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The Grace of God is Amazing

The Grace of God is an excellent read!

The Grace of God is an excellent read!

I lead a men’s small group through the church I attend. As a group, we decided to read and discuss the book The Grace of God by Andy Stanley. I had read What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey a few years ago, so I was interested in reading Pastor Stanley’s thoughts on grace. One of the guys in the group had found a free online study guide so we used that as well as just talking in the group as to what caught our attention, anything with which we agreed, and anything with which we disagreed.

The book itself is an easy at only 13 chapters. In each chapter, Pastor Stanley talks about one or two people from the Bible (like David, Adam & Eve, and Abraham) and how God gave them grace in their respective situations. Society as a whole typically believes the “What’s In It For Me?” or “That’s Not Fair (For Me)?” mentality and grace is a concept that goes against that way of thinking. With Grace, we are not given what we deserve…we are given what we DON’T deserve. In one of the chapters Andy reminds the reader of the parable of day laborers (Matthew 20:1-16). In this story you really see three versions of “fair” so to speak: 1) What a given day laborer thought was fair to himself 2) What other day laborers thought was fair with regards to another given day laborer 3) What the land owner thought was fair. If we went by what was “fair” which definition would we use? (Of course we would use the definition that most benefits us…but God chose to provide grace instead of what was “fair!”

With this book, Andy is not trying define what grace is, he is just showing examples of grace in the Bible in order for the reader to get a better understanding of it. If you are looking for a book that provides more of a definition or goes over the entire concept of grace, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” by Philip Yancey would probably be a better read for you. I really enjoyed this book and was constantly finding myself learning something new regarding God and grace. Here are just a few takeaways that I had:

  • “Just as God was under no compulsion to create and provide, so mankind was under no compulsion to receive and reciprocate God’s love. Grace in its purest form can have no strings attached.”
  • “When the one true God initiated his relationship with mankind, it didn’t begin with a command; it began with an invitation: will you trust me?”
  • “The presence of sin means that sometimes we don’t get the good that we deserve. The presence of grace means that sometimes we don’t get the consequences we deserve. Grace is the vehicle God uses on occasion to ensure that we get precisely what we don’t deserve.”
  • “God initiated a relationship with his people before he even told them what the rules were…Rules without a relationship lead to rebellion.”

I would definitely recommend this book either as a group study or something to read on your own. It has so much to offer and will help the reader get a better understanding and appreciation of God’s grace.

Photo Credit: By Amazon.com

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Really Church?!

July 31, 2012 2 comments
church pews

Real life is lived in circles not rows!

A friend of mine recently posted a video to Facebook that really bothered me. Apparently Sunday, September 18 has been deemed “Back to Church” day by a group of local churches. In theory, I think what they are trying do is good but the delivery just isn’t right. I know I may receive some backlash over this, but here goes. What bothers me about some churches is they try to be something that they are not – Why advertise using a hip, cool, and contemporary style when you are a more traditional church? Why try to appeal to a younger crowd when your congregation is predominantly older? This is one of the biggest problems I had in the church where I grew up – it felt like they were trying so hard to be something that they were not, to the point where they were alienating people.

The church I currently attend has a very contemporary style of worship – they aren’t going to break out the pipe organ and cover all the windows in stain glass just to reach people that are into that. That’s not who they are as a church. The church I grew up in was a very traditional church and they attempted to do a contemporary style worship service and it went over like a lead balloon (to the point that several of the younger members left the church because it was so bad). My point is, find what it is that your church does best and embrace that! One church is not going to be the right fit for everyone. If your church is more traditional in style, become informed about a church in your area that is more contemporary – it’s okay to tell people “Hey, we’re more traditional but if you want more of a contemporary style the church down the street may be what you need.” The Church (notice the “Big C”) get so competitive when we’re all trying to achieve the same goal…reaching people for Christ.

My second problem is the video looks incredibly cheesy. I honestly would be embarrassed if my non-Christian friends saw that video. Their first response would be “Really?! You want me to come to your church based on that video?!?! No thanks – I’ll pass!” As a church we need to quit trying to do things WE THINK will reach people…we need to meet them where they live. When was the last time you asked a non-Christian friend or family member why they don’t like church or why they don’t attend? Ask, then listen to them – help them find a church that meets THEIR needs, not what YOU think they need. Again, it’s not “one size fits all” when it comes to church.

My final problem with this is why is Sunday, September 18 such a big deal? Why are we not making an effort to live daily as an example of Christ showing those around us why we are different? The way to get someone to come to church with you is to develop a relationship with them. I was talking with a friend at church on Sunday and he said that every Sunday at our church that 10% of those attending that day are guests who have never been to the church. At first, to me that didn’t sound like much, but when you figure each of our three services holds about 3000 people a week – that comes to about 900 people a week who are visiting for the first time. WOW! That is 900 people who have built a relationship with these people and genuinely care about them enough to bring them to church. When we have these “Back to Sunday” type events, people think we are treating them like a number or a “check mark” we get for doing our good Christian deed for the day. I don’t know about you, but if I was a non-Christian that be the quickest turn off from church for me. So why do we do it?!

