3 Tips For Transitioning Pastors

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In the past few months both Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant have announced their retirements. Peyton Manning, in his press conference, referred to the number 18 he has worn on his back for the past 18 seasons. “There’s something about 18 years – 18 is a good number,” said Manning. He also uttered the words that everyone already knew …

 “You don’t have to wonder if I’ll miss it. Absolutely I will.”

Today I spend much of my time coaching pastors in transition / succession seasons of life in ministry. It is a tough season indeed, and eyes often get wet like Peyton’s did as he talked about stepping away from pro football.

Several pastors who have been at a church for 25-35 years have asked how I can possibly understand what they are going through. I then share with them my story of launching, leading and then handing off Discovery Church in Simi Valley, California.

Four years ago I transitioned away from a church that I had launched and led for ten years.  It was one of the most difficult decisions of my life.

I often ask pastors … “Is it easier to hand off a 10 year old kid or a 35 year old kid?”

And the answer is … they are both hard!

It is very difficult to come to the realization that one day we will all step away.

No NBA guard position is permanent. 

No NFL quarterback position is permanent.

And though Peyton and Kobe can still continue to be involved in the game in coaching, team office, ownership or television, their  role on the team changes dramatically.

It is the same with ministry.

No lead pastor position is permanent.

And though a pastor can continue to be involved in the church as an associate, consultant or lay leader, the pastor’s role on the team changes.

This is a difficult season indeed in the life of a player and in the life of a pastor.

As fans of Peyton Manning, many of us are glad he decided to step away from his role when he did. And though it was not easy, many would say it was the right move for him.

Here is Peyton’s emotional retirement speech.

In the church world I have seen lead pastor after lead pastor have real problems with transition.  I have great sympathy for them, and I do not judge.

But in my case I have personally transitioned away from a church where I invested more than a decade of my time, energy, money, life and family.

And because of that decade of my life … I get it!

It is incredibly difficult to end well.

Here are three things that make it difficult for pastors to transition well:

 

  • Identity Theft

Every pastor I have ever known, myself included, has wrestled with misplaced identity:  the notion that I am a “pastor” more than anything else in life. And if I lose that position of “pastor,” I lose who I am.

But the truth is, long before you were a pastor you were a child of God.

This is your identity.

And besides being a child of God, you are also a friend, neighbor, co-worker, parent, spouse, sibling and child yourself.

You were at least 7-8 things long before you were a pastor.

Your true identity is not about who you are but whose you are … a child of God.

  • Not Knowing What’s Next

Human nature says, “Do not let go of something until there is something else to grab.” Like this trapeze artist.

The reason so many pastors do not “let go” is they don’t know what’s next.

When you have “no next” human nature says, “Don’t let go.”

Conversely, when you know what’s coming tomorrow, it’s easier to let go of what you’re holding onto today.

And the greatest way to discover what you might like to do in the future is to look at what you have enjoyed in the past. Is there a way to leverage all your years of experience, knowledge and wisdom in the church world in a different role serving God’s Church?

My words to pastors facing transition would be to take heart.

God is not finished with you yet.

God has a great next in mind for you if you will just be ready and willing to listen, let go and jump!

  • Saul’s Armor Syndrome

Pastors in transition seasons of life often cannot fathom how their successor could possibly succeed wearing anything but their armor.  This is a centuries old issue. One that I have experienced first hand.

It is Saul trying to force his armor onto David.

There was a generational gap that caused Saul to see David’s leadership decisions as incomprehensible and even weak.

Even though Saul couldn’t see it…

David would lead.
David would fight.
David would succeed.

But he would not do it the way it had always been done.

One of the biggest hindrances to pastors making a good hand off is a faulty view that their “armor” of methods, techniques, philosophies, systems and strategies that have worked in the past will also be what is bound to work in the future.

The truth is this issue of “armor” is a generational battle in which the successor does not want to be weighed down by unnecessary encumbrances from the past.

This is not cockiness.

This is holy boldness.

This is the next generation leading God’s Church forward in faith.

It takes just as much faith for David to lead forward with a sling as it did Saul with a sword.

Pastors in transition … don’t be surprised when you don’t understand the methods of the next generation.

Make sure the person to whom you hand the baton of leadership has surrendered his or her life to the leadership of God.

Take a look at the previous victories God has allowed in your successor’s life.

Consider the lions and bears that have been slain with tools and methods that defy the conventional thinking of this world.

Consider the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in this person’s life.

And then be your successor’s biggest fan.

Be willing to watch and cheer the victory as your successor fights the devil with a sling.

And as you take off your armor … be thankful for the victories you’ve won and the protection it provided.

May God bless you, friends, as God leads you into new seasons of life and Kingdom building.

