Hiding or Healing

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This morning, I was going through some notes and scraps of paper that had been stuffed in my bible. Most were notes from studies I had taken my men’s group through. One note however, was on a napkin (I kid you not, a napkin), scribbled as God had given me an idea for a message. This was from a few years back, when I was blessed to serve in the recovery ministry of Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, where I would periodically deliver the evening’s message.

The notes on the napkin contained the title of this blog post, followed by a few scripture references. I don’t know if that message will ever take full form, or be delivered, (that’s up to God) but I felt Him nudging me to share its premise here.

All of us have gone through painful experiences, whether that be loss of a loved one, financial or relational struggles, devastating illness, deep addictions or other poor life choices. The question is not whether we have or will encounter these valleys in our lives (we have…or we will). The question is what do we do with them when they come? We have two choices.

The first is to hide and frankly, this is our nature. It started with Adam and Eve attempting to hide from God in the garden (Genesis 3). That didn’t turn out well for them, or us. We see it again when Jonah attempts to hide from God by hopping a ship going in the opposite direction of where God told him to go (Jonah 1). He ended up in the digestive system of a large fish…not a good turn of events for Jonah!

Through the profit Isaiah, God gives us clear warning about hiding our plans and activities. I’d encourage you to read what He says about that here. The bottom line is, there’s never a good outcome when we hide our bad habits or hurts, thinking somehow that the darkness will cover them over. It never does. 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “…He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts…”. This is not to punish us, or because God is a mean, stick wielding God. This is because He knows that our healing, and the healing of those we may have impacted, cannot begin until the issue is brought into the light. In fact, it is to save us from the punishment we inflict upon ourselves, by attempting to keep it in the dark.

So what about that second choice; the choice to bring our problem into the light. How do we know that’s the way to go? Just look at the bleeding woman from Luke 8:43-48. A woman with bleeding of this type, in that time and culture, would have been considered unclean. She certainly wouldn’t do anything to draw attention to her plight. Yet because of her faith and her desire to be healed. she stepped out boldly to encounter Jesus in a very personal way. Because of her willingness to bring her circumstance into the light, she received the healing she so desperately needed.

Or what about the ten men with leprosy (Luke 17:11-14) who called out to Jesus for healing. Lepers were kept separate from the rest of society, barred from any interaction with others. These men however, knew that Jesus brought the healing they needed and so they stepped out from the shadows and asked. That’s exactly what we need to do.

If you have a bible app that allows you to search key words, plug in the word darkness and see how many times it comes up, and how God talks about it…and keep in mind, it’s not just physical darkness He’s referring to. It’s the spiritual darkness that permeates our lives, when we refuse to seek the light…His light. To hide in the darkness is a ridiculous notion. Simply read Psalm 139:7-12 to see why.

But there is great news to be found; in the stories of the bleeding woman, the ten lepers and in Psalm 112:4 which tells us: “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man”. Whatever you’re tempted to hide in the darkness, bring it into the light and allow God’s grace and goodness to do for you, what He’s done for so many others.

To my brothers and sisters who have shared with me, the healing you’ve realized through bringing your hurts into the light, thank you for your inspiration and example; you know who you are. You demonstrate to those around you, that the healing light shown to the bleeding woman and the ten lepers, is not simply a historical story of a God that used to be, but a tangible living reminder of a God that is.

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All Things Great & Small

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Now more than ever, we are living in a world and a culture that values the big, the glitzy, the grand, and the extravagant. Just watching the evening news we find that, not only is the overwhelming majority of the news bad news, but it’s also all about the enormity of the story.

Earthquakes have to be at least a 6.0 to garner any interest and if no one is injured, or if no buildings collapse, we really don’t pay much attention. Shootings where only one or two people are killed might make your local news, but will certainly be passed up by the national networks.

