The Right Question at the Right Time

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question-markBy Brian Sharpe

Have you ever been in a situation as a parent, boss, coworker, or friend where you didn’t know what to say or do when giving advice? You knew what the person should do, but you were sure they weren’t going to do what you thought they should. As a parent, as a friend, as a leader, and as a mentor, I have been in that situation so many times. My modus operandi is to just tell people what to do. The problem is, that usually ends up not going the way I think it should go.

I don’t know if you are like me, but I often think that if the world just did things the way I think they should be done, it would be a better, more functional place. I know that is arrogant, and most likely not true, but it is a thought I have.

I was recently in a situation where I was in conflict with someone that I respect. We both had different ideas of how something should be done. During this meeting, it was obvious that we weren’t seeing eye to eye. Martin was at this meeting, and he brought me and this man together to talk through and figure out what was going on. Before this meeting, I wanted to spend some time alone in prayer, seeking God and asking for understanding on why this other leader and I weren’t seeing eye to eye. As I prayed, I wasn’t getting any clarity to what was going on in this relationship. I could understand where I was coming from, and I thought I understood where the other man was coming from … but boy, was I wrong!!!

While praying, I called a mentor of mine, Jim. We usually meet once a month, but I needed his advice and his outside perspective. While on the phone with Jim, I explained the situation. I explained the reason for the meeting. Jim’s first response wasn’t to tell me what he thought I should do. His first response was to empathize, then to asking questions. He has a framework that he works though in situations like this, and the first thing is seeking to understand by asking questions. As he asked questions, he better understood the situation.

At this point, if I were Jim, I would have moved into telling me what to do. Instead, he started asking more questions about why I was responding the way I was. By the end of our conversation, it was clear to me all the ways I needed to own my improper leadership. I thought I knew what was going on, but I was blinded by my own biases. Jim was not; he was able to help me understand the blind spots in my life. He did this by asking questions, not by making statements.

I really am learning that this is the best way to help people. We need to become master question-askers. As a pastor, I see this. As a parent, I see this. As a husband, I see this. How often could an argument (I mean if Tomina and I argued . . . which of course we never do! JK) have been stopped if I would had asked a good question instead of making a statement? Asking good questions means you are seeking to understand, not make a point. This takes humility and intentionality. But in the end, I think it leads us down the path we want to go down, and that is to help others.

I have seen where someone asking good questions has helped me. I have seen where good questions have helped others. Leading through questions is hard, but worth the time it takes. In the future, when people are seeking your help or you are trying to help a family member or a friend, stop, think, and ask yourself what question needs to be asked, instead of what statement needs to be made.

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Moses Anyone?

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By Jeff Foerster

Have you ever pretended to be Moses when you were younger? Standing there before the water (gutter stream), arms held high with a staff (tree branch) in hand, holding back raging waters while a multitude of Israelites (ants) crossed through the sea. Maybe you became David facing a giant with a sling and a few smooth stones, or Esther, about to risk your life before the king.

Maybe this wasn’t you as a child, but have you as an adult imagined yourself in the role of a famous biblical character and wondered if you would have made the same choices? What might it have been to experience those “mountain-top” periods of victory or encounter with the power of God?

So, I find myself considering Moses. What was it like to see that bush aflame and then to hear the voice of the living God? What awe was inspired when standing before Pharaoh, lord over the ancient world, and proclaiming judgment upon him, watching God display power through plagues? And what of the adrenaline-junkie experience of walking between walls of water?!

That’s not my life. Mine is much more ordinary, filled with routine and repetition. Over a period of time, one week looks like the next with little to mark its passing save for a seasonal change in weather or holiday celebration. I can begin to wonder what God has for me and if my “adventure” will be coming soon. In this mode I long to have my days filled with experiences rivaling those named in Scripture. Where is my adventure? How can I achieve greatness in life? How can I actualize the skills God has given me, doing something no one else can do? All of this is a longing for significance. And all of this is focused on me.

There was but one Moses. What of the Israelite slaves? 400 years of dust, and mud, and searing sun, and burning muscles, throbbing veins, generational hopelessness and death. Hundreds … thousands … likely millions of Israelites lived and died with not even mention of their name handed down to us. They made bricks, they served their masters, they had children, and they were no more. There was no glory for them, no tales of bravery to be recounted.

The story of centuries of Israelites under Egyptian slavery seems a waste. It’s a depressing thought to consider each individual life, born in slavery and dying under the same. Some were likely gifted as artists, others craftsmen. Some skilled as leaders and statesmen. None of these talents could be fully actualized, having been crushed under the weight of slavery. Whatever dreams might have been, would not see the light of day.

As the story of my life unfolds I can make the mistake of evaluating it by varying measures of success – financial, career, or otherwise. If I choose this path I make one primary and critical error – focusing on myself. It’s easy to take this focus; even our American culture celebrates the importance of the individual.

