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It All Starts With Worship

Prayer is such a vulnerable activity! Why? Because it requires that we face what is going on inside our own heart and start expressing to God our most intimate emotions and desires. If you are going through a difficult time, when you pray, you instantly feel the burdens of your heart rising to the surface.

This truth is part of why Jesus taught his disciples to begin their prayer time with worship: “Our Father, who dwells in heaven, praise and honor be to your Name.” (Matthew 6:9) Our choice to begin with worship does several things for us:

#1 – IT MAGNIFIES THE REALITY OF WHO GOD IS

It is our tendency to magnify our present problems and disappointments. The bigger they are in our eyes, the heavier they feel on our hearts. Worship chooses to use the telescope instead of the microscope. We turn our attention to the size and capacity of our God who rules over heaven and earth. We turn our attention away from the size of our problems and gain the perspective of just how small and temporary our challenges are in comparison with the immensity and eternity of our Creator God.

My father-in-law, David Spencer, said it like this, “I will not tell God how big my problems are, I will tell my problems how big my God is.”

#2 – IT IDENTIFIES ME AS A CHILD OF THE GOD

When Jesus referred to God as “Our Father” He was introducing a revolutionary concept! Up until then, no one thought of God based on that kind of intimate and privileged relationship. But it is a fact that when we surrender our lives to Christ, we are adopted into God’s family. We become a son or a daughter of the Most High!

Romans 8:16-17a declares, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” 

When we worship we recognize who God is to us personally (Our Father) and why we have the right to pray with boldness (we are co-heirs with Christ).

#3 – IT CLARIFIES THE AUTHORITY BY WHICH WE PRAY

“Our Father who art in heaven,” is a phrase that conveys rulership. Our Father rules from the heavens. Everything in the universe is under His feet. When we worship we are declaring His authority and power. We are recognizing that nothing is too difficult for Him and that our lives rest in His hands.

#4 – IT EDIFIES ME SO THAT I FEEL STRONG ENOUGH TO GO ON

Sometimes all I need to do is worship. Sometimes all I can do is worship. I may not know how to pray or what to even ask God to do. But when I worship, I connect with something greater than myself. When I worship, I experience the release of God’s presence which brings a supernatural deposit of His peace.

In Psalm 57, David pours out his fears to God and then makes a radical decision.  “I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.”

Here’s the transition: “God I feel like I am going to die and everyone around me is trying to bring me down! But I know that if you are exalted, everything will be ok.  I don’t know what to pray for, so I just ask that God be glorified in my situations. And since I am tied to Him, when He is exalted, I too will be lifted up.”

#5 – IT SATISFIES THE DEEPEST PARTS OF MY SOUL

Worship is actually an invitation.  It is an invitation to the Holy Spirit to flood our lives with His Presence.  Worship is magnetic.  Wherever people are worshiping there you will find the Holy Spirit rushing into the hearts of those present.

Worship is activation. In all reality, the Holy Spirit is already present in the life of every believer. But the choice to worship activates Him to operate within your soul.  It’s like shaking a bottle of carbonated soda. You can see the bubbling up on the inside.

“And where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17) – There is life. There is joy – There is peace. There is deep and lasting satisfaction and fulfillment.

So why not begin your day with a season of worship?  It’s both the biblical and practical thing to do.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON  PRAYER – VISIT PRAYINGWITHCONFIDENCE.COM

Keys To Personal Growth

So do you want me to tell you the truth, or do you want me to sugarcoat it for you?

This was the question that a mentor of mine asked me a few years ago.  It was blunt.  Direct.  Unfeeling.  Intimidating.  How does one even answer a question like that?

I wanted to say, ‘please be kind.  Encourage me.  Tell me how wonderful that I already am.’  But I knew that wasn’t going to help me grow.  I also know that  was the cowardly way out.  So I said, ‘tell me the truth!’  And then I braced myself for what came next.

What unfolded was both a clear and kind description of an area of weakness in my personal skills as a leader.  When I asked him how to fix it, he provided a very clear and simple assignment for growth.  He also offered to me opportunity to check back after I made some attempts at change, so that he could both affirm and advise me further.

It was a powerful coaching moment in my life.  The result of which was genuine growth and development in my life.  An area of weakness, became a current area of strength for me, just because I was willing to hear the truth.

