Top 10 Retweets – July 2012

Here are ten tweets I’ve retweeted over the last couple months. A lot of great wisdom here!

 

Rick Howerton‏  @rickhowerton

Either a leader leads like Christ, from a heart of love and mercy, or they aren’t a Christlike leader.

Jim Lyon‏  @PastorJimLyon
Everbody has some baggage. The trick is to let God pack your bags + develop the itinerary. Travel light. Travel right. Travel on purpose.

Sarah Michelle Mack  @Sarah_Mack123 (yes, this is my daughter!)
When no one else listens, turn to god. When everyone listens, turn to god. No matter what, he will listen.

Ed Stetzer‏  @edstetzer
“Consumerism reduces God from a deity to a commodity and reduces Jesus Christ from Lord to a label” @Skye_Jethanihttp://bit.ly/QE4Y2l

Alan Danielson‏  @AlanDanielson
Great dreams and great people won’t accomplish much without a great strategy. Do the hard work. #3Threat #Leadership #fb

David C Cook‏  @David_C_Cook
“If you keep saying things are going to be bad, you have a chance of being a prophet. – Isaac B. Singer

C. S. Lewis‏  @CSLewisU
God doesn’t want something from us, he simply wants us. #CSLewis

C. S. Lewis‏  @CSLewisDaily
“If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.” #CSLewis

This Is Today‏  @This_Is_Today
Your Father knows you’ve sinned and rebelled – and he still comes running to meet you with open arms. http://ow.ly/cdJhu

not a fan.‏  @iamnotafan
“Prayer is designed to adjust you to God’s will, not to adjust God to your will.” — Richard Blackaby

Dethrone These Top 10 Idols in Your Small Group!

The first commandment for small groups is this: “I am the Lord your God … you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath . . .” (Exodus 20:2-4).

How can your group live out this first and most fundamental commandment? The first thing to do is to identify the false gods that can so easily be placed on the throne of your group. Remember that God will not share his throne (see verse 5)!

Here are what I consider the top 10 small group idols:

  1. Community: Community is a vital element of group life, of course, but I’ve seen groups place their commitment to community above their commitment to God.
  2. Consumers: This is closely related to #1, but with a twist. People often choose a group for what they will personally get out of it. They put themselves and their wants above God’s will in the group.
  3. Challenges: Are there people (or just one person) whose issues dominate your time together each week? These are usually self-focused people who believe they must be the center of attention. That’s God’s place.
  4. Curriculum (or other Content): What we study can help us grow as disciples, but Christ, not your curriculum, should always be the main focus. (This is a dangerous idol, because it is so sneaky. Be careful, because curriculum-centeredness can easily draw you away from being Christ-centered!)
  5. Cause: In today’s missional culture, this one also can become a devious false god. Be all about Christ’s mission and purpose for you, but don’t put your causes above him!
  6. Church-wide Programs/Campaigns:  I may get letters on this one, but I see this crafty idol at work more and more lately. As a church-based small group you are accountable to your church leadership. But don’t allow the latest program, project, or campaign to sit on the throne of your group. Remember, wherever two or three come together in Jesus’ name–not in the name of some Christian celebrity–Christ will be in your midst.
  7. Cookies: Do group members compete for who brings the best snacks? Do you focus too much on food?
  8. Calendars: Are group members’ busy schedules more important than their commitment to Christ and the group? What do your calendars and meeting frequency say about who or what is on the throne of your lives?
  9. Children/Child Care: I have witnessed countless groups struggle over issues centered around children and what to do with them as the group meets. Some families allow their children to become idols in their lives, keeping Christ and spiritual growth a distant second–at best. I’ve also seen group members argue vehimently over what to do with their kids diring group time, and the tension ripped the group apart. Our kids are important parts of our lives, but we can’t let them sit on the throne!
  10. Controlling Leader: The leader is a member who has the God-given responsibility to help guide the group as God has called him or her to do. The leader is not the center of the group in a Christ-centered group. Some leaders need to step off the throne, and let Christ alone occupy that position.

As you can see, most of these are not bad things when kept in their proper places. But none of them can share the throne of your life or your group. Dethrone them by putting Christ back in his rightful place in your group. Seek first his kingdom, and all these other things will be taken care of as well.

 What small group idols would you add to this list? (It doesn’t have to start with a C!)

For more on this important topic, see Chapter 1 of my new book, Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health that Make Groups Flourish.

Step-by-Step Trust

Jesus calls you and me to follow him on this path of life, and that decision takes trust. Not just that first primary decision to start following him, but also the daily, minute-by-minute, step-by-step decisions to follow him.

As I’ve read through the Psalms lately, trust is a continual refrain. In fact, it’s a refrain throughout the Bible. Today in my daily time spent with the Father, I read Psalm 50:15: “Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory” (NLT).

