19 April 2016

Personal Growth as a Leader

            Today I want to talk about the value of study. If you’re like most people the word study sends cold chills down your spine. A simple online search shows that most people will never read another book after they graduate high school. That number goes up even more after college graduation. Simply put we don’t like to study unless we absolutely have to.

            Sadly that trend sneaks into the ministry world too. Pastors are busy people. We have the responsibility of many people and situations that we deal with daily. There are meetings to attend and decisions to be made constantly and on top of everything else there is a sermon to be preached each week. Pastors definitely work more than an hour on a Sunday even if many people think otherwise.

            I can understand the overwhelming temptation to handle the issues of the church and put personal development on the back burner. I’ve done that far too many times as a pastor. I’ll probably catch myself doing it again too. What I hope to do through this blog post is to inspire you to make time for personal development. When I first became a pastor an older minister said to me, “As you go so goes the church.” He was drawing on years of personal experience to tell this young up-and-coming leader to make sure that I am healthy if I ever have any hopes of leading a healthy church.

            Paul told his young protégé Timothy to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Paul was encouraging Timothy to make the time to prepare himself personally. All of us would do well to remind ourselves of this verse as pastors. We should strive to do our best while rightly handling God’s word. In today’s world we need approved workers and not mere sermon deliverers.

            Many of us find joy in the study of God’s word. Think of those times when you are laboring over a passage and you finally make that revelatory break through. In those moments it is as if the heavens have opened up and God is shining down on us. Those moments are great. Other times we seem to read the same passage over and over again only to feel lost. It is easy to go into Sunday morning feeling like you missed the bus and all you have is an empty outline. Study isn’t always the most fun part of our lives, but personal preparation makes all the difference.

            There is another element of personal study that we overlook too often. This side of our development deals with our leadership development. Us pastors and leaders are called to influence people toward God’s agenda for their lives and without constant leadership growth it’s hard to do that. Many of us wing it and hope that we can use our position as “the pastor” to influence people. While that works to a certain extent we can increase our ability to lead by increasing our abilities as leaders.

            What are you doing regularly to grow as a leader? Are you reading the right books? Are you listening to helpful podcasts? Are you seeking out healthy mentors? These are a few questions that I hope will push you to make the necessary changes in your leadership life to make an eternal impact for the rest of your life. When we read books that add value to our leadership we are ultimately making our ministries better. When we listen to good podcasts and implement things we’ve learned we are making our churches better. When we engage in mentoring relationships and allow others to challenge us to be better we are positioning our lives and leadership for greater impact.

            Here are a 3 practical tips to help you in your leadership development and study:

Schedule Leadership Development Time

Either you will rule your schedule or your schedule will rule you. Take the time to sit down and schedule leadership development time. For me Mondays are “development days” where I take time to personally pour into myself as a leader. I read books and listen to podcasts that directly relate to my life as a leader and my stage as a pastor. I try to use Monday as a day that I get personal development and that I get organizational development for our church. Those are sacred times in my calendar that I guard vehemently. I have created 52 days for personal and organizational development. Over the long haul those days are making me a better leader and ultimately making our church a better church.

Use Quality Resources

            This is extremely important to your development. Development is not about how much material you take in it is about what kind of material you take in. Find resources that are relevant to your stage as a leader. If you pastor a church of 150 people you don’t need to inundate yourself with resources that teach you how to break the 1,000 member barrier. While that is good information it isn’t pertinent information. If you are the 150 pastor find resources on how to break the 200 barrier and you’ll be better equipped for the stage you are in. The truth is all resources aren’t created equal. You have a limited amount of time for personal development and using quality resources will help your leadership grow exponentially. Find what you need now and let that inform you as a leader.

Find An Executable

            How many times have we gone to a conference and heard great speakers that inspired us to be great leaders only to come home with tons of inspiration and little or no application? Inspiration doesn’t equal transformation. Your personal development is not complete until you’ve found an executable. What are you going to do with the information you’ve read? How are you going to implement it in your ministry? These questions will determine whether or not you grew as a leader or just learned a leadership principle. When finding an executable fight the temptation to do everything you’ve just learned. A simple step executed consistently will make more of a difference than multiple steps executed half-heartedly. Find an executable an develop a plan to put into practice what you’ve learned.

