Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Leadership Thought: A Question We Must All Answer.

Dear Friends

This is a powerful message on the racial divide written by a contributor to a daily devotional I receive from former player and major league manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates Clint Hurdle. I hope you will take the time to read it.

Yours in faith and friendship

See article below

A Question We MUST Answer

June 17

This has been an emotional and difficult week for most Americans. I am old enough to remember a similar period of turmoil in the late ’60’s. It is truly heartbreaking that fifty years later we are still plowing the same fields of prejudice and racism. 
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, with Martin Luther King, Jr., looking on. Johnson had a quote that we hoped would be prophetic. “At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom.”

Maybe there is still a chance for history and fate to join with the faith of millions of followers of Jesus to shape a turning point in our culture. Maybe the unnecessary deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd will galvanize our collective hearts in a way that can be transformative. Hear out pleas Lord that you will redeem these horrible deaths to bring you Glory and your people together. 

In my lifetime I have never seen such such intense introspection among the white community about racism. It feels like God has shown us in this time of isolation, fear, and tragic news how desperately we need to unify in the power of the Spirit. I see more of my white brothers and sisters having substantive conversations without the customary push back and defensiveness. I believe we have a window where God can move in the hearts of millions of His children to make this a moment of change. 

But you can rest assured the enemy will do everything in his power to thwart the moving of God’s Spirit. Satan will distract us with issues that keep us from healing. He will point out the bad behavior of a few so we won’t explore the pain of millions. It is time to move past rationalizations and excuses. It is time to hear the stories of black brothers and sisters without trying to offer our “take”. It is time to listen. It is time to try and feel the pain of rejection our black friends have experienced for no reason other than skin color. It is time to understand why the #black lives matter movement does not mean that only black lives matter. That was never the point. This explanation from Doug Williford puts a helpful context on the phrase.
“If my spouse comes to me in obvious pain and asks “Do you love me?”, an answer of “I love everyone” would be truthful, but also hurtful and cruel in the moment. If a co-worker comes to me upset and says “My father just died,” a response of “Everyone’s parents die,” would be truthful, but hurtful and cruel in the moment. So when a friend speaks up in a time of obvious pain and hurt and says “Black lives matter,” a response of “All lives matter,” is truthful. But it’s hurtful and cruel in the moment.”

I have also had to wrestle with what white privilege means. As a child of Appalachia it was hard for me to comprehend what “privilege” I had. I was the first Burchett male to graduate from high school for heavens sake. But the phrase doesn’t mean that a white hillbilly like me won’t have challenges. It simply means I start out with an inherent advantage. It is not a statement of condemnation toward whites. It is just a societal fact.

So let’s affirm to our black brothers and sisters that black lives definitely matter. Let’s acknowledge there is a cultural advantage to being white. Let’s call racism what it is and by 

it’s name. Sin. Let’s stop being silent out of fear that we might offend someone. Let’s stand boldly with our black brothers and sisters.

The Apostle John has a hard truth for followers of Jesus.

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:20-21

I don’t see a single qualifier about what that believer looks like or acts like. 

We are commanded by Jesus to love one another.

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. John 15:12

Maybe it is time we understood that is not a helpful suggestion or really cool goal. That is a commandment. And yes, that command is impossible apart from focusing on Jesus. It means jumping headfirst into the fountain of grace. Grace that forgave me and you when we deserved anything but that free gift. 

My fear is that the white community will determine to make a difference and then simply let that conviction slip away when life returns to some semblance of normalcy. I see it all the time. Someone dies and we determine to live more fully. That lasts a few days. Our black brothers and sisters need us to dig in for the long haul. We need to produce action and not hot air. Again John hits with a hard truth. Truth is revealed by our actions.

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. 1 John 3:18-19

The question will not be were you challenged? The question will be were you changed? We are the hands and feet of Jesus and we have a cultural moment to make a difference. Paul has the game plan.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
So how will you answer the question? Merely challenged or changed in the power of His grace? 
Make a difference today,
Love Clint

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Leadership Thought: It Is Not How You Start but How You Finish That Counts,  or a Book That I Think Everyone Should Read.

