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The “yes” and “no” of God

I find it amazing how many of us cannot comprehend the fact that when God doesn’t answer our prayers, he is probably saying “no.”  Christians today, feel that God is supposed to say “yes” to every one of our prayer request.  However, if you think back to all of your prayer request, your life would be screwed up if God said “yes” to all of your prayers.  You probably would have married the wrong person, got the wrong job, got into a different college, and lost a very good friend because of a misunderstanding.

Whenever we hit a wall, God is probably saying “no.”  The gospel of John tells us it was the apostle Peter who drew his sword to defend Jesus by force.  He had great difficulty accept Jesus’ “No” to his plan for a life and future without a crucifixion.  In contrast, we read of Jesus’ submitting to the Father’s “No” that the cup of the cross be taken from him (Matt. 26:37-44).

Peter Scazzero writes in his book  Daily Office, that we may want to use the following prayer to help you embrace God’s “yes” and “no” in your journey with him:

  • I asked God for strength that I might achieve, I was made weak that I might learn to obey.
  • I asked for health that I might do great things; I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
  • I asked for riches that I might be happy; I was given poverty that I might be wise.
  • I asked for power when I was young that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness that I might feel the need for God.
  • I asked for all things that I might enjoy life; I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
  • Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.  I am, among all people, most richly blessed.

What words speak to you most from the above prayer?  Why?

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Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

I recently went on sabbatical from June to August of this year.  It was a time of much needed rest for me.  I had felt tired and burnt out.  The demands of ministry and life in general had gotten the best of me.  I found myself traveling to different cities, teaching, preaching, discipling, counseling, and of course leading.  I started to sense that I was losing a piece of myself every time I tired to push or motivate myself to move forward.  In all honesty, I was leading on empty and the unfortunate truth is that as a pastor, people just expect you to give all the time.  My giving was coming out of the emptiness of my soul and I was in danger.  I lost my greatest spiritual gift, which is compassion.  I no longer had the capacity to feel or show compassion because I was completely dry.

My sabbatical saved me!  If I hadn’t gotten away from ministry I don’t think I could have survived for the long haul.  I think it is vital for every church leader and pastor to recognize the importance of taking a sabbatical.  My recommendation is that a Lead Pastor should take three months off every three years.  I recently spent some time with Dave Gibbons, Lead Pastor of NewSong Church in Irvine, CA, and he encouraged me to take two months off every year.  Now I’m not sure if my Leadership Team will allow me to do that, but I do think taking a season of rest is important, because so much of our leading depends on how we are listening and being ministered to by God.

During my sabbatical, I read Peter Scazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality This book is a must read for every Christian out there, especially pastors.  In this book, Scazzero talks about the necessity of becoming emotionally healthy in order for one to become spiritually healthy.  You cannot be spiritually healthy unless you are first emotionally healthy.  In fact, many Christians try to be more spiritual because they are trying to overcompensate for their lack of emotional healthy.   Scazzero, helps us diagnosis our emotional sickness and shares how we can heal and grow into healthy emotional adults.  I can’t recommend this book enough.  Please read this book and your church, family, and friends will thank you for it.

It has been almost three months since I’ve been back from my sabbatical and I am in a much better place.  I have learned to slow down and not take on too much.  It is so freeing to have moments in the day where you can stop and pause to reflect on God’s goodness.  It hasn’t been all good since I’ve come back.  I had to deal with some really difficult things personally, but God has been present and he is not only with me, but he is for me.  I’ve purified myself of wanting to be a good pastor, father, or even a husband.  We get so tied up in trying to build our identities on these things.  My goal in life is to be a seeker of God.  This is my identity and what a wonderful identity it is!  This is the only thing I can bring with me to heaven.  I can’t be a pastor, father, or a husband in heaven, but I can always be a seeker of God for eternity.

I had the opportunity to preach on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.  To listen to the sermon, please click.

 

12 Steps To How To Build A Team

Building teams is an art.  Rarely will you meet someone who has a natural ability to build great teams.  It takes time and practice.  How one is able to build teams is often a reflection of their leadership.  You cannot be an effective leader and not be able to build teams.  Therefore, if you are unable to build an effective team, then you are a leader with just a title.  A good leader always has people following him or her.

