To Recent College Graduates: 3 things you need to separate yourself from everyone else

Goals.  Strategy.  Passion.

You’ve passed the exams.  You’ve walked the stage and shook hands with the university President.  You’ve turned the tassle.  You’ve celebrated with friends.

And now, you’re looking for a job.  Along with thousands others who graduated with the same degree, same GPA, same age, same experience, and applying for the same jobs.  How will you separate yourself from everyone else?

Working in college ministry and college interns for the past 12 years, here are 3 things I’ve learned you will need to rise above the majority:

  • Goals.  In my experience, when I’ve asked college graduates, “What’s next?  What’s your plan now?”  The answer I receive most often is, “I’m not sure.”  In this answer, I hear the person saying they have no plan, no focus, no direction, and no goals.  But, those things are a must.  Employers aren’t looking for a short-term, low-commitment, meandering through life employee.  They are looking for someone with a drive to succeed and who knows what that destination looks like for them.  A goal is determining where you want to be in the future in relation to where you are today.  A goal is specific.  You know exactly what you are working toward.  A goal is measurable.  You can measure whether you fell short or exceeded your mark.  A goal is challenging.  You will need to stretch your abilities to reach it.
  • Strategy.  If you have a goal, then you need a strategy to reach your goal.  From the few graduates I’ve met who have solid goals, only a small percentage have developed a strategy to meet their goal.  They may know where they want to end up, but have no idea how they are going to get there.  They are hoping it will happen on own its own.  Most of the time it won’t happen this way.  Without a strategy, chances are it will take you longer to get there, the journey will be frustrating, and you will end up at a different destination.  It’s like going on a trip.  If you want to drive from Columbus, OH to Los Angeles, CA, you will go to Mapquest and print out a detailed list of directions.  It will tell you exactly what roads to take, how many miles to stay on each road, the exit numbers for each turn, and it will even number the steps for  you.  It’s silly to drive to LA without a step by step strategy.  The same is true for your goals.
  • Passion.  You can set a goal and come up with a strategy, but they are lifeless without passion. Without passion, life and work turns into a routine.  Without passion, the motivation to pursue your dreams, follow-through, and finish strong is lacking.  Employers can sense a person’s passion.  It’s obvious.  You can’t fake it.  It’s also unique and desirable.  If you live with passion, you won’t be passed by.

A college degree isn’t enough.  It takes more.  Will you do what it takes to separate yourself?

What advice would you give to college graduates?



Learning to lead when our instinct is to manage

Managing focuses on projects.  Leading focuses on people.

Managing is task-oriented.  Leading is relationship-oriented.

Managing is like baby-sitting.  Leading is like mentoring.

Managing is based on positional authority.  Leading is based on mutuality.

Our instinct, I believe, is to manage.  Our calling, I believe, is to lead.

There are parts of my life that are okay to manage.  They need to be managed.  But the other parts, which is the majority, require me to lead.

This might look like:

  • Leading people to become the Church, rather than managing them to function like a church.
  • Leading children to maturity, rather than managing a child’s behavior.
  • Leading a co-worker to collaborate on a project, rather than managing them to do what you ask.
  • Leading a marriage to true happiness, rather than managing your spouse to meet your expectations.
  • Leading a team to love the game, rather than managing the wins and losses.
  • Leading students to knowledge, rather than managing their ability to regurgitate facts.
  • Leading our world to justice, rather than managing the law. 

I’m learning that I don’t want to look back at my life to say, “Look at all the projects I completed.”  Instead, I hope to reflect on my life with this thought, “Wow, I can’t believe how many people I influenced for good.”

What is your instinct?  To manage or lead?  





What American Idol has taught me about Preaching, Part 4: Not everyone can be the big winner

American IdolEvery contestant who auditions think they are good enough to be the next American Idol.  Well, maybe, there are a handful who humiliate themselves with an outrageously horrible audition with the hope of becoming famous, or infamous.  But, 9 out of 10 truly believe they have what it takes to win.