Dear Family,

We have all probably heard an adaptation of the phrase “Life is not sprint but a marathon.  On our refrigerator I have another phrase which expresses essentially the same thought – “slow and steady wins the race.”   It’s a reminder sent to me by a family member that the race is not always won by the swiftest.  These statements have significance whether athletically, vocationally, or spiritually.   I am sure that you can name several friends and associates who started strong.  They sprinted out of the blocks, and it seemed that they were around the first turn before you even pushed off.  But those quick starters never paced themselves, and somewhere during the race they wiped out.  They started fast, but they didn’t finish strong, or even worse they didn’t finish at all.

One of the most influential books I have ever read was  Finishing Strong by Steve Farrar.  I can’t  recommend this book strongly enough.   I would encourage you to pick up a copy.  I think it will be of value to those of you who wish to finish strong.

Let me quote a passage from the book that really shocked me, and which got me to thinking about the way I want to finish my life.

“In the Christian life, it is not how you start that matters.  It’s how you finish.  John Bisagno had been pastoring First Baptist Church of Houston for several years.  When John was just about to finish college, he was having dinner at his fiancĂ©e’s house one night. After supper, he was talking with his future father-in-law, Dr. Paul Beck, out on the porch.  Dr Beck had been in ministry for many years, and that was inevitably the subject toward  which the conversation turned.”

“John, as you get ready to enter the ministry, I want to give you some advice,’ Dr Beck told the  younger man- Stay true to Jesus:  Make sure that you keep your heart close to Jesus every day.  It’s a long way from here to where you’re going to go, and Satan’s in no hurry to get you.”

“The older man continued, “It has been my observation that just one out of ten who start out in full-time service for the Lord at twenty-one are still on track at the age of 65.  They’re shot down morally, they’re shot down with discouragement, they’re shot down with liberal theology, they get obsessed with making money…but for a one reason or another nine out of ten fall out.”

The twenty-year-old Bisagno was shocked.  “I just can’t believe that.’ He said.  “That’s impossible? That just can’t be true.”

“Bisagno told how he went home, took some of those blank pages in the back of his Schofield Reference Bible and wrote down the names of twenty-four young men who were his peers and contemporaries.  These were young men in their twenties who were sold out for Jesus Christ.  They were trained for ministry and burning in their desire to be used by the Lord.  These were the committed young preachers who would make an impact for the Lord in their generation.”

“Bisagno relates the following with a sign: ‘I am now fifty-three years old.  From time to time as the ears have gone by, I’ve had to turn back to that page in my Bible and cross out a name.  I wrote down those twenty-four names when I was twenty years of age.   Thirty-three years later, there are only three names remaining of the original twenty-four. (p. 16-17 Finishing Strong by Steve Farrar.

That story saddened me because I know it’s true.  Some of the best athletes, some of the best potential teachers, some of the best prospects for ministry  - they all started strong but dropped out somewhere between the start and the finish line.

Success is never attained overnight.  It takes time.  Victory is won as you make your turn around that last curve and head for the finish line, not by sprinting those first hundred yards and trying to leave everyone behind at the start of the race.

The growth and development of our spiritual life largely depends on consistency.  For example, length is not always strength when it comes to our prayer life.  More important is consistency.  Length will increase as we spend time with God.  It is only natural that as you grow in your love for someone, you will want to spend more  time with that person.  The same is true in our spiritual life.  Don’t be made to feel guilty when you read of those great saints of yesteryear who spent hours in prayer.  It took each of them time to develop their spiritual discipline, and I bet that every one of them started slow—maybe a few minutes at first—but day after day they consistently spent more time with their Lord, and day by day they found they longed to spend more time,

Yes, if you want to finish strong spiritually, you must remember that “slow and steady wins the race:”  Cultivate consistency.  Pace yourself spiritually.

Moses, I am sure, knew something about consistency.  In Hebrews 11:27 we read two words¨ “He endured.” Moses had staying power.  He was durable.   He was in it for the long haul, and when at eighty when others had dropped out along the way, Moses was still going strong and still being steady, and still blessing the lives of others.  That’s what I want for my life, and that’s what I hope you want for yours as well.

Yours in faith and friendship,

Leadership Thought: The Difficulty of Waiting for Change.

