook the talents and gifts of those closest to us out of familiarity. We overlook and in doing so take for granted those gifts that are shining in our face day after day. This robs us of being able to appreciate the wide spectrum giftedness in the family, friends, and strangers around us.

In the first chapter of Romans, Paul tells us that “creation declares the glory of God”. Mankind’s talents and gifts fall into this category. They point to the ultimate glory of the Gift Giver.

Our gratitude toward God and others will rise to the brim if we’ll look with fresh eyes on the God-given talents and gifts of those around us. As you thank God for those glimpses of his creativity, take a moment and point out to those around you how much you appreciate their God-given gift. In doing so you give God glory and bring encouragement.

As Christ followers let’s be the quickest to acknowledge and point out the handy work of God in others. That alone is a gift.

Have You Given Your Family Permission to Fail

Look upon the most intimate verse found in scripture.

confessing31

James 5:16

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

Is there any verse in the Bible that commands us to be more vulnerable than this?

For most of us we’re OK with the idea of talking to God about our sin. We already know he knows and we count on him not telling anyone.

However, it is James (as always) that gets in our face to point out that there’s power in the confession of sin. Not only can it lead us toward turning our hearts back toward God, it breaks the stronghold of hidden sin that keeps us withdrawn and hidden in isolation.

And that’s the problem.

There will always be the temptation for us to keep silent out of shame and fear of consequences.

However, strategic confession is where freedom is found! I say strategic because not everyone needs to know your junk. We need those seasoned, trusted, lovers of Christ that we can go to and share our tangled soul with.

At our church we’ve  committed to being a church where we love people right where they are. We’ve said for years that it’s OK to not be OK, but by God’s grace we don’t have to stay that way. This is our church saying, that God’s love and grace is found here! While our churches must be a safe place to land, so must our homes.

I was talking with a gentleman in our church a while back and he wanted to confess to his wife that he was struggling with pornography, but he said he couldn’t open up because he had heard his wife remark, that if he ever “did something like that”, she’d leave him. He wanted to come clean, but didn’t feel it was an option. Yet, if I asked his wife if she wanted her husband to be bound up in secret sin, to suffer alone, she’d say no!

Spouses have you extended the freedom of grace toward your spouse openly and said, “I will love you through anything, no matter the pain, no matter if we have to rebuild. You need to know I want you always walking in open freedom from sin!”

Have you said the same to your children? Do they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can come to you with their brokenness and find love and a heart for restoration.

Don’t assume your loved ones know this life line is available. Have the conversation and leave the door wide open for when it’s needed.

Jesus and the Little Things

I continue to be amazed at what Christ has to say about what I consider “the little things” in life.

listen

We so often only focus on the “big do’s and don’ts” of Christianity that we stop allowing Jesus to humbly lead us in the small inner workings of our lives.

Here’s a few things He’s been nudging me on recently:

what I day dream about (I still do.)

what and how I  spend my money

how I use food for comfort and reward

what I’m reading and watching

how I view and think about the people I lead

We can easily fall into the trap of following only the beliefs and methods of “Christianity” without ever being led by Jesus.

Jesus has so much more for us. Let’s open our hearts again to hear his loving voice in every area of our lives and follow him with joy! I’m listening with you.

The Question You Must Ask Yourself About Your Pastor

There’s a powerful question about your pastor that you must ask yourself if you’re going to truly thrive in your church.

pastoral leadership

Here it is:

Do I see my pastor as “the” pastor or “my” Pastor?

How you answer this question will determine how effective your pastor’s ministry will be in your life.

If you see your pastor as merely “the” pastor that just happens to hold the position, their ministry to you will always be limited. You’ll push back against their teaching and leadership because you don’t see them as vital and helpful to your life.

I’ve seen this too often over the years in pastoral ministry. I’ve seen it countless times in a congregant’s eyes when I’m trying to speak into their life and can see it going through one ear and out the other.

While time and faithfulness is needed in both directions to cultivate this loving relationship between pastor and congregant, many seem content to liveas if they’re above needing a pastor in their life.

But, consider this: Jesus wouldn’t have given pastors as a gift to The Church if we didn’t need them.

If you see the pastor of your church and say, “That’s my pastor….This is the pastor God has put in my life”, you’ll look to them as such. You’ll hear their preaching and teaching as a gift in your life. You’ll gladly submit to their leadership because you’ll see them as God given to your church rather than merely filling a position at a distance on Sundays.

The stories that seem to stick in our culture regarding pastors aren’t usually good ones. But, I can tell you that every pastor I know that’s been worth their salt deeply loves their people and are an enduring gift to all those that call them “my pastor.”

I know I’ve been blessed by wonderful pastors in my life. What about you?

