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2 Questions to Answer If You Want a Bigger, BOLDer Faith

Big SurfOne minimalist definition of biblical faith is “expecting God’s best.” Unpacked, it means that faith is believing “that God exists, and that He rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 NLT) The direction we choose determines a lot about how life unfolds before us.

Eeyore, the friend of Winnie the Pooh, wanders upon a stream, looks at his reflection and mumbles, “Pathetic…” He then wanders to the other side of the stream and mumbles again, “Just as I thought, no better from this side.” A lot of us live life that way. We expect the worst no matter what angle we see it from. But the Bible presents to us a God who is perfectly good and trustworthy.

Let’s talk about what faith ISN’T. Faith isn’t merely thinking positively. It’s not wishful thinking or superstition. And contrary to what George Michael sang in the 80’s, it’s not an ambiguous self-reference as in, “just have faith.”

Within Christianity, faith has an object – Jesus Christ.

There are two vital questions we need to answer for ourselves if we want our faith to grow bigger and bolder.

QUESTION #1: What are you willing to BELIEVE about God?

Isaiah 43:11 declares, “I alone am the LORD, and there is no savior except me.” (GW) There are certain things we must affirm about God because He is God. He is self-sustaining and self-sufficient. He is holy, awesome, powerful, and infinitely wise. I choose to believe these things because I believe that my Creator has spoken through His Word and this is what He has revealed about Himself.

We also need to believe certain things about how God relates to us. This is where it gets personal. Romans 10:13 promises, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (NLT) So I believe that He IS, but I also believe He keeps His promises toward us – that He saves us when we call upon Him. 

The second question can’t really be answered without the first, but it has much more profound implications.

QUESTION #2: What are you willing to DO about what you believe about God?

Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the “hall of faith” because it is a stack of brief biographies of people who demonstrated great faith toward God in the past. As my eyes run through the list, I’m brought to an interesting conclusion. See if you can spot it…

Abel brought a sacrifice…
Noah built a large boat…
Abraham offered Isaac…
Isaac blessed his sons…
Moses’ parents hid him…
Israel went through the Red Sea…
Rahab welcomed the spies…

There is a pattern. “By faith” he or she acted boldly and courageously in response to God’s revelation of Himself. Faith acts. We aren’t saved by works but by a faith that works.

Three Observations About Acting In Faith:

  • Sometimes, faith brings immediate victory.
  • Sometimes, faith endures trials and waits for ultimate victory.
  • Faith ALWAYS ends in victory.

Now, what’s your next ACT?

Dump Your Doubt, Take the Risk, and Lead Forward

DiveNothing paralyzes good leadership like fear, and nothing fuels good leadership like taking risks in faith. Obviously, we must make decisions wisely, but when we know, it’s time to go. This is coming from a somewhat trigger-shy leader.

If you know what a DISC profile is, I’m a high “I” and a fairly low “D.” That simply means, I want everybody to be on board with a decision before I move forward as opposed to driving ahead on my own. So when I feel that people disapprove of my direction, I’m prone to want to plant my feet. Knowing this is half the battle, and dumping my fear and leading confidently anyway is the other half.

As leaders, we fight fear daily.

  • The fear of trying and failing.
  • The fear of criticism.
  • The fear of doing something dumb and getting everyone hurt.

Way back in 2000-ish, the church I was leading in Kentucky was averaging about 60 in weekly worship, so we set aside a Sunday as a big day and we set a goal of having 75. I announced it publicly. We prayed for it hard. When that Sunday finally arrived, we had a whopping 58 people present. (I later realized that while God indeed answers prayer, He also encourages us to have a plan for accomplishing our goals and to work hard at it.)

I stopped announcing big goals.

Fast-forward ten years and Angie and I are sitting in a worship service at Saddleback Church listening to Pastor Rick Warren teach part one of his message series, Decade of Destiny. Some of what Pastor Rick said that day re-shaped my thinking and has re-kindled a deep passion in me for dreaming and leading people. For example…

Your goals are only as big as your God. – Rick Warren

That’s not a theological statement about the size of God. It’s a statement about how we see and think about God. And the bigger He is in our eyes, the more we’re willing to trust Him to do.

