5 work-from-home helps…

I had a distinct privilege of pastoring a church in the Sierra Nevada mountains called Bridgeport Christian Fellowship in Bridgeport, California from 2010-1016. This was my first pastorate. This church was such a loving, grace-showing congregation that allowed me to learn and grow during my time there.

One of the things I had to learn quickly was how to work from home. We lived in a parsonage right behind the church and the church office was more of a workroom/copy room so I had an office set up in my home where I did the majority of my work and sermon prep. I learned some things during this time and thought since so many of my pastor buddies are experiencing this now due to the coronavirus situation, I would share some of the things that were important to me to stay productive.

GET DRESSED. I know this sounds really simple and you might think it is crazy to even say, but get up on your days of work and get dressed. There were times early in my time in California when I would just get up and stumble into my office with my pjs on or some sweats or shorts and I found that when I did this I was less focused. It seems silly but getting up and going through your regular morning routine when you are actually going to the office is pretty important to your day at the home office. So get up and get dressed in clothes you would normally wear to the office. I found that it helped my focus and productivity immensely. It will yours too.

HAVE A SPOT. Somewhere in your home set up a place that can serve as your office. You need somewhere that can be your space whether it is an extra room, a garage, a closet – someplace that gives you the quiet and privacy you need. This can be challenging especially during the “sheltering in place” situation when the kids are there and there are other things going on. If at all possible, carve out some space where you can make phone calls, watch and create media content, study, pray and more.

KEEP A ROUTINE. When you are at work during normal times, you likely have a normal schedule of how you do things throughout the week. This is an important thing to maintain on some level because it gives you a semblance of normalcy. So while many things have changed for me and my routine during this process, I try my best to have at least a few days that are primarily the same routine. For me, personally, Thursday is a non-negotiable. Thursday is study day, final-touches-on-the-sermon prep day, and now recording the sermon day. It is all about focus. Whatever you can do to help you keep the main thing the main thing is important.

STAY CONNECTED. If you are in an office full of people, stay in touch with those people. If you have teams that you are leading – paid staff or lay leaders – meet with them. Zoom is a great way to do this. If you have a mentor or an accountability partner you meet with – keep those appointments by video or audio. Being “stuck at home” we have a tendency to think we don’t need some of those relationships but ignoring those connections will cause us to go stagnant in our work and spiritual lives very quickly.

GO OUTSIDE. Now I know I said “have a spot” but there is a time (this works even when you are in the office) when getting outside, if the weather allows, can be good for your work. Getting outside helps you see from a different perspective. It often can stimulate creativity. It also does you good to get some fresh air. When I was in California I often moved out to my front yard during the spring/summer to study because this was my view. Creativity flows freely in nature from the greatest Creative ever – our great God.

The kingdom of God is at stake. People are at stake. Hearts and lives are at stake even during this weird time, so my prayer for you is that you stay focused and work hard even though your surroundings have changed. Praying for you all.

Without Faith…

Faith.  Do you have it?  Do you exercise it?  Last week I was doing some reading in my daily devotional and I read across a verse that I had read hundreds of time and literally heard all of my life. 

The verse is found in Hebrews 11.  This chapter in the Bible is a chapter all about faith.  In fact it is often called the “faith” chapter.  It highlights the faith of men and women from all throughout the Old Testament who epitomized what the word actually means – because they lived it out.

This is the verse in that chapter that caught my attention.

Hebrews 11:6. Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.

You have heard it before right?  You’ve read it.  Maybe you have even quoted it.  I read it like all those times before, but that morning I stopped.  

I’m currently teaching a class at church on HOW TO STUDY THE BIBLE and observing this verse I realized that it is probably what is driving the rest of the chapter in some regard.  Then the spirit gently had me re-read it and showed me something in a new way. When I read it again I was faced with the question:

HOW MANY TIMES DO I TRY TO PLEASE GOD WITHOUT FAITH?

When I asked myself that question I realized the reality of my life.  The answer to that question might be more often than I think.  

I’m quite good at trying to please God.  

But the Lord gently pressed into me that morning and reminded me that faith should often take me places that I am not willing to go on my own just like all these people that are written about in Hebrews 11.

Let me tell you a story to kind of illustrate this.

I had just graduated from high school way back in 1991.  My youth pastor had organized a youth mission trip to Freeport, TX.  I was excited to go on this trip, I had surrendered to ministry a year earlier and was pumped about being able to go do something.

We went down to this church that was right in the middle of the Freeport beach community and we did backyard bible clubs during the day in the neighborhoods and at nights we would have a youth – led revival – meaning students would lead worship and do the preaching.

