The Bible reads, “When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?'” (John 11:28-37, ESV).

Today was a difficult day. I was entrusted by a family to officiate a memorial for a person whose life ended abruptly by tragedy. Here is a little of what I am learning about the gospel in such troubled circumstances . . . that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life. He who believes in [him] will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25, NIV). Life is full of division. This is not new to you or to me. It was those who loved Lazarus the most that were hurting the most. Mary and Martha had sent word to Jesus and his disciples of Lazarus’ declining state while he was teaching and ministering in Jerusalem. Even so, for some unexplainable reason, he seemed to take his sweet time in traveling to the village of Bethany. Often God is doing something in the midst of crisis – we just don’t when and we just don’t know how. Keep in mind, there was now a price on the Rabbi’s head. Doing anything at this time would only attract attention to someone who should have been flying under the radar. He went anyways (and what he was about to do for the family would be the straw that would break the camel’s back). Jesus, in the name of grace, takes risks that you and I will never understand (or appreciate).

But to Mary and Martha, his prolonged visit looked like nothing less than procrastination (or lack of compassion). He waited two days after hearing the news plus an additional two day journey just to arrive on location. There is this sense that Jesus cannot be pressured – even by our problems. That he is directed by the Father (and not people’s demands). But make no mistake . . . he made every effort to comfort his friends after their loss. Yes, Lazarus died. So here is this gathering of friends, family, and leaders. I am sure that the great majority of them were secretly wondering why Jesus had not come earlier. After all, they had seen him give sight to the blind, legs to the lame, and even life to one corpse already. You can only imagine the way that so many of them chose to express their frustration out of grief. To make matters worse, Jesus uses this tragedy for a teachable moment. Nothing worse at a bedside visit than bumper-sticker theology. But Jesus gave them so much more. Mystery. Foretaste. He actually promises the sisters that their brother would one day rise again. Of course he would . . . as good First Covenant People, Mary and Martha knew all the right things to say (even if they did not want to hear them at that very moment). They misunderstood his statement as referring to the final days. Bad times often produce bad theology. We are not thinking clearly. We are not listening keenly. Jesus was speaking of the new life that begins today. That very day. He was pointing to an even Greater Event that would occur in just a matter of weeks. He was about to give them the destiny that they were designed for.

Take note . . . Jesus could be found in the worst of circumstances. He wept. He was doing so much more than merely mourning the loss of and separation from a close friend. He was angry at the enemy who brings nothing less than sin and shame. So he approaches the tomb . . . his friend buried in a chamber cut into a rock and closed with a stone over the entrance. And he does something that no one would have ever allowed . . . he orders the cover to be removed (the modern-day equivalent would be for him to interrupt our graveside by demanding that family dig up the grave). The family of course protested this request as a slap in the face. No way they would expose a decaying corpse. And yet, they obeyed.

Then Jesus, as if he had not done enough already, addresses a man who had been dead for over four days. Could it be that Jesus did in fact have authority over death, hell, and grave? That he could direct a dead man walking even in the midst of a gloomy dungeon? That somehow and someway he could reverse the process of corruption? And there, standing before hundreds of witnesses, appearing at the entrance, was Lazarus completely wrapped in his grave clothes.

It is as if Jesus is forever asking Martha (and all of us), “Do you believe this?” He would use this sign to point to the incredible cross. Make no mistake, this miracle was temporary. Lazarus was alive. But not forever. He would die again someday. Jesus was pointing to a final day of victory over death (1 Cor. 15:54-57).

So how do you handle grief? Do you turn to Christ? Could it be that he is even more present in such terrible moments? Could it be that this is where we see him do what only he can do and what he has never done before? Are we brought to point of decision – to either mock him or cry out to him? So if Jesus is in such places . . . what makes us think that the church should not be there to? Let’s search out the those places of hopelessness and helplessness. Those people. And bring life where there seems to be only death.



It is not IF we have differences – it is WHAT we do about it that makes all the difference

What are the main causes behind disagreements within the church? People are naturally divided over matters of faith. Some fail to keep the commitments that they made to God. This is nothing new. Peter promised devotion to Christ only to then answer with denial. The Apostle Paul knew what was right only to wrestle with that which was wrong. Others fail to keep the community that they have with each other. This was largely why Paul challenged Peter on his favoritism of the Jews. He also took time to correct the Corinthians on their divisiveness. Sometimes people are frustrated over systems and strategies. The church might lack vision and direction or rely too heavily upon the pastoral staff. The people will blame the leadership or vice versa. Let’s be honest, church growth or church decline brings serious discomfort and added demands. There will be those that feel positively toward the past or negatively toward the pastor. The church is made up of people who are separated by culture – age, gender, economics, or interests.