If a Hollywood star or music icon makes a statement, our culture rushes to listen, and share it as if it came from Solomon himself. But the grandfather who likely has experiences and wisdom that few others posses, is never heard…And why is that? Because the entertainer is grand and glitzy in our eyes. The grandfather?..not so much.

Those of us who consider ourselves Christ followers, run the same risk. We know well, and are drawn to the grand stories and characters of the Bible; and we should be. Noah building the arc, Moses parting the Red Sea, David slaying Goliath, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. These are fantastic stories that encourage us in knowing that truly, all things are possible with God.

But what of Tychicus, without whom several of Paul’s letters would never have been delivered? Without the delivery of those letters, we have no way of knowing what the impact to the early struggling churches might have been, or whether we would even find them in our Bibles today!

And how can we forget Jonathan, son of King Saul, confidant and loyal Christian brother to David? Jonathan literally saved David’s life from his father Saul, and supported him through incredibly difficult circumstances. It is not an overstatement to say that we may never have had “King” David, had it not been for Jonathan.

In our present day, we marvel at missionaries who are instruments of salvation for entire remote villages, or raise up orphanages in impoverished communities…and marvel we should. We are captivated by preachers (communicators they’re now called) who bring God’s Word in bold and innovative ways, and I for one am so very thankful for them. If these pastors really want to leave a mark, they’ll need to be published, and be on the speaking circuit at major Christian conferences. Only then, will they be looked to, followed on Twitter and quoted by the larger Christian community.

But what of the “missionary” right here in our own backyard that is ministering at a coffee shop to a brother or sister that is hurting and broken. No book deal, no entire community being brought to salvation…just changing one life at a time for Jesus.

What of the pastor shepherding the 50 person country, or inner city church? No speaking invitation to a 5,000 person conference, no Twitter account with thousands of followers…just a man or woman discipling and caring for a small group of believers who’s lives are enriched by that pastor’s commitment and dedication to God’s work.

Our worship (and I’m a huge fan of contemporary Christian music) is only considered worthwhile, if the decibels are high enough, the band cool enough and the lights so over the top, that you need solar eclipse glasses to even look toward the stage.

Don’t hear criticism in any of these examples. I truly am thankful for great worship, dynamic and insightful preachers and bold missionaries who throw away the comfort of the first world, and in some cases risk their very lives, for the cause of Christ. Surely all of these warriors will one day hear, “well done good and faithful servant”.

This writing is simply to help draw attention to and encourage, the millions of missionaries who are impacting God’s kingdom here on earth, one or two, or a few of God’s kids at a time. I know many of you reading this are one of those, and I pray that God counts me among you.

God’s Word says; “Who despised the day of small things…”. Today I stopped at the supermarket to pick up breakfast treats for my team; something I do each Friday. As I left I saw Logan, the young man who often bags for me. He is always incredibly friendly and engaging; traits not often found in supermarket baggers. I stopped and said: “hey Logan, you want a donut?” (I don’t often offer people food from my grocery bags so I’m thinkin’ God has something to do with this). Logan paused and said: “yeah, I could use a donut”. So I set my bags down at a vacant check-out, opened the box and let him pick out a donut.

No angelic choirs sang out, I won’t be invited to speak or write a book about “the famous donut incident”, and my Twitter feed won’t likely light up as a result. But I hope that in some small way, Logan saw Christ in me through that donut.

My encouragement is that each of us continue to go and share a smile, a cup of coffee, an encouraging word and a little of God’s Word…and to do it one or two people at a time. I believe God honors that, and smiles a little Himself. I also believe it’s one way of living out Matthew 28:19 which tells us to “go and make disciples”. So let’s share a donut and see if we can’t make a disciple or two along the way.

Do We Mean What We Sing?

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If you attend church on a regular basis, and/or listen to Christian worship music in your car as you make your daily drive, it’s likely you sing along with the songs you’re hearing. In many cases, we sing passionately, raising our hands and hearts to God as we lift our voices with the modern day psalmists who lead us.

