You Have My Attention: When God Breaks In

image26About 2 months ago, I remember thinking to myself, ‘I can conquer the world!’

I honestly believed there was nothing that could hold me back and nothing that I could not accomplish. I felt like I had the ‘correct’ answers to everything.

Don’t get me wrong, I have seen God do extraordinary things this past year – some of which I cannot even explain! I have been a part of a student ministry that is absolutely flourishing! There is a barely a week that goes by that we do not see students come to know Christ or baptized! Our numbers have drastically increased and our leadership is stronger than I could ever imagine!

On a personal level, 2014 was a challenging year, but also a fruitful year. Our family saw God work in ways that did not make sense – many times when we least expected it. We saw a 3-year debacle over our house on the east coast of Florida end via 2 phone calls over the course of 48 hours. We proceeded to sell the house  for more than we were asking within 4 weeks! We feel blessed beyond measure for the health and joy we have experienced this year!

I truly believe that there is nothing impossible for God, but my pride often gets in the way. I fool myself into believing that there is nothing too powerful for me to accomplish as well. I take the place of God and attempt to accomplish things on my own, ultimately missing what He has for me.

I like to think I am a strong leader – organized, efficient, capable, empowering, and competent. I also tend to think that my character and integrity is most often Christlike. Now, yes, there are those times that my pride and arrogance gets the best of me and, just like Paul, I struggle doing what I know I am not supposed to do and not doing what I know I am supposed to do.

About 3 weeks ago, I was quickly reminded that my ability, my strength, my energy, and yes, even my mind is a blessing from God, the one who gives and takes away. There is nothing I can accomplish outside of who He is. There is no fruit I can produce outside of His love, His character, and His will!

At 1:55 pm on Sunday, December 14th, I came stumbling out of my bedroom and went into a grand mal seizure that lasted about 3 minutes. I tripped over my 4-year old son and ended up falling onto our tile floor. In the process, I also dislocated my shoulder, which is causing me constant pain. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with adolescent epilepsy and was on medication for about 16 years. This past year was the first year that I have not taken any medication, and I was under the assumption I was in the clear – until about 3 weeks ago.

I feel like I have been to more doctors over the past 3 weeks than the past 10 years combined. My wife has become my chauffeur, because legally I am not allowed to drive for 6 months. I am also dealing with the effects of my body getting used to epilepsy medication again, which has caused me to be an emotional basket case on more than one occasion.

It has been a rough few weeks, one that has humbled me and opened my eyes to where my priorities need to truly be. I have been forced to do nothing. My wife even went to the extent of asking me how it felt to have my independence taken away. If it were not for the inability to process my thoughts into words quick enough, I would have responded with some sarcastic comment back at her.

I have realized that I do not have this thing called life figured out. I do not have this thing called leadership figured out. I do not have student ministry, family ministry, or my own relational life figured out. Unfortunately, I have not reached perfection, and if you ask my kids, I still have a long ways to go!

But I do know one thing for sure – God has EVERYTHING figured out!

His love casts out all fear

His grace His sufficient

His mercy is new every morning

Great is His faithfulness

He is MY rock and MY redeemer

He is the beginning and the end

He is the Good Shepherd

He is the great I AM!

And at the end of the day, He has all the answers to all the questions. He has my future in His hands. His purpose for my life far exceeds anything I could ever desire or imagine. I am His vessel, living out the life He has called me to live!

There were several factors that went into me having a seizure and there are still physical, mental, and emotional consequences I am working through. But I truly believe it was God trying to get my attention. I veered off course just slightly and was allowing my pride to take the place of what God had in store for me.

It doesn’t take much of a change in direction to miss what God has for us. For Peter it was taking his eyes off Jesus’ eyes. He was walking on water, with Jesus in his vision, but his eyes were not focused on the Savior’s eyes. For David it was a quick second glimpse off the patio that caused his eyes to lose sight of God’s eyes. For many of us, we feel like we are right there, doing exactly what God is calling us to do, but our pride has caused us to veer just slightly off course. God is in our vision. We believe we are moving towards Him, walking with Him, and living as He has called us to live. But, there is a difference in focusing on the direction of Jesus and focusing on His eyes.

