Over/Under

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” Romans 13:1–2

The way you respond to human authority you can see reveals your attitude toward your Heavenly Father that you can’t see. How you respond to people in authority shows whether or not you honor God who set that authority over your life. We have to recognize that – God is the author of authority.

“We will never be over those things that God has set under us until we learn to be under those things that God has placed over us. There is strength through surrender.” -Adrian Rogers

The power of this text, Romans 13, is not just the content but the context. This was written in the days of the reign of the emperor Caesar Nero. He hated the followers of Jesus so much he would have them routinely arrested, dipped in wax and set on fire in his garden to give ambience for parties he would throw. He burned Rome and murdered members of his own family.

Paul is living under the reign of Nero as he’s talking about obeying the governing authorities. So far as you’re not specifically told to do something sinful or illegal, you honor and are subject to the authority God has placed over you. If you resist authority because you don’t agree, you are resisting the authority God has appointed.

“Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” – I Samuel 15:23

If we have authority issues, what we’re really saying is we have a problem with God.


“Through the Eyes of A Lion” Series Resources

Last month I preached a sermon series at Fresh Life based on four themes pulled from my book “Through the Eyes of a Lion.” (Check it out here!) I’m so excited to announce that we’ve packaged EVERYTHING we created to make this series happen and are giving it away for churches anywhere to use!

This series guide is intended to help people see that you can face impossible pain and find incredible power. It encompasses everything you need to have your own “Through the Eyes of a Lion” series at your church. It’s designed to be accompanied by the book which can be read and discussed in smaller groups or offered as an optional resource to those attending the series to read at their own pace.

Whether you have me come speak at your church for a month through the videos, or use my notes and preach it yourself, I am praying that many people will find hope and salvation through this campaign. This series is for anyone who is hurting – whether grieving, recently divorced, newly laid off, etc. It’s also for everyone else – because we all need to train for the trial we’re not yet in. It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

To receive the guide, click here and submit your email. You’ll then be emailed a link to download the following:

-Video files of each teaching
-Word for word transcripts of each teaching
-Discussion videos
-Discussion questions
-My sermon notes for each teaching
-Web Slides
-Media package
-Social media images
-Kids ministry curriculum and craft ideas
-Image of the giveaways we gave to our church from each message and links to purchase them
-Set lists
-List and recipes for lion-themed drinks to serve at a cafe
-Videos played as part of worship
-Promotional video
-Digital files to download for printing invites and social media e-vites

If you use this series at your church or in a small group, I’d love to hear from you and people in your church of how God uses it. Share your “Roar Stories” here and remember to use the hashtag #eyesofalion when posting on social media!


Catalyst West

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Over the years I have learned so much from attending Catalyst one days and conferences. They are like the Lamborghini of Christian leadership events. I am so stoked to have been asked to speak at an upcoming event–Catalyst West in Orange County, California April 16-17! Register here.


Pastor Chuck Smith: A life well-lived

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Early this morning I received a text that made me pause and breathe deeply. It said, “Pastor Chuck just passed into glory a little while ago.”

Instantly I felt my heart simultaneously sink and then soar. I thought of the sadness of his wife, his family and Christians around the globe who will miss him; and yet I also knew the great cry of his heart had been answered — he was present with the Lord. Pastor Chuck Smith, who pastored Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, that lead to an entire tribe of Calvary Chapel churches that would spring up the world over, was intrinsically connected to the storied “Jesus-movement” of the 70’s. He who faithfully and relentlessly exposited scriptures, pointed people to grace and trusted in the Holy Spirit has left the tent and gone Home.

I thought of how he was no longer in the tent of his body, a tent that had been afflicted by a stroke and then through a prolonged fight with cancer, and how he would never struggle or feel pain again. Like my daughter Lenya, he was in the Paradise of God, in Heaven. The house has got what the tent does not. He had run his race, fought the good fight, and there was laid up for him a crown of righteousness that waits for all who love His appearing.

Pastor Chuck is a hero of mine. There is no doubt that there would be no Fresh Life Church if it weren’t for him. He directly impacted those who impacted me, and through attending the Bible College he started I learned so much. As part of our curriculum we listened to hundreds and hundreds of his messages through the Bible. I thoroughly enjoyed it. His distinct, rich, warm voice and loving tone as he methodically worked his way from Genesis to Revelation, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse is permanently engrained in my heart. I still regularly listen to him teach, both on Fresh Life Radio and as I teach through books of the Bible myself. Just a couple months ago I spent several hours listening to him teach the entire book of Philippians in two monster-sermons in prep for the Rampart Series. Speaking of Fresh Life Radio, it was Pastor Chuck who gave us the radio station we operate in Billings, Montana. Which is a perfect snapshot of his generous heart.

