Thirteen years ago, I raised the risk as a college student, and asked a girl if she would be willing to go on a day-long date with me. My life would never be the same.
The idea came from a last dinner before finals meal at Red Lobster with some roommates and college friends. As we were finishing up our all-you-can-eat shrimp (yes, it was a competition), a couple of guys were talking about how fun it would be to ask some girls out for a day-long date. We would cook breakfast, eat a picnic lunch, and then head out on a boat for a formal dinner at a restaurant on one of the lakes near Auburn. It would be a great way to get to know some girls that we didn’t know very well.
The conversation ended with, “And Ron, if you don’t find a girl within two weeks, we are going to find one for you.” They knew me pretty well as the guy who never promised anything in case I wanted to back out. Not wanting them to find one for me, I had noticed a beautiful girl at our church that I was curious about, but I was reluctant to risk making what is known as The Big Ask.
The first time I heard her speak was when she shared with our college group about her opportunity to witness to some girls when she was competing in a pageant for Miss Auburn. On this same Sunday, I had been asked to teach in place of our college pastor, and I remember looking back at one of my friends with a look of, “This girl is the real deal.” Not only was she beautiful (she had a radiant smile), she was godly as she was not ashamed of the Gospel. What a combination! I thought I was out of my league, but I got her number from a mutual friend anyway and dialed. I left a message, and within 20 minutes or so got a return phone call (she thought I was calling as part of visitation from our church).
My life would never be the same for our date on April 1, 1999, would be my last first date ever again.
That’s me flexing with the full beard. In less than a month, I would act as Jesus in an Easter program.
Isn’t she beautiful?
We would take several mission trips to Ukraine in our first five years of marriage. Ukraine is actually the country Brooke was in when she found out she was pregnant with Emily!
Saturday, Brooke and I will celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary as we continue to learn how to raise the risk for God’s glory. The last 11 years have been a journey of having and holding and loving and cherishing. We have experienced for better for worse; for richer for poorer; in sickness in health. And we remain more committed to each other and this relationship than maybe we ever have because we have a more clear understanding of what these words mean – not a perfect understanding, but a more clear understanding.
So on this 18th day of May, I just want to let my love know I still love, I still trust, I still cherish.
When public speaking, I was always told, “Know your audience! You have to know who you are talking to before opening your mouth.” So it is when it comes to tragedy. A few years ago, a couple that I would call friends lost their baby of just a few days old. Being younger and not as wise, I spoke.
When tragedy strikes like this, time stops. People experiencing the shock of what has happened to them do not find comfort in words of encouragement. So to the parents of these precious 20 children, I say nothing. Oh how I wish I were able to mourn with them in their grief as I have in my own home, car, and office. My heart aches for them in their loss, but for now I remain silent. I will instead think of them often, cry at times, and pray to the God of all comfort.
And I will.
To this day, I pray for the victims’ families of 9/11 every time I look at the clock and it is 9:11. I am sure I will do something similar for the families that remain in the wake of this tragedy.
To the rest of us, beware of using scripture to offer words of encouragement too early. Many times have I heard or read of well-meaning Christians who offered a Bible verse intending to do good. But instead, they caused more pain than they could have ever imagined. To a parent who lost a child, they would say, “Remember, God will never give you more than you can handle. You will get through this.” And the parents sit and wonder, “If I had only been weaker, then God would never have made me go through this.” And in that moment we would have inaccurately applied 1 Corinthians 10:13:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
As I sit in my office contemplating a response, I would encourage us all to give pause before answering anyone’s questions about where God was when all this happened and about why bad things happen to good people.
Pause, but don’t stop.
Raising the risk is not about being the first one to speak out or up or the first to act. People deserve an answer to this question, but each one asks from a unique standpoint. In light of this, I will offer guidance, but not a concrete approach to how I would handle this if asked:
Get more information. People ask questions for various reasons. Find out the motive for the person’s question. Are they truly searching for an answer? Are they trying to make you look foolish for belief in God? Are they closely related to the tragedy? Have they lost someone in the past and are still struggling with why God would allow this? Answers to these questions give you a better idea on how to respond.
Pray. As you get more information, pray for the person according to how they answer before responding. As it becomes clear the motive of their questioning, pray in that direction that God would use you to bring them closer to Him and pray for boldness and wisdom as the Holy Spirit guides you.
