Advice for Making Tough Decisions

All of us face everyday decisions.  Not everyday, though, do all of us face tough decisions.  I don’t want to downplay the decisions we face everyday, but it’s the tough decisions that are seemingly life-defining.  Oftentimes, they are life-altering.

Some examples from my own life might be:

  • where to go to college
  • when to get married
  • which graduate school to attend
  • buy a house or rent
  • the right time to have our first baby
  • how far to live away from family
  • who or if one of us will stay home with our kids
  • which school our daughters should attend
  • when to accept a promotion or when to remain

Some of these tough decisions, we made with relative ease.  Then, there were others that were covered in tears, indecision, fear, and complete confusion.  With each decision, we hoped for a clear-cut answer to shine through.  We longed for one choice to be so obvious we couldn’t miss it.

Our wish came true, sometimes.  Like when we were too young to believe we were too young to be married.  Or when we didn’t make enough money to afford the house payment on the house we wanted to buy.  Or when we discovered a graduate school in Florida as opposed to Kansas.

Other times, everything seemed unclear.  It may have been both choices seemed equally good.  Or maybe both choices seemed equally bad.  Or one choice had a positive we really wanted, while the other choice had a different positive we deeply desired.  Or one choice was safe but limiting, while the other was liberating but risky.

If I’ve learned one thing about making a tough decision, it is motivated by Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.”  

Whatever tough decision you make, choose to serve God.  Whether you attend a state university or Christian college, choose to serve God there.  Whether you live in a house in a neighborhood or an apartment in a complex, choose to serve God there.  Whether you get married young or wait till a later age, choose to serve God in all your relationships.  Whether you take a promotion or work a lower-level position, choose to serve God.  God can use you wherever you live, whatever you do, however old you are, and with any amount of resources you possess.

Most of the time, one choice isn’t more right than the other.  What’s right is what you do with the choice you make.  Most choices are right by the way we serve God after making it.  “Commit your work to the LORD…”

What tough decisions are you facing?

 

Exponential Conference 2013: Day 2 Highlights

Exponential2013In my first post, I forgot to mention the theme of the conference is Disciple-Shift.”  Each main session spoke of this shift from different angles.  If you missed the highlights from Day 1, you can check out yesterdays’s post.

Here are the highlights from Day 2, Shift 2From Leading to Being Led:

Alan & Deb Hirsch

You cannot teach what you do not know, you cannot lead where you will not go.

 

Leadership is “long obedience in the same direction.”  —quote from Eugene Peterson

 

The best way to teach is to live the truth we maintain.

Larry Osborne

Followers of Jesus include those in the middle and back of the line.

 

Lying in wait at the beginning of the Jesus line is pride.

 

The legalism I grew up with worried about what was in my refrigerator, legalism today worries about what is in our driveway.

Craig Groeschel

The way I was doing the work of God was destroying the work of God in me.  —quote from Bill Hybels

 

Before you can be a leader you must be a passionate follower of Jesus.

 

The difference between where you are and where God wants you to be is the painful decision you are unwilling to make.

 

If you take credit for the decline, you will take credit for the increase.

Wayne Cordeiro

A mind can reach a mind, but a heart reaches a heart.

 

These days (with technology) it’s easier to duplicate than incarnate.

 

We must move from one on many to one on one to many on one.

Jo Saxton

If we want to make a shift in discipleship, it will cost us.

Chris Hodges

One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to mine the gold in them.

 

You are the sum total of your relationships.

 

Discipleship is not a curriculum, it’s a person.

 

You’ll never reach your potential until you settle the wound of yesterday.

Do any of these quotes grab your attention?  Which qoutes challenge you?  Which qoutes would you challenge?

Exponential Conference 2013: Day 1 Highlights

Exponential2013If you’re not familiar, Exponential Conference is “the largest gathering of church planters on the planet!”  It gathers some of our nation’s top church leaders and church planting aficionados.  You might recognize a few names like Francis Chan, Craig Groeschel, and Rick Warren.