I had the chance to say hello to him just a few months ago when I saw him in passing at a conference. It was brief but in his eyes I could see he was as strong as ever inwardly, but you could tell he was in pain and a shell of himself outwardly. Last summer, however, we were both backstage at a Harvest Crusade and I had the opportunity to sit down with him and tell him how thankful I am for him. I told him that what God is doing through Fresh Life is all fruit to his account — the thousands of decisions for Christ and all God has done. I will never forget when I was trying to decide whether I should stay in California or move to Montana and I went to see him in his office. As I communicated the options, I waited for him as the General to tell me where I should deploy to. He wouldn’t. Instead, he told me, “Both options are good Levi. People need Jesus everywhere.” I see his wisdom now. He refused to be Yoda. He knew I would put stock in his opinion and wanted me to discern the will of God myself.

I celebrate the tremendous life he lived and marvel at the impact one man committed to Jesus can make. Millions and millions of people experienced God’s love because of him. Much like the late Steve Jobs, who innovated in not just one but in multiple areas, God used Pastor Chuck to change the game on many different levels. He altered the landscape when it comes to Christian music by embracing modern worship and giving birth to Maranatha music, pioneered in church-planting, and disrupted ministry in general through his evangelistic approach that reached out to a counterculture while maintaining both doctrinal orthodoxy and an openness to the Holy Spirit (Ed Stetzer made the case on his blog that he altered the face of Protestant Christianity in America). I grieve that we will see his face no more on the earth but rejoice over what he is now experiencing and the way his life will continue to make waves and ripples for many, many, many years to come and on into eternity.

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R13 Albuquerque

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This November there is an exciting conference happening all across the country — the 2013 Resurgence. Pastors Mark Driscoll, Greg Laurie, Rick Warren, James MacDonald and more will all be speaking live from Seattle. Because Seattle is a long way to go for some people, and the building has a limited number of seats,  they have made this a multi-site, multi-city event. There are going to be broadcast locations spread out across the country that will be playing the feed from Seattle with live music at each location.

Additionally, there will be a speaker at each venue that you can only hear by going to the geographic-specific site. Pastor Judah Smith will be at one, Pastor Bob Coy at another and so on. I will be preaching live at the Mars Hill Albuquerque conference and I am looking forward to it greatly. I have learned so much from Pastor Mark over the years and I am grateful for and inspired by the way he assembles leaders from across a variety of platforms to share their wisdom and experience. If you live in the Rocky Mountain region I hope you can make it to the New Mexico event! Details here.

The first 30 people to use promo code LUSKO50 will receive 50% off their ticket to the Albuquerque event!

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Just to be clear

I think that one of the biggest obstacles that can prevent a vision from becoming a reality is ambiguity.  If you are vague and unclear as a leader it will frustrate your forward progress and those around you in the process. It will also frustrate you.  If you continually find yourself let down by your team because they haven’t executed what you envisioned, perhaps the fault lies with you. For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?(1 Corinthians 14:8)   You might be surprised to know that what’s missing in your organization and holding you back might not be resources, people, or talent but clarity.

The problem is that being clear is hard work.  To define success and articulate expectations means you must first know where you want to go and work through your convictions about how it is you are going to get there.  It’s much easier to be imprecise in your language.  For those under you to simultaneously know the rules of engagement, with no confusion whatsoever, and yet retain a certain sense of operational latitude to make decisions on the fly, in the heat of the battle, is a finely-tuned and precise balancing act that does not happen on it’s own. Clarity of voice requires meticulous work and constant attention.

Trust me, your team wants to know where they stand, how they are doing, what protocols are rigid,  and what the primary objective is. People crave clarity.  They are looking for someone to rise up with a clarion call that they can follow into battle. So find your voice and be crystal clear.

An adage I think about often is, “don’t communicate so you’ll be understood, communicate so that it’s impossible to be misunderstood.”


Recovery

In order to see your dreams become a reality there are going to be times where you are going to have to flat-out sprint. Burn the candle a little bit more than you should. Strain your muscles and your mind. Run yourself ragged. Come right to the edge of delirium.

I know, I know. This goes against all wise counsel. Every sermon you have ever heard about the sabbath; and all the leadership blogs you have read about how if you don’t guard your day off you don’t love Jesus are probably coming to your mind about now.

I totally agree with all of that, as a rule. There is nothing spiritual or profitable about being a workaholic. Psalm 127:2 straight up says we should not run in the red but should rest. I get it. None of us keep the world spinning, or the sun rising. We don’t need to stay up all-night-every-night working.

But I have met people who are so dogmatic and almost Pharisaical (you know I get 6 points for dropping that word) about their day off not being disrupted…not ever, and are rigid about the rule. They will walk out the door at 5pm and not one minute afterwards, whether the job is done or not. Their day off is sacred and their schedule is set in stone, no matter what is going on; they will only expend the agreed-upon amount of energy and no more. That’s fine and the desire to not burnout is a good one. But it’s not realistic to think that greatness can be achieved without extraordinary effort being called for at times.

