Leadership, Teams and Risk – they all go together!

Have you ever been afraid to risk?  I have!  But recently I saw the impact of a risk that our leadership team took, and it’s too great to not learn from it.

Back in November I was sitting on my deck enjoying an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon with our two interns here at Oak Grove.  We were enjoying conversation and working on a writing project when the subject of traveling to Israel came up!  I shared with Josh and Jeremy that I had the opportunity to travel to Israel in February but I had declined because I didn’t have a member of our media team that could travel with me.  At that time our media team mainly consisted of women, so that would have been difficult to swing.

Jeremy and Josh instantly sprang on me like two coiled snakes!  “Are you crazy” they said.  “I’ll go right now” was their response!  From that very meeting sprang the idea of traveling to Israel and filming on location for a series that eventually was titled: Six Days to Die!   03-27-16 Title Slide

I was scared out of my mind to endeavor shooting footage for a 7 week series on location, in another country!  This was going to be a huge risk.  There were a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my head.

  • What if it doesn’t go well?
  • What if the footage doesn’t turn out?
  • What if I can’t pull it off as a communicator?
  • What if…what if…what if…

Thankfully, over the last year our staff had read a book together entitled IT by Craig Groeschel.  In this particular book we were challenge in several ways, but one of the major ways that we were challenged was with the thought of RISK!  We learned as a team that we can either be ready to take calculated risks and potentially grow or we can become risk-averse and wither.

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. – Robert F. Kennedy

So, after praying I decided to put the idea to my team and see what would happen…and they all said “Let’s take the risk”.

  • Yes…it might fail.
  • Yes…it might cost us money.
  • Yes…we might not be as good at it as we want to be.
  • Yes…it will be a lot of work.
  • But, certainly yes we will risk to help people connect with Jesus!

Now, I’m writing this because I want you to know that risk (within the right context and with the right goals) can be great.  But I also want you to know what happens when you have a great team who decides to lay it on the line together.  We did travel to Israel.  It was an expense.  It has been scary putting everything together.  We have had to work more than we thought we would.  But it has been worth it. Over the past 3 weeks we have been delivering our first ever series with portions of the messages shot on location in Israel, and it has been going very well.  We’ve seen some amazing results here at Oak Grove!  But yesterday I received a message that demonstrated the power of God when your team prayerfully risks.  We have friends who are serving in Thailand and they shared their story with us.  Let me share it with you (with the names removed of course).

Hi Guys, I want to tell you about a conversation we had with one of our teachers yesterday.  Our teacher, asked if we’d ever like to go to Israel. I told her that my friend (Aaron) had recently been there and that I have watched your videos and read your blogs from your trip. I told her it was interesting. Then she kept asking for more and more details of what you wrote/videos. (I told her about Jesus future return, his death, resurrection, your six days to die series) Then she said, “Didn’t Moses do something with water in Israel?” 😀 I felt the Spirit impress my heart to go through the whole beginning of Moses and go through the plagues in order to compare Jesus with the Passover. At the end she said, “Oh, God is too forgiving.” I told her that he was patient with Pharaoh and he is patient with us, but someday he is going to look for the blood and those without Jesus blood (applied) will be sent to hell forever. She then said, “What about good people? Or people from other religions?” I explained that goodness and religion do not play a part in God’s decision. I told her that every person must look and trust in the work of Jesus. I then told her about Jesus’ claim to be the way, the truth, and the life. She said, “Oh! I understand! Maybe the next time I teach you, I will be a Christian already!” This teacher told us that twenty years ago she decided to switch religions, she bought a Bible, but then moved and has been to busy to read it. Another time after talking about our hope she told us that maybe some day she will become a Christian. I believe that God is working in her heart. Please pray for her. I hope that you are encouraged that through your trip, blog, and videos we were able to have an amazing conversation. This is at least a step she took towards Jesus. Your journey has crossed hers! I pray that someday you, me, and our teacher are standing before Jesus, clothed in His righteousness together! It brings me tears to think about! Blessings, friends!

Wow, to think that the work of our team here in Kansas City is impacting lives here, but it’s also impacting lives in Thailand!  Remember – when you risk…you may fail, but you will certainly move and that movement may result in great outcomes.

