Friday, December 30, 2011

Agape Love: An Unconditional Love

I'm sure most of you are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." 

It's one of the most well-known passages in the Bible because it defines what love is, and it's a hallmark description of what love does. When someone asks me, "What is love?", I can tell them that love is patient, it is kind, it does not envy, it isn't proud, it isn't rude, or self-serving, or easily angered, and it doesn't hold grudges. It is truthful, it protects, it trusts, it hopes, and it never fails.

This is an incredible passage and holds a lot of wisdom and insight on how we as Christians are to win the lost: by loving them. However, I think many people misunderstand what love really is.

The dictionary has four definitions for love:

  1. A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. 
  2. A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend. 
  3. Sexual passion or desire. 
  4. A person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
I believe the dictionary also misunderstands what love is. Love is often confused as being a feeling or an emotion. It's not. Love isn't those warm fuzzies or butterflies you get when you have a crush on someone. Love isn't about how you feel. But I'll come back to that in a second. 

Jesus talked about love quite often. He told us to love our neighbors, and to love our enemies. He told us to love God first and to love others second. He even told us to love others like He loves us. The Greek language had different words to describe the different types of love. The word eros meant sexual attraction or desire (which is where we get our word erotic). Their word storge meant love between or for family members. Neither of these two words are used in the New Testament. Another word for love was philos, which means brotherly or reciprocal love (and it's where we get Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love). And finally, the Greek had the word agape. Now the word agape means "unconditional love." Want to guess which word was used in the New Testament? Yep, you got it: agape. 

The latest book that my boss has given me is called The Servant by James C. Hunter, and I've been learning so much from it. The thing that has impressed upon me the most is the idea that love is a behavior and not a feeling. This idea blew my mind. I had never looked at it that way before. People have tried to tell me that it's a behavior. But it never really made sense until I heard James Hunter discussed it in The Servant. Suddenly, so many Scriptures make so much more sense than they did before. I realize that when Jesus told us to love our enemies, he wasn't telling us to have warm fuzzies for them. He isn't telling me to have a "profoundly tender, passionate affection" for the bully I faced in 5th-7th grade. He's not saying that we should be sweet on criminals or terrorists. And He wasn't telling us to be affectionate toward that womanizer in youth group. 

When I look at love as a behavior, suddenly I now understand He's telling us to be patient and kind and even polite and respectful to those people. He's telling us to be humble, to not hold grudges, and to fulfill others needs before your own. Suddenly, it seems possible to love others as Christ loves us. Christ came for us and not Himself. He is the perfect example of selfless, humble love. And that love, agape love, is the type of love we're to demonstrate as the church of Christ.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Three Easy Steps to Purity

Proverbs 4:23-27 offers great advice on protecting your heart and body from sexual impurity. Verse 23 has been one of my favorite verses since fifth grade, but the following verses are as wise and beneficial as verse 23. It says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil."

I really love the wording of this passage. Guard your heart. Keep perversity and corrupt talk far from your lips. Fix your gaze directly ahead. Only walk on solid ground. Don't swerve to the right or the left. It's so simple, and so beautiful. Yet if you apply it to your life, the results can be life-changing.

There are a couple of simple principles we glean from these passages that can really impact our lives. The first principle is to guard your heart. Your heart is the wellspring of life. Proverbs 27:19 says, "As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man." Your heart reflects who you are, so don't let it become contaminated. In the context of sexual purity, that means don't give your heart away. I talk about this further in Giving Away Your Best Strength.

The second concept is to keep your mouth clean. Nobody likes a perv, so don't be one. Girls get tired of you really fast when you continuously compliment their physical beauty. They want to be complimented on their inner beauty. And I don't feel like I need to explain to you the difference between the two beautys. So don't be a perverted jokester. Instead, keep your mouth clean. Be nice, polite, and encouraging. Build others up. Don't tear them down.You won't maintain your friendships very long if you're a jerk with your words.

And last but not least, don't leave the path of righteousness. Don't stray left or right. Jesus warned, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Don't stray from the path. It may seem small and rather insignificant at the time, but remember that it isn't the path that matters: it's the destination. A path that appears satisfying and enjoyable and filled with pleasures but in the end takes you to the grave, it'd be stupid to go down it. But if a simple, pain, and ordinary path takes you to a glorious and beautiful and holy destination, go down that path! The good news for us is that there is nothing simple, plain, or ordinary about following Christ. So don't let your eyes wander off the path. Fix your gaze straight ahead, lest you see something desirable off the path and stray from it.

So there you have it. Guard your mouth, keep a clean mouth, and don't leave the path of righteousness. Those are three easy steps to sexual purity.

Oh, and if you want to get me a Christmas gift: stay tuned for more posts, keep commenting, and tell your friends about this blog.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Way I Lead

A challenge I will have to overcome in my servant leadership journey is the way I lead. You see, my idea of "leading" is to just take over. If someone at work is struggling with something such as bagging an order, I'll just step in and do it myself. Rather than take the time to explain or show how to do the job right, my natural response is to step in and do it myself. This is a problem for two reasons: 1) It makes me take longer to finish my job, and 2) I'm not helping the other person do their job better. By doing their job (bagging the order) for them, I am denying them the opportunity to learn the job and gain experience, and not to mention, I'm slacking in my own work.

And so the past few days, I've been working on that. I don't want to miss an opportunity to help someone grow, learn, or become better. When working with new employees, new teammates, new Christians, new whatever, you have to allow them room for mistakes and you can't expect the same performance from the new person as you would someone who has been at that position for a long time. You've got to mentor them until they are able to consistently excel at their work by themselves.

I need to do a better job of leading. The way I naturally lead is to do everything myself. But that isn't a very wise way to lead, and you'll never succeed that way. A mentor leader leads by improving everyone around him. By setting the example and by help others reach that example, he gets the most out of his team's performance. One of the purposes of mentor leadership is to train others so both they and the business/team/organization benefits. And that's the type of leader I want to be.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Beginning of Mentor Leadership

One of the things that I have started working on lately is mentor leadership. I've blogged a lot lately on servant leadership, which is great. But I've also been reading The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungy, which has introduced an entirely new approach to servant leadership. Or perhaps it isn't a new approach as much as using different words to describe the same thing. I see servant leadership as a leadership style that's purpose is to serve and benefit others- not the leader. It's a treat-others-better-than-yourself leadership style. It's a leadership style that places everyone else above yourself. But mentor leadership is a more defined style of leadership. I would say it's a branch off servant leadership. I see mentor leadership as a leadership style intended to mentor the individuals within your sphere of influence. It's a one-on-one leadership style where the leader devotes a large amount of time and attention to an individual with the intention and purpose of mentoring them.

With this style of leadership, I have noticed myself looking for ways to influence those around me. In my conversations with co-workers, I have started to look for ways to find out more about them, to encourage them, to be their friend. I've really taken an interested in getting to know my co-workers better. I think during the last few months, my job had been mostly just a job. I didn't really care a whole lot for co-workers, at least, not enough to take to time to listen to them talk about their personal life. But that's changed in the last month.

I'm still figuring out this servant/mentor leadership thing. I'm in no way shape or form saying I have all the answers. But I'm trying. And the fact that I now care, really care, about my co-workers shows that I'm growing. And that it works. I've found that if you care about others, they care about you. And I've found that work is more fun and more enjoyable when you like the people you work with. I'm beginning to see the benefits of mentor leadership, and you can be sure to expect more posts on this topic in the future.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Giving Away Your Best Strength

If you struggle with sex, if you have a problem with lust, if you want to find freedom from sexual immorality, if you want to be pure again, then Proverbs is for you. This book has unparalleled wisdom on avoiding sexual temptation. Nothing else has been a bigger weakness of mine than sexual temptation, and Proverbs has been a huge help to me. Or, to be specific, Proverbs 5 and 6:20-7.

One of the many parts that I love is Proverbs 5:8-14. Here, King Solomon is giving his sons advice on staying away from the adulterous woman. He says, "Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel, lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man’s house. At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, 'How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors. I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly.'"