Nothing sweet is ever achieved without sweat. Occasionally exceptional times will come along where you have to go above and beyond the call of duty. There will be short seasons that require extra effort to punch through to a next level God is calling you to, to complete a project, or go through a door that has been opened. And you will need to kick it into high gear and give it all you’ve got.

The good news is that a rule is still a rule even if there are exceptions. The trick is not allowing that to become the new normal. If it does, it’s not an exception anymore, it’s the rule and if you keep it up for long something will inevitably suffer–your marriage, your kids, or your sanity.

What I have learned (through trial and error) is to see these seasons coming before I’m in the midst of them and to prayerfully accept them, with my wife’s blessing. If you do that, no one is blindsided and you can plan a recovery as a part of the process. So if a unique project is going to have you pulling 13 hour work days for a week and a half you can take three days off at the end and not just plunge back into reality and grind it out.

It helps me to think of these unique times as interval training. Yes, it might be crazy right now but this is a sprint, it’s supposed to be above the normal craziness. It’s time to go all out. Soon I will be drinking a gatorade, catching my breath and getting back into the usual flow. The secret isn’t living a life that’s never crazy, it’s making sure that when things do get crazy you make time for recovery.


This is fresh life.

Paul McCartney was once asked when he knew the writing was on the wall for the Beatles, as a band. He pointed to the summer of 1965 and specifically their sold-out performance at Shea Stadium. Because the screaming of the crowd was was so loud, and there wasn’t such a thing as in-ear monitors to block out noise back then; they could not hear themselves play their set. Paul said that he knew in his gut that it was the beginning of the end when they could no longer hear the music but they kept performing anyway.

I think that is a haunting lesson for anyone who is passionately pursuing any dream. Failure, as trying as it can be, is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Success can actually be worse. This is true in ministry and in business. You can get so big and so successful that as an organization you are no longer lit by the same fire you once had. You have to fight to retain the original passion you had when you were starting out.

There are two things that we have been intentional about doing at fresh life, as we have grown, to keep us on mission and fight the forces of entropy. One is being careful to remember our history. This is vital. New hires and those who join later on need to understand what they are a part of or they will take the sacrifices paid early on for granted. The second is to make sure that the core values that lead to the success in the first place are instilled afresh, again and again, so that they are not forsaken.

A while back a friend of mine, Pastor Steven Furtick from Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, gave me a book that really opened my eyes to seeing the need for these things to be specifically nailed down and not allowed to remain nebulous. The book is called The Orange Code: How ING Direct Succeeded by Being a Rebel with a Cause (you can buy it here). That and the book Onward by Howard Schultz (link) are two phenomenal resources for any leader looking to create clarity in their organizational culture.

One things for sure, it’s a war you must wage if you want to continue to hear the music. It doesn’t happen on accident.

Check out this video where I explain what’s unique about the culture at fresh life to our church.


Shrink your focus

A few months back I brought a quote into one of our staff meetings that was very challenging to all of us and gave great opportunity for discussion. I wanted to share it here. It was written by the CEO of Starbucks about coffee but there is the potential for application on many different leadership levels.

“A store manager’s job is not to oversee millions of customer’s transactions a week, but one transaction millions of times a week.”

This hit me hard when I read it. Typically pastors and church staffs speak about church attendance as a number. we ask, “what was attendance this weekend?” Whether the answer is 648, 2,042 or 199 the idea is that so many hundreds or thousands of spiritual transactions were facilitated this weekend. True. But to each of those individuals there was only one experience–their own.

I told our team that every single person who arrives at a campus has their own experience. Their individual time finding a parking spot, getting greeted, finding a seat, discovering where to check in their kids. It doesn’t matter if the greeters were super friendly to the 148 people that came in before them, if they weren’t greeted they assume that is how it normally is. They don’t know that the bathrooms aren’t normally this messy, but they were stuck in a stall with no toilet paper and that is not a good time. They don’t care that the last 1,242 people who tried to download our podcast found it updated on time, they just know it wasn’t there when they tried to listen. All they know about is their own experience.

We have to lead focused on the big picture, but we must also keep the small picture in mind. Don’t let the size of your ministry allow you to gloss over the small details that matter dearly to the individual. It takes practice, but it is a very helpful exercise to focus on the individual perspective and to shrink your focus.

Here is the rest of the quote from Howard Schultz.

“…The only number that matters is one. One cup. One customer. One partner. One experience at a time. We had to get back to what mattered most.”


Creating culture to achieve a vision

Most people understand that the job of a key leader is to establish the vision of the organization/team/company/family. They are the one who must decide why they exist and what they are pursuing. Vision gets talked about a lot, but by itself it is not enough. In order for your picture of the future to ever come to pass, you must intentionally create a culture that empowers that vision. In this clip from our uprising series I talk about the sister subjects of vision & culture and how they work together.