God’s Guidance

Things don’t always go the way that we think they will!  Isn’t life like that though?  We make plans and then life throws us a curve ball.  We don’t get into the college of our dreams.  That guy or girl you thought was “the one” laughs at you when you ask them out.  Out of nowhere, you get handed a pink slip and you are left wondering what to do next.  We wonder, where is God in all of this?

One thing you can be sure of is that there are few things you can be sure of.

So the question is: how do we have faith when we are facing a crisis, when we are looking up at those hills of life- those mountains we have to face?  What do we do when the weight is just too much and we just can’t deal with everything that is going on in our world?

ropes-on-the-tall-shipWell, the Bible has a lot to say about God’s guidance.  The Hebrew word for guidance (tachbulah) is same word for “rope”.  Back then, sailers used ropes to guide and navigate their ships.  They used ropes to raise or drop the sails and to tell the ship where to go and how fast to get there.

God’s guidance is the same way.  Here’s what I’ve been learning these last few months: God’s guidance is more something he DOES than something he GIVES. I’ve prayed and prayed- “God, show me what you want for my life!”.  That prayer has mostly been met with silence.  Silence.

BUT.

But what God does is shape and mold and guide me where to go…and how fast to get there.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the life of Joseph from the Old Testament.  He was falsely accused and thrown in prison.  And that was AFTER being thrown in a pit and then sold into slavery.  For years and years, Joseph waited on God’s plan.  But in the midst of that seeming inactivity, God was moving and shaping and molding Joseph so that he was ready to lead when the time came.

These past several months have been really tough as we’ve waited on God.  But I can see that God has been working on my heart and preparing me for whatever is next.  And for that, I can be thankful.

If life has thrown you a curve or if you are facing uncertain times- you are not alone! Your story shares a lot with many people’s stories we find in the Bible.  And in all of those stories, God was moving and shaping and molding.  Even when it seemed like he was distant or silent.  We can trust that God is good and God is great and he has good things planned for his children.

Stay strong.  Stay the course.  Trust God.

EL

Trust in the LORD

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)

Its a Bible verse I’ve had memorized for almost 3 decades.  However, actually living out the truth of it is a whole other matter! Its an easy verse to quote to your friends who are going through a tough time.  When YOU are the one in the dark valley, when YOU are the one that is confused, frustrated, and running out of patience, it is much harder to believe that God will make your paths straight.

And yet… And yet I look back and I see God’s hand on my life and I know that He WILL make my paths straight and He WILL lead and guide me to the right place.

When Kristin and I were engaged and I didn’t know where I was going to be working or where we would live, God led us to Colorado.  And in Colorado he helped us lay the foundation for our marriage and led us to friends who will always be there for us- wherever we live or do ministry.

When we desperately wanted to be parents and we kept experiencing the pain of miscarriage, God was there with us for those 3 long, empty years.  And now we have two beautiful children!

When our daughter Rebecca was born not breathing and we heard the doctors say the words “brain damage”, God was there.  And he healed our little girl and she is perfectly healthy and a joy to all she meets!

And so, I know that God is moving and working- even in the silence.  Even in this desert season.  And someday we will look back and see how God was there with us-even when we feel so alone.  And so I will choose not to lean on my own understanding but to trust God will all of my heart.  Its not easy-not but any stretch.  But its a daily choice I will continue to make.

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Book Review: 7 Lessons for New Pastors

Before we can make any plans for the church, we must know the sheep well.  Take every opportunity to become familiar with members of your church. Don’t rush into your action plans too quickly. – from the book 7 Lessons for New Pastors, page 96

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Matthew D. Kim wrote this helpful book after his first year as a senior pastor.  Since I believe that God might be leading me to be a senior pastor, I thought it would be a good idea to do some reading on others’ experiences as new senior pastors.

Dr. Kim offers 7 good tips for new senior pastors.  The first couple chapters are about making sure you are called to be a pastor and the importance of finding the right church.  Then he moves into how to acclimate to the pastor’s life and gives some good tips on creating good habits.  Dr. Kim shares that the most important habit for a pastor is a strong prayer life.  He says: Prayer is priceless in the life of a pastor. It is the glue that holds everything together…Without prayer, we lack God’s love and power. Without prayer, we will be empty on the inside and have nothing left to give our parishioners. Without prayer, we cease to be pastors (page 53).

Chapter five is about how to develop your leadership skills.  He gives some good ideas on how to create and cast vision and the importance of developing leaders.  He shares that to be effective, learn to develop leaders and delegate responsibility…the church should be able to thrive without us.  That is the proper test of whether we have produced quality lay leaders (page 83).

In chapter six, Dr. Kim shares some great tips on how to love your congregation. He says: ministry is people. It is people that make the calling of ministry valuable and worthwhile (page 93). It is so easy to lose sight of that.  To get caught up in doing stuff and to forget that its all about people.  Dr. Kim shares some great ideas on how to get to know your congregation and to really get to know their stories.

