Hearing God

April 25, 2016 — Leave a comment

I love the story of Samuel in the Old Testament. As a young boy he ends up serving in the temple under the priest Eli. Eli had grown old and his sons were out of control, but there was Samuel – faithfully doing what the priest should be doing.

There’s an interesting line at the beginning of 1 Samuel 3:

1 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

The word of the Lord was rare.

Ever felt like that? Like the word of the Lord was rare or even absent in your life? I’ve gone through seasons where I wondered if God was still listening. Or whether he was even present at all anymore.

In the story, Eli the priest seems to have given up hearing from God. The last time he heard from God it wasn’t good news and it’s almost as if he’s quit on everything. And so we see this interesting detail:

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Did you catch that? Eli is in “his usual place” while Samuel is lying down “in the house of the Lord.” And guess who hears from God?

Here’s the thing. If the word of the Lord is rare in your life, maybe it’s because you are doing what you usually do. Maybe your “usual place” isn’t where you need to be. The truth is that if you do what you usually do, you’ll get what you usually get. 

For me, I find that I hear most clearly from God when I get out of my usual routines and do something different. It’s when I get out on a lake to fish. When I go to another city and get away from my normal work for a few days. If the word of the Lord is rare in your life, break a routine. Fast, pray, change something. Take a different route home. Turn off the radio. Silence the social media. Go to a conference. Sit on a dock. Go for a walk.

I’m praying for you this week to hear the voice of God in your life.

*For a full message I did on this subject, check out this podcast.

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New Song

March 17, 2016 — Leave a comment

A few days ago, Alastair Vance shared this song with me as we were working on planning our Easter services. It’s been on repeat ever since. I hope you’ll listen and if you’re a STORYCHURCHer I hope you’ll learn it – we’ll be singing it on Easter!

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Sometimes the familiarity of something makes it lose its power. Psalm 23 is pretty familiar to many of us. So the other day I asked the question – “What if the Lord was not my Shepherd?” For me, it came alive in new ways.

The Lord is not my shepherd, so I lack a lot of things.
I rarely lie down in green pastures.
I’m parched for thirst.
My soul is dry.
I end up down the wrong paths, trying to make a name for myself.
When I walk through the darkest valleys,
I’m terrified and feel completely alone.
There’s no one there to comfort me.
I’m hungry and weak and my enemies seem to know it.
I’ve got no purpose of calling.
My cup is empty.
Surely goodness and love have left me and will never return,
and as far as I can tell there’s no future for me at all.

 

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Seattle Mariners batter Ken Griffey Jr. connects for his 40th home run of the season off Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher Wilson Alvarez during the fourth inning Tuesday night, July 21, 1998 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

Those that know me well know that one of my favorite things on the planet is baseball. And my all time favorite player is Ken Griffey Jr. Today as I write this the vote will be revealed and Jr. will be headed to the Hall of Fame. So it felt appropriate to tell my favorite Ken Griffey Jr. story today:

It was right in the middle of his prime. Ken Griffey Jr. as part of the Seattle Mariners was coming to Anaheim to take on my Angels. The stage was set for an epic battle. Randy Johnson on the mound for the M’s. Chuck Finley on the mound for the halos. Two great lefties and arguably the greatest player of a generation roaming center field.

I knew I had to be there. So I gathered some friends together, bought some tickets and headed to the “Big A.” Now you have to realize, this was 1995. The Angels were still a long ways from their first World Series so the fan base was a little thin. All that meant for me was that despite my cheap seat ticket, we were able to make our way to about 8 rows behind the Mariner’s dugout.

Randy Johnson was dealing. But so was Chuck Finley. And he appeared to have Ken Griffey’s number. A strikeout in the 1st inning. The fans around us were all over Griffey. Another strikeout in the 4th. Now one particular fan was giving Griffey all kinds of grief. Every inning as he’d leave the dugout to head out into the field this guy would heckle as loud as he could. When the inning was over and Griffey would come back to the dugout – more heckling.

“Hey Griffey, Finley’s going to strike you out again!”