Think of it this way… if I want to drive from Cape Coral, Florida to Buford, Wyoming, simply heading west may not get me to my final destination. Even though Wyoming is constantly in the direction I am headed, getting to my exact location takes more precise accuracy than simply heading west. God is not generic, He is specific. He has a clear plan for each and every one of us that requires us focusing directly on His eyes!

As Christians, we cannot get caught up in our own abilities that we miss the priorities God has mapped out before us. Our first step (or in some cases 5, 20, or 50 steps) often has to be backwards. We must reset our priorities and schedules in order to focus on what is most important.

We have to remain faithful to God’s leading, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient that may be. And at the end of the day, we must never forget that no matter what happens, God is in completely control and He has EVERYTHING figured out!

God has my attention, and my prayer is that He either already has or gets yours! We not only need Him, but we must want Him more than anything this world has to offer. I am committed to seeking Him more this year than ever before. My Lead Pastor put it perfectly, ‘Our faith becomes stronger through our intimacy with the Father’

May this year, we grow more intimately in love with Jesus. May He truly remain our first love in everything – every situation, every event, every circumstance, and amongst every relationship!

Leading Out of Grace in Moments of Failure

failureI will never forget the first time I allowed one of our student interns to speak in front of our middle school students. I was sitting in the back of the room, cringing the entire time! To this day, I am honestly not sure if our students were able to take anything away from his message. I took tons of notes, sat down with him the following week, and critiqued him in every way possible. I ended our time together by letting him know that he would be back on the speaking schedule the following week. Although I could tell he was extremely nervous, he was excited that I was giving him a second chance! About halfway through his second time  speaking, he hit a wall and lost all track of his thoughts. I proceeded to step in and tag team the rest of the message. I again sat down with him, critiqued him, encouraged him, and once again told him that he would be back on the teaching schedule the following week! I think he was somewhat shocked and surprised that I would have him speak again. It was almost as if he was hoping I would tell him he couldn’t ever teach again.

Since then, his ability to communicate with our students has drastically improved and he has even impressed several of our leaders! Not only is he speaking, but also as a junior in high school, he is involved in several high levels of leadership within our middle school ministry! When many people would have given up on him, we saw a high school student with tons of potential that felt God was calling him into full-time youth ministry. We have given him the opportunities to use his abilities, while providing the resources and relationships he needs to grow his strengths.

I often see leaders fail to empower or enable others to lead because they are afraid of the failure that comes with that. I am not afraid of seeing my leaders fail, because I know that there will be times that I will fail as well. In moments of failure, we need people around us who will be there to critique and encourage us. We need to be held accountable to the calling God has placed on our lives – in moments of success and failure.

When it comes to the ministry God has placed around us, we cannot be afraid to challenge other people to step up, even if we don’t quite think they are ready. They will fail because they are people – just like you and me! But through God’s grace and strength we will continually see people rise above failure as we empower them to lead! We must lead with grace when it comes to the incredible team God has placed around us!

God is showing me everyday that this is a concept He has called us to apply within our own homes as well! I have come in contact with so many kids who forget their parents are human beings and parents who face major disappointment in their kids when they do not live up the standards of perfection. Tomorrow I will discuss through personal experience (writing more to myself than anybody else) what it looks like to live out grace in moments of failure within our own homes!

If Not You, Then Who?

proxyIt’s one of my favorite sayings… “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”

We have to go all the way back to the first-century Jewish scholar named Hillel to find the source of this quote and it is as equally applicable now as it was then.

“If not you, then who?”  It is time for us to truly step up and be the individuals God created us to be!  Someone has to step up.  If we don’t, then who will?  I challenge you to let that someone be you.  God has called you to be a great leader, willing to take charge and make progress now.

I’ve often found that, even if you’re faced with a situation you aren’t all that familiar with, someone in your circle of influence knows the process and techniques, and is just waiting for you to get them going.

