“It’s going to rain tomorrow!”

I never pay attention to weather forecasts.

Unlike my father-in-law, who practically lives by the Weather Channel, the local news station, and various weather apps on his phone, I rarely care enough to bother looking at what the weather will be like the next day or week ahead.

If it’s cold? I put on a jacket.

If it’s hot? I don’t put on a jacket.

If it’s raining? I take an umbrella.

If it’s not raining? I leave the umbrella behind in that tall, narrow vase in my living room (as I never gave it consideration in the first place).

Now, my mom would flip (and possibly will flip anyways) if she read any of that nonsense. Growing up, my mom knew exactly what the weather was going to be like, of course. She made sure we were dressed appropriately for whatever it called for, like any good, caring mother should. Sometimes this was in excess, like forcing thermal body underwear on us during wintertime. At least her heart was in the right place!

But there’s just something in me, for better or worse, that doesn’t like having foregone conclusions about anything. Yes, an optimistic streak abounds, but really I don’t like to operate in “what ifs” and leave my day in the hands of a meteorologist.

Yet, there’s so many others that live differently when it comes to this. They feel like it’s “being prepared” and knowing what’s ahead. But there are issues with that line of thinking, I believe.

I’ve always loved, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. While there is some modern debate about his intention of “taking the road less traveled”, I often like to use it as an allegory for life and motivation. Forks-in-the-road are obvious illustrations about decision-making and “which path to take”.

Basically for me, I rather make my choice when I get to a certain point, rather than walk away from ever getting started because of some foregone conclusion.

When I hear the words, “It’s going to rain tomorrow!” it sounds like a built-in excuse for inaction. If managing a workforce or volunteers, it is often accompanied by a request to delay until another day. But what if it rains the next day, and the day after that? Or, what if it’s sprinkling a bit and we make our decision to forego an activity based on… a little rain?

In other words, it becomes this slow, grinding, sludge of an existence where…

Nothing gets accomplished.

And I hate it!

One of the maddening things I have faced in church ministry as a pastor is snow storms. In South Carolina, we don’t get a great deal of those, but when we did… the whole place shuts down! I lived in Ohio for a few years when I was young and they had real winter storms. They also had the ability to combat those storms and get things up and running in no time.

But an inch of snow in SC might as well be an avalanche. You see, it often wouldn’t stay cold enough to let the snow flakes, in all of their fluffy glory, remain… well, snow. Instead, it would warm up just enough to wear that snow would melt a bit and turn into ice. Voila! Icy road conditions.

So, whenever a snow storm hit, it wasn’t about whether people’s home were buried under feet of snow. It was more about people avoiding a demolition derby on the way to Sunday service. And thus, I would be entrusted with the judgement call (of course, confirming with other pastors in the area) on whether or not to “cancel church” (which is terribly terminology, by the way).

I wish I could just do what I might try on a personal level: Step outside, get in my car, drive around, listen to the local radio and make a decision an hour before worship. But of course, that wouldn’t be enough time for communication and all of the other lovely considerations, too many to name here (okay, it’s late).

How many times do we say “no” to something before it even gets a fair shot at becoming a possibility? I didn’t say, “reality”, but rather a “possibility”. We far too often live our lives making “what-ifs” into “what-will-be’s” and thus…

Nothing gets accomplished.

Call me dumb, foolish, arrogant, or far too optimistic… but I’m willing to wait it out and see for myself before I give up hope. I think there’s a little bit of the gospel in that.

While there are many passages in the Bible that deal with preparation, decision-making, and taking action, I want to look at this a little deeper. What truly motivates us?

My “life verse” (cheesy christianese alert) has always been Colossians 3:23-24…

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

This means, to me, that whatever we put our efforts into, we should do it with all of our heart. Not because this passage is meant to be some sort of “hard work ethic” sensibility, but because it speaks to our relationship with God. If we as Christ-followers are who we say we are, then we will always do things with pure motives; the primary one being bringing glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This means, we bring Him with us wherever we go and in whatever we’re doing.

If our work is seen as excellent or beyond expectation, it might just point back to the One who inspires us and gives us life!

Somehow, I think we rob ourselves of that opportunity to show Jesus off if we let the “weather”  dictate our schedule. We must fight, every day, to not worry about the possible roadblocks in front of us, but instead, focus on results.