Ephesians 4:15 teaches us what we need to grow, “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”

The prescription for growth:  someone to speak truth in love to you.

#1 – Truth without love – is harsh, condemning, difficult to receive and apply.

#2 – Love without truth – is soft, unhelpful, and really not love at all to allow me to stay in the condition I am in without offering the option to change.

But when you combine the two.  It’s powerful, transformative, inspiring, and truly helpful.  Every leader who aspires to grow, needs at least one person in their life who can speak truth in love.  The best kind of feedback comes through real time observation and immediate feedback.  We say, ‘Watch me do this and then tell me the truth in love so I can improve.’

How about you?  Do you have someone in your life to speak the truth to you in love about your life and leadership?  Are you giving others that gift as well?

Are You Happy With Your Life?

In twelfth chapter of Luke, Jesus makes several observations about life that seem to be inside-out and upside-down to the value system of rest of the world.

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#1 – ‘Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’  (Luke 12:15b)

This statement comes in the midst of a story about a rich fool, who accumulated barns packed full of grain and then died at an early age.  The morale of the story is distribution is more important in life than accumulation.  It’s not about what I have, its about what I give away.

So anytime we are measuring our life based on the amount we possess, we are measuring based upon a foolish standard.

#2 – ‘Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.’ (Luke 12:31)

When we seek the Kingdom of God, this is far more specific in its objective that just seeking God.  The Kingdom of God is about God’s purposes on earth.  It’s about establishing His rule and leadership over things.  It’s about His agenda and His passion and desire for the world.

The promise is that if we own His agenda, He will own ours.  If we make His purpose our priority, He will make our needs His priority.

#3 – ‘Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.’ (Luke 12:34)

Your affections will always follow your investments.  If you want to grow your passion, then increase your contribution.  You can trace your passion to that which you give thought to, time to, and to that in which you invest finances.

We could call these three powerful statements by Jesus, KEYS TO LIVING IN TRUE ABUNDANCE.

Vision & Values

Over the past number of weeks, I have been recognizing the importance of CULTURE as it relates to leadership and ministry.  Merriam-Webster defines ‘culture’ as, ‘a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a group, family, or organization.’

My observation:  It is possible to have the right vision, and a solid strategy and yet fail to create a culture that reflects what we want to be.  I believe in that statement, ‘what we are is more important than what we do or how much we accomplish.’

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Culture defines what we are.  Vision defines where we are going.  Strategy defines how we are going to get there.  Just like vision has to be pursued, and strategy has to be executed, culture has to be built one value at a time.

THESE ARE SOME OF THE VALUE STATEMENTS WE ARE BUILDING CULTURE UPON:

THE ONE- We want to have the eyes of Jesus to see the hurting, forgotten, broken, and disconnected from God. Our mission is simply love. If we go after the one everyone else overlooks, God will give us the ones everyone else wants.

KINGDOM FIRST – I put God’s problem first. If I care about God’s problems, he will care even about mine. We measure by Kingdom growth, not by church growth.

 BOOK OF ACTS LIFESTYLE – We want to see every aspect of the early church active in the way we do live, especially the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit giving evidence of the risen Jesus.

 DESIGNED FOR THE UNCHURCHED – We intentionally design our environments and experiences for those who are not yet followers of Jesus. We don’t compromise anything. We explain everything.

FAMILY-ORIENTED WITH A FOCUS ON THE NEXT GENERATION – We realize that the next generation is the most at risk of disconnecting with God and with the church. We also realize that they are the ripest harvest field. We live with the constant awareness, that we are always one generation away from extinction.

IT’S NOT WHAT WE DO, IT’S WHO WE SET INTO MOTION – Our primary role is to equip and release people into the work of the ministry. Jesus never focused on how many people attended His large events. He spent most of his time developing up a small group of world-changing leaders. This also affects how we see staff, not as employees, but as sons and daughters. We believe in people. We give them the chance to succeed and fail. We speak the truth in love and believe that He will use unlikely people to extraordinary things.

FUN –The primary way we do evangelism is to create an atmosphere of hospitality, food, and fun. We want to be like the ‘happenin house on the block’ where people not only feel welcome, they feel accepted just they way they are, and know that they can be themselves and have a good time.

When you think of the organization you lead, what are the values you are building upon?

Why I Need A Spiritual Covering!

