Monthly Archives: April 2013

Getting Unstuck, Wherever You Are

Stuck, Again?
     Lots of talk lately here about clutter. Friday night, I had a chance to talk to a group from Echo Ministries about it. Talking about clutter always brings me clarity over the places where I am feeling “stuck”. Once I’ve got that kind of clarity, it’s easier to find the path to “unstuck”. Further, the more I read Prov. 27:23-27, the more clear God makes two points to me:

  1. If I’m feeling stuck, it’s either God’s will or my fault.
  2. Freedom (unstuck) is just around the corner… often just a prayer away.

     This passage refers to all of us – from “shepherds” to the human resource department to outside salespeople to entrepreneurs, even kings. Herds and flocks are equal to commitments – from projects at work to the honey-do list at home, ideas and creative whims, relationships, appointments and everywhere in between. If we read this proverb honestly, the bar is set high: to know the condition of your projects, relationships, and commitments and to give them careful attention.

     Some sheep come and go, maintaining little of our attention – low priority, like an idea we don’t write down, replacing that light bulb over the stove, emptying our junk drawer. Others occupy large spaces in the field, consuming vast sums of feed, and producing commensurate waste (tension, stress, decreased mental bandwidth).

     Question: how’s your flock? Giving it careful attention? Feeling “stuck” with too many sheep or too much field?

     I was asked to speak on how clutter impacts the field, the flock, and the future of the shepherd in
charge. God gives us responsibility as both a temporal test and an audition for eternal rewards. (Note: salvation [entry into heaven] by grace, but rewards [position, treasure, glory] are based on performance and stewardship). Fields don’t become cluttered because God gives us too many sheep. And, sometimes, when we manage the flock poorly, God will take away sheep (or even field) for a time until we prove ourselves shepherds worthy of greater trusts.


Where Did All THESE Sheep Come From?
     More specifically, from whom? There are only two reasons we have commitments:
         A. God has presented us with a sheep and we have taken it into our field by saying “yes/amen”.
         B. We have taken a sheep into our flock and have presumed that God will approve.
A is praiseworthy and will be rewarded. B is idolatry. (If you can’t say “Amen”, you’d better say “ouch”!)

     As a trustee over the flock and field, we are wise to frequently consider each and every sheep in our flock, asking of ourselves the same question asked of Peter and John in Acts 4:7: 

By what power or by what name did you do this?” 

Well… By what power or name is this sheep currently in your field?

Moral of the story is this: it’s impossible for us to pay appropriate attention to the sheep God has given us while cluttering up the field with sheep He hasn’t given us. Too many sheep and the field will fail, the flock will die, and our stewardship gains us little or no eternal rewards… leaving us… stuck.

Where did all of THESE sheep come from?!


Getting Unstuck: Counting Sheep Wakes Us Up!
     One of the practices I’ve highly recommended to everyone I’ve talked to on this topic is this: weekly review, weekly review, weekly review. A weekly review is a 90-120 minute appointment with self during which I take an inventory of all of my commitments and prayerfully evaluate the condition of each: 

  • Do I have capacity to move a May project up to April? 
  • Is there a commitment God once asked me to make that He now wants me to step away from for a time, a season, or for good?
  • Did Mike ever get back to me on that thing I asked him about last week or do I need to send him a “nudge” email? 
  • Do I have unfinished business from this month that needs legitimate calendar time on next month’s (or next week’s) calendar? 
  • Did I pick up that adhesive goop yet at Home Depot that I needed to fix that thing my wife has been complaining about for three weeks? Is there anything that has “fallen through the cracks”?

     In short, what is the condition of my flock? Do I need to thin the herd or is God asking me to take on more sheep? Having a regular reckoning, a “counting of the sheep”, alerts me to which sheep that have fallen through the cracks, wandered off the field, or immediately need more or less attention. By prayer, it also wakes me up to which sheep I need to which to pay more or less attention.

Be Encouraged
     The enemy, the flesh, and the world all want us to either take on more sheep than we can sustain long term or keep us away from the sheep God has specifically placed in our care for His purposes in His timing. The practice of “be still and know that I am God” meshes very well with the practice of “counting your sheep” and “giving careful attention to your flocks”. It is more than wise to negotiate “flock time” into our schedules on a regular basis if we want to be stewards found faithful.

in Christ,

AP

7 Reasons You May Not Be Getting Ahead

First Things First: The Flock is YOUR Problem
     You have a flock. Did you know that? If you have a pulse it means God still has work for you to do. Matthew Henry would suggest that such work is your flock. Implication: you’re in charge of it. If something goes wrong with it, it’s your problem. Worse, by practicing poor shepherding, you’re disqualifying yourself from a larger field and/or larger flock.