In other words, take an umbrella with you and get to work.

The Team of Dream and Reality

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Stick around long enough examining the culture of church ministry and you’ll eventually hear about “dreams” and “visions”. Some traditions value them as prophetic, while others categorize them as emotional junk.

Personally, I think where we as believers go wrong is writing off dreams too soon, while not allowing “reality” to have any room for inspiration. But I also see where dreams never materialize because the dreamer resists any interpretation other than their own. Anything of worth must be tested, even the stuff we can’t necessarily nail down to the floor.

Dreams and reality are seen as polar opposite enemies, almost like two warring nations. Truth is, they should be partners in action. Each one adds value to the other.

I’m reminded of a classic song from the group, Rush, “Closer to the Heart”.

The blacksmith and the artist
Reflect it in their art
They forge their creativity
Closer to the heart, yes closer to the heart

Philosophers and ploughmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the heart, well closer to the heart

Without the dreamer, the artist, the thinker, the purveyor of the intangible… the realist, the worker, the common man, the master of the tangible, would be without inspiration to get through the doldrums of everyday life. It is not a coincidence that work just seems to fly by a lot faster when a radio is on in the background.

Conversely, the dreamer cannot eat or sleep without the laborious efforts of the realist. This is part of our earthly lot, that nothing we obtain is ever true “free”, despite what some politicians may tell you!

This is the way of society as it has been for centuries. Spiritually speaking, it is the same careful balance to find for the Christ-follower. The line between “go for it” and “wait” can be blurred. The wall that separates the future wonders of vision from the current needs of provision, is much shorter than we think.

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What I know to be true is that for every dream, vision, or sign, there must be those rooted in graceful accountability to voice concerns and hopefully provide confirmation.

It is vital for those with their “head in the clouds” find a connection to the ground below, otherwise they simply float away.

I know many well-meaning people on both sides of this coin:

  • The entrepreneurial young buck who has big plans ahead, but wants them now (no doubt, a product of current “Google” culture) and…
  • The hardened veteran who never took many chances, falling back on safe and known quantities.

This is the current paradigm of church ministry.

Either you want it all as soon as possible, or you’re the traditionalist that exerts far too much caution. Neither one is right or Biblical.

One of the more recent trends is church-planting. This is great! As a church planter myself, I applaud every effort to grow the Kingdom of God and reach the lost. But what I try to tell guys that want to get started, is basically, “hit the brakes”. Don’t put the vehicle in park, just wait at the corner stop sign until it’s clear.

Let me make it known that I have much admiration for those willing to take on the tremendous task of starting a new church. It’s not easy, cheap, or for everybody, otherwise we’d see a lot more churches in places that really needed them. But for those that are called, there is nothing else they’d rather do! (I know this to be true)

However, far too many are going into it without the proper amount of planning and covering. This is where that ministry veteran should come into play and offer advisement, but due to lack of relationship between the older generation and the new ones, there is distrust and jealousy. “Competition” is a word that gets used a lot and can describe the lay of the land in most communities when it comes to ecumenicalism, but since we’re such nicey-nice Christians, we don’t like using “worldly” words.

But just because we don’t like certain terms, doesn’t mean they don’t apply. Just like in the dynamic of the dreamer and the realist, there ought to be a working relationship between the hipster church planter and the khaki wearing traditionalist. Both have the same aim (reaching people for Jesus), and quite frankly they need each other.

Some Biblical support for this: Paul discipling Timothy. He took him along on missionary journeys. Paul was brought along in ministry by Barnabas and it was only natural for him to find someone to pour into as well.

The Apostle Paul writes to his spiritual son in 2 Timothy 3…

10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

Experience is the best teacher of all and Timothy was blessed to witness first-hand much of the travails of Paul. Timothy saw what ministry was really about and just like his mentor, probably received the scars to prove it.

I’m thankful for those that came before me, providing examples and taking hard lessons learned so I wouldn’t have to (not as much anyways). I wouldn’t be able to function in ministry without men who encouraged me, held me accountable, and challenged what I was doing, even when I thought I knew everything!

If it wasn’t for certain accountability partners, I would have lost my sanity a long time ago! So here’s my two cents worth of advice…

To anyone getting started: Find someone to keep you grounded. Look past their possible cynicism or attachment to tradition and cherish their input!

