Whatever It Takes

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen last Wednesday night.

I had prayed a lot and I knew our leaders were praying too.

I had challenged all of our students to bring one friend. “Plus 1” we were calling it.

I tried my best to show from Scripture that following Christ necessitates inviting others to follow Him as well.

I promised that the gospel would be shared and their friends would have a chance to respond.

Our office had sent out reminder emails, Facebook posts, text updates and gathered supplies. (My administrative assistant is amazing!)

We were offering lots of FREE food and exploding watermelons with rubber bands. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?!

We also gave incentives for meeting certain attendance goals. Pies in the face. Getting slimed. And the thing no sane adult looks forward to–a Lock-In.

I’m not sure what else we could have done.

I was confident it would be a good night, but there’s always that doubt. There’s always that question of “What if nobody shows up?”

I mean, I’ve certainly been a part of events that didn’t go as planned and I’m sure I’ll be a part of more in the future. Haven’t you? You pray, work hard, get commitments from people who say they’re going to come, and then they don’t show up, a projector breaks and it rains. Total bummer.

And in this case, it’s middle school. We’re depending on parents. So if we have a student who is iffy about coming, a parent can say “get in the car, you’re going. You’ll have a great time!” Or, we could have a student who really wants to come, but a parent gets off work too late to get them there, doesn’t feel like bringing them, or makes the student stay home to get homework done (I’m not against doing homework, by the way). There are lots of factors.

All to say, in faith, I was believing it would be a great night!

So what happened?

We had a Wednesday night attendance record and 5 students prayed to receive Christ! Amazing!! And for breaking 1 goal and coming within 1 person of another (We had 139 in attendance and the second goal was for 140. I showed some grace.) I and 3 other leaders got a pie in the face. And gladly, I might add.

It was a FUN night. Lots of laughing. Lots of celebration. And we will be doing another night like this in the near future.

Some might criticize and say, “Oh that’s gimmicky. You should want kids there who want to be there. Kids who have the right heart. And just preach the Word. Stop all the shenanigans.”

Sure.

No doubt.

I hear ya.

But often times it takes doing something you don’t want to do, or even doing something for the wrong reason, to be exposed to a message that changes your heart.

So if playing a crazy game and getting pied in the face brings a student out who wouldn’t have come otherwise, we’ll keep doing it. At least 5 students are glad they came. Their eternity has been altered. 

Also, we do this kind of night once every couple months. It’s not an every week thing.

And don’t forget, Jesus didn’t just walk around preaching. He performed miracles, hung out with people and gave away a lot of FREE food. 

Bottom line: We need to have a more “whatever it takes” approach to life and ministry instead of doing the “same old thing” and expecting different results. 

What could you do differently for your next event to see extraordinary results? What do you need to change in your life personally to see some change? Have you truly exhausted every opportunity and option to do your part, or are you being stubborn or lazy and just praying that God will do something miraculous?

What happened last Wednesday night was an “Only God” moment. God was the one who brought the students, changed hearts and made the night a success. He gets all the glory. But at the same time, there was an incredible team of people that He used to accomplish the night. Those people get all the credit.

So, thank you volunteer leaders! It’s a honor to serve with you each and every week.

Thank you Parents! It’s a privilege to partner with you to reach and grow your students for Christ.

Thank you students! I pray you continue to catch the vision that life isn’t about you, but is about serving others and inviting others to follow Jesus. Keep it up!

Let’s continue to pray for God to do incredible things in our lives and ministries and work hard to see them happen. Let’s do whatever it takes.

Zaxby’s, One Penny and a Slap Across the Face

A few weeks ago, Rachel and I were out late and both got a pregnancy craving. So we did what all responsible adults do and made sure that craving was quenched. It just so happened that Zaxby’s was the first restaurant we came to, so we thought “why not?” and pulled into the drive-thru.

I ordered the delicious Wings & Things and Rachel ordered some mouth-watering chicken tenders.

As we pulled up to the window we were greeted by a sweet, I’d guess high school-aged girl. She gave us our total and Rachel handed me some cash to pay with. Not paying too close attention to the differential between our total bill and our cash payment left me surprised when our change was one penny.

That’s right. She handed us the receipt with a single penny. One cent.

Now most people wouldn’t have said anything about that one penny. Maybe you would have tossed it in your change purse or thrown it in the cup holder. Maybe your pocket. Maybe just dropped it on the floor. Because I mean after all, it’s just one penny.

But I’m not most people. It was late and that drive-thru wasn’t getting any more action. And for some reason at that moment I wanted to have some fun. So of course, as Rachel rolled her eyes, I made a small scene.