I was slated to preach the last night of the revival – a Wednesday night.

I had been prepping all week.  I had even had my host family take me to the store to get a new shirt to wear.

I was ready to share a message – ironically on faith.

Now what you need to know about this church was – like I said – it was a community church.  Right in the backyard of this church – probably 50 yards from the front door – was a huge concrete basketball court with 8 goals and every evening there were 100 kids out playing on this ball court or waiting to play.  

We pulled up to the church that night – I have my new digs on – I have my Bible and my stack of notebook paper notes.  I am ready.

Then it happened.  My youth pastor grabbed me and this other kid and said, “hey, guys, why don’t we go out to the basketball court and invite some students to come in to church.

My heart sunk.  Y’all mind if I’m honest?  That is the last thing I wanted to do and it had never even crossed my mind.  I just wanted to go preach. 

Anyway – what are we going to say in that moment?  Sure.  So we walk out and our youth pastor begins introducing us and telling some guys what is going on in the church. Now you can tell these guys didn’t want to be talking to us any more than I wanted us to be talking to them.  They were ballers – you could tell.  That is what they wanted to do.  

So our leader throws out this idea – hey guys 3 of you and 3 of us.  Why don’t we play a game of 3 on 3 – make it take it – to 3 by ones.  If we win y’all come to church tonight.  If y’all win we will get out of your way.

They looked at us and agreed in about .2 seconds.  I was the tallest guy on our team and these guys were athletes. 

These guys were so confident that they even said – you guys can have the ball first. 

That was the last time they touched the ball.  We scored 3 straight points.  Those guys reluctantly kept their end of the bargain and came to church that night.  I preached.  They listened.  I’d love to tell you they got saved and became world-changers, but I never saw them again. They did hear the gospel that night, but I got something better. I got to live it that.  Although I was forced into it.  

This is the story that came to my mind that morning last week when I read Hebrews 11:6 and I realized that more often than not, I am trying to please God without faith. 

Maybe I’m not the only one in that boat today.  Let me share a few things that are bound to happen when we try to please God with faith.

When we please God by serving him with faith it often means we will be 

INCONVENIENCED

When we are open to what God wants us to do through faith – he often wrecks our plan.  We like our routines. We like to have things neat and clean. God often has different plans.

Hebrews 11:7. By faith Noah, after he was warned about what was not yet seen and motivated by godly fear, built an ark to deliver his family. 

Genesis tells us that Noah was living a righteous life and had probably grown accustomed to living in a messed up world in a way that obviously earned him some favor, but this verse tells us that in an instant his life plan was interrupted.

He is warned about what was not yet seen…RAIN.  Up until this point there had not been a flood because there had been no rain.  Noah.  Living his life.  Doing what was RIGHT.  But he pleased God by faith when he built the ark to deliver his family.  Do you think this was an inconvenience?  Yes.  The next 70 to 100 years were spent building an ark.  I guarantee you this was not part of his plan.   Seems like a big inconvenience.  Living on a boat full of animals for a year.

So am I willing to give up my convenience to please God?  Are you?  Many times faith will be an inconvenience on our normal activity.

When we please God by serving him with faith it often means we will be INCONVENIENCED and 

UNCOMFORTABLE

Playing basketball in street clothes on a hot summer day in south Texas was uncomfortable.  It was unreasonable.  

When faith comes into the picture comfort usually goes out the door.

Francis Chan said “God doesn’t call us to be comfortable.  He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”

Hebrews 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He received the promises and he was offering his unique son,

If you are a father – you know how uncomfortable Abraham had to be when God called him to step out in faith and offer his heir – his son – the one he had waited 100 years for – as a sacrifice.  

That is what faith requires of us.  We have to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable to please God by faith!

I imagine when Peter stepped out on the water to come toward Jesus that night during the storm, he was uncomfortable. 

When is the last time you stepped out of the boat and got uncomfortable for God?

When we please God by serving him with faith it often means we will be INCONVENIENCED, UNCOMFORTABLE AND 

FACED WITH THE IMPOSSIBLE

Much like it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God without faith – it is also a fact when we act in faith will face the IMPOSSIBLE.

The definition of faith is back up in v1

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. 

In other words acting in faith is acting before you see it so that you will see it! 

 What is the it?

AN IMPOSSIBLE – DOING GOD DOING WHAT ONLY HE CAN DO!

You see that day out on the basketball court in our street shoes and church clothes – the impossible was before us.  We could not win!  It was impossible.  Ask anyone that lived it! Ask anyone standing around watching.   But that is what faith does.  That is where faith takes us.  