I want to point out some really powerful words in this passage. The first that resonates with me, and the one that hits home the most is in the first sentence, when Solomon says, "Keep a path far from her... lest you give your best strength to others..." This is important to me simply because I don't want to give my best strength to others. I want my best strength to go to whom it belongs- my wife. God designed sex to be something special between a husband and wife. And I want my wife to know how much I love her from the fact that I was able to wait until marriage to have sex. I treat sex like something special and intimate because it is. It isn't a game or experience you can share with every  multiple people- it's supposed to be something you do with only one person- your spouse. And if you keep sex within marriage, then you'll bypass many awful things that will happen to you if you have sex outside or before marriage. Which leads us to the next thing I take away from this passage.

If you keep sex within marriage, then you won't let "strangers feat on your wealth" and at the end of your life, you won't be saying, "How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors. I have come to the brink of utter ruin..." In other words, you won't have the regret, shame, and guilt that you would've had otherwise. I know many friends who have lost their virginity- some who are even teenage parents now. I have heard testimonies from friends who desperately wish they could take back what they did. I have listened as they cry and tell me how they wish they could take it back. They want so badly to erase their impurity and their past. But they can't. They cannot erase what they did and they will have to live with that guilty for the rest of their lives. And my heart breaks for those who had lost their virginity or been unfaithful in marriage. If only they would have kept their pants on, they would have foregone so much guilt and shame and trouble and heartache. If only they had kept the fire in the fireplace.

As Solomon says in Proverbs 5:20-23, "Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife? For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly."

Don't give away your best strength. Save it for your future husband or wife. Treasure your purity and don't let it go. No matter how much you may desire intercourse, or other sexual acts, don't give in. Don't fall for it. 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 says, "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." Don't defile the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is your body. You are not your own; you were bought at a price. If you're a Christian, then your body isn't your own. You belong to Christ. So don't waste your body, your temple. Save your best strength for your spouse. Don't waste it because you don't want to regret it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Confessions of a Perfectionist

I'm a perfectionist. It's true. I cannot stand being wrong. When I'm wrong, my first tendancy is to try to correct the mistake as fast as possible, and if that isn't possible, I'll try to excuse it, justify it, or cover it up. I hate being wrong and it flat out drives me insane when I am. It isn't very easy for me to admit my shortcomings. I'm pretty hard-headed and stubborn and I love being right and hate being wrong.

I've been reading a lot in Proverbs lately. There are quite a lot of proverbs in Proverbs about how it's good to be able to admit you aren't perfect. I've been learning a lot about how to take instruction and handle correction. My pride makes it hard for me to do that, but it's gotten a lot easier in the last month or two. But I'm still a perfectionist. When I mess up, I'm really hard on myself. I hold myself to really high standards and when I sin and mess up, or just make a stupid mistake, I really give it to myself. In some ways, that's a good thing, but ultimately it hurts more than it helps. I was randomly flipping through Start Here by Alex and Brett Harris the other day and stumbled across this: "If you base your life as a  rebelutionary on not failing, you will not be a rebelutionary for long. Assuming you live without making mistakes is just another form of pride."

I've been blogging a lot about servant leadership lately, and I've been learning a lot about humility and pride. I think my next step towards humility needs to be accepting that I will make mistakes. Knowing that I'll make mistakes is hard for me to comprehend because somehow I feel like since I'm a Christian and have high standards, I should be above failure. But that simply isn't possible. It isn't human. I relate to Paul when he said in Romans 7:15, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." I don't like making mistakes. I hate making mistakes. But to be human is to make mistakes.

Now I'm not saying that you should be okay with your mistakes. I'm saying the exact opposit: that we shouldn't be okay with our mistakes. All I'm saying is that we shouldn't expect to be perfect. Jesus never told us we would be and He doesn't expect us to follow Him perfectly. We won't become perfect until we are glorified in His Name at the end of all things.

But this isn't exactly logical to a perfectionist. A perfectionist isn't able to understand that God doesn't ask us to be perfect when we follow Him. He does ask us to repent, to turn from our sins, to worship no one other than God Almighty. Yet He doesn't require us to be perfect to follow Him. That's the beauty of the Gospel. That God loves is in spite of our sin, in spite of our rebellion, in spite of our shortcomings. God's love transcends our sin. That's why we don't have to be perfect to be a Christian. Besides, if we had to be perfect, then we consider God's grace void and base our salvation completely on works. Our salvation is by grace through faith alone, not by works so that no man can boast. Don't believe me? Read it in Ephesians 2:8-9, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."

A lot of people think that you can become a Christian by works. But you can't. Nothing you do can save you. It's not about who you are or what you've done. It's about who He is and what He's done.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Weird, Wild, and Wacky Stories of the Old Testament: Elisha

The prophet Elisha did some pretty cool things. You can read his story in the late chapters of 1 Kings and early chapters of 2 Kings. I want to look at what happened in 2 Kings 6:1-7. It's a really short story, so I'll share the entire passage:

"The company of the prophets said to Elisha, 'Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to meet.' And he said, 'Go.' Then one of them said, 'Won’t you please come with your servants?' 'I will,' Elisha replied. And he went with them. They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. 'Oh no, my lord!' he cried out. 'It was borrowed!' The man of God asked, 'Where did it fall?' When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. 'Lift it out,' he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it."

There really isn't a whole lot to say about this passage. I think it's really wild that Elisha made an iron ax float. And how weird is it that he made it float by cutting a stick and throwing it in the river?! This is just one of those "whoa" moments where you're so impressed, there just isn't a whole lot to say except that we serve an amazing God.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Weird, Wild, and Wacky Stories of the Old Testament: Jael

This one is a particularly humorous story, if you think a general being brutally murdered by a woman is hilarious (and I must confess that this story does bring a smile to my face). This is the story of Jael, General Barak, and Sisera. You can read about it extensively in Judges 4, but I'll focus on verses 15-24. But this story can be a little confusing without its context, so I encourage you to real the entire chapter. Basically, General Barak is an Israelite general under command of Deborah the judge. Sisera is an enemy general. And Jael is the woman who kills Sisera. Now what happens is Deborah tells Barak to fight the battle against Sisera her way, but he wants it done his way because he is bloodthirsty for Sisera's death. So she tells him to have his way, but that Sisera will not die by his hand, but by a woman's, because Barak was subversive to Deborah. Like I said, it's complicated. It's easier to just read it yourself.

Anyway, General Barak's troops beat up Sisera's troops, so Sisera flees. Sisera runs on foot "to the tent of Jael, the wifer of Heber the Kenite, because there were friendly relations between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite." Sisera is Jabin's general, so they had some kind of friendly alliance going on. Anyway, so Jael takes Sisera in, gives him some milk, and puts him to bed, because he is tired from battle. Now comes the cool part. While Sisera is sleeping, Jael "picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died." Wow! That sounds like an awful way to go!

This general was murdered in his sleep, in the tent of a friend, by the hand of that friend, by the hand of a woman, with a tent peg through his brain. Now that's weird, wild, and wacky! The bottom line is that Sisera was an enemy of God and his death brought glory to God. It's sad that a human died that way, but it ultimately brought glory and attention to God.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Weird, Wild, and Wacky Stories of the Old Testament: Ehud

I don't know about you, but I love the Old Testament. There are so many crazy, unbelievable stories about people who have followed God and people who have rejected God. If you knew nothing about God but read the Old Testament, it would probably sound like a really lame sci-fi/horror book. Just look at some of the really insane stories! The whole earth flooded and the human race survived only because they built a huge boat and lived on it for a couple months while the world was underwater. When a woman disobeys an angel of God, she turned into a pillar of salt. A group of thousands of people walk through a parted sea. A young man killed a giant with a single stone. A donkey talks to and rebukes a physically abusive rider. A man ran faster than a chariot. And there's so much more!