 

4 Things To Think About When Leaving Places & People

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As our family makes final plans to move from Phoenix, Arizona to Huntington Beach, California this week I have used some of this weekend to consider what it means to leave a place and people well.

  • How you leave is how you are remembered. 

You can have an incredible season of life in a place serving people and still completely blow it in the end. I can tell you from experience … it could be five or ten years of faithful service, friendships and memories … but make no mistake:

Just like preaching and public speaking … whatever you say last is usually what people remember most.

It is the same with life.   

Your words and actions are amplified 30X in your last 30 days in a place.

How you act and react determines how you will be remembered.

This a sobering truth and reminder to …

  • Make peace
  • Assume positive intentions
  • Speak well
  • Be honest
  • Be loving
  • Be patient
  • Be generous

… as you leave.

  • Understand not everyone will understand.

Especially if you are a follower of Jesus … not everyone will always understand how, when, where and why He is leading you.

You will not always understand how God leads you!

And in a crazy way it’s not actually your job to understand everything God is doing or leading in your life. It’s just your job to be obedient. In addition, it is not your job to make sure everyone you know understands or agrees with God’s leading in your life and family. It is your job, however, to do the best job possible when discerning God’s plans for your future.

For most of us one of the major things that keeps us up at night is worrying about what’s next … what is coming tomorrow, next week, next month and next year.

The good news is there is Good News in the Bible.

Jer. 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This verse states clearly that God knows the plans He has for you. And that’s great news!  That is great that GOD KNOWS His plans for you.

But what keeps most of us up at night is wondering how do I KNOW God’s plans for MY FUTURE?

Is it even really possible to know God’s specific plans for your life?

Here are three questions you can ask when trying to discern whether a direction is really from God:

  1. Have I taken time to pray, or am I rushing into things?

Sometimes we rush into decisions thinking …

  • If I don’t take this job
  • If I don’t marry this person
  • If I don’t make this move right now

I will miss this incredible opportunity.

And here is what I learned many years ago …

If God is in it … it can wait a minute!

 God is not sitting in heaven saying, “If you don’t hurry up and take this job, buy this car, marry this person or make this move – you are going to miss out … I can’t hold this together forever!”

So … slow down and take time to get away.  Be alone and pray.

  1. Do my friends and family agree, or do they think I am foolish?

Anyone who thinks they don’t need the advice of others is foolish.

When you are trying to discern God’s plans for your future, you should seek and listen to the advice of your friends and family.

However, here is what often happens …

Many of us will keep seeking advice until we find the advice we are seeking.

We must be willing to seek and LISTEN to advice even if it is not the advice we are seeking.

  1. Does this plan agree with scripture or contradict it?

God will never guide you to do something in the future that is opposed to what He has already said in the Bible in the past.

So, if you really want to know God’s personal plans for your future, here is the key …


Saturate yourself with Scripture.

And don’t read it and debate it.

Read it and obey it!

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 10.59.31 AMHere is a video (click on image to watch) from a message that addresses “Worrying About The Future” that I preached recently at Parkview Christian Church in the Chicagoland area.

  • You never show your own character so clearly as when you describe another’s.

When leaving places and people there will be those who take cheap shots at you.

Just be ready for it.

It usually has far more to say about the other person than it does about you. It is not easy for the people who are being  “left behind” even when they are very good people. And it is certianly never easy for comfortable and complacent people to watch others chase God’s dreams, be brave and live curiously!

It is far easier to stay in a safe place and critique
than it is to push away from the dock into some deep waters and create.

This is especially true in our socially connected world. Social media is like a petri dish for criticism, comparisons and commentary on the actions of others.

And there will be those who once stood by you who now want to grab your leg and trip you up as you try to step away.

Just remember … the way you speak about others says far more about you than it does about them.

Do not sell out your own character to publicly or even privately take someone down a notch.

One of my mentor pastors from years ago said …

“When you wrestle with a pig you both get muddy, and the pig likes it.”

Stay out of the mud.

Rise above.

Do not let a rough season of life characterize you for the next two months or years!

And realize the high road will never be the easy road.

  • Be thankful looking back and brave looking forward.

I am a nostalgic futurist.

Which means I am simultaneously looking back and dreaming forward.

When you prepare to leave places and people, take some time to look back.

Remember how good God has been to you.

And take some time to dream forward.

Remember that God has a perfect track record of faithfulness …
and He is not going to blow it on you!

 

What’s Next For The Clark Crew?

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It is with much sadness but extreme peace that I share with you that God is calling the Clark family to transition away from Christ’s Church of the Valley. It has been an adventurous season of life as we wrap up 3 1/2 years of ministry at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona.

CCV has been an amazing experience for our family as we have watched God work in supernatural ways. 

Thank you for accepting and loving our family.