Faith takes us to the point where we can’t and only HE CAN!  If we want to please God then we have to move to a place where he can do what only he can do.  

This is ultimately what faith is about.  Faith brings honor and glory to God – puts the spotlight on God.  Faith ultimately pleases God.

Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by God’s command, so what is seen has been made from things that are not visible.

You know God did that.  Something out of nothing.  That is quite impossible.  That is what God does with lives that are yielded to Him and are willing to be inconvenienced and uncomfortable for His glory!

 So, if God were to write another chapter of faith heroes would he include you?  Are you living the faith you claim to have?

Wasted Moments

Disclaimer:  Everyone has bad days and the following is based on one of those days.

I have been married to my beautiful wife for almost 25 years now and we have been together for close to 27 and known each other for about 32.   We have 2 grown children who are both out of the house.  We hardly ever “argue” anymore.  Call it growth.  Call it less to argue about.  Whatever.  It is a win in my book.  

This writing is not about one of those non-argument days.  

Details are not needed in this story, but you do need to know that this argument started at about 10 AM on a Saturday and found no resolution until early evening on that same day.  Now, this is true, primarily because I am selfish when it comes to these situations and I like to “stand my ground” and “win.”  That sort of thing.  I am a lot better at not being like this than I used to but I still fall into it every once in a while.

Anyway.  The bulk of our Saturday (the only day we exclusively have together) was spent in silence.  We had a social obligation right in the middle of the day and that was spent with each of us basically talking to other people.  It was a rough one.

To make a very long, ugly story short, sometime that evening, we came together and talked through the issues that led to this day and we determined that whatever the reasons, they were not worth the “wasted moments” that we had endured. 

We made kind of a marriage pact in that moment to never allow selfishness or pride or stubbornness to steal away moments from our marriage ever again.  So, now, when something flairs up we remind each other about wasted moments.

I wonder if we as believers have these kind of “wasted moments” in our life with Christ.  How often are we selfish, stubborn or too prideful to admit that we are not where we should be in our relationship with Jesus?  

We must understand that our lives are too short to waste moments like this.  

James 4:14 “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?  Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” NLT

Can you identify wasted moments in your life with Christ?  The good news is – YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

The pages of Scripture are filled with men and women who wasted moments in their walk with the Lord.

The one I think about more often than not is King David.  David wasted moments of his life with the God, who had chosen him, because of his arrogance, his entitled attitude and his spiritual blindness.

He took something (actually someone) that wasn’t his to take, defiled her and then did his best to diffuse the bad situation by making it worse.  These wasted moments included adultery, deceit, murder, pride and lies. It was ugly and wasted moments usually are.

His relationship with God was hurting and he was blind to the fact that he had done it to himself until he was confronted by the prophet Nathan and convicted by God.

He then wrote Psalm 51 as a response to this conviction.

Psalm 51:10, 12 Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a loyal spirit within me…RESTORE TO ME the joy of your salvation and make me willing to obey you. NLT

I love what he asks in v 12.  “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation…”. In other words, “give me back the moments I wasted thinking I could make a better way for myself.”

In other words, “I have been miserable and that is my fault and this has led to wasted moments.  Help me to not only remember your salvation in my life, but help me to remember my response is obedience to you.”

David realized that he had wasted precious moments and now he wanted them back.

I can identify with David.  So often I am living on my own terms, doing what I want to do and this, more often than not, leads to wasted moments in my walk with Christ.

When I do what I want – when I live on my own terms – I most often am doing what it takes to keep myself comfortable.  When I am pursuing my own will, I am not obeying the will of the one I have promised to follow.  

The result:  I waste moments of obedience that could have led to God getting glory.

 I waste moments of following Jesus that could have led to someone hearing the gospel.

I waste moments of leading others to him. 

I waste moments of the “abundant’ life that He promised.  

So I am striving to not waste moments – not only with my wife, but also with my Savior.  God has so much more to offer us than we could ever get for ourselves and God never offers us wasted moments – He can’t.  He gives good, perfect (not necessarily easy, but always rewarding) moments as we follow Him.

Impact

Kobe “Mamba” Bryant

Yesterday the tragic news came across the wire that NBA legend, 41 year old superstar, had been killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and 7 others. Tragic. Unreal. Honestly, for a few minutes, I was expecting this to be “fake news” kind of like the Tom Hanks or Will Smith death deal or a handful of others. But it wasn’t. It WAS real. Kobe Bryant is dead.

I watched on social media as the tributes began to pour in. Many of the NBA games gave tearful tributes. This morning those on ESPN radio tried to put into words the scope of the situation and the man. The word that kept coming up many times in all of those scenarios was IMPACT.

