Archives For FOLLOWING

The thoughts I have about following the greatest leader ever – Jesus.

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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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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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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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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Awareness

August 25, 2014 — 4 Comments

Have you ever noticed how when you get a new car, you suddenly see that same car everywhere? Did everyone all of a sudden buy the same car, or is it possible that you just became aware of something that before went pretty much unnoticed?

Here’s a question – if God were doing something amazing in your life right now, would you notice? I know that seems like an obvious question. But what if our focus is so much on the stress, the pain, the struggle, etc. that we completely miss the movement of God right under our noses?

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I’ve always felt like the most important messages a pastor can ever give are the ones that they preach to themselves first. This week I preached a message that said “The greater the distance, the stronger the arm.” It was part one of a new series we are doing called “Promised Land” where we are tracing the life of Moses. This first message was mostly about the world Moses was born into. It was a time after Joseph had died and now a whole group of Hebrews was finding themselves enslaved and subject to genocide. The Promised Land they all had heard about never felt farther away than it did in that moment. And yet that’s the exact time that God was already moving and Moses was born. The deliver was in the reeds.

It reminded me of what most dudes do when they get around a football. There’s always one who will utter the two words “Go Long.” Every guy wants an opportunity to show off his arm strength. It’s innate really. I believe this is what God is doing sometimes when the Promised Land feels far away. I believe God is just waiting for the opportunity to show off his arm strength.

And so this week’s message was first and foremost for me. I’m right smack in the middle of one of the biggest faith stretching times I’ve ever experienced. For our church we’re trusting God for helping us accomplish a pretty big financial goal in order to renovate our first permanent facility. For my family we are two weeks away from not having a place of our own – all the while trusting God to sell our home in CA and at the same time hoping the house we love will still be available here in NC.

If there ever felt like I time when God was saying “Go long” it is now. We’re praying and hoping and trusting we are running the right route and that God’s arm is strong enough. But that doesn’t make it easy. Some days my faith feels really thin. I doubt. I question. I second guess.

And so I go back and listen to a podcast of me teaching to myself hoping and praying that this guy is right. Because he sounds a lot more sure than I feel sometimes.

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Unplugged

February 9, 2014 — 1 Comment

Unplugged Podcast imageFor the last week I’ve been unplugged from social media completely. No facebook. No twitter. No instagram. No checking in, liking, +1’ing, retweeting, favoriting or anything else. Not only that, but as I drove this week I chose to do so with no music, talk radio, podcasts – nothing. It was a week of silence. And it was pretty awesome.

Now, before I tell you briefly what I learned, I should point out that we just finished up a series called “Unplugged” at STORYCHURCH and this was a challenge we gave our whole church to complete. If you want to know more, you can check out the series here.

Anyway, here’s a few things that this experience showed me:

1. I’m still alive. And as far as I know, so is everyone else. I think a lot of times we want to believe there are a lot of important things happening online, but the most important things that are happening are the little people getting older every day in my own home.

2. I’m a little bit disturbed by some of my habits. In preparation for this, I removed bookmarks from my browser, and moved all my social media apps on my phone to a distant back page. I found out that I click open my web browser and immediately hit the Facebook tab all the time – even when I don’t care or had no intention of going there. It was simply a habit. Same thing with my phone. The first few days I constantly pulled out my phone whenever I had a free moment and went to check twitter. Not seeing the apps was a sudden reminder each time that I had some crazy habits.

3. These social media companies are just that – companies. By the third day I started getting emails from Facebook and Twitter about all the “important” things I was missing online. The truth is, they are terrified of customers (yes, that’s what we are) losing interest. They want to keep us engaged so that their numbers stay up, so that they can then charge top dollar for ads. I’m ok with that, because they should be able to make money by offering me a free service – but let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s all driven by money.

4. Finally, I feel like God was teaching me contentment. The truth is that a lot of social media is looking at other people on their best days. It’s their perfect picture, their well thought out funny line, their carefully crafted tweet, the highlight of their day. And all I see is my frustrating day, my painful conversation, and the awkward person I see in the mirror. Whenever I’m comparing my worst to other people’s best – I find myself longing for their life, their ministry, their experiences, their results.

So all in all, it was a pretty great experience. I won’t be bailing out of social media forever, but I do think I’ll re-enter with a fresh perspective. I think I’ll probably continue to make social media a little further out of reach on my computer and devices.

Have you ever gone “Unplugged?” What do you think the balance of all this should be?

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Lucy

December 3, 2013 — 6 Comments

Tiffany Walder_0492My daughter and I have been reading through the Chronicles of Narnia together. We’re currently about two thirds of the way through “Prince Caspian.” She is captivated by the story, and truthfully, she doesn’t have to beg very hard for me to read more than we had planned. Of all the characters in the Chronicles, she loves Lucy the most.

