Leadership Posts

The Spiritual Wilderness

What do you do when you don’t feel like God is there?

To be honest with you, there are times where I don’t feel super fired up, spiritually. I love Jesus, I’ve embraced the gospel, but I’m just having a hard time.

I think it’s easy for many people to compartmentalize. If you’re having a bad day, you set it aside, go to school or work, do your job and deal with it when you get home.

One of the difficulties with being in ministry is you can’t really set aside your faith and then go to work, exchange time for money and then come back and work on your spiritual life, because it’s all so interwoven.

As a pastor, especially, if I’m feeling good or bad spiritually, if I’m having a good day or bad, if I’m doing well with my wife or not, I still have to teach tomorrow. And with my personality, I want answers. I want solutions. I want to fix it.

But maybe God wants me to just sit in it.

Regardless of whether you’re in ministry or not, some days are just tough. When you’re in a wilderness experience with God, when you aren’t feeling it or feeling Him, what would it look like for you to just allow yourself to be with God in the darkness? Just be with God in the wilderness. Just enjoy God there. Because theologically, God is with you. And theologically, even in those wilderness times, God is going to show you things about His character that you would never learn if life was awesome all the time.

What if we could learn to be with Him and abide in Him – in all circumstances?

My Challenge to Our Church Staff

One of the concerns I have as a pastor and leader is that conversations can very quickly move toward borderline inappropriate. One minute you’re talking and having fun, and the next thing you know, the conversation turns and it’s no longer edifying to the Lord. It starts as a little off-color joke here or a little off-color comment there, and it can go there very quickly, because if we’re not careful, there’s a tendency for things to move toward the ungodly.

You may assume that a church staff is godly just by way of definition, and that may be true sometimes, but that assumption may also be just that: an assumption. It may not be substantiated by how we live, because we’re only as godly as we are moving ourselves toward Him. Your individual time with the Lord needs to cultivate a heart that’s submitted to God, and that will ultimately be reflected in your professional life.

If you’re on staff at a church, the standard is high. This isn’t a normal job. Godliness has to be part of who you are. In the name of spiritual trust, we need to honor the Lord in what we do and in what we say in same-gender and mixed-gender conversations, in what we talk about behind closed doors and in how we interact behind someone’s back. We need to be mindful of our tongue and not allow ungodliness to come out of our mouths.

My challenge to our church staff is we need to be part of the solution of moving our people toward godliness. We need to be the ones setting the pace in the church, personally reflecting Him, squashing conversations if they’re going sideways and speaking the truth if something isn’t right. It can become too easy to just go about our days and not have those iron-sharpening-iron conversations, but we need to always be mindful of who and what we are reflecting. The time we spend with one another, the conversations in our meetings and all our interactions need to be godly. We need to be champions for holiness, for prayer, for personal devotion with the Lord, for listening to the Holy Spirit stirring in our lives, for living in obedience to His Word.

If there were rumors on the street about our team, I would love for them to be that we handle information well, we treat one another with respect, we have appropriate interactions with the opposite sex and we live in a way that honors Jesus. I would love the reputation of our staff to be that we’re godly.

Living With Intentionality

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Recently I had the privilege of doing my friend Harold Penner’s memorial service. H.P. was a church planter, a pastor at heart, a businessman, and he was a founding advisor of The Well. We built a relationship when I was a college pastor, and I started talking about this church I really felt like I needed to start. I shared a lot of the vision with him, and he really became a Jethro figure to me – a mentor, a sage and a guy who just believed in me.

The week before the first service at The Well, I remember thinking, “Holy smokes. Next week is our first service. This is dumb. This is not a good idea.” My wife was pregnant with Peyton at the time, and Harold was the guy who believed in me and the vision for The Well. He kept admonishing me, “You can do this. God is with you. Go for it!”

Harold was a very unique man. He was godly, full of joy and wisdom, and he had a mischievous way about him. He was probably the finest man I’ve ever met. He loved life and people, and was serious about his relationship with Jesus. His capacity for people was beyond reach; he had such a crazy love for folks.