Dear Friends,

"The hardest part of faith is often waiting. And the trouble is, if we don't, then we start to fix the problem ourselves-and that makes it worse. We complicate the situation to the point where it takes God much longer to fix it then if we had quietly waited for His working in the first place," so writes Jim Cymbala in his book Fresh Faith, p 111.

Anyone who has worked with alcoholics  knows that all of your efforts are for naught, if the alcoholic is not ready to change. This is true in relationships as well. One cannot change the other person by an exercise of the will if the person is not willing to change. Change-generally cannot be forced if it is to be permanent in nature. A person may be pressured to change for a season, but most often that person will revert back to the same familiar pattern of behavior, if the change does not come from within. As someone once said, “Consider how hard it is to change yourself, and you’ll understand what little chance you have of trying to change others."

So, what is the solution to that marriage partner that so desperately wants to see change in the life of his or her spouse? What about those parents with an alcoholic son or daughter who wants to rescue them or try and change them? The answer is simply wait and pray.

Waiting is hard. Most of us want to fix things, but if you are like me, anything I fix doesn’t say fixed very long. Just ask my wife,  the solution is to do as David did”-wait. Things were not going very well for him. We are not sure what the circumstances were, but he was in the pits. But it was while he was stuck in the mire, that he learned a very valuable lesson in patient waiting, for he testifies, “I waited patiently for the Lord”(Psalm 40:1).

Instead of taking matters into his own hands and despairing of anyone, including God, to help him, David learned the lesson of patient waiting. He was willing to let God work out His plan in His time according to His purpose. So instead of trying to arrange his own solution, which so many of us are tempted to do, David just waited and trusted the Lord to provide. And you know what? God did.

Chuck Swindoll talks about ‘compassion in slow motion,” when he describes how hard it is to avoid trying to rescue someone  from sinful, destructive behavior. He writes, “There are times (not always, but often) when the better part of wisdom restrains us from barging in and trying to make someone accept our help. The time isn’t right, so  we wait….The Lord would love to piece together the shattered fragments of (that) life. But He is waiting….graciously, waiting until the time is right. Until (one) is tired of the life (he,she) is living,  until (they see) it for what it really is….until (they recognize) their need for Him” (The Finishing Touch), p. 214

In Psalm 40 David received a number of benefits from his waiting, and so can you and I. God lifted him out of his despair, set his feet on firm ground, steadied his walk, and gave him a new purpose.” That was good news for David, and that will be good news for you and me when we go through our struggles in that war of waiting. His promise to us is that He will “put a new song in our mouth, a hymn of praise to our God (Psalm 40:3).

Jeremy Collier expressed it best when he wrote, “Patient waiting is often the highest way of doing God’s will.” Jeremy Collier, Quotations for the Christian World, Edythe Draper, p. 463

Have a wonderful 4th of July weekend.

Yours in faith and friendship.

Leadership Thought: Has God Ever Tapped You on the Shoulder?

Dear Friends

In less than two minutes you can learn how to make a significance difference in a person's life. Watch how:

Enjoy and as a friend of mine frequently closes his e-mail. "Make" a great day.

Yours in faith and friendship,

Leadership Thought: If You Ain't Serving, You Ain't Leading

Dear Friend,

This morning’s Leadership Thought comes from Dan Britton, and executive with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. As many of you may know it was  in 1962 at a conference like the one described below that I committed my life to Jesus, so this story has particularly meaning for me. 

“After a terrific week of training middle school and high school students on how to impact their campus for Christ, Larry got up to share. He was a five-foot-tall seventh-grader from inner-city Kansas City, and he was a hit with the campers. He was funny, lovable, charming and outspoken. His contagious laugh and raspy voice made him stand out from the others, and he became the camp favorite."

"The open mic session had already gone 30 minutes too long when Larry stood to be the last in line to share. Larry was never short of words, but when he leaned into the microphone, he shared a single transformational leadership statement. His one sentence hit me between the eyes." 

“If you ain’t serving, you ain’t leading!”

"Then he turned around, walked off the stage, and sat down. Larry, the Great Theologian, had spoken. I was in awe. I’d read hundreds of leadership books and articles, listened to tons of leadership talks and podcasts, written devotions about leadership, and I had just heard the ultimate leadership challenge—from a 13 year old! In seven words he communicated one of the most profound concepts I’ve ever heard on leadership."