The question you need to ask yourself is: are you good at building teams?  You need to be honest with yourself in order for you to properly develop into a good team builder.

Over the years, I have learned a few things about building teams.  Now, I’m not an expert on this topic,  but I have learned some important principles that I think will help you to build strong and effective teams.

1. Respect

  • Be Vulnerable
  • How are you leading yourself? (Spiritually, physically, and emotionally).  Do you have healthy rhythms for self care?  How you take care of yourself will determine how much you respect yourself.  If you cannot respect yourself, then people will not respect you.
  • Hate the status quo

2. Care for People

  • Does your team feel like you care for them, or do they feel used?
  • Connect immediately when you sense something is off with a team member
  • Pray for your team

3. Share an inspiring Vision

  • No vision no direction.  If it is unclear to you it is a fog to your people.
  • Come up with a concise(one word or a short phrase) vision that is easily memorable.
  • Share the vision over and over


4.
Teach them where the “win” is and celebrate

  • Define and clarify the win for your team.  No one likes to lose.
  • If you give people clear goals they will work to get there.
  • But if the goal is unclear, they’re forced to guess or, worse, decide for themselves what a win really is.


5.
Listen

  • Listen to your team.  How are you listening to their suggestions?
  • Most people care more about being heard, rather than you implementing what they are suggesting.
  • Does your team feel like you are listening to them?  Ask them this question.  If not, then you are not teachable.


6.  Create Community

  • Create an environment where your team is having fun with each other.  Laughter is key!
  • Create an environment where your team is caring for each other.  Prayer is key!
  • Create an environment where your team is being spiritually stimulated/challenged.  Spiritual leadership is key.


7. Create openness for constant feedback

  • Regularly schedule time where your team can give you feedback on: are we winning? how is the morale of the team?  what do we need to change, or improve on?  Is your team growing?
  • Allow them to give you feedback and suggestions on your leadership.
  • Welcoming feedback will bring your team together because they feel like they are contributing.

8.  Extinguish conflicts right away

  • Conflicts are normal and a good sign of health for your team.
  • Do not run away from confrontation
  • As soon as a conflict arise, address it immediately.


9.  Do not play favorites

  • Favoritism de-motivates a team.
  • As a leader you have to fight hard the temptation to play favorites.  It is easy to show partiality to your star player, but you must resist this temptation, otherwise you will hurt and lose members of your team.
  • Ask yourself who are you spending more time with on your team?  Is your time with that person justified, or do you just like the person or people more?

10. Develop new talent

  • Identify people that might have potential leadership gifts and invite them to be a part of your team.
  • Meet up once a month for discipleship in three areas:  spiritual, physical, and emotional.
  • Make sure you care more about their development personally, rather than how they can benefit your team or ministry.

11.  Replace yourself: Learn to hand off what you do

  • You have a choice to make: You can either desperately hold on to your job until someone inevitably replaces you, or you can prepare someone to do what you do and strategically replace yourself.
  • Watch first then lead
    √   Allow your disciple to watch how you lead first before you ask them to lead.
    √   When they lead, make sure you give them feedback on how the led.  Start with the negatives and end with the positives.
  • Teach your disciple everything you know.

12. Make good decisions

  • Never make a decision in haste, wait even to the last minute when making a decision.  The general rule of thumb, the longer you wait the better the chances are that you will make the best decision.
  • Don’t form an opinion about an important matter until you’ve heard all the relevant facts and arguments, or until circumstances force you to form an opinion without recourse to all the facts.  The reason for this is that when a leader forms an opinion too soon, then what happens is that he or she will become close minded to facts and arguments that may subsequently come to his or her attention later.
  • Once you have decided, be bold with your decision.

A Banquet for the Homeless – Livin it Up!

Each year, Metro Community Church throws a banquet for the “least of these.”  It is a time where the church shines because we are loving with no strings attached.  On March 7th, 120 homeless people from around the Bergen County area attended Livin it Up, and they were able to taste a little bit of heaven here on earth. Thanks to every volunteer who served each homeless person as if they were Jesus.

Enjoy the video!

South Africa Pastor’s Ambassador Trip 2010

I hope you read my post about the Pastor’s Ambassador trip that I lead in January.  Here is a powerful video that Pat Pai edited.  Pat, you rock!  Thank for producing this powerful piece.