            These are a few simple tips that I hope will help you as you develop your leadership. The important thing to remember is that everyone learns differently so find a plan to grow as a leader that speaks to your style of learning. If you are a reader then find the right books that will help you. If you are an auditory learner then find some good podcasts or teaching sessions that will help you. Find helpful resources that speak your learning language and put a personal growth plan in place. I would love to help you as you grow so feel free to contact me with any questions or areas that I may be of assistance to you.  

13 April 2016

10 Things Parenting has in Common with Pastoring

            As I work on our new sermon series this morning I have quite a lot going on around me. At the moment there is one toddler sitting on the couch playing surprisingly quietly with a toy that we bought him for Christmas a few years ago. The other toddler is sitting on the floor surprisingly quietly demolishing a toy that we bought them for Christmas last year. I am glad for two things: the fact that they are both surprisingly quiet and the fact that they are still enjoying their Christmas gifts.

            Most of the time I work from my home office. I find it to be one of those places that I can create with ease. I’m comfortable here. As a result of this I often have two little helpers that provide great sermon illustrations. It is a great blessing to be able to work and parent my kids at the same time. Sometimes it can be distracting, but I’ve learned that if I can prepare a sermon with toddlers riding our dog like he’s a champion racehorse then I can deliver that same sermon with many distractions that sometimes pop up during any given Sunday morning. It’s a good balance.

            Today I started thinking about the similarities between being a pastor and being a parent. As a parent I am responsible for the well being of my children. The same can be said of me as a pastor. As a parent I guide them in their growth and development. The same can be said of me as a pastor. As a parent I am exhausted most of the time. The same can be said of me as a pastor. Both are challenging, but both are rewarding. I’ve decided to give you my list of 10 things parenting has in common with pastoring.

1. You’re madly in love with them.

From the first time I saw them I was madly in love with my boys. They make my life great. I love being in their lives and I can’t imagine my life without them. Pastors feel the same way about their church members. We are madly in love with the people who come to our churches each Sunday. We are glad that they are a part of our lives. It is awesome to be called “Daddy” and it is awesome that people have created a space in their lives to call us “Pastor.”

 2. Sometimes you wanna kill them.

Every parent knows that there comes a time or two along the journey when your child(ren) are pushing the limits of your medication. Over the course of me writing this blog post my kids have gone from playing to now terrorizing our dog and I’ve had to stop several times to be the bouncer. As a parent sometimes you wanna kill your kids. I don’t mean this literally! What I mean is sometimes they disobey so much that you don’t think you can handle any more. As a pastor sometimes there are situations that arise that cause me to feel the same way about the church world. It doesn’t mean that we love people any less it just emphasizes the difficulty of being a part of people’s lives as they grow and encounter setbacks and issues. I’ve learned in both contexts to walk away for a few minutes and let your mind and emotions recalibrate themselves.

3. You have huge hopes and dreams for them.

I can’t fully articulate all the hopes and dreams I have for my kids. I want them to go so much farther than I ever have or ever will. I pray daily for them to be the greatest version of themselves. I want to see them succeed in life and I want them to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus. I feel the same way about the people that I get to pastor. Every sermon, every counseling appointment, every blog post, every small group, everything I do is geared toward the hopes and dreams that I have for the people who sit in the rows of Forward Church every Sunday. I want them to be great men and women and to make a difference in the world.

4. You'll laugh a lot and cry a lot. 

My kids are hilarious. They say the funniest things and I catch myself laughing sometimes even when I shouldn’t. I’ve also caught myself crying in the bathroom hidden away from them. Sometimes the tears are from something they’ve done and other times the tears are from the frustration that comes along with parenting. Again, the same happens in the life of a pastor. I have had some of the highest highs and the lowest lows as a pastor. I’ve laughed with people and I’ve cried with people. I’ve also laughed because people have brought joy into my life and I’ve cried because people have hurt me. That’s the life of a pastor.