It went something like this:

Me: “Wow! One penny!? Thank you so much for making sure we got our correct change. I don’t know what we would have done if you’d not given us back our penny.”

Her: [Awkwardly smiling and not sure what to say.] “Ha. You’re welcome?”

Me: “I’m going to make sure this penny goes in a very special place and I’ll never forget this moment.”

Her: “Haha. Okay…I’m so glad.”

Me: “Haha. I’m just messing with you. Thanks for being fun to joke with, doing your job well, and seriously, thanks for the penny!”

Her: [Now realizing I’m not one of those crazy customers (well, maybe I still am), she laughs and enjoys the moment.] “You’re welcome. Have a good night!”

That was it. Nothing too monumental. But more than the normal “Thanks for the food.” with a less than truly grateful look on the customers face.

People are longing to connect with other people. And most people won’t take the initiative. That means it’s up to you. And sometimes it takes being willing to be awkward and going against “normal.”

I learned this first hand from my Dad and one of my mentors in high school. They’ve both never met a stranger and are willing to be awkward to make a connection. And they’re pros at it. So maybe I have a leg up on you because of my upbringing. Regardless, you know what it feels like when someone goes out of their way to make a connection with you. It makes your day. Wouldn’t the world be different if we all focused on connecting with one another?

Years ago I worked at Chick-fil-A and would be placed in the drive-thru window. When people came to pay and receive their food, I’d have a small conversation to just try and brighten their day. Sometimes it went well, sometimes it didn’t. But one thing was for sure: I wasn’t fast. Long story short, it didn’t take long before someone else was working the drive-thru window.

If you’re going to connect with people you have to slow down and take note of the smallest things in life. Laugh at them. And make a moment. Sometimes even with a penny.

As I drove away that night from Zaxby’s, I was reminded of a story in Scripture that basically slapped me across the face. It highlights the significance of “one coin” and is found in Luke 15: 8-10. Here’s what Jesus says:

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

You see why I felt slapped across the face? I had been joking about one penny as if it was truly insignificant. And in reality, one penny isn’t a big deal. But when it comes to making a spiritual connection, one life is never insignificant. That was Jesus’ point.

It’s easy for you to see how 1 coin out of 10 is significant if that’s all you have. Jesus is essentially saying that searching for 1 lost coin out of 10 is no more justified than searching for 1 lost person out of billions. So then we can never say “that’s just one penny” or “that’s just one lost person.” He’s passionate about not losing one.

Connecting with people and laughing isn’t bad. That needs to happen and is an end in itself. But the greatest end is connecting people with their greatest need. And their greatest need is a relationship with Jesus. 

So the next time you get a penny as your change, maybe make it awkward, laugh and connect with the cashier. It’s awesome! You have to try it. But don’t forget that that person might very well be like a “lost coin” who needs to be found. Try to bring Jesus into the conversation. It won’t happen every time. And it will be difficult. Don’t beat yourself up. But if you’re able to connect them with Jesus…Celebrate! The angels in heaven will be. Let’s not let them have all the fun!

Grabbin’ Exponential Quotes

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Exponential East conference in Tampa. Exponential is a conference dedicated to church planting and multiplication. Rather than each local church focusing solely on getting larger, this conference desires that more churches are planted, campuses are launched, leaders are developed, etc., so more people can be reached for Christ. It’s about the capital “C” Church (the Kingdom) growing. Pretty sweet.

With that said, Exponential invited over 175 speakers (not just the big name Christian leaders in America, but little known leaders from around the world who are making a significant impact) and offered 150+ workshops that complemented the conference objective. I attended workshops on discipleship, evangelism, leadership, creativity, vision, being missional, cultural engagement and much more. To say I was mentally drained after the week is an understatement. But it was sooo good! It was refreshing. And it stretched and challenged me in just about every way I could be, which is always healthy.

Since the majority of you who read this were not at the conference, I wanted to give you a taste of some of the content in a tweetable format. If you’re a church leader you’ll eat this up. If you’re not, it should be encouraging to you that leaders are having these worthwhile conversations.

Here are my top 25 quotes from the week!