This verse doesn’t say, “work harder in your times of trouble” or “go to counseling in your time of trouble” or “run to all your friends for their support in times of trouble” or “feel sorry for yourself in times of trouble” or a thousand other things humans tend to do in times of trouble. (None of those things are necessarily wrong, of course, and they can help, but none of them are the primary places to whch we should turn.) God keeps it simple. “Trust me in your times of trouble.” His promise is twofold: He will rescue you and me and, when he does, you and I will give him glory because he did it.

God will rescue me. That’s his promise, and I believe him. My part is simply to trust him. And when he does rescue me, it will be because he has done something only he could do! That’s the only way for him to receive glory! If the transformation happens because I did something, or it can be accredited to a counselor or pastor or book or whatever or whoever else, then they will receive the credit and glory. God is not a credit hog, but he is very interested in getting all our worship–all our worship! God will use other people and other things in his process, but he is Jehovah Jireh. He is the one who brings real transformation of the heart and mind. He deserves the glory!

And he will receive it.

I’d love to hear your feedback. in what are you trusting God these days? How are you seeing him rescue you? (Tell us your story!) How is he receiving glory through it?

In what ways do you struggle with this? Why is it so hard to trust God step-by-step?

Facing Fear? Need Reassurance? Read This!

There are days when life feels so heavy and scary. Let’s face it, even as a Christ-follower and a leader, there are days when you face the future with great fear rather than great faith. I have faced days like these, and today is one of them. As I read through the Psalms, I gain some solace in knowing that King David faced many of the same kinds of days, and I take comfort in seeing how he handled them with faith and trust in God. On those days, David turned to God through prayer, worship, and meditating on God’s Word.

As so often happens, today I turned to God’s Word (I’ve been reading through the Psalms one at a time lately, and today I came to Psalm 40) and it spoke directly into my circumstances and feelings. I don’t know how God does this, but he does it consistently.

As I read Psalm 40:5, God flooded my mind with His Word and the reassurance I needed. If, like me, you are facing fears or walking through a valley in life, perhaps these will help you, too:

Psalm 40:5 (NLT)  “O Lord my God … your plans for us are too numerous to list.”

Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT) “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Romans 8:28 (NLT) “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

Ephesians 3:20 (NLT) “Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope.”

Luke 1:37 (NLT) “For nothing is impossible with God.”

Mark 10:27 (NLT) “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”

Do you have any other verses that help you face fear? Any other advice to share from your experiences?

The Shortcut: A Parable on the Path of Life

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I don’t know this trail very well. I don’t have any idea what is around the next corner, and the corners are many. It’s dangerous. It’s an adventure.

I’m hiking on someone else’s land. I’m a visitor on these trails, so I have no rights to go wherever I please and do whatever I want. The owner of this land is also my guide. He knows the trails. He knows what is around every corner. He knows every rock and root and drop off. He’s already conquered every climb and is victorious in every valley. Even the dangerous creatures in this land belong to him and must obey him.

As I travel along, I see  shortcuts on the trail. They appear to get me to my desired goal easier and faster. My guide looks straight ahead as he leads me along the main trail, and whispers, Trust me. Keep your eyes on the trail ahead of you, no matter how rough it may look. I’ll go with you on this journey. 

As i walk, I become aware of an enemy prowling around on this land. My guide warns me that it is the enemy who has blazed those shortcuts. But the shortcuts look so desirable. They look easier than this trail. They appear to be wide, paved paths leading directly to what I most desire. My guide whispers to me that there are thieves hiding along that shortcut who want to steal my heart. The enemy wants me to take the shortcut so he can kill what’s inside of me. That shortcut is intended to destroy my soul.

I look away from the shortcut and back to my guide, and he waves his hand to summon me to follow him. He lovingly looks me in the eye and whispers, My dear child, you may choose to take any shortcut you wish, but I will not walk with you there. I know you desire to get to that thing you want along this trail, but the shortcut will not get you there. Be patient and wait on me. Trust me. I know the desire of your heart. Follow me and take delight in being with me along this rough and treacherous trail. I promise: If you walk with me, I will not let your foot slip; I will never leave you alone, even when you don’t think you can make it. 

Despite the assurance of my guide, I look down some of the shortcuts and begin to wander down many of them. At first these shortcuts seem so smooth and easy and fun. Many around me cheer me on, enticing me to keep going. “You are strong on your own,” some shout. “Do what’s best for you,” others encourage. “Now you are on the path to freedom and happiness,” some declare.

As I continue, the shortcuts grow dark. I feel alone without my guide. What at first looked like paved pathways now lead into thorns and muddy mires. My feet feel trapped as shadows descend upon me. Then I remember the words of my guide.

