I will be sharing a brief review of every book I read this year. Hope you enjoy and hope it encourages you to keep reading.
HOPE IN THE DARK – by Craig Groeschel
Hope in the Dark: Believing God is Good When Life is Not addresses those questions we have when life is not going as well as we think it should. Craig Groeschel asks many of the questions that we have all asked from time to time, questions like: “Where are you God?” and “Why aren’t you doing something?” He draws on the book of Habakkuk where the prophet asks some of the same questions. Let me give you one quote that I thought was very helpful. He writes, “Habakkuk urges us to draw on our long-term memories of God rather than being so shortsighted that we choose to keep replaying only our immediate, distressing circumstances.” That is so good! As we take our eyes off of our present situation we can remind ourselves of God’s goodness in the past and know that that same God is still walking with us in the difficulties we face. This is a very encouraging book for anyone asking the questions about where God is in our pain.
We are quick to make judgements about people. Our first impressions can be completely wrong but we hold onto them anyway. Other times, the we may have known someone for a long time but do not realize they are not the same person they were years ago. For someone in a leadership role, there is a particular danger of viewing people one way and not realizing who they truly are and how they can be of help in our organization.
King Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, describes some of the unfortunate ways that people see others.
13 Here is another bit of wisdom that has impressed me as I have watched the way our world works. 14 There was a small town with only a few people, and a great king came with his army and besieged it. 15 A poor, wise man knew how to save the town, and so it was rescued. But afterward no one thought to thank him. 16 So even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long. (Ecclesiastes 9: 13-16, NLT)
These people greatly benefited from the wisdom of a poor person. They appreciated the rescue but did not appreciate the person. We are like these townspeople: quick to write people off, even if they have valuable gifts and insights. We see them a certain way and do not allow that to change as we begin to get to know them and what they offer.
Because of this oversight, we – and by extension our teams and organizations – may lose out on valuable skills and insight just because we have identified a person in one way so we do not think they have anything to add.
King Solomon continues:
5 There is another evil I have seen under the sun. Kings and rulers make a grave mistake 6 when they give great authority to foolish people and low positions to people of proven worth. 7 I have even seen servants riding horseback like princes—and princes walking like servants! (Ecclesiastes 10: 5-7, NLT)
Our quick judgements can create further damage when we choose to promote or demote the wrong people. This can be due to existing relationships or the desire to honour certain people. The unfortunate result is that we listen to the advice of the wrong person when there is someone much wiser nearby.
Most of us work with teams and volunteers in some way at some point in our life. This is especially true in ministry, when programs and services rely on staff and volunteers.
Get to know these staff and volunteers. This could be through personality tests, or at a minimum, putting in the effort to get to know each person well enough to see how they can contribute best. Intentionally take time with this in order to avoid making quick assumptions or writing someone off because of one or two missteps. Often the best outcome happens when people are in roles that suit them best, and it often takes time to identify these roles and responsibilities.
As you work with your teams and notice people are in the wrong roles, be brave enough to reorganize and reassign individuals to roles where they will excel and your team will be better in the long run.
I love to get things done, but I have realized that there are times where I am better off taking time to get to know people first. As we get to know each other, I will learn where someone can serve and give their best, and we will be able to communicate better because I know them and they know me.
Good organizations will have a regular system of evaluating people. The leader does a formal review every six months or a year to continue to help the person get better. In the evaluation, the leader can also discern if this person is still a fit here or would fit better in a different role. A system of regular evaluation is good, but the personal relationships are even better. As you develop good relationships with your key people, they will be brave enough to approach you when they want to learn or grow in a certain area or if they would like to try a different role. If open communication is valued and practiced, you will be more likely to continually give the right responsibilities to the right people.
So much of what we do in life involves working with people. Let’s figure out how to help our teams be the best by putting the right people in the right seats where everyone can contribute their best.
Get to know your people first, then get the work done.
