Fail Big Go Big

I want to tell you something that you might not need right now but I believe the day could come where God will use it to keep you going. There might even be someone in your life who will need to know this sooner than you. Here it is: I believe that your finest hour could come after your biggest failure.

One of the most remarkable things to me about God is His ability to forget. Over and over again we are told in the Bible that God not only forgives our sins but He forgets them as well. He hides them behind His back. He remembers them no more. However that works, somehow He chooses to not call them to mind as He looks and thinks about us. Amazing.

We don’t have that ability unlocked yet. It seems that we will in heaven because we are told that we will know even as we are known. Until then we are left dwelling on our mistakes, and focusing on our failures. It can be debilitating. Nothing will rob you of your courage and zeal as the reminder of all the stupid things you have done. The devil loves to keep our blooper reels on repeat in our minds and he turns the volume up anytime we start taking steps to activate our calling. I can’t tell you how many times I have been trying to take a big step of faith and woken up in the night haunted by sins that I committed in the past.

These are times where we have to take hold of the truth that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, and even though our own heart is condemning us, He is greater than our heart. In these moments you have to remind yourself that not only are you forgiven, but God doesn’t even remember what you can’t forget. You can’t let yesterday’s failure keep you from today’s victory.

As I look around scripture I see example of example of people who didn’t let their mistakes keep them from getting up and going big.

Joshua prayed for the sun to stand still after he failed at Ai and prayer-lessly made a truce with the Gibeonites.
Samson killed the most Philistines of his lifetime after giving up the secret to his strength lead to his humiliation and his eyes being poked out.
Jonah participated in the revival at Nineveh after he ran from God and pouted for three days inside a fish.
Peter preached and saw thousands saved after denying Christ three times.

And I believe with all my heart that even if you have made a massive mistake, your greatest day could be waiting just around the corner. Get back up. Walk in forgiveness. Don’t let the devil keep you dwelling on what God has already forgotten. It’s a new day. Because God is awesome, your finest hour could come after biggest failure.

do something about it

I heard of someone who used a piece of electrical tape to cover over the check engine light that had come on in his car and was bothering him to look at. Problem solved. Rather, problem ignored. Eventually he had a much bigger problem that he had no choice but to deal with.

Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away. Pretending they aren’t there doesn’t make them go away. But in different ways we all do this. Why? It’s easier to just buy bigger, baggier clothes than it is to eat healthier and start working out. It’s less work to just give a child throwing a tantrum what they want than it is to discipline and work on the behavior. Watching tv is less work than having a conversation.

I have even seen churches do this. A certain ministry or programming element that hasn’t been effective for years (if ever) is just kind of ignored, and half-heartedly announced from time to time as it limps on, instead of being eliminated like it needs to be. That, by the way, is a very difficult trigger to pull in the church world, because the inevitable response is, “but we’ve always done it that way…” Or, “but people will freak out if we…” In reality, there are probably a few loud people are going to complain when you pull that band-aid off and deal with that ineffective area of your ministry. Everyone else will probably be invigorated by the change.

If there is something in your life, family or area of responsibility that needs tweaking, fixing, or deleting; don’t ignore it. Do something about it.

Nothing healthy grows in the dark

Darkness is dangerous. Anything in your life that you are trying to keep a secret, hidden in the dark, is holding you back and will harm you eventually. Think about it. Nothing healthy grows in the dark. Flowers, trees, fruits, and vegetables–the kind of things that you want to grow–they all require sunshine. Mold spores, fungi, moss, these are the kinds of things that thrive in dark environments. The kind of growth you don’t want is what you will find in secret, shady places.

John 3:19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.

If there is any part of your day, any activity, habits, media you consume, websites you visit, or relationships you foster that you wouldn’t want your wife, your kids or your parents to know about; it’s a fungus. It might be small and containable now, but it won’t stay that way, it will eventually spread and grow more and more toxic until it poisons you and harms people you love. Plus you need to remember these two things: 1. it’s not going to stay a secret forever–your sin will find you out. and 2. It’s not a secret now. God knows. He sees what happens in every shady place.