We are thankful for the time God has let us share together.

We have been inspired, stretched and made better by so many of you!

It has been a true honor to be part of the executive team, leading, preaching and serving God’s Church.

This June we will be moving to Huntington Beach, California.

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Ruby will be attending Hope International University. She will place herself in an environment where God can grow her heart for people and challenge her comfort zones.

 

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Cole will be attending Huntington Beach High School.  There he will be able to attend an amazing public high school and also an arts school where he can learn music, theater and journalism.

 

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Rene will be taking care of all of us. She will also be launching a new blog and taking her “Bible Boot Camp” to the beach!

 

 

I will continue to serve God’s Church and people in a curious way.  I have always been a bit of a divergent personality … even before the movie. (You can read more about that in this blog post from a  few months ago.)

In this next season of life, instead of putting all my eggs in one basket, I plan to put eggs into three different baskets. These areas of service are all very important to me, and they all leverage my one and only life to grow God’s Kingdom and Church!

Here are the three baskets that I will be putting my eggs into over the coming months …

The Preaching Basket.

mepreachI will no longer be preaching at CCV, but I will continue to consult and preach on a regular basis at many amazing churches.  You can see a list of those churches on the Speaking tab of this blog site.

In addition, in this new season of life, my wife Rene and I really desire to do more ministry together.

We will be seeking opportunities where we can speak, write and serve God and His Church as a team!

 

The Leadership Basket.

logo-blackI will be leveraging my previous 25 years of church experience to serve the Church in the future. I will be doing this primarily through the Slingshot Group. I am leading the senior division in coaching and staffing with teaching pastors and lead pastors.

This gives me the opportunity to be a “strategic confidant” to pastors and coach Next Level Leaders and place them with Next Level Churches.

If you are not familiar with Slingshot Group, you can learn more about this amazing organization here.

 

The Art Basket.

EALogo-artfullyI launched Eat Art roughly 5 years ago, and it is never far from my heart. Eat Art is a non profit organization that is committed to Artfully Ending Hunger. Over the past 5 years we have been able to send hope and over 300,000 meals to hungry kids through the sale of photography.

I believe with everything in me that we can send 1,000,000 meals a year to hungry kids!  

In Huntington Beach there is an art fair on Friday nights on the pier. We will be seeking to secure an opportunity in that environment where people can purchase art and partner with Eat Art.

You get the art and the kids get to eat!

Friends at CCV … we love you!

May you continue to live a curious life for Jesus.

A life that stands out and points people to HIM.

 

3 Things That Could Sabotage Your Future Self

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You are the most important and difficult person you lead every single day.

That being the case, here are three ways you can completely sabotage your future self.

1.Caring too much about what others think about you.

 

If you are doing big, adventurous, faith-filled and curious things, there will always be people who feel small around you. Your desire to live a curious life that is full of faith will illuminate some people’s desire to live a life characterized by safety. And they will belittle you as a result of their own insecurities.

Do not take this personally. This is often more about them than it is about you.

Not everyone has the same level of risk tolerance, and not everyone is at the same place in their faith.

Take careful inventory of your words.

Ask God to protect your heart and continue to bring clarity to you as you lead and leverage your one and only life.

2. Caring too little about what God thinks about you.

 

From heaven’s perspective you are a magnificent creation of the most high God. And there is no doubt that God has woven abilities, talents and gifts into your life that you have not even come to realize yet!

Little stuff that other people never even notice are things that God notices because He made you on purpose.

God recognizes and keeps track of every detail of your life.

One of my favorite stories to illustrate this truth is of the Statue of Liberty.

Oscar Hammerstein had seen a picture, a photograph of the top of the Statue of Liberty from a helicopter. And he said, “This picture reveals the intricate detail that has been sculpted on Lady Liberty’s head, her hair and her crown and all of those things at that angle which no one could ever see,” and he said, “I got to thinking that sculptor must have realized that never will anyone see the top of the Statue of Liberty’s head, since there were no airplanes or helicopters when the statue was set in place. But he spent the same kind of detail and care and painstaking craftsmanship on the top of Lady Liberty’s head as he did down at the feet and everywhere else that would be seen by everyone.”

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God has carved things into you that only He can see.

You were created by the oldest, most famous, skilled, loving Creator in the history of the world.

Believe what God says about you and don’t get fearful and fail to fulfill the purpose and plan for which you were created.

Ephesians 2:10 – For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

3. Living in the future and neglecting the now.

 

Leaders are built for the future.

But our faith, friendships and family are all requesting that we live in the now.

I can tell you from personal experience that one of the quickest ways to sabotage your future self is to live constantly in the future.

I would say to leaders that instead of “living” in the future you should be content to “visit” the future … but continue to live in the now.