I want to do a series about some of my favorite stories in the Old Testament. These stories are weird, wild, and wacky. Some of them are almost too unbelievable to be true, and yet they happened. Today, let's look at the story of Ehud, found in Judges 3:12-30.

Here's the situation. Israel sinned, so God gave them over to Eglon, king of Moab. But the Israelites cried out to God, so "...He gave them a deliverer - Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite" (J. 3:15). So they send Ehud to king Eglon to pay him tribute. Now Ehud was super cool. First of all, he was left-handed. And second, he had a double-edged sword about a foot and a half long that he strapped to his right thigh under his clothes. So Ehud goes and presents his tribute to king Eglon. Now the writer of Judges notes that Eglon is very fat. From the rest of the passage, I get the idea that Eglon was the stereotypical fat, lazy, selfish king. Anyway, after Ehud presented his tribute, he told king Eglon that he had a secret message for him. The king is very intrigued so he sends everyone out of the room except for himself and Ehud. Ehud approaches the king, who is sitting (very fat) on his throne. As he draws near, Ehud says, "I have a message from God for you." Here's the weird, wild, and wacky part. (Cue the dramatic music and slow-motion cameras.) When Ehud was near the king, the king stood up and "Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword out from his right thigh and plunged it into the king's belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it." How insane is that! This dude was so fat that his belly swallowed up Ehud's sword!

So Eglon is dead and Ehud has to escape, which he does without a problem. This next part is quite hilarious and just makes Eglon look even dumber. "After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, 'He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the house.' They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead." So while Eglon's servants were thinking he was on the john, his assassin escaped. Apparently, Eglon usually took a long time in the bathroom...

To make things worse for Moab, now a kingless country, Ehud got the Israelites together and they went down and massacred the Moabites. It says they struck down about ten thousand of them. I don't know about you, but I'd say God did a good job of delivering the Israelites!

The Moabites were defeated and became subjected to Israel. Their king was disgracefully murdered. Their servants didn't help because they thought he was relieving himself. And then they lost ten thousand men. Epic fail, Moab.

Monday, December 12, 2011

SERVE: Embody the Values

It's finally time for the last post in the SERVE series. I hope you've learned a lot from the SERVE concept. If you don't see a way to apply it to your life, I encourage you to look twice. You don't have to be in a position of authority to be a leader. In fact, some of the best examples of a great leader are found not by those in authoritative positions, but by those in humble and lowly positions. That said, I'd like to jump in to the last concept of SERVE: the second E.

The second E stands for Embody the Values.

See the Future
Engage and Develop Others
Reinvent Continuously
Value Results and Relationships
Embody the Values

I can summarize this whole concept in one sentence with the maxim, "Be what you preach." This concept has everything to do with character, integrity, and trust. In order to be a servant leader, you must have character, integrity, and the trust of those you are leading.

Your character and integrity are defined by who you are behind close doors. These are perhaps two of the most important, if not the most important, characteristics of a servant leader. Unfortunately, in today's society, they've been thrown away. Many people have fallen because of a lack of integrity and character. Go back in time a few years and remember the great Michael Vick scandal. He was one of the NFL's most prolific quarterbacks, but it was revealed that he was responsible for an underground dog-fighting organization. He was to blame for the death, torture, and horrible mistreatment of dozens of dogs. He had no character. The country was in an uproar over what he had done and nobody liked him. What he did behind close doors was evil, monstrous, and not to mention, illegal. And he paid dearly for his crime and lack of character.

On the other hand, look at a man with impeccable integrity: Tony Dungy. There is hardly a more loved and respected man in the NFL world. I lived in Indianapolis for several years during his tenure as head coach of the Colts, and his character and trust was legendary. As a result, he had the trust of his players, coaches, and the Colts organization. He was trusted to and had freedom to lead and make decisions as he saw fit. He had integrity.

What you do behind closed doors greatly impacts who you are out in public. King David learned this lesson the hard way. He had the reputation of being the guy after God's own heart. But his lack of integrity cost him. He had an affair, got the girl pregnant, and murdered her husband (one of his finest generals, by the way) just to cover it up. But God sees everything and knew what happened. He had his prophet Nathan rebuke King David, and David realized what he had done. David's lack of integrity greatly embarrased him and even cost him the life of that child. But he learned his lesson. In Psalm 42:15, David wrote, "Because of my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever."

You can find a lot of verses about integrity in Proverbs. Proverbs 10:9 says, "Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out." Proverbs 11:3 says, "The integrity" of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity." Proverbs 13:6 says, "Righteousness guards the person of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner."

Of course, Jesus also displayed character and integrity, more so than anyone else. He was the perfect servant leader, so let's look how he had character and integrity. Matthew 12:14 records how some Pharisees and Herodians described Jesus' integrity. They said, "Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth." That's what it means to be a man of integrity and of character.

But it's not easy to have character and integrity. You have to be determined, focused, and unwilling to compromise. You do have to pay a price for character and integirty, and that's surrendering your right to do what you want. Sometimes you have to do what's right and best for others than what you want to do and what's best for you. So why would you want to be a man of integrity? What's your motivation? As Jim Elliot said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." In other words, though the price is high, the reward is even higher. Choose to be a man of integrity and character because that man will be trusted. A man of integrity will have the trust, devotion, and loyalty of his followers and his supervisors. That ultimately is why it is better to be a man of integrity. As George MacDonald once said, "To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved." I believe that everything rises and falls on leadership. If a leader cannot be trusted, he cannot lead. The Secret taught me that, "You must gain the trust of your people. If you don't have their trust,you'll never be a great leader." A man of integrity not only talks the talk, but he walks the talk. He is what he preaches. He follows the rules, guidelines, and expectations that he sets for his team.

To be a leader, you must be trusted. That's why it's so important to have character and integrity.

Friday, December 9, 2011

SERVE: Value Results and Relationships

Today, we'll go over the fourth concept of SERVE. The letter V stands for Value Results and Relationships.

See the Future
Engage and Develop Others
Reinvent Continuously
Value Results and Relationships

There are two tests of a great leader. Do you get results? And do you have followers? Results are important because without income, a business cannot succeed. Without wins, a team fails. Without customers, stores will close. So as a leader, you have to figure out how to maximize your income potential. But it's equally important to figure out how to build a fan base among your customers and employees.

So let's talk about results and why they are important. If you want to survive, you have to have results. A business that sells a product must sell enough products to make a profit. A sports team must win games each season or tickets won't sell and the coaches will all be fired. And so on. Results, wins, and sales are very important in the economy. But we can't believe that results are the only important thing. Many leaders tend to think that results are the only thing that matter. But they're not. In results-driven operations, money becomes more important than people, and it often happens that the morale of the staff is low, performance isn't as high as it could be, and nobody is passionate about their job. That's why relationships are very important, too.

In SERVE: Engage and Develop Others, I touched on how it's essential that your staff be as pumped up about the product or service you're selling as your customers. And this is the post where I'm going to elaborate on that. Relationships are as important to a quarterly report as the results. If you want a truly successful business, team, or organization, then you're going to need great relationships with those under your leadership and with your customers. Let me ask you. Would you rather play for a coach who only cared about winning the game, or would you rather play for someone who valued you more than the game? You'd rather play for the coach who valued you! Why? Because I think in everyone's heart is the belief that people are ultimately more important than results, profits, and money.

I believe a servant leader will value both results and relationships. Both are essential and both run the business. However, I do believe building relationships can be more risky and more difficult than striving for results. It can be harder to get someone to trust you as a leader than to get them to buy a product. It is harder to get an employee to share his or her life with you than it is to promote a new product. And that's why it's important to be a servant leader. John Maxwell was quoted to say, "People will not give you their hand until they can see your heart."

If you want to be successful in your results, you have to first be successful in your relationships. To quote The Secret, "You must gain the trust of your people. If you don't have their trust, you'll never be a great leader."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

SERVE: Reinvent Continuously

Today, we're going to look at the third concept The Secret teaches us in the acronym SERVE. We learned yesterday that the first E stands for Engage and Develop Others.

