If your church has to warn everybody about Michael and Lisa Gungor from the pulpit this Sunday morning, it might be a good indicator that your church leadership needs your prayers.
I’m intrigued by a meticulous art project from UK-based photographer Thom Atkinson, in which he obtained and laid out the battle kit of English soldiers over the past millennium. The fiction author in me, as well as the child in me, found the images fascinating. Similarly, my boys were eager to look over my shoulder and view each image as I explained the various pieces of kit.
Perhaps showing signs of age, and revealing the parts of my heart that have been touched by the realities of human conflict (particularly with regard to our pastoral proximity to Ft. Drum), I was surprised to find that some of my explanations interested me far less than they used to. And a few unspoken concepts repulsed me.
Because I knew my sons couldn’t and shouldn’t handle them yet.
I think of the use of hooked polearms, or how a gas mask protects against the effects of nerve gas.
The romance of war has certainly faded, though the call to protect and defend has not.
Moving through the various images, I was reminded that these kits were necessary because of our rebellion to God in the first place. And further, I noted how many of the conflicts had purely humanistic motives (which could be said of any conflict, to be sure). One doesn’t need to know much of the Crusades to understand its fundamental atrociousness.
For the innocent blood we’ve spilt, we’ll give answer to; for the innocent we defended, our blood is its own testament.
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!
Thanks to my friend Wayne Thomas Batson for this beautiful reminder.
I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure. While I can’t see it, I can feel it.
Something pressing’s down on me. Many things, actually. And they’re not bad things. They’re good things. In fact, they’re God-ordained things.
Serving my wife, stewarding my kids, taking care of our home, investing into people, building the local church, growing kingdom businesses that influence communities, creating art that changes hearts.
Every one of these topics have high price tags of time, energy and money. And they each have severe ramifications if I make mistakes.
And yet they weight me down.
So is the weight something I’m to be afraid of? To fear?
How about to avoid? That seems to be the most common advice I give myself. That’s the advice most well meaning people give. Avoid the weight. Look for ways to offload it. It’s unhealthy. It’s not God. If you’re not at peace with it, look for where you’re being disobedient.
But what if not giving myself to any of those things is the disobedience?
I’m also inspired by a quote form one of T.D. Jake’s famous sermons, The Weight of Glory:
The conduit from laity to leadership is discomfort.
What if the discomfort of my life is the very thing that qualifies me to lead? To stand in front of my family, my friends, my church, my businesses, and say, “Follow me as I follow the Lord.”
I’m inspired by the life and letters of the Apostle Paul, knowing that affliction is the gateway for glory.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
What if the very tactic of the enemy is to get me to believe the “burn out” lie? To subtly convince me to “take it easy.” To “quit” one thing or another “because it’s hard, and I’m so tired.”
If anxiety and burdens are the enemy of the first-world Christian, how can I consciously avoid lines like this in what most scholars believe is the first written text of the New Testament?
And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:28
I can feel the loving eyes of the Father staring at me as I complain about my circumstances. As I moan about one issue or another. About how hard I have it. The past several days, it’s been a minute by minute awareness. He’s checking me. Testing me.
This past Sunday was the most frustrating tech Sunday at New Life. Ever. Four days before, our building was struck by lightning, so by Sunday, my tech department was finding more and more ghosts in the systems. Lights stopped working, lyrics stopped going up on screens, audio sends weren’t feeding. And I have no hair left to pull out.
Could God be speaking any more loudly to me?
I think I’m mining gold now. I think I’m arriving at a divine conclusion. I feel God forging it deep within me. And I’m becoming profoundly certain of a heavenly truth.
The best way to keep from spoiling our position is to correct our attitude.
And what is my attitude to be?
That I live like a king. That pastors dream about having the “problems” I do. That since I’ve been given so much, much is required of me (Luke 12:48). Anything less than my very best not only belittles my calling and my position, but mocks the one who knew I can stand here and lead. And serve.
I’ve never met a grateful person who was burnt out.
Keep going today.
Don’t give up.
Tomorrow will take care of itself. You just be obedient today.
Souls are waiting on the other side of your obedience.
How I Use iPhone Apps to Study The Bible and Prepare to Speak
I share the following workflow for three reasons. The first is that I get a lot of requests about how I prepare my messages, and people seem genuinely helped when I explain my methods. The second is that it speaks to study in general; not everyone is a pastor or teacher, but everyone, especially Christians, should be students of scripture and of life.
