Friday, January 20, 2017

Jesus and a Fake $20 Bill

The other day, Kevin and I were getting coffee at a 7-11 in Brooklyn.  (Why Kevin Cabe prefers 7-11 Coffee to other coffees is worthy of its own post at a later time.)
As we were waiting to pay for the coffee, the lady in front of us handed over a twenty dollar bill to pay for her items.
The 7-11 clerk took her money and nearly immediately told her that it was a fake twenty dollar bill.  
The lady did not speak a lot of English, but understood that the clerk was going to need an additional twenty dollars.  
By this point, I was very interested and intrigued in all that was taking place.  
I spoke up.  
“How do you know it’s fake?”  
The clerk then proceeded to let me feel the fake twenty dollar bill and then feel a real twenty dollar bill.
He then lined the twenty dollar bills alongside one another.  One was clearly longer than the other.
The clerk then showed us that the cash machine would not even allow it to be deposited.  
By this point, I was fully believing that this was indeed a fake twenty dollar bill.
The clerk had one final statement.  
He said, “I cannot give it back to you or I would knowingly be engaging in ripping off someone else.
Most of us are probably aware of things that promise to have value and promise to provide hope.
Most of us have probably settled for things at one time or another, in some way or another.
There are times when we have bought the lie, settled for less, and were willing to compromise the truth.
As I walked out of the 7-11 the other day, my thoughts were not on when or where did this lady receive a counterfeit twenty dollar bill.  
My thoughts were on how incredibly well the 7-11 clerk could identify the true twenty dollar bill from the fake twenty dollar bill.
I looked up and down the street at all of the pictures, signs, and stores.  Each of them promising some level of hope and some level of satisfaction.
I got to thinking about how important it is us for followers of Jesus to know the Truth of the Gospel.  
I was thinking about how often we settle for less than what Jesus offers and how many times I compromise to do things my own way.
I thought about the times and ways that I was willing to settle and still was never satisfied.
All around us we are bombarded with lies.  
We are bombarded with things that veer from the actual Truth of God’s Word.
If you were to scroll through my Facebook feed, you would find two sets of truth presented.
There are posts that reflect that when President-Elect Trump is inaugurated, the world and the country is going to be better than ever.  
There are additional posts that reflect that when President-Elect Trump is inaugurated, the world is going to be worse off than ever.
Neither of these things are true.
We love Facebook because we get to see all kinds of opinions and view things from all kinds of perspectives.
Yet, when we look at the Truth of Scripture, our hope is not determined by who is in office or what political party is in charge.  
When we dive into the depths of knowing the Truth, we can see clearly the counterfeit promises all around us.  
We can clearly see that the things that promise hope and satisfaction, can never possibly deliver what we are actually needing or even wanting.
When we immerse ourselves in Truth of God’s Word, we see that there is really is only One Hope.  
There really is only One Name worthy of Praise.  
There really is only One Name by which men and women can be saved.
There really is only One Way to know forgiveness, redemption, restoration, reconciliation, mercy, and grace.
There is only One Hope.  His Name Is Jesus.  
Anything more and anyone else is a counterfeit of the actual Truth.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

10 Things That I Have Learned As A Church Planter and Pastor Over The Last 10 Years

This coming weekend, Crossroads Church of Long Island will be celebrating our 10 Year Anniversary.  It is very surreal to think of how quickly the time has gone and all that has transpired over these 10 years. 

I have had a chance to remember and reflect on numerous things that God has done along the way, as well as numerous things that I would do differently.

I have compiled a list of 10 things that I have learned over these last 10 years.  I easily could write another list of the top 10 mistakes that were made.  I may get to that one eventually.  But, for today, here are 10 things that I have learned over these last 10 years.

1. God Loves People More Than I Do
Sometimes, when it comes to church planting, it can feel like you are trying to convince God to bring people to your church or event.  Early on, I learned that it never was about trying to get people to come “my” thing.  First, God has already demonstrated the full extent of His love for people by sending Jesus to die for every single one of us.  Second, God further has demonstrated His love by sending us, as followers of Jesus, to share the Truth of His Love.  God wants people know about His Love.  I learned that sharing the Truth of His Love is way more about me going than people coming.

      2.God Is Faithful, Even When I Am Not
There have been numerous times when I have made the wrong call or wrong decision when leading our church.  Some of those decisions were bigger than others.  But, there have been enough of those decisions where I can now see that in spite of me, God demonstrated His power and authority.  God has remained faithful every step of the way, even when I made the wrong call.