I don’t imagine any contestant who makes it to Hollywood expect to be sent home.  Each singer expects to move on to the next week, and the next week, and the next week.  Every singers wants to be the best, feels like the best, and desires to be voted as the best.  But, not everyone can be the big winner.

Every season, only one person can become the American Idol.

Like singers, I imagine most pastors want to be the best.  I do.

The reality is, though, that not everyone will be recognized as the best.  Not every pastor will be featured on TV.  Not every pastor will be watched online by thousands of viewers around the world each week.  Not every pastor will speak main-stage at a major conference, or lead a conference named after you.

That’s okay.  Just because you’re not the big winner does it mean you are a loser.  Ask Jennifer Hudson.

As important as becoming the big winner is what you do after realizing you’re not.

There are three choices.  You can give up.  You can pretend it didn’t happen and go back to your old ways. Or you can learn from your mistakes in order to improve for tomorrow and the next day.

The calling is to become the best preacher God created you to be.  God isn’t expecting you to meet the cultural standards of fame.  God is calling you to preach with a voice that can only be heard from you.

Do you know what it means for you to be the best? 




Learning to strive toward a better version of me

weddingBrooklyn asked me, “Do you think I’m a better version of me?

Ooooh.  Tough question to answer your wife.  Obviously the answer is, “YES.”

It’s one of those questions that women ask their husbands knowing there is only one correct answer.  Questions like, “Does this look good on me?”  Or, “Do these jeans make me look fat?”  Or “Do you want to get some ice cream?”

The question came up because we were flipping through pictures of our wedding and honeymoon.  Today, May 23rd, marks our 15 year wedding anniversary.  There’s no better time to dig out the old photo album.

After looking at several pictures of herself, Brooklyn makes an assessment about her appearance then and now.  She says to me, “I think I’m a better version of me, now.  What do you think?”

I agreed.

The day we were married, I don’t think either one of us could imagine what we would be like 15 years later.  It was a shot in the dark.  Somehow and in someway, though, both of us knew deep in our hearts that we wanted to be better versions of ourselves.  Better spouses, better friends, better children, better parents, and yes, probably even better looking.

Our hope wasn’t that May 23rd would be our best.  It would be the beginning of our journey toward the best.

Our story, your story, with God is the same.  The first day of your commitment to Christ is the beginning of your journey toward the best version of you.  God’s vision for who you can and will become starts in that moment.

So that, 1 year, 5 years, 50 years later, you can look back and say, “I think I’m a better version of me.”  And everyone else around you, will agree.

Are you a better version of yourself?  



What American Idol has taught me about preaching, Part 3: We need criticism.

American IdolI can’t believe I’m recommending that preachers need criticism.  But, when it comes to preaching, it’s true.

You’ve witnessed criticism at work on American Idol.  I’m not talking about the auditions, where Simon found his fame.  I’m thinking of the constructive advice the judges give in the later stages of the show.

As the show progresses, the judges begin to offer genuine advice to the contestants.  Of course, they need to throw in some entertaining bantering between the judges.  But, as the show narrows down to the final contestants, each judge offers criticism with the intention of helping the performers make it to the next round.

The contestants who improve and make it to the later rounds learn to receive the criticism as helpful advice.  Toward the end of the season, the contestants want to win so bad you can almost see their hunger for any criticism that might give them an upper edge.  Each contestant knows where they want to end up, and they believe constructive criticism can get them there.

Receiving criticism as helpful advice is also a necessary for great preaching.

Here’s a few healthy tips for opening yourself up to criticism:

  • Choose 1 or 2 people who love you, want the best for you, and will be honest with you, and give them permission to offer criticism.
  • Ask critics to give their thoughts at least 24 hrs breathing room before sharing with you.
  •  Find preaching experts who know what they are talking about.
  • Listen to criticism from different ages, demographics, genders, and cultures.
  • Don’t ask or rely on your spouse or family to be your #1 critic.
  • Constructive criticism builds up, while cynical criticism tears down.  Learn to distinguish the two.
  • Embrace the growing pains that come with truthful criticism.
  • Let your desire to become a better preacher give you a hunger for any advice that can help you mature as a communicator.