The only thing to do is to kill it with bleach and expose it to the light of day. Forgiveness comes from confessing our sins to God, healing comes from confessing our sins to other believers who will hold us accountable. And from now on, no more secrets. Walk in the light, that’s where the fruit is.

Romans 13:12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.

Don’t take it for granted

Do you realize how fortunate you are? I’m serious. Do you have any idea what a massive gift you have been given? There are so many people who are way cooler than you are who would have been willing to punch a great white shark in the nose to get to stand where you are standing right now. Don’t you dare take it for granted.

That is basically what Jesus told His disciples one day. Here it is as it actually appears in the Bible: “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Matthew 13:16–17

Jesus was reminding them that they were getting to experience something that all of the saints in the Old Testament only dreamed about. What was that? Him. They were getting to walk around with Immanuel–God with us. Hebrews 11 says that the OT saints all died longing for and looking to the coming of Christ in faith. And while there is no mention of shark violence, we do read about them being willing to suffer all sorts of things for their hope that they held onto.

The disciples needed to realize that since better men than them lived and died wishing they could experience what they were experiencing, they better not take it for granted. They should be thanking God everyday and not wasting one ounce of the opportunity they had been given. Otherwise, Abraham, Isaiah and Zephaniah are going to be waiting to pummel ’em in heaven. You think I’m exaggerating? When cities didn’t honor Him and failed to realize what they had been given, Jesus said that in eternity Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba would be waiting to rise up in judgment against them because they responded to far inferior preaching. The disciples got with the program. They took what they had been given, gripped it and ripped it–turning the known world upside down in their lifetime.

This should cause us to give a second thought about how we are using the tremendous resources at our disposal. Unlike all the Old Testament saints we have been given full access to the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, that He sent after He ascended. We have the promise that Christ will build His church through us and that not even the gates of Hell can’t stop that from happening. And unlike any other Christian generation, through the profusion of technology and the ease of modern travel, there is nothing stopping us from fulfilling the great commission and preaching the gospel to every creature. In other words, we have no excuse. We can’t afford to not podcast and do multi-site and harness the technology that God has put in our laps.

Don’t you think John Wesley, who travelled on horseback and preached two or three times each day in up to 30 cities a month as he gave something like 40,000 messages in his lifetime, would have walked over a bed of coals to have access to an airplane or use a webcast to preach the gospel? What about George Whitfield? He preached to crowds of up to 30,000 people without a microhone! What kind of damage do you think he could have done with some speakers? The reality is that we have been given much, far more than better men and women who have gone before us. Don’t you dare take it for granted. Not unless you want John Wycliffe and Martin Luther to give you a fat lip when you meet them in heaven.

It doesn’t just happen

Warriors are made in the oven, not the microwave. You don’t become an oak tree over night. Not even if you add Miracle-Gro. It’s slow, hard, and hot work to turn into a mighty man or woman of God.

I think that sometimes when we read the story of Bible character’s we forget that we are basically listening to their greatest hits. It’s not exhaustive. We aren’t given every single detail of how they spent their days and years. We are often just given the major moments. Decades are sometimes compressed into into a single sentence. Enormous periods are skipped entirely.

This is vital to keep in mind because failing to do so could create unrealistic expectations as we look at our own lives. If you look at a person like Saul, who was converted on the Damascus road one moment and then blazing trails around the Roman empire planting churches the next, without remembering there was a gap in between where he spent a good chunk of time learning to walk with Christ in Arabia (Galatians 1:17); it could cause you to become discouraged.

