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In our journey toward Easter, the celebration, the fun, the joy in celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, so often we can miss the weight of a day like today…the impact of Christ’s death on what we refer to as Good Friday.

In the first century, as this day happened, it was anything but good. Christ would suffer one of the more gruesome deaths, be ridiculed as a criminal, be treated as less than human, be beaten, and left to die a painful death. And as horrible as this was, it was by no means a surprise. The prophet Isaiah had spoken of this very event thousands of years before.  His words are recorded in Isaiah 53:4-5…

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…”

Christ willingly endured this pain and took this journey toward death, to take what was bad and make it good. He hung upon that cross, moment by moment, pushing himself up time and time again to grasp another quick breath of air, prolonging the inevitable…his eventual death upon that wretched tree.

And the moment would come as Christ breathed his last…the Messiah, the One that claimed to be the very Son of God would no longer have life in his lungs. His physical body hung their limp, no longer possessing the energy and vibrance that characterized Christ’s life on earth. This moment was one of amazing sorrow for his followers…they had put their hopes, their dreams, their desires into his hands, and now he was gone.

Things had been so different with Christ.  He wasn’t like the other religious leaders…he spoke with such authority, he displayed the power of God with such grace. But now he was gone.

Life had become so full, freedom had become so real because of Christ, but now his followers wondered if their lives would drift helplessly back to the way they once were?  It was a tragic moment of sorrow, of questions, of uncertainty. The moment Christ breathed his last was anything but good.

But the cross wasn’t the end that some had suspected, it was simply the beginning. Only hours after Jesus would die upon that wretched cross, the gospel writer, Matthew gives us a glimpse at what would be done with Christ’s now, lifeless body. We read this account in Matthew 27:57-61…

“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.”

Joseph was not only a wealthy man, but he was a man of great influence as a member of the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin. We read elsewhere that Joseph was joined by Nicodemus, who was also a follower of Christ and member of the Religious Leadership. These two men would proceed to wrap their arms around Christ’s lifeless body, lifting him from the cross that had taken his life, and with such love and care, they took him to the tomb owned by Joseph.  They had to move quickly as dusk was approaching, which would mark the beginning of the Sabbath, a day which no one was permitted to work.

They soon gently laid his body into the recently carved tomb, and wrapped his body in linens placing a mixture of burial spices, myrrh and aloes, upon his body. Standing back in this solemn and lonely grave, they would be the only ones to see the true finality of Christ’s death. He was now wrapped in burial cloths and placed within that tomb…this was the final statement of his death. His body no longer carried life, but was now clothed completely in death. Joseph and Nicodemus would slowly walk from the tomb, sealing it with a boulder…a giant, unmovable stone, further solidifying the death, the loss, the disappointment of Christ’s death.

This was a sad day for the thousands of followers that had watched Christ heal the sick, had heard him teach throughout the country sides, had experienced his compassion as he looked upon the hurting children of that region…their hopes of a new Israel, of a reformed faith, would seemingly die with this man known as Jesus.

For us on the other side of this moment, we forget the pain that Christ’s followers endured for the few days he would lay in that grave.  But every tear that was shed, every sorrowful and reminiscent conversation that would be had, would make what Christ was about to do even that much more powerful.

The Apostle Paul would later write in one of his letters to the church in Rome about a core characteristic of God that was at work in this moment, but was definitely not visible when Joseph and Nicodemus would look upon Christ’s body wrapped in that robe of death.

Paul wrote about how God so often takes what is clearly bad, and somehow transforms it into something overwhelmingly good. For Paul, it may have been a farfetched statement, but it wasn’t simply his words, it was a description of what God had already done and would continue to do.

And these words were not simply for the First Century, but  they ring true for our lives today. You see, we have all had moments when we’ve experienced the final blow of life’s circumstances.

  • When we’ve lost our job, and our family’s only source of income is gone.
  • When that significant other we have loved and were convinced would spend the rest of our lives with, walks out on you.
  • When the words of those closest to you become like daggers cutting straight to your heart.

These are the moments when hope can be lost, when the future can be dim, when everything around us is screaming that our dreams are over.  That the very idea of dreaming and hoping is simply the work of child-like naivety.

These are the moments when life can be described as anything but good. And into moments like these, into moments like Christ’s followers experienced on that dark Friday, Paul’s words become a shining beacon of hope piercing the darkness.