So I challenge you right out of the gate… step up, get in there, and don’t be afraid to be the leader God has called you to be.  It may mean more work for you, but waiting won’t help, and will probably make things worse, which leads to the second part of Hillel’s quote…

‘If not now, then when?’  I have 5 children – 5 incredibly beautiful children, but I can share story after story of things they have done that have triggered certain senses in my nose to flare!  A little over a year ago we stepped into our Swagger Wagon and noticed it didn’t smell the greatest.  We honestly didn’t think anything of it and left it.  A couple of days went by and I eventually stepped into our van and it hit me like a brick wall – one of the worst odors I have ever smelled in my entire life!  We were scheduled to take our van on a youth retreat – and there was no way any student in their right mind was going to want to ride with us!  We cleaned out the entire van – top to bottom inside and out, and finally found it – a rotten bottle of milk that had spilled into the carpet of our van.  It was not a pretty scene…  We scrubbed, scrubbed, and scrubbed some more, but it took weeks of air fresheners and cleaning to get the smell of week old rotten milk out of our van!

I love middle school students, but there is just something about the way a middle school boy smells that makes me cringe at the thoughts of it.  On every packing list we create for our trips, I make sure to explain that Axe is not a replacement for a shower.  Middle school boys should be required by the government to shower at least twice a day!

I explained the use of Axe one day to a group of our middle school students this way…  As a father of five, we have gone through a lot of dirty diapers!  I sometimes wish we had kept track to see exactly how many diapers we have gone through. Can you imagine if I took those dirty diapers and simply threw them straight into a bucket – no bag – just straight in a bucket that sat by our kitchen table?  And every once in a while I would go outside, pick fresh roses, bring them, and throw them in the bucket with the diapers.  Something in me says that no matter how good those roses smell they will not be able overtake and defeat the power of the dirty diapers…  I believe the same is true with Axe.  I love the smell of Axe, don’t agree with the commercials, but love the smell.  But there is nothing in Axe that will completely take away the aroma of a sweaty middle school boy…

Problems, like diapers or smelly middle school boys, do not smell better with age.  They will not get any easier and they will not disappear.  Waiting will not make it go away, and will not improve your situation.

God has called us to step up now…  He does not want us to wait.  He is ready to empower us to be His hands, His feet, and His voice!  Nehemiah didn’t wait!  Daniel didn’t wait!  Peter and John didn’t wait!  Jesus isn’t waiting for you to do something miraculous to enter into a relationship with you.  He has already provided each of us everything we need and has called us to live out our God-given purpose NOW!  In order to live out our God-given calling and grasp ahold of the phrase, ‘If not me, then who,’ our lives must be filled with purpose and discipline!

First and foremost, God has blessed us with a purpose that goes beyond our own comprehension.  Each one of us was created with an exciting purpose…a purpose that goes beyond who we are and what we do!  In his book, Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren opens up with these words… “It’s not about you.  The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness . . . If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”

It is not about YOU!  Our excitement in life must not be centered around who won the football game on Sunday afternoon.  We cannot discover our purpose based on how many friends we have on Facebook, what other people think of us, or even our own abilities and talents.

We must go back to creation in order to understand the purpose God has placed before us.  According to Genesis 1, our identity involved a “spiritual address.”  We were created in the image of God!  We were not designed in the image of a monkey, an elephant, or a spec of dust from the middle of the atmosphere.  We were created in the image of God, designed to live out our God-given purpose!  Life is not about our wants, our desires, or our needs.  It must be about what God wants, needs, and desires of us!  In Colossians 1:16, Paul writes, “all things were created by Him and for Him.”  We were created to bring Him honor and glory in everything we do and say.  We were created to be His workmanship… His hands and feet… His voice of truth… His instrument used to reach the world.  God has given us the command to go into the entire world, sharing the truth of Jesus Christ.

Paul writes in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father.”

Our complete purpose is found in an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.  He displayed the ultimate example of what it means to “carry your cross daily.”  We must deny ourselves, carry our cross, and follow Jesus with our entire lives.

Honestly, I have struggled with this truth concept my entire life.  There is always something keeping me from a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  Whether it was a high school relationship, college golf, working as a retail manager, doing ministry, or growing a family, I have consistently struggled giving up everything that I am and everything I have for the cause of Christ.  What does that look like anyway?  Do I have to sell everything I own and give it to the poor?  Do I have to live homeless, since Jesus was pretty much homeless?  Do I have to walk around smelling like I just left the garbage dump because I cannot waste money on a shower?  Do my children not play Little League Baseball because I could use the money more wisely?  Do I sell my iPhone and give the money to grow God’s Kingdom?  How far do I go to deny myself for the cause of Christ?  I could go on an on for days with questions just like these.