Kobe had IMPACT.

He had IMPACT on the game of basketball. He was the “Mamba.” He was the cool, ice-in-his-veins closer. He was clutch. He had a work ethic and drive that was second to none. Now, I grew up during the Jordan era, so Jordan will always be the GOAT to me, but ask a generation behind me who they loved to watch and 9 out of 10 will say Kobe. So much so that when they throw away their trash in the trash can they shoot it like a basketball and yell “Kobe.”

He had many of accolades to his name inside the game…

– 5-time NBA Champion

-2-time finals MVP

-League MVP

-2-time Olympic Gold Medalist

– 18-time NBA All-Star

– 4-time NBA All-Star Game MVP

– 11-time All-NBA First Team

– 2-time All-NBA Second Team

– 2-time All-NBA Third Team

– 9-time NBA All-Defensive First Team

3-time NBA All-Defensive Second Team

– 2-time NBA scoring champion

– NBA Slam Dunk champion

– NBA All-Rookie Second Team

– Los Angeles Lakers’ all-time leading scorer

– Naismith Prep Player of the Year

That is quite an IMPACT. So many of today’s young stars were mentored by him. They looked up to him. They imitated, but hardly ever duplicated him. On the court he was a giant. A legend.

Off the court was much of the same. In his later years leading up to his retirement, he began to focus on his family (pictured above). He wasn’t perfect and he knew it. He even owned it. But he was determined to be a husband and father that would make an impact on his family. He also began to make an impact off of the court in various other ways.

-He founded the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation.

-He founded a charitable organization to help homeless youth in Los Angeles.

-He was a national ambassador for “After-School All-Stars” an organization that promotes academic success for the nation’s youth

-He donated $1 Million dollars through his foundation for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

-He donated books to Lebron James’ “I Promise School”

-He was actively involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation

And quite honestly the list goes on and on. He did a lot. He won a lot. He gave a lot. He even won an Oscar for his short film “Dear Basketball.” The IMPACT he made in the world is much like a boulder being thrown into a glassy, still lake. It hit hard, made a big splash, and the ripples will continue for years to come.

So how do we process this? For me, today, it is the word IMPACT. Now, for certain, I will never be a Kobe. Nobody is going to call me Mamba. I don’t have the skill set, platform, or circle of influence that Mr. Bryant had. But can I learn from him? Yes. And so can you. You see, the size of the boulder dropping into the water does not matter. Every boulder, every rock, every pebble has IMPACT. The ripples happen even if the splash is not as big.

So I ask myself today. Am I making an impact? Am I making a difference? For me, it comes down to purpose. My purpose comes from God and was planned for me long before I showed up.

God said to Jeremiah, (and to each one of us who follow Him)

“I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

Don’t believe me? Look at what was written by Paul years later about those of us who are saved by the blood of Christ and make Him Lord of our lives…

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10

You see, as a follower of Christ, we were designed with purpose in mind and we were created to make an IMPACT.

We don’t make an IMPACT for ourselves. We don’t strive to make our name great. We take what God has given us – the mind, the body, the skills, the talents, the gifts, the passion – and we use it to declare His glory and His story! Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that the reason we do this is because “Christ love compels us.”

So you may not have a name that everyone knows. But you have a God that knows you! He desires to use you to make an IMPACT that has eternal consequences. You might be reading this and thinking, “that is great, and I want to believe it, but where do I start?” Start at the point of IMPACT. Where the rock hits the water. Where God has placed you. Your family. Your wife. Your kids. Lead them to Jesus. Your workplace. Shine bright for Jesus. Your church. Serve Jesus and others. Your community. Be a light in a dark place wherever you go. You see how the ripples begin to move out? Can you feel it? The IMPACT is real no matter how small you think it is!

So hit that water hard today and let’s make an IMPACT for the Christ!

Thermostat or Thermometer?

A thermostat regulates the temperature in the surrounding areas. It changes conditions when it needs to be changed. A thermometer simply tells you what the temperature is. It doesn’t change anything – as a matter of fact – it changes with the temperature.

As a leader – husband – mom – worker – student…whatever role you find yourself in currently, you have the choice to make of which one of these things you are going to be. Certainly as a follower of Jesus you have the opportunity to be one or the other.

The apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, was a thermostat. Instead of his faith wavering with every changing circumstance, he was steadily influencing his surroundings. He didn’t make excuses as to why he couldn’t make a difference. He didn’t find a “way out” of doing what he was called to do. He never saw himself as a victim despite being shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned…

So, the way I see it, I have a choice to make. Maybe, if you’re reading this, you do too. You can choose to be a victim of your circumstance and allow the temperature around you to dictate you OR you can choose to be a victor despite the circumstances and regulate the temperature around you.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians (which he wrote FROM PRISON), gives us some insight in how to do be a difference-maker instead of becoming indifferent.