To learn more about Zimele please log on to their website at www.zimelecommunity.org.

Reflections from South Africa

A month ago, I had the privilege of leading a vision trip to South Africa with a group of pastors from the US and Canada.  This was the second pastor’s trip that I had led to South Africa in the past two years.  It is becoming an annual event for me.

From left: John Cho, Terrell Fletcher, Peter Ahn, Alex Gee, and Wayne Ogimachi

I had high expectations going into this year’s trip.  At a gut level, I felt that God was going to do something very special with this year’s group.  And indeed he did.  The pastors who joined me were: Pastor Wayne Ogimachi from Lighthouse Church in Bellevue, Washington; Pastor Terrell Fletcher from City of Hope Church in San Diego, CA; Pastor Alex Gee from Fountain of Life Church in Madison, WI; and Pastor John Cho from Onnuri Church in Toronto, Canada.

The difference between this year’s group vs. last year’s group was the experiential factor.  Last year, the group did a lot of observation, which was good, but what it lacked was an experience of the pain and destruction in Kwazulu Natal.  I wanted this year’s group to have this experience.

Rosetta Stander, the founder and Executive Director of Zimele, asked the pastors to lead a devotional each morning for the Zulu women.  So we all took turns and led a reflection from the Bible.  They were all powerful moments.  My fondest memory was when Pastor Alex Gee shared a simple yet profound message of Jesus telling the disciples to bring the kids to him.

Pastor Alex Gee leads devotional for mothers and grandmothers along with children

Pastor Alex told the ladies, “when you are taking care of the children, you are doing the work of Jesus.”  Although this may be a simple truth to many, it rocked these women’s heart.  We had grandmothers and mothers weeping.  They were weeping because they had never heard this teaching before.  In the valleys of Kwazulu Natal, many of the women, especially the grandmothers are left to care for their grandchildren and orphans.  Some grandmother’s have the burden of caring for over 10-15 children.  Because the numbers of orphans are so high, the women are often left with no choice but to care for these children.  As a result, orphans are considered to be a burden – a burden financially, emotionally, and physically.  But when Pastor Alex Gee shared this simple, yet profound truth that “when you care for the children, you are doing the work of Jesus,” it was a teaching that these women had never heard before.  For the first time, they had seen their burden become a blessing!  And this is why they were weeping.  We laid hands on them and prayed.  The Holy Spirit moved powerfully!

We also had the amazing privilege of bathing a man who had HIV and was paralyzed from the waist down.  When we first arrived at his house, he was grinding his teeth so hard we could hear the disturbing noise.  He couldn’t really talk because he was very sick, but he did muster up enough energy to shout at his mother.  We are not sure why he shouted at her, but we suspect it is because we were there.  I would probably be upset too if a bunch of strangers from the US had come to see me at my weakest and most vulnerable state.  This man had no idea that we were going to bathe him.  When the time finally came, I told the group that they did not have to do this if it was too uncomfortable for them.  I did not want to force the pastors to do something that they were not comfortable doing.  However, I was hoping that they would embrace the discomfort.  As I put on my mask and gloves, I looked back and saw the guys putting on their mask and gloves.  It was a beautiful sight.  We bathed every area of this sick man’s body, and yes, even the genital area.  Then we clothed him and carried him to a bed that was across his bed, so that we can clean and put new bed sheets on his bed.

When we left, this man that was hostile to us in the beginning, gave us a big thumbs up.  I believe that his spirit was uplifted, because five pastors were willing to humble themselves and bathe him.  This is what ministry is all about.  Being a pastor is about rolling up our sleeves and bathing sick people.  This is what Jesus did, and I want to strongly warn pastors who get caught up in the limelight.  Let’s be more concerned about how we can serve the poor and oppressed, rather than what conference we were invited to speak at.  Let our ministry be defined not by how big our church’s are, how many books we write, or who we have met, but let it be defined as we serve the “least of these.”

The other unforgettable experience was not only did we serve the people, but we actually slept in the home of a Zulu family for one night.  I’m going to be really honest, this was the most challenging part of the trip.  The place where we stayed had no electricity, running water, or beds.  We slept on the floor of a tiny one-room hut.  And yes, there were cockroaches on the floor.  I didn’t sleep much that night and the other pastors didn’t as well, but we were grateful to experience poverty at its deepest level.  I still cannot believe that there are people who live like this.  Again, our hearts broke for these people, and our passion for what Zimele is doing only grew stronger.