We overestimate what we can do in a year but we underestimate what we can do in ten. – Rick Warren

That’s been true for me time and again.

But the real kicker was the part of the message where Rick asked us if we were currently doing and working on the one thing we wanted to be doing ten years from now. While I LOVED my spot on the Saddleback staff, I couldn’t honestly answer ‘yes’ because God was already stirring our hearts about church planting. So Saddleback wound up sending us with a blessing to start Grace Hills.

[bcoxlike]

Somewhere between there and here, Angie and I made some decisions about the rest of our lives. We were no longer going to settle for mediocrity, accept a mere facade of authenticity, and we would no longer lead in a way that was limited by our fear of the disapproval of others. That has been liberating, but it’s still a daily struggle.

And today, we have some BIG goals!

God loves faith, responds to faith, and always encourages us to act in faith rather than planting our feet and remaining frozen by fear.

My current challenge is charting a course for the future of Grace Hills Church, which involves getting better at what we do, possibly moving to a new location in the near future, raising up leaders, and making as many new disciples as possible.

Whatever your challenge is, decide that you won’t fail because of fear. You won’t look back and wish you’d given it a shot. Dump your doubt, take the risk, and lead forward.

So… what’s your challenge? What are you going to do next?

photo credit: juls10

5 Steps to Getting Unstuck and Having a Fresh Start with Faith

Ever been stuck? Over the Christmas holiday, my family traveled to Missouri and stayed a night in my in-laws’ sweet little cabin in the woods before heading on into St. Louis. It rained a lot that night, and there’s no driveway. We got out okay but I managed to forget my wallet and had to run back for it, at which point I got seriously stuck… alone… in an all-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle.

Stuck In the Mud
(Notice the dog is laughing at me…)

At that moment, I had two choices. I could call Angie who could get a family member to get me unstuck, or I could try in vain for a half an hour to get out all by myself and ultimately dig in deeper and make my situation even worse. Of course, I chose the latter! Because I’m dumb like that.

The third time Angie called me asking if I wanted help, I finally said “Yes. Call your cousin.” And Don, with his awesome pickup truck and a tow rope pulled me out of the miry clay!

There was another guy in history who was rather deeply stuck once. His name was Bartimaeus. Every day, he sat on the side of the road begging. He couldn’t earn a living and had no friends or family. He had nowhere to go and nothing to do. And one day Jesus came along. Here’s the story…

Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Be quiet” many of the people yelled at him.

But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”

So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.

“My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”

And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.

– Mark 10:46-52 NLT

This has to be one of the greatest getting-unstuck stories in history. Here’s a guy who has spent his entire life being stuck. And when he hears that Jesus is near, he acts. And I think he gives us some great direction for what to do when we’re stuck too.

Seize the moment.

When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was near, he politely and quietly tapped a few people on the shoulder to ask if they might mind notifying someone nearby who could possibly ask… No, wait… He shouted! He drew attention to himself like a drowning man flailing spiritually for all to see.

Tame your fear.

One of the biggest factors that keeps us stuck is our fear of the disapproval of others. I feel bad for Bartimaeus in the story because he gets shamed by the people nearby for shouting. So what does he do? He shouted louder! I wish I had that kind of faith all the time – to ignore the opinions of others and risk everything to have all of God in my life that I can get.

Announce your faith.

There comes a pretty sweet moment in the story in which Jesus asks a question with enormous significance… “What do you want?” We’re terrified of this question. What if I ask too much? What if I get rejected? But Bartimaeus names it outright: I want to see! And he expressed in that declaration the faith that Jesus was absolutely capable of restoring his sight.

Receive God’s grace.

It’s important to note that we don’t get ourselves unstuck by our own effort. As in the case of my muddy vehicle, our effort only leads to us digging in deeper. We absolutely must be rescued, and Jesus is the ultimate Rescuer. In fact, He is the One and only rescue from our biggest problem of all – sin. Bartimaeus was so moved by this moment of grace that he threw away his coat, jumped up, and got to Jesus as quickly as he could.

