Because He’s Generous…

Jesus tells the following story in Matthew.20…

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”

Let’s be honest … we hate this story. If you’re anything like me, and I’m sure you are, then you read this story and think, “That’s not fair. That first guy worked so much harder than the last guy … he deserved to be paid more … it’s just basic business.”

But Jesus tells us this story to remind us that God, the Father, the Landowner, does not run his family business the way we do.

We think God runs the show like we would run it … those who do more, get more. Those who work harder, will get paid in the end. Those who put in the extra hour will succeed. The early bird gets the worm … right?

But in God’s land … in his vineyard … all are paid the same … all receive the same payment.

I don’t like this economic structure. I want my hard work to pay off. And honestly … I mean come one you’ve thought this … the reason I do work so hard is to get the pay off.

God’s world doesn’t work like this. And this doesn’t make much sense to us. In fact …we just change the story. We say things like, “If you do more for God then _______. If you tell more people about Jesus then ____________. If you serve more people then __________. If you pray more then __________.  If you spend more time doing _________ then _________.

And God keeps saying at the end of the day … there’s only one payment … only one reward … Me.

I wonder how much time I miss out on my family because I think and believe that I have to do more for God to receive an ultimate reward?

I wonder how much goodness I miss because I’m trying to create some goodness?

I wonder how often I overlook and ignore God’s creations because I myself am too busy creating?

I wonder how much time I miss out on just enjoying the life God has given me because I think and believe that I have to do more for God to receive an ultimate reward?

I wonder how much guilt and shame I pour on those around me … those in my church … because I think and believe that they have to do more for God to receive an ultimate reward?

Is it possible that the reward is given not because of what I have done but because of how generous God is in the first place?

Is it possible that the point is not how much I can do for God but how much I can enjoy his generosity?

Very soon … like in the next week … take a break  from doing, from producing, from creating, from working and just enjoy … enjoy your family, your spouse, your kids, one another. Encourage those in your church to take a break and just enjoy … enjoy God.

And know … know that the reward does not reflect your attempts or lack there of … but the reward reflects the giver of the reward … in fact the reward itself is the giver of the reward.

I remember when…

I remember when I couldn’t wait to grow up.

I remember when I couldn’t wait to get older.

I remember when I thought I was the one with all the answers.

I remember when I believed the world could be defined as black and white.

I remember when I valued independence over inter-dependence.

I remember when I thought answers were more important than questions.

I remember when I pursued a life defined by morality rather than a life defined by grace.

I remember when I was young and assumed change was easy.

I remember when I thought that being a teacher was more important than being a learner.

I remember when I valued being an individual rather than being a unique piece of a community.

I remember when I made decisions based on my happiness at the cost of others.

I  remember when I wanted to be famous because I was afraid of insignificance.

I remember when  I considered doubt a weakness.

I remember when I thought faith was a “me” thing instead of a “we” thing.

I remember when I actually thought I had a spec of dust in my eye and my neighbor had a log in theirs.

I remember when I believed God was more concerned with the don’ts and not the do’s.

I remember when I wanted it loud because I was afraid of the quiet.

I remember when I wanted to flee the country for the city and now I want to flee the city for the country.

I remember when the ran after the new and forgot to celebrate the ancient traditions that had been passed on to me.

I remember when everything was either right or wrong with no room for different.

I remember when I allowed philosophies divide and destroy relationships.

I remember when I thought a monologue was more important than a dialogue.

I remember when I actually thought I had arrived…

And then I realized…I’m still in process.

A Lesson in Patience

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”     [2peter.3v9]

When my son was born three years ago I was overwhelmed with a huge sense of responsibility. Sure, my wife and I were now in charge of meeting the most basic needs of a helpless human being…but it was another responsibility that pressed on my heart.

I had referred to God as Father my entire life and when Marcus was born I had a sudden realization that I was now a reflection of this Father in heaven. I could destroy or enhance my sons view of God as Father. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Fast forward 3 1/2 years…the week of Thanksgiving 2011. Marcus comes down with some nasty, snotty, sneezy ear infection. The poor kid couldn’t sleep more than 30 minutes at a time before he would wake up coughing and saying the famous line that I won’t soon forget, “Dadda I have snot.”

For 5 nights straight I slept on the floor by his bed and woke up every time he moved. I would be lying if I said I was perfect. There were several times when I grew tired of wiping snotty noses. At 3AM I found it difficult not to just say to my son, “GO TO SLEEP!” It was tough to not lose my cool and grow impatient with my son…not his sickness…but him…as if he could somehow control his condition.