And finally, in chapter 7, Dr. Kim shares his advice on how to be ready for when the unexpected happens.  What to do when tragedy strikes.  What to do when you get unusual and unexpected requests. And how to resist unexpected temptations.

All in all, I thought this was a great book that would be beneficial for anyone who is moving into a senior pastor role.  Check it out.

Book Review: Comeback Churches

An incarnational church functions as the “body of Christ” because it represents the presence of Christ in a community. – Comeback Churches, page 6

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I believe that every church is planted with the desire to be an incarnational church. However, over time, many times churches get “stuck”.  They operate in a way that is meaningful only to those already in the church while those in the community look on in bewilderment.

Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson did a study of 324 churches who were stuck and then made the turnaround to become “Comeback Churches”.  These were churches that had experienced 5 years or more of plateau or decline and then experienced significant growth (10% growth each year) and started seeing at least one person baptized each year for every 35 members.  So a 350 person church would see at least 10 people baptized each year.  Their book, Comeback Churches, describes the common steps these 324 churches took to turn things around.

I feel that God is leading my family and me to an established church, rather than going down the path of planting another church.  Most likely, it will be a church that has been plateaued or declining for the last few years.  As such, I found this book to be a tremendous help! Not a page went by where I didn’t highlight some good insight.  If you are at a church that needs to make a comeback, I highly recommend this book! Check it out!

EL Read More

Book Review: Making Room for Leadership

have been called a bull in a china shop…on more than one occasion!  A friend, hoping to help, handed me this book to read…about four years ago.  To be honest, at that time I wasn’t ready to openly evaluate myself and how I used my physical presence to influence others.  I was defensive and thought, “well, this is just who I am!”

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Well, I finally got over myself and decided to read it.  In her book Making Room For Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence, MaryKate Morse asserts that we all take up space in a room (not just physically) and the way we use or don’t use our bodies in group settings influences others. She shares that most of us are unaware of the ways we use our bodies to influence others.  I would wholeheartedly agree with these ideas!

As I read this book, I reflected on my past.  I worked with someone who would use his body and physical presence to dominate the room and to force everyone else into submission. He referred to this as “powering up”.  It was incredibly intimidating and created a very tough working environment.  It wasn’t until I was out of the situation that I realized how emotionally damaging the working relationship was to me.

I do not want to lead like that.  MaryKate Morse talks about “shadows” and “sponges” in her book. I have come to the realization that on the scale of being a “shadow” with no presence or a “sponge” who soaks up all the physical space in a room, I am much more like a sponge.  I am who God created me to be BUT I can learn to me more like Jesus who used his power and influence to empower the marginalized and to stand up to those who are abusing their personal power.  I can learn to temper my big presence to help create safe environments that help others find their voice and to feel free to participate in this great endeavor of spreading the good news of the coming of God’s Kingdom.

This is a great book that would be very helpful for both “shadows” and “sponges”.  If you are someone who people ignore and you don’t feel like you have a voice, grab this book and learn how to appropriately gain influence and to partner with what God is doing.  If you are more like me, and tend to soak up all the space in a room, read this book and learn how to be more aware of your surroundings and how to help others feel safe and to share your influence and power.  God has a plan for ALL of us and he wants us ALL to participate in his great redemption story!

EL

Sometimes You Just Need a Donut

I have to be honest with you: I’m not loving life right now.  It’s COLD. Oh so cold. No more football for like 260 days.  We are in this season of waiting on God to tell us what’s next.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a very blessed man.  I have an OUTSTANDING wife and awesome kids.  We have some great friends we get to do life with.  But you know what? I’m cranky.  I’m tired of being cold and being a stay at home dad.  Blah. 

And that’s ok.  You see, we all get cranky at times.  We all get sick of the weather and where life has us in certain seasons.  We want Spring to come or we want that baby to be born NOW (so said my wife when she was 9 months pregnant) or we want God to fill us in on what he’s got planned for us.

And so I wait.  For Spring and warmer weather.  For God to lead me to the right church to be their pastor.  For whatever comes next.  But often God is doing the most work when he seems to be silent.  It is in the midst of pain and waiting and the long winter that God changes us.  We are like a seed that is buried in the cold, dark ground.  That seed needs that time in uncertain darkness before it matures and is ready to grow and bear fruit. (…or vegetables if I was really going to be true to the metaphor.  But I like fruit much more than vegetables and who talks about bearing much vegetables??)

But today? Today my OUTSTANDING wife brought me a donut.  Because, even when you are trying to be healthy and lose weight, sometimes you just need a donut to help you make it through another day.  And I will continue to trust Jesus and know that he is good.  Because he created donuts.  Oh- and also, because he loves me and he knows what I need, which is often different that what I want.  Sort of like donuts and a weight loss plan…

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