Understanding is not the goal. Make it clear that there is no way to understand how a person could commit such an atrocity. We will never understand to our satisfaction why a young man decided to target children making them victims of one of the most heinous crimes committed in our nation’s history. (Philippians 4:7)
Lead with the Gospel. Tragedy provides a unique opportunity to address the very real issue of hope in a situation that seems hopeless. Jesus Christ is the only one who can provide true and lasting hope in this world. God the Father can completely identify with those parents who are grieving the loss of their child. And the Holy Spirit is ready to use you to bring hope to others through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
End with prayer. Pray according to the Spirit. If they are truly seeking, offer to pray with them that God would reveal Himself to them and the fullness of the Gospel. If they are trying to trap you, offer to pray for them in the event that they are wrong about God. If they have lost someone, pray for them concerning their loss. Click here for prayer promptings for the victims’ families.
For a more concrete response to the tragedy, watch Mike Huckabee’s response by clicking here.
As I sit here at the mall in town, my thoughts keep going back to these six and seven year old boys and girls that lost their lives just less than a week ago.
What did they say to their parents throughout the last day of their short lived lives? What did they think about? Dream about? Write about? Draw about? Speak about? Where did their curious little minds take them and where would they have gone with all that potential?
Here I am – grateful for, but feeling guilty because of the opportunity I have to kiss, hug, wrestle, and tickle my kids while parents are living a nightmare just several states away. But even then, how much longer do I have to do this? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was jumping into my dad’s lap while he was unassumingly reading his daily newspaper?
And then I think, “What should my response be when others have questions about what happened?
They ask, “Where was God when this happened? How could God let this happen? Why do bad things happen to good people?” Prematurely, Christians typically shoot from the hip where they keep their sword of the Spirit ready to provide a quick response but rarely offering an apt word in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11). In a world where we have a verse for everything, we find many scriptures poorly applied and taken out of context.
So what do we say to the curious minds who are truly searching for God or to those who would use this as an excuse to not believe in Him? Are you prepared to answer their valid questions? Will you raise the risk in preparation to give an account for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15)?
Post your answers here or visit our Facebook page and begin the discussion. Be sure to check back in the comings days to see what God has revealed.
I know many of you are underwhelmed by that statement…especially if you know me. However, that becomes abundantly clear to the person in the mirror when trying to raise two kids to love Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind.
Let me fill you in on my Raise the Risk moment with God tonight.
During our bedtime routine – which wasn’t so routine – I was looking like the father of the year. I was roaring like a lion at the kids, tickling them to the point of exhaustion, and even had them boarding the tooth brush train! Chug-a-chug-a-chug-a-chug-a… Choo Choo!
Then came the most important part of the bed time routine – the reading of God’s word. Tonight’s passage? Luke 21.
That’s when the wheels on our train began to come off.
Emily worked on my patience fidgeting and distracting herself repeatedly while having to be disciplined twice. Josh just sat and smiled on the floor soaking in his sister’s bad luck. He then tried pushing a couple of buttons of his own with me and was quick to comply after witnessing how it worked out for Emily. Then Emily started asking, “Why can’t I sit with Joshy,” over-dramatizing the ordeal and all the while I’m pulling my hair out in what is supposed to be the marquee moment of our bedtime routine. This wasn’t how I pictured it going tonight.
Parents, have you been there?
Bedtime comes and goes and I’m standing at the kitchen sink doing the dishes wondering how I could have done things differently to avoid such a catastrophe at the reading of God’s word.
Taken from Learning from the Master
I Raise the Risk and ask something of God that I think is impossible. I ask Him to show Emily the importance of forgiveness and to be reconciled to me and to Him.
I get a glimpse of how the Father must feel with me at times.
It is a Raise the Risk moment for me because I am sure Emily has moved on to her babies’ bedtime routine of reading, singing, and changing clothes. I specifically asked God for something and now it was in His court to answer.
God was listening to two prayers in that moment. One from a dad whose heart was broken because he wants his daughter to learn about the forgiveness of God; the other from a four-year old girl who was asking for forgiveness and help to not suck her thumb.
Emily came out and said, “Daddy, please forgive me.”
I dropped to my knees, took my little girl in my arms, and said, “Sweetie, daddy’s already forgiven you. Do you know this is an answer to my prayers?” I explained what I was doing at the kitchen sink as she explained what she was doing in her bedroom.