He was also very intentional about what he did. Most people live for the moment. They simply take what life gives them and then seize the day. H.P. was different. He not only had the capacity to choose joy in the moment but he could snap moments together with intentionality. He moved very strategically. He invested with intent. He planned with the next several steps in mind. And this intentionality shaped those he influenced. Whether it was his business, which he was wildly successful at, or his kids, his grandkids, or his wife, he was intentional.

Having the opportunity to do his memorial service was a highlight of my ministry. It was a powerful reminder of the results of a life lived on purpose. Scanning the crowd I saw the men and women he had influenced. They were there to pay their respects, but they were also a testimony of his influence.

It made me rethink my life. What am I doing to influence others? What steps am I taking today to help point someone toward Christ? Am I setting up strategic opportunities to invest in people and help them live out their calling – with intentionality?

I want to make sure I’m making strategic investments into my marriage. I want to set a plan for my kids and work with them, as they become solid women of God. I want to lead The Well on purpose, making strategic moves and taking intentional risks to better create a culture of influence.

It also made me consider the various seasons of life that are represented in our context and how we could all move toward a more intentional life:

  • Singles: What would it look like for you to develop a theology of relationship of the right type of person? What would be different if you strategically invested your time and energy into becoming that type of person yourself?
  • Marrieds: How could your marriage look different if you strategically invested in your most important relationship? How would your time look different? What rites of passage or marked moments could you capture with your spouse? How could you make intentional deposits into their life?
  • Parents: Children are a gift from the Lord. How could you intentionally steward that gift? What steps could you take to breathe life into your kids? How could you strategically help them grow and develop into men and women of God? What schedule changes could you make to free up your time to be present with them? What would it look like to put away the devices (phones, iPads, computers, TVs) and strategically invest in the lives of your children? We are responsible to steward their growth and development, and we cannot outsource their spiritual growth.

I think the takeaway from Harold’s life is to do life on purpose. Let’s be intentional and strategic, knowing that when we plan we must plan in pencil because God still has the authority to change whatever plans we’ve worked so diligently to create. But at least we’ve planned something. If you draw that bull’s eye on the wall, it gives you a target to move toward versus doing nothing and seeing what happens. Let’s not just accidentally do life. Let’s be intentional and steward well what God has given us.

Reaching the Next Generation

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Hezekiah is a fascinating example of a guy who’s not willing to enter into the mess of the younger generation in hopes of developing, training or discipling them. Because of his pride of showing off all of his treasuries and his kingdom and his storehouse, he is told that his sons will be taken captive. Yet his response is, indeed, the word from the Lord is good. At least there will be peace in my time (2 Kings 20:13-19).

What I never noticed before is what happens after that. Hezekiah dies and his son Manasseh takes over. And when you read 2 Kings 21, you see all of the junk that Manasseh led the nation into. It’s an incredible wickedness that had not been seen in Judah to that scale previously. It had in Israel but never in Judah. Because of Hezekiah’s arrogance and selfishness of not wanting to enter into the next generation, he forsook the next generation, and the next generation took the excesses that were common in the culture and multiplied them.

When it comes to reaching the next generation, regardless of which one you’re in, the next one will always be perceived to be not as good as yours. They will always be perceived to be not as committed, not as faithful, not as biblical, etc. And yet the irony is that’s not necessarily the case. As we look at this current generation that’s now coming up, we’re really dealing with a group of people who, as we’re finding, are deeply committed to the things of God and open to the things of God. They’re just not committed to our systems or structures that people have found so much comfort in religiously.

If we’re going to reach the next generation, there has to be a sense where we recognize, yeah, I know the dude’s growing a beard, I know he’s rocking a beanie and it’s 100 degrees outside, he’s got skinny jeans and the whole hipster vibe going, okay, cool. But what’s at the heart? And if we can enter into the diversity a little bit, enter into the distinctions even of style and music and language, and recognize that this next generation is going to carry and steward the gospel moving forward, we can understand their world enough that we can get to the heart of the next generation and begin to disciple them.