 

The Up & Downside of Anger

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Did you know that it’s not wrong or sinful to get angry.

You will have moments of anger enter your life. It is normal.

The command, specifically in the Bible, is not don’t ever get angry.

Paul says in Ephesians …

Eph. 4:26-27 – “In your anger do not sin” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

The command is “in your anger” do not sin.

Anger is a neutral emotion.

Anger, of course, can be negative.

You are waiting for a parking space in the parking lot and you see a car with its taillights lit up! And you pull up close and put on your turn signal and wait and wait and wait.

“What are they doing in there?”

Finally, as they are pulling out and you are preparing to safely pull in … another car swoops in and steals your space.

And you lose it!
In the car … with your kids watching!

Anger can obviously be a negative emotion.

But anger can also be positive.

For instance, the Super Bowl is coming to the Bay Area of California in a few weeks. And did you know that experts say that many hundreds, or some would argue thousands, of young girls are being brought into that city for the sex trade industry.

That should make you angry.

Several years ago, in 2011, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told USA Today pertaining to the SuperBowl … “It’s commonly known as the single largest human trafficking event in the United States.”

There is what the Bible calls a “righteous” anger…

  • Children being mistreated and abused.
  • Poor being oppressed.
  • People misusing God’s name.

Friends, it is not wrong or a sin to get angry.
HOWEVER …

It is wrong and a sin to stay angry.

Eph. 4:26b – Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,

The application we usually hear with this verse is in the context of married people not “going to bed angry.”

It is a good thing to stay up late and talk and resolve issues …

But there are also some issues in our lives and marriages that you cannot resolve in a few hours.

Because the anger a person feels at night is often not directly related to something that happened that day.

Here is something I have learned about anger in just the last few years …

Anger is a secondary emotion.

Anger is always a result or re-action to something else that has occurred in your life – it’s a secondary emotion.

Anger is like an iceberg where other emotions exist “below the water line.” They are not immediately obvious to you or other people. So what you are visibly angry about today … may have actually occurred days, weeks or many months ago and it’s just now coming to the surface.

You may have been “ignored” by a friend at school three weeks ago and it is just now coming to the surface today.

Your mom or dad may have “abandoned” you a decade or two or three ago and because of factors in your family, career or finances it is just now rising to the surface of your life.

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So when Paul says “do not let the sun go down still while you are still angry”

He is saying … do not let today’s anger carry over into tomorrow and do not allow yesterdays anger to carry over into today.

Carry your anger as short a time as possible!

WHY????

Eph. 4:27 – and do not give the devil a foothold.

When we allow anger to exist unresolved in our lives and when we carry it over from day to day, month to month and year to year these bites can turn quickly turn into bitterness.

And Paul says that we end up giving the devil a “foothold” in our lives …

The word “foothold” in the Bible is the Greek word “topos.” And it means to stake out a claim.

When we allow anger to exist unresolved in our lives … the devil stakes out a claim in our lives.

The devil owns part of your heart.

That is why Paul goes on to say …

Eph. 4:32 – Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

I understand that this is not easy to do. There are some of you who have experienced horrific things in your life. It is incredibly difficult to forgive. And I would suggest the only reason you can even consider forgiving others … is because God has already forgiven you through His Son Jesus!

We have all been forgiven much.

And it is forgiveness that breaks the power and grip of anger in our lives.

Realize friends the Ups & Downs of Anger …

Anger is neutral, secondary emotion that is not sinful to have, but is sinful to harbor.

Would You Loan It?

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As we begin a New Year I wanted to play a quick game of …

Would You loan It?

 

Let’s start with students … let’s say you have one of these hover boards, and it is amazing! You tell all your friends at school about it for several weeks, and then one day one of your friends tells you her family is going on a weekend getaway trip … and your friend wonders if she could borrow your hover board.  Would you loan it?

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Or ladies … let’s say you have one of these Louis Vuitton handbags. This is the large size bag, and it’s from the “delight” collection. It is exactly the one you have been hoping and praying to receive. You take this bag to work for the next several weeks, and then one Friday morning one of your co-workers says she and a few of her friends are going on a “girls getaway weekend” to San Deigo. And she knows it sounds crazy … but could she borrow your new Louis Vuitton bag? Would you loan it?

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And gentlemen … let’s say you have a set of brand new Ping golf clubs. You are out in the front yard examining all the clubs and chipping a little with one of your wedges, and one of your neighbors comes outside. He sees you and your clubs, and he comes up to you and says, “Wow, those are some nice new clubs. You know … I have been thinking that maybe I would like to learn how to play golf this year! Is there any chance I could take your new Ping’s out a time or two this next week to learn to play?”  Let me ask you something, men … would you loan it?