The R stands for Reinvent Continuously.

See the Future
Engage and Develop Others
Reinvent Continuously

This concept is all about learning and improving. If you want to survive, you have to continuously look for ways to do your job better, with less effort, in less time, with less cost. If you never look for ways to improve, then you never will improve. And if you don't improve, you will fail. You won't survive unless you reinvent continuously.

One of the most important questions you could ask is, "Is there anything we are currently doing that could be eliminated with few or no bad consequences?" In other words, is there anything we are spending time, money, and effort on that isn't giving us a reasonable return on? I can give you a very good example. At the Chick-fil-A I work at, we sell cheesecake and lemon pie. However, no one hardly ever buys these items. As a result, in the spring, we won't be offering them anymore. We'll be using our assets more wisely. So if you're looking for a way to get the reinvention wheels turning, ask yourself and others this question.

Reinvent Continuously is also a very important concept to apply on the personal level. Let me reiterate that if you never look for ways to improve, you will fail. This is as true on a personal level as it is on a business level. If you want to be a servant leader, you must always be on the lookout for ways to improve yourself. I believe the best way to do this is by learning. If you applied the concept of self-evaluation I talked about in SERVE: Engage and Develop Others, then you'll find areas you personally need to work on. I realized I lacked servant leadership, so I picked up some books and I'm learning how to be a servant leader. If you've evaluated yourself and realized that in order to Reinvent Continuously on a personal level, you need to fix X, Y, or Z, then look for ways to learn how enhance your performance.

If it's possible, I highly encourage you to find a mentor who can help you. I keep going to a few managers and the operator at my Chick-fil-A and they are more than willing to help me out. You can also read books. Whatever helps you, I encourage you to never stop looking for ways to improve and to enhance performance. If you want to survive and thrive, it's a key concept to understand.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

SERVE: Engage and Develop Others

Today, we're going to look at the second of five concepts The Secret teaches us in the acronym SERVE. We learned yesterday that the S stands for See the Future.

The first E stands for Engage and Develop Others.

See the Future
Engage and Develop Others

Let's break it into two parts: Engage, and then Develop.

The first component of Engage is selecting the right people for the right job. That's a very challenging job. You have to be careful to not make mistakes, because if you put the wrong person in the wrong place, you'll end up losing time, mental energy, and emotional energy. The performance of your team will decline and many opportunities will be missed because you or someone else will have to constantly be picking up that person's mess. And if you choose to fire him, then you must pay for the cost of recruiting, selecting, and training a new person. And don't forget the cost of morale. Other people suffer when a poor performer is on their team, just as they excel when an excellent performer is on their team. If you want a good example of what I mean, just look at the Indianapolis Colts. With Peyton Manning, two Super Bowls, multiple playoff wins, and several winning seasons. Without Peyton Manning, they cannot win a game. The rest of the team plays better when an excellent performer like Peyton is on the field, just as they play poorly when that person is absent (and replaced by a person far less talented).

So if you're ever in the position of hiring new people, be very selective. Look for the type of person your organization is missing and needs to succeed. Look for someone with a winning attitude, a servant's heart, and a set of skills valuable to your organization. And be sure to know who the candidate really is. Do multiple interviews to see if the person is genuine. Do more than a simple thirty minute interview and a background check. In the words of The Secret, "Let me give you one quote to consider. It's from Peter Drucker, the management and leadership guru. He was asked, 'What is the most important decision an executive makes?' He responded, 'Who does what.' Getting the right people in the right jobs is the first part of the term Engage."

The second component is about how passionate your team is for their jobs. Remember in SERVE: See the Future when I quoted The Secret, saying, "If you aren't passionate about something out there in the future - if it doesn't fire you up and get you out of bed in the morning - you can bet your team is not going to be passionate either"? That applies here. If you're selling a product, you want your staff to be as excited about the product as the buyer. And as the leader, it's your job to figure out how to make that happen. Each business and organization is different, so it'll look a little different for everyone. Look for ways to get your team passionate your product- and your company values.

I would say that the third component is the relationships you have with your team. As a leader and boss, it can be hard to find a happy balance between being friends with and being the boss of your employees. However, I will elaborate futher on this subject in another post.

So far, we've mostly addressed the Engage part of the second concept. So now let's look at Develop.

In the most simple description, Develop means to training. I've heard it said that the day you stop learning is the day you stop leading. In the words of The Secret, "Developing others involves creating the expectation for learning and growing; creating training and development opportunities; providing educaiton resources... and mentoring." I would say this is where evaluation comes in. There's two kinds of evaluation: self-evaluation, and evaluation by others. Let's look at self-evaluation.

I highly value self-evaluation. In order to be a good servant leader, you must be able and willing to evaluate yourself. You cannot fix something if you don't know it's broken, and you can't improve if you don't know what you need to improve on. And that's the point of evaluation.

When you evaluate yourself, you must ask yourself questions and review your actions to see if you need to improve anywhere. I try to do this as much as possible. I take the time to do this each morning, throughout the day, and each night. It's helpful to find a quiet spot, such as an unused room or a bathroom. I'll replay my conversations, decisions, and observations in my head and evaluate them. If I see an area I need to improve, I take note of that and try to do it right the next time. If I see an area of growth, I applaud myself and encourage myself to keep it up. I'll ask questions like, "Did I do this right?", "Is there a better way to do that?", "Should I have handled that differently?", or "What would a more mature response have been?" As a leader, you must always be self-evaluating. I believe this is one of the most important things a leader could ever do.

But it isn't a perfect system. Sometimes we are blind to our imperfections. These areas are called blindspots. And this is why it's important to be evaulated by others. I recently approached several coworkers and managers at Chick-fil-A and asked them, "What are some things I do well, and some things I need to work on?" As they gave me their feedback, I listened and I took to heart what they said. Almost everyone said I had one major area to work on, and that was gaining the respect of my peers. This was a blindspot. I didn't know I needed to gain their respect because I thought I already had it. But the evaluations said otherwise and thus revealed a blindspot. This happened about a month ago, and it was when I realized that I was a self-serving leader, not a servant leader. So I decided to change and become a servant leader instead of a self-centered leader. But I didn't really know what that meant or how to change. My boss and old youth pastor had coincidentally given me several books on servant leadership. The timing was perfect! I had the materials I needed! So I began to read and absorbed everything the books told me. I've been learning so many new things and it's really exciting! After reading Radical by David Platt, I realized the importance of living a life that brought all glory and attention to God and not me. And I wanted my leadership style and how I treated people to reflect that. So that's where I'm at right now, blogging about servant leadership. All because some very awesome people took the time to sincerely evaluate me and tell me some things I needed to work on.

(Disclaimer: I don't want you to get the idea that it's okay for you to go around telling people everything they need to work on. That wouldn't get you the results you desire, unless you desire to hurt a lot of feelings and step on a lot of toes. Please note that I asked to be evaluated. And also recognize that some companies have timed evaluations. Some schedule employee evaluations each month, others each year. It just depends. So note the system your company uses or, if you're in a position to do so, implement a system so that people can be evaluated.)

As I wrap up this post, I encourage you to take what you've read to heart. I treasure evaluations. As you've read, I evaluate myself constantly. The results are that I'm always growing, improving, and changing. And if you're like me and trying to become a servant leader, that's really important. So do your best to Engage and Develop Others.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

SERVE: See the Future

One of the books that I've just read is The Secret by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller. It's a book written with the purpose of disclosing the "secret" of becoming a great servant leader. It's written in story-form and is very easy to read (and it's short), so I highly suggest picking it up.

One of the concepts The Secret teaches is the concept of SERVE. It's an acronym that stands for five things. In five separate posts, I will unpack each concept and how the concept applies to our lives. In this post, we'll look at the letter S.

S stands for See the Future.