“Griffey, you’re going to strike out for a third time!”

Now, these guys are professionals. They are paid to tune this kind of thing out. It happens everywhere they go all the time. So as funny as it is and as much fun as we’re all having hearing this guy who has probably been a bit over-served, if you know what I mean, no one expects Griffey to even acknowledge this guy.

But that’s where the fun started. As Griffey is coming off the field we all know he’s due to lead off the 6th inning. This guy is laying into him with everything he’s got. “Griffey, if you strike out again you gotta give me an autograph!” And suddenly Griffey looks up, makes direct eye contact with the guy, and with a big old smile says “If I strike out again, I’ll give you the keys to my Mercedes.”

WHAT?!?! Did that just happen?

Of course, everyone around us is going nuts. We love it. Griffey is having fun and so are we. So when he makes his way up to bat our section is out of control. One strike. The taunting begins at a whole new level. Two strikes. Mr. Heckler is losing his mind. The rest of us are watching this moment as if it’s the most important moment in the history of baseball, when it reality it’s kind of a meaningless game in May. Chuck Finley goes into his windup, he delivers – STRIKE THREE. Griffey doesn’t even swing – he was totally fooled and strikes out looking. By now, my man in the stands and all the crowd around us have gone into a frenzy.

What now? What’s going to happen? What’s Griffey going to do? Did this guy really just get Griffey’s Mercedes?

Two more batters come up and are retired and out pops Griffey from the dugout on his way to center field. But just before he heads out to his position he stops, looks up at our section and tosses a ball to his loudest critic that day – autographed and personally delivered.

Ken Griffey Jr. hit over 600 home runs. He’s probably one of the top 3-4 baseball players in the history of the game. If it weren’t for injuries, he might have been the greatest. I saw Griffey play minor league ball in San Bernardino CA. I saw him hit homeruns and crash into walls making catches on TV. But the day I’ll never forget is when he struck out three times and still managed to be the most entertaining player on the field.

 

**After much digging, I found the box score to this game here.

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Well, it’s that time of year again. Every year I like to keep track of the books I read and then take a look back at what shaped me and what stood out most. First, the list – then I’ll give you some thoughts on some of my favorites.

  1. The Barbarian Way – McManus
  2. The Bourne Identity – Ludlum
  3. Things Fall Apart – Achebe
  4. Notes from Underground – Dostoevsky
  5. The Bourne Supremacy – Ludlum
  6. The New Rules of Love, Sex and Dating – Stanley
  7. The Bourne Ultimatum – Ludlum
  8. Vanishing Grace – Yancey
  9. Let Your Life Speak – Parker
  10. Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good – Wright
  11. Good Leaders Ask Great Questions – Maxwell
  12. Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff – Moore
  13. Scary Close – Miller
  14. Leadership Pain – Chand
  15. The Silver Chair – C.S. Lewis
  16. Inside the Box: A proven system of creativity for breakthrough results – Boyd, Goldenberg
  17. Procrastinate on Purpose – Vaden
  18. The ABCs of Financial Freedom – Cameron
  19. The Key to Everything – Keller
  20. H3 Leadership: Be Humble, Stay Hungry, Always Hustle – Lomenick
  21. Love, Live, Lead – Brian Houston
  22. Millones Cajones – Bell
  23. Leading with the Heart – Krzyzewski
  24. Coaching 101 – Logan

I started the year with an old favorite, The Barbarian Way by Pastor Erwin McManus. Years ago that book gave me a fresh look at faith that caused me to begin to dream crazy dreams and it was good to dip back in to that.

Five of the next six books I read were fiction, and nine total on the year – which has to be some kind of record for me, at least since college. And of course, that’s if you count The Bourne trilogy as actual books. They were incredibly fun to read and hard to put down. I probably didn’t learn much from them but I do know several ways to turn everyday objects into weapons if need be. So there’s that.

