Are You a Caleb?

One of my favorite characters in all of recorded human history is Caleb….no, not my son (even though he really is one of my favorites!) No, this one just happens to be the one found in the Bible. Other than the fact that I’m diggin’ his name, he actually became one of the greatest examples of faithfulness to a promise throughout all of scripture. Let me explain;

In the Old Testament, Caleb was actually 1 of only 2 guys that brought a positive and good report back to the leaders of Israel regarding their survey of the Promised Land! The other may or may not have had a stake in the matter, but Caleb alone was positive simply because of his faith. And he made sure everybody knew it! But, there were several other guys returning with all kinds of negative feedback and reports, claiming it would be impossible to take the Promised Land.

While these 2 guys stood alone, they also stood firm, that by the power of the God that they served, and because of His faithfulness to the promise he made to them, they COULD and WOULD take it!

Now, although Caleb was surrounded by guys who were negative regarding present circumstances, and even though, honestly, the odds did look pretty bleak, his faith in the one who had promised them that land stood strong, and his confidence resonated with the leaders of Israel.

Speaking of these two different opinions, when it comes to Christ-followers, I heard one pastor say that people can still be grouped into 2 major categories:

1.) Preachers of Pessimism

or

2.) Catalysts of Courage

After talking to more and more pastors, I’m finding that most churches in America deal with more of the first. Most of the time, you find that the majority of people are always willing to jump on the discontent bandwagon, and complain about whatever the next problem is that they can sink their teeth into. But, there are always a small few who are those “catalysts of courage.”

I am fortunate enough to work in one of the few exceptions. In the case of Next Level Church, it is the EXACT OPPOSITE!!! Our church is filled with Caleb’s! (Well, technically only one, and he’s not old enough to read, but you get my point!) Our church has been so BLESSED with people who have been willing to step up and make this thing happen, and not only happen, but be a huge success! No matter how big the call is, people are always stepping up and saying, “how can we help take the hill?!” These people not only “get” the vision, but are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Ask yourself this question, when the challenge is tough, and the hill is steep, for whatever reason, are you a Preacher of Pessimism, or a Catalyst of Courage? Does your presence and attitude spark courage and fortitude or pessimism, and strife…I’m proud to say that I get to serve at a church where our majority is made up Caleb’s, and I am sooooo excited to be on the ride with these guys!

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A SUITABLE Mate

So, I spend a lot of my time working with High School students. And there is one particular issue which seems to bridge cultural, ethnic, and even social lines with High Schoolers. They are ALL looking for Mr. or Mrs RIGHT! Even though there are a thousand other things which could (and should) consume their minds, this is the one issue which is synonymous to them all. So, if you are a high school student, or are the parent of one, or just a desperate 27 year old, allow me to take the next few posts this week and share some insight I’ve gathered after nearly a decade of working with students.
Let’s back up to where this concept began, in the Garden of Eden. Adam found himself doing the same thing many of our high schoolers and even young adults do. The scripture says he was looking for a SUITABLE helpmate. PAUSE: If Adam were looking for a suitable helpmate, that means there were helpmates available that were NOT suitable (i.e, the ANIMALS!). Dating Principle #1: Just because someone is AVAILABLE TO you, doesn’t mean they are RIGHT FOR you.
How do you define suitable? If you don’t know the answer to that, you don’t know what it is you’re searching for. You’re just searching for something, and if your simply searching for something, you’ll wind up with anything! Have you taken the time to think through a job description of a SUITABLE mate for you?
If not, you’ll end up like Adam, just searching through the animals. Ladies, there are a lot of dogs out there as possibilities. Fellas, let me just tell you, there are some crafty snake-women out there too. Trust me, I’ve dated a couple, and still have the fang marks to prove it. My point is, you may be searching through the whole flippin ANIMAL kingdom looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right, experiencing heartbreak after heartbreak, when in reality, you’re just wasting you’re time because you don’t even know what it is you’re looking for!
I could give you some good things to look for in a SUITABLE mate (and I will), but first, I want you to think through what it is you are looking for in your future spouse. Are they the characteristics which would make them SUITABLE for you?
More on this subject tomorrow!


Defying Gravity

(Takeaways from an Andy Stanly talk from Drive Conference 2010.)


One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Acts 15. Let me set the stage for you. At this time, there is a pretty sharp dispute brewing between the leaders of the early church, specifically regarding Gentile believers. Gentile believers were those people who were brought to faith in Christ but were not raised Jewish. This meant they were not circumcised, nor had they memorized and chosen to practice the laws of the Old Testament.

Some church leaders believed that before these men could join the Christian Church, they must first fulfill the requirements of the O.T. laws (i.e, circumcision, and embracing O.T. laws.) While others sharply disagreed, and believed Judaism had NOTHING to do with salvation.

You can imagine the tension being felt by Gentile men. I mean, the decision the church leaders came to on this issue DIRECTLY affected these guys, not only spiritually, but PHYSICALLY…LITERALLY…ouch!

Anyways, I digress…so, in Acts 15, we find these church leaders gathered together trying to come to a consensus on this issue. While some believed these acts were necessary, others held to the fact that it is through GRACE alone that we are saved. Not through O.T. acts. Some apostles even went so far as to remind the council that God KNOWS the heart, and the heart is what matters to Him.

One of my favorite moments in the story, is when Peter sarcastically asks the men; “How can we put on the necks of these men a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear!?” Basically he’s saying, “WE couldn’t even keep all of the O.T. laws, how can we expect these new Gentile believers to!”

Then James, the BROTHER of Jesus, stands up and comes to this conclusion in verse 9: “It is my judgement, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

So, what does this have to do with us? ALOT!

See, most churches across America naturally gravitate towards insiders instead of outsiders. It’s just the natural gravitational pull. Why? Because think about it…outsiders never complain! The people we want to keep happy are the one who are already attending, already tithing, already leading. So naturally, we tend to gravitate towards meeting the need of insiders rather than outsiders. Sometimes we are more about PRESERVING rather than ADVANCING.

We also gravitate more naturally to Law instead of Grace. Why? Because it’s easier. It’s easier to tell someone they are living in sin and they need to stop, rather than tell them that God loves them just as they are, right where they are at. The earlier is much more defined, black and white, and concrete.

But here is what I love about being a part of Next Level Church and a part of our student ministry there. We DEFY GRAVITY! We believe that what James said in Acts 15 is more applicable to us than ever. We have to remove barriers, and make it as SIMPLE, and as EASY as possible for outsiders to come to faith in Christ. The Gospel is already intimidating enough. We don’t need to make it more difficult for people who are trying to come to grips with it.

In our student ministry, we have made three commitments, to ensure that this happens.

1. Every quarter, we identify and remove any OBSTACLES we might have created that get in the way of disconnected people coming to faith in Christ.

2. Second, we always err on the side of Grace rather than law. We want students to know that while there may be nobody else who loves them because of who they are or what they’ve done, there is a God who does! And his grace is MORE than enough for them. Now, you gotta know, we want people to change. We just don’t expect them to change on their own. We believe that true change comes from the heart, and as they grow in their relationship with God through personal time with God, and corporate worship, they will begin to change…because has created them a new person, not because someones harping the rules at them.

3. Finally, we focus on our unique calling. What is that one thing that we are distinctly called to do? For us, it’s connecting students to God. For our church, it’s helping people take the next step in their relationship with God. We don’t do ANYTHING that gets in the way of that calling. But more importantly, we keep our eyes focused on that calling and use it as our gauge for defining success.

Are you defying gravity in your church or area of ministry???



The Domino Effect


This past weekend was a GREAT weekend! It was homecoming at my Alma mater, Liberty
University. I have HUGE love and respect for LU and it’s always cool to go back and see the way they are literally still changing the world.

Anyways, it was a great weekend with the family. We watched some football, went (fake) snow tubing, and ate REALLY, REALLY good! But I have to say, one of my favorite parts of the trip was catching up with and checking in on some of our students from NLC going to school at Liberty.
It’s always fun (and encouraging) to see how God is working in and through our former students after they leave high school and head off to college.
One student in particular really stands out in my mind from this past weekend. Her name is Becky Ogram. Becky was in our HS ministry and played bass guitar for us. Now, she serves on an all-girl ministry team from Liberty called Awaken which targets ministry to teen girls around the country. We got the chance to watch her play and these chicks rocked!
Anyways, it got me thinking (which is always a bit dangerous). Thousands of lives of teen girls are being transformed every week around the country…because of this ministry team. And that was made possible because of the investments people of Next Level Church made early on. Let me explain.
For the last 5 years, people have made significant financial investments at Next Level. Because of that, Becky was given a platform to be able to train for ministry. Sound equipment, staging, etc. were all purchased and because of that, Becky was given an opportunity to grow and thrive as a musician and a minister.
For the last 5 years, several student ministry volunteers invested HUGE amounts of time building relationships with and discipling students like Becky. In her case, I can think of volunteers like Heather Kirk, Kirsten and Kevin Kennedy, Cody Dermid, and others. All of these guys invested time and energy into the mission of NLC.
See, people have invested time…people have invested money…people are investing their lives into the mission of Next Level Church. And because of that, I had the privilege this past weekend of seeing the dividends of your investment. I personally saw the domino effect of your efforts. You might not even know it, but you may personally have a hand in changing thousands of lives each in every week through this same domino effect.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, no matter how small or mundane it may seem, know this. You will NEVER know the enormity of the impact your domino effect may have on the world. It may be as simple as taking a kid out to lunch, or praying with them for their family. But the ripple effects of whatever you are doing may be felt for generations to come!
(Becky, it was great to see the way God is using you!)

No Apologies

If there is one thing I can honestly say that I HATE, it’s emails, memo’s, txt msg’s, and BLOG posts for that matter that begin with an apology. If you’re apologizing, you probably shouldn’t be writing it in the first place.