See the Future

If you are a leader, you have a responsibility to plan, look ahead, and to try to anticipate the future. It is your job to set goals and objectives for your team to aspire to meet. And once that goal is met, it's your job to figure out where to set the next goal. The purpose of these goals are to set expectations for growth and motivation for hard work.

At Chick-fil-A, we have certain goals for our Drive-Thru. We had this one goal of getting one hundred cars through the Drive-Thru in just one hour. That would mean each car would spend less than 30 seconds in line after ordering, and that we'd have to have enough cars come through the Drive-Thru. This isn't easy an easy task, but each individual was very motivated to accept the challenge. Why? Because the first team to get one hundred cars would be awarded with $100.

This goal was met a few weeks ago. The people who worked Drive-Thru that hour were awarded with the $100 because they reached the goal. They worked really hard and they had enough cars, so they were able to meet the quota, and then some. They actually got 105 cars that hour! The results of that were an improved Drive-Thru and we're now getting more cars through the Drive-Thru on average than ever before. Because our Operator could See the Future and set that goal, the entire restaurant benefited. If you want to be a servant leader, you have to set goals for your team to strive for. But there's more to it than that. As a leader, you have to be passionate and excited about the future. In the words of The Secret, "If you aren't passionate about something out there in the future - if it doesn't fire you up and get you out of bed in the morning - you can bet your team is not going to be passionate either."

One other responsibility of being a leader is you have to set core values that your team shares and can be passionate about. Chick-fil-A is another great example of this. Chick-fil-A's Mission Statement is: Be the best quick-service restaurant in America. Our Corporate Purpose is: 1) To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us, and 2) To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A. These three values drive all that Chick-fil-A does as a company. But the thing is, someone had to come up with these values. Someone had to take the time, sit down, think for a long time, and decide what values would guide the company. That's what the leaders of Chick-fil-A did, and if you're a leader, it's what you should do, too. In the words of The Secret, "Values are a big deal. They are the cornerstones of the culture the leader is trying to create. Remember this: Our values are the beliefs that drive our behavior."

Okay, I know what you're thinking. "What do core values have to do with See the Future?" Allow me to explain with an example. If you're a team captain on the basketball team, you can't expect everyone to make 90% on their free throws at the start of the season. That's expecting too much (something I'll elaborate on in the next post). Acknowledge that at the beginning, your teammates will most likely shoot a lower percentage than what you want. So what should you do to get the team's percentage to where it needs to be? By hard work and practice. Take it step by step. Set small goals to keep a steady rate of improvement. When an individual hits the goal of 50%, raise it to 60%. And so on until you read 90%. All of this comes back to the team's values. If no one values hard work and practice, no one would improve. The team and each individual must value hard work and dedication for the goal to become reality. A servant leader will set values for his or her team. If you don't set values, it's almost impossible to reach your goals.

Another part of Seeing the Future is trying to anticipate obstacles that you might encounter and planning ahead for obstacles you know you will encounter. Maybe you've heard the expression, "I'm praying for the best, but planning for the worst." That's just another part of Seeing the Future: anticipate obstacles. If you want to be a servant leader and serve others as best as possible, you'd do well to try to identity future obstacles and begin preparation to overcome them.

I am trying to become the best servant leader I can be at Chick-fil-a, and in all areas of my life. The first step to doing this is See the Future. Set goals, set values, and anticipate obstacles. That is the S in SERVE. In my next post, we'll look at the first E in SERVE.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Servant Leader

In one of my latest posts, Will You Follow Him?, I wrote about pride. How pride is the opposite of humility and obedience and submission. I've been reading a lot of leadership books lately. Books on how to be a servant leadership. My boss and my old youth pastor have given these books and so I've been doing a lot of reading about what it means to be a servant leader. I've never really known what servant leadership is. But these books have opened a whole new world to me.

It seems that in light of the self-centered fixation of Americans, we see leadership as being in control and calling the shots, and managing people and corporations. One description of what a leader is that I feel represents the opinion of most of America is, "A leader is a person in a position of authority who is responsible for the results of those under his or her direction." But that isn't real leadership.

A servant leader trains and equips those entrusted to him or her so that they will be fully equipped to fulfill their duties and responsibilities. A servant leader puts his team or staff above himself and leads by example. A servant leader cannot be two-faced, but must be a person of integrity and character. A servant leader must be willing to listen to advice and ideas and he can't think he's the only one who can do something. A servant leader must be able to trust and rely on his team. After all, he can't do it all, nor should he try.

I believe the best way to lead is not to micromanage or to constantly give orders. The best way is to train and prepare each individual person under your charge to be the best they can be. A servant leader will train those he or she is responsible for so that they are able to excel in their work and not depend on their leader to succeed.

That's the type of leader I want to be. I want to be a servant leader. But I'm not and I don't claim to be one yet, nor do I claim to know all the answers. I'm still reading, still learning, still trying to change. This is a growing process for me and I'm figuring it out as I go. My goal is to become the type of leader I've just described.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

There Is No Perfect Church

One of the things that can really aggravate me are people who church-hop. You know who I'm talking about. The people who go to a different church each month, claiming to be on a quest to find the "right" church. They stick around at one church long enough to find something or someone they don't like, and they move on. They hop from church to church, as if church is something you can try on in a fitting room and if you don't like it, you put it back on the self and keep looking. That's not what church is supposed to be!

Let me get something straight: I'm not being "holier-than-thou" or self-righteous about this. I have moved twice, and each time to a different state, and each time, my family and I have visited different churches, trying to find where God wants us. There's nothing wrong with that and that isn't church-hopping. That's called trying to find where God wants you. When I talk about church-hopping, I'm talking about when you've spent a reasonable enough time living in an area, but you're always trying to find where you want you. I know of many families who seem to go to a different church every few months, or every year or two. That is church hopping and is very different from when we moved and visited a few churches before joining one.

So what is the church? Is it something you need to commit to? Is it a place to get plugged in to a body of believers? Is it a place to serve and help out? Is it a place to go to be encouraged and to hear the Word? Is it a place to find accountability in your faith walk? Is it a place to grow and learn about God?

No. It isn't. You see, if you're a Christian, a follower of God, then the church is you. The problem with the definitions I just listed is the word "place" in each sentence. As a body, a people, we should be doing these things without the place. Why? Because the church isn't a building, a program, a ministry, or a center. The church isn't the pastor, the staff, the elders, the band, the Bible studies, or the events. If you take all these things away, the church is still there because the church is the people. The Christians. Think about it. The bride of Christ isn't a building or an event or even a Bible study. The bride is the people! The church isn't something that you can try on and see if it fits right.

What sets me off is that when people hop around churches, they may say they won't go back because they disliked the worship or the preaching style or something else, but what they really disliked were the people.

And that's what's aggravating. If they were honest, they church-hop because they're searching for the perfect group of people. But there aren't any perfect people. Somehow, someway, their expectations aren't met, so they leave, once again, to search for the "right" place.

There are no perfect people and you'll never find a perfect church. I have a lot of concerns about my church right now. But I haven't left in search of a "better" church. I've committed myself to be where God wants me to be, and until I feel like God has called me away from where I'm at now, I will stay. And you should do the same. I beg you to not church-hop. You'll never find a perfect church. The worship won't always be songs you know or like; the pastor won't always say the things you think he should say. Even the people at the church will eventually disappoint you and let you down. But that's just because we are an imperfect people.

So please, when you're looking for where God wants you to be, don't expect to find a perfect place with perfect people. Instead, look for a group of people you can serve with. Look for a group of people you can laugh with, and cry with. Look for a group of people who won't water the Gospel down and who will hold you accountable. Look for a group of people who are genuine in their faith and want to change the world (and the neighborhood) for Christ. And above all else, look for a group of people who are living with the intention of bringing all the glory and attention to God. The purpose of our existance is to bring all glory and attention to God, not to ourselves. And if we try to find a church for selfish reasons or a church that'll make us look good, then we're completely missing the point.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Second Chances In Hell?