My challenge is two-fold: 1) To the Church (again notice the “Big C”), don’t be fake and try to be something that you’re not – people can tell when you’re not being real or genuine. 2) To the church (notice the “little c”) live a daily life for Christ that would help you develop genuine relationships with non-Christians around you. Relationships where they know you care about them and don’t just see them as a “soul to save.”

Below is the video my friend posted on their Facebook. Feel free to share your thoughts in comments below.

Photo Credit: By s marcu

Leaders And The Leaders Who Lead Them

Jerry-Springer

"On the next Jerry Springer..."

Reality television is one of my guilty pleasures. I don’t enjoy shows like Jersey Shore, The Bachelor, or Dance Moms. I am more prone to watch shows like American Idol (my top 3 this year are Phillip Phillips, Colton Dixon, and Elise Testone with either Phillip or Colton winning it all) or Big Brother. Jerry Springer is definitely the king of reality television. Show topics like “I’m In Love With My Brother’s Second Cousin’s Mailman” or “Humans Who Dress As Dogs & The People Who Love Them” (okay, maybe those aren’t really show topics, but you get the idea) seem to suck in viewers like The Hunger Games novels.

What if we put a positive spin on the Jerry Springer show? Ladies and gentleman, may I submit to you “Leaders And The Leaders Who Lead Them” on the next Springer! In all seriousness, a leader is only as a good as those who lead them. I am very fortunate to have three amazing leaders who invest in me and as a result have made me the leader that I am today.

1) Andy Stanley – I attend Buckhead Church (a campus of North Point Ministries) and Andy Stanley is the Senior Pastor of all of the campuses. Every Sunday, he preaches a sermon that I feel like was written specifically for me. There are so many things that I like about Andy, but one I can easily relate to – Andy will openly tell you that he is an “extroverted introvert” (as am I). He can easily speak to large groups of people, but when it comes to speaking with people one-on-one  it is a little bit more difficult. He has to have downtime after speaking with individuals in order to process things. Having this same personality trait in common, I feel like I can connect better with him as the Senior Pastor.

2) Rodney Anderson – He is the Single’s Pastor at Buckhead Church. Rodney is only a couple of years younger than I am, but he has wisdom beyond his years. What I love about Rodney is he has a great memory. You can tell him about something that is happening in your life and six months later he will ask you about it with the same detail in which you originally told him. I was able to get to know Rodney better during our Singles Leadership retreat last year. Since I wasn’t working I was asked if I would be interested in helping them set up for the retreat. I rode to the retreat with Rodney and we were able to share our life stories and just had a great time getting to know one another. He is one person that I know I could definitely call about anything and he would make time to listen regardless of his schedule.

3) Mark Shull – He is the Director of Men’s Groups at Buckhead Church. Mark is just a couple of years older than I am. What I like about Mark is he tells it like it is…he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He challenges me to think outside of the box as a small group leader. I was also able to get to know Mark better on the Singles Leadership retreat last year. He has two sons and I love hearing how he relates his relationship with his sons to his relationship with God. He has constantly checked in on me during my job search to see what God is teaching me through it all. I could definitely call Mark about anything as well.

As a leader, who is one leader that leads you and what have they taught you recently?

Photo Credit: By David Shankbone

Psalm 40 and U2

March 26, 2012 2 comments
prayer

"I waited patiently for the Lord..."

This afternoon I had a coffee meeting with a friend from church. Before I met with her, I had few minutes to spare and so I opened my Bible to Psalm 40. For some reason I just found I could relate more to this passage right now. As I shared with my friend over coffee, I do not really feel like I have anyone against me…but I do feel like I’ve been through the muck and mire when it comes to things in my life lately – job search, SUV issues, and some personal matters.

I love how The Message version of the Bible translates several verses in this passage:

Psalm 40:1-2 “I waited and waited and waited for God. At last He looked, finally He listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip.”

I honestly feel like I am still in that “waiting for God” stage most days. I know eventually He will lift me out of the circumstances with which I am dealing and put me in a safe place, but right now I feel like He is using those circumstances to help grow me and to teach me something.

Psalm 40:11-15 “Now God, don’t hold out on me, don’t hold back your passion. Your love and truth are all that keeps me together. When troubles ganged up on me, a mob of sins past counting, I was so swamped by guilt I couldn’t see my way clear. More guilt in my heart than hair on my head, so heavy the guilt that my heart gave out. Soften up, God, and intervene; hurry and get me some help, so those who are trying to kidnap my soul will be embarrassed and lose face, so anyone who gets a kick out of making me miserable will be heckled and disgraced, so those who pray for my ruin will be booed and jeered without mercy.”

In some ways I can related to David (the author of this passage). I do feel like I’m waiting for God to intervene and do something – and do it quickly. However, I do not feel like anyone is intentionally trying to make me miserable or that anyone is praying for my ruin. The only things that I feel like I’m facing are circumstances that are brought on by the devil (and not in a “the devil made me do it…he’s in everything that I see as negative” type of way, but I do believe he is alive and well and orchestrating things behind the scenes to trip us up and denounce our faith — “spiritual warfare” as it is often called) and I would love to see him embarrassed, lose face, heckled, disgraced, and a whole lot more!