If you’ve been blessed to be able say, “that’s my pastor”, let me encourage you to reach out to them and let them hear those encouraging words.

If not, can I encourage you to begin to invest in this much needed relationship that God’s given The Church in these last days?

How to Unleash Life Giving Power With Your Words

In May of 1889 on Lake Conemaugh in Pennsylvania, people were enjoying the warmth of Summer as they lounged  near their cottages.

Many swam with their children and paddled in their canoes and boats. The waters here were a welcomed retreat for rich steel and oil tycoons that would come from surrounding cities.

But then came the rain. It rained day and night for days. Finally, on May 31 the poorly built South Fork Dam that once held the lake back, broke. As the water raged down the Conemaugh valley at one point it reached the flow rate of the Mississippi river. It was at this peak that the water slammed into the small town of Johnstown, PA; where it’s residents were just sitting down for an evening meal.

johnstown_main_street_1889_floodThe water that once soothed and comforted, now killed over two thousand people and destroyed 425 million dollars in property. In the same way our words can be either refreshing to those we encounter or a tool of utter destruction.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21)

Question: Do you want your words to be known as a wrecking ball or as a God ordained builder?

We use to say as kids, “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But as Adults we know that’s not true. Have you ever considered why negative words hurt? I mean they’re just articulated sounds coming from our mouths!

The destructive words we use toward one another hurt because it is through them we see a devalued version of ourselves.  Words are the lens by which we see ourselves.

James, the brother of Jesus, gives us some physical examples to illustrate that there’s a problem when a Christian’s words our tainted:

10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.  James 3:10 (ESV)

James is making the point that if we find that on a regular basis we’re producing toxic words: angry, mean spirited words, cutting sarcasm and humor, inappropriate sexual innuendos and humor….something is wrong with the source.

When we blow up or speak as we should not we say, “That wasn’t me”, but it was. That’s why Jesus teaches us that,

45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.  Luke 6:45 (ESV)

When we get bumped by the stresses, pressures and inconveniences of life, what spills out through our words, is what’s in our heart. I know when I find myself short or irritable with Erin or the boys, there’s a heart issue that needs to be dealt with in prayer. My wife is the first one to add an “Amen” when I tell her I need to go be alone and pray!

It can feel overwhelming as James writes of the tongue that “no human can tame it.” No human might be able to tame the tongue, but God can. We need a Spirit given bridle in our mouths to direct our tongue and in doing so direct our lives.

Yet, Christ can help us turn words of blessing onto our family, friends, co-workers, and strangers! Such as:

“You’re a gift to me. I’m thankful for you. You are loved by God. There’s hope for you. God is faithful to deliver you, I believe in you, You matter, You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

This inverse principle of how our words impact others is also true: The words of blessing we use toward one another give life because it is through them we see a valued version of ourselves.

A verse referenced in our home often that has served us well has been Psalm 19:14:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Would you pray that prayer with me?

Help Me Choose My Book Cover

Well, things are heating up in regards to my upcoming book, Non-Stop, and I need your help. Would you take a moment and look over these two cover options and tell me which one you’re drawn to most? After you’ve made your selection just hit the “Done” button at the bottom. Would you also consider sharing this one question poll online so I can get other’s input as well?

Thanks!

Create your own user feedback survey

The Elephant Sitting On the American Church

I’m heartbroken.

Our churches are filled with people that have been “saved” for decades, but have never shared the gospel with anyone.  Church goers across the country seem to be weighed down with a lifetime of sermons instead of being propelled by them. How could this happen?

The American Church has access to more sermons, teachings, and ministry programming than at any other time in history and yet where is the fruit in the individual lives of believers?  

How could people that claim to be filled with the empowering Spirit of God that gives a boldness to witness, be too scared of rejection to witness? Can we call a local church successful if 98% of that church do not share their faith or disciple another person? Can there be such a thing as powerless Spirit-filled people?

This is broken.

Much like the way we avoid getting on the scale, or opening the door to that junk room that’s a mess, we as pastors have chosen to look the other way. For to speak of or look at the results of our “equipping” would cause many of us to be fired or leave the ministry post haste.

Resigning themselves to having non-evangelizing congregants, many pastors now simply ask their people to just “get them here.”  Yet, in the process we’ve taught our people through this repeated practice that inviting someone to church is the extent of evangelism. By doing so our congregations have solely relied on us as pastors to witness for them. We’ve confused having a crowd (even a growing crowd) as having ministry success. I wrote about walking away from this obsession here.

Last year our church went through  a journey of taking our people through a discipleship series that in the end they themselves were encouraged to take others through. While some were eager to take up the challenge to begin to disciple others, many ignored the call. Others said, “I don’t have anyone to disciple, but I’d be willing to take someone through it that the church assigned to me.” Of course, this was somewhat of a positive response, but notice it was not even on their radar to be winning people themselves to disciple.