You’ll always have the crazy critics out there.  Those who have a problem with you before you even open your mouth to say a word, and for who knows what reason.  They have nothing good to say and all they want is to see you fail.

I’m not talking about that person or that type of criticism.  Avoid them at all costs.

Every preacher needs healthy, helpful advice from those who love us and want to see us succeed.  I hope you are open to it and can find it.

If you are preacher, are you open to criticism?  

If you are not a preacher, how do you offer criticism to a preacher?  Is it helpful?

1 Thought that Could Save You Some Pain and Loss

I wish the thought had crossed my mind, “Be careful where you put that,” before I put down my friend’s coveted tool.  I wasn’t thinking.

We are remodeling our bathroom.  Everything has been demolished all the way down to the concrete block and wood studs.  We knocked out and cut through a cinder block wall to install a new window.  Currently,  plasterboard is hanging over the 2 ft by 3 ft opening on the outside of the house.  On the inside, you can put your head in the opening and look down through the cinder block all the way to the floor.

The same place my friend’s tool ended up.  Five feet down, insider the cavity of our block wall dropped the tool.  All because I wasn’t careful where I put it.

I spent an hour or two trying to fish it out.  No luck.  So, we resorted to cutting out a small opening in the block at the base of the wall.  And, it worked.  I have a permanent hole in my wall to prove it.

I was embarrassed.  I was upset.  I was disappointed. I was indebted.  I was regretful. I was full of all sorts of emotions.  I was sure I would be more careful where I put it the next time.

I believe the thought, “Be careful where you put that,” applies to other areas of our lives as well.  Areas with more significance and worth than a $40 tool.  And maybe, just maybe, if we are intentionally careful, then we might avoid some of the losses and pain in our lives.  Here’s a few that come to mind:

  • Be careful where you put your money.
  • Be careful where you put your children.
  • Be careful where you put your time.
  • Be careful where you put your  trust.
  • Be careful where you put your heart.
  • Be careful where you put your sexuality.
  • Be careful where you put your energy.
  • Be careful where you put your mind.
  • Be careful where you put your loyalty.
  • Be careful where you put your worth.

It’s simple, but powerful.  Be careful where you put . . .

Does a story come to mind when you weren’t thinking, “Be careful where you put that?”  Would add anything to the list of “Be careful where you put ____________?

What American Idol has taught me about preaching, Part 2: Everyone gets rejected.

American IdolIt’s painful to watch contestants be rejected on American Idol.

Well, sometimes it’s funny to watch a horibble singer be escorted out of the audition room against their will after three “No’s.”  For the most part, though, it’s heartbreaking to watch contestants well up with tears of disappointment.

As the season progresses, the tears flow more easily and with more heartache.  Even the judges shed tears as they identify with the anguish of being rejected.  Several of the judges have assured a singer with statements such as, “Hang in there.  You have an amazing voice.  We’ve all been rejected more than once, before we had a breakthrough.  I know you will be a star.”  

If you plan to preach, then you can count on facing rejection.  Not everyone will like every sermon you preach.  You can’t expect yourself to find immediate admiration like Andy Stanley, Rick Warren, or Francis Chan.

I had been preaching on a basis weekly for a few months when a friend approached me to say, “The first time I heard you preach, I thought to myself:  Man, this is painful.  Reality check for me.  My heart broke.  Luckily, he followed up with:  “I can’t believe how far you’ve come.  You’ve grown into a great preacher.”

Unless you are an anomaly, you will be rejected as a preacher.  The good news is, you can learn from your rejection.  After the heartache settles, you can turn rejection into an opportunity to improve.