The third is that I believe I’m in the cross-over generation from print Bibles to digital Bibles, at least in leading and developing first world nations. This is important. I grew up reading my Gideon hotel-stolen NKJV until it needed rebinding, and my leather-bound NIV Rainbow Study Bible. But as I traveled more (specifically flying), the sheer weight and size of my Bibles and notebooks became an impediment. As the iPhone, and then iPad made it easier to chose how I could pack, my study habits also started to change. They became more efficient, and therefore more powerful.
Superior tools allow a craftsman to do better work. The generation behind me often finds digital sterile and cold, some might even say “un-anointed.” But the generation coming after me needs to be even more immersed in the written Word. I’m sure there may have been similar despondency when people could actually bring a Bible into their home for the first time. “But how will we know what it means if the priest isn’t here to teach us?” Or how about the glaring hurdle of having to learn how to read?
The point is, if there are new tools available to us that proliferate the accessibility of scripture and allow us to understand more than ever before, we need to champion them, if nothing more than for the sake of those coming after us.
When preparing a sermon for a church service, I first have to begin where I want to end: my audience (their needs and contextual appetites), my time frame (if I’m at New Life, we have four services each with a 20-25 minute window for the message; if I’m at EDEN school in France, I look at 3-hour blocks), and obviously my goal (what I want them leaving with). Without these, I tend to ramble, over prepare, and think more about what I want to say than what God wants to say. Remember, constraints can either limit you or serve you—the choice is entirely yours.
All of my messages begin (and mostly end) on my iPhone. It’s always with me, so convenience is key. It’s also the place I do my largest amount of Bible reading. I use four different apps for different reasons.
Bible by YouVersion: This is the easiest and simplest app to read from for me. The social connectivity attributes are nice, but not really the reason I’m there. When I need to copy and paste scriptures, this app places them in my clipboard with the reference in parentheses at the bottom. I have it loaded with ESV, NKJV, NIV, KJV and NLT.
PocketSword by CrossWire: This is the mojo, the magic sauce Bible app for me. I use it for one thing: Greek and Hebrew (Strongs modules) in the KJV (the only version they appear in). When I want to research and break down the words (something all good teachers and preachers need to be in the practice of), PocketSword is my go-to app.
Lumina by Bible Studies Foundation: This NET translation of the Bible comes hyperlinked with 60,000 translation notes created by 25 translation scholars from Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew. Great for digging a little deeper into those hard-to-understand passages.
Bible+ by Olive Tree: I tend to make most of my in-Bible notes and highlights in this app as it “feels” the most like reading my favorite print Bibles. I typically read out of the ESV here. Pasting copied sections strips out the references, so if I want to grab something I like, I jump back to YouVersion.
The other reading app I use most (paired beside Evernote, which I’ll hit next) is Kindle for iOS. In here I’m gleaning from whatever non-fiction or essays (PDFs) I’ve downloaded. I’m a firm believer that you don’t have enough time to extract everything out of the Bible that you need, so you better eat from the hands of others who’ve used their entire lives to share something worth digesting.
Since I’m one of those preachers who believes that everything needs to be rooted and end up in the written Word, most all of my ideas launch out of verses that speak to my life experiences, world happenings and what I believe God is trying to say to people (my audience, in particular).
As a result, when I’m reading in one of my Bible apps, I’m bound to open Evernote within moments. Evernote is my catch-all of choice. From pics and drawings to links and syncing, it’s my jam, and arguably the best on the market.
I have an “Academics” stack that contains most all of my more heady content, and within, my “Messages” notebook. I allow this notebook to be very fluid. It not only contains finished content, but also “content in process.” Or as my Dad uses in his three ring binders, his “Sermons Working” tab.
Here’s a shot from a message I preached last Sunday at L’Eglise Sans Frontiers in Longuyon, France:
When I’m traveling or under time constraints, I preach right out of Evernote from my iPad or iPhone. But if I have time, there’s one extra step that I take. Fair warning: this is for geeks, nerds, designers and people with any level of OCD.
I import my content from Evernote into InDesign to create a good looking PDF.
I learned from designer Nathan Davis to value the added step of creating a beautiful looking PDF as it has a way of internalizing the content more thoroughly. This added process, while sometimes time consuming, is a great way of embedding the message deeper into my gut where it moves from notes I have to read verbatim to a message I can proclaim intuitively. And when I need to transition from teaching to preaching while onstage, this key component is essential.
My father, Peter, taught (and challenged) me to love scripture. And he still prepares his messages using his wonderful leather-bound Bible and 8″ three-ring notebooks filled with his handwriting. What he passed on, however, we’re not his methods, but his love for God’s Word. Regardless of how you learn, study, preach or teach, make sure that you’re more focused on imparting than on your process: few people will remember how you did it, but everyone will remember what you did.