Take the next step.

I don’t think its an insignificant detail that when Bartimaeus received his sight, he immediately used it for the very best possible next step – he followed Jesus. I’m a firm believer that spiritual growth is a pathway. To be specific, it’s a winding pathway that never leads us straight to maturity in a flash. There are curves and obstacles and places where we can’t quite make out the path. But there’s always a next step.

It could be that you need to turn from sin and trust Jesus once and for all. It could be that you need to be baptized, make something right with someone, start getting your finances or physical health under control. Or it could be that you need to take the next step to get your career in order. Whatever it is, rebuke your fear and START now by faith!

 

Three Phases of Accepting a God-sized Opportunity

When I knew that God was calling me to serve in pastoral ministry for the rest of my life, I wrote a note in the margin of my Bible, “Called to Preach, March 1, 1995.” Seven months later, on October 1, I finally surrendered and said “yes” to His call. I had all kinds of reasons why God couldn’t possibly use a shy kid like me in a preaching role, but my excuses said more about my lack of faith in God’s ability than about my own lack of ability. But God was patient, as He always is, and decided to use me in spite of my reluctance.

When I read the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, I discover three phases of acceptance as she journeyed from fear to faith to embrace her God-sized opportunity. The Bible says in Luke 1:26-38 that after an angel appeared to her she was “confused and disturbed,” but the angel comforted her with a “Fear not.” After she understands God’s plan a little better she takes a step forward, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” God’s messenger, Gabriel, patiently explains things a little more clearly and Mary’s final response is one of faith, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

When God-sized opportunities come along, I think it’s natural to be cautious and afraid, and God is patient with us. He knows we are made of dust and understands our position of fear. So He offers comfort instead of rebuke. That’s phase one, and God wants us to grow beyond our fear and trepidation.

Phase two is acceptance, but with a lot of questions and reservations. “Okay, but how?” And phase three is surrender. It’s when we say, “Okay, whatever you want, I’m in. Do your thing, God!”

I spent seven months on that three-phase journey. Mary spent mere moments. You may be stuck in phase one or two right now. You know God wants to use you to share your faith with your neighbor, encourage your friend, or sign up to serve others in some way, but you’re either afraid, or you’re accepting but with questions and reservations. The sooner you say “Yes, Lord! I’m Your servant – do whatever you want to do with my life,” the sooner you begin to experience the outrageous, contagious joy of experiencing His work and power in your life.

What is God calling you to do, or to keep doing, that you have reservations about because of feelings of inadequacy? Maybe today is the day to say, “Yes!”

Meekness is the Leverage of Leadership

In today’s world, meekness = weakness. God does not view it that way, however. The Bible says of Moses,”Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3) And in a world where power is everything, Jesus entered the scene in a wooden manger surrounded by barnyard animals. He grew up in an humble village, the son of a carpenter, of modest means. He lived His life serving others, yet Jesus was certainly the most influential leader in all of history.

If you study the lives of Moses and Jesus you’ll find something interesting – they were both great leaders. Both were willing to boldly confront sin and error. Both would rebuke those who believed and lived lies. Both were willing to venture out into the future with faith. Yet they were the meekest men in history. How can this be? You see, we’ve misdefined meekness. Biblical meekness is not weakness, it is really just the opposite.

The Bible’s word for meekness is used in reference to a broken horse, which has all the power to destroy its rider but refrains out of respect for authority. The word is also used to refer to a soldier who has all the might to take on the enemy, yet submits himself completely to the authority of his commanding officer. Meekness is the key to having leverage in leadership. It’s the refusal to demand respect in exchange for commanding it with a life of integrity. It is “controlled power.” Meekness is the willingness to supress those urges to lash out at the wrong time, opting instead to wait for further orders from our commanding officer, Jesus.

Is meekness displayed in your life? How can you submit yourself to Jesus more today? How can you lead others with boldness and courage?