To anyone with experience: Find someone to invest in. Look past their youthful ignorance and find their potential!

We cannot afford to entertain this prideful divide in our churches any longer, when the world is collapsing further into godlessness. There are souls at stake and they’re worth more than some lofty recognition or petty feelings!

Partner up and let the Holy Spirit add wisdom to the young and energy to the old. Don’t wait for your denomination or association to do the work of relationship building for you. Do your best to seek out other leaders (or future ones) and you’ll be blessed for it.

Success or Failure? (A Perspective)

There’s a story up on Bleacher Report that’s an update piece on former Cleveland Browns running back, Peyton Hillis. Does his name sound familiar? For any NFL football fans, you might remember him as the breakout star of the 2010 season who landed the cover of the video game Madden NFL 2012.

That 2010 season was pretty much about it, as far as significant contributions to the NFL.

His next season got out-of-whack due to contract negotiations and injuries. From there, it was a downward spiral of ineffective play. His retirement from the game wasn’t newsworthy enough to makes any headlines. Now in 2015, he is coaching high school football in Arkansas.

Some may say he didn’t live up to expectations… that he was a failure and a disappointment. In statistical terms, perhaps. Personal terms, maybe, if football was all that was important to someone.

You see, Hillis takes a great perspective on his NFL career and how it ended. He still has some hard feelings on the lost opportunity that it was, but is there something more? Something better?

“I went through a couple of years there just mad at the world,” he said. “I put my faith in the world and the world let me down. And I should have known that. The world’s always going to let you down. Put your faith in God.” 

Peyton gets it. The fact remains that there is no better judge of our success than God! What’s funny is about football, is that many players play past their prime. Hey, that’s still good money to be made! But what happens is, fans’ perception of players change. Brett Favre will go down as a legend in the game, but when he finally retired he was a punchline to many jokes (by his own doing).

Seeing what were once dominant, skilled all-stars turn into third stringers, or just simply shells of their former selves, is depressing and makes the fan forget about them from their prime.

Anyone remember this guy?

Anyone remember this guy?

In essence, glory is fleeting in this world.

A perpetual question that comes up every season is, “Does God really care about a stupid game like football?” I don’t know! But He does care about those playing it and what they do with it. If they’re not playing for His glory, they are failures for they seek only the fame and trappings of a successful football career.

They are successful if it can point to something (or better yet, someone) BIGGER than themselves!

To me, that is the mark for ministry as well. There are plenty of self-seeking pastors out there (just like in any line of work) that could use a look in the mirror. As someone who’s been in church ministry for 13 years, I can’t say I’ve always had pure intentions for everything I’ve done. It was never about using the ministry for profit more so than it was using ministry as a vehicle to subconsciously prop up and market myself in the world of “church”. This seems silly, but honestly, this is more pervasive than you may think.

Flip through any Christian magazine or website and you’ll see pastors advertised for this conference or that conference. Maybe a new book they’ve written or TV show via INSP, Daystar, or TBN. None of these things are bad at all necessarily, just in how they originate (their intentions) or just how they turn out (Heritage USA and Jim Bakker, for example).

How this all affects the ministry world is something worth noting. One could observe that the “celebrity pastor” culture is not much different than what we Christians loathe in Hollywood. (more on that another time, perhaps)

One thing I’ve learned about my time in church ministry over the years is that there’s a lot of wasted time and energy spent propping yourself up, instead of lifting Jesus up! It’s a time-tested distraction technique the enemy likes to use in the arena of spiritual warfare.

In what’s been a transitional summer for me and my family, I’ve been able to put things in perspective, much like Peyton Hillis has on his career. You see, his football career isn’t over (despite what others say), as it continues on with him coaching young men. In many measurable ways, that will be more profound than what he could have accomplished as a star running back in the NFL!

So what should we all be concerned with, ultimately? Jesus says it pretty well in Matthew 6…

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

That line, “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” comes with a promise! If we seek Him first in all that we do, we will be taken care of. We won’t have to worry about that big contract we’re due. We won’t have to worry about being on a bigger platform. We are already blessed by being sons and daughters of the Most High! We’re given the gift of salvation through His grace alone. That is worthy of our praise! We shouldn’t desire anything less. 