I have many unique and incredible experiences of church. I have been to churches meeting in large auditoriums, in school gymnasiums, in homes, and at a golf course. I have been to churches on three continents. I have been in churches that speak various languages. I grew up in a church where everyone felt comfortable speaking Low German. In one church most members were speaking Tagalog until the service began in English. I had the opportunity of preaching in a church in Choma, Zambia, where the pastor interpreted it into one of the local languages, Tonga. I have been in church services that started right on time and ended exactly one hour later. I have been in services where there was an approximate ending time but usually it went much longer. I have been in churches of thirty people and churches of hundreds of people.
I have been in churches where the staff led everything in the service and in churches where most of the service was led by volunteers. I have been in services where it felt like we were watching a performance, and I have been in services where the congregation was invited to participate in a number of ways.
So, what makes it church?
Let’s think of a few things that need to be present for it to be church, and before that, let’s define church. Church is the people of God meeting together. So let’s look at a few things that make something “church”.
Church is the people of God gathered.
When Paul wrote his different letters, he addressed them to the church in Corinth, or Ephesus, etc. He was addressing people. In Corinthians 1: 2 Paul writes, “I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people.” Church is a gathering of people.
Church is the encouraging and motivating of God’s people.
Hebrews 10: 24 and 25 says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works…encourage one another….” When the gathered disperse, they should feel encouraged and motivated to continue to grow in their love of God and their service to others. Something needs to happen when gathered so that the people going home are different than when they came in. They should have been challenged to change in some way.
In order for something to be church, the gathered must leave encouraged.
Church is the people of God praying to God.
In 1 Timothy 2: 8 Paul advises this young pastor, “In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God….” One aspect of a church service, when God’s people gather, should be prayer. Somehow, as part of the time with each other, God’s people need to spend time talking with God.
In order for something to be church, the gathered must pray.
Church is the people of God gathered to listen to Scripture.
Here is some more advice from Paul to Pastor Timothy: “Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.” God’s Word should be read in church. While everyone should read at home on their own as well, there should be public reading of Scripture. That means, preaching through a popular book does not cut it.
In order for something to be church, the gathered must read Scripture.
Church is the people of God gathered to be taught.
In the advice to Timothy in the last point, Paul says to “teach them.” Someone, or more than one, needs to expound and apply Scripture to the regular daily lives of God’s people. Someone who has more training or more experience in a passage of Scripture can help others understand it and figure out how the rest of the Bible contributes to what is said in the verses read.
In order for something to be church, the gathered must be taught.
Church is the people of God gathered to celebrate communion.
In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul reminds the Corinthian church to respect the Lord’s Supper as a special event reminding us of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread…” (1 Corinthians 11: 23) He goes on to describe what happened during that meal Jesus had with his disciples, leaving us an example to follow. Many churches regularly celebrate communion, or whatever your church calls it. Some practice it every Sunday, others monthly.
In order for something to be church, communion will be celebrated regularly.
Is this church?
These are some of the elements that make church “church.” Basically, church is the gathered people of God, but the above elements are usually part of that gathering. Not every item above will be in every gathering of believers, and there may be others included. The point is, do we know what needs to included and what does not? Do we understand the incredible value of regularly meeting with others who are part of God’s family? Please leave a comment sharing what you would add or remove from the list. What do you believe needs to be present to be “church”?
I hope you have found a great local church to regularly gather with. If you have not found one, keep looking. You need to meet with others of God’s people.
In my last article I gave nine reasons not to quit your present role or position. I think those are important reasons to be aware of. On the other hand, sometimes it is the perfect time to quit. My daughter, who edits my blogs for me, reminded me of the times I have quit and suggested I approach this issue from the opposite side. Great idea! So here it is. Nine reasons to quit.
1. God has clearly called you somewhere else.
I believe that God has the authority to redirect me if he so chooses. You may have experienced that in your own life. Sometimes it is clear that God is asking you to take on a new role elsewhere. One pastor suggested that every time you quit to take on a new role, look for both the push and the pull. Look at the reasons you feel like quitting and the reasons the next role seems so appealing. It may be that God is pulling you to a new opportunity elsewhere.
2. You believe you have done all you can in your current role.
Sometimes we take on roles with great excitement. It seems like such a great fit. You work hard and do a good job, but then you come to the point where you feel you have done all you can. Church planters are a good example of this. They start a church and get it to a certain size or place of stability and then hand it off to another pastor so they can start another new church.