But as we do that, do we regularly ask ourselves two very important questions? The first is, do I believe what I’m singing? In other words, am I singing along because the words seem God honoring and the tune catches my attention or do I truly examine what the writer is expressing, and do I believe with all of my heart, that what has been spoken in the lines of a given song, is truth?

The second question is, do I mean it? When we sing “I will follow You” by Chris Tomlin, do we mean that? One of the verses of Mercy Me’s “All of Creation” says; “The reason we breath, is to sing of His glory”. As you go through your day, do say to yourself that the very reason you breath is to “sing of His glory”?..and the bigger question is, do you then do that?

My wife and I are members of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. This week, the worship team did a powerful rendition of Hillsong United’s, “So Will I”. It’s a song that calls us to proclaim that if the earth and everything in it, cries out to give God all the glory, and follow Him in whatever He asks, then “so will I”…

“If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I…”

It was this last line that grabbed me. It prompted me to want to ask the 4,000 people worshiping with me, “Is that really true for you?” It forced me to ask myself once again, “Is that true for you Kevin?”

Over the past several years, it was true for me in some very tangible ways. I walked away from my secular career as God pulled me deeper and deeper into ministry. His wind sent me and I went. He then sent me and my family away from everything we knew and loved, to “a land that He would show us”, uprooting us from 20 years in Knoxville, TN to go to our new home in Colorado. It was difficult but His wind sent us and we went.

I’ve watched others be called to the mission field in far away lands, or give selflessly of so much of the precious time God gives them, in service to others. It’s awe inspiring to see. When His wind blows, He may not be sending us to another vocation or location. He may be sending us financially or relationally. But the question is, when we feel the wind and know that it goes where He sends it, will we go as well.

At New Life, we say that we pray our songs and sing our prayers. The heart of that is that we really mean it when we say it. That we’re deeply engaged and connected with God as we worship and cry out from our souls. I know that God hears us when we worship in this way. He hears us clearly when we say “so will I”. I pray that we understand what that means, and that we mean it when we say it.

The world needs the truth and hope of Jesus now more than ever. We are His vessels to deliver that. I hope you’ll pray that God searches your heart, as I’ll be praying that He search mine, and that He reveals the truth to each of us of what it means to say “so will I”.

Train, Empower & Trust

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“Wow, you’re such a great leader. This place runs so well with you steering the ship. When you were out a couple of weeks ago, it just wasn’t the same, you know?..Things just didn’t click the way they do when you’re here.”

As a leader, have you ever had anyone say something like this to you? Ever said it to someone who leads something that you’re a part of? Sounds good doesn’t it? A nice compliment…The reality is, it’s one of the last things you want to hear as a leader.

One of the signs of a good leader, is how the machine runs when they’re not there. Are there processes in place to ensure the product or service gets delivered? Are staff or volunteers trained and committed to ensure that that delivery takes place? If problems arise (and they will) is the team empowered to rectify them? Have you built a culture of trust…not just that you trust your team to handle things, (which you’ll have to if you truly want to lead) but that they trust you enough not to fear making a mistake?

Too many organizations rely on a select few individuals to ensure tasks get accomplished or decisions get made. Have you ever called a business to obtain a service or rectify a problem, only to be told; “Sally is out this week and she handles that. She returns on Monday. Call back then and she’ll be able to help you.”? This is a terrible response. Why is Sally the only one with the knowledge or authority to help? What if Sally gets hit by a bus…will the entire organization collapse?

Being a leader means exactly that; leading. When you’re the one making all the decisions, ensuring customer needs are met and solving all the problems, you’re not leading. Leading means putting wheels in motion that turn whether you’re there or not. It means training and empowering your team to take care of business without you; and then trusting them to do it. The best leaders lead themselves right out of a job…and on to another.