Let us take ownership of our identity in Christ as we accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God (and not the “Kingdom of Self”!). Stay humble and focused by keeping your eyes on Jesus.

The Value of Authenticity

I’m in Asheville, NC today. This is a beautiful area that I have some historical ties to. The one that stands out the most, is that it is here where I proposed to my then girlfriend, now wife, Heather in the Rose Garden of the Biltmore Estate.

The boat dock where I popped the big question...

The boat dock where I popped the big question…

There wasn’t a more romantic moment to be had, as I had brought along a book of poems I had written just for her. All of them rhymed, which is kind of hokey according to most poetry circles. But as cheesy as it may have seemed (complete with flowers and me dressed in a suit), it was at the very least authentic. Despite what others think, my wife and I will always look back with fondness on this moment, as we should.

Authenticity has always been a prized personal value for me in both life and ministry. I’m known to be a guy that speaks his mind (as graceful as possible, most of the time) and does things with intent and purpose… not because that’s how it’s always been done. I’m definitely a “down to earth” kind of guy, much to my success and detriment.

This value, however, is not always appreciated or utilized properly. Many churches today have other values, which is fine, but they walk a dangerous line as at some point people discover what’s at the core. If it doesn’t match up, then people get disillusioned and eventually leave. Other churches deliberately tread lightly as to not offend anybody or anything, even though we’re in a culture that is in desperate need of bold (and loving) voices of the Gospel!

Authenticity is a unique trait in politics as well. We’re seeing the rise of Donald Trump lately in the 2016 presidential race. He’s quickly risen in the polls due to the perception that he is a “straight-shooter”.

Donald Trump: A remarkable phenomenon of a political rise in polls despite offensive remarks

Donald Trump: A remarkable phenomenon of a political rise in polls despite offensive remarks

Heck, he even proclaimed Senator John McCain is NOT a war hero (“because war heroes don’t get captured”). There was some fallout with a half-apology from Trump, but what happened? He climbed in the polls even more!

Despite his brash behavior, he’s connecting with a significant portion of the country that is highly apathetic regarding politics nowadays.

We are promised much, but given so little by politicians that talk a good and pleasant game on the campaign trail, but do nothing once they’re in office.

Whether Donald Trump would make a great president is irregardless of the fact that people appreciate honesty and plain speaking. Too many candidates beat-around-the-bush without really getting down to the heart-of-the-matter. With Trump, you see what you get. I’m in no way endorsing him (which I’m not sure how beneficial that would be anyways), but I understand his appeal. It’s a little refreshing to see, despite knowing that it probably won’t last.

With that said, there’s just something about authenticity that’s hard to replace, especially in church ministry. “Nice stuff” and “broad appeal” only will last so long before people see through it. It must be matched with a true desire to offer people new life in Christ… not just long for their attendance or wallets.

Despite how the term has been used before, authenticity is not a license to offend. Instead, it’s the innate quality of connecting deeper than surface level emotions. Cutting through the fluff and identifying the real issues at hand. There’s an art to doing this with tact (one I must admit I’m still working on), but it can and should be done. We can’t afford any longer as Christ-followers to suppress addressing what people need.

Think about a heart surgeon. They don’t dance around the obvious need a patient has for a triple bypass. They don’t start by offering dietary advice or just showing them a video of what heart surgery could look like for them. No, they get down to brass tax and say what must happen or the patient will die.

Spiritual health is more imperative than our physical health, yet we don’t treat our eternal body with the same urgency that we do with our earthly body!

Jesus says in John 8:31-32…

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

His truth frees us! Truth in-and-of-itself has that power. This means we should be striving to speak straight to the heart of people and their needs, regardless of the potential fallout. In addition to the spiritual application (starting first with a hard look in the mirror), this should be something we carry with us in our relationships and work as well. It’s dangerous territory, but that’s where battles are won!

Are you authentic?  Take the time to identify areas of your life that you’ve held back (because of any number of common excuses) and live freely so that others might come to know freedom.

The Cost of Freedom

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Our founding fathers committed treason on this day 239 years ago. By declaring independence, they were risking their very lives for the cause of liberty! Public executions awaited them if this whole “revolution” thing didn’t work out.