Here’s what Paul would say in regards to what is seemingly hopeless and lost in Romans 8:28,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

How can today ever be called good? How can a day be called good when the Savior of the world was murdered by the malicious envy of the religious elite? How can the moment when death has wrapped its tentacles around Christ’s body be called good? It can be called good because it wasn’t the end.

In all things God is working for the good. In your life, that pink slip is not the end. In your family, that devastating news is not the end. In your relationships, that helpless moment is not the end. In your finances, that empty moment of despair is not the end.

You see, the same cloth that was wrapped around Christ’s body would only days later lay beneath his feet as he walked out of that empty tomb, conquering sin, death, and the very grave that held him.

The linen that Joseph and Nicodemus would wrap around Christ’s body may have represented the finality of Christ’s death, but it would only further magnify the impossibility of Christ’s comeback.

Whatever situation or circumstance you might find yourself in today…you may call it bad… you might call it unlucky… you might call it depressing, but the good news is God gets the last word…what you might see as bad or unfortunate, God is working…God is redeeming…in spite of your circumstances God is still working all things. And on a day that we now know as “Good Friday” take heart in the midst of your pain, your sorrow, your struggles, because Good Friday represents the redemption that God can bring even into the most impossible of situations.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

One of the things that is so amazing about God’s creation is how diverse he has made us all.  Some of us love exercise, others love video games.  Some of us love being around large groups of people, others enjoy their alone time.  God has made us all very different, which makes relationships even more valuable.  Relationships have the ability to enrich your life and to transform it.  At our church, we often say that “Relationships are the vehicle for transformation”, and it’s true.  So much of what happens in ministry, happens through the avenue of relationships.

Now in leadership, and ministry especially, it can become so easy to sometimes forget about the relationship with the people you’re working with.  I have watched far too often as people are seen as nothing more than ‘pawns’ or ‘cogs’ in the giant ministry machine.  We use people to get to our desired end, neglecting the relationship, or basing the relationship solely on productivity.  The tragedy that happens when people become ‘objects’ rather than ‘friends’ is we begin to treat them as such.  This affects both our care for them and our communication with them.

The moment this is never more evident is when things aren’t going your way.  When circumstances aren’t working out in your favor, it can be easy to start seeing those around you as nothing more than ‘objects’ to help you solve your problem.  And when this happens, our relational communication with those people takes a hit.   You see, with a friend you have difficult conversations face-to-face, not via text or email, and especially not on their Facebook wall.  But when a person is just an object to you, face-to-face, relational communication is no longer valuable.  My challenge to you as a leader or ministry leader is this:  Take the relational high road.  Allow those you’re working with, serving and caring for to always be seen through a relational lens.  Treat them with respect.  While you probably won’t agree with everyone, do your very best to honor everyone.  Here are a few tips with this in mind:

  • Have the hard conversations in person, not through digital communication.
  • When you’re leading people, see them as real people, not simply pawns who are there to serve you.
  • Even with your digital communication, don’t simply share info, but make sure you’re also fostering your ongoing relationship.  (“How are you?” and “Thank you very much!” can go a long way.)

I’ve now been a dad for over a year.  It’s been a crazy, at times tiring, but incredibly fulfilling year.  I still can’t believe Heidi and I get to love and care for this little guy every day.  It’s such a joy, but at the same time can be such an exhausting endeavor.  Over this past year, as we have had to get up in the middle of the night (mostly Heidi!), or have had to clean up the messes our son can sometimes make, it’s easy to forget the big picture.  The fact that we’re not just cleaning a messy diaper or rocking a crying baby, we’re raising a son.  And whether you have kids or not, there’s an important leadership principle here that I think is key to remember:  The best things in life are also often the hardest things to do.

In whatever you’re doing, there’s always the easy way and the hard way.  The easy way usually involves taking a few short cuts or cutting a few corners.  While the hard way will often take more time, energy and effort than you really care to give.  And in those moments when you have to make the difficult decision between taking the easy path, or the more difficult one, it can almost seem like a really hard decision.  But here’s the reality:  the path of least resistance usually produces the product of least endurance.  In other words, if you’re truly committed to this task, to this ministry, to this project…if you really want the best results in the long run…if you really want the best, think twice about simply taking the easy way out.  Think twice about not having that difficult conversation with someone that offended you…think twice about not preparing for that lesson, but just trying to wing it…think twice about keeping your mouth shut when you see injustice right in front of you.