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I know this is going to sound crazy, but if you can’t loan it …
you don’t own it.

“It” owns you! 

“It” already has your heart. 

And the reason this is such a big deal (especially for those who follow Jesus) is because God knows that if we are not careful … we can quickly move from owning stuff … to our stuff owning us!

We want to possess things, and then we discover that things possess us.

We find that our heart is attached to our things, rather than God.

Wherever your money goes … your heart follows. 

The reason I can say that with 100% confidence is because that is what Jesus says when He is talking about money in Matthew 6.

Matthew 6:19 – 21  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Our hearts and money travel together.

The reason God is concerned with your money and your stuff is because He is concerned with your heart.

Your stuff is temporary … loan it to others.

Your heart is eternal … give it to God.

Jesus, Santa & VW Buses

photo by Joe Johnston
(Photo by Joe Johnston)

I fell in love with Santa before Jesus.

I can remember the smell of pine and the glow of the Christmas tree covered with about 80 pounds of tinsel. The smell of cinnamon wassel on Christmas Eve, cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. And presents! It was easy to fall in love with Santa.

I knew who Jesus was all through my Elementary School years, but I didn’t really outwardly love and talk about Jesus until my High School years. There were many times during High School I had to remember …

I did my best to be a good reflection of Jesus in High School, but I am afraid I fell far short. There are still days where I look through my yearbooks from two decades ago and wish I had been more obviously passionate and outspoken about Jesus. He was my constant companion who gave me dexterity and got me through High School. I should have been more outward about my allegiance to Him. Then maybe others would have been curious. 

It was in my early 20s that I fell in love with VW buses.

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I bought my first VW Westfalia camper bus when I was 26 years old and a youth pastor in Indianapolis, Indiana. I loved that bus. And when it wasn’t running just right, I actually took the motor out of the bus one Thanksgiving, put it in my garage and attempted that winter to rebuild it. I can still remember the smell of gas, grease and propane heaters. I bought a Chiltons VW manual and gave it my best shot. To make a long story medium length – that bus never ran again! The guys who bought it from me had to tow it out of my driveway. Since then I have owned three more camper buses. Including this latest camper I just purchased in June of 2015. Her name is Jetty. She’s a 1962 SO 23. 🙂

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These days I don’t talk about Santa much, but I talk about my love for Jesus and VW buses pretty much daily!

You are possibly wondering why this trilogy of stories? And what do they all have in common?

 

Here is what I have learned …

As we head into 2016 … don’t be afraid to admit what you love and what you are passionate about.

 

Too many people in this world are sour.

Everything sucks.

And they suck … … … … the joy out of life and don’t appreciate all the good things God has given us.

Here is my simple challenge to you this Christmas season and this New Year …

Spend more time proclaiming what you are for rather than what you are against.

What you love is far more compelling
than what you hate.

Stand up.

Stand out.

Live passionately.

Make people curious.

Make Jesus more famous.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Christmas At The Movies: ELF

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How do we experience joy in such a crazy, hectic, often lonely and sad season?

On the weekend of December 5/6 I kicked off our “Christmas at the Movies” series at Christ’s Church of the Valley.

The following is a full HD message about the movie ELF and the topic is JOY!

Since its release in 2003, ELF has become an instant classic.

The movie is about Buddy the Elf, who as a toddler in an orphanage crawled into Santa’s bag of toys and got transported back to the North Pole, where he was raised by Papa Elf.

As Elf grows up it becomes more and more obvious that he is not an elf. He is in fact a human, and his real father, who doesn’t know him, lives in New York City. So, Buddy the ELF, played by Will Ferrell, begins a journey of finding his father and ultimately saving Christmas by convincing people Santa is real.

Buddy the Elf tells everyone he sees that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!

That sounds great – but unfortunately many people don’t experience much joy or cheer this time of the year.

Christmas joy is often buried under busy calendars, wrapping paper, strained relationships and credit card statements.

As David Crabtree wrote, “Christmas Eve will find us lifting up our weary voices to sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” Then we rush from the service to get one last gift, or visit one last party. So soon it is over. We save the bows, burn the wrappings, strip the tree, and labor over our New Year’s resolutions. Too often we have missed the point. We’re like the man who goes to the coast but never sees the ocean. The threat of a holiday hijacking is all too real. Unless we engage our hearts in a true celebration of Christmas joy, we are easily caught up in a pointless and mindless holiday.”

Here is the truth …
Christmas can actually be more stressful than joyful if we are not careful.

Maybe your stressful circumstances are …

  • Physical.
  • Relational.
  • Financial.

Your Christmas season could be void of joy for any number of reasons.

I want to remind you today of two truths about joy from the Bible and the movie ELF.

1. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be joyful.

Buddy the Elf does not have a perfect life.