One night…sometime when I should have been asleep…I was laying on my back, exhausted, staring in the darkness and had this thought…

This is an exact reflection of God’s patience with my sickness. 

I mean really…what if I told my son…You need to get better and then I’ll be with you? You would immediately report me to DSS and tag me as a terrible father.

Instead, Peter paints a picture of a patient Father. One that would sleep on the floor beside our bed in the midst of our sickness. One that would wipe our noses and hold us in the middle of the night so we could get some rest. A Father that is not quick to write our sick selves off but a Father that is patient with us…with us…in our sickest moments…our sickness that we inherited and even then sickness we create.

That week that Marcus was sick I had so much snot on me. He sneezed on me. Coughed on me. I even ended up sick myself. Each night I would pray over my son…praying that he would get better…that he would find rest that night. I desperately wanted him to feel better.

I do believe this is a picture of our God. One that takes our sickness upon himself. Wanting desperately for us…for you…to find rest, to find health, to find life.

Why is it that we have such a hard time seeing God in this way?

I pray that by my example, Marcus will know God in this way.

A Reminder…

My new years resolution for 2011 was to embrace the ordinary. (You can read about it HERE.)

This is quote from Dr. King was a great reminder that I have been called to embrace the ordinary places of my life…the mundane…the everyday places of my life.

Are you embracing the life God has given you?

Are you embracing today?

Are you embracing the life you’ve been called to live right now?

Are you embracing your life with passion?

There’s beauty in it…God created…God ordained…God appointed…BEAUTY!

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

4 types of churches

“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it.'”   [jeremiah.29]

I heard Matt Carter, Pastor at The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, expound on this passage. The entire message was fantastic but one thing stuck with me. He said there were 4 types of churches, 4 ways a church can relate to the city they find themselves in. I want to share those 4 types of churches with you and share my thoughts on each.

1. In the city.
This type of church just exists. Honestly, if they closed their doors tomorrow, no one outside the church would know. Some like to say that this only applies to old, traditional, existing churches. But, a church, no matter how long they have been around, can fall into this slump. They keep doing what they’ve always done just because it’s what they’ve always done. They settle for “church” being a Sunday morning meeting. They hope to survive. The city is just their final resting place.

2. Against the city.
The city becomes the enemy. The city is out to get the church. There is a war to be waged. It’s a us against them mentality. All those terrible, God-hating people over there and all of us good, God-loving people over here. The church assumes a posture of being the victim. The city is siding with the dark side…out to destroy God’s work. So, the church begins to speak out against the city. Attacking city officials. Criticizing every move. Sometimes the church communicates their attack loud and clear, while other times they communicate in with a clever new sermon series or mailer.

3. With the city.
This happens far too often. The culture is shaping the church rather than the church shaping the culture. Since this is cool, acceptable and trendy in today’s culture then we must implement it. Sometimes I feel like very little prayer goes into the decisions a church makes…they just look around at the culture and copy whatever it is they see. It does seem that the church will reach more people if we look more like the things they enjoy…but I stand by this…people need the church to be different then the world around them.

4. For the city.
The Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it.” Settle down. Commit to a group of people. Seek the peace and prosperity (success) of that city. Pray for it. Maybe an easier way to say it would be, “ROOT FOR YOUR CITY!” Now, what’s amazing about the Lord’s command to His people is the timing of the command. The Lord commands His people to root for the very city that was holding them captive. If anything, logic would tell us that the church should assume a posture of being a victim and plan a counter attack. This is not God’s command though…God’s command is to love the city that you find yourself in. The word peace might be the most important word in this command. The word peace in it’s most basic sense means, “God’s is here. God is with us.” A church that is for the city is a church that remembers that God has not abandoned the city, therefore the church should not abandon the city. The church should be the city’s biggest fan.

So, what kind of church are you?

How does your church relate to the city you find yourself in?

Overnight Success

“On the rare occasion that instant success does come along, it usually doesn’t last–there’s no foundation there to support it. Trade the dream of overnight success for slow, measured growth. It’s hard, but you have to be patient. You have to grind it out. You have to do it for a long time before the right people notice.”                                                                                                   [jason fried, rework]

I love this!

Too often we chase the instant.

Too often we chase the immediate.

Too often we want to skip the hard work.

But true, life-changing, lasting growth takes place over time…when we are patient…when we commit to the long haul.

Longevity. Perseverance. Patience.