In life and in leadership, it’s so easy to believe the lie that we should just take the path of least resistance.  Can I challenge that idea?  Don’t simply take the path of least resistance, but take the path that brings the best results.  Because often the best things in life are the hardest things to do.

Growing up in a pastor’s home, I was around church and ministry all the time.  And being around church so much, it wasn’t until I went to college, and eventually launched out as a pastor myself, that I started to realize ministry was so much more than just ‘having church.’

In fact, this one aspect of ministry that I want to focus on, is one of the more incredible components of the gospel and God’s work to redeem mankind through His church.  Here it is:  God can teach old dogs new tricks.  What does that even mean?  Well, as the saying goes, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  It’s not talking about an ‘old person’, but rather that once a person has a way of doing things, it’s pretty impossible to undo that way.  Because of this in the church world, we often label people.  Because while we preach and say we believe that God can transform, we are far too often hesitant to practice that truth.

And this is one of the things that often frustrates me about how ministry is done in some circles…or as Andy Stanley illustrates from Popeye’s perspective…this is one of my “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands it no more” issues.

Here it is:  those that have messed up, not measured up, or screwed something up in the past are bound to do it again, so don’t give them a chance to even try it again. 

When this approach is taken, it’s usually from the perspective of ‘we want to do things with excellence.”  And I am totally on board with that!  But what if God wanted to develop something ‘excellent’ in that person that you just wrote off?  What if God was actually dropping a ‘diamond in the rough’ right into your lap, and you just labeled them ‘damaged goods’?

If you’re in a leadership role in a church…can I encourage you to give that guy or girl another chance?  That doesn’t mean you’re naive to that person’s shortcomings, but are you willing to help them work through them, or is excellence such a strong value that the ‘old dogs’ aren’t worth your time?

I’m so thankful that God didn’t see me that way, and I’m sure you’d say the same.  Take time not just to recruit talent to your team, but take the time to develop talent in those that are already there.  You might be surprised what God can do when you allow him to teach ‘old dogs new tricks.’

Choosing to Compare

When it comes to leadership, playing the comparison game can be dangerous.  I’ve never seen anything good come from comparing what you’re doing, and what God is doing through you, with what someone else is doing in another place.  It usually results in either pride or guilt…neither of which God wants for you.  This is why God has uniquely gifted you and your team to accomplish the unique vision he has for your location, not for somewhere else.  But there is a type of comparison that can actually be really healthy.  The healthy way to compare is when we compare our current selves with our former selves, or our team now with where our team was.

In fact, this type of comparison is what drives progress, improvement and growth.  This is comparing apples with apples, as opposed to apples to oranges.  It’s taking what you have done and holding it up to what you are doing, which gives opportunity to tangibly gauge growth and progress.

In fact, when we don’t take time to compare like this, we can run the risk of stagnating…continuing the ‘same old, same old’ and never developing beyond where we already are.

On the other hand, when we do compare, we’re able to celebrate progress.  And progress is often difficult to notice in our day-to-day activity.  But when we step back we see the growth that has taken place.

Not only that, but when we compare, we’re able to identify areas of needed growth.  There might be areas of weakness that you’ve become oblivious to, but seeing where you are now in comparison to where you’ve been, can oftentimes open your eyes too much needed change.

And the last thing that can happen when we compare, is we’re able to further clarify where we’re going.  If you’re leading your team into mayhem, your trends will show it.  If you’re leading your team to a place of greater growth, the trends will show it.

Comparing can be a dangerous and destructive thing.  But when you compare yourself with yourself, or your team with where your team’s been, it can be a very healthy and rewarding activity, and one that can lead you to an even greater place of growth!

Take sometime right now and compare where you were last year, or where your team was last year.

  • What can you learn from where you’ve come?
  • In what you see, what needs to change today?
  • What can you celebrate, and how can you celebrate it?

In the Christian world, we are so often praying for revival.  We pray that God would move in our midst…that God would transform the broken…that God would bring life to that which is dead.  We so often long for revival, even to the point of tears.  Our hearts break for the lost, and our longing is for more of God.  What incredible prayers have been offered in the name of revival!  But what if revival wasn’t necessary?  What if it’s ultimately not what a broken world needs?

What if rather than simply praying for revival and longing for revival, we became the revival?  What if we put our prayers to action?  What if God is wanting to send revival to our communities and to our nation, but he’s just waiting for someone to do something beyond just praying about it and talking about it?