3.It’s His Church and Not Mine
That may sound obvious.  But, it is very easy to get wrapped up in thinking that everything at the church hinges on you.  It’s one of those things that starts out innocently enough.  It starts out as service and a willingness to do whatever it takes.  Yet, it can easily turn into a belief that you are personally responsible for everything and everybody.  That quickly results in taking the credit for everything that goes right and carrying the blame for everything that goes wrong.  I had to learn that ultimately it was His church and not mine.

4.The Vision Of Crossroads Was Not Just Mine
Over these last 10 years, Crossroads has been extraordinarily blessed by people who have invested into Crossroads.  We have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars given by churches and individuals to help Crossroads start and expand into more communities. We have also seen thousands of people who have come to Long Island to serve on short-term mission trips.  It is humbling to think of the churches and supporters who have given sacrificially to help Crossroads and love the people of Long Island over these years.  Yet, all of this is because they share the vision of seeing people across Long Island changed and transformed by Jesus.

5.The Importance Of A Team
From the beginning of Crossroads, we learned the importance of serving as a team.  We have been privileged to have numerous people who have invested their lives to serve with us at Crossroads.  We have seen people who have moved to Long island to join our Crossroads Leadership Team.  We have also seen people who were already here on Long Island that God led to lead with us as well.  It is humbling to look back and see how God has orchestrated His plan for Crossroads by bringing a team of people together to provide the leadership that is needed.  I am so grateful for all of the people that have been a part of our Crossroads Team over these last 10 years.

6.What I Said Or Did At Crossroads Didn’t Matter To My Family
That makes it sound like my family didn’t care about what was going on at Crossroads.  They did.  But, I had to learn the hard way that any of my activities and responsibilities as a pastor and church planter did not substitute for being a husband and a father.  I had to learn that my sermon on Sunday was not the content to lead my family.  Especially Jenna and Madison have helped me to learn that the best way for me to lead our family had nothing to do with titles or responsibilities from the church. 

7.God Doesn’t Love Me More Or Less Based Upon Worship Attendance On A Given Sunday.
There’s a weird irony with pastoring a church and planting a church.  We want to do all that we can to make it successful, but not take the credit.  Like Brian Bloye says in his book “It’s Personal” ‘When the church plant doesn’t do well, we take the blame.  When it’s successful, it’s all glory to God.’  There have been many, many Sundays when I walked out of the church feeling like a failure if the attendance was lower.  Over the years, I have had to learn and remember that God’s love for me has nothing to do with attendance, offerings, and sermons.

8. 1 Comes Before 100
Any pastor will tell you that it is much easier to preach to 100 people than to 10 people.  As church planters, we want to see growth and success and we want to see it now.  We desperately want to see all of the chairs filled up and we want to have the problems of dealing with parking and multiple services.  But, in our longing for the masses of people, it’s easy to lose sight of the individual person.  I had to learn that one person matters.  I truly believe that when we learn how important and how much God values one person, He will send others to us. 

9. Leading With Authenticity Is Better Than Leading With Authority
I have come to love and appreciate the sincerity, honesty, and bluntness of New Yorkers.  I have also come to realize and understand that people need and appreciate authenticity from their pastor.  There have been plenty of times when I needed to be transparent and real, when I wanted to pretend that I had all of the answers.  Jana Jenkins, a founding member of Crossroads, once shared with our small group that God told her “God cannot have a relationship with the person that you pretend be, but He can have a relationship with you.” In my whole life, I will never forget that sentence.

      10. His Grace Is Enough
      The most important thing that I have learned over the last 10 years is that the Grace of Jesus Christ is enough for me and it is enough for every other person on this planet.  I have learned that I am never beyond the reach of His grace and neither is anyone else.  My life changed nearly 10 years ago when I was praying and meditating on 2 Corinthians 5:19.  I began to really understand that God has given us this ministry of reconciliation to let people know that their sins are no longer counted against them, because of what Christ has done for them.  This verse changed my life.  I began to understand that no matter what had been done in the past.  No matter the sin. No matter the guilt.  The Grace of Jesus is bigger than the sin. The Grace of Jesus goes beyond the guilt.  This is the message that is for me, you, Long Island, and the world. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

People, Pokemon Go, and The Promise of Hope

Our daughter Charlotte is now one month old.  She is growing and becoming more and more alert.  It's amazing to see her progress and to see how a baby continually develops.  There is so much to teach her and so much for her to understand.

