Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Thorny Weakness

So in America and most cultures of the world, strengths are celebrated and weaknesses are viewed as...weak. Whether you're a guy on the football team, a woman in an office full of men, a man who just bumped his head, or a girl on a cheerleading team, you don't want to appear weak. Being strong, even appearing strong, is the way to get ahead. Looking weak isn't.

This is why when we bump our head or accidently trip, we want to say, "I'm good." It's why bodybuilders with skinny legs don't wear shorts. It's why we rarely use an unflattering pose for a Facebook profile pic.

In Christ, weakness is an opportunity for God. Our weakness actually can work for us and our strengths can work against God. Make the most of your strengths? This might be true in the workplace or on the football team. But in Christ, make most of your weakness.

In 2 Corinthians 12.9, Paul is given something. He compares this gift to getting stuck with a thorn. 
Here's the thing about thorns: it doesn’t take a big one. If you’ve ever wandered into a briar patch, handled a rose, you know it doesn’t take a big one. The smallest thorn is irritating.

What was it? We don’t know exactly. (Leave it at that. No need to speculate.) But verse 10 gives us clues:  insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties. 
  •  Insults – to be on the receiving end of words or actions that are rude or insensitive – that mean to offend
  •  Hardships – things that happen to you that you can’t avoid; your lot in a season of life.
  •  Persecutions – when you become a target because of your faith in Christ, passed over for a promotion, or ostracized in family, or other.
  •  Calamity – affliction; “narrow space” like between a rock and a hard place.

What it isn’t: not a behavior, like “He’s got a weakness for ice cream." Or, "She has a weakness for the home shopping network.” Rather, these are weaknesses that result from things that happen to us, circumstances, situations, challenges you were born with beyond your control—weaknesses that we would gladly change if we could.[ii]

  • You wish you could grow another foot tall and have an imposing stature. But all the men are short in your family. Or, you’re no beauty queen and you’d change that if you could. Or, you're insulted for being shy, or not smart. 
  • You were raised in a dysfunctional home, or you have kids with physical challenges, or you're caring for a family member with mental illness; or maybe a sadness seems to hang over you; a sexual coldness in your marriage partner; or you lost a baby at nearly full-term.
  • You've been ostracized by family because you don’t embrace the family religion.
  • You're between a rock and hard place; a husband that can’t keep a job, denied health coverage, mounting debt from sickness; a child you gave up at birth because you had to yet there is that relationship with your child that you long for.

These are all things that make you weak or appear weak, and you want to be strong. Maybe you say, "I just want to get on the other side of it." Paul wanted to get rid of his weakness, too, whatever it was. But God said, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  Paul asked three times for the thorn to be removed. It could’ve been a physical problem, a people problem, or an internal battle with no end in sight. Whatever it was it continued. God’s answer was not thorn removal but thorn survival--sufficient grace. Paul wanted the thorn out, but he also wanted greater grace. God answered the “more grace” prayer with an unwelcome gift, a thorn. 

We want life to be without thorns. “God take away this thorn.” And we pray and pray again. Paul prayed three times. Nothing wrong with praying to be delivered from the thorn. But God sometimes says, “I’m not going to deliver you from the thorn. I’m going to deliver you through the thorn.” The grace is equal to the thorn. It is... SUFFICIENT. ENOUGH.

'Enough' doesn’t mean there is an abundance. It means 'sufficient for the need.'

And here's the truth. There’s never been a believer in history who dealt with a weakness, a hardship, a calamity, who could say, “What I faced was so severe that it emptied God’s grace tank and I was stranded by God.” That never happened. It never will! [iii]

Have you prayed that God would reveal His grace in your life? I’m not talking about grace that forgives your sins and doesn’t give up on you. I’m talking about grace that doesn’t give out on you. God wants to reveal that kind of grace in you. But here’s what He says, “It comes with thorns.”

The prettiest flower is often known as the rose. And a rose grows with thorns. There are no true roses without thorns—unless they’ve been genetically altered. 

The most beautiful grace comes with thorns. As the preachers I grew up under used to say, "You can’t have a testimony without a test. Can’t have a crown without a cross. Can’t have a victory without a fight." And you can’t have grace that doesn’t ‘give out’ without thorns. 

God has a message for you: Don’t despise your weaknesses—the insults, the hardships, the persecution, the calamity—even though you’d avoid it all if you could. Your weakness is the place of sufficient grace.

[i]This statement is adapted from a blog by J.D. Greear, “Are you weak enough for God to use you?”  (Accessed 5/13/2017)
[ii]This paragraph an adaptation of John Piper’s comments on this text, “Christ Power is Made Perfect in Weakness,” (Accessed 5/13/17)
[iii]Adapted from an idea I got from a statement by Tony Evans, Life Essentials for Knowing God Better, Experiencing God Deeper, Loving God More [Moody Publishers, 2007], 84.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Seven Mistakes I Made (Make) in Leading Meetings

I've had them and you have too. Those meetings that seem to go nowhere. The one for which you punted important study time, time with family, or watching a great football game.