For the most part, I believe this is a pastoral leadership problem. In our church, the buck stops with me.

At this point, I’ve had to resist going back to the drawing board and formulating a new plan of process and programming. I’ve learned the hard way that we cannot mass produce disciples. God has called me to my knees and if you’re a fellow pastor, I plead with you to go there with me.

The hard truth is: we duplicate who we are.

If our people are not weeping over the lost, it’s most likely because the eyes of pastors are dry as well.

Father God, would you awaken your church, stir us as shepherds. Stoke the embers of our hearts to no longer be satisfied with merely crowds. Shape our hearts first as we seek to shape disciples that will make other disciples! In Jesus name, Amen.

Give Your Pastor Permission to Preach This Sermon

The last thing you might need is a “practical” sermon next Sunday. Over the last ten years I’ve continued to see a movement calling for pastors and teachers to focus on only preaching “practical” sermons. There’s been criticism that pastors are “answering questions no one is asking.”

Give Your Pastor Permission to Preach This Sermon

Pastors must do their due diligence to bring a scripture’s application to our lives to life, but practicality isn’t our highest goal.

Why? There’s nothing practical about what Jesus calls us to. To deny yourself and pick up your cross and follow him is the most impractical thing you can do. I mean we have lives to live, a culture to enjoy, things to do!

There are some passages of scripture that aren’t intended to be “turn-key ready”; that take a lifetime to discover how they’re applied to our lives. Some scriptures call us to merely look and contemplate the majesty of God. Some scriptures speak to our need to pull away from our “3 Easy Steps to a Better ______” (you fill in the blank) mentality.

Of course Pastors and teachers need to be giving biblical answers to the most pressing questions of our day, but they should also be answering questions that we aren’t asking. If I only taught my kids what they thought to ask me about, I’d be a poor excuse for a father. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. When we ask pastors to only focus on our perceived needs, we miss out on all that God has for us.

So the next time your pastor preaches a message that doesn’t “feel” very applicable to your Monday morning, consider that it still might have a helpful place for your soul.

The One Risk You Need to Take Today

The family and I have been hidden away in the mountains of North Carolina for the last few days. It’s been a much needed get away for all of us. I took some time in the cool of the morning to continue to work on my upcoming book, Non-Stop,  that’s coming out this fall.

whats your story

Let me just say that writing a book is hard. I’m not talking about the writing itself. Anyone can discipline themselves to make the time to sit down and get it done. I’m talking about the massive emotional risk that comes with putting your work out to be consumed and evaluated by others. Multiply that risk exponentially if you choose to be transparent in writing about your own inadequacies and failures. I finished a chapter today that left me feeling naked in front of the iceberg.

Getting real about our failures with others can feel daunting. Our fears can range from feeling like our transparency will only be wasted to being afraid that others might use our honesty against us in the future. Everyone knows that the temptation to try and fashion a persona of perfection for others is real, but we also know deep down that it helps no one.

When you risk big and choose to open up about where your struggles and God’s grace meet, people are helped. You give them two wonderful gifts: fellowship in the midst of failure and hope for the future. To me, that’s worth it all.

Pulling Weeds

Today I was reminded of a lesson God taught me a few years ago as I was on a prayer walk on our church property. Our church sits on 62 acres in the woods, so there is plenty of room to roam. As I walked up our church drive way I stopped and looked at our church sign near the road and God clearly spoke to me these words, “Pull up some of those weeds under the sign.”

picking the weeds, please have a look at my similar images of this subject

Odd. I know.

It was clearly the Holy Spirit speaking. I walked over and began to pull weeds all the while saying out loud, “Why do I need to pull weeds? I’m out here to pray. This is why we use weed killer.” I began to think that maybe this would be one of those miraculous moments that because I was out here pulling weeds someone would drive by and say, “God told me you’d be here” or something. Nope.

God said, “Pull.” Another few minutes went by as I grappled with the wild onions in the soil when all of the sudden He spoke to me  these words, “It’s been a long time since you’ve obeyed me with something this small. (Some Silence)  Nathan, I don’t just want your obedience on the things you perceive as a big deal: ministry, family, the big do’s and don’ts. I want it all. Obedience is better than sacrifice.”

I kneeled there on the ground for few moments hit hard by the truth.

I prayed, “Lord, I’m yours.”

He said, “Now, you can go pray.”

I listened and obeyed.

Upon reflection I was reminded that we many times miss out on great miracles that God desires to do in and through us because we don’t obey the smaller steps that lead to those miracles. There might be small tasks, but there’s no such thing as small obedience. When God says pull weeds……pull.

Would you commit to grow with me in this area?