But, over this last month, I am reminded that there are things that I will not be able to teach her and things that she will not understand.

The headlines and news stories over the last four weeks are difficult to comprehend, no matter how old someone is.

Police officers killing unnecessarily.  Police officers being killed.  Racial tension and racial strife.  84 people dying and hundreds injured in Nice, France.  An attempted government takeover in Turkey.  

And, Pokemon Go.

It seems odd to throw Pokemon Go into the mix of headlines.  But, nearly every major city newspaper and national news agency has feature stories about Pokemon Go this morning.  

Some of the stories deal with the phenomenon of so many people playing this game.  After all, 15 million people downloading the game in one week is newsworthy.

Other Pokemon Go stories deal with numerous people who have been injured, fallen off of cliffs, been involved in car wrecks, and even being arrested.

Maybe the popularity of Pokemon Go is heightened because it is a distraction from the other realities that dominate our world and culture.  Maybe the game serves as a chance to focus and dwell on something that is less intense and less consequential.  

Yesterday morning I was running down a street a few blocks away from my house.  I noticed a couple of guys playing the game, looking at their phones, and looking all around. 

I know that this is the case in thousands and thousands of neighborhoods and communities all over the world.

When I ran by the guys playing the game yesterday, I couldn't help but think of the verse from Luke 14:23 "And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled."

Pokemon Go has brought people out into the highways and hedges.  There is no question about that.
But, this past month has served as a reminder of the desperateness of the fallen world in which we live and Jesus's call for His followers to Go.

  People are killing.  People are dying.  People are hurting. People are grieving.  

As followers of Jesus, we have Hope.  We don't have hope in government reform.  We don't have hope in the next president.  We don't have hope that "things will turn around".  

We have Hope, because Hope is a person and His name is Jesus.

And Jesus calls us to Go share this Hope with others.  He mandates us to Go.  He allows us to Go.

There's nothing wrong with playing Pokemon Go.  But, there is something wrong when those of us who are followers of Jesus don't Go and don't share the only Hope for our desperate communities, our hurting nation, and our lost world.

I don't know what the news headlines will be for the next month or when Charlotte is my age.  But, I do know that our Hope will not change and Hope is what we need.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Going Further As A Father

In the span of the last 16 days, we have had one daughter turn 18, another daughter born, and another daughter turn 13.

As I sit here on Father's Day, inches away from our 5 day old baby, I cannot help but reflect on the last 18 years of being a father.  I also can't help but wonder what the next 18 years may look like.

As a father, I have made plenty of mistakes.  There are some things that I wish I could take back and some situations that I wish I would have handled differently.  

There are times that I made a big deal out of things that weren't a big deal.  There are other times that I probably should have made a bigger deal out of some situations, but  I didn't give it the attention that it deserved.

I know that there are no perfect parents and no perfect fathers.  But, when you get to be a 43 year old Dad of 18, 13, and 7 year-old daughters, along with a 5 day old daughter, you start to know what to look for.  

All of this makes me appreciate my own father all the more.  My Dad's not perfect.  If my Mom wasn't around, he would be first person to tell you that.  But, my Dad is incredibly wise.

Anyone who is around my Dad for very long knows this.  He exudes wisdom.  He can't help it.  It is built into his head and his heart.  He oozes with wisdom about nearly every situation.

My Dad has regularly shared his wisdom with me, my brother, and countless others.  He has various quotes and sayings like "Those Who Don't Listen, Have To Feel" and "Don't Worry About The Mule, Just Load The Wagon" that may or may not have originated with him, but have been spoken by him enough that to a lot of us he is the author of those words.  

My Dad has hundreds of Bible verses that he has memorized, along with the entire 1975 Baptist Hymnal.

I have used words spoken by my Dad in dozens of sermons that I have given over the years.  I have recalled his words and quoted his words on so many occasions, that there are times when I truly hear his voice in my head.

For years and years, I would have said that the words of wisdom given by my Dad are what I valued most about my Dad.  

But, as time has gone by, and maybe my own wisdom has increased, I have realized that those words of wisdom are only as valuable as they are, because of the actions that accompanied those words.