– He does not fit in at his house – literally.
– He feels lonely.
– He is made fun of.
– He is misunderstood.

Maybe you have been there or you are there … you don’t feel like you fit where you are. You feel lonely, misunderstood or made fun of. You don’t feel “happy” during this time of year.

Even if you don’t “feel” happy, you can still experience joy.

Happiness and joy are two very different things.

Happiness is external
Joy is internal.

Happiness hinges on what happens.

Happiness = “happenstance”

I’m happy because everything seemed to work out. Happiness is a volatile and temporary state because it depends on what happens.
In this world we live in, we will not always be happy.

I believe that’s why God also created us with the capacity to experience joy.

Joy transcends the external circumstances of our lives.

Happiness is dependent on the flesh.
Joy is dependent on the Spirit.

Joy is a gift from the Holy Spirit of God.

Gal. 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

This passage is not a “to do” list … this passage is a “result” list. This passage is a picture of what walking with the Spirit can look like.

These are not the fruit of …
– The person raised in a Christian home.
– The person who comes to church every week or leads a small group.
– The person who never drinks, swears or loses his temper.

These are the fruit of the SPIRIT – you don’t earn – pull off – conjure up or produce this fruit on your own!

In order to experience joy in the midst of challenging circumstances you must allow the Holy Spirit to control your life.

If you want to move from happiness to joy –
you must move from your own flesh to being controlled by the Holy Spirit of God.

You can’t do it on your own!

The good news is that God can do it in you … the Joy of God can actually transcend the #SuckyCircumstances of your life.

When we look at the very first Christmas …

Mary the mother of Jesus did not fit in; she was certainly lonely, misunderstood & likely made fun of.

Mary’s circumstances were far from perfect. She was a teenager, somewhere between 12 & 17 years old.  She was in love & engaged and pledged to be married – yet before the wedding day came, Mary became pregnant! And it wasn’t her soon to be husband Joseph’s baby. The baby was from the Holy Spirit of God. I can promise you this is not what Mary had dreamed. This was stressful, and she had a lot of explaining to do with Joseph and others. Yet she was in tune with the Holy Spirit of God, so she was able to rejoice even in a difficult and uncertain season of her life.

Luke 1:46-49 – And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.

Your life doesn’t have to be perfect to be joyful!

2. Joy comes from knowing “Him.”

To everyone else at the department store, this Santa looked just like another holiday hired hand. They knew every other department store would have a similar – cookie cutter – red suit – white bearded Santa. However, Buddy the Elf is not talking about just another Santa when he says, “I Know Him!”

He is talking about the REAL Santa …
– Who lives in the north pole
– Who has a real workshop
– Who helped raise him

Buddy actually knows the real – original – famous – Santa!

Which leads me to this HUGE truth today … do you know what will really bring JOY to your life this Christmas season?

Getting to know HIM!

Getting to really know Jesus this season is what will bring JOY to your life. No matter your circumstances.

You can come to know Jesus today!

Romans 10:13 – Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Romans 10:9 – If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

So the question, my curious friends is … Do you know Him?

Watch this short video that presents one of the greatest descriptions of who Jesus is that you will ever see!

And realize you can know Him!!!

 

 

You Believe You’re Grateful – But Do They?

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This post you are about to read was inspired by a message I heard many years ago by Andy Stanley. Through the years Andy’s unique outlook on common Bible passages has inspired me. I hope this article will inspire you this Thanksgiving and Christmas season.

Have you heard the story of the 10 lepers who come to Jesus for healing?  Jesus heals them all, BUT ONLY ONE RETURNS TO GIVE THANKS.

This is their story …

Luke 17:11-13 – Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

I want to pause here because to fully grip this text we need to understand a little bit about leprosy in Jesus day.

  • It would begin with pain in the joints, feeling tired all the time, lethargic, move slowly and feelings of numbness.

Some of you are thinking … that’s me!

 

  • A leper would also begin to lose sensation in their nerves. So they would cut their finger, ear or leg and not even feel it. There are stories of rats that would come and gnaw on their fingers and toes when they slept and they couldn’t feel it.
  • Their skin would begin to ulcerate.
  • They would get these discolored patches of flesh on body and face.
  • People with leprosy would have their vocal cords ulcerate leaving their voice hoarse and rasp.

leper

In Jesus’ day leprosy was a death sentence. If you were a leper when you entered town ~ you were required to shout “Unclean, unclean!” Lepers would never be with their family or friends again. You were not allowed to worship at the temple. They would live in a colony outside of town left to rot and die. They were worthless.

This is the condition of the 10 men who encountered Jesus.

 

Luke 17:13-14 ~ They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14When he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

As they were walking ~ something happened …

  • Where their faces had been callused and disfigured … suddenly their skin was smooth.
  • Where they had no feeling .. suddenly they could feel again!

