Monday, August 29, 2016

Secret to Success?

Katie Ledecky is the 19 yr. old swimmer who blasted through world records and won several gold medals. In an interview during the recent Olympics, a news anchor asked her, “So what is the secret to your success?” She said something phenomenal: “The secret is…there is no secret. Just put in the work.” Is she right?

Reminds me of the movie, Kung Fu Panda. Brilliant animation. PO is a giant Panda, His father wants him to be a chef and make incredible noodle soup but he doesn’t know the secret ingredient. Then PO is chosen to be the Dragon Warrior to bring peace to the valley by defeating the dreaded Tiger. But PO is no Kung Fu fighter. The final step to becoming Dragon Warrior is to obtain the scroll as he's told by his Master: You will never be the Dragon Warrior until you have learned the secret of the Dragon Scroll. The scroll contained the secret to limitless power—but could only be read by the true dragon warrior. He never believes he is the Dragon Warrior but obtains the scroll and finds nothing but his reflection on a glossy page. As he runs to save the village anyway, his father tells him,

Father: I think it’s time I told you something. The secret ingredient in the soup? It’s nothing. 
PO: Nothing? 
Father: Nothing. YOU don’t HAVE TO MAKE SOMETHING special… you just have to believe it’s special.” 

At that moment PO realizes that the secret of the dragon scroll, the secret to limitless power is belief. So he goes and saves the village because he believes in himself. 

Sounds good?  Sounds attractive. And confidence might help when it comes to animated stories of Panda bears saving villages. What’s the secret? What’s the secret sauce to living? What's the secret to success? The message of most self-help books as in Kung Fu Panda is, 'Believe in yourself.' Secret to being salesman of the month? Secret to picking up the woman of your dreams? 'Belief in yourself.' Timothy Keller says that’s the only current moral absolute: “You gotta be yourself.” I think he’s right. Just about everything that is right or wrong in our culture can be traced back to that mantra: “I believe in myself.”

But here's a thought: there are lot of people in prison because they believed in themselves, even though they were wrong. And a lot of hurt in the world is the result of people who believe in themselves—whether it’s the alcoholic or the gambler—who believes they are invincible. 

Jesus comes along and says this is flawed philosophy. In effect, He says the opposite: “Without me, you can do nothing.” In one way He’s saying, “Stop believing in yourself. Instead believe in me.” So Christianity says, “Don’t believe in your own limitless power. Believe in Jesus and He'll give you a new self.” Now that’s something to believe in.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Refresh, Rebuild or Reboot

It's important for a leader to know whether it's time to refresh, rebuild or reboot. 

Before I was a lead pastor, I hadn't noticed the cycles of church life like I did once I was "the guy in charge." The first Memorial Day weekend followed by the summer slump of June freaked me out. Where is everybody? Will they come back? What did I do wrong? I talked with a more seasoned pastor who told me, "This is normal. People need to get refreshed. They will be back. Now relax the tightness in your chest and make sure you get refreshed too."

I'm not a great guitar player but I play a little. One thing the pros told me is that if you have a well-built guitar, it's important to loosen the strings especially when you fly. At 30,000 ft. the altitude changes and pressure changes of a cabin can bow the neck of a guitar if you leave the strings tight the whole time. 

I've found the same thing to be true in life. We need to loosen the strings and get refreshed. When we've been flying high for awhile, the strings of our lives can bow the back, bow the neck and even sometimes, break the heart. 

Every sport has a season when they relax the strings, both literally and figuratively. Why? Because they know you can't keep the hamstrings tight all year long! That first string team needs rest. Those muscles need a break so they can be refreshed. The fans need a break. The coach needs a break. Then when they come back next season they have a refreshed hope and expectation for a new season. 

  • Dad, your son needs a break from competition. Let him relax the strings and be refreshed.
  • Teacher, your students need to loosen the strings in the mind. 
  • Pastor, your church leadership needs to loosen the strings and be refreshed. Give the choir a break. Give the weekly chapels a break. Give the musicians a break. Give the staff a break.
Relax. Loosen the strings a bit so the necks will not be bowed. 

Then when they come back they will be refreshed. Even computer screens need to be refreshed!

Next time, we will look at the second word: rebuild.

Monday, April 04, 2016

The Effects of the Resurrection

For many Christians around the world, the remembrance of the Resurrection was last weekend. But Christians should be careful not to just move on to, "What's next in the calendar?" 

Christ has been raised!

When Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 15, he doesn't say, "Christ was raised." Rather, he uses the perfect passive tense which means that an event happened for which we are still feeling the results! Subtle but important distinction. 