As I turn around and take a step back toward the main path, I see my guide waiting for me, arms outstretched to help me back onto his path of life. The creator and owner of this land, the trail guide, also looks a lot like my Father.

Your Main Job as a Leader (of anything, including yourself)

My good friend from Boise Idaho, Carl Douthit, posted this on Facebook yesterday:

Too often we (and I definitely include myself) focus on “what” we DO in a relationship. God shows us that we should focus on “who” we ARE in a relationship. If our relationship with God depended on what we could do for Him, there wouldn’t be a relationship at all. But as adopted sons and daughters, we have the privilege of being in relationship with the Creator of the universe.

I love this! To pile on to Carl’s thought, I believe that what we do in a relationship should be a natural outflow of who we are.  Actually, what we do comes out of the overflow of our hearts.

This is a vital principle for leaders (Vital Sign #2 of a healthy small group): The leader’s main priority is to spend time with God–remain connected to the Vine–allowing God to pour his life–life to the full–into you. As you do, you will naturally overflow into the people he has put all around you.

If you lead anything–yourself, your family, a group, a team, a church, an organization–it’s more about who you are in God than what you busily try to do on your own. Relax! Be a follower of Jesus. Trust him. Be a seeker of his truth. Be a son or daughter of the King and simply sit at his feet with a willingness and openness to listen and obey him. Then do what he says.

Your job: receive and overflow. How are you doing?

Stay on the Path!

There’s a basic principle in mountain biking–and life–that I need to relearn once in a while. It’s so basic I tend to overlook it’s vitality. Here it is:

Stay on the path.

 

Mountain biking trails are full of ups and downs, small and large obstacles, rocky climbs and drops … and that’s what makes the ride fun! I can get into the most trouble when I face a challenge in the trail by trying to go around it. I go off the marked trail where very small obstructions are hidden in the weeds.

Life is like that. Psalm 37:34 says, “Don’t be impatient for the Lord to act! Travel steadily along his path.” The Bible is full of images of traveling along a path that God has marked out for us. The simple secret of life is to stay on that path. But too often we want to do our own thing, go our own way, follow our own path–and the world encourages us to do this.

God’s path is full of ups and downs, small and large obstacles along the way, rocky climbs and drops … and that’s what makes life fun! But too often we look for shortcuts or what we think in our little minds to be better ways. This impatience with God, not trusting his ways, is what gets us into the most trouble.

Patience takes trust in God. It also takes faith–that God is God and that his timetable is not my timetable. He does not act according to my timing or self-centered wants. He acts according to his own will, and he knows best what to provide and when. The secret is to simply travel steadily along his path. Just stay on the path he has for you and keep going–keeping in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) along the way, not impatiently running ahead of him and not passively laying around as he is moving ahead.

You see, not only did God build this path for your life, he’s riding along it with you, showing you the way. There is no oblstacle along his path that he does not know how to navigate. Just stay on the path!

Experiencing Excessive Misery and Joy Simultaneously

Can a person experience anguish and joy at the same time? These two emotions are polar opposites, right?

This morning as I read Psalm 31, I was surprised a bit by verse 7, written by King David, a man whose sight was blurred because of his tears (v. 9). He said he was dying from grief and misery had drained his strength (v. 10). He said he was scorned, despised, and ignored, even by some of his closest friends (vv. 11-12). People had been spreading false rumors about him; there was a conspiracy of lies and gossip aimed at making David look like the enemy (v. 13).

This all reminded me of the song sung by Buck Owns and Roy Clark on the old 70s TV show Hee-Haw:

Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me

You can face the gloom, despair, and agony of your life like the Hee-Haw gang or you can deal with it like David. King David kept his integrity and chose to trust God in the midst of his excessive misery. Here’s what David said in verse 7:

I am overcome with joy because of your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul (NLT).

David’s soul was in anguish, and yet he was overcome with joy because of God’s unfailing love. He was feeling anguish and joy at the same time! How is that possible?

  1. It’s only possible with God. God said, “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13). Only God can do that.
  2. The New International Version and other versions begin verse 7 with David saying, “I will be glad and rejoice …” David made a decision to be glad and to rejoice, even in the midst of his anguish. He trusted God with the anguish and made a decision to rejoice in God rather than wallowing in the sorrow. He placed his focus on the God who loves him unfailingly rather than on the sorrow that is temporary.

This all takes trust in God. Later, in verse 14, David says, “But I am trusting you, O Lord, saying, ‘You are my God!'”

This is one of the greatest “buts” ever! David recounted all his sadness, grief, hurts, and dangers, and then he said, “but I trust in you, God!” “You are still my God!”