Luckily, the conference is held every year in Orlando, FL, just 40 minutes from my front door.  Living in proximity to the event, it’s tough to pass up the opportunity to hear and learn from other leading pastors and church planters.  So, four of us from Lakeland piled in the car and headed to Exponential 2013.

Today, April 23, is the first day of the conference.  I thought I would share some of the Day 1 highlights from my perspective.  Here are the quotes and/or paraphrases that provoked my thinking:

From Jim Putman

I told my dad I would never become a pastor because I didn’t want to join a losing team.

 

What is winning for the church?

 

Churches have changed the definition of discipleship so they could win.

 

There are three possible things we learn about Jesus based on Matthew 16:18.  (1)  Jesus is a liar, or (2)  Jesus is ignorant, or (3)  most churches aren’t Jesus’ church.

From Mark Beeson

Love enough to discipline your life to serve.

 

Change is easiest when it is birthed in rebellion.  The temptation is to birth a missional movement out of a spirit of rebellion.

 

Clarity of vision holds people together.

 

Write a list of 20 characteristics of a leader you would follow.  Ask yourself, how many of these characteristics do I possess?

 

Ask yourself everyday:  What do I know to be true about God?  What do I know to be true about me?

 

Failing leadership isn’t about missing metrics, it’s how you feel in your soul about your own success.

 

Outcomes drive the process.

 

A good process always includes validation.

 

Submission means being under a mission.  If you haven’t found a mission you’re passionate about serving under, you need to find a different mission.

For those of you who can’t make it to the conference live, you can also watch the main sessions online for free.  Here’s a link to Exponential Live Stream.

I’m looking forward to Day 2, which I will summarize and bring the highlights to you on Thursday.  Hope you can catch a portion of the Live Stream.

 

 

 

 

 

I had Dementia for 5 minutes

It’s tough to understand what one is going through until you put yourself in their shoes.  Last Monday, our staff experienced a Virtual Aging Tour to put ourselves in the shoes of Senior Adults.  The goal:  to better understand the aging process and age related diseases.  The Tour simulated what it would it might be like to have dementia for 5 minutes.

It works like this.  You put a glove on each hand, one normal and one wrong side out.  You wear glasses that impairs your vision to the point of making you dizzy.  You wear headphones with random noises constantly ringing in your ear.  Basically, you can barely hear, see, or feel.

An escort walks you down the hall to a different room.  At the entrance, a person you’ve never met gets right in your face and quickly reads a list of tasks for you to complete.  A door opens and they usher you into a dark room, by yourself.  Your goal is to remember and complete every task successfully.

I failed.  I’m not old or experiencing memory loss, but I couldn’t remember a single task she gave to me.  I felt lost.  Confused.  Lonely.  And if they had given me enough time, I would have become frustrated.  I had no idea why I was in the room, not to mention I could barely see, hear, or feel anything around me.

Suddenly, I gained a new empathy for Senior Adults.  I also gained a new respect for those who care for Senior Adults with aging related diseases.  It really didn’t cross my mind before.  I hadn’t put much thought to it.  Now, I won’t be able to forget or ignore it’s affects.

I wonder how many other people need me to try to put myself in their shoes.  So that I might better understand what they are going through.  So that I might better understand how to reach out to and serve their needs.  So that I better understand how to avoid compounding the negative experiences associated with their experience of life.

John 1:14 tells us, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”  God, through Jesus, put God’s self in our shoes for our redemption, for our liberation, for our salvation.  God didn’t need to walk in our shoes, but God  did.  “For God so loved the world…”

As children of God, may we reflect the same love.

What will it take for Christians to walk in the shoes of others?  Who is waiting to be recognized and understood?

 

1 Problem I have with Predestination

When it comes to theological conversations, it seems like most that I have include a discussion of free will and predestination.  Somehow, the dialogue hits a stalwart at the crossroads of “do I have a choice” or “does God decide for me.”  Most of the time, the conversation ends with an agreement to disagree.  And that’s okay.