For Paul the point of the resurrection is not simply that the creator god has done something remarkable for one solitary individual (as people today sometimes imagine is the supposed thrust of the Easter proclamation), but that, in and through the resurrection, ‘the present evil age’ has been invaded by the ‘age to come', the time of restoration, return, covenant renewal, and forgiveness. An event has occurred as a result of which the world is a different place, and human beings have the new possibility to become a different kind of people.[i]

That's good stuff for a Monday morning! 

[i]Ciampa, R. E., & Rosner, B. S. (2010). The First Letter to the Corinthians (p. 756). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

God Doesn't Waste Your Waiting

I've spent a lot of my lifetime waiting. Much of it while complaining. (Is it coincidental that those two words rhyme?) I'm not a great wait-er. Like one pastor said, "If you're at the grocery store and see me in line, don't get behind me. You'll wait longer than ever because God seems to put me in places where He teaches me to wait. So if you're looking for the fast lane, don't follow me." Man, I can relate.

Our church sets aside 21 days in January for prayer. We pray on Wednesday evenings like we always do, but it becomes more intentional and shall I say "passionate?" during those 21 days. Some people fast their lunch hour and spend it in prayer at the church. Some gather on Saturday morning for an hour and pray together. It's really a blessed time that I look forward to and I usually come out of those 21 Days with renewed passion and vision. 

But then there's that not so fun part: waiting. Pray and wait. Wait and pray. Hopefulness. Weariness. Despair. Fight. Believe. Pray some more and...wait. 

But here's something I'm learning: God doesn't waste your waiting. It feels like wasted time to me. (Shouldn't I be doing something? Did God not hear me? Did I not pray "in faith"?) But not one minute of wait time is wasted time. 

Like may wait in the desert of Midian until you are completely prepared for deliverance from your Egypt.

Like may wait for God to take away the "thorn" but God is using that waiting in weakness to reveal His strength.

Like Mary and may wait for Jesus to come as Healer (of Lazarus) but God is coming as Resurrection and the Life.

No. God doesn't wait my waiting. Even if I wait until the end of this life, it isn't the end. As C.S. Lewis wrote in the Chronicles of Narnia,

And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever; in which every chapter is better than the one before. (C.S. Lewis "The Last Battle")

Thursday, November 05, 2015


It's a question I'm asked as a pastor more than any other. I've asked it too. Most of the time, I think this question comes from a good motive. We want to know that our choice pleases God. We want our lives to count and for our days to have significance. 

But it can also come from a passive stance: maybe the truth is I want someone else to make the decision for me so I can be off the hook of responsibility? If it doesn't turn out like I thought, I don't have to blame myself. I can chalk one up to "God's choice for me includes suffering." Or, I simply don't want to put the time into seeking wise counsel from people who have walked where I've walked, read the stories of those who had similar decisions before them or set aside the time to seek the Lord and examine my motives in the light of the Scripture and the Holy Spirit. 

Without equivocation, I can name one thing for certain that is God's will. It's found in 1 Thessalonians 4:3: 

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification..."

Paul the apostle, is emphatic. Know this: God's will is for you to be "made holy." The mission of the Holy Spirit in your life is that your body, your mind, and your spirit are set apart for His purposes. He wants you to glorify God through your vocation, marriage, money and ministry. This is God's will for you. 

I've found it helpful to change my prayer from, "God what do you want me to do?" to "God which of these paths will make me more like Your Son?" Or, instead of asking, "God, which path should I take?" ask, "God, which path leads toward glorifying You? Toward holiness?"

"Many Christians feel more comfortable with the idea that apart from Christ they can do nothing, than they do with the other side of that coin: that they can do all things through Him who strengthens them. ‘I can do nothing’ lets me off the hook; ‘I can do all things’ makes me wonder why I'm not doing anything. It's easier to piddle around wondering whether it's God's will that you rent this apartment or that one, than it is to face up to God's ultimate will for you: that you become conformed to the image of His Son." (John Boykin in The Gospel of Coincidence, pg 168.)

Ouch. I've been there. I've piddled around with those kinds of questions. Pulling back to ask the larger question is harder and more probing. But here's what I know: it's one thing that's certain in every decision. For the Christ-follower, I can know that God's desire is that I become a reflection of Jesus. 

Imagine how this could shape your decisions regarding: 
  • Which person should I date?
  • Which job should I take? 
  • Where should we go to church? 
  • Should I lead a life group 
Here's where you can find some clarity: this is God's will, your sanctification.