Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Discipleship's Winning Numbers

We’ve all been watching the evening news and have seen the portion of the show when the lottery numbers are drawn. For most of us, this is a boring time where we often think, “Ok, ok. Let’s get on with it.” Most of us may even wish that this wasn’t part of the broadcast at all. But how different would your attitude be if you bought a ticket that morning? If you were anxiously holding that lottery ticket in your hand? How different is your perspective then? As the numbers are drawn, you are on the edge of your seat with anticipation. You can’t wait one more second for that next number to be called, hoping that it matches the one you picked earlier in the day. You are hanging on to every word that is spoken by the announcer as if they are speaking to you directly, calling out the first number, then the second, then the third…
It’s amazing how having some level of involvement can have such a profound impact on how we view different situations like this.  The same application can be used when we are discipling someone, or for that matter teaching them the Bible in any context. If they don’t know that the passage you’re teaching speaks directly to them, they are going to have the same attitude as the person who didn’t buy the lottery ticket. They aren’t going to care what’s being said, because it has no connection to them whatsoever.
However, if we can show them that what we are teaching them from the Bible can be directly applied to their life, they will hang on our every word just like they would for the lottery numbers as a ticket holder. If they can hear the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 and hear that their Heavenly Father is waiting with arms wide open to forgive them like the earthy father in the story, they suddenly become a character in the story. It begins to come to life for them. If they read in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation - the old has passed away and the new has come,’ they would know that they too can be a new creation if they come to ChristThey can put away their old life, and have a new life in Christ. It is no longer a letter written by some guy named Paul 2000 years ago. It is a letter to them. A letter from God.
This is a challenge for most of us, because now not only do we have to know the Bible so we can teach it to others. We also have to know the people we’re teaching on a personal level. We have to know all about their life so we can show them how to apply Scripture to where they are and what they’re going through. There is no shortcut for this. It takes time and an emotional investment from both parties. It takes me giving the time and showing a genuine concern for the young men I disciple, while investing in their lives personally. This is the only way to be effective in making disciples, and is exactly what Jesus did with His 12 men. They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
The people who are holding lottery tickets are anticipating the announcement of every number. It matters to them because they are their numbers. That ticket belongs to them. The same applies to the Word of God. That verse is theirs. It is God’s promise spoken directly to them.
 There are no sure bets in this life, but there is one thing that is certain. If you can teach someone the Bible and how to apply what they read on their own, it will transform their life in such a way that they will want to do the same for someone else.  

Walking With A Limp

Everyone loves a rags to riches story. Hollywood is full of stories of people who started from meek beginnings and are now success stories. The most remarkable of which that come to mind are the superhero stories that are just as popular now as ever. Take a story like Batman. Bruce Wayne was a child who witnessed his parents being murdered when he was only a child. Many have used tragic events like this to hold them back, but not Wayne. He, from that point on, swore to avenge their death by battling crime for the rest of his life. So, as an adult Batman devoted his time, energy, and effort to overcome the crime that could have easily ruined his life.
I use that as an example obviously out of humor. But don’t we all have an example like this from our own life? Don’t we all have that “thing” from our past that has propelled us to where we are today? Whether good or bad, we all have a few defining moments that set the trajectory for the rest of our lives.
My story is not any different. I spent the better part of 8 or so years on a path that lead me straight to drug addiction. I could spend this whole post blaming this or that for why I became an addict but the truth is this, I chose the path I was on. At one point or another I made the decisions that put me where I was. And, if you’re honest with yourself the bad choices you’ve made can’t be blamed on your dad walking out on you, that event from your childhood that you still are hurting over, or that bad relationship that you wish never happened. They may not have helped you in your journey, but you must accept the blame for your own bad decisions.
I digress, the point isn’t that you have or haven’t made bad decisions in life. The point of this post is asking, what are you going to do with them now that you’re on the other side? What do I do now that I’ve overcome my drug addiction? Do I sit and think, “Man that was close?” Or do I do all that I can to help others who are going through the same thing? Being an ex-addict, I’m able to reach a people group that I would have never been able to reach. My struggle can become their success. We aren’t given our testimonies to sit on and be ashamed of. We are given them to share with others. No one can truly appreciate the “riches” you’ve attained unless they know about the “rags” you had to get out of first.
The theme of overcoming struggles while suffering well is one of the main themes in the Bible. I’m not sure that I could say it any better than The Word For You Today from June 12th.
God has people like Jacob who, spiritually speaking, walk with a limp. After years of wrestling with stubborn issues, they’ve been radically changed by God’s power; now they’re able to minister to those they couldn’t have reached before. God also has people like Paul, who said: “A thorn was given me in the flesh…to keep me from being conceited” (2Cor 12:7 ESV). When Paul asked God to remove this thorn, God said: “[No,] My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9 ESV). No doubt, that’s the last thing Paul wanted to hear.
Understand this: God loves to use people who walk with a limp, or who are locked into thorny situations they can’t escape. Why? Because when they’re blessed they don’t become arrogant like some who think they deserve it. They’re a little warmer, and a little more willing to reach out and embrace others. Today God is looking for people with enough compassion to ask, “How are you?” then stop long enough to listen to the answer! When people have been hurt they need extra love and attention. They need to be held a little closer and prayed over a little longer. After all, that’s what God did for you; now it’s your turn to do it for somebody else. And yes, you’ll have to be patient and overcome their reluctance to trust you. Because they feel betrayed and “used” they struggle with doubts and resentments. but don’t give up on them: “Love never fails” (1Cor 13:8 NKJV). If you keep loving them, God will use you to bring them healing and hope.
The challenge is this: Do you want to use your limp to help others? Or do you want people to think you’ve walked perfectly your whole life? (Here’s a tip -they don’t think that anyway). Do you want to use the wisdom you gained from that old abusive relationship to help a girl going through the same thing? Or are you so selfish that you’d rather them think that you’ve had a love life that is without blemish? Do you share the mistakes you made in high school with your children? Or does your pride cause them to repeat the same bad decisions?
Let your struggles become the success of someone else. Use your limp to carry someone who can’t stand up on their own. Don’t hide your story. Instead, share it with anyone who will listen.