Recently, I’ve had the conversation more often.  I’ve been asked my opinion by friends who believe the same as me.  I’ve been confronted by friends who strongly lean in the opposite direction as me.  I’ve been asked for an explanation by a friend who’s not totally sure what he believes.

So, I thought I would share the biggest problem I have with Predestination.  Not to claim superiority.  Not to create division.  And not to discredit the faith of other believers.  I’m sharing it for two reasons:  (1)  I’ve struggled to have find other blogs that support a view of free will, and (2) I want to be honest and open with my faith perspective.

1 Problem I have with Predestination:  One or both of my beautiful daughters could be predestined for a life of rebellion and an eternity in hell, and they don’t have a choice in the matter.

I can’t get myself to go there.  I can’t believe in a theology that allows Brooklyn and I to co-create new life in the form of a child, only for the child to have no chance in this life or the life-to-come.  It’s too big of a problem for me.

What’s your perspective?

 

And God said, “It is what it is.”

Imagine if God’s favorite response was, “It is what it it is.”

  • Adam and Eve commit the original sin and subsequently ruin God’s order of creation, and God said, “It is what it is.”
  • Abraham and Sarah are old and not able to become pregnant, and God said, “It is what it is.
  • The people of God are enslaved to the oppressive king of Egypt, and God said, “It is what it is.
  • A great flood is coming and will destroy everything and everyone, and God said, “It is what it is.
  • The pharisees and religious leaders are hypocritical and oppressive, and Jesus said, “It is what it is.
  • A woman at a well is judged and mistreated by a group of men, and Jesus said, “It is what it is.
  • It’s not acceptable for a religious person to share a meal with a tax collector, and Jesus said, “It is what it is.
  • It’s unclean to touch one who is sick so they may be healed, and Jesus said, “It is what it is.”
  • It’s unlawful to heal on the Sabbath, and Jesus said, “It is what it is.
  • Humanity can’t save themselves, and Jesus said, “It is what it is.

 

Not very compelling, is it?  Feels hopeless.

As ridiculous as it seems for God to use this phrase, I think it’s equally ridiculous for God’s people to think it.  Imagine if Christians, the Church, said it as a favorite response.

  • In a world where young children are sold into sexual slavery, the church says, “It is what it is.”
  • In a world where people are mistreated because of the color of their skin or the language they speak, the church says, “It is what it is.
  • In a world where the rich can get rich at the expense of the poor, the church says, It is what it is.
  • In a world where women and children are the majority of the poor, the church says, “It is what it is.
  • In a world where war and fighting back is the norm, the church says, “It is what it is.
  • In a world where people are dying from lack of access to clean water, the church says, “It is what it is.

“It is what it is” doesn’t fit.  It doesn’t work.  I can’t find Biblical support.

In Mark 9:14-29, a father with a son who has an evil spirit is overwhelmed with the way it is.  He is hoping for change, so goes to Jesus and says, “if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).  Jesus’ response is, “If you are able!–All things can be done for the one who believes.”

We don’t have to live believing “it is what it is.”  Our church’s don’t have to function with the outlook that “it is what it is.”  The world needs to know there’s an alternative to the philosophy of “it is what it is.”

Or is it what it is?”  

 

 

 

 

 

HELP! It’s becoming a 4-Letter word

HELP.  Most of us don’t like to say it.  Most of us don’t like to hear it.  It’s quickly earning the respect of a four-letter word.

At least, that’s what I’m learning.  HELP is a word that doesn’t come easy for me.  It’s a word I prefer to use only as a last resort, and sometimes not even then.  But, when I buy   an old house with little to no handy-man skills, and then get sick twice in 2 weeks, it’s a word I’ve learned to get comfortable with.