Those are the keys to producing fruit that will last.

Embrace the ordinary.

I’m listening to my son take a shower before bed time, listening to my wife laugh with my little girl and thinking about what 2011 will hold.

It’s 1.1.11 and I’m supposed to have a new years resolution. Something big. Something life altering. Something earth shattering.

But what I have is this thought…

Embrace the ordinary.

I believe that God wants us to embrace the ordinary places of our lives. To know that He is there in those places that we view as boring, inconsequential, routine and monotonous.   To be good husbands and good wives. To be good friends and good neighbors. To be good parents and good children. To be good students and good teachers.

Maybe we spend so much time dreaming and envisioning the extra-ordinary that we miss life all together.

Don’t get me wrong…dream big…but don’t become so engulfed in those dreams that you miss God in the here and now.

Brother Lawrence,  was a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris during the 1600’s and I believe he lived by example, embracing the ordinary. (the following is taken from HERE.)

Lawrence was assigned to the monastery kitchen where, amidst the tedious chores of cooking and cleaning at the constant bidding of his superiors, he developed his rule of spirituality and work. In his Maxims, Lawrence writes, “Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?”

For Brother Lawrence, “common business,” no matter how mundane or routine, could be a medium of God’s love. The sacredness or worldly status of a task mattered less than motivation behind it. “Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

Brother Lawrence felt having a proper heart about tasks made every detail of his life possess surpassing value. “I began to live as if there were no one save God and me in the world.” Brother Lawrence felt that he cooked meals, ran errands, scrubbed pots, and endured the scorn of the world alongside God. One of his most famous sayings refers to his kitchen:

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.

In 2011…

I want to open my eyes to the time and place that God has placed me in.

I want to remain faithful to the things and people God puts in front of me.

I want to believe Jesus’ promise in John 15, “Remain in me and I will remain in you.”

I want to embrace the journey that God has me on.

I want to embrace the day to day.

I want to embrace my wife, my kids and my family.

I want to embrace the ministry called has called me to.

I want to embrace, what some might call, the ordinary.

10 Books

Leaders are Readers.

I say that a lot.

I often have students ask me what they should read. So, I thought I would put together a list of the 10 books that have had the most influence on my life. I would like to hear your list too.

1. Just Like Jesus [Max Lucado]
I know Max Lucado might not be that popular among the trendy, hipster, new church world. But, when I went to college I hated to read. I only finished one book during my time in high school. You can’t survive that way in college. The problem was…I didn’t like the books that the professors asked me to read. I decided that in order for me to enjoy reading I had to start with something simple and intriguing. Someone pointed me to Max Lucado and Just Like Jesus was the first book that grabbed my attention. I love to read now because of Max Lucado books. I would highly recommend his stuff.

2. Intimacy with the Almighty [Charles Swindoll]
Swindoll is old school. (You’ll notice that most of the books on my list are either by old school authors or dead authors…a couple are not) This book began a process that God has had me working through for the past 10 years of ministry. Intimacy with the Almighty comes before ministry. I still struggle with this principal and that is why this book is the only book that I have read more than twice. I find myself picking it up off my shelf from time to time and reading it in a sitting (don’t worry is short and sweet).

3. Seizing Your Divine Moment/Chasing Daylight [Erwin McManus]
In 2003 I was about to be fired for the 2nd time in less than 2 years by an established church board when I had the amazing opportunity to attend Mosaic in LA and meet Erwin McManus. He was gracious enough to talk to Nicole and I for a few minutes. I told him about our situation and he said to me, “You need to decide whether or not you are a starter or a sustainer and then go from there.” This book helped me realize that I’m a starter and was the catalyst that helped Nicole and I launch Impact in the fall of 2004.

4. Leadership and Self-Deception [Arbinger Institute]
This book helped me realize how each of us place each other into boxes. This is paralyzing and destructive. Great book on leadership!

5. Return of the Prodigal Son [Henri Nouwen]
I’m not sure what else to say except this book saved my faith. That might sound extreme but it renewed and revived me.

6. In the Name of Jesus [Henri Nouwen]
Probably the best book I’ve ever read on leadership. It took me from an imperialistic view of leadership to a relational view of leadership.

7. Velvet Elvis [Rob Bell]
This book and so many other things that Rob Bell has written and spoken has reminded me that questions are good. There’s always a truth laying just beyond the surface.

8. The Cost of Discipleship [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]
It took me 6 months to read this book. It was heavy. Deep. Painful. It challenged me to move beyond the surface.