5.  You never really feel like you know what you’re doing.

I remember the first diaper I ever changed. I felt like I was at an interview for NASA. Although my diapering skills have greatly improved there are still a ton of areas where I don’t really feel like I know what I’m doing. Parenting is hard. It is like trying to change a tire on a car that is going 40 MPH! Somewhere in my mind I believed that I would just get it and know exactly what to do in any situation as a parent. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m constantly growing and learning and along the way I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. That is exactly what my life as a pastor has been like. Most of the time I’m trying things that I’ve read about or seen other churches do and hoping for the best. Some things work great and some things fall flat on their face. The main difference in this point is that as a young pastor fresh out of college I actually thought I knew what I was doing. Even as I typed that last sentence I laughed a little. These days I’ve learned to be flexible with the things we try as a church and to constantly grow as a pastor and leader just like I’m trying to constantly grow as a parent.

6.  You constantly judge yourself by comparing yourself to other parents.

We are currently going through the potty training phase with our twins. To say that it has been a difficult time is an understatement. Making matters worse are the times I compare my kids’ progress with other parents. Whenever I hear another parent say something like, “My kid was potty trained by their 1st birthday” I really want to judo chop them in the throat. Then instead of encouraging my children and celebrating their progress I push them in an unhealthy way in order to keep up with those super parents whom I’m comparing myself to. The truth is my kids are on their personal journey and I have to be okay with that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve compared myself to other pastors and churches. I always fight the negative feelings that I’m not doing a good enough job because our church hasn’t grown like so-and-so’s church. I catch myself trying to change who I am in order to mimic successful pastor. I try to preach just like them or start a ministry just like them in order to have our church “potty trained” by their 1st birthday. I’m learning to stop looking at how other people are parenting/pastoring and enjoy what God is doing in my kids/church. The comparison trap has probably been the hardest thing for me to battle as a pastor. I’m praying that we can all break free from that.

7.  Sometimes you want to quit.

Parents rarely say this out loud, but the fact is sometimes you just want to quit. Being a parent is tough. Over the years I’ve been a parent I’ve lost sleep and hair! There are times when I look at couples that don’t have kids and think to myself how easy it must be to only be responsible for yourself and your spouse. Before I was a parent vacations were so easy. We would just load up the car and go wherever we wanted to go. With kids vacations require more planning and preparation than minor surgery! Then after you’ve planned the greatest vacation in the history of vacations your kids throw a fit and don’t have a good time! There are sometimes in the life of a parent when you just want to quit. Thankfully great parents don’t quit. The same is true for the pastor’s life. There have been many times when I have wanted to hang up my cleats and never play another game. I’ve called friends and told them how hard life is and thankfully they’ve talked me off the ledge many times. It’s hard to want to keep going when people are hurtful to you or your family. It’s hard to want to keep going when people betray you. It’s hard to want to keep going when people leave for no reason or even worse for a bad reason. It’s hard to want to keep going when you see little or no growth. It’s hard to keep going when you see declining numbers all around. It’s hard to want to keep going when people spread rumors instead of asking you for the truth. As a pastor sometimes you want to quit, but just like a great parent you know that quitting never solves the problem. Keep pressing on and one day those stubborn kids will grow into great adults and that stubborn church will too!

8.  Sometimes you want more.

I often joke about how having twins has caused me to not want any more kids. While my life is difficult as the parent of twins deep down inside I still want more kids. Hopefully my wife isn’t reading this blog post! I love kids and I want more. Yeah they require tons of work and cause gray hairs, but they’re still awesome. I want to adopt more kids and I want biological kids too and I’m pretty sure that some time down the road we will be adding more to our home. As a pastor I always want more kids. We all want to see our churches bustling with new growth. We love seeing people make decisions to follow Christ. We love having baptisms and welcoming new members into our family. We want the family to keep getting bigger. That’s why we put so much effort into making our churches pleasant. That’s what causes us to try new ministries and new outreaches. The thought of new families keeps us up at night. The idea of brand new Christians drives us to try and be the best pastors possible. As a pastor sometimes you want more.

9.  When they show signs of growth you’re ecstatic when they don’t show signs of growth you’re worried.

I remember how happy I was when my kids took their first steps. I went crazy in my living room. We were jumping up and down and shouting congratulatory remarks to each other and to them. It’s an amazing feeling to watch your kids grow and develop. On the other side of that coin when our kids don’t show signs of development it causes worry and fear. Healthy children grow and develop so when there are no signs of growth we begin to wonder if they are healthy. We go to see medical doctors and specialists and spend any amount of money to make sure that we ensure our child’s health. As a pastor I feel the same way about the people who call me pastor. When I see signs of Christian growth and maturity I am thrilled, but when I don’t see any signs of development I get worried. It’s easy to get consumed by the lack of development in the lives of the people that come to our churches. We wonder what’s wrong and try to find ways to help them grow. The hard part about this is that growth in the Christian life is dependent on the willingness of the individual to grow. We can preach and teach the best messages in the world, but if people don’t take ownership of their own spiritual lives and invest in their own life-change then they won’t grow. It is disheartening for pastors to see people never making an effort to grow. We want our families, inside and outside of the church to grow and be healthy.