Each pastor experienced first hand the crisis of poverty and HIV in Kwalzulu Natal.  Every day, 300 people die of the HIV virus.  It is one of the poorest regions in all of Africa.  In the midst of all this destruction, each pastor has seen the great work that Zimele is doing.  Zimele is doing wonderful work in South Africa.  Through their efforts, thousands of people are able to support themselves economically without outside aid.  Their success stories have reached the ears of the South African government.  The South African government is requesting that Zimele teach them how to implement a savings programming.  In addition, Zimele is helping the local farmers to sell their produce to supermarkets through the help of Unilever.  This is just a few of the success stories that are happening in Zimele.

Each pastor has committed their church to support Zimele financially.  They have also agreed to share their experience and the vision of Zimele with their pastor friends back home.  My hope and prayer is that many more churches around the US and Canada will be able to support the great work of Zimele.

To learn more about Zimele please log on to their website.

One of my greatest joys in life is to lead vision trips like this.  If you are ever interested in attending a pastor’s trip, please feel free to contact me.

Let’s Show Tiger Woods a Little Bit of Love

I find that it is so easy to look down on people for the wrong that they have done.  There is a degree of satisfaction that we experience when we can freely criticize and gossip about someone, especially if they are a celebrity.

For the past few weeks, Tiger Woods’s life has been the focus of every media circuit.  The media is cruel and relentless when they discover dirty secrets about celebrities.  It is safe to say that Tiger Woods is and will continue to suffer for the sins that he has committed.  Our natural human tendency is to look at someone else’s mistake and magnify it.  I think we do that because in some ways, it de-magnifies our own junk.

I had the privilege of meeting Tiger Woods’s father when I use to work in television.  He seemed to be a good man with strong values – values in which I’m sure he passed down to his son.  But those values that Tiger grew up with didn’t have a chance because of one major thing: power.

One of my favorite movies is Lord of the Rings.  In this movie, we learn that no human being is able to possess the ring because its power will corrupt us.  We see in the trilogy how the ring’s power brings out the worst in people.  This is true of our lives, because once power is obtained, it will bring out the worst in us.

Tiger Woods is the most popular sports figure in the world.  His wealth and fame was too much power for him handle.  And unfortunately he and his family are suffering from the painful mistakes that he made.  In all honesty, I am happy that Tiger got caught because this will help him to come to grips with his powerlessness and depravity, something that he probably has never felt in his life.

Every single one of us must be able to identify with the weakness of the human soul.  Humans are not able to handle power properly.  This is the reason why our world is so screwed up.  We were never meant to be powerful, this was not God’s intent.  Our purpose on earth was to acknowledge the power of God and humbly submit to it.  God never wanted His people to become powerful, because he knew how much harm we were capable of.  Tiger Woods is a good example of this.  Many Christian leaders (I don’t want to mention any names, but you know who they are) have fallen hard to sin primarily because they became too powerful.  When there is no accountability to keep our power/ego in check, then it is just a matter of time before we fall.

So my hope is that we would extend Tiger Woods some mercy and love.  None of us are capable of being sinless.  If we had the kind of power that Tiger Woods has, then none of us would stand a chance.

Let’s not live for power, rather let’s live for authority.  Authority is something very different from power.  While power is destructive and manipulative, authority preserves and builds up life.  However, authority can only be attained through love and sacrifice.  Mother Teresa was not a powerful woman, but people listened and obeyed her because she had authority.  Her authority came from her life’s work to serve and care for the poor and oppressed.  In the same way, because of his death on the cross, Jesus Christ has the highest authority this world has ever known.  Jesus’ sacrifice gives him supreme authority over this world.

As people, let’s strive to live for authority rather than power.  Power is easy to obtain, but authority requires us to sacrifice our dreams and bids us to live for something more than just ourselves.  Jesus calls us to come to him, but that coming can only happen when we are willing to pick up our cross and follow.  Love and sacrifice breeds authority.  Let’s sacrifice for God and people, rather than expecting them to sacrifice for us.


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