     The Matthew Henry Complete Commentary intimates that Proverbs 27:23-27 applies to all lawful callings “whatever our business is, within doors or without”. So, if you and I are still here, we still have a calling and God refers to that calling as our “flock”. More specifically, the sheep in our flock represent the commitments we have made and the field on which they live and feed is akin to the capacity we have to sustain these commitments. You and I have been given both a flock and a field by God and will give an account for them.

    Lately, I’ve been implementing, advocating to others, and coaching people the practice or regularly “playing self-executive”, meaning two things:
     A. Sit down and take a regular inventory of your commitments. Count… your… sheep. Poor stewardship of the flock disqualifies us for larger and better flocks such as new opportunities, promotions, and relationships. Are there excess sheep on your field hogging resources from more important/appropriate sheep?
     B. Examine… your… field. There is no excuse for taking our eyes off the sheep or the field. An inventory of the flock and an honest look at the field are crucial for being found faithful as a steward. Knowing your blind spots, gifts, weaknesses, and places where your ideas and commitments can falter or flourish are crucial pieces of wisdom we’re required to have in place as managers and stewards.
Why You Need a Regular Inventory of Your Flock:

  1. Helps us weigh where we have overstepped our call.
    Sometimes, we commit to things out of our own strength or desire rather than as God calls and nudges us. Prayerful and regular examination of our commitments opens us up to the Holy Spirit’s advice as to whether we have taken a sheep (or many sheep) into our pasture in error/own strength.
  2. Gives a true reckoning of how many commitments we have.
    When we don’t have an exhaustive list (and I recommend a written list) of our commitments (sheep), it’s easy to take on new sheep only to find we’re out of room when a wandering few we already had come back to the pasture.
  3. Opens your eyes to the missing sheep.
    Ever have that “I know I’m forgetting something” feeling? It’s because a sheep has wandered out of your view. Very often, the mere process of writing and praying through my list of commitments “sets off” a reminder of a related commitment I may not have written down before.
  4. What you can’t see is killing you.
    Out of sight is not out of mind. When you know something has fallen through the cracks it creates a low-level “hum” in your conscious mind that serves as a reminder that you have unfinished business. Added to the current “noise” in your head and the fact that emergencies come up, what you don’t have your eyes on can paralyze you when flexibility is required or overwhelm your mind when your heart is out of check. Scripture warns us to “guard your heart”. But, a clear head is needed to guard it.
  5. Exposes the danger of an unsustainable flock.
    The field can only support so many sheep for so long. Some of us are idle and have only a few sheep when we know God is calling us to do more. Others are doing only what God has called them to do – nothing more, nothing less. This is a fruitful life. Many of us are being conformed to the pattern of the world which blurs the lines between “it should be done”, “I can do it”, and “I must do it”, resulting in a flock so large that the grass will soon be gone and the sheep will be hungry. Your field is overflocked. God doesn’t want overcrowding – there’s a reason why Jabez prayed for larger “territory” – sheep multiply under God’s sovereignty and with little coaxing.
  6. Helps us be emotionally neutral when we have to decline.
    Nobody wants to tell the boss, the organization, or the client “I can’t do that right now. I’m overcommitted.” These are all emotionally threatening situations that easily stir up worry and dread. But, if we can give those people an honest look at our “flock to field ratio” (commitments vs. capacity) it’s easier, when possible, to mutually decide what gets completed when: Boss says – “I need you to take on project G this week.” Rather than saying “I can’t”, show them the field & flock: “Boss, I know you value sheep A, B, C, D, E, and F. If I’m to take on sheep G, which sheep is it OK to leave unattended in the meantime?”
  7. Having a record of our “flock to field ratio” can remind us of God’s faithfulness and His trust in us.
    Being faithful with our flock qualifies us for a larger field (though it does not guarantee a larger flock). The parable of the talents explains how the Master gave each of the servants assets in accordance with their abilities and showed how God treats those who shepherd His assets wisely vs. shepherding them poorly or out of fear. The Lord doesn’t take rewards from the most prolific steward and give them to the poor guy who didn’t take any chances. Much to the contrary: He casts out the lazy servant and gives what he had to the more able of the three. God is preparing us for Kingdom living – Life is more than a dress rehearsal: our performance here will impact the role we have in His eternal Kingdom. Every sheep is valuable, but overcommitment is not rewarded anymore than slothfulness.

     We cannot move ahead to greater assignments without a faithful handling of what God has given us. Keep these 7 reasons in mind and FIND time to count your sheep… regularly.
 
This Friday night (04.26.2013), I’ll be speaking for Echo Ministries at Stars and Strikes in Cumming, GA at 7:30 on this very topic, in detail. If you’ve been wondering why my inbox is at 0 so many times a week or you’d just love to be a better shepherd, come join us!