10.  You’re thankful to God that they’re in your life.

As I come to the end of this post I want to give you an update on what my kiddos are currently doing. Over the course of this writing I have had to put one in time out and sequester the dog for his own safety. One is currently playing with a space shuttle that I bought them from the Smithsonian a year ago – he’s gotten a can opener from the drawer and is trying to send the can opener to space. The other has pulled the child-safety outlet cover off and is playing with it. I feel like father-of-the-year right now! Regardless of all the ups and downs that come with being a parent I am so very thankful that they are in my life. I can’t imagine my life without my boys in it. The thought actually brings tears to my eyes. Every night when we put them to bed we pray with them and every prayer always gives thanks to God for allowing us to have them in our lives. If I ever wonder if God loves me I look at the Cross of Christ and what He did for me there and then I look into the eyes of my two high-energy toddlers. I’m grateful that they call me “daddy.” As a pastor I am also thankful for the people that give me the honor of being their pastor. I love them and want the best for their lives. I can’t imagine my life without them. I look forward to spending time with them on Sundays and beyond. I am thankful for their support and their service. I thank God for calling me to be their pastor. That’s the pastor life. We may feel overwhelmed and unqualified at times, but at the end of the day we are thankful for every person that is in our lives.

            This list isn’t an exhaustive list. There are many other parallels between parenting and pastoring, but these are a few that I felt compelled to highlight today. I hope you understand your pastor better as a result of this blog post and I ask that you take some time to pray for your pastor and his family and for your church. I also ask that you take some time to see how you fit into the big picture and make the most of the time and talents that you have to offer. I love ya!!