It's far easier to offer words than to offer action.  It's far easier to offer words than to offer time, energy, and sacrifice.

As I reflect on the actions of my father, I tend to look at the interactions that I recall of his involvement with me and my brother.  But, time has allowed me to see clearly that what makes my Dad such an amazing Dad, is not just his role in the life of my Mom, my brother, and myself.  

What makes my Dad such an amazing Dad is that he was and is the same man no matter who is with him.

I remember on one occasion when my Dad gave me his last $20 bill, when I knew that we didn't have much money at all.  He gave it to me with encouragement and assurance not to worry about it.  It always stood out to me.  But, I have also seen him give his last $20 bill to another person who was in need.

I remember my Dad meeting me in the middle of the night at the Astrodome in Houston after my car wouldn't start.  There was nothing convenient about having to get out of bed in the middle of the night, but I know that my Dad has done this same thing for countless people and countless situations.

I remember one time when my Dad had promised to take me and my brother to an Astros Game.  A situation came up at the church that delayed him and the Astros Game started while we were still at the church.  I remember thinking that we would not make it to the game that night.  But, like it was yesterday, I remember sitting in his pick-up truck and him telling me that it was more important to him that he kept his promises and drove us to the baseball game even though the game was already in the third inning.

But, I also remember times when my Dad went way out of his way to keep other promises to people, no matter what it cost or how inconvenient.  

I have come to appreciate that my Dad was not someone who put on his "Dad Hat" when it was time to deal with a circumstance or situation.  The words and actions that he offered and gave to me were the exact same words and actions that he would give to anyone else.  He was and is consistent in his love, care, and concern for people

What makes my Dad such a great Dad is not just the interactions with me and my brother, but the fact that there are several men that I know who would say that my Dad was like a Dad to them.  

The quotes, sayings, and wisdom from my Dad are as valuable as they are, only because of the life that has accompanied those words.  

His actions have validated his words.  No one has accused my Dad of being perfect.  But, no one who really knows him, would question that the desire of his heart is to please God in every way.

He does this my loving God and loving people.

That's my goal.  That's the example that my Dad has set before me.  That's the example that I want to set before my kids.  

By the time Charlotte is 18, I should have the chance to have some of this down.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Tension Between People Inside Of The Church and Outside Of The Church

There is an ironic tension that exists between the people inside of the church and outside of the church.

The people inside of the church are shocked and dismayed when they hear of people outside of the church behaving in a non-Christ-like manner.

Yet, we cannot expect people who do not have a relationship with Jesus to live their lives like they do and be surprised when they don’t.

The irony is this.

The people outside of the church are no longer shocked or dismayed when they hear of people inside of the church behaving in a non-Christ-like manner.

They no longer expect people who have a relationship with Jesus to live their lives like they do and are not surprised when they don’t.

The church must focus less on being "good Christians" and focus more on being good followers of Jesus.

This is not the fault of Obama, Hillary, or Trump. Before we focus all our energy on trying to change the culture and expectations of the culture outside of the church, we would do well to change the culture and expectations inside of the church.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Baseball Cards and The Coffee Shop Reminding Me Of Who I Am

On the wall in our living room, we have the words "Who am I O Sovereign Lord and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?" It's a from a passage in 2 Samuel 7:18.
It's also listed as the subheading on my blog.

The statement is made from King David to God as he reflects on all of the things that have transpired in His life.  It is a powerful and beautiful statement and I read it almost every single day.

I have to keep reading it because I regularly forget who I am.

You would think that I would know and you would think that I would have it down by now.  But, I am consistently needing to refocus my identity.

Here's my conflict:

One moment, I am overestimating myself.  I talk big. I elevate myself. I think that I know more than I actually do.

But, on another moment, I am underestimating who I am through Jesus.  I think that I am unworthy or incapable, and that can lead to me being unwilling to trust Jesus in whatever particular situation is going on.

Knowing who we are in Christ changes everything about us.  It's where we find our worth and where we find our significance.

When I was a kid, I used to buy a magazine called "Beckett Baseball Monthly".  This magazine would give the current price and value of a baseball card.  In each issue, there would be a line item featuring the name of the company that issued the baseball card, the baseball card number, the baseball player's name, and then value of the card.

Next to the value of the card, there would be an arrow pointing up or down, to indicate if the card was increasing in value or decreasing in value.