What are some of the unhealthy and divisive responses to conflict?
How do unchurched individuals (and churched people for that matter) typically react? They escape – either through denial, flight, or even suicide. They attack – either through assault, litigation, or murder. In what ways do we respond to conflict out of insecurity? Some display a power of cohesion. Leaders, especially leaders, tend to be incredibly caring and relational. We can be guilty of loving people in order to be loved (aka codependency). We thus take responsibility for another’s life. There is that glaring fear of losing the relationship or of being the object of someone’s anger. There is that fear of being hurt or of being perceived as being hateful. Such responses only bring about dependency and immaturity. The people we deal with will never experiences consequences, never take responsibility, never need to change, never learn to respect others, never be motivated, never evaluate, and will never choose to be proactive. As a result, we will slowly but surely become envious of the works of others, might settle for inaction, become exposed in our weaknesses, become irritated and fearful in their efforts to help, won’t lead in a direction that creates conflict, and even start taking dissension as a personal attack. In order to avoid conflict, there are leaders who choose instead to display a power of reward – giving position only to yes-men. Some display a power of legitimacy – a sense of entitlement. Others display a power of expertise – resources for biblical insight. What a tragedy because in so doing we never teach others to find the truth for themselves. We attempt to be heroes and don’t allow for God’s work. Still others display a power of referendums – chasing majority rule.

Are there strengths and weaknesses to different ways of relating to others?
Some lean towards the style of integration. They instead elect to make all of the decisions alone. Or they will talk forever and avoid owning the decision. Some lean towards the style of obligation – the big tent theory. The result is a whole lot of people engaged in ministry. The danger is they do everything – but not nothing well. Still others lean towards the style of domination – to be right at all cost. They attempt to make people in their image – no diversity. Icons hinder creativity, and accountability. They want reassurance more than wisdom. They stifle or encourage conflict for their purposes. People feel guilty – as if they have done wrong. People feel shamed – as if they do not belong. Some lean towards the style of avoidance – now or later. Fake acceptance produces distance and superficiality. The anxious party will terminate all authentic encounters. Some lean towards the style of compromise – not resolution.

How do we decide to depend on and draw attention to Christ through conflict?
Take confidence in God – understand he is in control during the chaos. Be imitators of God – give evidence that his grace abounds in us. Give testimony to God – share his glory and goodness with others. Attempt to discern the signs of what God is doing amongst you. In so doing, you just might receive a preview of the reconciliation that will one day be. Now we see only in part – then we hope to see clearly. Then, and only then, will e participate in the sort of conflict that creates freedom.

Before we focus on how THEY wronged us – we must focus on what WE did wrong

Is this situation really worth fighting over?
Jesus speaks of taking planks out of our own eyes. In so doing, he does not forbid us from using loving correction but forbids us from premature and improper correction of others. Jesus wants us to face up to our issues. We sometimes become offended too easily by others’ behavior. We have often been guilty of contributing through our own sin.

Is our heart ready and right to confront this person over the conflict?
Make sure our motives are pure and we have mourned over our sins. Take time to practice what we want to say and how to say.

What are the elements of true confession?
Address everyone who has been affected by our actions. Do not blame others or divert our contribution. Be specific with what we did wrong. Accept consequences – change behavior and allow time for responses.

Our aim should be to SERVE a friend rather than to SHAME an enemy

When is an offense too great to ignore any longer?
We cannot allow an action that disrespects God, an action that destroys a relationship, or an action that injures them or someone else.

What are some of the healthy and unifying responses to conflict?
First of all, be attentive – listen instead of having all the answers. Show empathy – think about the conflict from their perspective. Do not always jump to the worst-case scenario. They might be at fault – but they might not be. Encourage them to share their ideas – acknowledge their opinions. Along with that, be available – join them as they take the journey of faith. Share how you feel and allow them to share how they feel. Just because we say it does not mean they want to hear it. Likewise, just because we say it does not mean they understand it. Do not join in if there happens to be those who lose their cool. Be authentic – admit they are still being transformed. Find common ground – they might be right in some ways. Entrust a part of the process to them – taking part in the solution.