Or we could point to Daniel. He risked his life so many times, standing up for God when it could have cost him everything. But his bravery in the king’s throne room and in the lion’s den didn’t just happen, it was forged in the fires of following God over a lifetime. You see this clearly in Daniel 6 when the king had just signed the order making prayer to anyone but him a crime. The Bible says that Daniel went home and got on his knees anyway “…as was his custom since early days.” (Daniel 6:10)

We all would like to think that we would fearlessly face a martyr’s death. That if it came right down to it we would be willing to die before we would deny our Lord. That like Daniel we would defy the king’s order and get down to pray even if it meant that we would be killed. But the big issue isn’t would you pray if it could cost you everything? but do you pray now while it doesn’t cost you anything? Daniel didn’t wait until camera’s were rolling and everyone was watching to get down on his knees. He was a senior citizen currently and had been doing the hard slow work of turning into a spiritual warrior since he was a kid.

It’s very impressive to think about being willing to die for God. But first things first. Start by living for Him. Victory in public is always the result of hard work done in private. Olympic athletes are impressive to watch perform, but remember, you are watching the result of thousands and thousands of hours of blood sweat and tears in action. Salvation is an event but sanctification is a process. You become a Christian in a moment, but becoming like Christ takes a lifetime.

Knowing when to ignore feedback

Feedback can be helpful. If you run a company you can’t afford to not stay in tune to what people think about your brand and your customer service. People have more options than ever and if you treat them like they aren’t there, soon they won’t be. They will just go to another store, restaurant, website or church.

Having an ear to the ground can alert you to “wow” moments that are happening that you aren’t aware of but you should be encouraging. Things that employees are doing that blow customers away that you can make a more wide spread behavior. Or maybe you will find out that some small thing you have in place is actually doing the exact opposite of what you want it to. Feedback could allow for a small tweak that could make a huge difference.

An openness to feedback will allow you to see your team or organization or church through a new set of eyes. This even applies to individuals. One of the ways to grow is to have people in your life that can speak into your life when they see things that are keeping you from growing. We all have a way of being blind to our own weaknesses. Honest evaluation can be a majorly valuable tool.

The key is to know what feedback to take seriously and what input to ignore altogether. If you listen to the wrong feedback you could find yourself compromising where you shouldn’t. For example, if you have recently given your life to Christ and the negative feedback is pouring in from people you used to party with, you are going to want to ignore their contribution. The same applies to business. Perhaps some people very vocally complain about your sky-high prices and you are tempted to add cheaper items to the menu. But if you are going for a boutique vibe, diluting your higher-end price point could be a mistake and weaken what sets you apart. Pleasing the wrong people could keep you from reaching the right people.

Start by accepting the fact that no one can please everyone. You have got to identify who you are trying to impact, isolate their input and reject all others.

In my world, I am open to hearing feedback from all sorts of different people, but I filter it through the grid of who I am trying to reach. If I hear complaints from someone who comes to freshlife for the first time and thinks that the music was too loud and they didn’t like stuff we did because that’s not how it was in their last church, I’m not phased. The feedback that I key into is the person who writes and tells me they haven’t been to a religious service in 20 years but their life was rocked by their experience and they didn’t even know church could be like this. I want to encourage and foster stories like that. So I care very much about the fact that they were invited by a friend, heard our radio station and were intrigued by the name of the series.

To be blunt, I don’t care if a person who is already saved doesn’t like it. If they are already going to heaven, they are good. They can just go to another church and I am more than fine with that. The person who isn’t going to any church is the one whose head I want to get in to. In order to reach the right people I am willing to not please the wrong people.

If you know who or what you are targeting you can practice selective hearing when you listen to what people say about your organization and not find yourself deviating from your primary objective. Define success and then pursue it wholeheartedly.

The most dangerous miracle in the Bible

I was reading the Bible yesterday and came across a story that I had read many times before but never thought much of. All of a sudden It jumped out to me for the great danger it posed, both to those who witnessed it and to us today. I sensed a warning light flashing in my soul and so I paused for a moment to let the massive risk sink in fully.

Here is the story:

Matthew 15:33–39 The disciples replied, “Where would we get enough food here in the wilderness for such a huge crowd?” Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?” They replied, “Seven loaves, and a few small fish.” So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. There were 4,000 men who were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children.