Living out our God-given purpose begins with a choice of accepting Him as our personal Savior.  We must realize we are nothing and He is everything.  Without the Holy Spirit, there is not one ounce of righteousness within us.  We not only need Christ in our lives, but we must desire Him above everything else.  He must be the reason we live, the reason we walk, and the reason we talk!  Our lives must be centered around who He is and what He can do.  Our relationships must bring Him all honor and glory.  There is nothing more exciting than to live a life of Christlikeness!

Second, we must live a life of discipline!  Why is it that we always lose the fire that is burning inside of us from missions’ trips, spiritual retreats, and even from accepting Christ as our personal Savior?  Why do we go back to living life the same old way?  Why do the wildfires built up inside of us gradually burn out?  Why does it seem easy to be able to jump out of the gate with the passion and desire to change the world, but by the third or fourth lap we are ready to crawl back to our lazy boys?

We have all seen sporting events where one team begins the game untouchable, yet by the end of the game they can barely make it up and down the field of play.  We have all known of somebody who has missed the mark of what it means to finish well.  They have lost the desire, the passion, and the discipline to keep up the good fight.

Unfortunately, we are training a generation to believe it is fine to lose.  I may offend some people, but I struggle with this.  God does not want us to be mediocre at anything!  He wants us to strive after greatness, being the best we can be at whatever we are involved in!  He desires for us to not settle for second place, but to strive for victory.  We must not settle for mediocrity.  We must not settle for second best, or as my brother calls, the “first loser!”  This must carry over into every area of our life, including our walk with Christ.

I challenge you to look beyond who you currently are spiritually…  Right now, envision what your life would be like if you clearly strived after the prize – the prize of victory – the prize of greatness – the prize of impacting lives on a daily basis for the cause of Christ – the prize of living your life to the fullest – the prize of being used by God in ways you cannot imagine.  Picture the world around you.  Picture your family and the difference the impact of a deeper relationship with Christ would make on their life.  What about that broken relationship?  What about that student that is struggling?  What about the legacy you could leave?  Why are we allowing the comfort of our own bubbles to get in the way of striving for the prize – the ultimate prize of victory in Christ?

At the same time, a life with Christ can be extremely grueling.  I am not going to say it is the easiest life you will ever live, because that is not true according to Scripture.  God’s Word tells us that we will be persecuted, ridiculed, laughed at, mocked, and made fun for placing our faith and trust in Him.  The majority of the disciples were mocked, laughed at, stoned, and even put to death for their faith.  Stephen was stoned in a public setting for preaching the truth of the Gospel.  Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den because he refused to stop praying to the Creator of the Universe.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace because they would not bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold.  We must be committed to a strengthening relationship with Jesus Christ, no matter the circumstances, no matter what others may think, and no matter what others may do or say towards us!

At the end of the day, what legacy are you leaving?  What are you doing to finish strong?  I will never forget a conversation I had with a fellow coworker of mine back in 2011.  He was just leaving a funeral of a father of three boys.  As he was walking up the stairs to our church offices, I was walking down, headed home.  The conversation, which lasted only about 30 seconds, was brief and to the point.  He looked at me and challenged me with words that I will never forget, “What legacy are you leaving?  How will you be remembered?  I want you to think through those two questions…

I didn’t even know what to say, how to respond, or what to think.  As I evaluated my own life, I was scared to think of the legacy I was leaving.  If something were to happen to me, what would my children remember me for?  What would the students I minister to remember me most for?  What would be said at my funeral?  What would be encrypted on my tombstone?  And most importantly, what would be the words of my Heavenly Father when I came face to face with Him?

What about you?  What legacy are you leaving?  How will you finish?  How will you finish today, tomorrow, this week, this month, this year, and this life – the one and only life God has blessed you with?

Are you living out your God-given purpose, dedicated to a growing relationship with Christ?  Are you focused on impacting those around you for the cause of Christ? Why do you do what you do?

‘If not you, then who?’