I know these are big questions to ask.  And in asking them I don’t intend to presuppose revival is completely our responsibility, because God is sovereign and moves as He chooses.  But God can only ‘revive’ those willing to be the change, not just wish for the change.  That’s the ultimate purpose of ‘revival’ anyway.  It’s not to simply fill altars with people praying and crying out to God, but to reach those that are far from Him and see their lives miraculously transformed!  

For that transformation to happen, and revival to truly take place in our community, maybe, just maybe, it’s not so much our lack of prayer, but our lack of participation with what God is already doing?  That’s not to diminish the huge importance for every Christ follower to be in prayer for our world.  Instead, let it be a caution to not simply pray for God to change our world, but to step out and be the change our world needs.

That is true revival.  That’s something that no church service or prayer meeting will do.  That’s what Jesus called his followers to thousands of years ago…not, “Pray and I’ll make disciples…” but Go and make disciples…”

And if that’s the case, then maybe our world doesn’t need another ‘revival service’ but it needs you…it needs you carrying the love and hope of Jesus Christ throughout it.  It needs you willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the hurting.  It needs you willing to put feet to your prayers, and love the unlovely.

Let’s stop waiting for the next big revival to reach and change our world, and let’s start being the revival our world so desperately needs.

Ministry Innovation

Famous last words for any organization:  “That’s not how we’ve always done it.”  These are famous, and yet still so often repeated throughout the business world, and especially in the church world.  Unfortunately, over the span of the 2000 years of the church’s existence, we have slowly allowed ‘tradition’ to supersede ‘innovation.’  And I’m not saying that tradition is wrong, bad, or should be thrown out all together.  Tradition communicates longevity and history, which are good, but when the Church, the very expression of Christ’s love and power, allows itself to comfortably lean back into tradition because innovation would take too much effort, we’ve missed our mark.  If we are called to reach a lost and hurting world, we owe to the lost of this world to do whatever we can to reach them.  I love what Craig Groeschel says, “To reach those who aren’t being reached, you have to be willing to do what isn’t being done.”  Innovation must take place if we’re going to reach those that have yet to be impacted by the gospel.

As the lead pastor of a church that celebrates its 42nd Birthday this year, I enjoy looking back at our own church’s history and all the traditions that have been present over the years.  It’s exciting to see the practices that have stood the test of time, and the traditions that continue to impact lives for Christ.  

But on the other side, it’s just as exciting to see the different expressions of ministry that were present throughout the different seasons of our church.  Like many churches in America, we had our booming bus ministry during one season…we had a season where Sunday School was actually bigger than the Sunday morning service…we even had a time where we had a thriving Christian School.  These were all effective ways of reaching and discipling people for Christ during that time period, but aren’t necessarily effective today.  That doesn’t make them bad in any way, but they were for a certain period in our nation and region’s history.

The problem arrises when we allow ‘innovation’ to become ‘tradition’, and we no longer are listening to the creativity of the Holy Spirit to reach an ever-changing world.  With that said, here are a few thoughts when it comes to innovation and ministry:

  • Don’t allow innovation to overshadow ministry.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in doing ministry in a more modern/updated way, and miss the point of it all.  The point isn’t innovation for the sake of innovation – it’s communicating a timeless message to a changing culture.
  • Identify your goals of ministry.  Who is your target?  What are their needs?  Why are you doing ministry?  Identifying these are crucial to making sure the ministry you’re doing is actually meeting a perceived need of those your ministering to.  This also allows you to evaluate to make sure you’re reaching your goals of ministry, not just doing activity that you call ministry.
  • Hold your ideas lightly.  Your innovations of yesterday, may not be effective today.  Be willing to hold those past victories lightly, and allow the next generation behind you to innovate.  I love reading the Book of Acts and seeing how the disciples didn’t do ministry exactly like Jesus did.  They continued to innovate, just as Jesus had.  They didn’t just speak to thousands, but they wrote letters, which enabled them to speak to millions.  They didn’t gather a group of disciples, but established churches full of disciples.  Don’t get so stuck on what you did in the past that you stand in the way of what God is doing now, and how He’s continuing to reach those furthest from Him.

As a pastor, I feel strongly that innovation should always be present in the church.  We serve a creative God, and I believe He’s gifted us to reflect His creativity.  Whether you’re a pastor, a leader in the church, or simply attending a church, I challenge you to ask God, “What are new ways of doing ministry that people haven’t even dreamed of yet?”   Then get ready to step out in faith, and watch God do amazing things through you, as you allow the timeless message of Christ, impact the time in which you live!

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