We can learn a lot form Jethro. No not the goofy guy on The Beverley Hillbillies. Jethro was the father-in-law of Moses. You know Moses, the guy who got over 2 million folks to follow him into a perilous situation to an unknown destination (now that takes some leadership!).  Now Jethro doesn’t get a whole lot of p.r. but he just may be the guy that kept the wheels on the tracks of Moses’ organization.

See one day, Jethro saw Moses sitting in front of this line of his followers that was wrapped around the block (or around the sand dune as the case may be). He told Moses, you are killing yourself and wearing these people out. Well Moses didn’t know what to do so Jethro (the quiet leader) told him. “Train up and empower some good men to handle most of the questions these folks have. You can deal with the really critical stuff, but otherwise, let them take it.” Now I’m paraphrasing here…To see the exact quote, you can go here. The point is, there’s no way Moses could effectively lead his people and run his operation, without a trained, committed and empowered team; and neither can you.

Harry Truman was right when he said: “The buck stops here”. Ultimately, it is the leader who is responsible. The fact is however, there’s a whole lot of loose change that can be handled by others, before the buck ever has to make it to the leader’s desk.

If you’re a leader, look around you. Are you scooping up all the loose change in an effort to keep things rolling, or do you have a team that can handle that change (and some of the bucks as well), so you can focus on vision, strategy and staff development? If you’re following a leader that holds all the decisions and implementation to themselves, offer to help. Let them know you’re willing to carry some of the load if they’ll show you how, and hand the wheel barrel over to you.

For more on leadership and leadership development, see these other blog posts:

A Little Help From My Friends

Lead Like An Aspen

Leaders Creating Leaders

Life from Death

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Most of us have faced some type of tragedy or crises in our lives. These events may stop us in our tracks. They may cause us to cry out for help or send us running for cover. In the midst of our plight, we may feel hopeless, as if there is simply no way out. The hole is too deep, the hurt to painful, the damage to devastating.

But that is never the case. There is always a way out. Even from the clutches of death, life can be restored. That’s not some motivational hyperbole…I’ve seen it first hand in the lives of real people. These are people who believed they had reached the end of their rope be it physically, spiritually or both, and saw no path to restoration.

Recently I was privileged to walk with man who’s spent his entire life living in the midst of extreme dysfunction. Physical and emotional abuse as well as rampant drug use surrounded him since he was a boy. This led to issues of anger as well as terrible life choices of his own including drug use & dealing, gang affiliation and violence. After an arrest he was offered the opportunity of entering a 15 month residential rehab program. Today, a graduate of that program, Dennis, 35 and 18+ months clean, is working for a missionary catering company and studying to become a world class chef. He has a positive outlook as he builds a promising future. From near death, came life.

My dear friend Bobby lived a life of alcohol and cocaine addiction that spanned 38 years. He affiliated with organized crime and had one priority in mind…Bobby. At age 55, his kidneys and liver failing, he reluctantly entered a rehabilitation program. It was there that he hit his knees, cried out to God for rescue, and began the journey from death to life. Today he is 7 years sober, physically and spiritually restored and actively helping other addicts find hope.

A few years back, I had the honor of baptizing a man named Steve, who had been watching our church’s service on line. He’d never physically been to the building. He had been watching on line, not because he lived far from the church, or because he had other obligations that kept him from visiting…He watched on line because he was wheelchair bound and simply found it easier. ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) had ravaged his body and taken most of his mobility.

He came to be baptized on a Monday evening in front of a small crowd of about 100 people. His lifelong friend and I basically carried him from his chair, into the baptismal pool. After a brief discussion and his affirmation of having accepted Jesus, we took him under the water and raised him back up. Water mixed with tears dripped down his face as he turned to me and said: “Now I feel complete”…From the shadow of death, came life.

The photo above was taken this past week in the Black Forest region of Colorado Springs. Four years ago, a fire destroyed over 14,000 acres, 500 homes and took two lives in that beautiful community. The spot that photo was taken from was part of the area scorched by the fire. In the background you can see what’s left of a few of the thousands of trees that were decimated. But in the foreground, at the feet of death, new life has been brought forth.