The narrative of this life, rightly understood, is much larger than the one, starring myself, I often have running through my head. This story is much greater, for it belongs to God. He will accomplish His purposes. I may play a role, but the plot does not pivot because of me. God decides what prominence my character takes; He decides that with infinite wisdom. My mission, should I decide to accept it, is to yield in faithful obedience to the commands of God. He does not hide these, but openly proclaims them in His Scriptures. Though, even these good things can be diversion if I think that through obedience I gain His acceptance and love.

The sun neither rises nor falls because of me. I do not change the seasons, nor do the rains heed my presence. But I do know and rest in this: whatever my lot in life, whatever my accomplishments, whatever my experiences, whatever my trials, God has placed me securely into His family. My significance is born of no other substance than this relationship with Him.

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Big Targets

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By Dan Amos

Many years ago, Pastor Brian asked me to listen to a Seattle preacher. He was reportedly raw at times, but was getting press coverage for his teaching. I listened to him critically, looking for disagreement at first. What I heard was a good speaker who was challenging people, especially men, to be countercultural, to make Jesus their Lord, and, in the case of men, to be godly men. The message resonated with me, and I knew he had a gigantic target on him.

As time went on, I listened to hundreds of hours of preaching. I didn’t always agree with him, but on the major points there was agreement. The minor points weren’t worth making an issue over. For instance, he prioritized his family’s safety above all in the choice of vehicle. I choose a smaller vehicle more suited for urban use and more efficient in use of resources. It’s not a big deal.

Many times I heard him say he is not the person you would choose to have dinner with. Despite his fiery preaching, he’s an introvert and not the best company. He talked about how many feel they have a right to be the pastor’s friend and are upset when they are not.

He talked about his résumé, about how he started a church (too soon) right out of college with very little experience in leadership. Nothing in his education prepared him for management. He is a voracious reader and a gifted preacher with amazing recall. He preaches for an hour at a shot with no notes. But none of that makes him good with people.

This pastor is under attack. I don’t know what the charges against him are. He has not said, nor has his church. What he has said is he has made mistakes that he dealt poorly with some people and situations and has repented. That is, he apologized, attempted to restore what was broken and has changed. He has also stepped down from his role for a time as the elders of his church investigate the charges and evaluate what needs to be done.

What I have seen in the media (while I don’t know the hearts behind this), is angry, nonspecific complaints, many of which are against what is taught and an attempt to take down the teacher. They would have the gospel in their image and not evaluate the message against God’s Word.

I care because I love the Bible taught fiercely and the clear call to make a choice for or against God, and for men to accept the responsibility to lead in a Christlike manner. I care because thousands have heard the message and responded on their knees. I care because the gospel is the power to save our generation and the next.

So here’s the application for us. Our pastors are good men, but men. They have families to lead and provide for. They get tired and cranky, too. They have been trained in God’s Word, but they are learning management by trial and error. They struggle in their relationships just like us. Pastor Martin lives a pretty transparent life so we can see not only the mistakes, but also the power of a transformed life lived in humble obedience. It’s not perfection, but constant struggle.

Our pastors will say and do things we don’t like. I chastised Pastor Martin just this week for his praise of Apple (for which he remains unapologetic, too). But we’ve been given much grace and need to give that to each other, too—even our pastors. Our pastors are physically incapable of giving everyone a high level of individual attention. They have worked hard to raise up and train others to lead and care. We call them ministry leaders, community group leaders, mentors, Bible study leaders, accountability partners, and friends.

Our pastors have targets on them, too. It’s in the Bible: Jesus told us that those who would stand with Him will earn the hatred of the world. So continually give each other grace and lift each other up. And, rather than fling arrows at our pastors, stand with them, between them and those who would attack. It has happened before and will happen again.

Postscript: I have since learned the pastor has voluntarily resigned.

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Reflections From the Shoe

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Shoe

By Nate Champneys

“Pride goes before destruction.” Solomon said it perfectly with his God-given wisdom. And it amazes me, when you look at all the sin that so easily entangles us, how so much of it is rooted in pride. When I look at my own life, the sin of pride is vastly prevalent, and it is that sin of pride that I just can’t seem to get rid of. So many times I get into an argument with my wife, then it isn’t until later that I see my pride clearly. I have to say, “Honey, I’m so sorry. This really is simply my pride.”

I get so frustrated by my sin sometimes. I just look up and say to God, “Why aren’t you finished with me yet?!?” When you consider your own sin, isn’t it amazing that God still cares about us? The Psalmist says this:

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4)

When you consider how small, insignificant, pitiful, and sinful we are compared to the glory, wonder, size and complexity of the universe that our creator God holds on the tip of His pinky, I can’t help but ask, “Why hasn’t God just stepped on us and squashed us already?” “Why doesn’t He simply put us out of our misery?” It makes me feel like bacteria on the bottom of a massive shoe when I compare myself to His glory.