Crazy huh? I know. You were thinking I was talking about Daniel in the Lions den, Elijah calling fire down on Mt. Carmel, or Samson toppling the Philistine temple with renewed strength from the Lord. Those are the kind of miracles that we would tend to classify as high-risk. Lives were hanging in the balances. What in the world is so dangerous about Jesus handing out bread to a few thousand of his closest friends?

The danger that this miracle poses may not be obvious or life-threatening, but it is still capable of great harm. What is the risk? Being unimpressed. You see right before Jesus feeds the 4,000 in Matthew 15 He fed 5,000 in Matthew 14. Don’t kid yourself; feeding 4,000 people with only 7 loaves is in and of itself amazing, unbelievable, and get-on-your-knees-and-praise-God extraordinary. But compared to the super-sized one in the previous chapter it could come across as a smaller version of something that already blew our minds earlier on.

How little press this miracle gets is telling. The one we always hear about is the feeding of the 5,000. Had Jesus simply reversed the order and fed the 4,000 first it would have made more sense. It’s always nice to ramp up and work towards a climax. But here is what I sensed God speaking to me. His work in our lives and ministries is not necessarily going to be like a fireworks show. His goal isn’t to do flashier things and flashier things as He gears up for an impressive finale that’s plain for all to see. He simply wants us to be faithful with what is right in front of us and remain at a place where we are blown away that He would use us at all. Furthermore, the “greatest” thing God ever does through us might not even be something that at surface value is all that amazing.

That means that if you see 100 people come to Christ one week and 14 the next you celebrate those 14 people with all your heart. In Acts 2 there were 3,000 who came to know Christ in one fell swoop and then in Acts 3 one lame man believed on Jesus. You know what? Angels celebrated both miracles with much rejoicing. If your church grows by leaps and bounds one moment and then just by bunny-hops later on your heart should enthusiastically praise God that Christ is building His church.

The danger in all of this is real. If you become difficult for God to impress you will become difficult for God to use. The desire to grow and to be more effective is good and right. We are to give God our very best effort and seek after a 100 fold harvest every time. Jesus commended the shrewd servants in His parables over and over again. But it is imperative that we are careful to not become desensitized. We must not fail to be impressed by every single work of God–no matter the size.

A real man

I took this picture just before they wheeled my dad off to open his chest and perform a grueling four hour surgery on his heart. They came to get him 3 and 1/2 hours behind schedule and the anticipation was brutal. We tried to psyche him up as much as we could by praying, singing worship songs and reading scripture. As they finally came around the corner I looked down and saw the Bible on his chest and it occurred to me that I couldn’t think of a single day of my dad’s life that didn’t include God’s Word. An open Bible on the kitchen counter, coffee table, on his desk or on a table at a cafe was literally an everyday occurrence if my dad was involved. He meditates on God’s Word day and night.

As an expert when it comes to Christian broadcasting, for over 30 years my dad has spent his life putting God’s Word on the internet, radio, and tv. Countless millions have heard the gospel because of him. It will be a joy in eternity to hear the stories of those who have come to know Christ listening to radio stations or watching a tv special he orchestrated. But I can tell you that behind the scenes, as much as he has tried to fill the airwaves with Scripture, he has also made sure his own heart reverberated with it. You literally can’t walk into a room or vehicle he is in without hearing a John Macarthur, Chuck Swindoll, or a Louie Giglio podcast coming from a radio, laptop, or car stereo. As kids, we knew whether we were late or on time for school based on whether Jon Courson’s radio program had started to play yet. The morning of his surgery I walked into his room to see him cranking out a few last minute emails and heard Steven Furtick coming from his macbook pro.

It has been a week and a half since I received the phone call that he suffered a heart attack and was in the hospital in Florida, all by himself, but I am still sorting through the emotions from it all. As soon as I heard the news I bolted for the airport and even though it took me four different flights, I got to him as soon as I could. I spent four days at his bedside with my brothers and sisters, praying and trying to be there for him, and then after a whirlwind weekend of speaking in Arizona, somehow I am back in Montana. I can hardly believe it really happened. As a pastor I am around emergencies and death enough to know that these things take time to sink in.

