The tiniest cogs are the most important...
Imagine for a moment that your life is made up of cogs. You know what a cog is right? One of those gears with the little teeth all around them. When you place them together they can begin moving one another. Turning one on this side will also turn one on the far side because of the way that all of those cogs fit together.
Now imagine that there are different sized cogs that make up your life. There are the really big cogs, perhaps at the top that really define who you are and what you're doing with your life. These bog cogs may be your career, your marriage, your personality, your fitness, etc. Underneath these large cogs are medium sized cogs that help set the direction for the largest cogs of your life. These medium sized cogs may be things like your time management, who you associate with, what your hobbies are, etc. Lastly, imagine with me that there are even smaller sets of cogs at the very bottom. These little tiny cogs may be things that seem insignificant but are pretty important. These tinest cogs may be things like what you're doing right now, what time you plan on getting up tomorrow morning, what you choose to watch or listen to, that comment that you're thinking about making, the conversation that you don't want to have but know that you must, etc.
At first, these tiny cogs seem like they don't have much impact on the ultimate course of our lives. We sometimes even slip into ignoring these tiny cogs because they feel like such a waste. Why bother with decisions that don't really make a big difference in my life? Why spend time dealing with something so small when I have so many big decisions to make? We forget about the tiny cogs and focus all of our energy on the big cogs. We try to map out a direction that we want the big cogs to move in but it's really tough to get those big cogs moving. We strive and we struggle and we toil and in the end we never really make much progress. Why?
Allow me to suggest that you've been ignoring the tiny cogs of your life. If you want to see change in your life, in your family or in your organization, start with the tiny cogs. Start by setting a new direction for your daily habits, start by better managing your margins, start by going to bed earlier, start by getting up earlier, start by changing your language, start by changing the little cogs first.
Remember, the big cogs always turn more freely and in our preferred direction when the little cogs are moving in the right direction first. Too often we attempt to turn the ship of our lives in a new direction before we've alerted the deckhands, notified the engine room or even put our hand on the steering wheel. Start small and start now.
Keep It Classy
I've been reading through the book of Mark and over the last few days I've been reading and re-reading chapter 6 specifically.
Side note: This is a great way to really study Scripture. Studying Scripture is about more than just reading it. Read, re-read and then read it again. Allow different words, phrases and portions to jump out to. You'll discover something new and different every time you read it. End side note.
Tonight I was reading it agian and came to verses 17-20. It says, "For Herod had sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John as a favor to Herodias. She had been his brother Philip’s wife, but Herod had married her. John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry your brother’s wife.” So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But without Herod’s approval she was powerless, for Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him."
While I had read that passage numerous times in the past, tonight I was struck by two sentences, "John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry your brother’s wife.” and "Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him."
That's crazy right? John is telling Herod that the way he was living his life was wrong. John was telling Herod that marrying his brother's wife was wrong. This was no small point of contention. This wasn't, "Hey, I would have chosen a different color for the carpet." This wasn't, "I don't know if I agree with your stance on investments." This was a flat out rebuke of the way Herod was living his life. And yet, the Scripture says that even though Herod was disturbed when he talked to John, "he liked to listen to him."
There was something about the way that John spoke that didn't cause Herod to hate him. There was something about their relationship that caused Herod, even though he was gretly disturbed, to still have some level of affection for John.
Here's the thought that stuck me and frankly made me cringe a little: "Do people like to listen to me even when I have to say things they don't like?" Often when we speak to people, especially in contentious situations, we strive to prove our point, we strive to get the upper hand, we strive first to be understood before we strive to understand. We assume that everyone thinks like we do. We assume that everyone was brought up the way we were brought up. We assume that everyone understands the truth of the Gospel at the level we understand it.
Sometimes we shy away from tough conversations in an effort to perserve relationships. While that may be an option, what if God was calling us to more? What if in reality we only did that because we didn't want to do the hardwork of becoming like Jesus even in the midst of tough converations?