In Memory of…

Day Off… For Remembering.
This morning, we’re celebrating with mixed emotions. While away on our first family “vacation” in a few years, we received news that our friend, Elizabeth “Beth” (Morgan) Talton had not only been missing for a few days, but had been found, dead, in her car.

We know that Beth knew the Lord, but her last few weeks here were troubled. We don’t have all the details, but what we do know is that she is not suffering, struggling, wondering anymore – she is with her Savior. Right now, she is being remembered in funeral services at Free Chapel, where she was a member and growing in renewed passion for Christ.

Please, pray for Beth’s children,
Brigham, Leilani, and Silas.

We’re trained in grief… But, that doesn’t make us immune to it. It doesn’t change the fact that we have to experience all the levels of loss – anger, bargaining, denial, etc. For those left behind, especially Beth’s three children and ex-husband, it’s a much deeper and longer process. Rather than our normal “Monday Morning Momentum” post, I’m dedicating today to this precious family and all those around them who now have a hole in their lives that Beth used to fill.

We weren’t close to the rest of Beth’s family, but for now we know that the two oldest children will be cared for by their dad and baby Silas is with his grandparents for the time being.

This is not a fundraising post, but some of Beth’s friends have set up a site to help provide for her children and we do encourage anyone to participate as the need must be enormous. To help, go to http://www.gofundme.com/2kijgw.

in Christ,
AP

God Tweets: Three Problems with God’s Will for Your Life

Praying God’s Will
     Every week, ask at least a dozen guys: “How can I pray for you?”  Number one frequently asked question from guys I’ve met for the first time is this: “Would you pray that God gives me clarity about His will for my life?”

     Sounds like a good request, right?  I, lately (smothered with a ketchup bottle of compassion), explain that there’s not much to pray about there.

     Huh? OK, I’ll explain my… explanation…

    God has given us scripture so that we can know more about His will for our lives: to know Christ and to make Him known.  In fact, part of God’s character is revelation: He is a God who reveals Himself.  The reason we are without excuse for our sins is right there in Romans 1:20: God has made some of Himself plain to see right there in the natural world.  God is a god of revelation – He’s already revealing.  But, where we get “wrapped around the axle” is when “God isn’t revealing enough of His plan for us, fast enough…”

Three Problems:
“God isn’t revealing enough of His plan for us fast enough.”

  1. We’re not the main character.
         When the tables were (and sometimes, still are) turned and I was (do) ask this question, I later realize I’ve mistaken myself for the main character – God is the main character of the Bible, my story, our lives. He is not beholden to men and debtor to me that He would owe me an explanation. As the scriptures tell us:
    “what is man that You remember him,
    the son of man that You look after him? (Psalm 8:4 HSCB)”

  2. Who gets to determine how much is enough revelation?
         Again, we’re in God’s territory, on His time, and the revelation we get is a privilege, not a right. Just as God is right in giving out mercy and compassion to whom He chooses and in the quantity He chooses, He is also right in giving out as much or as little information as He chooses… to whom He chooses.
    Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:20-21)”
    When we demand more revelation than God has given, we sin in the area of pride: “God owes me more info than He’s given me.”
  3. Who am I to determine how fast God “ought” to be revealing His will?
         Reading about Elijah in 1Kings 17, we have the benefit of hindsight – we know how the story ends. But, to Elijah, God essentially got on Twitter and sent the prophet two tweets – less than 140 characters in the NIV, ESV, HSCB, etc… “Tell Ahab, ‘drought until My say-so’.” Second tweet: “Supper is waiting for you down by the river. Come ‘n get it!”
         How do you feel if you’re Elijah in that situation? Are you content with what little info you have? Or, are you desperate for more detail… faster…?

    (See 1Kings 17:1-4)
         Elijah is among the ranks of many great men of God who despaired for their lives. James even tells us that Elijah, as great as he was, was just like us – human. (James 5:17)  Does it comfort you that God kept this man, whose name appears all over the old and new testaments, on a need to know basis?  Does it comfort you that Jesus taught the disciples to pray ‘not my will, but Yours’?

         If Elijah – professional prophet – appointed by God to deliver His direct word to kings, got little more than two tweets at a time, what makes you and I think we’re going to get God’s 14-point blueprint for our lives by Thursday? What right, when we have the full canon of scripture and the indwelling Holy Spirit that Elijah didn’t have, do you and I have to demand more from the star and author of the scripture (and our faith – see Heb. 12:2)?!
    Good answer… We don’t. But, it’s okay. God sees the whole picture…

Asking Higher Quality Questions

     While it’s not license for us to demand from God what He has no obligation to give, we’re wise to start with the heart of the question: our heart.  Jesus told us “abide in me and you will bear much fruit”.  See John 15…  And, let me ask you the same question He keeps asking me when I’m begging for the 14 Point Plan by Thursday: What would you do if He gave you that plan?  More importantly, how would you do it?
Most of us would rightly go after the 14 point plan point by point. But, we’d miss God.  Desperation is our friend, as long as it is God we are desperate for. The more information we have about God’s plan for our lives, the more likely we are to be distracted by the plan and away from the Planner.