3. You have lost the confidence of your team.
There are times, whether it is your fault or not, where you know that you have lost the confidence of your team. Your board may no longer trust you or believe that you are capable of leading into the next chapter of your church or organization, and you realize that you will no longer be able to lead in your current role. I experienced this when someone misread my actions, and I knew that no matter what I did, I would not be able to change their opinion of me. It would be hard to gain the team’s trust back. It was time to move on.
4. Outside factors indicate a need to move.
Sometimes we need to leave a position because of external factors. These factors could be related to medical care, family care needs, or education. For example, one move my wife and I decided to make was influenced in a large part by the fact that both our daughters were entering High School and a move later would be much harder to manage.
5. You are pursuing further training.
You may recognize that in order to grow in areas you are called to and to continue to be effective, you need to pursue further education or training. That may be a meaningful reason to quit.
6. Your present role is taking too much of a toll on you.
There are times when we find ourselves in a role that is wearing on us to the point that we are emotionally and physically becoming ill. We need to recognize when we are no longer able to endure the pain or difficulty of our present role.
7. When your vision and the church’s vision are too different.
I left a pastoral role at a church after only being there a short time, when I finally realized that the church’s vision was too different from mine.
This had not been clarified before taking the position. It is impossible to maintain your integrity when you have to work in a role that does not align with your own values and goals. It is better for you, and the organization you are working for, to find a better fit elsewhere.
8. You are being asked to do more than you are capable of.
Sometimes our roles change. We may have been a great fit in the beginning, but things have changed to the point where you no longer fit. It could be that you have done a great job as a pastor so your church has grown, but you recognize that it is now bigger than you are capable of leading and someone else is needed. Alternatively, you may be in a situation where your job description is changed, and you need to evaluate the situation to see if you are still in the right role or need to move on.
9. If you can’t afford the role anymore.
Sometimes, you need to make a decision to quit and find a new role because you are not being paid well enough. Some churches are small, and are limited in what they can offer as a salary. If the wage is no longer enough to meet the climbing expenses of you and your family, there may come a time when you need to resign and look for a better paying role.
If you think it is time to quit, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, and then do it with confidence.
I will be sharing a brief review of every book I read this year. Hope you enjoy and hope it encourages you to keep reading.
NO LIMITS – by John Maxwell
John Maxwell has written many books on Leadership. This one is on helping leaders expand their potential. He begins by helping the reader become aware of how they are and what they are presently capable of. He wants people to know they are probably capable of doing or becoming more than what they realize. He addresses seventeen different areas of capacity with the desire to help you maximize your capacity in each of those areas in your life. He concludes the book with this equation: AWARENESS + ABILITY + CHOICES = CAPACITY. If you wish you could do more, then this book will help you do that.
I love to read. You are probably well aware of that as you see me regularly posting reviews on books I have read. I read all kinds of books. I love learning new things and being challenged to think about how I am living my life. I also love to read for entertainment and to relax.
I often go through times where I am focused on a certain topic. Recently, I have been reading on the issue of the Holy Spirit and spiritual renewal personally and for the local church. As you will see from my reviews when I find an author that writes about this, I like to read all he has written.
Over the years I have attended many seminars and pursued life-long learning. I took my first course towards my Masters of Arts in Leadership and Ministry in 1992. My last course was completed in 2018. It took me 26 years to graduate. This was due to a few reasons. I was not always able to afford the cost or time to take another course. But I also preferred learning a little at a time rather than sitting in class for 2-3 years and getting one big dump of knowledge. I love to learn.
Recently, God chastised me regarding my learning focus. I was praying and journaling when God gave me a picture. I was running a race.
There were a number of runners just in front of me but for some reason I wanted to see who it was in front of them, but I just couldn’t see past them. I asked God what this was all about. It seemed unfocused, unclear.
And then it was as if God said, “Learn from me. Don’t just learn from others on the journey, even if they are ahead of you. Learn from me.” It was a good reminder that my focus should be on Jesus, and listening to and learning from the Holy Spirit. Not just from other people.