It's hardwork to say hard things and still be like Jesus. Relationships don't supercede ministry. Sometimes the tough stuff has to be said and those hearing it won't like it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't need to be said. Relationships do precede ministry though. There is a huge difference in those statements. Make the commitment to do the hardwork to become like Jesus even when you have to challenge people.
As you think through those relationships you've been avoiding because you haven't been able to "maintain Jesus" remember John's example. Make it your goal to "disturb" and "be liked".
The Right Dirt...
I am 99% sure I already posted this at some point in the past, but I was reminded of it again today and felt led to re-post it. It's lengthy but if you hang in there you may benefit from it.
Jesus always communicated in a way that people could identify with, I mean of course there were times where everyone would be gathered around looking for an answer on what to do with the woman that they had just caught in the midst of adultery when Jesus would suddenly get the urge to bend down and start drawing in the dirt and everyone was looking around kind of confused. But generally speaking Jesus used illustrations that meant something to people, he spoke in ways that the people understood, he referenced farming and sheep and mustard seeds, stuff that the common man could identify with.
All of us are a living parable. We’ve had “seed” thrown on us for a long time, but the hardness, shallowness, and crowdedness of our lives inhibits real growth. The good news is this: Hard ground can be broken. Shallow ground can be deepened. And thorny ground can be weeded. We can become more receptive to the Word and more fruitful in our lives. Listen to the words of Jesus from the book of Luke.
Luke 8:4-7 says..."One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants."
I mean how much more simple could Jesus have been. He’s speaking in terms that are right in the vein of where His listeners lived on a daily basis. I mean even today, we get this. If Jesus walked the earth today and had shared this, even though none of us are farmers, we would all be shaking our heads with understanding because it just makes sense. But Jesus was the consummate teacher because He was always sure to bring along even the slowest member of the class. He was never content to just explain it once, hope everyone caught on, and then move to a different topic. So He goes on in verse 11 by basically explaining what He just said.
Luke 8:11-15 says..."“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest."
What Jesus is doing here for us is mapping out a couple of different scenarios by which people were not receiving the Word of God into their lives. They’re not growing like they should in a spiritual sense. I love that he differentiates between people who just don’t ever get the seed (Word of God) and those that do. He basically says, “Hey you’ve got plenty of seed, it’s not a lack of seed that’s causing your lack of growth.” In other words, it’s not about the seed, it’s about the soil. Isn’t that our story as well? We’ve got unprecendented access to the Word of God, we’ve got books, websites, sermons, and ministries, events, and magazines, we’ve got Bibles specifically designed for every demographic, we’ve got everything that you could ever ask for in the form of seed. What Jesus is really addressing here is how the seed is taking root in the soil of our lives.
So He proceeds to paint a picture of four different people all receiving the same seed but with very different results.
Luke 8:5 says..."“A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it."
This verse reminds me of the people in Nazareth. We know that Jesus was raised as a boy and as a young man in the town of Nazareth and the Bible records for us that as His earthly ministry began He was out preaching and teaching in the areas surrounding Nazareth but that at some point He went back to His hometown to visit. And the welcome that He received was less than cordial. People were looking at this guy and thinking, “He’s got nerve showing his face here again.” As He stood in the synagogue preaching the questions whipped through the crowd:
In other words, who does this guy think he is? If we were to attach some descriptive words to these people we would likely go with: Hardness of heart; lack of interest in spiritual things or just a cold un-receptivity to the Word.
When Jesus taught the people of his hometown, they were upset and offended. They could not accept that a common carpenter they had known all their lives could suddenly possess superior wisdom and miraculous power. Though they could see Him work and hear His words, their hardness kept them from receiving the Kingdom.
I wonder if you and I don’t live their sometimes? I doubt that any of us utter the phrase, “Who does this common carpenter think his is? But don’t we question His authority in our lives? Don’t we often hold his way of life for us up against all of the other possibilities out their and question whether or not He really knows what He’s talking about? Even the best seed won’t take root if the dirt’s not right.