Like David, I can say confidently that while other things have changed and are changing, you, O God, have not changed. You’ve got all this. I trust you with all of it. I don’t understand it. I don’t think I deserve it. This is not what I hoped for or dreamed of. But I will trust you with all of it. My life, my future, is in your hands (v. 15).

What do you think? Can you experience gloom, despair and agony as well as gladness and joy at the same time? How do you do do that?

When God Is Silent …

Sometimes God seems silent and distant. Let’s just admit it. We cry out for his help, for answers, for him to come through for us, and … nothing. Or so it seems. This can feel defeating, disheartening, lonely. But there are answers.

I take some solace in the fact that people in Bible times also went though times of silence from God. In Psalm 28:1, King David said,

O Lord, you are my rock of safety. Please help me; don’t refuse to answer me. For if you are silent, I might as well give up and die.

So far in David’s trouble, God had seemed silent. But “God’s delays are not God’s denials.” David still believed in God as his solid rock even though it seemed God was not answering his pleas for help. David must have had to go back to what he had said in Psalm 27:14; he needed to be patient and continue to wait on the Lord, trusting him even in his silence.

Trust God even in his silence. That may mean a transformation of your heart. That may take an attitude adjustment. Look at David’s heart in Psalm 28:7:

The Lord is my strength, my shield from every danger. I trust in him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

Through the various troubles and painful circumstances of his life, David chose to be joyful. His heart was filled with joy, not with bitterness, anger, resentment, or anything else. A heart of joy naturally bursts out in songs of thanksgiving!

You and I have a choice as we go through troubles, painful circumstances, and even God’s apparent silence. It all starts with trust. If you trust God and wait patiently on him, he will answer you. You can have joy in him and believe in him as your strength and your shield even when you are not hearing from him at this time. Trust that he is working behind the scenes in your life. Trust that he is working for your good. Trust that the pain has a purpose in your life. Trust that you are clay and he is shaping you.

One more thing. I believe that sometimes God is speaking, but we are simply not hearing him. Hearing from God takes attentiveness on your part. That means spending time with him each day.

God speaks through his Word. Don’t say God is silent if you are not in his Word!

God speaks through other people. Don’t say God is  silent if you are not meeting with other Christians on a regular basis.

God speaks through inspired authors. Don’t say God is silent if you are not reading.

God speaks through the circumstances of your life. Don’t say God is silent if you’re sitting on the couch watching TV.

What do you think about this? Have you gone through times of God’s silence? What happened? What have you learned?

I Need Someone to Teach Me How to Live

I confess, even after 51+ years, I need the Lord to “teach me how to live” (Psalm 27:11). I don’t have this life-thing all figured out yet. I’m reminded of that fact every so often when I think I have everything under control.

God knows the best way for me to live. He knows the path ahead of me much better than I do, so I can trust him to lead me in the right direction (Psalm 25:4-5). Imagine taking a tour through a forest led by a guide who has been down this trail thousands of times, and yet constantly questioning his decisions or wanting to go your own way. Isn’t that what we do with God?

When I say, “teach me how to live, O Lord,” I must do 4 things: (1) humble myself; (2) surrender my will to his; (3) spend time with God alone so I can really listen to him; and (4) obey, no matter what I think or others tell me. I’m sure there are more. But these are the main ones for me.

God will teach me how to live when I live a God-centered (not a me-centered or problem-centered or what-everyone-else-thinks-centered) life. King David lived a God-centered life. in Psalm 27:1, he said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation–so why should I be afraid?” The apostle Paul understood this as well: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Both of these men put their focus on God, not their problems. They trusted God with all their hearts, and leaned not on their own understandings!

God will teach me how to live when I trust and obey his Word. I need a standard for how to live my life, and I believe God’s Word is that standard. I will choose to trust God’s way of doing life, which he has revealed in his Word. I believe His Word gives me the very best way to live my life, and I believe he never ever teaches me how to live in a way that is contrary to his Word.

God will teach me how to live when I choose to spend time with him. I’ve found that it takes discipline to make time to spend with him each day, but I can not know how to live if I don’t! God desires to spend this time with us and teach us his ways: “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me'” (Psalm 27:8). What a privilege it is to hear God say, “Come, take some time and have a conversation with me today. I want to talk to you and hear from you.” I want my response to always be like David’s: “And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming.'”

God will teach me how to live when I wait patiently for him (Psalm 27:14). God does not work on my timetable. Sometimes I’m not sure if he’s listening or not. Sometimes my Plan A does not work out, even when I thought I was doing it his way. Sometimes God teaches you in the midst of the pain, uncertainties, and waiting. Patience takes trust. Trust takes patience.

God is teaching me how to live today. How is he teaching you to live?