Finding Contentment

     God is not out to manipulate us by keeping us on a short leash… He’s just smarter than we are. He knows that “with much wisdom comes much sorrow” (Ecc. 1:18) and that when we ask Him for things, we often ask with selfish motive to use what we get for our purposes rather than His. Desperation keeps us clinging to the vine – not just for information, but for life. And, doesn’t He know that we need life more than information, anyway?  God wants us to be to Him what He is for us: fully present. 

Prayer:     “Lord, would you give me more of you… always? Would you help me to be satisfied…content with the plan You’ve given me on a need to know basis.”

Pretty sure we can all predict the answer for that one…

Tweet, tweet.

AP

Purity vs. Virginity

Purity vs. Virginity

It’s Probably Not What You Think
You may have heard this story. I sometimes refrain from sharing it because I don’t want to come off as bragging. But, when I do that, I miss the point. I hope you won’t miss the same point as I share it much more publicly. We “stayed” pure before we got married. But, it’s probably not what you think.

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/relationships/virginity-not-point

Are You Taking the Easy Way Out? Monday Morning Momentum… Tuesday Afternoon

For last week’s most popular post,
click here.

Side note: I got a couple of great private comments on last week’s post on Gay Marriage. I hope if you haven’t read it, you get a look and it serves as a compass for you even after Resurrection Sunday.
Words vs. Deeds…
     In the parables of the two sons and the parable of the tenants (Mt. 21), Jesus lays out two examples of men who resist or reject God and His authority either in word or deed, but ultimately, in heart. 

  1. In the first, Son “A” rejects God’s command, but “repents” of his rash words and later obeys his Father’s command with good works. It’s an example of “saving faith”: someone who doesn’t just make an empty confession at an altar call, but with deeds that demonstrate a true faith. Son “B” pays his Father lip service and then doesn’t follow through. Jesus demonstrates that the God of the New Testament is indeed the same God of the Old Testament, who in Isaiah talks of a people who honor Him with their lips but whose hearts are far from Him (see Is. 29.13).
  2. In the second parable, the tenants factor out God in their “coup de vignoble” (coup of the vineyard), rejecting the Landowner’s messengers and eventually rejecting and murdering His Son.

     Here, Jesus tells the religious people of the day that two kinds of people are in danger of missing out on inheritance in the Kingdom of God:

  1. People whose hearts spring up empty words. (Mouths that write checks their actions can’t cash.)
  2. Those who do good things motivated by hearts not surrendered to God. Implied here is that a broken clock is right twice a day – still a wicked heart… I mean, clock.

     Throughout scripture, God makes His three desires for us clear

  1. A surrendered heart that bears good fruit. Obedience is greater in His eyes than sacrifice. Sacrifice can often be a half measure – while it costs something, it doesn’t cost any of ourselves and can be done without full surrender to God. See 1 Sam. 15:22.
  2. A surrendered heart that bears good fruit. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! (James 1:22 MSG)”
  3. A surrendered heart that bears good fruit. “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. (Mt. 21:43)  

Think on These Things?

  • Where are the places you know God is calling you to obedience but your words are not matching your deeds? 
  • Is there a word, a commitment, a promise you’ve made that you just don’t “feel” like doing right now? 
  • How can these be reconciled to the words of the Lord written above?

Ask the Lord: “Please, reveal to me anywhere I’m just ‘doing good works’ out of my own strength rather than in obedience to Your call.”

  • Lastly, is there obedience You are calling me to that goes beyond mere sacrifice of my stuff to sacrifice of myself? Where am I taking the easy way out?

     This weekend, we celebrated the Resurrection. It is an event like no other: the linchpin of history where the Old Testament promises are fulfilled and the most important legal transaction in history was signed in the blood of the Lamb. This sacrifice required the full surrender of Christ to the will of the Father. To be “in” on the “us” side of this transaction, we must surrender fully, not just our stuff, but ourselves.

Be Encouraged
     The Gospel is not about a bunch of important rules that we are to live by. It’s never been about good deeds and it never will be. It’s about surrender of the heart that’s so complete that good deeds naturally result. The great news is, whether you’re “saved” or not, the Gospel is for you. Sometimes in making a correct distinction between “salvation” and “sanctification” we err on the side of thinking “I’m in with God… Now, I can get back to work.” Paul made it clear to the church in Galatia that this is not the case. We are saved by grace… but we are also kept by grace.

in Christ,

AP

See You Tomorrow

If the Lord doesn’t return before then, we’ll see you tomorrow for a postponed edition of “Monday Morning Momentum”.

in Christ,

AP