I read Things Fall Apart and Notes from Underground on the recommendation of a friend. I get it. Classic literature isn’t always about entertainment. In this case, they were both kind of laborious, but if I’m honest – they have stuck with me in ways other books haven’t. They disturbed me and weren’t necessarily “fun” reads, but probably important nonetheless. (You’re welcome Jared.)

Probably one of my favorite reads this year was “Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff.” The story is told by “Biff” who was apparently the childhood best friend of Jesus. I laughed out loud a lot reading this while on vacation. It’s disturbing at times, and would be deeply offensive to some I’m sure. But in some weird way it made the humanity of Jesus so much more real to me. I loved it. There’s one scene in particular where Jesus’s cousin John is sort of bullying the other kids and won’t stop dunking them under water which basically had me losing it. So good.

On the leadership end, I think Sam Chand’s “Leadership Pain” was so timely for me and one I’ll come back to again and again, while Matt Keller‘s “The Key to Everything” was probably one that resonated deepest with my own leadership values and beliefs. Matt has been a mentor and a friend to me and his voice has been one of the loudest in my life and for that I’m thankful. It has quickly become the must-read book I give to other leaders. I also really loved Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s book “Leading with the Heart.” I’ll admit, I’m a Duke fan so maybe I’m biased. But anytime I get to mix my love of sports with my love of leadership I’m probably going to say it was awesome no matter what.

Well, that’s the quick rundown of the books that shaped me in 2015. What did I miss? What would you recommend I pick up in 2016?

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The local church is unlike any other institution around. As a community the local church is just that – local. It is made up of the people who live in the neighborhood. Today, the “neighborhood” is bigger than ever. It used to be that the local church was made up of those who could walk to it. Today, commuting several miles – even to another city – is quite common. And with all the amazing connections possible through technology – the “neighborhood” is now anyone with internet access.

In some ways the easy access and availability has resulted in the elimination of borders and boundaries. And yet, in many churches those who walk through the doors all look the same. There are lots of reasons for that, many of them good reasons. Some communities are very homogenous. Some styles are simply preferred by people of similar ethnicities. Sometimes there’s an ultra practical issue like a language barrier.

Despite those very normal reasons people end up gathering with others who are like them, the scriptures are full of language highlighting the fact that heaven will be a place of great diversity. People of “every tribe, tongue and nation” will gather together in the worship of God.

STORYCHURCH happens to be in the middle of an extremely diverse community in Durham, NC. In fact, statistically speaking there is no majority group here. No one group holds more than 50% of the population. That fact alone creates a really rich dynamic in our city. Add to it the fact that people from all over the world come here to study at world class institutions like Duke, UNC and NC State, and you’ve got an incredibly diverse community.

Which brings me to my dream for our church. 

 If this is what heaven is going to look like then how great would it be to see a little bit of that here on earth? It won’t be easy. It will create some difficult situations. We’ll have a lot of work to do to be understanding with one another. But I’m just crazy enough to believe it’s possible.

In fact, I think we are starting to see it. As I was writing this post I noticed a picture one of our group leaders posted this week of a gathering of women from our church and I couldn’t help but smile. It’s happening.

ladiesofstory

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IMG_2099(This series is based on a recent teaching I did at STORYCHURCH. I don’t normally do this but it was so important I’m asking you to listen or watch when you can.)

To read part 1 of this series, go here.

The picture above demonstrates so clearly the heart of God.

In James 1 it says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

In other words, take care of the vulnerable, namely vulnerable children and vulnerable women. In our culture today it may not be orphans and widows, it may be foster kids or single parent homes (mom or dad). It may be kids being raised by grandparents or it may be a teenager whose father is incarcerated.

My dream for our church is that we would be known in our city as a church that is taking serious the call to be mentors, coaches, tutors, foster parents, respite providers, youth leaders and advocates for those without a voice.

I pray that teenagers in our city find our church to be full of people who believe in them and want to see them succeed. I pray that single moms find support and mentors for their children. I pray that young people are empowered and raised up to be leaders who shape their culture and break the cycle of pain in so many of their families.