In the arena of business, I’ve met a lot of people who start off conversations by asking future employees or other entrepreneurs how much money they’ve earned. The discussion could include additional possessions, like cars, boats and houses, as if these are medals awarded for valor on the field of capitalist battle.
But asking someone how much money they made doesn’t give you an accurate picture of the whole story. So I prefer another question.
“How much money have you lost?”
Knowing how much money someone has lost not only reveals to me how much net worth they might have, but also the level of risk that they’re willing to live with. Further, if someone has lost a considerable amount of money, or has endured numerous life-failures, and yet they’re still sitting in front of me as a successful person, that tells me a great deal about their individual fortitude and personal character. They’re willing to put things on the line, pay the price if they go wrong, and work themselves out of the hole.
I call this loss judging.
Losing money, whether it’s your own or someone else’s, is never fun. It’s not something we like to brag about either. Who would? There’s certainly something to be said for steering clear of people who habitually tank institutions, organizations or themselves. But when considering a new hire or partnership, assuming the person has something to bring to the table, knowing what they’ve had to go through to get where they are helps paint a more clear picture of who they are.
The same assessment can also hold true in other aspects of life. Much of the time we write off people who’ve made poor decisions, finding themselves at the bottom of the social ladder. How many times have we passed homeless people who actually have degrees in a highly prestigious fields? And yet we give jobs to young 20-something’s fresh out of college, with no experience whatsoever, mind you, and a mountain of debt.
I judge someone who’s lost a loved one—as a different example—as someone who knows how to endure grief. They’ve had to stare mortality in the face and move on, most often at great expense. For those who’ve lost family “out of time,” meaning a son or daughter or grandson or granddaughter, I have even more respect.
Perfect track records can tell you a lot about people, sure. But loss judging not only tells you who a person is, but who’ve they’ve fought not to be. It tells you they’re still in the game. That matters.
Not all loss is bad. And not all gains are good. Our job as leaders is to try and perceive the value of people sitting across from us so we all can move forward in strength. The more scars a person carries, the less your team may have to suffer.
Can you recount ten notable headlines of news articles that you’ve read over the last thirty days?
Don’t worry, neither can I.
But can you recall a point that moved you in a book from the last ten years?
You probably can.
That’s because reading intentional long-form works tend to have a far more lasting effect on our lives than reading any of the day’s gossip columns. If this is true for me as I suspect it is for you, it means that we must be more deliberate than ever before about what we’re ingesting on a regular basis.
Making behavior decisions in the present based on what we know will help us in the future is the very essence of wise judgement.
Here are a few things I do to make sure I’m consuming content that I know helps and not dilutes my perspective:
Use YouTube Videos as Podcasts. Whatever your hobby or profession is, there’s probably someone online who’s said something that you need to know. And while podcasts are plentiful, YouTube trends higher on people’s scope. So I stock pile recommendations that people send me, most notable sermons, tutorials or songs, and play them through my headphones when I have down time, especially during travel. The key here it that you don’t always need to see it to receive it. Hearing them talk is just as essential to the process of learning, and often allows us to retain more information in certain contexts.
Stay Addicted, Just Change The Drug. If you find yourself addicted to reading materials on your mobile device, then leverage your new addiction, don’t despise it. This means putting your Kindle app right next to your favorite news aggregate app. Or better yet, place the pop-culture apps further back in your screen pages and keep your Kindle/iBooks app up front. This visual reminder helps promote long-form works of value while keeping the dreaded pop-web-surfing monster at bay.
Value Authentic Communication First. If you’re a Christian, and you’re tempted to read your email or check social media first, make sure that your Bible app is close. I’d much rather hear what God has to say to me to start my day than what people do. Emails are important and, to an extent, so is social media; they’re just not the most important. It’s the myriad of other voices in my email and social media accounts that tend to side track me. Kick things off right: hear from God first.
What ways have you disciplined yourself to intentionally digest wholesome content while skirting the frivolous?
New good habits are hard to form, but they become just as powerful as old bad ones. Only more so: because they help instead of hinder you.
Life is built on a sequence of events played out over time.
I can’t buy my next guitar until I sell my present guitar. Which I just did.
(Enjoy, Mark R.)
I couldn’t write this post until I got here to Hawaii. Between the build up to Easter, the launching of our North Campus, and leading worship and speaking at Redline Conference, I haven’t had anything more to give a public. This post was conditional upon my last “posting” of service to another audience.
All this to say, I’m simply reminded that we can’t do the next thing unless we finish the present thing.