If you know that another blog post on a topic that’s not of interest to your readers will annoy them, don’t post it. If you’re sorry to bother me with that spam, don’t send it. If you are apologizing for sticking your nose into something that’s none of your business anyways, just stay out of it! If you’re the boss at work, and you know that no one in the office is going to read your office-wide spam about yet another inane meeting, save yourself the trouble and just leave us alone.


HOWEVER, if it’s important, if it needs to be said, if it benefits not just you but the recipient, then just send it. DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR IT!!! There are a few things I am proud to say at Next level Church, we DON’T apologize for. We know it’s truth, and although they may be offensive to some, we are proud to stand on it and make no qualms about it. THE TRUTH IS THE TRUTH!

Now, we don’t beat people up with it, or abuse our positions as leaders. I mean, You don’t have to be a jerk to be honest, and you don’t have to be crass to be authentic. But, If your motives are pure and you are preaching God’s Word, then you don’t have to apologize for teaching the Bible. Whether it’s sin, faith, Jesus or money, we shoot straight with people. Ultimately, we believe they will appreciate it in the long run.

Having said that, here are some examples of things we don’t apologize for:

“In every sermon, there always comes a turn, where we make a b-line for the cross of Jesus Christ. Because we believe that understanding THAT message is the only way ANYTHING else makes sense. You can’t figure out how to make ANY LASTING DIFFERENCE in your family, your marriage, your finances, your ANYTHING…apart from understanding the GOSPEL.” -Todd Hahn

WE DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR THAT!

“A lot of people want to live their life for themselves, on their own, apart from God. Then somewhere way down the line, they want to accept Jesus as their savior, simply to ensure Heaven as their eternal home. But here’s the question: Why would you want to spend all of eternity in the presence of someone you’re not even willing to spend a few years in relationship with and following in this life. THE REASON FOR THE CROSS WAS SO YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD COULD BE RESTORED NOW, NOT SOMEDAY! Heaven is just a fringe benefit! Eternal LIFE can begin now, not when you die ” -Robbie McLaughlin

WE DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR THAT!

“A truly beautiful thing is worthy of being admired simply for what it is, not what it can do for you. The cross and the whole gospel brings you to the place where you can worship God because of WHO HE IS, not what He can do for you.” -Jared Kirk

WE DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR THAT!

Some things are just the truth, and they require no apology. If you have to apologize for it, is it really worth saying?

-Thanks to Seth Godin for getting my thought process going in this direction.

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Fourth First Post

Ok, so this blog is officially the best example in the world of my commitment level to things I don’t HAVE to do. I have this bad habit of letting unnecessary things fall off my radar shortly after if and when they are fortunate enough to actually show up on my radar. Hence this blog. This is the fourth time I have taken up blogging, and to be honest, I’m not 100% sure this time will be any different. As a matter of fact, below you will find 3 posts, each an attempt to begin blogging again. Sad, I know. It might very well be that this post is not only my 4th first post, but possibly my 4th last post. And if that’s the case, so be it. I will succumb to the loser within. We’ll see. But first, let me explain the reason behind this latest attempt.

There is 1 friend in my life which I can honestly say makes me want to be a better person (Outside of Jesus, whom has already extended me more grace, and expected more out of me than I EVER deserved…and my wife who took a chance on me, and has given me the best ride of my life, no pun intended). Moving on. My friends name is Jared Kirk. He is the least Jewish Jew I know. I’m going to avoid detailing all the reasons why Jared challenges to me to be a better man, pastor, friend, husband, and leader at the risk of sounding homosexual. And if you’ve seen the way we dress, you’d begin to wonder. Jared always seems to to do and say things which challenge me to not only respect him, but want to be like him, not in a weird stalker sense, but in a role-model sense. Anyways, not long ago, Jared started blogging again. He made the commitment of blogging every week, multiple times a week. At first I shrugged this off as another in a long line of attempts he has made to be like Troy Gramling. That was a joke. But I soon began to realize that this exercise he was doing was not only encouraging others, but stretching himself. It made him a better thinker, and communicator. His blog wasn’t just useless chatter either, for the sake of having a blog…it was helpful, and it had a real, defined purpose. That challenged me…so, I’ve decided to give it a whirl, and see what happens.
Now, a couple disclaimers before you decide to read this. If you like Jared’s blog, it doesn’t mean you will like mine. We are 2 very different people. He thinks…therefore, he writes. I write, hoping that I will stumble upon a valuable thought. He only writes twice a week, and his posts are very thought out well-articulated (and longer than the US Constitution.) I will be much shorter, but much more frequent, just letting you in on what thoughts are bouncing around in my head at the moment. I want this to be a window, a window to view the thoughts inside my head, and in turn, encourage you along the way. Some of it will be things I’m learning, and some will be things I’m still trying to figure out.
Please give me feedback, ask questions, make snide remarks. I’m open to all of it, and looking forward to this experiment. Just looking forward to getting some thoughts out there…