**Spoiler Alert**  Tonight we read part of the story where Lucy sees Aslan (the Lion, who is also the Christ-like figure of the story) and finds herself in a place where she’s the only one of her company that can see him. He speaks to her and tells her she must follow him even if the others won’t. Lucy goes back to her brothers and sister and tries to convince them that they should follow her. She’s the youngest, and it’s the middle of the night – so as you can imagine it’s a hard sell. But because Lucy was once the first to lead the kids into Narnia, they eventually go along with her, but mostly because they don’t want her to be alone. Lucy leads the crew through the night down a chasm, across a river, and back up the other side – all while keeping her eyes fixed on Aslan. Eventually all the others start to see him too and are convinced that Lucy has been right all along.

After reading this passage my daughter begged once again to read more. Reluctantly it was time for bed, but she excitedly told me “I wish I was in that situation some time, following Aslan through the dark forest.”

And that’s where I start leaking fluid from my eyes.

The fact is, there will be a day, probably many, when my little girl will have to walk through a treacherous season in her life, leading the way even when others don’t believe her or think she has any idea what she’s doing. And all she will be able to do is fix her eyes on Aslan, follow his lead, and start walking.

I think as parents our tendency is to want to insulate our kids and teach them to be safe at all costs. But following Aslan isn’t always safe. So I’d rather model for her what it means to walk after him, to trust him, and to courageously follow him. It doesn’t mean I won’t freak out someday when she tells me she wants to move across the country and plant a church. But I hope I will have the wisdom to get out of the way and cheer her on.

(As I was writing this, it all sounded somewhat familiar to me – sort of a “did I write this before?” type thought. Turns out, I kind of did. Back on my old blog here almost 5 years ago now.)

 

*Thanks to Tiffany Walder for the great photo from our trip to South Africa in 2007.

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Two questions

October 7, 2013 — Leave a comment

I love the story of Gideon from the Old Testament book of Judges. Here’s a guy in the midst of severe oppression, who sees himself as being in a place of no hope and no chance of turnaround. Until one day when God shows up and says “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Now if Gideon was actually a mighty warrior, that might make more sense. But when we find Gideon, he’s actually hiding from his enemies doing everything he can to keep them from stealing his lunch. And according to Gideon, he’s the least important member of the least important family in all of Israel. Not exactly “mighty warrior” material.

Eventually God uses Gideon in an amazing way. He leads an army of 300 against an army of 135,000 and defeats them soundly. It’s a remarkable story. But what really stands out to me the most in this story are the two questions Gideon has for God. I think they stand out the most to me because the resonate so much with me. I know I’ve asked them many times myself.

Why?

When the angel of the Lord greets Gideon with the whole “mighty warrior” business, Gideon responds like most of us would:

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

Why? Why would God allow this to happen? Why do I see such inconsistency between what should be and what actually is? We’ve all been there. Why is my relationship falling apart? Why would you let me get sick? Why is there such injustice in the world? Why aren’t you providing a job for me?

Gideon’s questions is more statement than question right? It’s an indictment of God. He’s basically saying, God if what you are saying is true then you need to do something to prove it to me. You need to show me this is real.

And so God responds:

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

God’s response essentially affirms Gideon’s complaint. He says, yeah you know what Gideon – someone should do something about this. How about you? Go in the strength you have and be the answer to your own question.

Which leads to the second question.

How?

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

When God points the finger back at Gideon his response is “how?” How in the world can I – the weakest of the weak – do anything about this? I’ve asked the same question so many times. In the process of planting a church, I’ve probably asked God a hundred times the “how” question. I’ve come to realize that the answer to that question is above my pay grade. I don’t get to know the plan before I take the next step. And either does Gideon. God tells him:

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.

God’s answer? I’ll be with you. That’s all the “how” you need to know. That’s tough for me to hear. It would be so much easier if God dropped the answers out of the sky in a nice step by step pamphlet. It would be great if we were given the steps in a dream. But generally speaking, all we get is the confidence and assurance that God will be with us.

The reality of following Jesus is that He will often call ordinary people like you and me to do extraordinary things. He puts burdens on our hearts that cause us to ask the “WHY” question. And once we begin to understand our role in tackling that burden, He answers our “HOW” question with His presence.

Whatever burden is on your heart today, whatever cause or person or issue troubles you and causes you to ask “why?” – may you find the courage to “go in the strength you have.” And may you find God’s presence to be all the “how” you need.

*For more on this subject, check out this sermon: http://www.storychurch.org/wp-content/uploads/sermons/Underdogs04.mp3

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