And in that moment, a little girl experienced the forgiveness of the Father and a teary dad experienced the joy of the Father.
Last weekend, we headed to Tampa International Airport to board a plane destined for Newark, NJ to the confusion of many. “Why are you going to New Jersey for vacation?”; “What’s in New Jersey?” they would question. It wasn’t about what was in New Jersey, but who: my godmother and her family, whom I have yet to see since my wedding ten years ago. We were overdue for a visit. We were also headed to Lower Manhattan for a day as well. My small town, Alabama wife had always dreamed of going, but never thought it was possible.
But that’s not what this post is about. We’ll save that for another time.
On Sunday evening, while we were enjoying our chicken cutlet dinner complete with perogies and my godmother’s famous garden salad, something was happening in Norway that I was unaware of. In just 24 hours, that would all change.
Monday morning we headed for the airport careful to arrive two hours early in the chance there was a back up at the security checkpoint. There wasn’t, but that was alright. “We can entertain the kids for two hours,” we thought.
That was until we noticed our flight was delayed past the time we needed to catch our connecting flight at Reagan International. After an hour or so of trying to make something happen, a United Airlines Attendant booked us on a 6pm flight back home… two hours had just turned into six hours.
This might be a challenge.
In our third hour – the halfway point – we noticed three young men in their mid-twenties talking quietly amongst themselves a few feet from us. They were obviously in great shape – all three of them looked like they could hold their own in a 3 on 3 basketball tournament… and after talking with them, I still think they can.
These men were all verterans – one a United States Marine and the other two, part of the U.S. Army. I heard one joke about something, “I’m not the first one in; you’re the Marine.” They all laughed. These three brave men fought and served in our military and paid a severe price for the cause of freedom.
Two of them had lost one leg and the other had no legs.
“What have these guys been through in the last seven years,” I wondered. What have they seen? Who have they lost? Who did they save? What’s their story? I had to strike up a conversation with them – if not for anything else, but to say thank you. So I had a raise the risk moment and stood up with my napping son in arms and sat down across from them.
“Excuse me,” I interrupted. “I have been sitting here watching you guys for some time and I couldn’t help but over hear some of your conversation. You are a Marine and you guys are regular army?” I asked. After clarification, they started telling me about their latest accomplishment – winning gold medal at the 2012 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge World Championship held in Hamar, Norway. They defeated Canada in the semi-finals to advance to the championship game against Korea. Canada had beat them earlier in the season so it was nice to have the opportunity to face them again… and win!
Two of them took out their gold medal and allowed my family and I to hold them. The kids even put them around their neck. They introduced themselves to me. “I’m Rico. This is Josh,” one said. “And I’m Jen,” said the other. They told me I could find out more about their sport at USAHockey.com. I knew they didn’t want to or couldn’t talk about their military experiences (although I could have listened for days) so the conversation ended just as fast as it had begun, and next thing I knew we were boarding the plane.
Most of the time, a raise the risk moment isn’t about us. It’s about being able to speak or to serve into someone else’s life and let them know they are important. Important to us? Yes. But more importantly, to God. The few minutes that I had with these men, I wanted to encourage them and bless them and to better pray for them. I ended up celebrating with them as well. Look for opportunities to hear from others taking an interest in their stories and their accomplishments. When you choose to make a lifestyle out of investing in others, you learn quickly that there is a return of equal or greater blessing.
I know not all of you are preachers out there, but everyone in Christ is a minister of the Gospel, and I wanted to challenge you with the words of an old friend of mine who I have never met before, but of whom I know very well.
He writes to me, “As soon as a man lets his work become a matter of mere form or routine, it sinks into a performance in which the [person] is simply an actor.” He pleads further, “…speak from your hearts, or else do not speak at all.”
How easy is it to get caught up in the work we are supposed to be doing and to quickly forget the purpose behind it? Many preachers out there abandon the reality of their role for a mere counterfeit, sometimes Hollywood version, of the real thing. We become a part in a performance seen in some of the greatest American cities, but fail to provide our audience with the man or woman God has called us to be.
Even Rick Warren will tell you not to follow his approach completely, but to use what he has learned to help you make sense of where God has called you.
Maybe the reason is because we lack self-confidence. Maybe it’s because we see their success and think that the same script will bring equal results. Maybe it’s because we’re lazy. Maybe it’s because we’re tired. Or maybe it’s because we don’t believe that God truly does want us to sing a new song and breathe something fresh on our hearers.