I know this for sure, my dad is fortunate to be alive. A million americans have heart attacks each year and half of them die. Half of those that die do so within the first hour of symptoms appearing and before they reach the hospital. That could have easily been him. Because he eats so healthy, and exercises so frequently he is the last person that you would think would have a heart attack. He couldn’t believe what was happening either and waited WAY TOO LONG to seek help. He tried to ride it out in his hotel room, thinking it would pass. It didn’t. He finally made his way down to the front desk and asked them to call a doctor. They did what he should have done an hour earlier and called 911. By God’s grace he was only 5 blocks away from a hospital that is ranked nationally for their heart department and his life was saved.

My dad is my hero. He was the best man in my wedding and to this day, apart from Jennie, he is my best friend. There isn’t hardly a day that goes by where we don’t text, talk or email each other. It is a joy to partner with him in ministry on several different fronts. He pushes me on in my walk with God, and as a pastor. But the bar that he has set so high for me, which I will always aspire to reach, is as a father. If I could be half the dad to my daughters that he has been to me I will be thrilled.

It is interesting, because in the days leading up to the surgery they told us he could go into cardiac arrest and drop dead at any moment, so we felt like we sat on the edge of eternity as we waited. Thankfully there weren’t any apologies or grudges we needed to work through as a family, but had there been we were given a great gift in having the opportunity should we have needed it. Let me give you advice in case there is someone in your family that you are at odds with–call them up right now and work through it! Don’t leave anything unsaid. Life is a vapor. As it turns out this weekend is Father’s day, a perfect opportunity to honor your dad by thanking him or by following a godly example and being apart of his legacy.

Last Night’s Party

I was standing in the Liberty theater last night and I was overcome, yet again, by what we are seeing the Lord do at skull church. It occurred to me that this is what an uprising looks like.

At my day job, when I’m not moonlighting as a pirate preacher, we are going through the book of Joshua and looking at what happens when a generation emerges that is willing to take a stand and change the world.

I believe that just such a generation is living on the face of the earth right now. I sense God moving and pouring out His Spirit on all flesh in a unique way. I can’t recall a time, in my life, where there has been so many young, fresh, vibrant movements awakening and surging and growing and taking shape–all over the place.

This is not a time to shrink back. There has never been a day like today. It’s our time to shine. Let’s use these fleeting moments we have on this earth to make Jesus famous. Rise up o men of God!

Here are a few snapshots of the wave of revolution we are riding.

the Bible in 3D

When you read the Bible you should expect God to speak to you. It is not a normal book. It’s alive.

I like to pray before I read and ask the Lord to open my eyes so that I can see wondrous truths in His Word (Psalm 119:18). It’s sort of like the spiritual equivalent of putting on 3D glasses. It reminds me that I’m looking at more than history, or poetry or a letter written to someone who died a long time ago. I am expecting for God’s voice to come through the text, speak into my life and change me in the process. I’m looking for it.

Often what will happen is at some point in the passage, something will jump off the page. It will either hit hard, or convict me of something, or catch me off guard. It might even be a very familiar verse that I see in a new light. When ever this happens I stop. I read it again and ponder and meditate what God is saying to me. If there is an action step I am being lead towards or sin I need to repent of or a new attitude I need to adopt I try and do that on the spot, before moving on.

There are going to be times where the 3D doesn’t seem to be working, where you will read and feel like you “didn’t get anything out of it.” Don’t lose heart. Don’t stop reading. Keep hiding His Word in your heart each day. Besides, you might have gotten more out of it than you know. God might have given you a truth that you will need for a trial you will go through next Tuesday. Jesus probably hadn’t read the verses that He used in the wilderness temptations that morning. Furthermore, God could be trying to teach you something that someone else is going to need.

So slow down, prayerfully approach God’s Word with an expectant heart, and bring a pen.

Psalm 119:28 My soul melts from heaviness; Strengthen me according to Your word.