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God has placed us as His people into a ‘family’.  In fact, that is my favorite way that the church is defined.  We are not just ‘a’ family.  We are God’s family.  We can call God our Father.  We belong to Him and we belong to one another.

One of the mega-benefits of being a part of God’s family has to do with having someone to stand with us, protect us, guide us, and strengthen us.  Having a ‘spiritual covering’ in your life has to do with being properly submitted to and connected with someone who is committed to care for and oversee your life.

Jesus encountered a soldier who had an understanding of the impact of this type of relationship within the spiritual realm:  (the soldier said to Jesus), ‘I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:9-10)

When you are properly submitted to someone else who is healthy, strong, and able to impart something good to you – you gain several things:

#1 – PROTECTION – When the darkness comes at you, they discover you are not alone.  Someone is standing with you in prayer and believing God with you for victory.

#2 – WISDOM – Proverbs teaches us that we find greater wisdom in an abundance of good counsel.

#3 – RESTORATION – God’s method of restoring us when we need it is always loving, supportive relationships.

#4 – CREDIBILITY – It’s easier to trust someone who is properly submitted.  Being submitted reveals teachability and humility.

#5 – ENCOURAGEMENT – Often the Holy Spirit uses those who we are submitted to – to lift us.

#6  – CORRECTION – it’s also easier to hear about something that needs to change from those who have proven to us that they care and that they are capable.

#7 –  IMPARTATION – when we select the right person to be our covering, we gain a portion of the anointing that is upon them.

Everyone needs to be submitted to someone.  So who is it in your life?

 

Signs Of Spiritual Decline

One of the things I am thinking about as we start a brand new year, is the need for all of us to go through seasons of spiritual renewal.  Actually the beginning of a new year provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our lives, our progress, and the state of our soul.  As we review what’s going on in our lives, we want to see God make all things new.

decline1So what does it take to be renewed?  One of the places that we start is in the area of ‘repentance’.  This word means to ‘change our way of thinking or to change our direction; to do a 180 degree shift from a bad pattern or direction’.

There are some signs of decline that require repentance:

#1 – Prayerlessness – Nothing makes us quite as dull as lack of time in the presence of God.  Are we spending time daily in pursuit of His presence?  Are we worshiping?  Are we praying?

#2 – Neglect Of God’s Word – Psalm 1 declares that we become fruitful when we meditate on the Word of God day and night.  Are you investing in Bible reading, Scripture memory, or journaling?

#3 – Compromise – we can see that we are slipping when we start to allow things we know are not best into our experience.  We start to defend the practice.  We rationalize.  But we know that this area of liberty is draining us spiritually.

#4 – Bitterness – nothing chokes out the presence of God like harbored anger.  We have to forgive to see the release of inner freedom.

#5 – Consumerism – decline begins when we start to see our involvement in our local church family the perspective of – ‘how does this benefit me?’  Being involved in a local church is not about you.  It’s about God working through you to benefit others.  If you disconnect or stop serving because you want to get something out of it, you start to slip into a selfish way of life.

#6 – Shame – if we do not process our guilt and let God forgive us, we feel defeated before we even begin.  We need to repent of carrying shame when the blood of Jesus has set us free.

#7 – Disobedience – It sounds simple, but often we just simply are doing wrong or are failing to do what we know is right.

Which of these is holding you back as you enter 2015?  What are you going to do about it?

Four Leadership Skills Necessary For Growth

So what does it take to lead a group from one level of function into a new level of growth and excellence?  In my role as Lead Pastor, I have had to work continuously on my leadership skills. As I coach church planters and campus pastors, I often find myself talking about these four areas.

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#1 – VISION – to describe a picture of a specific preferred future.

You can’t lead people anywhere unless you tell them where you want them to go.  What does the future look like?  This involves describing both WHAT you want them to do and even more, WHY you want them to do it.

#2 – STRATEGY – to describe how and when you are going to do it.

Vision and strategy are different.

Vision is about SIGHT.  It’s about seeing a picture and feeling the emotions of what life will be like when we arrive at the fulfillment of what we are all trying to accomplish together.

Strategy is about STEPS.  It’s about HOW we are going to work together to accomplish our goal.  It’s also about WHO is going to do WHAT and WHEN they are going to do it.

#3 – EXECUTION – to mobilize action and measure results.

A tremendous amount of time is spent on the first two items.  So much has been written about vision and goals and strategic thought.  But none of that holds any value to us if we cannot manage the process and actually get something done.