1. There are 3 reasons people don’t share their faith: 1) Fear. 2) They aren’t passionate about Jesus. 3) They haven’t seen Jesus “work” for them in their life. – Jeff Vanderstelt

2. Christians who are seeking another Bible study to fill their time are normally just using that as a substitution for obedience to God. – Jeff Vanderstelt

3. You choose who you lose. Stop worrying about making everyone happy. Instead, make the right people unhappy.             – Steve Stroope

4. Does your prayer life match the responsibility God has entrusted to you? – Joby Martin

5. Passion moves people’s hearts, not rightly exegeted texts. – Shawn Lovejoy

6. Your role as a leader is to raise up other leaders. It’s not about you just sitting in an office and coming up with ideas.         – JD Greear

7. You want your team to have buy in not just compliance. – Steve Stroope

8. The best vision is a shared vision. Let other people contribute to its development and then let them own it and run with it. – JD Greear

9. We have to care more about how our people are doing than what they are doing for us. – Joby Martin

10. The stuff that wears you out and that you aren’t good at is someone else’s unique ability. Learn to delegate. – Steve Stroope

11. Leadership is anticipation. It’s solving problems before anybody knows there is a problem. – Steve Stroope

12. The cross is not a tragedy it’s a strategy for His kingdom come. – Danielle Strickland

13. What if the lack of growth of the American church has more to do with the leader’s idolatry of success and bigger buildings than it does with the hard hearts of the people? – JD Greear

14. People aren’t primarily moved or changed by bullet points or sermons. They are changed when you give them a different story to live into. – Michael Frost

15. God captures not by force, but by the imagination of his fallen creatures. – Michael Frost

16. “What we need in America is multiplied weakness; tear filled pastors.” – Derwin Gray

17. Encoded into the DNA of suburban American is “be safe”, “build houses,” “renovate your kitchen,” “send your kids to the best schools.” Left to their own devices they will be sucked into the American dream. The only thing that will draw them out is story….Stop only telling people that Jesus died on the cross for their sins. Tell them what it could look like if they lived like Jesus. Tell them the story of God and what it could look like if they saw heaven. – Michael Frost

18. We often never become who God has created us to be because we allow ourselves to be who everyone expects us to be. – Dave Rhodes

19. Influence is what happens when everyone is gathered. Impact is what happens when everyone is scattered. – Dave Rhodes

20. Jesus didn’t just come and die on a cross. He lived before us. Why? To show us how to live. – Hugh Halter

21. Close proximity to people doesn’t mean you condone their behavior. It just means you are with them like Jesus was.       – Hugh Halter

22. To be self-righteous is to think that others’ sins are worse than yours. – Hugh Halter

23. In today’s world nobody belongs anywhere because everybody belongs everywhere. – Michael Frost

24. A transactional gospel translates to people who don’t need discipleship. It’s simply a transaction. I receive Christ and I get out of hell. We need to recover the full gospel. Follow me. Come and die. It’s all of life. – Bobby Harrington

25. Jesus is not a footnote to our story. He is the story. – Derwin Gray

Don’t Wait Until Next Easter

It included the Easter bunny,

peeps,

Easter baskets,

hiding and dying eggs and

dressing up nice for family pictures and get-togethers.

And for millions of people it also included going to a church service.

Why?

Well, Easter is a day each year that is honored as “special” by most people. Believers and non-believers alike pour in to church services because there is still, although it’s fading quickly, an engrained conviction that going to church matters on Easter. It’s a day that honors a man named Jesus, who, 2,000 years ago lived and claimed to be God, died, and then proved it by rising from the dead. His resurrection is what is specifically celebrated on Easter.

It is a day to celebrate because this event in history is what the Christian faith is founded upon. The Apostle Paul who wrote much of the New Testament said it best in 1 Corinthians 15:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third dayaccording to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born….And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

The resurrection is what it’s all about. It’s the whole reason to even believe. It’s what validates the Christian faith. And it’s worth celebrating, not just on Easter, but every day!

It reminds us that we serve a God who has the power over death. He is not dead. And we have hope for the future.

I was reminded last Saturday night as I listened to Lee Strobel, a former atheist turned Christian author and speaker, that if you are a skeptic to not give up on examining the resurrection of Jesus. He went through a 2 year investigation of the historical evidence for Jesus living, dying and rising from the dead. You know what he found after his journey? That it would take more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian. The historical evidence was too strong.

If you’re reading this, I don’t know what you believe. I don’t know what you’ve been through. I don’t know where you were on Easter Sunday. But what I do know is this: Jesus’ resurrection is no more true and no more worth celebrating on Easter than any other day of the year.

So if you’re skeptical about Jesus, don’t wait until next year to check out the claims of the resurrection. Check it out right now! If he really did rise from the dead then that means Jesus was not just an ordinary man. He was far more than that. He would be…well…God. And that would mean that what he said would be truth and have authority. And that reality would have huge implications for your life. Don’t worry about the other questions you have about faith and religion. Just focus on one question: Did Jesus rise from the dead? In the end, it’s the only question that matters.

To read more on this, check out: Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection.