TC and Me

Teen Challenge is a very interesting program to say the least. The dynamics of what goes on inside one of these centers go far beyond anything I could describe here in one post.
What is Teen Challenge?
It’s a Christian organization whose focus is to help guys with “life controlling issues” get their lives back on track, and to be introduced to Jesus. The length of TC varies from center to center, and often depends on the person’s progress. Most cases they will be anywhere from 10-16 months. This may seem like a long time compared to your typical 30-90 day recovery programs, and it is. For good reason. One month just isn’t enough to become a new person (which is the only way to truly become “clean”). The whole focus of Teen Challenge isn’t 12 steps, or typical counselling that you would often see used in recovery. It’s focus is put the Word in these men, and they other stuff has a way of working itself out on its own.
I completed the Teen Challenge in Cape Girardeau, MO in January of 2009. It was a true challenge for me (pun intended). One of the ways that it works is that you have little to no distractions to keep you from your relationship with God, and to get yourself better. “Distractions” include cell phones, internet, computers, secular music, books, etc. Now, for someone like myself who is VERY technologically driven, this was one of the hardest pills for me to swallow (pun not intended this time). But, with only a few other guys, and the Word that was being broken down for me everyday, I grew in my relationship with Jesus by leaps and bounds as the months went by.
Thanks to Teen Challenge introducing me to the Lord I can say that I have been sober, and serving Him, for 3 years last September.
The staff and Teen Challenge don’t receive much money for their work there, or for that matter, much gratitude at times. Much like a teacher, the thanks and gratitude they receive comes way down the road in seeing their pupils succeed. This is very hard for a culture whose whole focus is instant gratification. I will never be able to express the deep gratitude and thanks I have for each of the men and women who served at the Teen Challenges that I have been a part of, you all have given me something that I may never be able to repay.
So, it is always a VERY humbling and surreal experience when the Memphis Teen Challenge calls and asks if I would be able to lead a chapel there. To think that a few years ago it was me who was in those chairs, listening to someone who wanted to see me make it. Now, I have the opportunity to share with these men things that the Lord has shown me through the great teaching I receive both in my own reading, and through Fellowship Memphis and DownLine. I still can’t believe that this is real sometimes. (or for that matter that they would care about anything I have to say).
As I spoke on putting God first in our lives this morning, I tried to share with them not only the dangers of things that can get in the way of our relationship with our Father, but also practical advice that I have from personal experience. As I told them, “my reason for coming is just as much to tell you what to expect, and how you can be successful outside of these walls as much as it is to share the Word with you.” I believe these two are closely related. However, it takes someone who’s been there to tell you dangers that I’ve not only seen, but the struggles that I’ve seen others go through as well. These are often warnings I never got while I was in the program, and I didn’t want them to go back “into the real world” without hearing.
Once a month I share a lesson, my story, and life applications with these guys. I often feel that I am blessed by speaking to them way more than they are blessed by listening to me. Over the last 3 years I have spoken in front of many groups, at many different places, but there is an energy in a Teen Challenge chapel that is unlike anything I’ve experienced. I really feel that God shows up for these guys everyday. He shows a special love to this group of “unlovables”. As I often do, I brought these guys a treat. You’d be amazed how far $20 worth of doughnuts can go. Not physically, these guys put a hurtin’ on ‘em. But the fact that someone is willing to not only give his time, but his pocket as well to a bunch of undeserving and broken men. They are “broken” and see the contriteness of their own hearts better than anyone. They just need to be introduced to the One who can restore their lives. The healing God that put my life together, the One that can heal us all…
To contact Teen Challenge Memphis- (901) 272-2308
To contact Teen Challenge of greater Cleveland- (440) 259-3333
(Originally posted 7/20/2010)