Execution is about managing time and resources.  It’s about managing people.  And it’s about managing the step by step strategic process, so that what we say we want to do, we actually do.  Execution requires that we act in a timely and effective way.

It requires that we measure short-term goals and results.  It requires that we hold ourselves and others accountable for whether or not they actually do what they have agreed to do.

#4 – COMMUNICATION – to motivate, encourage, and report.

If we establish our vision, form our strategy, and start to execute, but fail to communicate – our efforts will stall out and we will fall short.  I think it was Andy Stanley who said, ‘vision leaks’.  The moment you think that everyone understands the plan, is the moment they will forget.

Skillful leaders communicate often.  They reinforce the vision.  The celebrate the execution. They add urgency to the process.  And they keep on telling people why what they are doing is worth all the effort.

If we are missing any of the above four, it is very difficult to lead anyone to the next level.

Is Love Best When It Is Blind?

Marcus Buckingham wrote a book titled THE ONE THING YOU NEED TO KNOW.  In the book, Buckingham sites a study done at the Universities of New York, Buffalo, Michigan, British Columbia, and Sussex.  It was a study about what makes for a happy marriage.  I need to credit a message I heard from Andy Stanley which introduced me to this book and its application.

Love_Isn__t_Blind_by_gangstergThe study supports the basic premise of 1 Corinthians 13:7, which declares, ‘love always protects, always believes, always hopes, always perseveres.‘  It indicates that lasting relationships are partially made because of the choice to BELIEVE THE BEST about your partner rather than ASSUME THE WORST.

I have to admit that the results of this study are not only counter-intuitive, they are startling.  But here’s a portion of Buckingham’s description of the conclusions of this research.  It should also be stated that the example here is of a husband viewing his wife positively.  The same would hold true of the way a wife views her husband:

In the happiest couples, the husband rated the wife more positively than she did on every single quality.  For some reason, the husband in a highly rewarding relationship consistently credited his wife with qualities that she didn’t think she had.

A cynic might label the husband’s ratings delusions.  If my wife doesn’t think she possesses these qualities but, after ten years, I still do, then perhaps ‘delusion’ is not too strong a word.  The researchers opted for more measured terms such as ‘positive illusions’ and ‘benevolent distortions’ and ‘idealizations,’ but, whatever the label, there was no mistaking the conclusion:  in the happiest couples, the husband stays blind.

Now you might still wonder whether the happy husband, blinded by his positive illusions, is heading for a fall.  My wife and I may be happy today, but woe betide us both when my wife fails to fall in line with my expectations.

The same thought occurred to researchers, and so they decided to track these couples over the next few years.  What did they find?  The husband who rated his wife high on qualities that she didn’t think she had was not only more satisfied with the relationship today, but in the months following reported even greater levels of satisfaction, fewer sources of conflict, and fewer moments of doubt.

So there you have it.  The husband who assumes that his wife possesses strengths that even she doesn’t think she possesses will have a strong marriage today and an even stronger one tomorrow.

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Over time, my positive illusions create an upward spiral of love.  My illusions give me conviction.  My conviction leads to security.  My security fosters intimacy.  And my intimacy reinforces love.  Putting these conclusions together, this controlling insight can serve as the ONE THING you need to know about a happy marriage:

Find the most generous explanation for each other’s behavior and believe it.Love begins with positive illusions, but in strong marriages, these positive illusions don’t give way to dispassionately accurate understandings of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  Instead, these positive illusions weave their strength into the fabric of the relationship, until they become the relationship.  They make themselves come true.  Stated more bluntly, your positive illusions will make your love last.

Managing My Emotional Life

It happens in the life of every leader.  Pain.  Disappointment.  Failed expectations.  Betrayal.  Unexpected set backs.  Unrealized dreams.  One day everything is rolling along with some degree of success and speed.  The next day, you find yourself bent over as if you have just been punched in the gut.

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The wind is knocked out of you.  Everything within you wants to quit.  But it’s Saturday afternoon and tomorrow, you have to get up and speak.  So you process the pain as quickly as you can to be able to survive another weekend.  But the nagging sense of despair begins to settle into your soul.

Weeks go by.  More hits arrive.  The despair deepens. But the show must go on.