He then goes on in the book of Luke with His parable and paints yet another picture of the seed not taking root.
Luke 8:6 says..."Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture."
It’s almost like Jesus is communicating that just because the seed is thrown down doesn’t mean that it’s automatically going to grow. The seed isn’t going to automatically take root and grow deep into the ground without the other necessary ingredients and as a result what we’re left with are some really shallow roots. The book of Mark paints this in a stark light when it records the account of Judas betraying Jesus.
Mark 14:10-11 says..."Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised to give him money. So he began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus."
I mean here’s one of Jesus’ closest followers. Out of all of the people that loved Jesus and believed in what He was doing, out of all of the potential disciples, Jesus chose twelve to be His closest followers. They lived, slept, ate, fished, traveled and did life together for three and a half years. I mean imagine what these guys witnessed first hand and the miracles that Jesus performed.
Judas witnessed more than you and I could probably ever imagine yet for some reason his faith didn’t take root. Here’s Judas given just the slightest of opportunities to sell all of that up the river and he jumps on it.
It reeks of shallowness and of a lack of courage and perseverance to stand up under pressure. I mean Judas had all the external characteristics of a true disciple. But he never got past what the kingdom could do for him. In a time of persecution and testing, not only did he flee Jesus but he betrayed Him! Faith had never taken root in his life. He was a temporary and fraudulent disciple.
I wonder if I could ever be described as temporary or fraudulent disciple? Not because I’m trying to betray Jesus but simply because His word has never really taken root in my life. And it’s not for a lack of seed be sown in my life it’s because even the best seed won’t take root if the dirt’s not right.
Jesus goes on in verse seven of chapter eight and suddenly things turn violent. Listen to what He says.
Luke 8:7 says..." Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants."
As I read this particular verse something about it struck a chord with me. It’s the feeling I talked about earlier of everything around me just squeezing my life, it’s almost that boa constrictor effect where life just wraps around you and starts the slow squeeze.
In the book of Mark Jesus tells another story about a rich young man who exemplified this slow squeeze. Listen to this account.
Mark 10:17-22 says..." As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’ “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions."
We can see in the rich young man the evidence of his divided loyalties. This would-be, could-be, potential servant of God was allowing his spiritual life to be choked out by the wealth of the world.
The rich man claimed perfect adherence to the Law and expressed an enthusiastic desire for eternal life. But then Jesus put him to the test. Would he be willing to forsake his old life in order to follow him? After all, Jesus had made it clear that to find eternal life, one must “lose” this life. If a person did not hate his very life, he was not worthy of being a disciple. And the Scripture says that the rich young man went away sad. He chose the temporal over the eternal.
As I think about my own life and my busy schedule, and the pace that I keep on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis, I have to question whether or not I’m doing the same thing. I mean if I’m too tired to get up a 30 minutes early or to stay up 30 minutes longer at the end of the day to spend time in the Word of God and to spend time communicating with God aren’t I really guilty of the same thing as the rich young man? Aren’t I also choosing the temporal over the eternal? Am I allowing my schedule to choke out my spiritual growth? It’s not for a lack of having access to the seed, I’ve got like three Bibles, a commentary and devotional book on the night stand right next to my bed, the reality of course is that even the best seed won’t take root if the dirt’s not right.
Jesus ends His parable in the book of Luke with offering us some hope.
Luke 8:8 says..."Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”"
We’re finally given a glimpse of what our soil is really supposed to look like, we’re finally shown what happens when the best seed falls on the right dirt. In the book of John chapter four Jesus has this really unusual interaction with a Samaritan woman at a well in Galilee. Here’s a woman that He’s not even supposed to be talking to, she’s certainly not supposed to be talking to Him.