Living In The Margin

First of all let me say that I tell this story not to pat myself on the back, but instead out of conviction for all of the moments like this that I let pass me by.

Yesterday as I was pulling into a restaurant to pick up a quick dinner, I noticed a man sitting in a motorized wheelchair in the middle of one of the turning lanes. I drove around him and pulled into an open parking spot. As I looked back at the man I could see the distress on his face as car after car after car swerved to get around him.
I vividly remember the first thought I went through my mind, “Damn it. Now I’m gonna have to help this guy.”
I then spent the next minute or so trying to talk myself out of going over and offering assistance to the man in need. I told myself, “You’ve already ordered your food. If you end up helping him it will be cold by the time you get home. Besides, I’m sure he’ll be fine. Someone else will be able to help him better than you can anyway.”
I literally had my hand on the door of the restaurant while I was processing my next move. Begrudgingly, I started the walk over to the man. I had made it all of about 10 steps before I became my own worst enemy once again. I was literally standing in the middle of the parking lot thinking to myself, “If you go any further, he’ll see you. Then you’ll be forced to help him. This is it, point of no return.”
I couldn’t shake Matthew 25 from my mind “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Well, that was it, now I had to help him. I asked what the problem was and he told me that his battery was going dead and he needed to be pushed (approximately 500 yards) to the Exxon across the street so he could charge his battery. Great, only one problem. The “street” he needed pushed across is more of an 8-lane bypass, known as Poplar.
His cart had just enough juice to move (very slowly) if he pushed the joystick forward as I pushed him. So, we started the journey. He began to tell me that he had recently been hit by a car while in his wheelchair trying to cross the street no more than a week ago. I would soon realize how and why he was hit when he proceeded to tell me that we “don’t need to walk all the way to the crosswalk, we’ll be fine crossing here”.
After some convincing on my part, we decided to go the safe route and go ahead and utilize the safety of the crosswalk.
We had made it just over half way across Poplar when his chair’s battery died. All the way died, leaving us stuck in the middle of the road. I just looked up at the sky, thinking that the Lord must have a good sense of humor.
I could still push him, but instead of just “nudging him in the right direction”, I was now trying to push about 350 pounds of man and cart. Needless to say, we weren’t moving very quickly.
At that same moment I see Matthew Love, a friend, running towards us. He offers the assistance needed to get the man across the Exxon parking lot to the plug where he charges his chair.
The man is overwhelmed with gratitude. He keeps saying, “I don’t know what I woulda done without you boys helpin’ me. I don’t. God bless you boys. God bless ya.”

On the walk back to my car I couldn’t shake one thought…How many times a day to I drive past these people? People in need. People I can help. Far too many times I pass on these opportunities.
Did it honestly take anything from me to help this man? In reality it took 10 minutes of my day to give him the help that he so desperately needed.
What if we didn’t always assume that someone else would help? What if each of us did something like this each day as opportunities arose? What if we left “margin” in our schedules so times like these could happen? Jesus did. Some of His most teachable moments were not only the appointments, but what happened on His way to and from them.
Your moment probably won’t involve helping a homeless man in a motorized cart. But, it may be you helping someone who is at the gas station getting $3 worth of gas get $13 instead. It may be you offering a ride to that guy who is walking down the street in the pouring rain. It may simply be you taking the time to say an encouraging word to, or God forbid, actually leave a decent tip for the waitress at Applebee’s who is clearly having a terrible day.
This isn’t a Christian/non-Christian issue; it’s an issue of humanity. What if we could each play our role in helping someone else see that there still is good in the world?
This is a challenge each of you reading this. Don’t be the people who swerve around the man in the broken down cart. Don’t be the people who watch a single mother have to pick and choose which groceries she will take home. Don’t be the people who watch someone hope that their 1 gallon of gas gets them home. Be the people who live in the margin. Be the people who take action. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