Philippians 4:9-13

Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. 11 I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.

It is interesting to me that Paul uses the word LEARN several times in this passage. In other words, it wasn’t something that just came naturally, but over time he learned what he was telling these people. He learned (maybe the hard way at times). He learned (maybe by failure). He learned (out of frustration). He learned (by realizing that God actually was God and he was not). My point is, if Paul had to learn it – then, most certainly, so will we. Contentment, joy in difficulty, being a difference-maker – doesn’t always come naturally to us but it can be learned once we learn that God is who He says He is!

IF YOU ARE GOING TO LEAD – IF YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN YOUR ENVIRONMENT – THEN YOU MUST BE A LEARNER!

Google can’t answer all the questions. Siri can’t always tell us where to go. Some things we learn through experience and most certainly we learn by soaking up the Word of God.

So in order to be a THERMOSTAT in an uncertain world – Paul sets an example that I am learning 3 main things from.

  1. GOD HAS CALLED US TO MOVE FOWARD!

Contentment is not passivity or complacency. A complacent leader, disciple, parent (insert what you are) is unconcerned about others and so comfortable that they forget the mission is to influence and change their world for the glory of God.

If we are content – we are STILL MOVING and blessing others wherever our lives take us. Contentment is not an escape from the battle. Contentment is an abiding peace and confidence in the midst of the battle. No matter what “hat” you wear and where life takes you, Paul says the key is to keep going – being content with where you are because you realize that even in difficulty we have a calling. The calling doesn’t get put on hold just because life gets hard.

The word content actually means “contained.” It is a description of a person whose resources are CONTAINED WITHIN so that they don’t have to depend on a weak substitute without. So we are called to move forward – to continue our calling wherever we are in life. We do this not based on our own sufficiency and strength but based on the sufficiency of Christ in us. Remember Paul wrote this letter from prison, but he is still moving forward and changing the temperature of the air for the Philippians. His example would encourage them that no matter the circumstance, they could be on mission.

2. GOD HAS CALLED US TO BE FLEXIBLE!

None of us are exempt from the unexpected. It happens. We are called to minister in those unexpected moments. Paul said that he had learned contentment “whatever the circumstance.” Places of uncertainty are the exact places that prove our faith. God ministers to us in His grace by prompting us to trust in His wisdom, strength and provision. Paul had LEARNED that no matter where he was or what came His way, he was ok because God was God!

Our problem with flexibility and contentment is that we are often looking for the wrong thing. You see, Paul wasn’t pursuing happiness (which depends on changing circumstances), Paul was pursuing his God and the calling that God has placed on his life. With that pursuit comes great joy for Paul as well as us because the purpose is much greater than fleeting happiness. That joy and contentment is constant in poverty or prosperity, planned events or unplanned events, outside peace or outside chaos. Paul knew that real peace leads to joy and that is only found in trusting God with everything. As a matter of fact, he had just written about it in Philippians 4:6-7.

3. GOD HAS CALLED US TO BE FIXATED!

There is no doubt that as Paul is writing this, he has specific scenes in his mind from his life. He says, “I know both how to have a little and I know how to have much.” Circumstances for Paul had changed time and time again. Logistics. Friends. Age. Geography. His gave did not change. He kept looking at Christ. How did he stay fixated on Christ? Simply put, he realized that Christ was all he had that could be counted on. Jesus was his firm foundation. How do we know this? Because at the end of the list of ways that he has learned to be content, Paul writes, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

This is a phrase that we have often relegated to excelling at hitting a ball or throwing a tight spiral. But there is a quiet strength associated this verse that transcends sports and permeates our calling. No matter what comes our way, we can live in the strength of Christ. “All things” here refers to the fluctuations of circumstances. What we learn from this is that Christ empowers us as believers to live in God’s will no matter what. Paul’s life demonstrates this and brings up a paradox that is true for all of us as disciples. When we are weak – we are strong in Christ.

You see, just as nature depends on hidden resources, so do we. The great trees send their roots down into the earth to draw up water and minerals. As a matter of fact, the most important part of the tree is the part you can’t see much like the most important part of our life as followers of Christ is that part that we know is there but only God sees!

Paul depended on the power of Christ at work in his life. We as believers have all the power within us that we need to be ready for the demands of life. We have within us what it takes to lead – to love – to serve – to make a difference – to be a thermostat for the kingdom of God.