Here’s how:

  • Search for the truth.  Every opinion carries some truth.  If you can find the truth, you will discover what needs to change.
  • Don’t give up.  Sometimes the pain feels like too much to bear.  Don’t throw in the towel.  To quote the saying on my high school weight room, “No pain, no gain.”
  • Be honest with yourself.  Know your strengths as well as your areas for growth.  Be willing to admit to yourself where you need to improve.
  • Celebrate every improvement.  Most of us have room for major improvements.  To accomplish the big improvement, we need to make little improvements along the way.  Celebrating the little ones helps you track your progress toward the big ones.
  • Don’t feel alone.  The best of the best have, at some point, been like the rest.  They’ve been rejected just like you and me.

Where advice would you give to a preacher who is feeling rejected?  If you’re reading this and are not a preacher, what is a good way to encourage improvement in a preacher?


Does one need to be a Christian go to heaven? Part 3

In the first post, the conclusion was, Yes, if one is a Christian then one needs to be a Christian.  Eternal life isn’t for posers.

In the second post, the conclusion was, No, one doesn’t necessarily need to be a Christian.  One may not know a Christian or what it means to be a Christ-follower, but it’s still possible for them to respond to the good that’s written on their heart.

Now, I want to explain my initial opinion:  it’s the wrong question.

Here’s why:

Making a claim on heaven is missing the point.  Christianity is more than an entrance exam into heaven.  The Christian Faith is more than a security plan for the afterlife.

Becoming a follower of Christ is joining God’s plan of redemption for all of creation.  God is making all things new, and God is inviting you to be a part of it.  Heaven is a bonus.

Determining how and who gets into heaven overlooks what can happen here and now.  I’m not trying to argue against John 14:6,  “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus is the only way to the Father, but you don’t have to wait to you die to get to him.  Access is granted immediately.  Knowing Jesus means knowing God which can change your here and now.

Paul gets it.  Sure, it may be possible for one to get to heaven without being a Christian by following the law written on their heart.  But, Paul is interested in more than the Gentiles’ future in heaven.  He doesn’t want anyone to miss out on God’s work in and through their life here and now.  Because, when the Gentiles experience God this side of heaven, so does the rest of creation.

Grace is more powerful than law.  Paul is writing to believers in Rome, many whom were still leaning on the law as a crutch.  It acted like a security blanket for them.  It gave a sense of justification to teach the law to others.  Problem is, they were horrible at keeping it.

Paul calls them on it Romans 2.  “You, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself?  While you preach against stealing, do you steal?  You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery?  You that adhor idols, do you rob temples?  You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?  For as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you”  (Romans 2:21-24).

Ouch.  Zing.

The law didn’t seem to work.  It wasn’t transforming the lives of Jewish believers.  Nor did it give the Gentiles an interest in the same.

A few chapters later in Romans 5:20-21, Paul writes:  But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The law brings awareness of sin, without a decrease.  Grace brings freedom from sin, and with it transformation.  With the law, sin still has a grip.  With grace, sin has no dominion.  “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  

Grace offers more than a reward of heaven.  Grace offers liberation from sin in this life.  It sets us free to live a new reality where sin no longer controls our lives.  Paul wants this for the Jewish believers.  Paul wants this for the Gentiles, too.

Eternal life begins now.  Glimpses of eternity appear through God’s redemptive work in a Christian’s life.  Evidences of heaven break through in lives that are changed from sin-full to sin-less.  As lives are changed so does all of creation.

Jesus announced the Kingdom of God has come near.  The resurrection has happened, and it continues to happen in those whose lives are being transformed.  Eternal life begins now.

What do you think?  Are we asking the wrong question?


Does one need to be a Christian to go to heaven? Part 2

In Part 1, I answered with 3 statements:

  1. It’s the wrong question.
  2. If you consider yourself a Christian, then YES, you need to be a Christian.
  3. If one’s not a Christian, then NO, not necessarily.

I will explain the latter of the three.  No, one doesn’t necessarily need to be a Christian to go to heaven.  Or so it seems, when reading Romans 2:12-16.