We don’t have the option of pulling away and saying, “at least there will be peace in my time,” because what happened in Hezekiah’s day will happen in our day. If we are so uncomfortable or stubborn that we fail to enter in with the next generation, we fail to sit with them and disciple them and hear them and get to the heart of what God is doing in their lives, then the same type of excesses we saw in Hezekiah’s day with his son Manasseh, we’ll see today.

I would challenge any of you who might look down your nose a little bit at the next generation, as if somehow you’re better than them, to recognize that your calling is to serve them and disciple them and mentor them and train them and enter into their world enough that they recognize you care about them. Only then, when you’re telling them about Jesus, will they understand it’s coming from a heart of love and a heart of discipleship and a desire that, regardless of what generation we call our own, there could be a shared sense of the foundation of the gospel and of what Jesus is doing in our lives.

Are You an Affair Waiting to Happen?

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Affairs don’t happen overnight. They’re not issues of lust. They’re not. At the heart, they’re issues of neglect. It’s not like a guy wakes up faithful to his wife one morning and then, all the sudden, the next day, he’s like, you know what I’m gonna do today? I’m gonna totally blow up my life and have an affair. No. It’s over time.

When you or your spouse are neglected at home and connected elsewhere, you’re walking down a very short road that ends in disaster. It’s like the proverb of the sluggard. It’s a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest.[1] It’s his neglect and it’s her neglect. And it’s not merely about neglecting your spouse or neglecting your family. It’s one or both of you neglecting your time with God.

What does your daily time in prayer and in the Word do to protect you from adultery? It guards your heart. It renews your mind. It screams of conviction. As you turn the page and you read about inappropriate relationships, as you read about being faithful to your spouse, as you read about being morally pure and holy and righteous, it challenges you. If you find your daily devotion with the Lord being something that is in the past or infrequent, you might want to check that, because that’s a symptom of a road leading to moral failure.

When I went to seminary I was in a class with Dr. Howard Hendricks. He’s now with Jesus. I remember he interviewed men about how they fell morally, and he looked for patterns in their stories. I recently came across an article that reminded me of the specific details. Of the almost 250 men he interviewed, none were involved in any kind of personal accountability, their daily time of prayer, worship and reading their Bible was practically nonexistent, the vast majority became sexually involved with another woman after spending significant time together, and without exception, each of them were convinced it would never happen to them.[2]

Friend, if you think it can never happen to you, “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”[3] We are not immune. None of us. You are vulnerable. The pattern holds true. Be cautious. You must hold your marriage sacred at all times.

If a husband isn’t tender to his wife, and there’s conflict where he said something harsh to her but they haven’t reconciled, she is vulnerable for an affair like you cannot believe.

Some dude – her trainer, her Pilates coach, the dude who makes her wheatgrass shot at Jamba – somebody will be kind to her. And that will speak to her soul. She will hear that and eat it right up. And she’ll go back another time. She’ll drive all the way across town to go to that Jamba Juice just to see that joker again. Why? Because he’s speaking into her life where her husband should be.

The same is true for the ladies. If you disrespect your man, I promise you, somebody will respect him. Somebody will think he’s special and talented. If you won’t tell him he’s handsome, somebody will. And at some point in time, he’s an affair waiting to happen too.

I remember talking with some dear friends who had experienced this, and that’s exactly what they talked about, that this other person made me feel special, they made me feel important, made me feel good about myself. Now you juxtapose that to a home life where you don’t feel special or important, and you’ll run to that every single time.

To the singles, one of the most important things you can do is learn right now how to control your vessel, your body, in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion like those who do not know God.[4]

The patterns you create today are the patterns you bring into your marriage. So if there’s ungodliness and indulgence today, there will be ungodliness and indulgence in your marriage. A ring doesn’t change that. Who you are becoming is who you will be as a husband or as a wife. So watch over your heart, watch over your body, watch over your spiritual life.

If you’re married, there is no greater value in your life than the cultivation of your relationship with Jesus and therefore, your spouse. There’s no ministry event that’s important enough, there’s no appointment that’s important enough. And if you leave your marriage with unresolved conflict, you leave a gap, a hole, a wedge for Satan to enter into your marriage and cause division. Your spouse has got to be your priority, because if that falls, everything falls.