There's A Certain Point Where I Tackle You

I heard a quote recently that convicted me in regards to the way I look at evangelism.
This quote wasn’t from a well-known pastor like John Piper, some local lay leader in the church, or even a child in our youth group. On the contrary, it is from a VERY devout and vocal atheist named Penn Jillette, you may know him as one half of the comic-illusionist act Penn and Teller.
After someone politely shared their faith with him he had this to say, “…I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is way more important than that…”
Mr Jillette could obviously care less if we, as Christians, share our faith at all. But, we should care. Why? Because it is commanded of us. It’s our job to share the Gospel with the world. We have knowledge of the impending doom to come, the truck that’s on its way.
I would venture to say that I have as many friends that aren’t believers as those who are, and I love them both equally. I try to be a positive example of Christian living rather than being the “older brother” who judges and condemns them for their disbelief. There are many who I pray for, by name, daily. But, if I were honest with myself would I be able to say that I do an adequate job of verbally sharing the Gospel with them?
At what point do we start caring more about our “non-believing” friend’s spiritual well-being than what may or may not be an awkward conversation?
At what point are we willing to “tackle” them?

Why I'm One of Those Bloggers Now

I’ve toyed around with the idea of starting a blog for some time. Every time I’ve gotten the nerve up, I seem to talk myself out of it.
I use social media for a comedic outlet of sorts. To be honest, I almost take a satiric look at it in general. It’s a funny concept to me. At some point I thought to myself, how many of these 800 FB “friends” actually care what I’m doing? For that matter, how many of these people do I even want to know the details of my life? Furthermore, how many of those “friends” are anything more than “that person I met that one time”? For instance, I am Facebook friends with a girl that I’ve not seen or talked to since the 2nd grade (1992ish). Thanks to Facebook, I can tell you not only where she lives now and what she does for a living, but also what kind of dog she has and his name…creepy concept.
Then I realized that the only people who would truly care about my day to day living are the people who are already in my life and already know what’s going on with me in the first place. They don’t need a status update to tell them that I’m “super excited about the new episode of The Office tonight.” So, at some point I decided to just start posting the most random thoughts I could think of to my Twitter and Facebook in an attempt to make people laugh.
However, I’ve recently began to think of what a platform we all have to share our thoughts today. At any given moment, most of us have anywhere between 300-1500 people at our disposal on Facebook and Twitter who are reading every random thought we decide to share with them. This is where my conviction set in. If one day the Lord says, “Jeff, I gave you an audience of 950 people willing to read your every thought, everyday. What did you share with them?” I don’t want to have to say, “Well, Lord, I made a bunch posts about funny stuff my dog does and plenty of lame attempts at humor directed towards pop culture…”
So here we are.
Last fall, I shared a few posts with some close friends and family that I had written to simply share my heart in an attempt to encourage them. One of those friends was a man named Neil, who happens to work for WYMT, a local news station in eastern Kentucky. When he asked me to write for the news station’s blog based on 2 quick posts, I was shocked and honored to say the least. He said, “You have a very serious side yet you are a cut-up. Take for instance your “Tackle You” blog. You drove home a very serious point in a somewhat humorous style. Then the “TC and Me” was very serious. The Lord has given you a gift, one in which I believe you can use to reach people through the written word.”
Talk about an encouraging/convicting dagger to the chest. I’ve been running from the idea of blogging for a long time, and I’m afraid that I have decided to finally surrender. Unlike my Twitter and Facebook, I plan for my blog to be much more of a look at what I’m learning, what I see in my world, and what they resonate in my heart. I can’t promise that everything I post will be entertaining, or for that matter worth the time it takes you to read it. But, I can promise that it will be from the heart, intended to be thought provoking if nothing else.
To get started, I will be reposting the 2 posts that Neil mentioned above.
Here goes nothin’…