I know that there are times when we attempt to gauge our value.  We look to other people to determine what we are worth.  Based on what they say or how they make us feel, it can seem like the arrow is going up or down.

The problem is, if that is where we find our worth or value, it will always be changing, and we will constantly feel the need to prove ourselves to others or defend ourselves from others.

Yesterday, I was at a local coffee shop and overheard a conversation taking place between three guys.  I wasn't really trying to overhead their conversation, but they were pretty loud.  They were beginning a business together and you could hear their excitement as they dreamed about all that could possibly take place.

One of the guys was telling the other two guys about something that he had seen on the television show "Shark Tank".  He was telling them that for their business to succeed they would all have to have "skin in the game."  He asked the other two guys what they were willing to bring and the amount of money that they were willing to invest.

This is where the conversation got kind of serious.
One of the guys responded by saying, "Don't you know who I am? Who I am should be enough."
I looked up at the guy to see who he was but had no clue.
He continued. "On Long Island, I am probably seen as a minor celebrity."
I looked a little harder to see if I could possibly recognize the guy from anything.  Nope.

But, right there at the coffee shop, I got to see first hand what goes on in my own heart multiple times each week.  A guy, basing his investment in life on how sees himself and how he thinks that others see him.  And even in his overestimation of himself, he is only a minor celebrity!

I love the verse in 2 Samuel because David is raising the question to his Creator, in recognition that it is God alone who defined his worth, God alone who had seen his value, and God alone who had led to the place where he was.

It's tempting to overestimate myself, but I also know that my pride can destroy my life.  It's tempting to dwell on my mistakes and shortcomings, but I know that His grace has rescued me and set me free.

My identity cannot be defined by another person, a monthly publication stating my current value, or even myself.    

I am exactly who God says that I am, and I could not ask for more!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

What I Show Them Is More Important Than What I Tell Them

We are weeks or days or moments away from the birth of our fourth daughter, Charlotte.

We are also less than a week away from our first daughter, Madison, turning 18 years old, and are two weeks away from our second daughter, Emma, turning 13 years old.  That only leaves Avery, who will turn 8 years old on Christmas Day.

All of that is to say that over these last 18 years, I have adapted to the things that are most important to my daughters.  I have learned the names of Disney Princesses, sat down for many tea parties, and have complimented the appearance of multiple dresses and outfits.
I am no expert at being a father.  I have made numerous mistakes and there some things that I wish I could do over again.

But, finding out what is important to them is not too hard.  I am able to enter their world and show them that what is important to them is important to me, even though going outside to throw the baseball comes more naturally.

But, as my daughters have grown older, I am noticing a shift in our talks and discussions. It's not only that I am learning about what is most important to them.  They are discovering what is most important to me.

It's not that I am complicated or difficult to figure out.

Most of the evenings that I am at home, I am trying to watch a Mets game.  If I can't watch the Mets game, I am trying to find out the score.

Recently, Avery came down stairs early in the morning, still looking very sleepy.  

Her first words of the day? "Who won the game last night?"

The next morning the same thing.

The next morning the same thing.

Of course, I am glad that she takes an interest in this.  Of course, it is sweet and cute for her take an interest in my interest.

But, there is also something sobering about it.

As much as I like the Mets and enjoy baseball, I want her to know that there are way more important things to me.  I want her to know that I am way more concerned about her Mom and her sisters than any baseball game.

I want her to know that I am way more passionate about seeing lives changes and transformed through Jesus than the Mets winning.

I want her to know that the relationships that I have with people are more important to me than names of the players that I will never meet or know.

I want her to know all of these things.  But, I have also learned over these last 18 years, that my greatest influence on my kids is not what they hear from me.  
It is always what they see me doing.

It took me too long to figure out that nothing that I said in a sermon on a Sunday mattered much to my family.  The sermon that I proclaimed with how I lived, spoke, and thought the rest of the week, was way louder than anything from Sunday.

I want my kids to know that God is absolutely the most important thing to me.  I want them to know I am most passionate about the grace of Jesus Christ in my life than anything else.
I want them to know that my hope and purpose is found in following and trusting Jesus for everything.  

That's what I want to pass along to them.  That's what I want for them to pass along to their kids.  

There is nothing wrong with your kids taking part in your interests.  Avery and I have plans to go to the Mets game in 3 weeks.

But, I am learning that I am showing them what is most important to me, and what I am showing is more important than what I am telling them.