I'm still wrestling with the idea that hell is a place of reformative punishment and is only temporary, and is not a eternal location of separation from God. It's not that I think that hell is a place of reformative punishment; quite the contrary, I still believe, based on Scripture, that hell is a place of eternal damnation to those who didn't trust Christ as Lord and Savior in this life. I've written three posts about this topic already (Is The Bible Incomplete?My Final Belief About Christian Universalism, and Fundamentalism Vs Universalism). I feel like I've already built a strong enough case against the idea that hell is temporary and reformative. But I want to make one more point.

If hell truly is only temporary and it's purpose is reform people so they are pure and able to enter heaven, then why did Jesus have to die? Okay, I can understand the fact that there had to be an atoning sacrifice for people to go to heaven and spend eternity with God. That's Biblical. But Jesus clearly said that He was the way (John 14:5). He's the way. There's no other way to heaven but Jesus. And if hell's purpose is to reform people so they can enter heaven, then isn't hell another way? In that case, wouldn't  hell actually undermine the sacrifice of Jesus? Yes, it would. That's just another reason why hell is not reformative and why it is, in fact, a place of eternal damnation and suffering for those who didn't follow Christ here on earth.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Will You Follow Him?

Pride: my biggest weakness right now. I believe that pride is the root of all evil. As I wrote in The American Dream, "A very wise man once told me that the root of all sin is pride. And it's true. Because of pride, we are able to splurge on ourselves yet turn blind eyes and ears to the poor and needy. Because of pride, we become stubborn, thinking only of ourselves and not of others. Because of pride, we bully people or lie or steal or kill, or commit any other sin." The way I see it, all sin stems from pride. Pride is the reason man shakes his fist at God. We sin because we are imperfect, selfish people, and pride is behind all selfishness.

And so I believe that humility is very valuable. The point of our existence is to bring all glory to God. But we live as if it's all about us. When we live selfishly, we miss the point of living. We miss out on the joy of giving, on the contentedness of simple living, on the happiness and peace of following Christ.

Located in Matthew 5 are the famous "Beatitudes." I've heard many sermons on the Beatitudes, and there's a reason: if you're looking to live a life that's all about God, reading the Beatitudes is a good place to start. The following are the Beatitudes, as taught by Jesus to His disciples:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

If you approach this passage with a selfish mindset, you can't help but marvel at the insanity and stupidity of this passage. You might think, "Blessed are those who are poor in spirit? Blessed are those who mourn? Blessed are you when you're insulted and persecuted? Blessed are you when people slander you and gossip about you? That's bizarre! That's insane! You'd have to be crazy to believe that!" But here's the thing: to God, this passage makes perfect sense. Remember that God is the God who said that in heaven, the first will be last and the last will be first. Remember that God's system often words backwards to ours.

If you approach this passage with a Godly minset, then you can't help but marvel at the beauty and the genuis of this passage. Why? Because this is our roadmap to a Christlike life. Sure, it may not make sense if we use worldly logic. But we must think like God. Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." If you want to live a life that brings all the glory to God, you must first learn how God thinks. To Him, you'll be blessed by being poor in spirit, by being meek, by being hungry and thirsty for knowledge and righteousness, by showing mercy, by being pure, by being a peacemaker, by being persecuted for your faith, and by being insulted for your faith. When all this happens to you, rejoice and be glad! Because great is your reward in heaven.

God doesn't think like us. In Isaiah 55:8, God says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." If you want to life a life that brings glory and attention to God, then you have to think like God. But that isn't what we were originally talking about. We started off talking about humility. So if you want to life a life that brings glory and attention to God, then you have to be humble.

The two greatest commandments that Jesus gave us are 1) To love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and 2) To love others as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40). In other words, treat others as you want to be treated. This is the lifestyle Jesus wants us to follow. When we live with God as our top priority and others as our second, then we've truly found humbleness.

I invite you to join me in the search of humility. I have lived a life that is all about me, and it isn't worth it. Chances are, you've discovered that too. But will you do what it takes to find a life with true meaning and purpose? Will you dare to take a leap of faith and live a life that's all about God? In order to do so, you have to love God above everything and love others more than yourself. With God's help, this is possible. It takes a lot of prayer, practice, and patience. So will you give up your life, die each day, carry your cross, and follow Him?

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Peace Of God

I've been reading through Boy Meets Girl again and God has shown me some new things to work on. I've learned that I'm not trusting God with the who, how, and when in my marriage. I want God to tell me who it is, how it will happen, and when it will happen. After all, that only seems logical. I can't follow God unless He tells me who, how, and when, right? Otherwise, I might make a mistake and somehow mess it up.

But I'm making a major error when thinking like that. When I focus on the who, how, and when, then I'm eliminating any room to trust God. If I knew who I would marry, how we'd meet, and when we'd start our relationship, then I wouldn't need God! I actually blogged about this two months ago (Trust: Faith, Hope, & Love), but it's taken a whole new meaning on to me. Everything I wrote is true in Trust: Faith, Hope, & Love, but I've recently realized that there is more to it. Not only am I to trust God with His timing and His planning, but I also need to be content with being single. I need to not be anxious about marriage. I need to think of girls as sisters in Christ instead of potential wives. I must confess: I'm afraid I've made an idol out of marriage. I desire marriage too much. I'm frustrated with being single. I want to be in love. I think of girls as potential wives and not the sisters in Christ they are. Marriage is on my mind all day and I'm always wondering who, how and when. I need to change. But how?

One of my favorite verses is Philippians 4:6-7, which says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." How amazing is this! These two verses have been such a comfort to me. I don't have to be anxious or nervous about anything. I can take my requests to God through prayer and petition. And this is the best part: the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus. Wow.The peace of God. The peace of God transcends all understanding. The peace of God will guard my heart. Now we're on to something.

So it seems to me that if we choose to take our problems and desires to God, then His peace will guard my heart and protect me. And not only that, but according to these verses, it's better to have the peace of God than to have all understanding. And one glance through Proverbs tells us how important wisdom and understanding are. But apparently, it's better to have God's peace than wisdom and understanding.

And this is key if I want to change. I have adopted the prayer of David Tate, a man whose story is told in Boy Meets Girl. I cannot recall his prayer word for word, and since I just loaned my copy of Boy Meets Girl to a friend, I'll just share with you what my prayer is: Father, I don't want to be anxious about this area of my life. I need to know who, just as much as how and when. I want to be content. I want to trust you. I want Your peace, which protects my heart and my mind. Amen.

Remember that our mindset should be that everything should be done to bring glory and attention to God, not ourselves. If we live with this mindset, then we'll learn to trust God. I believe the best thing I can do for my wife right now is to live my life with the purpose of bring all the glory and attention to God. I want to die each day and life for Christ. For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Let God write your love story for you. He doesn't need any help; He's the original storyteller. All He asks is that you live your life to bring Him all the glory. Will you do that?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The American Dream

If you haven't read Radical by David Platt, I highly suggest reading it. I am over halfway through and it's been changing my life page by page. Platt, the pastor of a megachurch in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote this book challenging the American church and American Christians to evaluate the way we live. But I want to avoid writing a book review, so I'll instead share how it's challenged me.

In this post, I want to talk about the American dream. I've never considered myself to desire the American dream. I had considered the American dream to be having a family, a dog, a job, two cars, and a nice house living in the suburbs. This basically describes the stereotypical American family, I think (though there are naturally many exceptions). Platt points out that James Truslow Adams is credited with coining the phrase "American dream" in 1931. Adams spoke of it as "a dream... in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest statue of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are" (James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America; Boston: Little, Brown, 1933). I believe this definition, the original definition, perfectly illustrates America today. We are a self-reliant, self-serving people. It's all about promotions, pay raises, climbing the corporate ladder. We say it's a dog-eat-dog world. Kill or be killed.

I love the way Platt explains it. He says, "The America dream prizes what people can accomplish when they believe in themselves and trust in themselves and, we are drawn toward such thinking. But the Gospel has different priorities. The Gospel beckons us to die to ourselves and to believe in God and to trust in His power. In the Gospel, God confronts us with our utter inability to accomplish anything of value apart from Him."

