Monday, July 27, 2009

Voices of Truth In The Midst Of a Storm

Sometimes when I study the work of some of our modern day heroes of the faith like Adrian Rogers, Max Lucado, Chuck Swindoll, W.A. Criswell, and others, I wonder who will emerge from my generation and the generations after me as the next voices of truth in a world that seems to grow darker and more hopeless as each year passes.

I never grow tired of studying the remarkable insights of some of these spiritual giants. I'm amazed at their boldness, courage, wisdom, and tenacity. At the same time, I wonder at times if today's emerging spiritual giants really have their roots deep enough to endure the test of time. I'm not passing judgement in any way, just questioning whether or not the inherent boldness that seems to characterize many of my spiritual heroes is fading away in a time when we need it more than ever before.

In the last couple of weeks, it seems that I've read a lot about fear. I've seen quotes from Max Lucado, who is writing a new book about fear, popping up on Twitter. I've seen a fair amount of dialogue about fear on Facebook. I've read several devotionals that centered around what our response, as believers, should be to fear. Let's face it, there are more fearful people in the world today than probably at any time in recent history.

As bad as I hate to admit it, I find myself among the fearful crowd more often than I should. These last couple of weeks have been some of the most challenging times that I have faced since God called me to ministry more than 22 years ago. Although I've dealt with fear many times along my journey of faith, it's as though I'm facing it for the first time, or at least at a level of intensity that I've never experienced before.

Most of the fears are related to decisions that we are facing as a ministry as we continue trying to navigate our way through the course that God has planned for Skipstone. I should have learned by now that that course doesn't always involve calm waters and bright sunshine. In fact, it seems that the more we attempt for God, the rougher the waters can be. It will suffice to say that our current headings place us in some pretty rough waters, and at times I'm more a fearful follower than a faithful leader.

As I referenced earlier, many times in my life I've found incredible strength and encouragement (an infusion of courage) when I read or listen to the words of some of my heroes of the faith. These brave servants of God have not only talked the talk, they have walked the walk. They are the modern day Pauls and Timothys, speaking as though they are simply amplifying what God has whispered in their ears.

As I have continued praying through my fears, and especially through the current storms, it's as though God keeps steering me to the words and insights of those who have already navigated through the same storms I face. Yes, they were also afraid, but they are safely through the storm now, and they can see God's hand at work in a way that I might not be able able to see right now. When the storms get really intense, I find myself searching for their boldness, listening for that word that I need to hear, not just the "feel good" fluff that is so much a part of many of today's emerging leaders.

I came across one such word yesterday from Chuck Swindoll. Here's a portion of what I read yesterday that God greatly used to encourage me, right smack in the middle of the storm...... "Yesterday, we focused on Philippians 1:6, noting that God "who began a good work . . . will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." And, since we are to be "imitators of God" (Ephesians 5:1), it seems to me we oughta be about the business of persistence. It sure is easy to bail out theologically. You know, the age-old sovereignty cop-out. "If God wants such-and-such to happen, He's gonna have to do it all. I'm unable in myself." Now there may be a few occasions where that is an appropriate game plan; but by and large, His Spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak---dare I say lazy and indifferent? Unlike our Father, we tend to fade in the stretch."

Ouch.... Chuck quoted me word for word when he said "If God wants such-and-such to happen, He's gonna have to.....". How did he know what I was thinking? How could he call me out by declaring my flesh as lazy and indifferent? How did he know that I would tend to "fade in the stretch"?

Truth be told, Chuck Swindoll has no idea who I am and knows nothing about me or my storms. However I suspect that if I had the chance to ask him about those words, he would say something like "Well, there was a time in my life when I was going through and intense storm. I was making every excuse for why I couldn't endure it. One morning, I was really searching for a word, and God lead me to an insight by Oswald Chambers. It was as if Oswald was simply amplifying what God was whispering......".

Whatever It Takes,

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Focus... Easy To Say But Hard To Do!

Albert Einstein was once asked by a student, “Dr. Einstein, how many feet are there in a mile?” To the utter astonishment of the student, Einstein replied, “I don’t know.” The student was sure the great professor was joking. Surely Einstein would know a simple fact that every schoolchild is required to memorize. But Einstein wasn’t joking. When the student pressed for an explanation of this gap in Einstein’s knowledge, he declared, “I make it a rule not to clutter my mind with simple information that I can find in a book in five minutes.”

When I read that story, I discovered a principle that I think could help address a daily struggle for me. It was a glimpse into the mind of one of history's greatest innovators, perhaps an important secret of his success revealed. Could it be that one of the keys to Eienstein's success was a little word called focus?

I've always prided myself on being a great multi-tasker. I enjoy working, and my life seems abnormal if I don't have a number of projects I'm working on, several ideas that I'm processing, and lots mundane tasks that I'm chipping away at, all going on at the same time. I realize that I'm not alone in this.... almost everyone I talk to says something about how "busy" they are or have been.

When I was younger, and Shondi and I were both working and going to school, I can remember dreaming about what my life would be like when I finished school and got a "real job", so my life wouldn't be so busy.

When we moved back from Dallas and took our first part-time ministry position, along with full time jobs, and the arrival of our first child, I realized that the "not so busy life" I had dreamt about was eluding me in every way.

Life moved on and the pace got faster and faster until finally we arrived.... a full time ministry position that provided for my wife and four children.... I was finally going to be less busy!

You might be able to guess that the whole "less busy" thing didn't work out like I planned. In fact, it seemed that at every stage I thought I'd be less busy, the demands on my time grew greater & greater.

I could go on with this, but I'm really busy today so I'll have to wrap it up:) I have determined that the "less busy" life I've been pursuing is probably not a reality this side of heaven. I've also learned that learning to balance my busy life is a part of my spiritual discipline and growth.

If Eienstein realized that cluttering his mind with trivial "stuff" was detrimental to his ultimate purpose, what does that say to us about the danger of cluttering our lives by being so "busy" that we neglect our primary purpose of being Jesus to a lost and dying world?

Focus.... simple to say, but hard to do. Since I started this blog, I made it a point to count how many times I've been distracted.... 26 times! That's an average of one distraction every other minute since I started.

The same thing happens in our walk with Jesus... we lose our focus. We are so easily distracted from the "main thing" by the mundane things that somehow creep up our priority list every day.

I recognize that there are many things that each of us has to do that have nothing whatsoever to do with eternity, but the question still comes to mind "At the end of this day, have I done ANYTHING that will make a difference in eternity?". For me, there are too many days when my honest answer would be "no". It's not because I didn't want to or didn't plan to, it's because I lost my focus.

John 15:4-5 NIV
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

By the way... there are 5280 feet in a mile.... now you know something that Eienstein didn't!

Whatever It Takes,

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You Won't Believe The Day I Had Yesterday!!!

Remember how I said yesterday morning that it would be a really busy day at Skipstone? Yeah well, turns out I had no idea what the day would hold. I think God does that for us every now and then just to give us a quick reminder of who is in control!

On top of our normal Monday chaos, we discovered a major problem with the Ugandan boys airline tickets when we called to check them in for their flight home. After two hours on the phone, Shondi and Melinda (from Pennies for Posho ministry) drove to the airport and spend the rest of the day persuading KLM that the problem with the tickets was an honest mistake that resulted from bad communication in the KLM office in Uganda (which is the size of my office)and the rest of the KLM world. Just think about the worst airline agent you ever encountered.... this agent trained all of those!:)

In the end, the ticket situation was resolved at 2:30pm and the boys were due at the airport no later than 3:30 pm to catch their flight home. So while Shondi and Melinda waited at the airport, our staff loaded up all of the boys luggage in the two vans and we gathered everybody together to say "goodbye". As we are standing there enduring our tearful goodbyes, it comes to someone's attention that Joseph, one of the 13 year old Ugandan boys, is nowhere to be found! We were already running late, so we had everyone on campus start looking for him immediately. I kept the vans running, confident that he would be found in a few minutes and we'd be on our way.

Ninety minutes later, or about the time the plane was taking off, there was still no sign of Joseph. We were beginning to grow very concerned, so per our protocol, we contacted the Spalding County Sheriff's Office. Needless to say, things got very crazy in a matter of a few minutes. Dozens of marked and unmarked police cars, search and rescue vehicles, dive teams, neighbors and other volunteers, and all of our campers coming in to register for the the last week of camp converged at Skipstone entrance. It was an incredible sight.... I can only imagine what people driving by were thinking, and especially what the parents of our "new" overnight campers were thinking!

The search continued for Joseph all over our 64 acre campus, as well as the 190 acre tract south of our property, the 18 acre tract east of us, and the 300 acre tract west of us. A police chopper from Fayette County was called in to assist the people on the ground. It was absolutely an insane scene! I spent the whole time at the command center at the front gate, trying to keep tabs on all that was going on and giving the officers as much information about the property layout as I could. To say that I was worried would be an understatement, but I also had a peace that God knew exactly what was going on and that while it looked like everything was out of control, HE was still very much in control.

At 6:24pm, over six hours since anyone had seen "big Joe", Ken Brown, one of our Skipstone Academy parents, and John Plageman, one of our board members who also volunteers for the dive and resue team, found Joseph hidden in a heavy brush thicket on the very back corner of the property. HE was unharmed, but was terrified and shaking. Since he doesn't understand our culture, he had no idea what kind of havoc his behavior had caused until he rounded the corner and saw the dozens of searchers who had been frantically looking for him for more than four hours.

Without going into all of the details, it turns out that one the ladies, who was here from Uganda and was touring with the boys for the first part of the tour, had given Joseph some very specific instructions about some costume items that belonged to her that the boys were using for the remainder of the tour. They were goat skins that were used in a dance routine and apparently they were of great value to the "mum". She charged Joseph with caring for those skins and making sure they got back to Ugandan to her or he would face a severe beating(I realize that is shocking to hear, but unfortunately this is acceptable in their culture). Upon returning from their concerts in North Carolina two weekends ago, the group realized that the skins were missing. Melinda called the churches to find out if they were accidentally left there but no one has found them as of yet. The thought of going back to Uganda and facing the "mum" without her possessions was more than this little boy could stand and he did the only thing he knew to do...hide.

Since every leader is a learner, Shondi and I stayed up late considering what we could learn from this whole ordeal. While there are many lessons, the two things that stuck out in our hearts were:
1. Nothing good can possibly good from placing too much value on our "stuff" whether it's parked in my garage at Skipstone or riding around on the back of a goat in Uganda. Stuff is still stuff. The moment we start to take our focus off of God and put it on our stuff, trouble always ensues.
2. Whether you are a 13 year old Ugandan boy or almost 40 year old ministry leader, fear paralyzes your life, your walk and your ministry. The four and a half hours we worried, fretted, panicked, prayed while Joseph sat in a thicket also worrying, fretting, panicking, and praying, God sat confidently on His throne in complete control. Just like Joseph's fear kept him in hiding all afternoon, our fear does the same thing to us. We hide from friendships, new experiences, amazing life lessons and God's purpose for our lives all out of fear. We might not be in a thicket of bushes in the woods but our hiding place is just as uncomfortable. One of my favorite sayings goes like this... "When fear knocks, let faith open the door and no one will be there." Faith that God can handle any struggle you are facing makes truly abundant life possible...we just have to take the first step and get out of the thicket!

Looking back on what seemed yesterday to be a very discouraging day, we see God's hand in every little detail. Joseph never left the Skipstone property and he was always safe. God sent an army of amazing people to help us look for Joseph (and we cannot adequately begin to express our appreciation). The lessons that God taught us through the ordeal will remain with us forever as will the memories that we have made with these eight incredible boys this summer.

Thank you for your prayers and thank you to those who physically helped in our search. The next available flight for the boys is next Monday at 4:00...please pray that their departure then will go smoothly and that God will continue to work in the lives of the Ugandan Thunder!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Goodbye Ugandan Boys... and THANK YOU!

Although I'm waaaay behind on my blogging, I'll have to be brief this morning. We start our last week of camp today, the Ugandan boys are leaving for the airport, we have a new maintenance man starting (welcome Eric Hindman to the Skipstone family), construction on the football field is in full swing, the inboxes and voice mailboxes are overflowing... you get the picture!

I didn't sleep very well last night. Like everyone else around here, I'm emotional about the end of our four month journey with the Ugandan Thunder boys. These eight boys have really taken our hearts captive. What we anticipated would be an incredible ministry opportunity for us to serve them has instead become a time of immeasurable growth for us as we have watch them live their faith out loud.

For me personally, I can only recall one other season of my life when I found myself so consciously aware of some of my misconceptions about God. These were brought to light by watching the childlike faith of eight boys who have no life compared to us from a material perspective, yet enjoy life so abundantly from a spiritual perspective. I can't help but believe that there is an underlying and significant correlation between their suffering and simple existence and the contentment, thankfulness of heart, and unbridled joy that defines the character of these young men.

One of the things that we've all struggled with is knowing that today, these boys are going back to their real world. The excess and comfort that they have enjoyed for the last four months will come to an abrupt halt in 24 hours, and they will once again be surrounded with suffering and pain that we can't even really imagine. It doesn't seem fair or right. Our hearts are screaming "let them stay", but as hard as it is for us to understand, they are ready to go "home".

As I thought about this through my sleepless night, I was reminded of a statement that one of my favorite authors made in a recent devotion that I was reading about struggles and suffering. Max Lucado wrote "What about your struggles? Is there any chance, any possibility, that you have been selected to struggle for God’s glory? Have you “been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake”? - (Philippians 1:29)

What an amazing thought.... that some of us may have the privilege of not only walking with Jesus, but also suffering for His sake? Man I want to get to a place in my walk that I can see struggles and suffering as a privilege..... maybe it starts by realizing that most of my struggles and suffering aren't struggles and suffering at all. They are just whining and feeling sorry for myself about some possession that I don't have, some luxury that I can't afford, or something "dear to me" that I lost. I go around saying "I'm hungry" when I get busy and miss lunch by a few hours, yet I have no idea what hunger really feels like. I say that "I'm having a bad day" when some circumstance shakes me from my comfort zone, while those without a real comfort zone can't even distinguish the "good days" from the bad ones.

Max Lucado wrapped up this thought in a beautiful way when he said "Your faith in the face of suffering cranks up the volume of God’s song.” I don't know a lot, but I know that the faith of eight boys in the midst of great struggles and suffering has made God's song loud in my heart. The country of Uganda will be hearing that song soon in a way that could "rock their world"!

Thank you boys for being "special vessels" that God used in my life in very special way..... now go home and change your world!

Whatever It Takes,