Matthew 11: 29 says, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (ESV)
I read my Bible just about every morning, but I have made a commitment to read more of the Bible more often. I want to learn from the Master, not just from others who have learned from the Master.
We fall into this trap quite easily. As believers, we need to regularly read the Bible and hear from God. Too many Christians are content to listen to their pastor and other preachers online or on television while not reading for themselves. Too many people of faith treat hearing from God like a mama bird feeding it’s young, eating only what has been regurgitated for them. God doesn’t want us to be satisfied with others feeding us. He wants us to chew our own food, to read the Bible ourselves and to ruminate over it. We need to personally hear God speak to us and rather than only hear the stories of others who have heard from God.
I love that you are reading this blog. Thank you! But I hope you are going to the Master and learning directly from him too. I’m glad that people show up in church to hear the sermon I prepared and preach. But I hope you are taking the time to learn from the Holy Spirit. After all, that is the job of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.” (John 16: 15, NLT)
I will be sharing a brief review of every book I read this year. Hope you enjoy and hope it encourages you to keep reading.
PATHWAYS TO THE KING – by Dr. Rob Reimer
Pathways to the King: Living a Life of Spiritual Renewal and Power, is another on the Spiritual life by Dr. Rob Reimer. If you want to live a live of Spiritual Renewal and Power, then this book will help you as you move toward that. He uses a number of personal examples to show that it has been quite a journey for him. You will be able to identify with him, no matter where you are at in the journey right now. He helps the reader to get a better understanding of who we are in light of our relationship with God and his Spirit at work within us. Each chapter walks through a way to open ourselves up more to the filling and empowering of the Holy Spirit for personal growth and kingdom effectiveness. Learn to live with a fresh and deepening relationship with the Spirit.
A natural part of being human is to compare ourselves to others around us. Sometimes we pick out a bad part of their character or how they live and then make ourselves feel better because we are better in that area. Often it is the other way around. We look at others, and feel bad that we can’t attain that level. This could be how much money we have, toys, or status. It could also be about character.
This attitude creeps into our Christian life as well. We have a tendency to notice people who are really gifted in a certain area and we feel bad that we can’t compete. For me, there has been a tendency to compare myself to other pastors, thinking I don’t lead as well or preach as well or grow a church like they can. Our comparison could be in how God has used someone to heal people, or somehow act with the power of the Spirit in a way that we have not experienced ourselves.
Here are a few cautions of why comparing is not helpful.
1. We don’t know the whole story.
We have heard enough sad stories of people who had great public ministry only to find out later that their private life was a mess. They were sinners just like us. Sure, they had a large platform and a wide audience, but their personal life or their home life suffered greatly. Some of these were terrible to work for. They were mean and bullied their staff.
We don’t see the things that hold others back from being their best. We focus in on one or two key areas that we can see, and then we assume that their whole life is way better than ours. They may have a better position in a church or organization and we envy that, but we don’t know the struggles and the depression they fight as they work to be their best. We see their great family and don’t know the pain they are dealing with in the privacy of their own home.
2. God has gifted us all differently
John Maxwell writes in “No Limits”, about a man who devoted his life to being the second chair. He had realized early on that he was not a good leader. He was great at being the second in command but needed someone above him to be the leader. We need that kind of personal discernment about what we are capable of, how God has gifted us, and what we have learned through experience.
It is valuable for us to learn who we are, how God has gifted us, and how we can best serve God. There are a number of assessment tools out there that may help, but some of it comes with trial and error. Try something, see if you are good at it, and if not, try something else.
I was never going to be a pastor, but the president of the Bible College I attended encouraged me to do a summer intern position. I remember the specific day I was preaching to the small crowd gathered on that warm summer evening in that stuffy church. I was preaching from Philippians – when I suddenly had this feeling, this thought – I like this. I think I could really enjoy doing this. Sometimes it is as we try new things that we discover where we fit.
3. Compare yourself to yourself.
If you want to see how you are really doing, compare yourself to what you were like last year, or five years ago. Have you grown and developed personally in that time? Are you growing in your relationship with Jesus? Are you living in the fullness of the Spirit living in you? Have you figured out some of what you are good at? And are you working to do that and to continue to improve in how well you do?