And for followers of Christ, let’s not wait until next Easter to celebrate. Let’s live each day as if Jesus really is alive and his resurrection has changed everything. How could we live any other way?

What is Love?

Today is Valentine’s Day.

It’s the annual day where loved ones profess their love for one another verbally, tangibly and with the rise of social media, publicly. The common gifts are flowers, chocolate and love letters. Some go out for a nice dinner. Others buy jewelry, a stuffed animal or a special custom gift. It’s a “sweet” time of year.

The most profound thing about this day is that the motivation behind it all is this idea of “love.” “I love you” is thrown around more on this day than maybe any other day of the year. There is a feeling of love in the air. And yet, we live in a culture where true love is distorted and misunderstood.

Love cannot be bought.

Love is not cheap.

Love is not easy.

Love is not exemplified by 50 Shades of Grey.

Love cannot be relegated to one day a year.

Love is not a feeling.  

So what is it?

Dr. Tony Evans, defines it like this: “Love is the decision to compassionately seek the well-being of another even when the emotion of liking them is not present.”

I believe he is spot on. But how opposite is this definition of love from the love we see all around us?

In our world today, if someone doesn’t feel like loving, they won’t. If loving gets hard, they stop. If loving takes work, they quit.

So how do we cure this false, pitiful attempt at love we’ve been buying in to? How do we embrace true love? Receive it.

We will always be unable to perfectly show love. However, we can receive perfect love. And by receiving it, we will be transformed in the process and begin loving others the way we were created to.

True, perfect love has a name. Jesus. 

We see what true love is in 1 John 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Jesus embodied true love through dying for you, me and every soul who ever has and ever will live. Even though he may not have felt like loving (Matthew 26:36-39) he followed through.

Through Jesus’ life we see that love is a choice.

Love is unwavering commitment.

Love is sacrificial.

Love is unconditional.

Love is selfless.

So when you say “I Love You” today, is it the kind of love that would lead you to lay down your life for that person? It is unconditional? Is it selfless? Or is it some weak, twisted, “feeling-founded” love that has no basis?

If you’re single, you aren’t a loser. Get to know Jesus so that when you are in a relationship you will know what true love is.

If you’re dating, be careful not to say “I Love You” if you don’t mean it, aren’t willing to follow through on it or have no idea what true love is. Instead, get to know Jesus.

If you’re married, engaged or heading in that direction, get to know Jesus. Learn how to love the way he modeled and commit to it. Your valentine is worth it. Just don’t let today be the only day you show and tell how much you love them.

Beyond romantic relationships, we all are called to love one another (John 13:34). But that’s another conversation for another day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Why do we do SUW?

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If you’ve been following me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram over the last couple weeks you’ve noticed I’ve been promoting an event called Straight Up Weekend (SUW). Well, the promo is over. It’s here! SUW starts tonight!!

So what is it?

SUW is a weekend dedicated to helping students grow in their relationship with Jesus. It’s similar to a D-Now, and has been happening at Bell Shoals for over 2 decades under the leadership of Victor Flores. It goes Friday night through Sunday afternoon. There are main sessions that include teaching and worship. Service projects on Saturday. Something we call “Point Beyond” that allows our students to connect with local non-profit organizations. And students are placed in small groups while being led by volunteer facilitators. Those groups are then hosted by families who open up their homes for the weekend.

We spend money. Facilities are completely transformed. Hundreds of hours of preparation goes into pulling it off. It requires well over 100 volunteers who sweat a lot, get sore, lose sleep, etc. But one thing is certain…

It’s all worth it.

Why?

Because students matter.

They were worth Jesus dying for!

They are not the generation of tomorrow.

They are the generation of right now!

We are called, as the student ministry at Bell Shoals, to help students follow Jesus. And we will do WHATEVER it takes to accomplish that.

For some students, they will begin a relationship with Jesus for the first time at SUW.

For some students, they will grow deeper in their faith.

For some students, they may confess to a facilitator something they have been struggling with for a long time and find help.

For some students, SUW may be a time to escape a difficult home situation and find hope.

I don’t know all the details of what every student is facing. But I know lives WILL be changed!

So to all of our AMAZING volunteers–thank you! We cannot thank you enough. You are the heroes. Whether you are serving in Point Beyond. Dishing food. Working security. Being a facilitator or Host Home. Helping to transport students. Thank you! You are a significant part of preparing the way for God to move in the lives of our students.

If you aren’t a part of SUW, please pray. Pray for all the unique elements that make SUW tick. Pray for families. And most of all, pray for God to do what only he can…to use SUW to help students follow Jesus.

Students matter. Let’s never stop doing whatever it takes to help them follow Jesus.