The nightmare was suddenly over. Hope had returned. They were going to live!

This was indeed the greatest day of their lives! 

Luke 17:15-19 ~ One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

This is where I especially love Andy’s insight …

Ever since I was a child I have been taught … “Don’t be like the nine!”

That is the moral and over arching principle of this story.

I mean HOW UNGRATEFUL CAN YOU BE?  These guys were just given their lives back! They were cured and cleansed. They were going to be able to embrace their children again. They were going to be able to go back to work and go to the temple to worship.

They have been given their lives back, and they didn’t even go back to Jesus. How ungrateful.

Don’t / be / like / the / nine!

 

Let’s be realistic, curious friends.

Do you really think these 9 guys were ungrateful?

Again, I love Andy’s insight …

I don’t think so!

I don’t think these guys were ungrateful.

These guys have just been given their lives back.

Where do you think they went after they were cleansed?

I believe they went back to their homes and instead of shouting “unclean, unclean” they shouted “I’m clean, I’m clean!”

They jumped, danced,  hugged kids, kissed wives, shook hands and no one ran from them. They were as thankful and grateful as they could be.

The problem these nine men had is not that they didn’t FEEL gratitude … their problem is that they never returned to express their gratitude!

 

Ten guys are grateful in their hearts and only one returned to outwardly express his gratitude.

This leads us to the HUGE relational principle that we must understand today.

Unexpressed gratitude
actually communicates ingratitude.

 

If you are not careful you can spend your whole life believing you are a grateful person when actually others around you view you as ungrateful.

How could this be?

It’s simple … most of us tell people how grateful we are for so and so and so and so and so and so …

But we never actually take the time to go back to tell “so and so”!

This happens all the time.

If I were to ask you who you’re grateful for in your life … you would say …

  • Parent
  • Teacher
  • Coach
  • Boss
  • Spouse
  • Kids
  • Pastor

You could make a list.

 You would exude gratitude!

 

But my question is … do those people know you’re grateful?

Have you expressed your gratitude to them?

Do we return our gratitude to the ones who deserve it?

Are you like the 9, or are you like the 1?

The other nine lepers no doubt expressed their gratitude to their family and friends over and over and over and over. And that is great, but Jesus was the person these men needed to go back and express gratitude towards.

Our unexpressed gratitude
actually communicates ingratitude.

 

I want us to realize this Thanksgiving and Christmas season that we actually have a lot in common with the 9 who did not return. It’s not that we are ungrateful.  We just don’t take time to slow down and go back and express it!

May I suggest during this season that you …

  • FEEL gratitude for you husband or wife … you just need to take the time to express it to him or her.
  • FEEL gratitude for you job … you just need to take the time to express it to your boss.
  • FEEL gratitude for your friends … you just need to take the time express it to your friends.
  • FEEL gratitude for your church … you just need to express it to your church. 

Send someone you are thankful for a text, email, snapchat or better yet a phone call or letter today.

Don’t be like the nine.

Live curious friends.

 

9 Characteristics Of Next Level Leaders

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I am currently in the Dominican Republic with a cohort of pastors on a “Next Level Leaders Retreat” sponsored by GO Ministries.

It has been an amazing week experiencing multiple expressions
of culture shaping local ministry.

God is at work through the church plants, seminary, nutrition centers, sports teams, kingdom businesses, medical centers and local leaders that GO Ministries has raised up and empowered over the past several decades.

Part of our time together has been spent discussing this curious thing called leadership. I have been privileged to give several talks about how next level leaders live curious lives.

Here are 9 of the 15-20 ingredients we have talked about that are often mixed into the life of a next level leader.

1. They lead themselves first.

One of the most curious axioms I have learned and been forced to embrace in the past 3-4 years is …

I am the most important person I lead every week. 

That could sound so self centered and egotistical but it is not meant to be. It’s just true.

If I can’t lead myself well … I won’t be leading others for long. I am the most important person I lead every week!

2. They say NO.

“The enemy for leaders is not lack of opportunity; it’s the overabundance of opportunity.” I love this quote from my friend Carey Nieuwhof. Isn’t it true that next level leaders usually have an abundance of opportunities.

There is always someone saying, “You should be here, you should be there, you should do this, you should do that.”

It’s easy to let others SHOULD ON YOU!

Worse yet … next level leaders often SHOULD ON THEMSELVES!

And I “should” add …

Opportunity does not equal obligation.

Leaders listen, if you never say “NO” and you try to care for everything you will soon realize you do not have the capacity or bandwidth to care for anything!

You will flourish yourself to death.

What I have learned is that ministry is so comprehensive you must actually steward your energy and compassion. Jesus didn’t have unlimited energy and capacity to care – neither do you.