4. Compare yourself to Scripture.
There are many places in scripture where we are told how to live. We are told what kind of actions and behaviors glorify God. How are you doing with that? As you read the Bible, and I hope you read it regularly, daily, keep asking yourself how well you are doing in regard to what you are reading. Look at how to improve daily. Look at how to develop habits that help you develop into a person who consistently glorifies God with their life.
5. Ask God what He thinks of you.
I have enjoyed having more conversations with God – not just praying to Him, but also hearing from Him. I believe that you can ask God what He thinks of you and He will tell you. Ask God where there are areas you need to grow in and what you can do to grow. Instead of trying to become like someone you admire, become someone God admires. Become who God wants you to be without worrying about how big your audience or your fame is.
The envy of others will never make you a better you. You need to learn to be the best you that you can be. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone has their own path. Maybe God will give you a large public voice, and maybe it will be a quiet encouragement to individuals. Like the story of the talents in the Bible, you are only responsible for what you have been given. God has made you with your unique abilities to be you in your own unique way. Your responsibility is to just be the best that you can be, without comparing to others. And then serve Him well.
I remember watching two preschoolers, a brother and sister, playing next to me as I was watching a floor hockey game in college. I was fascinated at their imagination. They had no toys, no digital devices, just the bleachers and their imagination. They played for a long time, together imagining all that was happening around them.
Too many of us have lost our ability to imagine. We are so caught up in the moment and in what is right in front of us that we no longer know how to use our imagination. There could be a number of reasons for that. Maybe our imagination was stifled as a child when a parent or teacher told us to quit daydreaming. Daydreaming is the fertile ground imagination grows in! Some of us had an active imagination until someone made fun of our ideas. For whatever reason, we have stopped imagining.
Have you ever wondered why some people are so good at coming up with ideas? It’s because they have an active imagination. They are not afraid to dream up something new. And they are not afraid to try out their ideas. We don’t know how many ideas these people imagined that went nowhere, before they found the ones that were great.
We can develop an active imagination. For instance, give yourself freedom to daydream. Find some time when you have no other distractions and no requirements of yourself and just imagine things. Find your time you can claim as your own. Dream. Make up a story in your mind. It could be that you have a problem at work. Whatever your work is, whether dealing with people or machines, if there is a problem, your imagination can help you solve it. So start imagining all kinds of possibilities.
In your daydreaming, don’t put up fences. Don’t start evaluating and discarding an idea too quickly. Sometimes good ideas need time to work their way to a solution. Some of us are quick to say: “That won’t work.” We even think that way in our daydreaming and discard ideas before they are fully developed. Remove that fence. Remove any fence that puts limitations on your imagining. Don’t discard an idea too soon because it takes more money than you have, or more volunteers than your organization has, or whatever it is that tempts you to short-circuit your dreaming.
Imagination is enhanced by other ideas. Sometimes as you read and watch and listen, ideas come to you through other people or situations around you. A while back my one of my daughters gave me a book on trees. I would not have chosen to read a book like that, but it was amazing to read the insights of someone who had spent years working with trees and understanding them. There were points in the book that got me thinking about how to work with small groups and how people interact.
Another book I recently read outside of my normal reading selections was Atomic Habits, by James Clear. While the book was about habits, it sparked all kinds of ideas that made me want to apply the teaching to the process of discipleship. As we read and learn from others, we add fertilizer to the fertile ground of our imagination.
Someone once said that we should “beg, borrow, and steal” as we look for good ideas. There have been many times that my good ideas came out of ideas that others had worked on. I was able to build on and adapt those ideas to programs I was working on or ministries I was running.
I have been part of churches that planned wonderful Easter Celebrations complete with a breakfast, fun and games, a worship service, and an Easter Egg hunt. One of the aspects of the morning that went over really well was to bring in a professional photographer to take family photos. Many people dress up for Easter so it was a great time to offer people a free family photo. I don’t know where I got the idea, but I know it came from someone else’s ideas and I was able to adapt it to my setting.
One author who wrote about planning creative worship services suggested always having some children’s toys at hand. The idea was, if you have fun thing near you, in your environment and in your hand, your creativity will be enhanced. So, surround yourself with weird and wonderful objects, collect fun sayings and give yourself an environment that will be conducive to good imagining.