In the movie Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) eloquently states; “Life finds a way”. He is so very right. Life does find a way. And that way is only because of the goodness of God. Death is permanent; except where God is present. If we can press through the valley of the shadow, He will always bring life on the other side. Watch for it; work for it; wait for it; believe it.

Rules Are Like Vegetables; They Really Are Good For Us!

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The old adage “rules are made to be broken” is sometimes (although rarely) a statement of truth. Sometimes there does need to be some bending, and occasionally they need to be rewritten. But one thing that has gotten lost is that they are almost always there for our good…for our protection.

There was a time in our society when rules were honored; viewed as guidelines not so much to restrict us, but to protect us. We would all agree for example, that having traffic signals at busy intersections, speed limits on our neighborhood streets and laws protecting our children from abuse are good and needed.

While even the above mentioned restrict us from certain activities (I can’t just run the red light because I’m in a hurry), what they accomplish more importantly, is to provide that protection for us, both individually and as a society. As time has marched on however, it seems that we have strayed further and further from placing value on rules and laws that were designed for our security and sanctuary. What’s best and what’s true have become relative.

We have come to place more value on individual rights and alleged freedoms, than on guidelines that benefit the whole of society. Our “right” to be happy has resulted in us abandoning our spouses and children, legalizing drugs that don’t benefit, but potentially degrade our society, condoning hate against people we’ve never met, and ensuring we can use whatever bathroom we feel inclined to use on any given day, regardless of the impact to others.

We often see these issues and many others, conveyed as societal freedoms that we all should have a right to engage in and express. Examine them closely however and you cannot help escape the reality that they are all desires to gain approval for fulfillment of individual preferences while ignoring the affect they have on the rights and protections of others.

Infidelity and divorce devastate not only our spouse and children, but friends and other family members who have vested years into a relationship with our family unit. The grass may appear greener for the one doing the leaving, but what they leave behind is nothing but scorched earth.

Legalizing marijuana for recreational use may make those who smoke it feel good, but what do we really know about the impact on their ability to parent their children well (not to mention what it may do to their children’s view of drug use); or on their job performance, or ability to drive a car. What of the rights of the tens of millions of drivers on the road who don’t partake? Is their safety not as valuable as an individual’s right to impair their reaction time for the sake of a good high?

Does your daughter (and the tens of millions of other daughters) not have the right to feel confident that the sign outside the public restroom door that says “Ladies”, actually means what it says?

Does this all sound a bit political to you? Well actually, it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with what is (or is not) socially and morally beneficial to our community as a whole. Simply put, coming to terms with what’s best for the greater good, not what’s best for my good.

This is what God does. Many look at the Bible as a book of rules and limitations to make our lives dull and difficult. The reality is, it is anything but. It calls us to adventure, risk and excitement. It is also filled with guardrails to protect us from the carnage and chaos we would wreak upon ourselves if left to our own whims. He put these guardrails (these rules) in place not to limit or punish us, but to protect us.

In John 10:1-16 Jesus tells a story of himself as the good shepherd and us as his sheep, living in His pen. The pen is not a place of restriction or limitation, but a peaceful place of protection. Are there rules? Yes but all are designed for our greater good. Outside the pen we can find many shiny temptations…some would say freedoms. But they are designed, not to allow us some Utopian, unfettered liberties, but to cause us pain and eventually destroy us.

In his book “Speak Life” my pastor Brady Boyd of New Life Church calls these protections, “fences that God has lovingly built for us”. He refers to sexual fences, relational and attitudinal fences. Fences that guide us in areas of finances, communication and moderation. All are designed to protect us; all of us. When we jump these fences, we immerse ourselves in a world that lures us further and further from the sanctuary we were designed for, and deeper into a false sense of freedom that actually turns out to be a prison.