Leadership, Teams and Risk – they all go together!

Four Warnings for Your Twenties…

Three weeks ago my small group went through a great sermon by a friend of mine who pastors in Rochester, NY.  The sermon was on 1 Corinthians 10 and the use and abuse of our freedoms in the midst of temptation.  It was a great explanation of Christian liberty and the intersection of freedom and temptation.  You can check it out here.  Just the other day I read this article on the same passage and I really appreciated the warnings that it gives.  Now, the article is addressed at those in their twenties, but I want to say that as a person about to hit 35 and about to be closer to 40 than 20 something, this article applies to a much broader age group.  You can see the article in it’s original post here.  I’ve highlighted a number of the portions that really stood out to me and then I’ll share a few take aways.  Check it out!

Four Warnings for Your Twenties

Four Warnings for Your Twenties

How far do you get into the Old Testament when you start to feel the friction of daily Bible reading? We know the resistance is good for us, like we feel when we exercise, but we often don’t enjoy it — like when we exercise. For many, it’s simply harder to wake up for Numbers in March than for Genesis in January. The days can begin to feel like a season in the wilderness.

Even though 2 Timothy 3:16 echoes in the back of our heads, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable,” the experience of reading our Bibles can be a little like watching grandma use a smartphone. She knows it can do a lot more than she does with it, but she’s at a loss without someone showing her (seven or eight times) how to take a picture, turn on Bluetooth, or listen to a podcast.

These Things Happened for You

In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul sits down with us, like a room full of grandmas, to explain how to read Moses in our daily fight against sin and for joy. He begins by reminding his readers of the Exodus and Israel’s wandering in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:1–5). He explains that their hope was ultimately in Christ, even though Jesus would not be born for more than a thousand years (1 Corinthians 10:4). Then he writes, as if speaking to a crowd of twentysomethings today, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6).

I say twentysomethings, because the next four things he says are remarkably relevant for the rising generation of Christians. The same temptations that were murdering the believers under Moses are waging a spiritual war against believers today: entertainment, sexual immorality, impatience, and contentment. Paul finishes the paragraph by saying, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).

These four warnings were lived out by Israel, but meant by God for you, and for me.

1. Do You Distract Yourself with Entertainment?

Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (1 Corinthians 10:7, quoting Exodus 32:6)

Paul quotes (or alludes to) Moses for each of these. He clearly has particular passages or events in mind as he pastors the churches of his day. In this case, he quotes from Exodus 32. Moses is meeting with God on the mountain — he was meeting with God. The meeting ran longer than the people expected, and they got bored and disinterested (Exodus 32:1).

They asked Aaron for another god, he made them a golden baby cow, and they “sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:1–6). They ordered delivery, turned on Netflix, and scrolled through social media at the same time.

Unwilling to wait for Moses (and God), they decided to entertain themselves instead. We’ll deal with impatience later, but the point here is that entertainment is an easy and empty god. Have you given up waiting for God to move — to reveal himself in his word, to help you make an important decision, to bring the healing or reconciliation you’ve been asking for — and decided to distract yourself with something fun instead?

2. Are You Experimenting with Sexual Sin?

We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. (1 Corinthians 10:8, referring to Numbers 25:1–9)

We tend to think of today’s America as the most sexually promiscuous and degenerate group in history. And we’re probably wrong. Sexual immorality was enticing and enslaving long before pornography was online.

In Numbers 25, the men of Israel began sleeping around with forbidden foreign women (Numbers 25:1), to the point that one man boldly brings his sexual immorality before the whole congregation (25:6). He knew God had forbidden this relationship, and yet, not only did he indulge in it, but then flaunted his immorality before the people. He experimented sexually, against God’s clear commands, and then bragged about it.

He and the woman were speared to death (Numbers 25:8). Seem too severe? Moses wants us to see that we deserve that, and far worse, from God if we indulge in sexual sin.

God brought a plague against the people because of their sexual immorality, and 24,000 died (Numbers 25:9). As a point of reference, there are 24,000 students currently enrolled at Auburn University. That many, all dead because of sexual immorality.