This became true for me when a family stopped by unannounced to help me with my daughters while I was sick.  I was home alone with Kirra and Mya, sick like a dog.  I slept on the couch while they scavenged the house for whatever food they could find:  cereal, crackers, and more cereal.  Then a knock came from the back door.

It was a family from church stopping by to offer HELP.  I’m not totally sure what to say.  I’m kind of a mess.  I stumble over a few words, pretend I’m not as bad as I really feel.  Then my moment of awareness comes when one of them says:  “Just say, thank you, and go to bed.”  It all hit me in that one phrase.  I’m not comfortable with receiving HELP.

I started wondering, “Why do we struggle with HELP?”  I came up with lists of reasons:

  • I may be seen as vulnerable.
  • I may be seen as weak.
  • I may be seen as incapable.
  • I feel like I may owe someone.
  • I feel like I can do it better.

The Bible doesn’t teach me to be averse to help.  As far as I know, Jesus doesn’t view it as a pejorative.  Jesus, actually, spends the majority of his life among those who need help.  Those who learned to ask for it, received it.  A leper asks and is cleansed.  A paralytic asks and it walks again.  A blind man asks and gains sight.  A woman with a hemorrhage asks and the bleeding stops.  A man with demon-possessed son asks and the spirit is cast out.

Jesus calls his disciples to a life based on receiving the help of others.  “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money–not even an extra tunic.  Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there.”   (Luke 9:3-4) In the book Acts, the first believers commit to a way of life based on giving and receiving help.  “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45).  Paul’s ministry, the greatest missionary in the New Testament, was supported by his willingness to ask and receive help.  “You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone.  For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once.”  (Philippians 4:15-16)

HELP is not a four-letter word to God.  It’s not meant to be a pejorative term for God’s people.  It’s a word that brings freedom, new beginnings, and true community.

All of us come into this world needing help.  All of us will leave this world needing help.  It’s okay to ask for it, and give it, in the in-between time.  You’re not weak.  You’re not a loser. You’re not needy.  You’re human.

Is it tough for you to ask for help?  What will it take for you to let yourself receive it?

 

5 Christian Books You’ve Probably Never Heard Of but Should Read

Intro to Christian Theology bookMost pastors have a list of books that have been formative in their spiritual development.  I’m no different.  So, I thought I would share five that have been especially influential in my formation.

When I ask other pastors and friends, most of them have not heard of these books.  If you’re a reader and you find a good book, you want to tell everyone about it.  You want your friends and those closest to you to share the experience with you.  I feel the same way about these five books.  I hope some of you will share the same experience I’ve had in my reading.

Here you go, in no particular order:

What books have been influential in your spiritual formation?

There’s more to being a Christian than just being “Saved”

Do you remember the moment you were “saved?”  Where were you?  How old were you?  What was the catalyst for your decision?

Most of us will carry in our hearts the moment we first believed.  And we should.  Like graduation, a wedding, and retirement, it marks a pivotal point in your life journey.  From that moment forward, it gives new definition to who you are.  You are now a child of God.

If most of us had to define what it means to be “saved,” the majority would answer with “forgiveness of my sins.”  We might say something like:  “I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins.  Jesus accepts the penalty of sin that I deserve.  I asked Jesus into my heart, and to forgive me of my sins.  Now, I’m saved.  I’m saved from the penalty of sin.”

It’s an amazing thought.  God came to earth to save me.  To set me free from the shame of sin.  But somehow, the conversation ends here.  Being a Christian means being saved.  That’s it.

There’s more to the story, though.  There’s more to being a Christian than just being saved.

I read an article, What does it mean to be Wesleyan, that reminded me of this truth.  In the article, Sam Vassel writes:

“Consequently we receive God’s forgiveness, or pardon, which is lovingly offered to us when we accept God’s Son who paid the penalty for our sins when he died for us. Being forgiven, our relationship with God changes and God sees us as righteous, justified.