3. They visit the future but live in the now.

It is so easy for leaders to live in the future. After all, it is our job to lay track so the train never has to stop. Right?!?!

The problem for leaders living in the future is that they inevitably neglect the now. It’s not possible to be present in both places. And when we live largely in the future we skim life.

Thus my challenge to next level leaders is …

– Make plans.
– Lay track.
– Cast vision.
– Dream ahead.

Visit the future, but live in the now!

4. They understand their culture is their currency.

It’s a somewhat curious and count-intuitive thing but when it comes to recruiting and retaining next level leaders …

– A pay-check won’t keep them … someone will always pay them more.
– The perfect job description won’t keep them … there will always be a better job description.
– A big house won’t keep them … there will always be a bigger and better house.

So what keeps them? An infectious culture keeps them. Your culture is your currency.

5. They have a long list of “obeyed” Holy Spirit promptings.

In my estimation there is no better way to be balanced, healthy and refreshed than to have a constant string of “obeyed” Holy Spirit promptings in your life.

The Bible is also clear, throughout scripture, that the Holy Spirit gives promptings and whispers to the hearts of His people. I know that promptings are rather mystical and mysterious and I’m not sure how they fit into your theology.

Yet, doesn’t it seem true that if God lives in us by the power and presence of his Holy Spirit. He will give us promptings?

The truth is there are only two kingdoms you can build – yours and His.

If you obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit of God you are building HIS kingdom.

If you do not obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit of God you are building YOUR kingdom.

SO … WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU OBEYED A PROMPTING?

If you cannot honestly remember the last time you obeyed a Holy Spirit prompting  you had better take a really good look at whose kingdom you’re building.

If we are not daily obeying promptings we are in danger of building our kingdom not His!

6. They understand the pit falls being omni-aware.

Our world is becoming increasingly “omni-aware.” We are now aware of all the good and all the bad in the world the moment it occurs.

Think about that …

– We see every heroic act immediately.
– We see every violent act immediately.

Thus creating unintended hero’s and villains almost daily. 

When I think about our current culture – it feels like we are living in a comic book. Because we are globally aware of super hero’s and villains like never before.

Often what happens to Christians when we get a real-time look at the world we get depressed. Because frankly it often looks like the Church is losing.

I love the documentary on CNN a few years ago that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the allied invasion of Normandy. During this special documentary CNN interviewed two elderly men who had been young soldiers and participated in the Normandy invasion.

An infantry soldier was interviewed and said, “We landed on the beach and I made my way thru dead body after dead body … I saw my whole unit killed! I fought hand-to-hand combat paying a high price for every foot of territory. I looked all around me at all the dead bodies and I fell to my knees in defeat. And I said to myself … there is no way we can win.”

A reconnaissance pilot was also interviewed and said, “It was my job to fly over the entire area of the battle and then report back to the allied command everything I could see from my aerial perspective. And as I flew over the battle field with every hour I became more and more confident with what I saw. And I said to myself … there is no way we can lose!”

Two people viewing the same set of circumstances only from a different perspective.

I believe it’s our job as next level leaders of God’s Church
to remind God’s people about God’s view.

If we could just this world from heavens perspective we would see that the message of Christ is advancing every single day. And there is no way we can lose!

7. They leverage technology.

Technology is amoral.

It can be used for either good or bad – just like money.

We should be curios and committed to leveraging all platforms, old and new, for good.

8. They have next level friends who they can be 100% honest with.

Ministry is hard. Isolation makes it even harder.

I read a study recently that claimed 70% of pastors do not have close personal friends, and no one in whom to confide.

This just seems crazy to me but also awkwardly true as I encounter lonely leader after lonely leader. We don’t share life very well together is seems. Maybe we are too busy, jealous, preoccupied or focused on our “own thing” to care about another persons thing.

This is tragic and I’d say to all wanna be next level leaders…

Let’s be others centered not self centered. 

Let’s do our very best to live and model for others what Paul says in Romans, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” 

9. They have a killer commitment to a private devotional time.

What is it that separates you from a very charismatic, gifted, energetic, determined person who works for a Boys And Girls Club or a Chick fil A franchise or Google or some benevolent brand or non profit?

Your connectedness to God.

The greatest and most compelling thing next level leaders have to offer this world is our connectedness to God.

For many years I had a small sign in my office that said …

When you are faced with a busy day …
save precious time by skipping your daily devotions.
~Sincerely,
Satan

Don’t let satan make you so busy with “good things” that you miss the “best thing” your daily time with God.

Next level leaders have the ability to lead people closer to God because they have been close to God themselves!

 

There you go … a short excerpt from several of my Dominican Republic talks.

Live curious friends.