So here we have today leaders that change with the wind of media-manipulated public opinion. Unlike the signers of the Declaration of Independence, they make decisions based on polls and what’s going to bring them the least repercussions. Basically, they are the exact opposite of those who were brave enough to defy the biggest imperial power of its time. And we see the results!

What we need today are men and women of character, not smoke-and-mirrors. We can have America prosper once again if politicians would lead not from behind (seeing where everyone else is going first), but rather out in front to charter new territory of strength.

While politicians are easy to blame, we must also realize they are just a product of our vapid culture. We cannot expect them to be actuators of change in D.C. when we will not hold them accountable if they get sucked into the system there.

This weekend, in addition to watching fireworks, grilling hamburgers, or laying out on the beach… how about doing something constructive? Write a letter (or email) to your local representative about an issue you’re passionate about. Make plans to check on your current voter registration status. Volunteer with your local polling station, or if so motivated, a campaign. Any of these steps will help restore some faith in the republic.

Show that you care, or otherwise our leaders will act accordingly, as if you simply do not.

Start spreading the news…

new-york-city

One of the perks of ministry is that sometimes you get to tag along for pretty cool trips. Not vacations really, but opportunities. This weekend is one of those as me and my boy Russ Wallace, a.k.a. Th.Kid (“The Kid”) will head to New York City. It’s there where he’ll be doing interviews and looking to blaze some trails in the “Big Apple” to take his craft to the next level.

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I hate using generalizations, so I would hate labeling Russ as a “Christian rapper”. He’s much more than that as I’ve gotten to know him both personally and professionally. He’s a real artist that has written and produced most of his music on his own (with influence from and reliance upon the Holy Spirit).

I’m more of a guitar kind-of-guy, so the rap genre is somewhat lost on me. But talent and excellence can break through the barriers of personal preference! Th.Kid is a great example of this.

I really can appreciate his stuff and most folks do once they hear it! This has helped make him one of the top artists in his category on ReverbNation.

His new album, “RE:Invent” drops next week and it’s truly a work of the soul. Russ has poured himself into this, with his time, money, sanity (kidding, sort of), and at the expense of relationships. But he sees this as a ministry and as I can attest to, personal sacrifices and following God go hand-in-hand.

What if we all could express ourselves with bold, relentless passion? Where we gave 100%, knowing that our life in this world is temporary, but points to eternity?

James 4:14 tells us,

“You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” 

Christ-followers believe we have the hope and promise of everlasting life with God, through His Son Jesus Christ. While we must do everything we can on earth, it is not everything. We are not beholden to “bucket lists” but instead driven by the mindset of stewardship. With the opportunities and abilities we’re given, what are we doing with them to lead others to Christ?

Russ is using his gifts to uniquely express himself and his faith. He’s not a pastor or seminary graduate, and he would be the first to tell you that. Thankfully, neither of those are requirements for obedience to God’s calling as being light to this dark world.

That theme is what his song, “Candlelights” is focused on. Check it out!

Look out for “RE:Invent” coming soon to iTunes, Google Play, and just about everywhere else.

For more info on Th.Kid, visit his website: www.thekidbooking.com

Connect with him via:

ReverbNation (www.reverbnation.com/thekidbooking)

Facebook (www.facebook.com/thekidentertainment)

YouTube (www.youtube.com/thekidbooking)

Twitter (www.twitter.com/TheKid_RW)

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My Heart Runs

From my morning meditation today:

“My Heart Runs” by John Mark McMillian

Like deer to the pool
I’m coming after you
Like a thirsty animal
My heart is for your love

Like Jonah from the deep
I’m coming out of my sleep
To find the secrets that you keep
Is the only thing worth rising for

From the dirt you’ve drawn me out
And you draw me out again
I’m coming back from the dead
I’m coming out of my skin

And you are everything my heart wants
Everything my heart wants
And my heart runs
My heart runs after you

Like breakers on the shore
You’re knocking on my door
Like the deepest places in you
Calling to the fountains of my soul

From the dirt you’ve drawn me out
And you draw me out again
I’m coming back from the dead
I’m coming out of my skin

And you are everything my heart wants
Everything my heart wants
And my heart runs
My heart runs after you

(So) My heart runs
(So) My heart runs
(So) My heart runs
My heart runs after you