9. The Circle Series [Ted Dekker]
I never liked fiction until I was introduced to Ted Dekker. This series gave me a glimpse of God’s heart for me and His Kingdom that I had never dreamed of.

10. Mystery of God’s Will [Charles Swindoll]
My view of God’s will was so selfish. I wanted God to submit to my will rather than me submitting to His will. This book helped me rethink God’s will for my life and for his creation.

I’m sure there are several other books that had a huge influence on my life and the way I do ministry. But these 10 are forever marked in my mind.  To see some other books I’ve read you can view my online bookshelf HERE.

What are your top 10?

Remember where you came from…

What’s your story?

Where has your journey led you?

What’s your history?

Too often we try to hide our story, escape our journey and sugar coat our history.

The Apostle Paul frequently recounted his journey on the pages of his letters. He wrote these words to his understudy, Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”

Paul remembered where he came from from.

He was ashamed of it.

He was guilt reddened because of it.

He didn’t try to hide it, escape it or sugar coat it.

Remembering where you came from does three things:

1. Helps us remain humble.

2. Reminds that God never left us. [Read Joshua 4]

3. Points forward

If you become a big deal…remember where you came from…it has a way of keeping you grounded.

If you feel forgotten, overlooked, without purpose…remember where you came from…it has a way of reminding you that you’ve come a long way and just because you still have a long way to go doesn’t mean your hopeless.

If your future seems foggy…remember where you came from…it has a way of pointing forward to what is to come. Looking back and seeing what God has done can help us to see what God is going to do.

It’s funny how much I learn when I read books to my 2 year old son. His bookshelf is full of wisdom. There’s a book that he loves called Climb the Family Tree, Jesse Bear! I want to share it with you as a way to remind us all of where we came from. So many memories of my family, my heritage, my story, my journey, my hometown come to the surface as I read this book. It helps me remain humble and it reminds me that my story is beautiful and not finished. Your story is good! Your journey is good! Your heritage is good! Remember it. Embrace it. Cherish it (you only have one shot at it). Learn from it. Hope you enjoy!

Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
We’re here, Jesse Bear!
We’re here!

There’s Grandpa in his funny hat
And Grandma by the well.
We’ll help them pick the strawberries
And put them out to sell.

My favorite, Uncle Bill, is here.
He flew in his new plane.
Maybe he’ll take me up with him,
Unless there’s wind and rain.

Auntie Lin and Auntie Kim
And old Great-Auntie Lou
Wear their shawls and pat my head
And say, “Oh, look at you!”

The cousins are in every size.
The baby’s in my chair.
When I get too close to him,
He always pulls my hair.

There’s Great-Grandpa’s photo
At the end of the long hall,
And Great-Grandmother’s quilt
Is hanging on the wall

Great-Aunt Emma’s painting
And Cousin Ben’s smooth stones,
Small boxes and birdhouses
And prehistoric bones!

We hear family tales of long ago:
Weddings by the tree,
The day you raced to the hospital,
The day you first saw me!

The fireflies light the evening.
There’s a very starry sky.
The younger aunts do a dance,
The older aunts all sigh.

Grandpa plays his old fiddle
And tells where it came from.
Auntie May strums away
While all the cousins hum.

Sleeping in the tent is fun–
There’s room enough for toys.
We hear the bullfrogs from the pond
And lots of snoring noise.

The next day we go boating
And take a long hayride.
Aunts and uncles play croquet.
The cousins run and hide.

There’s laughing and there’s crying
And sometimes even fights,
But we always find a way
Of making wrong things right.

The uncles talk of all the things
They like to do the best.
The aunts tells stories one by one,
And Grandpa takes a rest.

We smell flowers from the garden,
Grass that’s had a trim,
Grandma’s bread and apple pie,
Sweet rolls by Uncle Jim.

We taste Aunt Flo’s cherry jam
And berries from the vine.
Ice cream we make and eat with cake
Will taste especially fine.

It feels so good to see them all–
Our family in one spot.
Some are different, some the same.
Some like to hug a lot!

Grandma has the trunk brought out
Of faded family clothes.
The cousins all dress up in them
And for the pictures pose.

But the most exciting thing
That’s special, just for me–
This is the year I’m old enough
To climb the family tree!

The Interior

“We see that many religious people are not saints, whereas all saints are religious. For people who devote themselves to ceremonies, sacrifices, etc., can be termed religious; but they can only be called saints in so far as by means of these things they give themselves interiorly to God.”
[st. thomas aquinas]