This week, raise the risk in your preparation for your next sermon. Before you let some other preacher provide you with a script, pray that God would give you fresh eyes and a renewed spirit to write out His words for your hearers.
Then deliver them with passion and conviction.
If you can’t, maybe you should consider another work.
Taken from http://e-uhs.efxinternet.com
My friend concludes, “If you can be silent, be silent; but if you must speak for God, be thoroughly sincere about it. It would be better for you to go back to business, and weigh butter or sell reels of cotton, or do anything rather than pretend to be ministers of the Gospel unless God has called you to the work.”
Raise the Risk Challenge:
(1) Click here and purchase The Soul Winner by C.H. Spurgeon. He is the friend I have alluded to in this blog.
(2) Preachers: Seriously evaluate your sermon prep. How much time, prayer, and energy went into it?
(3) If you spend time looking at what others do for sermon ideas, take a sabbatical and ask God to breathe fire into your soul.
Admitting you are a Coercion Ninja is the first step to recovery. Say it with me, “Hi, my name is ____, and I am a Coercion Ninja.”
Communication. We either think we have it all together, or we know we do not.
5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
As I have shared before, Ron and I are completing a MAPP’s (Model Approach to Partnered Parenting) course to foster and adopt. Last night was the most pertinent information to date for yours truly. We discussed proactive parenting versus reactive parenting. In reactive parenting, we learned the art of coercion…and why we should flee this communication practice.
Perhaps you, like myself, are a unknowning black-belt coercion ninja?
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
1 Peter 2:23
The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.
The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him.
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Raise the Risk Challenge:
Identify 2-3, or if you are like me, 4-5, coercive communication practices that you employ and confess these to God and a trusted friend, spouse, or family member.
Meditate on the above scriptures and commit one to memory.
Pray that God will teach you to communicate clearly and lovingly with all that you encounter.
(If you are viewing in a reader click here to view video.)
Sometimes I wish I could just “stop it.” Getting angry that is.
Much like people’s addiction to Angry Birds, I have a constant resurrection of angry emotions that hover near the surface.
Ron and I are going through a 10 week course so that we can become foster/adoptive parents. This is a dream that we have had for over five years as a family, and growing within us for a lifetime before “we” were.
Imagine my ultimate excitement for this dream coming to fruition. I am a planner and one to take action quickly sometimes to my own disadvantage. Therefore, the last two weeks I have been rearranging furniture, repositioning pictures within our home, and cleaning out..all in the name of preparation should a 0-2 year old show up in the next 7 months… yes hurrying up for 7 months of waiting.
When I was rearranging artwork within our home, I happened to ask Ron how he thought two pictures would look in our entry way.
Can you believe that Ron did not like my newly suggested placement of the pictures? Shocker, we disagreed on a designing issue. I am sure we are the only husband and wife to do that…
Well, instead of taking his opinion in an optimal way, I immediately grew defensive and then angry. (I know, a bit of an overreaction to say the least.)
We had a cordial verbal exchange which left me in a huff. You see, Ron nor I know what exactly is going to set me off until it happens. This is not a healthy position to live in. Angry flair ups do not happen every day, but often enough that I realize my anger is a weak spot only conquered via powerful seeking of the Holy Spirit.
After the failed redesign, I left to go for a walk. As I walk I contemplate whether this anger is a byproduct of my lion/beaver, D/C (DISC profile), Type A personality? Or, can I blame it on my hot-blooded southern lineage? Either way, my anger more often than I like, continues as a weak spot that threatens to get the better of me.
By now you may wonder why you are reading my posts at all.
If the authenticity I choose to portray only begins and ends with capitals, commas, and punctuation then I am giving an inaccurate picture of the sinner I am and the God that I serve.
My God forgives sinners like me using imperfect vessels for His perfect purposes.
Our salvation is not an excuse for sin (see Galatians 5), but it is a grace that grows us in righteousness and away from unrighteousness.
Anger itself is not a sin. Righteous anger is an emotion experienced by God and Jesus:
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8
And he (Jesus) looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
God’s anger brings His righteous, wrathful judgement unless abated by the prayers of His people.
The Old Testament is full of examples of the anger of God being abated through prayer. See Numbers 14 for one such example as Moses interceded on behalf of the unbelieving Israelites to enter into the Promise Land.