Wesleyans believe that beyond a relationship change, God’s gracious action further effects a real character change in us. We participate in God’s own life due to the presence of God’s Spirit in us. We are more than declared to be righteous (justified), we are actually being made righteous (sanctified).”

In the next paragraph, Vassel provides a quote from John Wesley:

God in justifying us does something for us; in begetting us again, he does the work in us. The former changes our outward relation to God, so that of enemies we become children; by the latter our inmost souls are changed, so that of sinners we become saints. The one restores us to the favour, the other to the image, of God. The one is the taking away the guilt, the other the taking away the power, of sin.

There’s more to it than God saying you’re forgiven.  God offers to do more than change your status.  God offers to change you.  More than merely freeing you from the penalty of sin, God wants to set you free from the power of sin in your life.

As a parent, I can define my daughters any way I desire.  I can define Kirra or Mya as a genius or a gymnast.  In their eyes, I have that kind of authority.  Even if they are not what I say they are, they will still believe me.  They will gladly accept the definition.

Imagine if I had the power to actually make them a genius or a gymnast.  Why wouldn’t I?  What could keep me from it?

Being a Christian is more than title or status.  It’s transformation.  It’s God’s power active in you making you more beautiful everyday.  Not only is the penalty of sin removed, but the effects of sin in your life begin to be removed.  Being a Christian becomes more than a title, it becomes who you are.

The story that began the day you were saved is meant to continue every day thereafter.

What’s your story?

3 Words of Advice to Young Preachers

I have a couple confessions to make:

(1)  I’m not a celebrity preacher.

(2)  I haven’t written a book on preaching.

I’m a normal, young preacher like many of you.  BUT, there is one claim I feel the liberty to make with regard to my preaching:  I’ve improved.

I’ll never forget the day a friend told me, “Coy, the first time I heard you preach, I thought man, this is painful.  I can’t believe how far you’ve come.  You’ve grown so much.”  He may be the most candid person to tell me how much my preaching has improved, but he’s not the first or last.  My preaching has definitely needed improvement, and I’ve experienced it happen.

So, if you’re like me, and I think most of you are, then you probably have room for improvement.  Here are three things that I’ve tested and know will improve one’s preaching:

  1. Don’t compare yourself to celebrity preachers, compare yourself to you.  It’s  not wrong to recognize and even aspire to great preaching.  Like great athletes, great preachers exemplify what it looks like to preach well.  I encourage you to watch, re-watch, and take notes on what makes a great preacher great.  But, don’t compare yourself.  Feelings of inadequacy will overwhelm you, quickly.  For the majority of us, it’s unrealistic to expect to preach as well as people who’ve spent a lifetime perfecting their skill.  Instead, compare your preaching to yourself.  Last week.  Last month.  Last year.  You can expect yourself to improve your preaching over time.  When you do, you have something to celebrate and build on.
  2. Seek new opportunities to preach.  Fresh out of college and seminary, churches and pastors may be reluctant to hand over their pulpit to you.  Even into your 30s, you probably won’t have an excessive amount of preaching opportunities knocking at your door.  If this is your experience, I’m sorry.  Please don’t let it discourage you.  Seek it out.  Ask for opportunities to preach.  Show confidence in your calling.  When you find those opportunities, take them.  Even if it’s a small venue, preach it.  Your voice needs to be heard.  The more it’s heard, the more likely you will have more opportunities.
  3. Preach with passion.  Until you find your passion in your sermon, you will struggle. If it’s not something you believe is worth saying, don’t say it.  People know the difference.  People know when you’re saying something just to say it.  They also know when a preacher truly believes what she’s saying.  Most audiences prefer the latter, even if they don’t agree with you.  This means you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there.  Take a risk with your words.  Say what you believe, not what you think they want to hear.  And say it with love and solidarity.

Great preaching doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes time and intentionality.  These three words are advice I wish someone had given to me.  They are also words I remind myself of everyday.  I hope you find encouragement.

What advice would you give to young preachers?