The next thing sounds wonderful and exciting. It’s a distant horizon, an unopened gift beneath the Christmas tree.
The present thing is familiar.
And not the vintage, old-timey old. I mean nasty old. The “dear lord, I’m so sick of this and I just want it to end” kind of old that demands a high level of something to tolerate.
Of endurance? Patience? Stamina? Fortitude?
Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36 NLT)
The next thing becomes the sweetest thing only when the present thing is treated faithfully.
Said differently with some verbose alliteration, don’t rob your pending promise of its pleasure by prematurely parting with your present plan.
Stay with it, whatever you’re doing today. There is a very real reward on its way.
I’m off to dive on a plane wreck in O’ahu. Yes, rewards are worth being patient for.
Our testimonies give permission for others to walk in similar victories. Don’t rob someone’s victory by withholding your testimony.
Aside from trying to answer my children on why I have more hair on my chest that I do on top of my head, one of the questions people ask me the most is, “How do you manage to do all that you do?”
While I’m always honored that my conduct is worth asking about, the question has a few inherent flaws. One of those is assuming that I’m faithful to all the things I need to get done. For every one thing someone sees, there are dozens more that need attention. And I carry that reverently, as everything worth doing has a person on the other side of it.
But with regard to the question itself, we need to make sure we break it down more accurately.
Reading It Right
Don’t confuse productivity with capacity and support.
It’s dangerous to compare ourselves to others. But analyzing peoples methods can often be thought-provoking, informative and convicting. So it’s worth investigating when you’re able to rub shoulders with someone whom you admire.
How Much Can You Carry?
It’s important to recognize that some people are born with a higher natural capacity to produce things than others. They have certain gifts and natural dispositions that lend to high output lifestyles. My senior pastor, Kirk Gilchrist, has a natural gift of leadership. I try and emulate it as best I can, but what I have to work for, he has naturally.
You can work toward having a greater natural capacity but, ultimately, capacity has to do with how you’re put together.
The greatest thing you can do to increase your capacity is allow yourself to be stretched. And this isn’t exactly a warm-fuzzy process. It will test the limits of your patience, stamina, stress thresholds, memory and relationships. This doesn’t mean you take on fifty things, just the next thing. This means that you’ll operate within your own natural capacity, not someone else’s, and then look to the next step that makes you uncomfortable, not the next thirty steps.
Who’s On Their Team?
Very often, we see what’s attributed to one person when in reality it was created by many people.
Most people who produce a lot have amazing support systems in place. Movies are great examples of this. The main actor or director usually gets the red carpet treatment. But sit through the credits of the next film you enjoy, and really think through all the faces that go with each of those names.
These key supporters allow producers to offer more than what they’re able to do on their own. This is a quality of leadership, and should not be confused with someone’s natural ability to create or carry something. One of the only reasons I’m able to appear to do all that I do is because of those who’ve partnered with me. Accordingly, it’s become of one of my personal goals to shower them with as much praise and recognition as I can. They deserve it, and so much more.
Be a Voracious Learner
The best that we can do is glean from people’s habits and try to apply them to ourselves where possible.
What time people get up and go to sleep, how they treat their bodies and what feed their spirits, what they’re reading, how often they take breaks, interact with others, deal with stress, they lead their teams, take criticism, delegate, craft, adhere to timelines and engage in the creative process are all examples of things we can learn regardless of our natural capacities or current support structures.
Monitor your capacity and honor your supporters.
Giving stuff away is amazing. Way better than getting something yourself. (It’s almost like Jesus knew what he was talking about).
Jennifer and I had the honor of representing Guitars For Glory during our recent trip to Guatemala last month. This meant surprising three people with brand new guitars. We made sure the cameras were rolling, and managed to produce something we’re all proud of. (Thank you, Sprig Music).
Sure, who wouldn’t like a free guitar?
But what the documentary doesn’t show is all the back-story behind the recipients. Like how Rudy’s father abandoned his family for the US, and Rudy was left to be provider for his four siblings and mother; today, he’s a pillar in his family and his church. Or Roger, who’s given himself fully to educating children, and makes in one year what I make in three weeks. Then there’s Willy, who’s always wanted to lead people in worship on guitar, but knew it’d be impossible, seeing as how it’d take him and his entire family over a decade to save up enough combined money to buy one.
The stories are real. The tears are real. Because the people are real.
And that’s the power we have as being part of the world’s wealthiest people.
Please watch the video. Then thoughtfully consider three things:
1.) Giving to Guitars For Glory so they can continue to spread the message of hope in Jesus through music.