Fighting FOR those who just want to FIGHT with us

How do we know when someone is an adversary?
It can destroy a sense of God’s presence and love in community. The truth is that certain people will selfishly and destructively attack others. They can do so through intentional dishonesty, falsified records, or nclear responsibilities and hidden agendas. This might be done via psychological warfare – Increased stress, personal attacks and manipulation, pressure, continual avoidance or increased demands, or even resentment or refusal to budge.

Why do people choose to align themselves with antagonists?

They often perceive them as fighting for something that matters. People are looking for a cause – even when it is wrong. They are attracted to conflict – even when unnecessary. Some sadly find their self-worth in conflict. Some are often easily fooled – they will act without thinking. Others are often bullied or just want to be accepted. People follow out of friendship rather than principle.

How do we offer peace to those who do not want anything to do with peace?
Approach the person in private. Refuse to participate in gossip, slander, or careless conversations. Such a approach will ensure our right attitude and will protect our reputation. Consider taking at least one trusted associate along with us. You might even need to bring the conflict before an authoritative board. Negotiate materials and bring arbitration when necessary. This will offer accountability for those who refuse reconciliation. Always treat them as if they need a relationship with Christ. Continue to take the higher road in the situation. Share the gospel by praying, kindness, and testimony. Acknowledge our own limitations and boundaries. Honestly, sometimes we do not give all that we can give. And then there are the times that we take responsibility for way too much. Always work towards prevention – invest in other relationships and place the people over the problem.

How do we protect our families from the conflict caused by antagonists?
We must protect the time we have set aside for family devotions. We must be careful with how much we share and what we share. We must know when and where not to voice frustration but allow family to share questions and concerns. We must point out the positives of the ministry with intentionality, pray together for our enemies and play together – get away to relax and disconnect.

How do we resist the urge to quit in the face of unrelenting opposition?
Resignations rarely bring about authentic resolution. A complete consensus amongst a body of people is rare. You are probably not all to blame – if at all. Don’t leave the church to live along with the issue. Your family will be greatly affected by the change. The church needs a leader worth following.

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What opportunities and challenges do athletes tend to face with a new season?
I have grown to hate sports. Time and time again my favorite sports teams give me hope beyond hope that this could indeed be the year. Time and time again – the season ends too quickly and too painfully. The further they get in the postseason – the closer they get to the trophy – the greater disappointment. This is not too different than the feeling that I used to have when I started a new year of school. I will never forget the strange blend of excitement and anxiety as I struggled to find my new classes, meet up with new friends, look just right in the new clothes, try out for new activities, and keep up the good scores (for a week or so). Enter the real world and the global workforce. Every January we are entrusted with new budgets, calendars, and PTO days. Somehow and someway I need to find the time to take the time to celebrate past successes and evaluate present weaknesses – otherwise I am doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over and in the process I will never grow in my various responsibilities.

This dilemma reminds me of an interview that i watched a few years back of Coach Bob Stoops from the University of Oklahoma. He defended the fact that he did not follow the example of the great majority of collegiate coaches who kept 16-20 hour workdays during the season. He even insists in the right to drop off and pick up his children from school each and every day. His justification is that he will have to one day face his Lord and Savior and he is confident that he will not have to answer for the way that he coached his football teams but how he raised his children. Stoops is on to something quite divine. It is high time that we leave behind the Greek-Roman barrier between the secular and sacred and rediscover the holistic approach of the Hebrews. Everything that we do, say, think, and feel – everything that we are – should be in the image of our God. Everything.

Why is it so important that we make the decisions to lead ourselves?
This process begins with the decision to follow Christ. I understand full well that this reconnection is only an option for us because of the great and glorious work of Jesus upon the cross. And yet, our response to his gracious salvation is indeed to work out that salvation – following Christ by submitting to his leadership (that is the context that I use when I speak of leading ourselves – not that we are literally leading ourselves – but that we are taking the steps that he has laid out before us).

So-called self leadership assists in us finally making the strong connection between the mundane and the mission – the realization that everything and everybody in our path is a part of God’s salvation story. This mindset will hopefully elevate our daily activity above the simple routines. I am convinced that we are living in an era that is looking for someone to lead us. We have no answers on our own. How else can we explain away that over half of our marriages now end in divorce? That even pastors are resigning due to personal immorality? That our CEOs are deceiving their own shareholders? That we hear politicians make empty promise after promise and the sway between party after party only leads to further disappointment.