In addition, God’s servants showed righteous anger like that of David against the audacity of Goliath to defy ”the armies of the living God.” (1 Samuel 17:36)
I have found that the best way for Christ-followers to combat sin and temptation is through prayer and scripture. Perhaps you also struggle with feelings of anger? If so, then may we seek to quench this flesh-born weakness of unrighteous anger with verses like these and others:
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. Proverbs 14:29
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. Proverbs 16:32
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:19-21
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger Ephesians 4:26
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Ephesians 4:31
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 1 Timothy 2:8
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth Colossians 3:8
Concerning the pictures in the foyer, I opted for tacking some of the children’s recent artwork instead of the pieces that I originally suggested. Their Jackson Pollock inspired pieces are a great fit for the space.
Concerning my anger, well that remains very much a work in progress. What ways do you combat anger in your own life?
Raise the Risk Challenge:
Determine a few causes of your anger. Perhaps your anger lies in perfectionism, control, or a past hurt that has not been dealt with and healed.
Seek God in prayer and then commit to memory one of the above verses as you make your anger a matter of prayer this week.
For me this word promotes encouragement to set and obtain goals.
Perhaps even more energizing is viewing lives lived with intentionality.
In Hungry for God: Hearing God’s Voice in the Ordinary and Everyday by Margaret Feinberg, I encountered this phrase:
Don’t look where you don’t want to go.
This was the advice Margaret’s friend, Valerie, was given when attempting her first mountain biking excursion…I find it applicable to a life lived with intentionality.
If in fact we are not to focus where we do not want to go then the opposite must also be true: we must focus where we want to go. Which begs the questions:
Where do I want to go? What are my thoughts and vision set upon? Do I need to shift my thinking in some areas?
One Wednesday night a month, our middle school and high school ministries join forces for worship and Bible study during a time we call Unite. At last month’s Unite the high school students were given the opportunity to share what God put on their hearts.
I loved the intentionality of the testimonies of three students as listed below.
“I want to pray with 100 homeless people this year.”
“Please hold me accountable to gaining all attention for myself. If you see that I am drawing everyone’s attention to me, please stop me and ask me to put that energy into drawing attention to God. “
One student is joining with her peer to realize his vision for “Kneel United” a prayer concert to coincide with the Republican National Convention meeting in our backyard of Tampa, Florida. Kneel United would focus the prayers of God’s people within our country to pray as one.
What movement is Christ drawing you to by the power of His word and the testimony of the saints?
Why not raise the risk with me and strive for intentionality? Determine where you want to go and press on to change yourself and the world through Christ Jesus. We are the body that Christ has chosen to bless others in this moment in history.
I was addressing our leadership team about some important changes for the new year.
I was casting vision for what others couldn’t see right now but hoped they would be able to see soon. I was on the mountain top explaining what I saw for the near future concerning our ministry; they were still blinded by the mountain that stood in front of them. But soon, they too would see the huge payoff that we would experience before long in our quest for making disciples in our church’s student ministry.
And then she walked in the room.
My Little Teacher
She being my beautiful and articulate three-year old daughter. Emily was in the back of the room as I stood up front. We were separated by a sea of adults but in that moment, all she could see was, “Daddy!”
She never saw the crowd…never took notice that I was speaking to my team…never bothered to remember her manners and say, “Excuse me, daddy.” She quickly weaved her way through the maze of a carefully designed set up of tables and chairs and embraced my right leg looking up at me with a trusting and secure face. She knew everything would be okay because daddy was with her.
Wouldn’t it be great if that was reflective of our relationship with God?
Wouldn’t it be great if we never saw the crowd…never got distracted by the things that carry no lasting value…never cowered in fear seizing every moment with Daddy? Jesus’ disciple, Peter, tried to live his life that way, and little Emily, in one of her first Raise the Risk moments, was giving it her best shot as well.
The ability to focus on the Savior is what got Peter out of the boat and onto the water-turned-sidewalk (Matthew 14:29). We possess the ability, through the Holy Spirit to focus on Jesus. When we do this, like Peter and Emily, the only thing that matters is Daddy, and we are free to live outside the realm of fear allowing us to take more risks for Him because He is the only One that matters.
I learned a lot from my little girl that evening, and I pray that I will be ready to learn future lessons that teach me how to live with childlike faith.
I just need to clear the clutter in my mind and find Daddy.