Platt would go on to say how this is what Jesus meant when in John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit, apart form me you can do nothing." This is so counter cultural to the way we live today in America. As Americans, we have been led to believe that everything is about us. Just read Adam's definition of the American dream and the selfishness of our nature speaks for itself.

A very wise man once told me that the root of all sin is pride. And it's true. Because of pride, we are able to splurge on ourselves yet turn blind eyes and ears to the poor and needy. Because of pride, we become stubborn, thinking only of ourselves and not of others. Because of pride, we bully people or lie or steal or kill, or commit any other sin. And even insecurity and self-consciousness is another form of pride.

But the gospel is radically different than the American dream. Where the American dream calls us to do what we can to call attention and glory to ourselves, the gospel calls us to do what we can to call attention and glory to God. And this is what hinders so many from truly following Jesus. They simply cannot fathom the idea that they are not the center of the world.

I want to challenge you to examine your own life and see if you are leading a life that's all about Christ. And I don't mean going to church, reading Christian books, watching Christian movies, listening to Christian music, going to a Christian school (or better yet, being home schooled), having only Christian friends, etc. I believe it's easy to assume this type of lifestyle is tantamount to a Christlike life. And I'm not saying these are necessarily bad things. But this is not a Christlike lifestyle. No, a Christlike life is one where you die to yourself and live for the glory of God, not the glory of you. It's a life where you are willing to leave everything if God asks you to. It's a life where you live every day trying to figure out how you can glorify God and spread His name that day, and then doing it. It's a lifestyle that cares for the poor, the needy, the hungry, the widows, the orphans, the starving, the sick, the naked, the jailed, those "less fortunate than us."

The American dream is to do everything you can to bring glory to yourself. Is this how you live? Is this why you serve or give? Is this why you go to church or play sports or pursue higher education or fight for the promotion? Is it to make you look good and to make others notice how good you are? Or are you living a radical life? A life maxed out with selfless love? A life that models Jesus' love and dedication to the least of these? Jesus said it Himself: You cannot have two masters. You cannot serve yourself and Jesus. So which is it? Who will you serve?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Is The Bible Incomplete?

I've recently been exposed by a fellow blogger to the idea that there is a possibility the Bible doesn't quote everything Jesus said. That's true. There's no way you could copy down every single word a man ever said. But that isn't what this person was getting at. When I posed the question, "If there are second chances in hell, then why didn't Jesus tell us that?" in my post My Final Belief About Christian Universalism, he commented in response to my post, saying, "The catch here, of course, is that you are stating that Jesus did not say something. That is a statement that you cannot prove. You can only prove from the bible what Jesus did say, not what Jesus did not say." This question bugged me. Not because I felt he was right, but because of how dangerously wrong he is.

Allow me to explain. By saying, "You can only prove from the Bible what Jesus did say, not what Jesus did not say," we are really saying that the Bible is incomplete. That it doesn't fully and truthfully contain the truth and Gospel of Jesus Christ. That it somehow only contains partial truth. If we allow ourselves to believe that perhaps the Bible doesn't contain something very important (like Jesus telling us about second chances), then we essentially have just said the Bible is false. Incomplete. Untrustworthy. 

Think of it this way: If we use this mindset, it would be all too easy to say that to be a Christian, you have to live on the moon. If Jesus didn't say it, it can be true. So why not assume that the moon is the key to salvation? Jesus didn't say it wasn't. Now yes, Jesus taught you have to repent, believe, and follow Jesus each day. But maybe Jesus was thinking that we could only do this on the moon, but He just didn't want to tell us? Maybe we should mass-migrate to the moon....

Or we could trust that the Bible is without error. It's complete truth. It's is the Word of God. It contains the Gospel that Jesus preached. It's something we can place our trust, hope, and faith in without worry of it's credibility. It won't fail us, so we can live by it. And that's what I believe. We should only base our lives and our theologies off what the Bible, and what Jesus, says. If we go off anything else, we are sure to miss the mark.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Final Belief About Christian Universalism

In light of a few recent comments, and in a few other conversations, I'd like to share my final thoughts on Christian Universalism. In my speech, which I gave a week ago, I tackled the one major fault with Christian Universalism: their belief in second chances after death. Now I could tell you, my blog readers, about all the verses that talk about the righteous going to heaven and the wicked to hell (Matt. 25:41,46; Rev. 21:6-8). I could point out that the verses the Christian Universalists base their hope of second chances in are taken out of context and don't match up with the rest of Scripture. I could point out that if everyone will have second chances in hell to go to heaven, Jesus died and came back to life for nothing. But I won't. Instead, I'll ask a question. If there are second chances, why did Jesus never tell us about them?

If there are second chances for us in hell, then why didn’t Jesus tell us that? Jesus certainly had many opportunities to tell us that we would get second chances in hell. So why didn’t He? Why did he constantly warn his audience about the dangers of hell when he should have informed us of those crucial second chances? The answer is simple: because there are no second chances.

For those interested, I got a 97 on my speech.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Using Fleeces To Make Decisions

Have you ever felt called to do something but weren't sure if it was God or something else calling you? I have. Life is full of difficult and challenging decisions and choices. How do we know what to choose? How do we know what God wants us to do? How do we know which way to go in the fork in the road?

You may or may not be familiar with the story of Gideon and the fleece. That's okay. After this post, you'll hopefully never forget it. This story is one that when you face major decisions in your life, like where to go to college, who to marry, where to live, or which job to take, you'll remember Gideon and follow his example. Gideon's story is found in Judges 6-8, but we'll be looking at Judges 6. Before I give you the text, you'll need some context. Some foreign armies are ravaging Israel (what else is new?) and God calls upon Gideon to save his country.

"'But Lord,' Gideon asked, 'how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.' The LORD answered, 'I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.' Gideon replied, 'If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.' ... Gideon said to God, 'If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.' And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, 'Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.' That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew."

I know that's a lot of Scripture but don't tune out. Look at what just happened. Gideon felt called to do something (save his country), but he had doubts ("I am the least..."). He wanted assurance from God that this was really His will. That isn't unreasonable. Let's use college for an example. If you feel like you know where God wants you, but you don't feel a peace about it (you still have doubts), ask God to show you proof that He wants you there. It's up to you to decide what your "fleeces" are. You do need to understand that God may lead you to go somewhere else. If your fleeces show that God is telling you "No", accept it and look for where He really wants you.

So how do you know what your fleeces should be? Let's use my college decision-making process for example. I wanted to stay relatively close to home (only because of finances). I wanted to go to a small, private Christian school. I wanted to be on a campus with a Christ-like atmosphere. I didn't want to go to a college with a bad reputation for partying, pregnancy, bigotry, or drugs. I wanted to go to a college that had excellent professors. And I wanted to go to a Christian university where my beliefs were similar to the school's. I would mark the colleges that didn't have what I wanted off my list.

Pensacola Christian has a terrible reputation of being unreasonably strict, legalistic, and snotty. Not for me. Belmont recently handled some controversy over a lesbian female soccer coach very poorly, and besides that, many friends who go say the atmosphere is secular and several professors aren't Christians. Regardless of how true these reports are, I wasn't wanting to go to a place with a bad reputation, so I marked Belmont off my list. Next, I looked at Lipscomb. They are Church of Christ, which doesn't really match my desire to go to a university with like-minded beliefs (I'm Baptist). I found nothing wrong with Union University other than the fact is was too far away to commute to. Besides, I never really felt a peace about going to Union.

I found everything I wanted at Trevecca Nazarene University. It had everything I wanted and more. It didn't fail my "fleece" tests.

However, there are times when we feel called to do something and we should automatically know it's from God. For example, if you feel like you should tell your lost friend about Jesus, you don't have to ask God if it's His will. You should already know that it's God's will (...make disciples of all nations...). Things like that should be no-brainers. By reading the Bible each day, we should accumulate enough knowledge over time to know how to respond in these no-brainer situations. Reading the four gospels, Paul's letters, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Proverbs will help build your knowledge of how to respond in day-to-day situations.