I don’t know if you have found this to be true, but some people think they imagine and think creatively better by being in a certain place, or a certain chair, or taking time to daydream at a certain time of day. If you want to be intentional about improving your creativity and your imagination, this might be an idea to try. Find a comfortable spot and see if the creativity ideas start flowing. It may take a bit of trial and error to find the right spot, but sometimes the habit of that certain spot or certain time can help unlock creative ideas.
Then, at a certain point, you have to look to putting your ideas into action. When you have ideas, start writing them down. Writing down ideas requires you to express the idea in a concrete way. The imagination has to become reality at some point. Writing it down helps you put that idea together.
If the written idea still seems like a good one, try it out. Share it with someone. You might want to make sure you share it with someone you trust, or someone who won’t shut you down too quickly. If you can verbalize it in a way that makes sense to the person listening, you are heading in the direction of your ideas becoming reality.
When you think you are ready, try out your idea. See if it solves the problem you were working on. If it does, great! Your imagination helped you. If it does not work, then keep looking for another idea.
Continue to cultivate an active imagination. Just think of how many good ideas you will have if you allow yourself to stop and daydream!
The hunter reaches back with quiet well-practiced motion to locate an arrow in his quiver. He selects one and brings it forward as his other hand raises his bow. He nocks his arrow on the bow and pulls back the full reach of his arm. His eyes look down the arrow and focus in on the deer in the open field ahead of him. As soon as he feels his aim is true, he pauses his breath, and lets the arrow fly. If the hunter is well practiced, and maybe a bit lucky, the arrow will pierce his prey and provide him with his supper.
There is a word used in the New Testament that describes an arrow missing its mark. The word “hamartano,” is translated as “sin.” So the word for “sin” comes from a word “regularly used in ancient times of an archer missing the target.” (Strong’s Concordance) We all regularly “miss the mark”. We sin. I heard one person recently say, “we regularly hurt the ones we love.” Often we miss the mark with the people we care about the most.
Hamartiology is the study of how we miss the mark. Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
I am adapting the word to suit my own purposes here: the Natural Hamartiologist is the one who naturally misses the mark. The one who regularly and often misses the mark is a Natural Hamartiologist. I would suggest that this is really a description of all humans.
Our Creator God created us to have someone to have a relationship with. He created us with free will, hoping we would choose to love and serve and honor Him. The book of Genesis is the first book of the Bible. Only 3 chapters in you will find the first people – Adam and Eve – choosing to disobey and miss God’s mark for them. From then on all humans have this tendency to miss the mark – not all the time – but regularly. Some of us have no interest in pleasing God, so missing the mark in measuring up to His standards is not relevant. For the rest of us, those who have surrendered our lives to God, we desire to hit the mark more often than not.
God chose to send His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross in our place, taking our death penalty that missing the mark requires of us. When Jesus rose from the dead, He was victorious over death, over the devil, and over sin. He never missed the mark when it came to obeying God. He gives us his Spirit to remind us when we do miss the mark. And every time the Spirit reminds us, we can go back to Jesus, ask him to forgive us, and he does. God sees us as the forgiven ones, because he sees us through Jesus who never missed the mark.
As Christians with our faith in Jesus and his death and resurrection for us, we can be forgiven. We can have a relationship with God, as He desired in the first place, as people who are not seen as Hamartiologists but as “dikaios” – Righteous Ones.
We fall short of God’s ideal very often, but we also have One who by his death and resurrection has paid for our sin and made us righteous before God.
Are you a practicing Hamartiologist or are you an aspiring Dikaios? What we think of ourselves as influences how we live our life. If we think we are ones who regularly miss the mark, then we are not surprised when we do. If we view ourselves as ones who are righteous, then we focus more on living out that righteousness. It may seem like a small thing, but I believe how you view yourself affects how you live. Paul regularly addressed his New Testament letters “to God’s holy people” in Ephesus, or Philippi. We are righteous ones pursuing The Righteous One. We want to pursue the God-given ideal and can rejoice that God has provided a way for us to become righteous when we miss the mark again.