Psalm 40:17 “Let those who know what You’re all about tell the world You’re great and not quitting. And me? I’m a mess. I’m nothing and have nothing: make something of me. You can do it, You’ve got what it takes — but God, don’t put it off.”

This is a great reminder that God is not finished with me (or any of us for that matter) yet! I agree 100% with David – I am a mess on my own, but through Christ I have the strength to do all things (Philippians 4:13).

Each time I read this passage, I immediately think of U2’s song “40.” Enjoy a live rendition of this song in the video below.

Photo Credit: By Chris Yarzab

4 Things I’ve Recently Learned About Leadership

March 20, 2012 Leave a comment
Four

Four things for leaders to remember

The topic of leadership can come up in various ways in daily life. For me there have recently been four recurring leadership themes.

1) As a leader, you can’t force someone to follow you – You can provide the environment and the resources for someone, but you just can’t make them follow your lead. The decision has to come naturally from the follower in question otherwise it is not a true “followship” and they will resent you.

2) Leading with others can be a challenge, but it is not impossible – When you are not the only leader in an environment you have to learn to “play well with others.” You may have personality clashes, but you have to look at it as a positive experience. What can you learn from the other people with whom you are leading? What can you improve on or do differently having seen them do the same thing? Make it a point to listen and hear them out when it comes to their ideas of how to do things.

3) You cannot prepare for the unexpected – No matter how much you prepare, things will happen that you cannot control. People may not show up on time (or at all). Technology may not cooperate. You can only do the best you can given whatever circumstances may occur. Do not take it personally. It is also therapeutic to be able to step away from the situation and just laugh about it.

4) You need a sounding board – You need to have that person (or people) that you can go to and just share your ideas. It is also okay to have them there to listen to your frustrations as well. Keep in mind that not only should you be able to talk with them, but you also need to be willing to listen to them. They may be able to give you a new perspective you might not have previously considered.

What are some things you have learned recently about leadership?

Photo Credit: By Jukka Zitting

 

Take A Break – You Deserve It!

February 24, 2012 Leave a comment
relax

It's okay to take time to relax!

When life gets busy, other things have a tendency to fall by the wayside. What makes matters worse is we start feeling guilty as a result. It is okay to take time away from the people and things we love and enjoy. Returning to these things only reminds us how much we really appreciate them. Give yourself permission to take a break.

Some religions believe in what they call “Sabbath.” This is just dedicating time to yourself where you can turn off your phone, shut down the laptop, and just refocus for a day. If you don’t take this time, you can easily experience burn out and you will not be at your best in whatever you do – be it personally or professionally. How you spend this down time is up to you. I enjoy spending time with friends, listening to music, or reading something fun. Each person is different and how they “recharge their batteries” is just as unique.

I have several friends who work for a church and as result they are typically working on Sunday (when most people take their Sabbath). These friends usually have Friday off, so they make that their day of rest and refocus. It doesn’t matter when you do it, it just matters that you do it. Find time in your schedule that works best for you and permit yourself to just enjoy time away from your every day life.

Do you take a “Sabbath” day each week and if so, what do you do on that day?

Photo Credit: By lukey dargons

Scars

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

 

This is something I recently found that I wrote back in 2001.

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scar

Do you have any scars?

Webster’s Dictionary defines a scar as, “a marring or disfiguring mark on anything; the lasting mental or emotional effects of suffering or anguish.” Scars have been given a negative connotation in our modern times. Contrary to popular belief, there are many positive aspects of scars.

A scar can be an identifying mark. If you ever meet me, look closely above my left eyebrow. For you will see a scar, a unique mark that distinguishes me from others. John 20:27-28 gives an example of Biblical proportions. “Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said ‘My Lord and my God!'” It was scars that allowed Thomas to identify the Son of God.

Our male species has a unique ritual of comparing scars. As strange as this may sound, it reveals yet another good thing about scars: they create a common bond. Isaiah 53:5 “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” We as Christians have the commonality of knowing that the scars, pain, and suffering that we cause Jesus with our sin brings us peace and healing through His sacrificial gift, Himself.

The most important thing is that scars tell a story. Mark 15:17-19 – “They put a purple robe on Him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on Him. And they began to call out to Him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ Again and again they struck Him on the head with a staff and spit on Him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to Him.” But wait, it gets better! Matthew 27:35, 39, 41, & 44 – “When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots… Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads… In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him… In the same way the robbers who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him.” Praise God the story did not end there. Matthew 28:6 – “He is not here; He is risen, just as He said.” The ultimate scars (physical, mental, and emotional) tell the ultimate story.

I once heard someone say, “God will not search us for medals. He will look for scars,” to which one of my best friends jokingly added “He’ll probably want to start with my knees!” The more I thought about what my friend jokingly said, the more I thought he was actually right. Wouldn’t it be awesome when we meet the Lord face to face, if He sees scars and rug burns from where we have been constantly on our knees in prayer and humbling ourselves daily before Him? I long to have that kind of relationship with my Maker. How about you? May we never look at scars the same way ever again!

Photo Credit: By Lenore Edman

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