You must also discern the difference between Essential fleeces and Optional fleeces. I gave you a list of Essential fleeces when talking about my list for college. An example of an Optional fleece would be me saying I wanted to go to a college with great  cafeteria food. That would be nice, but if the college where God wanted me had bad food, I wouldn't say "No" to God. It's just optional; preferred.
Right now, I'm putting together my list for my future wife. I'm learning that I can't be as rigid with this list as I was with my college list, simply because God may have someone picked out for me that is very different that what I think I want and need. I don't want to limit God. There are many Optional things that I want, but aren't important. For example, physical attributes. My ideal woman would be between 5'4" and 5'7", with brown hair, brown eyes, and a very appealing physique. The reason this is Optional is simply because I may end marrying a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl. Or a short girl. Or a tall girl. And so on. These are preferred and optional things that are what I want, not what I really need. I'm not going to turn the woman God has picked out for me if she is blond just because she isn't a brunette.

As we wrap up this post, I hope you understand the importance of fleeces. Fleeces are invaluable tools in our lives. They can greatly improve your decision making and build your wisdom and discernment. I encourage you to pray and think about what your fleeces should be for the different big decisions in life. Take time to prayerfully consider these things and you'll do well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No Chocolates?

In yesterday's daily reading of A Year With C.S. Lewis, I read a particularly intriguing piece from Lewis' work, Miracles. The passage is titled No Chocolates? and interestingly enough is about sex. He says that because the greatest physical pleasure our earthly bodies can feel is the pleasure of sex, we are hindered in imagining the glories of heaven. He says that the glory and pleasure and beauty of heaven will be beyond compare, but we, in our finite state of being, cannot even begin to imagine it.

But it's the analogy Lewis uses that struck me. He says, "... I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer "No", he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don't bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate; he does not know the positive thing that excludes it."

I love how he captures his point in such a simple allegory. He compares sex to chocolate and heaven to sex, saying that since we don't know heaven, we naively consider sex to be the best thing ever. In a similar way, a young boy who loves chocolate but has never had sex would easily believe that chocolate is better than sex. He has never had sex; how could he know how much better it is? We've never been to heaven, so how could we be expected to know how much better heaven is?

I'm reminded by something Paul wrote. In Philippians 3, he writes, "... I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ." I think that once in heaven, we will be able to fully agree that all these things we were so consumed with on earth were not but rubble, trash, and garbage in light of the surpassing greatness of the glory of heaven. Isaiah 65 is a beautiful chapter. In it, God describes the new heaven and earth, which is also described at the end of Revelation. God says in verses 17-18, "'Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.'" God essentially says it will be so great that we won't even remember the pleasures of this earth. That sounds incredible! Too good to be true. I must admit, it's very hard to imagine greater pleasures than the things on this earth, pleasures so great that we will never think of these things. But that's what God says. And what God says is Truth.

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'" ~Revelation 21:1, 3-4

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fundamentalism Vs. Universalism

Over the next couple weeks, I'll be preparing for a persuasive speech in my speech class. I've chosen to speak about why Christian Universalism is wrong. It's a pretty hefty subject, especially for a 8-10 minute speech, but I'm going to go all out with this one. I'm pretty passionate about this subject so you'll probably see some posts over the next few weeks about it. Not a whole lot of people are familiar with what Christian Universalism believes- or what the opposing belief, Christian Fundamentalism, believes. In this post, I want to explain what Christian Universalism and Christian Fundamentalism each believe, and in future posts, I'll tell you about the problems I have with Christian Universalism. I think it'll be easier to explain Christian Fundamentalism before I explain what Christian Universalism is, and I would like to state early on that I am a Christian Fundamentalist. Let's get started!

What does Christian Fundamentalism believe? Christian Fundamentalism is the belief system the vast majority of Christians have. Fundamentalism believes the basics about Christianity, such as God created the world; God is the only God; God is three-in-one: Father, Son, and Spirit; there is a heaven and a @#!*% ; Jesus was the perfect Son of God who came to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins; Jesus rose again on the third day; every man is naturally sinful and will be eternally separated from God unless he repents of his sins and surrenders to Jesus; there is one way to the Father and that is through the Son; in order to be a Christian, the Spirit must be living inside you; the Bible is inspired by God and is inerrant... etc. I could go on and on. But you get me.

Christian Universalism believes essentially the same principles. But according to, there are two main differences. The first, and most infamous, is that Universalism believes all people will end up in heaven. They believe Christians and non-Christians will be in heaven ( They don't believe in eternal @#!*% and they cling to the idea that God is "too loving" to @#!*% people to @#!*% . The second difference is that they think "no human is totally bad" ( On the website, they state, "Since no human being is totally bad, no human will perish eternally. It is God's plan to take what is good in each individual and multiply it, and replace the bad within us with an infusion of His divine goodness, until only the good remains." 

As you surely can see, these two beliefs conflict with many of Christian Fundamentalists' beliefs. The Christian Fundamentalists believe only one people will be in heaven, and that people are the children of God. They also believe Jesus Christ is the only way and that those who follow anyone but Jesus will be in @#!*% forever. When Christian Universalists say that everyone will be in heaven, that obviously says the exact opposite of what the Christian Fundamentalists say. And not to mention that Christian Fundamentalists believe man is naturally sinful and evil. 

I'm really itching to share my side of the argument, but I want to save that for a later post. Until then, I encourage you to read your Bible and talk to your parents/youth pastor/pastor to find out more about heaven/ @#!*% and whether man is naturally sinful.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Favorable Conditions

A couple weeks ago, I was in Lifeway and happened across a book called A Year with C.S. Lewis. It's a book that for each day of the year has a short excerpt from one of his many books. The Problem of Pain, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, The Weight of Glory, A Grief Observed, A Slip of the Tongue, and many others are included in my book. So each day, I read an excerpt from one of Lewis' classics.

This guy, Lewis, is a genius. I had already read all of the Narnia books, half of Mere Christianity, and half of The Abolition of Man. I knew he was sharp. But the problem I have with Lewis' writing style is that it is endless. It seems he takes pages and pages to make one small point, offering little place for the reader to escape or take a break. That's why this book is so cool: When I can read his writing as a single paragraph, it makes so much more sense. I can understand what he is saying and break it down in my mind. I don't have to sort through countless meaningless sentences to find the good, meaty ones.

I've been learning a lot. The past few passages have been really powerful. They hit me right between the eyes. Saturday's excerpt was especially meaningful. But before I share what it said, you'll need some context to understand why this was so convicting. On Saturday, I was sitting in Chick-fil-A for breakfast before the my sixth ACT. That's right. I've taken the ACT SIX times now (and the SAT once). I'm only taking it because I need to raise my score by one point to get the next level of scholarship at the college I want to go to. The problem is I don't like studying very much, so I haven't been fully prepared for three or four of these tests. The math section has been particularly humbling. The problem lies within my study habits. I get distracted easily and give up on my studying. I let things like work, TV, video games, friends, books, and other schoolwork distract me. But I've learned that I have to be willing to study and work hard in order to succeed on the ACT/SAT, in college, and in life. On Friday, this hit me really hard. I realized that if I do thirty minutes to an hour of math each day between now and the November SAT, that will be enough to get the score I need. I'm now motivated to study hard.

Now back to the story. As I sat in Chick-fil-A Saturday, I read this: "If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come." This was exactly what I needed to hear. It cut through all of my petty excuses as to why I didn't want to study and made me realize I'd never ever find a "good time" to study, a time where I just really was enthusiastic about studying, where I loved it, where I did it for fun. That day will never come. So I have to man up and study, even though I don't like it.

We can't only apply ourselves in favorable conditions. We must learn to work hard even in tough times. If we don't, we will become slack in our work. Proverbs 18:9 says, "One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys."