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Harmonicas at 92

We were recently on a Skype call with my parents, who live in Oklahoma. They just happened to be over at my 92-year-old Grandpa’s farmhouse, and we, of course, insisted on saying hello to Grandpa. You know, to try and cheer him up a little. Our 4-year-old daughter specializes in such things.

So my Dad takes his phone into Grandpa’s bedroom for us to say, “Hello!” We exchanged greetings, then my Mom suggests that Grandpa play his harmonica for us.

SIDE NOTE: I grew up around my Grandpa and Grandma Hodges, seeing them nearly every day, and I never once remember him playing harmonica, or really even talking about it.

He concedes to play us a few songs on the harmonica, before he goes back to resting.

He played us two songs. The second was a song that had something to say about strawberries. I really didn’t catch that part. The reason? It was the song before that really moved me. The first song that he played was “He Leadeth Me” by Joseph H. Gilmore and William B. Bradbury.

Gilmore had this to say about how writing the hymn came abut in 1862:

As a young man who re­cent­ly had been grad­u­at­ed from Brown Un­i­ver­si­ty and New­ton The­o­lo­gic­al In­sti­tu­tion, I was sup­ply­ing for a cou­ple of Sun­days the pul­pit of the First Bap­tist Church in Phil­a­del­phia [Penn­syl­van­ia]. At the mid-week ser­vice, on the 26th of March, 1862, I set out to give the peo­ple an ex­po­si­tion of the Twen­ty-third Psalm, which I had giv­en be­fore on three or four oc­ca­sions, but this time I did not get fur­ther than the words “He Lead­eth Me.” Those words took hold of me as they had ne­ver done be­fore, and I saw them in a sig­ni­fi­cance and won­drous beau­ty of which I had ne­ver dreamed.

It was the dark­est hour of the Ci­vil War. I did not re­fer to that fact—that is, I don’t think I did—but it may sub­con­sciou­sly have led me to real­ize that God’s lead­er­ship is the one sig­nif­i­cant fact in hu­man ex­per­i­ence, that it makes no dif­fer­ence how we are led, or whi­ther we are led, so long as we are sure God is lead­ing us.

Let me repeat…

God’s leadership is the one significant fact in human experience, that it makes no difference how we are led, or whither we are led, so long as we are sure God is leading us.

Man, hitting me like a ton of bricks.

This is the first song he played, and it should also be the cry of my heart every day. I have been using Psalm 25:4-5 as a part of my personal prayer time for over a year now and I felt like God used my Grandpa Hodges to validate all of those prayers. God’s leadership matters most.

I’d like to close with the words of the hymn:

He leadeth me, O blessèd thought!
O words with heav’nly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.

Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,
Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,
By waters still, over troubled sea,
Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me.

Lord, I would place my hand in Thine,
Nor ever murmur nor repine;
Content, whatever lot I see,
Since ’tis my God that leadeth me.

And when my task on earth is done,
When by Thy grace the vict’ry’s won,
E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,
Since God through Jordan leadeth me.

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Courage for the Taking

“So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said.” – Acts 27:25

When people throw around the word prophecy in Christian circles, most of us smell something. It isn’t quite right. Usually prophecy is the predecessor for “now give to our ministry to see your seed gift go forth”… Maybe you picture that televangelist telling you just what you want to hear to get just what they want from you.

Prophecy, of course, has a completely different role in the church today with having the completion of the New Testament. It is complete. It is sound. It is inspired by the breath of God Himself (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Yet, could God use someone in your church or outside of your church to speak a word of prophecy over you and your life? Like this?

I recently just bought a copy of a biography on the life of CH Spurgeon that was written in the late 1800s. I am hardly into the book and have already noticed a few things that have blown my mind.

One was that Spurgeon’s grandfather was a pastor for over 50 years, and that when he was a boy he lived with his grandparents for the first 5 or 6 years of his life. One of the days that he had spent with his grandparents involved an evangelist that came to visit. He noticed something different about the boy and spent time with him and prayed over him. Then he proceeded to say that he believed the child would preach to thousands at the largest church in London at the time. He even mentioned some of of the music that would be played.

Of course, we know that all of this came to pass. He actually did preach at that church and found that the one he pastored at for many years ended up being larger.

Would this have still happened without the prayer and prophecy of the man who came to visit his grandparents? Maybe. Maybe not. Kids are funny. They tend to believe everything people say about them, whether good or bad. God no doubt used the whole experience to shape the rest of CH Spurgeon’s life.

I still remember one of my professors stopping me after one of my classes in college. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You are going to be a great evangelist someday.”

I’ve thought about his comments many times when I’ve been discouraged day to day in ministry. They have been an anchor for me to cling to. A man of God saw potential in me, perhaps through his own observation or maybe even a word from the Holy Spirit Himself.

Challenge for all of us?

Speak truth over others. Speak life into them. When God gives you a word of encouragement for someone else, dispense it as soon as possible. Your words may be just what they’ve been needing to hear.

Maybe they’ll start to really believe all of the things that God has already said about who they are in Christ Jesus and what they have been created to do.

Reminds me of this passage:

Take care brethren that there not be found in any one of you an evil and unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another, day after day, as long as it is still called today, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. – Hebrews 3:12-14

Then we need to have the faith that Paul had in the opening verse of this post. The faith that takes God at His word, no matter how ridiculous it sounds.

God is able. We just have to be willing.

Courage is born.

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Sing, Play, Open, Listen, Follow

Let’s be honest, life can get a little painstaking at times. I work with college students from week to week. I get overwhelmed just hearing what their test and assignment schedules are like. They are overwhelmed. The longer that the semester persists, the more that their joy is completely swallowed by all of the circumstances that surround and intimidate them.

A lot of the reason for their stress revolves around one question: “How am I ever going to have enough time to get all of this done, let alone do it well?”

Psalm 81 gives a pretty incredible remedy for stress, worry and deadlines. There are a lot of imperative commands in the chapter, and all of them are practical ways to put God at the center of all decision making and life in general.

Sing! Beat the tambourine. Play the sweet lyre and harp. (81:2) // Nothing releases emotional frustration quite like singing. This goes for any singing or music in general, but even more so when it involves directing those songs and and rhythms toward God. Frustrated? Take it out on the tambourine, not your professor or roommate.

Open up your mouth wide and I will fill it with good things. (81:10) // Ever wonder if God was holding back blessing from your life because you hadn’t opened your mouth up wide enough to receive it? The word for  faith (pistis) that is used over and over again in the New Testament can literally be translated as TRUST. What are you putting your trust in? Your intellect? Your time management? Your health? All of these are unsteady. Jesus is stable. He is reliable. He can be trusted through whatever circumstance you are currently facing.

Oh, that my people would listen to me! Oh, that Israel would follow me, walking in my paths! (81:13) // One of the things that is so important is to recognize that God already has life figured out to the fullest extent. He isn’t worried about what is to soon unfold. He only asks us to listen to his voice. How much of a priority is it of yours to daily expose yourself to God’s word? The passage doesn’t just say to expose yourself to his voice, but to also walk in the paths he has laid out. Much of the guesswork has already been taken out of life when we fix our eyes on the one who created this life. Go figure.

Sing.

Play.

Open.

Listen.

And follow.

Life is so much more fun (and fulfilling) when we do. Everything is put into its proper perspective.

The pace is sustainable because God carries us all the way through.

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Shepherds

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Being a young minister in a local church can be extremely difficult. I remember transitioning from my first ministry, which was on a vibrant college campus, to the church that I currently serve. The church was empty. I’m not really speaking to Sunday mornings, though the worship center was only about half-full then as well. I am speaking more to the fact that the building was empty during the week (Monday-Saturday). I remember sitting there at my desk in an old storage room which was then my office and thinking, “What am I supposed to do now?”

One thing that never came to my mind was: “Maybe I should seek counsel from some of our older elders who have been in the local church for more than 50 years.”

Why did that never come to my mind?

Pride. Lies from the enemy. Lack of intentionality on their part. Lack of intentionality on my part as well.

Our potential in ministry and in any other profession is extremely limited if we refuse to seek counsel from those who have already stood where we are standing.

So, I thank God for the verse I placed at the top of this post. I also thank God for the elder who oversees me personally, Carl Davis. Carl is 79 years old. He has a 45 year head start on me. Why wouldn’t I consistently pick his brain? Why wouldn’t I take time to listen to his ideas when he stops by my office? It would be a crime not to do so.

The elders are our shepherds, not our inhibitors. The Holy Spirit placed in them in their positions to lead us. They are to care for us.

We have all been purchased by the blood of Jesus.

And Jesus wants nothing less than for us to grow into the potential he’s already placed inside of each one of us.

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Learn. Create. Share.

Any time we encounter someone who is exceptional at doing anything, we always want to know what their secret is. Maybe the question comes up in our minds, “How did they become so great at that?” or “Why haven’t I become as successful as they are at that?”

We have all (so it seems) read at length about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, and that from the Beatles to Bill Gates, everyone who has become great at anything cannot escape the need for both extraordinary, fortuitous events and extraordinary amounts of time spent perfecting their craft.

For me, it has been a simple loop that I’ve practiced.

Learn. Create. Share.

SIDE NOTE: And I really believe that this is why I didn’t excel when it came to any academic setting I was placed in. It stopped at learning. That, and I could have definitely stood to have become more disciplined.

1) LEARN

This is the first step to becoming successful at anything. If you don’t know your stuff, there is no way you can produce anything of value. This was even the secret to the success of Mark Zuckerberg. He knew how to code really well before he created what we call Facebook today. The key here is to find something that you want to learn about. This is the first step that every college student should take. What is it that you research for fun in your spare time? What is it that you enjoy learning about? You have to collect large amounts of information before you can come close to offering something that will be helpful to people. Part of this is too also witness how others have been doing the thing that you would like to be doing. There is no original thought that came without a preceding one that made it possible.

2) CREATE

Once you’ve collected all the needed information, it is time to put the pen to paper. This is what you have to offer that the world is lacking. This is what God put you on planet earth to do. One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 2:10, largely because it tell us that we were created in Jesus to do all of these things that God has already prepared the way for. We just have to be brave enough to step out and start creating. Creating is what makes life so much more than humdrum activity marked by periods of pleasure. Now, not everyone will appreciate or even care about our creation. There have certainly people millions of people who have failed to acknowledge God for what he has done in creation, yet that doesn’t diminish anything that God has accomplished. Since God is creative, and we are God’s creation — we are therefore creative. To be a Christian at all is to be creative. It is an overflow of what God has taught us in his Son by his Holy Spirit.

3) SHARE

Now this is where it gets really exciting. This is when you can make a true and lasting impact in the world. This is when you can leave things better than how you found them.This is when you can leave a legacy of your creation. It always bamboozles me to hear about people who are incredible at something that have never really let anyone know about it. It is like the millionaire who hoards/hides all of their wealth and at the end of their life shocks their family and friends with what they have possessed all along. Now, we don’t want to share for the sake of sharing. Social media has shown us just how annoying that can be. Sharing what you’ve created isn’t deemed a success because of the praise of others. It is deemed a success if you’ve done what God has designed you to do all along.

One of the most exciting things about this process is that it isn’t just for us. It is also for them. I love what a man named Peter says in the first sermon of the church: “…for this promise is for you and your children and all who are far off. As many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” (Acts 2:39)

What we create may be a catalyst for what someone else is able to do 20 years from now.

All we have to do is Learn. Create. Share.

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Old Enough to Understand

I was raised in a Christian home. I was told over and over about Jesus, about the Bible, about who God is. For me, being Christian was kind of like being caucasian. I was born that way. Yet even though that was my heritage from my parents and grandparents, it became more than information when I turned 10. At that point, for me, I realized that all of the information I was given was actually true. I realized that it was transformational, real even.

I know many who weren’t raised in Christian homes. I have one friend, Jesse, who ended up first attending church because people on a church bus bribed him with candy to come and memorize Scripture. You can verify this by contacting him yourself. He ended up in vocational ministry.

The following passage is somewhat of a gem in Nehemiah. There is this massive revival that Nehemiah and Ezra are spearheading. They are reintroducing everyone to the Law of Moses.

“Then the rest of the people—the priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, Temple servants, and all who had separated themselves from the pagan people of the land in order to obey the Law of God, together with their wives, sons, daughters, and all who were old enough to understand—” Nehemiah 10:28

You get the feeling that there was a certain amount of responsibility given to those who came to a certain age. They became responsible to respond to the word of God. We get the same picture in the New Testament when we read Romans 7:9. This is one of the many reasons I don’t support infant baptism. Faith is something that we decide we want to place in Jesus, it is not something that someone else can decide for us.

What about before we are able to understand?

Research has shown that 80% of who we are is developed before we are three years of age. Can you remember anything from age three and below? Yeah, me neither. This is why the role of the parent is so important. Even before your child comes to the point of remembrance, they are being molded into who they’ll be for the rest of their life.

Reminds me of Acts 2:39: For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.

You, as a parent/future parent, are the link in the promise. Even before they are old enough to understand. Until then, we pray that they’ll decide to follow Jesus when that day comes.

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Why Jesus and I Hate Push Notifications

Can you imagine trying to explain to someone fifty years ago that in the future their mailbox out by the road would venture into their house hundreds of times a day and get right up in their face and “ding” incessantly?

This is pretty much where we’re at today.

Shane Hipps, in a way, prophesied about this day coming into full effect when he wrote this book.

One of the best, recent blog posts I’ve read about this was from Seth Godin: Five Steps to Digital Hygiene. I’ve tried to obey most of these, but the most helpful was the disabling of email and social media from push notifications on my phone and tablet. Instead, I’ve replaced it with notifications for things I’d like to pray about through the midst of the day and scripture like this one.

It has been so helpful.

When I check my email, I check my email. A device isn’t telling me when I should check it. It is quite liberating. I really believe Jesus would do something like this today. I am speculating when is say that Jesus would probably use all of the technology that we use today, though he would use it differently than most of us do. He definitely used the technology available in the first century.

Imagine how much better of a son/daughter/husband/wife/parent/employee you would be if you were less distracted by your mobile device.

May we not let our mailbox be so often in our face that we miss those who are right in front of us.

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Heads Held High

“Keep your head up!”

I can still hear every basketball coach I ever had, from 3rd grade through college. I always had the same problem. Bad pass? Forced shot? Fail to block out? Beat on defense? Head immediately faces downward. I have written elsewhere about the power of the high five. It really did make a difference.

But what about those times in life that cause us to want to hang our head? Instead of continuing on, maybe you’ve wanted to stay in bed all day. What is there, in those times, to be positive about?

I love the following verses. Partly, because they are from Leviticus, an unlikely source of encouragement. Yet, in them we see a beautiful picture of what Jesus has done for us.

I will live among you, and I will not despise you. I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so you would no longer be their slaves. I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high. (‭Leviticus‬ ‭26‬:‭11-13‬ NLT)

God had singlehandedly delivered the Israelites out of Egypt with a mighty and outstretched hand. With signs and wonders, God showed Pharaoh that He was sovereign over all.

Jesus has done the same for us on the cross. He has delivered us from the guilt of our sin.

So, if you are forgiven, lift up your head in confidence. Not because you are sustaining your own self, but because Jesus has born your burdens on the cross and has overcome them all.

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Standing on Shoulders

When I was younger, I really believed that in order to do anything significant in life you needed to generate it on your own. If you ever asked for help or cited direction from another person it was a sign of weakness. The older I get, the more I realize that the opposite is true. Everyone who has done anything significant in life is a direct result of someone else that has preceded them.

Original thought is somewhat of a myth.

To quote king Solomon: “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Even new technology really isn’t new, largely in part to the fact that the developer has just built upon someone else’s technological foundation. The iPhone 7 doesn’t happen without the iPhone 1. Biscuits and Gravy doesn’t happen without the invention of flour. (Can you tell I’m writing this in the morning?)

What really started me on this thought was a message from Craig Groeschel, Lead Pastor of LifeChurch in Oklahoma. Here is this pastor who is one of the most influential/cutting edge individuals that the church has today, and he is talking non-stop about other pastors that made his ministry possible. Not only that, he spoke on how he wants his younger leaders to stand on his shoulders. I think he was referring to the following quote:

“If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulder of giants.” — Isaac Newton

This is how innovation happens. It isn’t independent from other ideas that have come before us. It is in light of those ideas that we have the opportunities that we have today. May I be so bold as to say that if you don’t have someone in their 80s that you are consistently talking to/learning from, you are missing out? The depth. The wisdom. The joy. The contentment. The perspective. The slow-down-and-enjoy-this.

You miss all of this if you try to go at it alone, independent of the older generation.

You are standing on the shoulders of giants. Don’t be afraid to stoop down to pick the brain that sits between the two shoulders. Wisdom comes from the aged.

Now that is cutting edge.

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Loose, Use, and Lose

When I was 16 years old I preached my first sermon.

It was at a low attended Sunday night service. It lasted 8 minutes. I had people coming up and saying what amazing sermon it was, largely because of its shorter length. I became so nervous during the 8 minutes that my throat started to shake, leaving me with a vibrato delivery. I thought I was about to die from the nerves and adrenaline pumping through me.

I survived. And I preached, again. It got easier. My throat eventually stopped shaking me into vibrato (it took about 50 times to cure). Something incredible happened to me on that Sunday night. No one was converted. Lightening didn’t flash. No voice from heaven. Yet…

I grew.

The church took a chance by letting such a young kid get into the pulpit. This happened to me again two years later, when another church hired me to be their youth minister at 18. Unfortunately, though, I was in the minority of young people in the church at large today.

So, here is what we usually do with young, talented leaders in the church today: We use them until we lose them. This is the mistake so many companies make today. They see someone with talent. They overload them with task upon task, with the occasional note of gratitude — without the giving of much authority in their position. Those in charge retain control, and burn out a young leader in the process.

I’ve often felt like this. Maybe you have as well.

Rick Warren says it well, “You can plan for control. You can plan for growth. But you can’t plan for both.”

Trusting young leaders is risky, though. They are going to make mistakes. They are going to need a lot of encouragement and coaching along the way. Yet the dividends are incredible.

What I am proposing in this post is for the church consistently loose these young leaders into greater forms of leadership. Why not include them in future decision making? Why not include them in leading major events at the church? Why not include them in the vision casting?

When we let these young leaders loose among our churches, we won’t lose. We will gain.

God has always used young leaders to bring about revolution His church. It is what we see in Paul’s work with a young missionary named Timothy. Hillsong Church in Sydney did this with their youth band, Hillsong United — and now Hillsong Young and Free. LifeChurch.tv did this with a young computer engineer named Bobby Gruenewald. It resulted in the Bible App. At the age of 16, CH Spurgeon became the pastor of a small church in England. Then at 19 he became the pastor of the largest church in London at the that time, New Park Street Chapel. Traders Point Christian Church hired a young minister named Aaron Brockett in 2007, they just had 10,000 for Easter this year — and have baptized thousands in the past 8 years.

This is just a minor snapshot of history…

I really recommend reading the classic Red Moon Rising by Pete Greig to read more stories of young people being behind every major revival in the history of the church.

What does it look like to release control to the next generation in the church? That is for each congregation to decide, creatively. I’m seriously considering this in all the ministries I lead. I know our future depends on it. Even the 12 disciples that Jesus chose were young. Jesus himself was young, 30, when he started his earthly ministry. We still need every generation in the church to contribute, but this is the way to ensuring that the church’s future is bright. This is the way to ensure that the millions to come will find interest in the Savior, Jesus Christ, that died for them.

Let them loose. See what God can do in and through them.

The apostle Paul (his words, God’s voice) says it even better…

18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. https://bible.com/116/eph.3.18-21.nlt