30 October 2015

Take Great Risks

           Why is it we never associate risk with Christianity? Think about it. When was the last time you thought of a great risk when you thought of your relationship with Jesus? How often do you connect the dots of faith and risk in your regular dealings with church and spiritual things? Most of us have our faith down to a science. We have found ways to eliminate any and every possible risk from our lives and we like it that way. For many to risk in anything is to test God’s will and to show a lack of faith.
Ironically enough, faith itself is a huge risk. John’s Gospel shows us that, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” No one has ever seen God, yet we trust that he exists and desires an intimate relationship with us by faith. That’s a risky proposition. We trust that there is eternal life or eternal death and that our souls are protected by the sacrifice of Jesus for all eternity by faith in the words of those who claim to have been eye witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That sounds pretty risky to me.
There are other places in our lives that we take risks with regularity. Marriage is a huge risk. Two people who can’t see beyond the moment into the future declare their undying love for each other in a day and age where half of every marriage ends in divorce. Think about those odds in other areas of life. Few people would fly in airplanes if 1 out of every 2 planes crashed. How many people would commute via automobile if 1 out of every 2 cars crashed. I wonder how many people would eat fast food if 1 out of every 2 people to eat fast food dropped dead? Yet we let love push us into marriage where the odds are nearly against us. It’s a risky proposition, but one that we choose to take.
If you were brave enough to risk getting married chances are your friends decorated your vehicle with “just married” all over the back windshield and tied cans to drag behind the car as you ran through a storm of raining rice into your newlywed car. As you and your new spouse pull out into oncoming traffic headed toward your honeymoon destination be careful because you just took another huge risk. In America approximately 1 person dies every 16 minutes due to an automobile accident. That means that in the time you sit through one church service around 7 people die in a car accident. So you took a tremendous risk just getting to the church for the wedding ceremony!
We take more risks than we acknowledge every day. Chances are we have become so numb to the reality that we are taking a risk that we simply fall into “autopilot” and mindlessly perform the task at hand. I think that we do the opposite of that when it comes to our faith. I believe that we slip into “autopilot” and mindlessly walk away from any chance of a risk when it comes to Jesus and Christianity. Somewhere along the line we have bought into the lie that to be a follower of Jesus means that we simply go to church regularly and say a few prayers from time to time and by all means avoid any and all risks. That may be a form of American Christianity, but it is in no means authentic Biblical Christianity.
To be a Christian is to be a risk-taker. To step out of the boat and onto the water requires us to let go of all that is familiar and walk out onto the risky waters of the unknown. We will never fully experience the breathtaking heights of Christ by avoiding the risks God directs us toward. We have to be willing to strap into his plan and hold on tight trusting that every twist and turn is part of His great plan to create within us the traits necessary to light up the world with love and truth. We cannot hold tight to the reigns of control while gripping the mane of the Wild One whose image we bear.
In my walk with Christ I don’t always live as risky as God would want me to. I have had moments of risk, but most of the time when the dust settles I wind down into a more manageable lifestyle. The greatest risk I ever took was to adopt our children. I had no idea how in the world to take care of twin boys, yet I knew with all my heart that God wanted us to move forward with faith and trust him. Today we still encounter places as parents where we don’t know how God is going to do it, but we trust that if He is leading us to the risk then there will be a reward eventually.
Another risk that was pretty big for our family was to pack up everything we owned in a U-Haul truck and move nearly 600 miles away from everything we knew. We had no guarantee that Forward Church would grow. We had no idea that you would eventually make Forward Church your home. What we did have was a strong sense that God wanted to use this place to do something special. We set out in faith and took a risk that is still paying off today. As I look to the future of our church I know that as long as we continue to trust God and take great risks we will continue to see lives changed and people who are far from God be brought near and begin a new life with Jesus.
I’ve found this rule to be true: The greatest moments of my life have always been on the other side of a great risk. I am married to the most amazing woman on the planet who loves me and has been there every step of the way. I wouldn’t have her without taking a great risk. I have the most awesome, curly-headed kids around. I wouldn’t have them in my life without taking a great risk. I am literally living my dream of being a part of a life-giving church that helps people connect to Jesus. I wouldn’t be a part of this at all without taking a great risk. The greatest moments of my life have always been on the other side of a great risk.
What about your life? Do you see that rule to play out in your life? Think for a moment about the greatest moments of your life. Are they tied to taking a great risk? Maybe the greatest moment in your life is your marriage. That certainly was a great risk…if not for you trust me it was a great risk for your spouse! Maybe the greatest moment of your life was the day your children were born. That was (and still is) a huge risk. Maybe the greatest moment of your life was graduating High School or College. You had to take some pretty big risks along the way to achieving that moment. Maybe the greatest moment of your life was overcoming a huge obstacle. Maybe your parents divorced when you were young and you had to overcome feeling like you were the reason or that nothing would ever work out for you. That takes great risk to overcome. Maybe you were the one in an abusive relationship and you experienced a divorce and now you’re starting to find yourself again and learning to trust God as He restores your life. That is a tremendous risk to overcome. Maybe you are pursuing a Master’s Degree or deciding to go back to school. That’s a great risk. Wherever you are in life your greatest moments will always be closely connected to great risk.
The Bible is full of stories of great risk-takers too. There’s Abraham who took a great risk when God tested him asking him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. It was in the context of risk that he experienced God in a powerful way. What about Noah? He took a huge risk by building an ark to save his family and preserve life on the earth during the
Great Flood. By the way, it had never rained before when God told him that rain was coming. Everyone in his life ridiculed him as he trusted God and build the boat. His salvation came because he took a risk of faith and trusted God. Think about Moses standing up to the most powerful man on the planet at the time and demanding that Pharaoh release the Israelites from their slavery. He led a revolution because he was willing to risk it all. David would have never slayed Goliath if he hadn’t taken a life-altering risk that day. In the New Testament, none of the disciples would have encountered Jesus without risking everything to follow him and become his disciples. Peter would have never walked on an ounce of water without risking getting out of the boat. Paul would have never started a missionary and church planting movement if he didn’t risk leaving his old life as a Pharisee behind and traveling from country to country preaching about the Kingdom of God. You cannot get away from the truth that Great Christians take great risks.
            As we learn what it takes to move from good to great in God’s eyes we have to confront the reality that great Christians take great risks. They make their minds up that they’re all in. They push all their chips to the center of the table and trust God’s leading. They understand that where there is no risk there is no reward.
            In Mark 1 we read of a great risk taken by those first soon-to-be-disciples of Jesus:

            16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”
Mark 1.16-20

            One of the key words in Mark’s Gospel is the word immediately. His Gospel carries a sense of urgency. In this story those first disciples immediately, or “at once” leave everything behind and take a great risk to follow Jesus. Today the story is still the same. If you want to truly follow Christ you will have to immediately leave everything behind and trust that the reward of God is worth the risk of following. There can be no other way.
            Think about the implications of this moment. Had they decided that the risk was too great they would have missed out on the opportunity to influence the world for years to come. We wouldn’t hear about the Gospel of John because John would have stayed in the boat with his father and continued to fish. We wouldn’t know about Peter’s great teaching to the Early Church and the world because he would have continued to be a fisherman. They would miss their chance to be great in God’s eyes because they let the fear of the risk paralyze them from fulfilling God’s call on their lives.
            Make no mistake about it these men left more than fishing nets that day. They weren’t on the docks fishing because it was a nice Saturday. They were fishing because it was their career. They were professional fishermen. It’s how they made a living. John and his brother were so successful at fishing that their family had a fleet of boats and hired men to work with them. Fishing was their business and business was good yet they left it all behind for a greater call.
            Imagine if the only way you could fulfill God’s call on your life meant leaving your job tomorrow. If you had no sure guarantee that you would be financially taken care of would you be willing to let everything go to chase after God’s will for your life? What would you do if you had to walk away from your health benefits and 401k to pursue the life Christ offers? Those are serious questions with serious implications. Most of us would like to think that we would walk away from anything to follow Jesus, but I wonder if it really came down to it would we have the courage to risk it all for Jesus?
            I wrestled with this early in my life as a pastor. The first church that I was a pastor of was a small church just west of Atlanta, Georgia. They were a tiny congregation located on the “wrong side of the tracks” and couldn’t offer much salary for anyone. There were around 12 people in the building and it was everything they could do to keep the lights on every month. My first salary as a pastor was $75 a week. On top of that after my tithe came out it left April and me with $67.50 to live off of. She never said it, but I’m sure that was not the fairytale marriage that April had dreamed of when she was a little girl.
            While I served as the pastor there I also had another job. I was an assistant manager of a retail store. I had great benefits and the job was easy. It was really a great setup. When our store manager heard about me taking the position as the pastor he was excited for me and offered to work my schedule around my duties as a pastor. I had every Sunday off and they would let me work early shifts on Wednesdays so that I could make it to the church for the mid-week service. They were very kind and accommodating to me then. The only problem was the store I worked at was 118 miles away! Twice a week I was travelling to and from one job to the next. I was commuting 472 miles each week from one job to the other. It was grueling. I knew that eventually I would have to make a difficult decision about these two jobs. For nearly 3 months I made the drive – over and over and over again. If you do the math I drove approximately 6,000 miles in 3 months from one job to the other.
            Around that same time I heard a sermon from Andy Stanley the pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. The big idea from the sermon series was that our lives are a series of stories that we will eventually tell others and he challenged us to ask this question: Do I want to tell my story to others or do I want to change the story before I tell it? I couldn’t get that idea out of my head. My story at the time was: I’m serving as a pastor of a small church, but I’m too scared to risk leaving my ‘good’ job behind and trusting God to provide for me. It was a harsh reality check for me. I had to come to terms with the reality that I was trusting more in my job to provide for me than I was in my God to provide for me. So after much praying and fasting and talking with April and other mentors in my life I decided that the story I wanted to tell was a story of how I trusted God more than anything else. I quit my job as an assistant manager and moved into a small house about 2 miles from the church and although it was tough financially for a while I knew that the risk was worth taking because God never fails those who are willing to trust Him with their whole heart.
            Let me ask you the same question that Andy Stanley asked me: What do you want your story to be? Do you want your story to be like that of those early disciples? Do you want to say you trusted God or do you want to say that you were too scared to take a great risk? Do you want to tell your children that you “immediately left your nets and followed him” or do you want to say you passed up the risk of a lifetime? Let me encourage you to take the risk. If God is leading you to it He will see you through it.
            For those first disciples they had to ask some tough questions. Can I trust this young teacher named Jesus? How will I take care of my family? What will I do to provide for myself? How will this pan out? It’s never easy to walk away from what has been a good thing. It’s never easy to chose risk over certainty. If we are truly honest we would all say that we would rather follow Jesus while still being fishermen. After all we can have it both ways right? Later in Mark’s Gospel he records Jesus’ response to that question:

            34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
Mark 8.34-35
            The truth is Jesus demands all of us not just part of us. He told the crowd – and his disciples – that the only way to follow Him is to deny ourselves, take up our cross and then follow after him. There is no other way. Our story has to be a story of risk.
            Imagine what your life would look like if you decided to trust God and take a great risk. Think of the payoff to actually pursuing God’s call on your life. Maybe God is leading you to go back to school, but you’ve been putting it off for years…stop avoiding the risk and step out in faith. Maybe God is calling you to start a ministry to serve scared, pregnant teenage girls, but you are too scared to try…step out in faith and take the risk. Maybe God has been nudging you to ask that girl out that you see at church every week, but you are scared of rejection…spray your best cologne on, comb your hair and take the risk. Maybe God is calling you to serve in the nursery, but you don’t want to leave the nets of the comfortable church service…let go of yourself, take the risk and volunteer. Maybe God is leading you to start a Bible study with your family at night after dinner, but you don’t feel like you know enough of the Bible to do it…buy a study Bible, join RightNow Media, open Google up and take the risk. Whatever God is leading you to do stop waiting for the perfect conditions and step out in faith. If you want to move from being good into being great in God’s eyes trust him and take a great risk!
            When Jesus talked to the crowd in Mark 8.34-35 he taught a profound reality about how life works. He said that everywhere we try to save our lives we really lose our lives. We can’t save love by never giving it away. We only experience love when we take the risk to give love away. He taught that in life when we hold onto things what we are really doing is holding onto the potential for a great life. If you remember your high school science class you’ll know that potential energy doesn’t move anything only kinetic energy makes a difference. Your life is full of potential energy. You have potential energy to make a difference in the world. You have potential energy to be a great Christian. I hope that you will be willing to take great risks and turn your potential energy into kinetic energy and see movement happen all around you. Jesus promised that, “whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” In other words, when we make the decision to let go of what is holding us back then (and only then) will we really gain what matters in life. Losing our life means letting go and taking the risk. It means getting out of our comfort zones and getting into the kinetic zone.
            I’m willing to bet that there is at least one area in your life that God has been leading you to take a great risk. Chances are there is more than one area. You’ve heard his voice and felt his hand pulling you toward a greater life. Make your mind up today that you will begin to leave your nets behind and follow him. I know that the nets are a security blanket and it’s hard to leave the comfort of them, but I also know that your greatest moments are on the other side of great risk.
            God understands where you are today. He knows how hard you fight to keep a tight grip on the nets. He understands how painful and scary a great risk is. After all He modeled great risk for us in His Son Jesus. Think of the risk it took to leave the security of Heaven and be born in a manger. He extended His hand of grace to us by showing us the greatest of all love and dying on the Cross for the sins of the world. He was willing to do whatever it took to redeem and restore us. Yet in all that Christ did on the Cross he never once demanded that we love Him in return. He doesn’t override your own decision to either love him or walk away from him because real love doesn’t demand a response. He took a risk that you and I would experience His love and turn to Him for salvation and freedom. That’s not the message of the Gospel…that is the Gospel. Jesus risked it all for you and me. He let go of the nets and he trusted the plan of the Father. My prayer for us all is that we learn from Him as we love on Him.

            One day you will be able to tell your children and your grandchildren a story of complete trust in God’s will because you decided to take great risks. You won’t look back with regret on the risks you didn’t take because today you made your mind up to trust with your whole heart. One day you and your spouse will look back on the way God carried you through the times you stepped out in faith and smile. One day you will be sitting across a table from someone who needs the lessons you are learning today because of your trust in God through great risks. You won’t have to say how you wished you had taken that new job or started that ministry or gave that money to feed the homeless or led that small group or moved to that new city because you have decided to trust God and take great risks. One day you will look with joy and pride at your children when they tell you how they trust God because they saw you trust God. One day you will hold hands and pray with a close friend knowing that God is in control of their situation because you have lived out his faithfulness since you trusted God. One day you will stand before the Throne of God and hear him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant” because you chose to take great risks and trust an even Greater God.