My wife and I have been praying these prayers for a decade or more now and when we moved into our first permanent facility in 2014 we wrote those prayers on the door frames, on the floor and on the stage before finished our renovations.

fatherlesspic We believe these prayers are beginning to be answered. Multiple families within our church are checking in to becoming foster parents, some have already completed classes (including my family!). And this fall we will be hosting Durham Social Services as they train dozens of new potential foster parents right in our facility. It’s an exciting start to what we hope is a movement within our church and ultimately our city.

If you’re interested in learning more about foster care in Durham County, you can go here.

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This weekend I got to teach one of the most important sermons I’ve ever given. I know that’s kind of a big statement but I think it’s true. It turned out to be a message not only about all that God has done in and through our church but about what he was stirring in us for the next season of our church as well. It was a day when so many things came together and we were able to celebrate as we looked back and to anticipate as we looked ahead.

I don’t normally do this, but given the importance of this particular message, I’d actually like to ask you to listen or watch it online – particularly if you are a STORYCHURCHer.

In the coming days I’ll be posting a little bit here on each of the 5 Dreams. For now, here’s the 4 things I said were important for seeing our dreams become reality.

4 STEPS TO SEEING YOUR DREAM BECOME A REALITY.

1) Give your dream voice.

  • When we speak our dreams out loud or write them down on paper we give birth to them. We allow them to live and they can start to grow. If a dream just lives in our head then it hasn’t really moved any closer to ever happening.
  • When we give it birth, it’s natural to experience fear. Don’t let that stop you from giving it a voice.
    • Have you written it down? Does anyone else know it?

 

2) Entrust it to someone safe.

  • Not everyone can handle your dream with the care you need them to use. Some people will be quick to poke holes, to tell you why it could never happen or to shoot it down as an impossibility. Your dream is fragile in this stage. Entrust it to someone who will encourage you, who will pray with you about it, or who will simply celebrate the idea with you.
  • In Genesis 37:19-20 we have the example of Joseph who shared a dream with his brothers about how they would one day bow down to him. Not a good idea.
  • Side note: Be a safe person for others to dream with. Don’t go into problem solving mode, don’t give them a “reality check,” and don’t start poking holes. Offer encouragement, prayer, excitement. We can worry about the details later.
    • Who is the safe person in your life? Schedule a coffee or make it a point to turn off the TV and share your dream tonight.

 

3) Trust the process. (Don’t rush it)

  • Sometimes we get an idea or we feel like God shows us something so we go out and rush to make it happen. If we try and force the dream before it’s ready we can mess things up pretty badly.
    • 3A – We could miss the miracle. It could be that God has just given us a glimpse of what could be and when we go out and max our credit card or jump into a relationship with the first breathing person we find, or quit our job – we could be missing out on the way that God wanted to provide for us. Pastor Andy Stanley says “What God originates, He orchestrates.” In other words, if God gave you the dream, he’ll make it happen. We don’t need to force it.
    • 3B – The other thing that could happen is that we could misinterpret the dream. We may not have the full picture just yet. In Genesis 37 Joseph has a dream that his brothers will bow down to him. He thinks it’s a dream about him and his future. The truth is that it’s a dream about how God is going to rescue his people. Joseph doesn’t get that yet and it takes a lot of pain before he learns the full meaning of the dream.
  • Some of the safe people in our lives (see #2) have sometimes started poking holes too soon in the past because we’ve been the kinds of people who jumped into something without really allowing that dream to develop. We didn’t really trust the process. So those safe people have felt like they better act quickly or we’re likely to sell our houses and move to Indonesia tomorrow. If we’ll trust the process, those people around us will probably become safer people as well.
    • Where do you need to trust the process? 

 

4) Take the first step.

  • Maybe the first step is an act of worship. Jacob (Genesis 28) wakes from a dream where God reveals to Him all that He’s going to do to bless him and his family. The first thing he does is worship God. When’s the last time we thanked God for the thing we don’t yet have but believe He’s promised to us? What if we thanked him for the future spouse? For the kids we don’t yet have? For the freedom we will have when we get out of debt? For the job we pray about?
  • Additionally, sometimes the first step is an act of faith in that it’s the first baby step toward the dream. It’s signing up for the class. It’s buying the running shoes. It’s saving the first $100 toward our goal. It’s making the phone call. You’d be surprised how one small step can be the catalyst that changes everything.
    • What’s your first step?