None of this was right, the conditions were all wrong, there’s no possible way for the seed (the Word of God) to take root in this situation, the soil was all wrong, I mean if there was a worse case scenario for the seed to be sown and not take root, this was it. And yet, this woman’s life is forever changed. Why? Because her dirt was right. Maybe it was the honesty with which Jesus spoke to her that caused her to receive Him. Maybe it was the fact that He knew things about her that no one else knew.
Maybe it was just the fact that He talked to her. Whatever it was, it was clearly a case of the best seed being sown into the right dirt.
I wonder what our lives would look like if our dirt wasn’t so hard? What would be the result if the seed that was sown into our lives wasn’t blown away and gobbled up by birds, before it had a chance to sink in?
I wonder how different our lives would be if our dirt was so shallow? What if at the first sign of stress, we didn’t crumble? What if at the first difficult moment we didn’t throw in the towel?
What if there weren’t so many weeds in our lives choking us out? What if the boa constrictor was putting the slow squeeze on us? What if our spiritual growth wasn’t just another thing on our list, what if it was the list?
What if we never forgot that even the best seed won’t take root if the dirt’s not right?
I was reading in the Bible in the book of Mark chapters 1-3 where Jesus spent time healing people. He healed a man with a crippled hand, He healed a man who had been paralyzed, He healed a man with an evil spirit, He healed Simon's mother-in-law who was sick with a fever and He healed a man with leporsy.
I have read those accounts many times in the past, but tonight I was struck by the reality that those people were truly liberated in that moment of healing. Imagine spending your entire life unable to walk or not having the use of your hand. Imagine being near death with a fever or being on the outskirts of your social circle with no friends because of your disease. Imagine being possessed by a demon and not hving control of your own life. Imagine the hopelessness that those people were living with. Imagine the number of times they likely wanted to take their own lives believing they were worthless and never going to be able to accomplish anything worthwhile.
Think for a moment about the first time they heard about this man named Jesus. Imagine the faint spark that ignited in thier hearts as they wondered about the truthfulness of His claims and the stories of others. Could He really heal? Could He really liberate the captive? Was there hope for them?
I imagine that they did their best to suppress any hope that was welling up inside of them for fear that they would be let down once again, only to come to the realization that they were stuck yet again.
Imagine the beating of their hearts, feeling as though their heart was going to pound right out of their chest as they approached Him. Imagine their weak knees as they made their final approach hoping against hope that even a portion of what they'd heard was actually true.
Imagine the moment that your hand, which had been crippled from birth suddenly became straight. Imagine the moment that your fever finally breaks and you start to feel like yourself again.
Imagine the moment that you finally regain control of your faculties.
Imagine that moment you are reunited with your loved ones after being shunned for years.
Imagine the moment your legs instantaneously regain their strength and you stand up for the first time on your own.
Now imagine your greatest fear. Imagine your greatest obstacle. Imagine your great sickness. Imagine your biggest anxiety. Imagine that thing that you've convinced yourself you're stuck with.
You've heard the stories. You've done your best to suppress your hope that what you've heard is true. You've felt the beating of your heart about to come out of your chest. Strengthen your knees and run to Him. He will heal you. He will liberate you. Go to Him.
Every year my wife and I combine our collective genius to host our annual "Turkey Hunt" for our students and leaders. The Turkey Hunt is an "amazing race style" scavenger hunt where students (with adult drivers) are broken into teams, hunt for clues and complete various tasks all in an effort to capture the elusive, "Turkey". This year's event was a huge success (minus the anticipated complaints from adults...because they lost).
The event included stops at the local YMCA, pizza shops, local grocery stores, malls, skating rinks and a few other local establishments. One of my favorite locations for this year's event was a small Par 3 golf course with a driving range. I say favorite because I love playing golf (not good at all) and because our contact at the golf course was super excited to work with us.
A few weeks prior to the event I spent several hours scoping out locations and setting up tasks at the various locations. As I drove onto the golf course I was hoping for a, "quick in, quick out" connection. I parked, jumped out, ran in, made my pitch and to my relief, the guy was super exicted to work with us. I shook his hand, said I'd be in touch with more detials and then headed back to my car.