We have to be hyper diligent to pursue greatness in our marriages. It’s not enough for us to have good marriages. We should have great marriages. But you have to work on it. It takes time. It takes some humble pie. It takes grace. And it takes a commitment together to always be on guard and not let anything or anyone come between you.

 

[1] See Proverbs 6:9-10

[2] http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-pattern-among-fallen-pastors

[3] 1 Corinthians 10:12 (NKJV)

[4] 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5

Princesses & Hard Workers

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One of the dilemmas I have as a father of two girls is recognizing the tension between “you are my little princess” and “you get your butt out there and pull some weeds.” As princess as I want them to be, I don’t want them to be afraid to break a nail.

From the text, we know Ruth gleaned in the fields.[1] We know the P31 woman worked with her hands and made her arms strong.[2] Most of these women were shepherdesses. They were out in the field carrying sticks, throwing rocks, fighting off bears, stepping in sheep dung. That’s what they did. And a callous or two can be a beautiful and a very attractive thing.

I want to feed my girls’ sense of value and of knowing their beauty is on the inside. I work doubly hard and am very intentional to affirm them not for their external beauty, even though my oldest is a knockout and my youngest is close behind.

I’ll say, “Hey, can I tell you what’s beautiful about you? When you’re obedient to Mama, when you speak kindly to people, when you’re humble.” I’m affirming the inside because I know they will pursue what I affirm. If I keep talking about how pretty they are, I’m feeding the monster and I’m not going to do that. Culture is already feeding that, so I try to balance it out.

They don’t need to buy into what the world says. They can be beautiful and that’s okay. God gifts beauty to some people. Great! But what they need to know is that beauty is not merely what’s on the outside. That’s why Peter says, Don’t let your beauty merely be these things, the external braiding of hair, wearing of gold jewelry, putting on dresses.[3] It’s okay to do those things, but that shouldn’t be the focus. I want my girls to know their beauty is and should be something deeper, part of who they are. And I want to make sure I affirm that in them.

 

[1] Ruth 2:3

[2] Proverbs 31:13,17

[3] 1 Peter 3:3

Hope Fresno: One on One With Pastor Jonathan Villalobos

In February, The Well hosted a multi-church panel discussion on local race issues called Hope Fresno. The intent was to learn from others and start to understand what goes on in our city, and it was a candid conversation seasoned with grace. While we may not have necessarily left in full agreement on everything, it was a valuable time for everyone, as there is a longing and desire in all of us to see the gospel played out with the unity of diversity.

After the panel, I met with some of the pastors and leaders in attendance to hear more of their perspectives and personal stories.

Hope Fresno: One on One With Sabrina Kelley

In February, The Well hosted a multi-church panel discussion on local race issues called Hope Fresno. The intent was to learn from others and start to understand what goes on in our city, and it was a candid conversation seasoned with grace. While we may not have necessarily left in full agreement on everything, it was a valuable time for everyone, as there is a longing and desire in all of us to see the gospel played out with the unity of diversity.

After the panel, I met with some of the pastors and leaders in attendance to hear more of their perspectives and personal stories.

Hope Fresno: One on One With Pastor Elliott Stevenson

In February, The Well hosted a multi-church panel discussion on local race issues called Hope Fresno. The intent was to learn from others and start to understand what goes on in our city, and it was a candid conversation seasoned with grace. While we may not have necessarily left in full agreement on everything, it was a valuable time for everyone, as there is a longing and desire in all of us to see the gospel played out with the unity of diversity.

After the panel, I met with some of the pastors and leaders in attendance to hear more of their perspectives and personal stories.

Hope Fresno: One on One With Rev. Deth Im

In February, The Well hosted a multi-church panel discussion on local race issues called Hope Fresno. The intent was to learn from others and start to understand what goes on in our city, and it was a candid conversation seasoned with grace. While we may not have necessarily left in full agreement on everything, it was a valuable time for everyone, as there is a longing and desire in all of us to see the gospel played out with the unity of diversity.

After the panel, I met with some of the pastors and leaders in attendance to hear more of their perspectives and personal stories.