A look at Romans 2:6-11 alludes God’s judgment is based on each one’s deeds”  (Romans 2:6). There’s no distinction between Christian or non-Christian.  An emphasis is placed on one “doing good” (Romans 2:7) or one who “does evil.”  (Romans 2:9).  Paul does mention the titles “Jew” and “Greek,” but not to rate one as superior.  Whether a group is historically religious or historically humanistic, it doesn’t matter.  “God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11).

So, let’s get this straight.  When speaking of Jews and Greeks, Paul is saying God doesn’t show favor to anyone based on religious title or claim.  God is concerned with each person’s actions.  Every person, whether Christian or not, will be judged on doing good or doing evil.  With that in mind, read Paul’s subsequent words in Romans 2:12-16:

“12  All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.  13  For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified.  14  When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves.  15  They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16  on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.”

Hearing the law, the gospel, or God’s Word doesn’t award one a “get out of jail free” pass.  It’s in the doing or not doing that God seems to be interested.

Most of the Gentiles don’t have the law.  They’ve never heard it or even know what it is.  Even though the law isn’t on their radar, Paul says they have the potential to “do instinctively what the law requires” (Romans 2:14).  It’s possible because the law is written on their hearts.  Without title, belief, or Christian affiliation, they still have the ability to be “doing good” (Romans 2:7).

How the Gentiles respond to what is written on their hearts will play a factor “on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all” (Romans 2:16).  It could accuse them or perhaps even exclude them.

NO, one doesn’t necessarily need to be a Christian to go to heaven.  Each person still has the opportunity to respond to what’s written on our hearts.

Please, don’t take this the wrong way.  I’m not saying everyone will get into heaven.  Some Christians will and some will not.  Some who don’t know themselves to be Christians will not and some will.  All of us have to respond to the good we know, whether it comes from hearing God’s Word or from the good written on our hearts.

At least, this seems to be true according to Romans 1:12-16.

As much as this seems to be what Paul is saying, he still sets out on a mission to bring the good news to the Gentiles.  It’s not enough for him to imagine heaven is a possibility for them without claiming Christianity.  But, why?

I believe it’s because we’re asking the wrong question to begin with.  In my next post, Part 3, I will explain why I think so.




Does one need to be a Christian to go to heaven?

Wrong question, in my opinion.

If our concern is determining the requirements to enter heaven, I believe we’re seeking the wrong answers.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m concerned about eternity.  I mean, it is ETERNITY.  I don’t believe, however, I’ll ever be qualified to judge who gets in and who’s left out.

But, Romans 2:12-16 seems to suggest the answer is, No, not necessarily.

Paul begins the book of Romans by cutting to the chase with the Jews who have come to believe in Jesus as the Christ.  They didn’t know the title yet, but it would be fair to call them “Christians.”  They are followers of the way of Christ.  It is written about this people that “what can be known about God has been made plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Paul writes, they are without excuse, for though they knew God, they did not honor God as God or give thanks to God, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.” (Romans 1:19-21, NRSV)

About these Christians, Paul continues to write, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”  (Romans 1:24-25, NRSV) In Paul’s words, it appears God’s judgment is directed to Christians.  Specifically, Christians whose life doesn’t match their belief.

With a disparity of belief in Christ and their way of life, Paul warns these Christians they “have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”  (Romans 2:1, NRSV)  Then he asks, “Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? . . . But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”  (Romans 2:3,5 NRSV)

The discussion of who gets into heaven seems apparent for Christians, at least from these two chapters in Romans.  For anyone who considers one’s self to be a Christian, the expectation is that your life will reflect Christ.  To answer my question, Does one need to be a Christian to go to heaven?  If you are Christian, then yes, you need to be a Christian to go to heaven.

“For God will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, God will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.”  (Romans 2:6-8, NRSV)

What about those who don’t know themselves to be a Christian?  Are they automatically excluded from heaven?

I will answer this question tomorrow on my blog, in Part 2:  Does one need to be a Christian to go to heaven?