Before I can lead others I must first lead myself. Paul once wrote, “But if he does not know how to manage his own household then how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim. 3:5, ESV). Wasn’t it the parting words of a Prophet to the Chosen People before they entered into the Land of Promise that declared, “You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 11:19, ESV). Moses passed the torch of leadership on to Joshua. He took time to remind them that they were not the Elect by any other reason but the grace of God. It took two hundred years for them to finally cry out for deliverance (400 years in Egypt in total). God’s intention was always to give them a land where they would be able to worship him forever. However, he had to first take them through a process of restoration and renewal. They had for far too long been surrounded by pagan practices. They had to wander in dessert as their elders all passed away.

What steps are you taking to grow as a leader (specifically in your home)?
I am committed to build on the legacy that I have been given. To continue the good and rewrite the bad. But I will need a plan. Here is what I have been working through for the past year. First, I have been more intentional in facilitating family devotions. I was convicted with the idea that I am quite purposeful in planning out a preaching calendar for my student ministry but not as careful to think through devotions for my own children. Jana and I have thus decided to block out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings where we go through the Story of God (a time that includes bible study, questions, and prayer). Second, I have been intentional with my personal diet. I need to take care of myself so that I can take care of my family. I have discovered that for long-term success I need two things – privacy and accountability. I have been given both via a few friends and one of those friend’s willingness to open up his personal gym. Finally,there is my day. I must giving my best to no matter who I am with or what I am doing. I need to take the time to scheduling out my vacations, days off, and compensation days just as I plan out events, meetings, and strategies. One of my mentors has challenged me to show my children the purpose and value of what I do for living – that they get to go to places and meet people and share experiences that many people never get to had it not been for my role in the local church. Being a pastor’s kid has challenges – but also it’s share of blessings.

In what ways can we better lead ourselves? Follow Christ in every area?
Choose to take some time this year for personal inventory – what are some ways that you can be better shaped and sharpened That you can grow in treating your wife, children, parents, or siblings with the love of Christ? Choose to take on a challenge with your career, hobbies, or even ministry. Be a lifelong learner – understanding that leaders are readers. Pick up a copy of Malphur’s “Maximizing Your Effectiveness” or Maxwell’s “Your Roadmap for Success.” Grow in parental skills and situations by reading Dobson’s “Bringing up Boys” or “Bringing up Girls.” Institute family devotions – and keep it up even when every day is less than a success. Be a leader of people as you are a follower of Christ.



I would recommend Michael and Amy Smalley’s “The Suprising Way to a Stronger Marriage: How the Power of One Changes Everything.” I was fortunate enough to be provided a copy in a special pre-release directly from Tyndale House Publishers for review purposes. You can purchase a paperback copy for under $12 at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Surprising-Way-Stronger-Marriage-Everything/dp/158997560X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1287175058&sr=8-1-spell) or directly from the publisher at http://mediacenter.tyndale.com/1_products/details.asp?isbn=978-1-58997-560-6.

My favorite chapter was titled, “The Trillion Dollar Question.” So what is the question? The question is, “What can I do to make this right? [Or put another way] – What do you need from me at this moment? How can I help you right now? Is there anything you need from me?” (Smalley, 85). Why does the trillion dollar question work? It shows that you have compassion. It gives respect towards your spouse’s needs and emotions. It is not another excuse. It goes right to the point. It helps you do something abou the issue (87). What are the benefits of the trillion dollar question? The environment changes quickly and dramaticly. All of a sudden your spouse knows that their happiness matters to you. All of a sudden the both of you are on the same page. All of a sudden the both of you are on the path of wanting to understand each other – making things right rather than just be right (89).

This subject reminds me of when Jesus said, “In a word, what I’m saying is, grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you” (Matthew 5:48, The Message). We need to take responsibility for what we have said and done. We must aim to love our spouses even – especially – when they do not deserve it. We need to reflect on the times and ways that we ourselves do not represent Jesus Christ. Why is it important not to assume that we know our spouse needs? How could the trillion dollar question jump-start happiness in your marriage? If your spouse asked you the trillion dollar question, what kind of message would that send to you?

Official Book Description: The most significant act of love we can do for our spouse is the single act of personal responsibility—or “the power of one.” An individual in a marriage relationship cannot reach satisfaction in his marriage if he doesn’t first look at himself—and see where he needs to change first. Personal responsibility is the fuel that drives the actions of a healthy marriage. Usually, each spouse blames the other for their problems; this attitude will only lead to a path of unfulfilled expectations and heartache. Marriages can be transformed, literally overnight, when each spouse learns the power of one and starts accepting personal responsibility for his or her life and by learning how to love others to the fullest.