To my chagrin my car wasn't in agreement with my "quick in, quick out" plan. The car was completely dead. Nothing. Silence. No love. Zip. Tapped out. Like any man, I jumped out, opened the hood and stared blankly. I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for, maybe an unplugged cord labeled, "Never unplug". Finding no such luck, I was quickly approached by my new, ever so eager friend in his "company car" (golf cart). Assuming it was just a dead battery he offered to provide a jump. No luck. Still nothing. Sensing that my afternoon was falling apart I made the dreaded phone call to AAA. While AAA should feel like a life saver in this type of situation, the waiting is endless. I found myself stuck, waiting for someone to show up at some point in the next 2 hours. Needless to say, my Turkey Hunt planning had come to a screeching halt.
As I settled in for my undisclosed wait time, I was suddenly struck by a marvelous realization, my golf clubs were in my trunk. A light had suddenly appeared in the midst of my darkness. I had golf clubs and I was stranded AT a golf course. As I made for my trunk to retrieve my clubs, planning to simply visit the putting green, my new friend said the most glorious words ever uttered to a stranded man at a golf course, "Just grab a cart and head out, play 9 on the house."
As I hacked my way through hole #4 I was reminded of God's favor even in the midst of fouled up days. I spent much of my free 9 holes regretting shots but also thanking God for His goodness.
I began to wonder how often in life I focus all of my energies on accomplishing my plans for a particular day. I have my task list, my agenda, my goals. While I don't imagine that God's grand plan is for me to play free golf everyday, I do know that He desires that I slow down long enough to listen and respond to His plans for my day.
Jeremiah 33:3 says, "‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’" I recently heard someone say that, "We don't know what we don't know, because we don't know what we don't know". Crazy right? But it makes sense. We shuffle through our days confident that we know what we're supposed to do and when we're supposed to do it but what if we're all wrong. What if we're not supposed to do any of that? What if we're completely missing what God has for us simply because we've never slowed and down and listened.
Are You Confident?
Where does confidence come from? What is it about someone or some group of people that allows them to stand up in front of a group of people and speak or sing or present or lead? What is it about certain people that allows them to command a room upon entry? What is it about certain indiviuals that causes others to get quiet when they speak? Allow me to suggest to you that it's perhaps not only what you think.
If you're anything like me then you probably ran down a list of qualities and characteristics of someone who's confident. Outgoing, knowledgeable, wise, extroverted, studied, dynamic, smart, etc. These of course are all of the typical traits that one would look for or seek out when attempting to gain confidence and they really do make sense. When you want to be more confident on a particular topic, you study it. When you want to gain confidence in a particular area, you practice and become more adept. If you're confident you are generally okay with being in the lime light. You probably don't shy away from being the center of attention. You can handle yourself, you've prepared, you've got this.
While I don't disagree with any of these key chracteristics, I want to suggest that there is another, often untapped source of confidence. There is a deep seated confidence that can only come from the blessing of God on your life. The Scripture is packed full of verses that reflect this idea.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight."
Philippians 1:6 says, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."
Acts 1:8 says, "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."
You see, I think sometimes we get confused with what self-confidence is all about. For the Christ follower, self-confidence is really all about God-confidence because as believers we are called to empty ourselves. Whatever level of confidence I possess shouldn't be about my own abilities or smarts or know-how or experience. The only reason I have any of those things in the first place is because of what God has allowed me to experience.
Too often we allow ourselves to get in the way of what God is trying to accomplish. We convince ourselves that we can't, we don't know how, we're unsure, we're afraid of failure, we've never done that before, we've never led at that level, we've never presented in front of that many people. Here's the good news, God doesn't need your experience. God doesn't need your expertise to accomplish what He wants to accomplish with you and through you. Get out of the way and allow God to do what needs to be done in your life and with your life.