I mentioned this in a prayer time at church a few weeks ago, and later on during this prayer time, a friend prayed: “Thank you Jesus for coming down to the bottom of this shoe!” Wow. That really puts things in perspective. The God of glory humbled himself and essentially became the equivalent of a bacterium on the bottom of a shoe and gave his life for us, the bacteria on the bottom of that shoe. Remarkable! It really is impossible to truly understand the love of God until you grasp to some degree the majesty and glory of God and are then able to see the heights that Jesus stepped down from.

Now THAT is the exact opposite of pride. That is the God we serve! 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, “Love is not proud.“ Pride is so contrary to who God is, yet it is one of those acceptable sins we excuse, even though it so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1). We serve a God who is so glorious that in the same way He spoke the universe into existence, He could cause everything to go back to nothingness in an instant and simply start over. And yet he is mindful of us. God is the opposite of pride when he has every right to be prideful. This is love: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

The Creator God, who is so far beyond our comprehension, emptied Himself and “became a bacterium” in order to give His life for you. I don’t know about you, but this lavish love is the only thing that truly puts my pride into perspective.

“Thank you, Jesus, for coming to the bottom of this shoe!

Hebrews 12:1-2

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

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Pride

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By Brian Waple

In Matthew 23:25-26, Jesus declares, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too” (NLT).

That’s a pretty strong indictment! How often have you read Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees and thought, “Man, I’m sure glad I’m not like them.” But how often do we read this and take an honest look at what motivates us? I’m certainly not saying that we are “filthy,” or “full of greed and indulgence.” However, I’m sure there are times when it’s our own human nature (rather than prayerful consideration and discernment) that drives a decision or particular course of action. I think part of what Jesus is saying is that before we allow ourselves to take a step that may have serious consequences, we need to take a moment and discern what is driving our decision. It might be good to ask the question, “How much of my human nature am I allowing to make the decision?”

In his book The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, Tim Keller uses Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to illustrate what Keller calls the transformed view of self, or “simply thinking of myself less.” He shows that it’s often our pride that drives what we do and how we react, and it is our pride that makes us believe we need to perform to some standard to be validated in the eyes of men. Pride will drive greed and self-indulgence; pride will drive intolerance; pride will drive us to be critical; pride will make us selfish; pride will drive our desire to be accepted. But by putting our pride aside (that is, thinking of ourselves less), we can discover what it means to be open to where the Spirit is leading and be willing to see what God may be showing us.

Keller says, “In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into His family. In other words, God can say to us just as He once said to Christ, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” As believers, God is already well pleased with us, and doesn’t require any pride-motivated performance to gain His approval.

It is by thinking of ourselves less that we can truly be open to the needs of others. It is by laying aside our pride that we can be open and present to God’s leading. And, in turn, it is by trusting in God’s faithfulness that we can be assured that the inside of our cup is just as clean as the outside.

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Thinking through Contentment

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By Jeff Foerster

The Sunday before last Pastor Martin spoke to us from Philippians 4 concerning contentment.  I don’t believe it to be a controversial subject, as I have never heard anyone utter, “Contentment, that’s not for me!” Still, those who obviously possess it are harder than not to find. I myself would not proclaim to be a bastion of contentment. I do however have a few thoughts that may help us seek it out.

Contentment requires the following:

Humility — That is, submission to God’s purpose(s). We must be in agreement with the mind of God as He has revealed it to us in His Holy Scriptures. The “greatest commandments” sum this up for us by telling us to love God wholeheartedly and to love our neighbor like ourselves (Mt. 22:36-40; Mk. 12:28-31; Lk. 10:26-28).

Focused striving — This takes place not simply in any desired direction we choose, but requires our submission to God’s desires first (see above, “Humility”). By keeping God first, our efforts and work can take many pleasant and beneficial directions. If He is truly first, when our course is changed we will not be easily rattled as our foundation remains constant in Christ.

Evaluation of circumstances — If you find yourself discontent with your circumstances, I invite you to ask the question, “Is this a direct result of disobedience to God?” If your answer is “Yes,” don’t be content. Through repentance, seek forgiveness and change. If you answered “No,” see “Humility” above.

Patience — It takes time. Don’t beat yourself up if you have been seeking contentment all afternoon, but it seems nowhere in sight. Paul told us that he learned to be content (Phil. 4:11-13). This great man of the Lord was not born with it, nor did he find it an instant gifting, but rather he went through a process to claim ownership of it.

Persistence — Fight the good fight and run the race. Seek after contentment in this life.  God does not tease us with things unattainable. I am convinced He wants all those who call Him Lord to taste of this.

Adoration — God’s magnificent power. God’s merciful sacrifice. God’s unbounded love. Consider these and much more. Ponder His great acts in Scripture and in your life and the lives of others. Spending time on and with God moves our mind, our focus, and our hearts towards contentment. No other circumstance or person can accomplish this. We were created by the Father to be perfected in the Son. Only by lingering here will true rest and contentment be found.

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