I spend a good part of my week coaching and encouraging pastors and leaders from around the country.  This is a story that could be told over and over again.  Details and names might change.  But the reality of the emotional toll that ministry takes on the life of a leaders is a fairly common story.

Here’s an observation that I will make.  My ability to process, recover, and be restored from my own emotional pain is a make-or-break skill when it comes to leading in ministry.  If you don’t learn how to process your own pain, you will end up stalling out at that very point of impact.  But if you learn how to take your pain to God and be restored, the pain of the moment doesn’t have to stop you, it can actually propel you into a stronger state.

#1 – BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF AND WITH GOD

It all starts by pouring your heart out to God and not holding back.  If it hurts, tell Him.  If you don’t understand, ask Him.  Don’t just grin and bear it.  Unload it on the Lord.

#2 – MEDITATE ON HIS PROMISES

God will speak healing to you in the form of a Biblical promise.  Read the Word to gain and specific ‘revelation’ about your situation.  Then sit down and write out your thoughts and reshape your perspective based on His Word.

#3 – IDENTIFY THE ROOT

Every disappointment has a root cause.  There is something in you that is not aligned with God’s best.  Something of pride or insecurity that needs to die.  What is it that this offense has touched.

#4 – SURRENDER YOUR RIGHTS TO GOD

Once you hit the root issue = then surrender it.  Die to it.  Put it on the altar.  Let it go.  Trust God with the results.  Let Him take over the defense of your heart.

#5 – DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING

God will then give you very simple obedience steps that you are to take.  They will be obvious and direct.  Obey your way out of your pain.  Your obedience will reinforce your surrender.

#6 – PLEASE GOD AND CARE ABOUT PEOPLE

Just go back to the basics.  Enjoy God’s presence and His pleasure over your obedience.  Get your eyes off of yourself by loving someone who is unloved or forgotten.

#7 – RE-ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS AND TRUST AGAIN

Get a little wiser about who you trust and what you expect.  But with your wisdom don’t lose your willingness to take risks on yourself and on others.

When it happens again, and it will, repeat the process.  There is no reason why you should stay stuck in an emotional divot.  Get up.  Move on.  Let God lead you forward.

Faith Versus Fear

Psalm 27 is a powerful declaration of faith over fear.  Consider this statement (v3):

Though and army besiege me, my heart WILL NOT fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident!

Hanging Boxing GlovesHow can David make such bold statements?  Fear will not rule me!  My confidence will not be shaken even if war breaks out against me!  Consider the impact of the situation David was in…The armies gather, they surround the city, they scheme for your starvation and death.

As I was meditating on this verse this morning, I was reminded of the fact that fear is not just an emotion it is a choice.  Faith also is a choice that births the feeling of confidence.  I may feel afraid but I do not have to choose fear as the response of my soul. I may feel afraid, but I can still choose faith.

How?  Both faith and fear grow in the IMAGINATION.  In the past, I have struggled with the fear of flying in airplanes.  I noticed that my anxiety level grew as I let my imagination run about all the potential things that could go wrong while in the air.  What if the engine quits?  What if the flaps don’t work?  What if we crash land in the water, could I tread water long enough to live?  You get the idea.

I have since learned that I can use my imagination to fuel my faith.  When on the plane I know imagine that God is carrying me.  I picture the angelic hosts flying alongside.  I focus my mind on God’s promises and meditate on the pictures of God’s involvement through the stories in His Word. I refuse to let my imagination run along the lines of fearful pictures or potential harm.

David was declaring in Psalm 27 his refusal to let fearful images take over his imagination.  Even though an army was gathered against him, he would choose to dream of God’s deliverance.  He was determined to believe God’s promise, even in spite of all the intimidating circumstances.

One of the critical disciplines of a healthy spiritual life is the fueling of your faith through the concentration of your imagination.  2 Corinthians 10:3-5 teaches us that this is true spiritual warfare.  We demolish every imagination that sets itself up against the knowlege of God…and take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.

Even kids can be taught to fuel their faith.  When my kids have had nightmares or feel fear in going to sleep, I try to teach them to use their imagination for the good.  I have them imagine the angels protecting them, or imagine how big God is, or imagine themselves winning a big game or having fun.

Maybe you have been dealing with fear recently?  Make the choice to fuel your faith.  Agree with God’s promises in your imagination.  You may feel fear, but your soul does not have to be ruled by it.  You can choose to take every thought captive and to fill your soul with faith.