 

Pastor Tommy Barnett of the “Dream Center” in Los Angeles recently tweeted: “Dreaming is an act of faith.” I couldn’t agree more.

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3 Shocking Words

July 7, 2015 — 2 Comments
Acts 6:8-9 – “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however….”

This story ends with the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the church.

Maybe it’s because I’ve heard this so many times, but it’s hard to read this with fresh ears. It’s hard to approach a story that you already know how it ends. And yet today I read this first line in a new way. I read it with a little bit of surprise and shock. Here’s why.

Stephen is described as a man “full of God’s grace and power.” I’ve known a couple of people in my life who were full of God’s grace. Someone full of grace is hard to hate. They have such an incredible way of loving people, of removing their own self, of getting out of the way and not being easily offended. They are full of compassion, of understanding, and of, well, grace. Stephen is full of God’s grace AND power. And as a result he “performed great wonders and signs among the people.” On top of the grace piece and just being an incredible guy to be around, Stephen is performing wonders and signs. He’s healing people. He’s providing answers to prayers and setting people free from bondage.

Which begs the question – How could anyone not like this guy?

And that is what makes the three words that follow a bit shocking: “Opposition arose, however…” Why would anyone oppose someone full of grace who was helping people and performing such amazing signs and wonders? This guy sounds like the greatest thing since, well – Jesus himself.

The truth is there will always be opposition. Not everyone will love the decisions we make. Not everyone will be as excited about the promotion. Some people will actually root against us. And yet we think that if we just make the perfect decision or if we just make sure to think of everything that somehow we will make everyone happy.

Reality check: It isn’t going to happen. No one has ever been able to please everyone. Not even Jesus. Our job as leaders (or moms, or employees or neighbors) is to be full of God’s grace and power. To do everything we can among those we lead to point them to Jesus and to show them a different way. But make no mistake – opposition will come. So let’s get over the shock of it and stop trying to please everyone and get about the business of doing what we know God has called us to do – to live with His grace and power.

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I was reading recently about Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. Before it happens, Jesus is in another town some distance away. Word is sent to him that his friend is really sick and they beg Jesus to come quickly. Everyone expects that Jesus will drop everything and come to the rescue. After all, it’s an emergency. In fact Jesus even says:

“This sickness will not end in death. No it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

Perfect. Jesus sees that this is serious business and assures everyone that this whole thing won’t end in death. This is where Jesus comes running or maybe even teleports over to Judea and heals Lazarus of his sickness right?

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…”

Wait, what? Jesus hears about the emergency and decides to stay where he is for two more days. And now, when Jesus finally makes it to Judea, it’s too late. What happened to “This sickness will not end in death” Jesus? Lazarus is dead and buried. It’s over.

Until it’s not.

Jesus of course raises him from the dead and he and Lazarus are hanging out again by dinner.

I find it fascinating the words Jesus uses. Jesus specifically said “This sickness will not END in death.” Of course everyone else figured that once Lazarus died that Jesus had in fact been mistaken. But Jesus knew better. For Jesus, the death of Lazarus was simply a step in his healing and restoration. It wasn’t the end. The sickness wouldn’t END in death. Oh there would be death. It just wouldn’t be the end.

Which brings me to us. I wonder how often Jesus hears our pleas and then decides to wait two more days, or twelve more weeks, or three more years. I wonder how many of our dreams or our hopes have died only to have us give up on a promise He gave us?

I’m learning to hang on to the promises of God even in the face of what feels like the end.

So when the door shuts, when the judge says it’s final, when the bank account runs dry, when they leave, when the cancer returns, when the boss says no, when the church plant fails, when the startup never gets off the ground, when the relationship turns cold – If Jesus promised you that it won’t end in death, I’d suggest you believe him.

 

 

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