Sometimes it was a novice leader who was unprepared. Sometimes it was my fault. Early on, I simply didn't understand some dynamics about meetings. No one told me. I had to gradually discover by trial and error, and also by reading books from leaders who were much better at meetings than I am. 

So I'm sharing my mistakes with you in the hope that maybe you won't make these same mistakes. Learn from me. In lieu of writing "Book for Dummies about Meetings," here are seven big ones I've made and still make sometimes.

1. Not having a clear purpose for the meeting, rehearsal. (Is this to brainstorm, update, or debrief? Is it tactical? Is it to learn the choir song for Sunday or to work on heart issues?) 

2. Not being clear on who’s leading the meeting. Who is the facilitator? Who’s driving the bus?

3. Wrong people in the room or at the table. Does the content impact or speak to the people in the room? Keep in mind how “beavers” (task-oriented people) may be frustrated with creative meetings. 

4. Forgetting the impact of environmental factors.
a.    Room temp
b.    Sound level
c.    Too crowded, too empty
d.    Lighting
            e.    Bad time of day 
    5. Poor use of time (start late, longer than expected) 
    6. Not thinking about the first 5 minutes and the last 5 minutes.
a. State the purpose (People don’t know what you’re thinking.)
b. End with vision and clarity. “Start by getting attention. End with a bang.”

7. No personal touch or acknowledging the unique circumstances of people.(Did you encourage anyone? Did you say 'thank you'? Did you say, "I know it was extra sacrifice for you to attend, Joe. I appreciate it!")

    There you have it! Here's to more great meetings!

Monday, November 07, 2016


Most likely, 48 hours from now, America will have chosen a new President, new senators, congressmen, governors and many ballot initiatives. It's been an ugly and embarrassing campaign on virtually every front. This has resulted in many conversations, tweets and posts with threads of futility and despair. And some of you are saying, "I give up. I'm staying home on election day." Before you do, let me offer a few reasons why you should rethink that. 

Here are objections I'm hearing: 

  • "I'm so embarrassed of all the name-calling, the disrespect, and the lies that I just can't bring myself to attach my reputation to any of these candidates."
Imagine for a moment, saying that to a WW2 veteran. Can you honestly look a WW2 veteran in the eye and say, “I know you put your life at risk, but I’m too embarrassed by the ugliness to risk my reputation on any candidate’s promises.” He or she was willing to not only risk their reputation but their life for their nation. Your reputation on the line with a candidate is really a small thing in comparison. Get over yourself.
  •   “They are all deceitful and self-interested.” 
Unless Jesus is on the ballot, you are voting for the lesser of evils. Of course they are sinners. So are you by the way.
  •  “I can’t vote for either candidate for President.” 
It’s not just about who will become President. You are choosing governors, congressmen, and more. Local government impacts you. It is a privilege to vote if nothing more than for choosing the local sheriff. 
  • "No one represents my values." 
Let the words of Jesus guide you here: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Rather than consider your own values as priority, what is the best candidate and position for your neighbors? Even beyond that, how should you vote considering your children's future and your grandchildren's future? 

Join me in prayerful consideration of the candidates and the issues and vote tomorrow. Research the candidates and do your best. (You might consider as a resource which claims to be non-partisan.)  

I'm voting tomorrow. I hope you do too.


Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Get Up Tomorrow and Love Again

Love hurts. We wish it didn't. Love is risky. Wish it wasn't. Love will cost you. But it's worth it!

Today we watched a session from the Advance Conference for N.A. I love these guys! They have a passion for planting and strengthening churches. In one session, Pastor Donnie Griggs recounts asking Larry Osborne a question. (Larry is sort of a guru or "Yoda" for leader multiplication and church health.) The question was, "How do you build leaders who will not take what they have learned and abandon you or hurt you?" Larry then talks about the many who have hurt him, blogged about him in negative terms, become divisive and more. He then says something like, "You can count on it. People will hurt you. There are no guarantees when it comes to building leaders. So when they hurt you and they will, you get up the next morning and do it all again. Because we do it for Jesus." 

So good. It reminds me of the famous quote by C.S. Lewis that begins with, "To love at all is to be vulnerable." (I won't quote the rest of it because it's over used. But you can read it here.)

If you love enough to invest in people, you will reap some wonderful benefits. You'll also reap some prickly thorns and thistles that will stick you and make you want to never try again:
  • You invest in a worship leader for years who chooses to sleep around rather than pursue his calling
  • You mentor a guy who is secretly abusing his wife.  You find out too late
  • You mentor a leader who takes what you've taught him and abandons you at one of the darkest times
  • You counsel a lady who agrees her marriage covenant is worth keeping. Months later she's divorced and remarried and in another church saying how bad of a pastor you are.
All of these have happened to me. I've tweaked the story just a bit to protect them. But yes, love hurts. And I've had to decide whether I would get up and do it all again. 

So far, God has been gracious to me and given me the courage and the compassion to love again. Mostly, because I know how fickle I can be and how God continues to never give up on me. He continues to love so how can I quit? If anyone knows how much love hurts, it's God. Yet His mercies are new every morning!

Get up and love again!

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.