Moses said that all that death happened for your sake — a spear through a stomach, a plague wiping out thousands — so that you and I would feel the awful offense of sexual sin, and flee from it.

3. Do You Refuse to Wait?

We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents. (1 Corinthians 10:9)

In Numbers 21, the people have escaped Egypt and been to Mount Sinai. Now, they are on the way to the Promised Land. Moses tells the story, “From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses . . . ” (Numbers 21:4–5).

How would you do on that long, hard road from Egypt to Canaan? Does your life feel like that some days (or months, or years)? God had saved Israel from cruel and violent slavery. And he promised to bring them into their own land of safety and prosperity. But they could not wait.

How did God respond to their impatience? He sent poisonous snakes into the camp, and many died (Numbers 21:6). They repented (Numbers 21:7). Will we? Having been rescued by God from never-ending judgment and destruction, are we willing to wait another week, another year, or another ten years for him to answer our prayers?

God heard their pleas for mercy and made a way of salvation (Numbers 21:8–9). Jesus tells us that scene was meant to help us wait for him. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14–15). God is waiting to save and satisfy you, if you are willing to trust him and wait.

4. Are You Always Unhappy?

[Do not] grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. (1 Corinthians 10:10)

Israel complained about everything. They complained about not having anything to drink (Exodus 15:24). They complained about their food (Numbers 11:4–6). They complained about being in the wilderness (Exodus 16:2). Then they complained about leaving the wilderness (Numbers 14:2). They complained about their enemies (Numbers 14:3). They even complained about not being in slavery anymore (Exodus 16:3).

How does God respond to their grumbling?

“Truly, as I live, . . . none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” (Numbers 14:21–23)

To grumble against God is to despise him. That’s a sobering message for me today. God wiped out the wilderness generation to describe to every generation after them the seriousness of faithlessness, to show us the consequences of complaining about how and when God works in our life.

The redeemed endure difficulty and inconvenience differently. Paul writes, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14–15).

In a world filled with complainers, people that are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10) will shine brightly and garner attention for the glory of their Provider and Keeper in heaven.

Flee from Idolatry

Can you sum up the four warnings in one? “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” (1 Corinthians 10:14). He says it at the beginning of the paragraph (1 Corinthians 10:7) and at the end (1 Corinthians 10:14). We learned from Israel in Exodus and Numbers that idolatry can be entertaining. That it can allure and entice you. That it can make you impatient and unhappy. And that it can kill you. Flee from it, and run to God.

With the severe warnings, Paul gives us an invitation and a promise.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:12–13)

God is faithful. He stands ready to walk with you and keep you through every circumstance and inconvenience. He doesn’t just stand nearby watching to see what you will do, but promises to provide a way out of temptation and into the joy of being made like him. He creates the way of escape and waits to reward us with more of himself.

While I’m not sure that I can add a lot to this particular article, I do want to share with you a few observations that I have made having been involved at some level as a pastor for 15 years now.

  1. The temptation to entertain ourselves is a real one and it’s killing God’s work in us.  If you truly want to be involved in all that is “life at its full” then begin to pour yourself into pursuing and serving others!  Refuse to entertain yourself as if you are the very center of the universe…or youniverse!
  2. Watch out for the innate human practice of justifying your desires.  One of my favorite lines for years has been: “The human mind is an infinite bank of justification.”  I’ve seen this come up with singles and married individuals as it applies to sexuality.  “Surely God knows we are committed to each other and we are going to be married, so sex is ok.”  “Surely God wouldn’t want me to be in an unhappy marriage – a sexless marriage.  I’m sure it’s fine for me to take care of this with pornography.  I’m not actually having sex with anyone.”  These are both statements that I have heard and they are wrong.
  3. Complaint is huge in our culture and in the church.  The tendency to complain is rooted in a similar vein to the tendency to entertain ourselves.  Both activities are rooted in a mindset that says life is about me and what I want.  My biggest concern is that Christians begin to think that their preferences are on par with what “should be”.  Then, when our preferences are met we begin to say that things are being done incorrectly and we complain.  Do not elevate your personal preferences to the level of biblical principle.  Fight complaint with thanksgiving.


Four Warnings for Your Twenties…