Most of us have seen the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”. In it, Dorothy, the Kansas farm girl finds herself transported to the magical (and dangerous) land of Oz. If she hopes to return to her native Kansas, she must do so by making her way to The Emerald City and garnering the good graces of the wizard. To accomplish this, she must follow the yellow brick road. Staying on this road will not only bring her to her destination, but keep her safe as well. For to veer off the road, only for a moment, can bring disaster and even death.

In their excitement as they near the city, her and her companions attempt a short cut through a beautiful field of flowers, only to find themselves quickly under a spell cast by the wicked witch. If only they had stayed on the road. You see, the road was not about rules and regulations. It was not about punishment or restrictions. It was about protection. (Spoiler Alert: Dorothy makes it to the Emerald City and back to Kansas!)

As a young child attempts to run into the street without a thought for the danger, you grab his hand a pull him back. You do this, not with thought of punishment or limitation, but of protection. This is what God offers us in the pages of the Bible.

It’s critical that we remember that; it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). Let’s honor the guardrails and fences God has created to protect us, and walk in His glorious freedom. It’s better for you, it’s better for me…more importantly, it’s better for all of us. And while you’re at it, have a carrot or perhaps some broccoli!

For Jason…and for you

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Each day, there is a fight that we must face. Whether we realize it or not, we are in a battle. For some of us, that battle is strikingly evident. It comes in the form of serious illness, relational, or financial crises, addiction or loss of a loved one. For others, the battle may be a quiet, more hidden one. A private struggle with depression or anxiety or the stress of raising children in a fractured society. It may simply be the daily challenges of sorting out a world that seems to be changing at breakneck speed…all too often, not for the better.

There’s a race to be run as we fight. At the end of his time here, the apostle Paul, in writing to his young protege Timothy said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Notice the order here. Paul had to first, “fight the good fight” before he could “finish the race.” Many of us start things that we never finish, or in some cases, don’t finish well.

This past week, we received the devastating news that my 37 year old nephew had died from a heroin overdose. Jason had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for some time. He had overdosed and nearly died two years ago, but came through it and spent those last two years in recovery, seemingly doing well. Jason was a kind man with a big heart and unfortunately, a big addiction that gained mastery over him. That’s what addictions do.

I have worked with people in addiction for several years now and it is a voracious and relentless enemy that requires a constant, and equally relentless, fight to stave off. Those who struggle with it know all too well, how it’s claws continue to snap at you, attempting to get a foot hold and pull you back in. It is, as we are witnessing across our nation, a battle that far too many are unable to win.

So many start that road to recovery, convicted that they must make a change, yet many of those souls are lost before the finish line. It is in between the starting line and the finish line that we fail. We often don’t plan, or put the right support structure in place. Luke 14:28-30 reminds us that if we want to build something (a tower, a business, a life) we should first lay out some plans and be sure we have, not only a solid foundation from which to start, but all the things we’ll need along the way to complete the project…or as Paul would say, to finish the race. It is in the “in-betweens” that we stumble.

We all have battles to wage everyday. But in this moment, I speak to those who struggle with addiction, or are close to someone who does. Be sure to make plans to prepare for the in-betweens. Recovery is often a one day (or even one hour) at a time battle. Be sure to have a support structure in place; people that have your back and hold you accountable. Be engaged in serving others, steer clear of any person, place, or thing that might remind you or draw you back into old habits. Never, ever isolate yourself. It is a battle that can be won. I have have been blessed to do life with people who are, as we speak, walking in victory over it.

This is anything but easy, but it is part and parcel of fighting the good fight. Do these things so that like Paul you’ll be able to say, “I finished the race.” I pray that you (or that someone you love) will be able to claim that; and as they do, it will be not only because they fought the good fight, but just as importantly because they “kept the faith” that started them on the race to begin with. And I pray also, that someone will read this and be convicted that Jason’s finish line, which came much to quickly, does not have to be theirs.

Jason, you’ll always be loved. We just wish we had you longer.