2.) Sponsor a child with Inn Ministries, our hosting organization in Guatemala. I can’t say enough about these people. They’re the real deal, and you’re having a daily impact on children when you give toward their education.
3.) Let me know what you think—about all this. I’d love to hear.
You were born to rock. So get to it.
“This new car is such a blessing.”
“Finally closed on the house. Feeling blessed.”
“Just got back from a mission trip. Realizing how blessed we are here in this country.”
On the surface, the phrase seems harmless. Faithful even. Why wouldn’t I want to give God the glory for everything I have? Isn’t that the right thing to do?
Read Scott Dannemiller’s [convicting] full story here. Then let me know what you think. What you perceive is a blessing may actually be the burden that you need to steward on behalf of others.
God is not for the underdog, he’s for the faithful.
“I like you.”
Those three words sent chills down my 5th grade spine. It made me do crazy things, like circle “yes” on a ruled sheet of notebook paper that read, “Do you like me back?” and pass it through the hands of four friends to a blushing girl.
Being liked is powerful stuff. It makes politicians bend their convictions, and actors turn their heads.
But not being liked is just as powerful. In fact, the desire to be liked by those who don’t like you can be one of life’s most dangerous motivators. The more we try and appease the myriad of voices that sing our praise or ridicule, the more we tend to abandon our primary purposes. We become un-true to ourselves.
When All Eyes Are On You
As a pastor, I have the honor of wading into the arena of theology, and engaging—whether I want to or not—with everyone else’s personal pet doctrines. As a business man, I never run my businesses the way everyone else thinks I should, from employee to patron. And as an artist, I never communicate “it” quite the way everyone else would like me to.
No matter what arena you’re in, if you stand for something, someone’s bound not to like you. And if you have any ounce of humanity, you’ll at least think about how to get them to like you. I know I do.
Being liked isn’t bad; but trying to be liked by everyone is.
Because it’s impossible.
The transient nature of the human opinion is decidedly insecure. I believe it could be one of the sandy foundations Jesus talked about in Matthew 7:26-27:
But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
Who Matters Most?
If being liked is an unavoidable goal of the heart—which anyone who says it isn’t, doesn’t have a heart—make sure you’re liked by the people who matter most.
I want my wife to like me. I want to know what she thinks. Her opinion matters a great deal. A thousand people can tell me I did a good job, but if she disagrees, then I did a poor job; similarly, the masses can say I was terrible, but her one word of affirmation can silence them all.
I want my kids to like me. Not loathe me. It doesn’t mean I don’t make the hard call, but it means that when I do, I do it lovingly. Part of my legacy is making sure their memories of me have integrity—that when they think back on me, they realize I was trying to model as much of the heavenly Father as I could.
I want to know what my closest friends think, my advisors, my pastors. I covet the “likes” of the wisest people around me. In a world where “like” is a cheap button-click away, I want the hard-won, deeply fought for, dig-deep kind of like that you can’t get from a screen, but you can only get from a look in the eye.
And most of all, I want my God to like me. I want my conduct to so much reflect his, that he notices himself in me.
Like of Love
The danger is that as we cater more to the opinions of people we have no relationship with, we actually suppress the value of the people who we do have relationship with. The very ones we claim we like are the ones we’re conveying deep disinterest toward.
In the end, being liked is merely the precursor to a far more innate emotional need: being loved. And being loved is more powerful than being liked, because real love is not as conditional on what we do, but more, who we are.
Make sure you’re liked by the ones you love the most. Everyone else can afford to be upset.
Iraq isn’t in the news much anymore. At least, not the way it was in the 90s. But neither is Green Day.
So what’s current in Baghdad?
Last month alone, 1,013 people in Iraq – 795 civilians, 122 soldiers and 96 policemen – died as a result of violence.
The community of faith has certainly taken a hit too:
There were once 135,000 Jews in Iraq; only six remain. And Iraq’s Christians have fled by the hundreds of thousands in recent years. Out of 1.5 million in 2003, only around 200,000 remain. This is particularly tragic, because both the Jewish and Christian communities in Iraq are ancient and indigenous. They are neither post-colonial nor the result of Western missionary activity.
In a nation where acting like Christ comes with inherently severe consequences, you’ll be inspired by the story of a man referred to as The Vicar of Baghdad. Sound like a movie title? It should. Reverend Canon Andrew White—an Anglican priest from Great Britain, firmly planted in Iraq’s capital—does enough heart-string pulling to merit an Oscar. Only he’s not acting.
Apparently, he didn’t get the memo regarding “bunker mentality.”