Wednesday, January 24, 2018

How God Speaking to Us Can Help Us Know How to Speak to Him

I was reading an article recently that studied the impact of parents talking with young children who were just learning to talk. The researchers found that no matter what a family’s economic or social situation, the more that parents engaged in daily conversations with their children, the more rapidly the children’s vocabularies grew (Hart & Risley, 1999).
Nearly all families talk with their children to get things done. If you have kids, phrases such as “You need to finish your dinner,” or “It’s time to get dressed,” or “Stop cleaning the window with a hotdog bun,” (well, maybe that’s just my family) are probably very familiar to you. The point is, we all talk to our children in order to get things accomplished, but the real magic happens when we talk to them simply for the pleasure of talking to them. Not only does this strengthen our relationship with our kids, but also the research in the article stated that this type of conversation is highly related to children’s vocabulary growth.
I believe the same is true in our relationship with God. God has initiated a conversation with us by giving us the Bible. Through his Word, God reveals to us who He is and what He does and who He is calling us to be. And, the more I immerse myself in his Word, the more I am able to learn how to pray. In his book called Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Tim Keller wrote, “We speak only to the degree we are spoken to.” Eugene Peterson also wrote, “All speech is answering speech. We were all spoken to before we spoke.”
Just as studies have shown that a child’s vocabulary grows the more their parents speak to them, I believe our prayer lives can grow the more we allow God to speak to us through His word. As that happens, we’ll discover a few things:
  • Our minds are being renewed and we can better know God’s will (Romans 12:2)
  • We will know how to better pray according to God’s will (1 John 5:14)
  • We will pray with greater faith (Romans 10:17)
  • Our motives will become less self-centered and more God-centered (James 4:3)
  • Our lips will overflow with praise (Psalm 119:171)
  • We will know how to pray God’s great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:3–4)
This is a journey, for sure. An important thing to remember is that when we see others further along in some area than we are, we have to remember that they did not start out where they are now. They started out where we are now. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not quite where you’d like to be when in comes to spending time with God. Tim Keller went on to write, “If the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we will learn to pray, perhaps just as slowly as a child learns to speak.”
My children did not learn to speak overnight. It was a very long process. It started with one word. It moved to two, three, and four words. Those words slowly turned in to short phrases. Those phrases slowly turned in to sentences. Those sentences are now conversations and they continue to learn new words every day and we are able to have more in depth conversations every day.
Now, I didn’t love my children any less when they only spoke one word to me at a time. I was just as happy to hear their voice one word at a time, as I am now one conversation at a time. We’re invited to come to Jesus in the same way… as little children. The journey might be a slow one, but the more we come to Him and allow Him to come to us, our relationship with Him will deepen and our prayer lives will as well.
For more on allowing the Bible to guide our prayers, feel free to watch this message from the previous weekend.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Hope

In the 1960’s a psychologist by the name of Martin Seligman performed a study on dogs.  If you’re a dog lover, you may want to stop reading right now.  While conducting experimental research on classical conditioning, Seligman would put a dog in a cage, lock the door, and would then administer a mild electric shock, if there is such a thing.  At first, the dog would frantically try to escape but would ultimately come to the realization that, in spite of its best efforts, it could not evade the shock.  At that point, the dog would just just lie down and whimper, realizing that there was no way for it to avoid this uncomfortable experience.

The same dog was then put into a different cage … a cage from which it could easily escape.  What Seligman discovered, though, is that when the electric shock was administered, instead of walking free from the cage, which it could have easily done, the dog would just lie down and whimper, believing that there was no hope of escape.  In other words, since the dog had learned to believe there was no hope of escape, it responded to the situation without even trying to free itself. It had lost hope.

Have you ever felt like that poor dog?  Is there an area in your life where you have lost hope?

Hopelessness never travels alone.  It’s always preceded by a sense of powerlessness.  If we feel powerless to change our circumstances or even someone else’s, it’s not long before hopelessness shows up on the scene.  And, when it does, it begins to wrap its greedy little hands around our lives.  Dreams die, courage fails, longings are numbed, faith falters … and it’s here that Jesus meets us because He’s always willing to show up in the messiest of places … the hopeless of places … the deadest of places. 

Brennan Manning writes:  “The Bethlehem mystery will ever be a scandal to aspiring disciples who seek a triumphant Savior and a prosperity Gospel.  The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no one can exactly say where.  His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and his chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers and dirt-poor shepherds.  But in this weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God.” 

If you’re feeling hopeless today, my hope is that in your weakness and poverty, you too will come to know the love of God.  The questions behind hopelessness are often, “Does God care?  Does it matter to Him that I’m hurting?  Lord, do you love me?”  God answered each of those questions by leaving the non-violence and tranquility of heaven to step in to this world and rescue people full of shattered dreams and broken lives. That fact alone reveals so much about God.  It shows me that God is not afraid of stepping in to my brokenness.  It shows me that I can allow Him to see the worst of my life, the worst of what I’ve done, the worst of who I am, the worst of what’s been done to me, the worst of what is happening to me and it doesn’t scare Him away.  It doesn’t push Him away.  If anything, what Advent reveals is that Jesus is willing to run toward the mess and He is willing to sit there in the brokenness of our life, see all the ugly parts and still say, “I’m not going anywhere.  I’ve come to offer you hope.”

Not only has Jesus come to rescue us and offer us hope for today, but also He will come again.  And when He does our rescue will be complete and we will never experience a sense of hopelessness for the rest of eternity.  Hope, by definition, is the unshakable confidence that in the future, we will be what we were created to be and have what we long for the most. We want more than what we have in this life, because “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)  We long for perfection; perfect love, perfect relationships, a perfect sense of meaning and purpose in our lives, the absence of all sin and pain.  This is the future that God promises to His children and it’s why the return of Christ is called our “blessed hope” in Titus 2:13. Our inheritance is waiting for us.  But, until it’s ultimately received, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.  Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.”  (Psalm 130:5 – 7)

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart. 


​Verses to Consider:  Psalm 42:11, Psalm 139:5 - 7, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:25, 1 Peter 3:15

Thursday, December 21, 2017

How Will This Be?

When the angel Gabriel came to Mary with the incredible news that she would give birth to the Messiah, Mary responded by saying, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  That’s a fair question.  Up to this point in her life, Mary could have taken 100 pregnancy tests and they all would have come back negative for one very simple reason:  Virgins do not have positive pregnancy tests … that is until now.

“How will this be?”  It’s a question I find myself asking often.  “God, you promise to finish in me the work You started.  How will this be?”  “Jesus, you say that if I’m weary and burdened that I can come to You and You will give me rest.  How will this be?”  “God, you say that I am more than a conqueror, but that’s not how I’m feeling right now.  How will this be?” 

If you’re anything like me, I sometimes find it easier to tell God what He can’t do rather than allowing Him to tell me what He can. Christmas is, once again, a reminder that when I ask the question, “How will this be?” the answer is always “with God all things are possible.”   All things … not some things … not a few things … not simply things that fit within our limits … but ALL things are possible.  Do you believe that today?

“How will this be?”  "I am the LORD, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)  How will this be?  "O Sovereign LORD! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” (Jeremiah 32:17)  How will this be?  “Overhearing what they said, Jesus told them, ‘Don’t be afraid: just believe.’” (Mark 5:36)  How will this be?  “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’" (Matthew 19:26)  When Mary asked the question, “How will this be?” Gabriel’s answer was consistent with God’s character since the beginning of time:  “For nothing is impossible with God.”  (Luke 1:37)


One day our last breath will mean that we are, at last, standing before the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  I’m not exactly sure what that moment will be like, but I’m pretty confident that even my best thoughts about who God is will be far below the reality I will one day see. Until that day, I pray that we will all be able to see Him as one “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)  As we inch closer to celebrating the birth of our Savior, may our faith will be anchored in a God who still likes to show off His power and may we will discover, as Mary did, that nothing is impossible with God. 

Verses to Consider:  Jeremiah 32:27, Jeremiah 32:17, Mark 5:36, Matthew 19:26, Ephesians 3:14 - 21

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Refined

While in college, I worked in a department store.  One of my co-workers was an attractive young lady and we began to develop a bit of a friendship. Late night phone calls, movies together, dinner with friends, and shared memories all allowed this friendship to continue for over a year.  While I was happy to be her “friend,” I didn’t want our friendship to turn into the “friendship trap.”  My heart wanted more. After a year, I began to talk to her about how I was really feeling and my desire for more than just friendship.  She was reluctant.  I was patient.  Finally, my charm and chiseled good looks won her over and we became “official.”  I thought great things were lying ahead for us ... until our first Valentine’s Day four months later.  Since this was going to be our first Valentine’s Day together, I wanted to go big.  I purchased some special gifts, ordered some roses, and then had it all delivered to her house so it would be waiting for her when she got home from work. I could not wait to hear from her about how good of a boyfriend I was.

That night, I received a phone call from her that went something like this:  “Happy Valentine’s Day, Rich.  Thanks so much for the gifts.  That was really nice.  By the way … I don’t think we should date any more.”  She broke up with me … over the phone … on VALENTINE’S DAY!  It felt like someone had sucked all of the air out of the world as well as all of the sunshine.  Ugh! 

What does that have to do with Christmas?  Well, I think that’s about as close as I can come to feeling what Joseph must have felt when Mary told him that she was expecting.  They were engaged to be married and had saved themselves for each other … or so Joseph thought.  The next thing you know, Mary is telling him some story about an angel, the Holy Spirit, and a prophecy that says “and the virgin will conceive,” and she just happened to be the virgin.   Put yourself in Joseph’s place.  I’m sure it was all a bit much for Joseph to believe and I can only imagine the hurt and betrayal he must have initially felt.  Yet we are told that “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”  (Matthew 1:19)

How does one respond in that way?  To be shamed and yet still be unwilling to put Mary to shame says a lot about who Joseph was as a man.  Some say that troubles build character.  While that’s not untrue, I’m not sure it’s completely true.  While troubles do help build character, they reveal character as well and, in this case, we discover that Joseph was a “just man.” This type of character is not forged overnight.  No doubt, God had been refining Joseph’s character for a long time.   

What my very own “Valentine’s Day Massacre” revealed was that my character was anything but “just.” I was hurt.  I was angry. And, I, unfortunately, was more than happy to put her to shame. I would say very unkind things about her behind her back and THINK even more unkind things about her in the silence of my own mind.

Her actions against me never justified my actions against her, though.  If anything, what her actions did was reveal the true condition of my heart. The cruel words I would say about her, and the even more cruel thoughts I would think about her, all revealed what had been lying dormant in my heart.  Her treatment of me was simply the opportunity those things needed to rise to the surface.  

We can think of our hearts like a snow globe.  If someone had never seen a snow globe before, they would not know that there is all of this flaky white stuff lying dormant on the bottom of the globe.  But, once the globe gets shaken, it’s then that we see all of the flakes start to swirl around. It’s the same with our hearts.  We often do not know what is lying underneath until life begins to shake us a bit.  If and when that happens, we often begin to see the ugliness of sin lying underneath the surface.  When we do, I think it’s important to remember that the Holy Spirit reveals those things not to condemn us, but rather to refine us. Circumstances, people, events, longings unfulfilled, desires unmet … they’re all often used to bring to the surface what God longs to transform because making us holy is God’s unwavering agenda for His children.      

We all need to be refined.  Proverbs 17:3 reminds us that: “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts.”  Because we know that God is with us and for us, we can also know that the “fires” of life are meant to refine us and not consume us.  As God continues His work in us, we can be confident that “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:3 - 4 NIV) 

If Joseph was anything like us, I’m pretty confident that the first time … probably even the second, third, and fourth time he faced a “fire” in his life, he didn’t respond the way he did in Matthew 1:19.  Being refined into the image of Christ is a process and we’re all at different points in that process.  And, as we allow the Holy Spirit to do His work, we’ll discover that “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.   And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.   And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:3 – 5 NLT)

We know that "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6 ESV)​ One day we will be refined perfectly.  One day we will all be able to say, “At last I am completely free of sin!”  One day our lives will fully reflect the final and completed work of God and we know that “when he appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”  (1 John 3:2)  For now, though, we are being refined and we can trust that God is working inside of us. As one person has said:  “God will take you where you haven't intended to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own.”  As we walk with God, we can trust that He is before us, that He is behind us, and that He is with us.  He will make sure we are heading in the right direction as long as we keep our eyes on Him.  

Verses to Consider:  2 Corinthians 6:3 – 10, James 1:2 – 4, 2 Peter 1:5 – 9  

Do Not Be Afraid

“Do not be afraid.”

There have been a few times in my life when I felt genuinely afraid.  Once was in elementary school.  Before my fists became the lethal weapons they are today, a school bully threatened me.  I had never been in a fight before and I had no desire to learn what it felt like to be punched in the face.  That confrontation with the bully brought some fear in to my young life.

Another time was in 2011 when I jumped off a 20-foot platform into 50-degree water during a Tough Mudder race.  For some, this is no big deal.  For me it was huge! I had just learned how to swim three months before this. Well, to say it more accurately, I had learned how not to drown three months before this.  It’s hard to call what I do in the water “swimming.”  Needless to say, after spending my life in the shallow end, this jump in to deep waters was scary for me. 

Another time was in 2007 when I was diagnosed with cancer.  I wasn’t so much afraid of dying, but I was afraid of not being there for my wife who just happened to be 8 months pregnant with our first-born son when I was diagnosed.  What if I didn’t make it?  I’d be leaving her and our son all alone.  I was afraid.

In my own experience with fear, I often find that facing the unknown is what often produces the most fear in my life.  An “unknown” is always followed by a “what if.”  What if this happens and my life ends up in shambles?  What if I do this and I fail? What if I’m left all alone?  What if I let someone down?  What if others think poorly of me?  What if my family suffers?  What if I do not have control over the situation?  What if I can’t do it? What if?  What if?  What if?

Is there a “what if” in your life today? 

As we move in to the Christmas season, it’s important to remember that on four separate occasions in the Christmas story, the words “Do not be afraid” were spoken:  To Joseph in Matthew 1:20, to Zechariah in Luke 1:13, to Mary in Luke 1:30, and to the shepherds in Luke 2:10.  God instructed His messengers to say these four words, but not in the sense of telling them not to feel fear.  I believe those four words were spoken with the intent of saying: “Do not let the fear you feel keep you from doing what I’m calling you to do.” 

Fear is an emotion we often seek to avoid.  Fear exposes our weaknesses.  Fear exposes our neediness.  Fear can often bring out the worst in us. Because of these things, the temptation is to avoid fear by seeking out safety, comfort, and security.  Our prayers can then begin to sound like this: “God, if you could just help me and my kids not to be hurt by anything or anyone, that’d be great.  Keep us safe … maybe put us in a gated community with guard dogs or better yet, guardian angels!  Just let life be OK.”  The problem is that we can soon find ourselves reaching for safety and comfort more than we are reaching for God.

If Mary had trusted her fear more than she trusted her God, she never would have been used by God to deliver our Savior in to the world.  If Joseph had trusted his fear more than he trusted his God, he never would have seen the miracle of the virgin birth, the joy in the eyes of the shepherds, or the admiration of the magi. If the shepherds had trusted their fear more than they trusted their God, they never would have seen the Incarnation “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” with their very own eyes.

Fear, like any emotion, can actually be something God uses to draw us in to a deeper trust relationship with Him.  Throughout the pages of Scripture, God’s message to those who feel afraid is: “I am with you.”  Today His answer is still the same … “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).  

Are you afraid today?  Is there a “what if” making itself out to be larger and more powerful than the “I am with you” presence of God? If so, instead of running from them, take an honest look at your fears and your “what if’s” and bring them before God.  This is the pattern we see in the Psalms.  This is the pattern of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  If we do anything less than this, we are actually missing an opportunity to take a step toward our Savior … a step that will draw us in to a deeper trust relationship with Him and help us discover that in every situation, “God is with us.” 


Verses to Consider:  Joshua 1:9, 2 Samuel 22:30 – 33, Psalm 46:10 – 11, Jeremiah 32:17, Romans 8:31 - 39

Monday, October 30, 2017

Viva la Reformacion!

In 1505, a 21-year-old Martin Luther was walking in the midst of a tremendous thunderstorm when a bolt of lightning struck the ground near him. The average  bolt  of  lightning, contains roughly one billion joules of  energy. This is enough to  power a 60-watt light bulb for six months!  In Martin Luther’s case, it contained enough energy to scare him in to becoming a monk.  Shortly after the lightning bolt incident, he sold all of his possessions and entered the monastery. 

While at the monastery, he came to be known as an incredibly “successful” monk.  That meant he immersed himself in prayer and fasting and all of the disciplines of the monastic life.  He once commented that “If anyone could have earned their way to heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.” Yet, he found himself continually discouraged and no amount of discipline or tradition was found to help.

At the age of 27, after a visit to Rome, he became very disheartened by the corruption he saw in the church and among many of the priests.  He began to study Scripture in search of the answers and the hope he was looking for and between the years 1512 – 1518, he went through a series of intellectual revelations, especially after studying the book of Romans.

On October 31, we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther infamously nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church and the Reformation was born.  The basic tenants of the Reformation are: Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, To the Glory of God Alone.  The tenants of the Reformation have had a major impact on me personally.  Here’s why:

Scripture Alone – When reading the Bible, I discover that God, ,through Jesus, is restoring everything that sin has ruined The Bible alone is God’s word to mankind.  In it I find the very words of God.  With those words I am taught what is true, shown was is wrong, corrected when I stray, taught to do what is right, equipped for every good work, comforted in every struggle, and given the opportunity to know the God of the Universe.  I’m no longer chained to tradition or bound by the words of those in “religious authority.”  I can open up God’s word, study it for myself (or better yet, in community with other followers of Jesus), and then trust the Holy Spirit to soften my heart, open my eyes, and empower me to obey.

Faith Alone – This is not faith in my faith.  Depending on the day, my faith can be weak or strong.  If I place my faith in my faith, then I’m setting myself up for a very unbalanced life.  My faith is not in my faith.  My faith is in God who “does not change like the shifting shadows” (James 1:17).  My cry of faith is to Him alone for salvation.  I do not trust in the size of my faith or the strength of my faith because even my faith can then become an idol.   What you boast in is what gives you confidence to face the day.  I do not want to boast in my faith.  I want to boast in the object of my faith. “As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Galatians 6:14)

Grace Alone – Without grace I find myself seeking to earn something from God.  So as long as I’m “doing, doing, doing” … God is happy with me.  But, if I’m “don’ting, don’ting, don’ting” … God is out to get me.  What an exhausting way to live.  Grace frees me from all of that.  God’s grace says that even my best “doing” would never be enough to earn His favor and it also says that my worst “don’ting” is never enough to lose His favor.  “Grace never calls wrong, right.  Grace is a way of dealing with the wrong.” (Tripp) “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8 – 9)

Christ Alone – “Jesus lived the perfect life of obedience so we could be saved from striving to live that life on our own.  God declares us to be righteous, not because of any work we have done, but because of the work Jesus did. (Romans 5:1)  We can rest from working to measure up to perfection.  We can ceases striving to be perfect by our own strength and efforts.  We can rest in the life of Jesus lived on our behalf (Matthew 11:29, Romans 5:8 – 9) … Jesus died in our place to save us from the wrath of God and the penalty of sin, which is spiritual, relational, and physical death (Romans 6:23) He saves us from spiritual death and makes us alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4 – 5) He atones for our guilt and removes our shame (Romans 8:1 – 3).  He reconciles us to God so that we can also be reconciled to one another (2 Corinthians 5:18).  And ultimately, though our bodies will fail and die, he will give us glorified resurrection bodies that will live forever … We are new!  We are alive!  We are free!  We are no longer slaves to sin, but are now slaves to righteousness – slaves to what is truly living!”  (Vanderstelt)

To the Glory of God Alone – As much as I’m tempted to make it so, my life is not about me.  I am not the center of the Universe.  And, even my salvation is not about me.  It’s about God!  He put something of Himself on display through saving me … His holiness, His love, His justice, His grace, His compassion, His mercy, His righteousness.  The salvation I have received is more about the One who gave it rather than the one who received it.  If and when I begin to lose sight of this, I forget that I am saved only by grace alone … not because I was voted most likely to become a Christian.  If I forget that my salvation is more about God than it is about me, I am in danger of becoming less in awe of God and more in awe of me. “For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory.  All glory to Him forever!  Amen.” (Romans 11:36) The only reason that I can look in the mirror and say to myself that “I am saved” is because God is kind and I am loved by Him. 


Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, To the Glory of God Alone … may God continue to use these truths to remind us of His goodness.  “I will praise the Lord, and may everyone on earth bless His holy name forever and ever.”  (Psalm 145:21)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Passing the Baton

It’s really hard to believe that it’s been a year since our church transitioned leadership from Pastor Mark, who had served as lead pastor for 26 years, to Pastor Mitchel, who had been serving at Grace for 4 years.  The image that was often used to describe the transition was the passing of a baton.  I can’t imagine any better way to describe what the past year has been like.  The reality is, every one of us in ministry is in a relay race.  At some point we will all pass the ministry baton we’re running with to someone else.  Whether we serve somewhere for 2 years, 12 years, or 26 years, every one of us in ministry is running a relay.  If you think of it in terms of track and field, a relay race is an event in which athletes run a pre-set distance carrying a baton before passing it onto the next runner.  At some point in our ministry race we will hand the baton off to the next person.  If we do not remember this, we’ll run a relay race like an individual race.  All sorts of problems will arise if that happens:  We’ll hold on to the baton when we should let go of it … we’ll focus on our own race instead of trying to set the next person up for success … we’ll make ourselves the point of the race instead of remembering that this is a team effort … we’ll just drop the baton when we’re finished running … we’ll forget that someone else actually handed us the baton that we are holding now.  

Our role in ministry (volunteer or vocational) is never an individual race.  It is always a relay and we only have a “pre-set distance” to run before passing off the baton God has placed in our hands.  The sooner we realize this, the more successful we will be when it’s our time to pass the baton.  Here are a few things I’ve observed and processed over the past year since the baton was passed at Grace and a few things I’ve experienced in my own baton passing.

1.    The baton pass is important.  In any relay race, it’s imperative for a good hand off to take place.  If there is a mistake while passing the baton, the team is hindered or disqualified.  In ministry, if the baton pass goes bad, the “team” may not be disqualified, but it is certainly hindered.  For that reason, great care and prayer needs to go in to the process of handing off the baton:  When will this happen?  Who will make the final decision?  Will this be an internal or external hire?  What needs to be a part of the timeline?  The best relay teams practice passing the baton over and over.  For a successful baton pass in ministry to take place, doing the hard work up front and having a strategic plan in place may not make things easy, but it will certainly make them easier.

2.    The baton pass is important but the hard work is running the race itself.  The one passing the baton knows this.  The one receiving the baton will find it out, if they do not know it already.  In a relay, the runner doesn’t get fatigued passing the baton.  The fatigue begins to set in as they take step after step after step in the race. 

3.    Run at your own pace.  Each runner in a relay runs a pre-set distance.  The difference in ministry is that we do not know exactly what that distance will be.  But, whatever the distance, we must run it at a sustainable pace.  In an actual race, if I’m trying to run with people who are just way faster than me, I’ll burn out too quickly and not run to my potential.  If I’m running with the people who are slower than me, I’ll never allow myself to be stretched and pushed physically, and I’ll not run to my potential.  God strategically places us somewhere in order to fulfill His purposes (Acts 13:36, 17:26). All we can do is run our race to the best of our ability and trust Him for the results. We are simply called to run the race and to make the most of the abilities God has given us.

4.    A runner never runs a perfect race because there are no perfect runners.  When the baton is passed, every condition of the organization (the good and the bad) is passed on with it.  The hope is that more good than bad is passed on, but since no runner is perfect this side of heaven, we can expect to receive both.  To expect any different would be denying the reality of the human condition.

5.    People are watching.  Some of them are cheering for you and are more than happy to encourage you along the way.  Some of them do not like how you’re running the race and seem eager to criticize the way you do so.  The weight of all those eyes can feel very heavy unless we remember that the most important set of eyes watching are always for us … “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)  We must remember who we are in His eyes and find our strength in the presence, the power, and the promises of God.

6.    Stay in your lane.  The lane marks clear boundaries for a runner.  If a runner steps out of his/her lane, the team is disqualified.  A good organization will have a vision, values, and mission based upon God’s word.  We need to stay within those boundaries to keep us focused in any transition and to help us move forward in the most effective way.

7.    Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1 – 3) 

Passing the baton in ministry is difficult work and full of surprises and no matter how much you prepare for it, there will always be some unexpected twists and turns organizationally but also personally.  There are always matters of the heart that God brings to the surface that maybe we didn’t realize were there before we passed the baton or received it.  All of that, though, is an act of grace by God who brings all of it to our attention so He can continue His work of transforming us into the image of Jesus. 

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