"That was a watershed moment for me. Larry’s words still ring in my ears. His insight has changed the way I lead and serve. “If you ain’t serving, you ain’t leading!” has become my personal definition of leadership…thanks to a seventh-grader God used in my life."

"It’s all about serving, not leading."

"Imagine if our response in the midst of crisis, tragedy and conflict was serving not leading. Our communities, culture and countries would shift. Serving needs to be our posture, mindset, default and foundation. I love the story of when Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, stated to the president of Wheaton College that the college trained leaders, he quickly replied, “No, not leaders, but servants.” All of us need to go into training to become servants, not leaders."

"In 1 Peter 4:10-11 (NLT), the apostle Peter writes:

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen."

"The end-result of our serving is for His glory."

"After we have served others, they should think, “God is good,” not, “You are good.” The purpose of serving is to lift the name of Jesus. Rick Warren says, “We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige and position. In our self-serving culture with its me-first mentality, acting like a servant is not a popular concept.” But when we serve, we represent to the world what Jesus looks like."

"Today, let the Larry Principle burn in your heart: “If you ain’t serving, you ain’t leading!” Ask the Lord who you can serve today."

"Father, I ask for a heart to serve. Teach me Your ways. It is hard to serve others with a pure heart. Forgive me for the times I serve with the wrong motives. I desire to serve at full strength. Use me for Your Kingdom work. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.”

Yours in faith and friendship,
Pastor Tom

Leadership Thought: Christian Schools Can Play, Pray and Prosper (Thoughts from My Past at Calvary Christian Academy, Fort Lauderdale)

Dear Friends,

Sometimes it is good to look back on your life and reminisce a bit, and this morning I did just that. From 2000-2008 I had the privilege of being chaplain and athletic director for Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale where I was also one of, yes, 17 pastors. I was there from the school’s inception in 2000, and I was blessed to be on the ground floor in the  school’s academic and athletic development.  Today with almost 2000 students, it is one of the largest Christian schools in the country and the athletic program has flourished producing a number of Florida state championships in football, baseball and basketball, and track and field. Little did I envision how successful the school would be become both academically and athletically, and I am grateful for those early years. It was during my eight years at Calvary that I began writing a daily staff devotional, and just this morning I came across one of those devotionals I wrote in 2008. It was especially encouraging to be reminded of not only the academic and athletic impact of the school, but even more importantly of its spiritual witness on the fields and floors of competition. 

I share this devotional with you to point out how influential sports can be in shaping and impacting our world for Christ. What follows are the words I shared with the church and school staff as well as what I said to the basketball team I coached.

"God continues to use our wrestling team to win people to Jesus. Coach Steve  (Steve Williams was an Olympic Alternate while wrestling at North Carolina State) has trained his grapplers to share their faith with competitors between their matches at tournaments and dual meets, and as a result our wrestlers have led a number of their competitors to Jesus Christ.

Our football team not only prays with our opposition at the mid field following the games, but rather than just a general prayer, players are encouraged to seek out players from the opposing team and get together one on one and pray with and for them individually. God has truly blessed this ministry of prayer. In fact, at one of our games, Dan Marino, the famous quarterback of the Miami Dolphins, whose son was playing quarterback for the opposing team, commented to one of our football parents, that he had never seen a high school team that so impressed him with their sportsmanship.

And as varsity basketball coach, I always ask the opposing coach prior to the game if his team would be willing to pray with us at center court at the conclusion of the game. Our volleyball teams do the same. Sad to say, I have had coaches of opposing schools, both Christian and non-Christian tell me, “We don’t do that kind of thing,” or “we pray in our locker room.” It has become such a normal part of our program that I often take it for granted that most Christian schools engage in this kind of prayer, but we are finding that this is not true and that we are a very small minority of those who do.

At a recent basketball game, we played a team that really challenged us to rise above the level of sportsmanship exhibited by our opponent. One of our players was knocked down while several opposing players clapped in approval, players were grabbed, tripped and kicked in a way that was not only illegal, but should have resulted in  technical fouls or even worse, ejection. One of our black players was continually called the “N” word. My heart broke for this young man who was reluctant to make an issue of it, and who in fact had to be prodded to even share the taunting and trash talking to which he was subjected.

I watched in amazement as our players held their tongues and refrained from allowing their opponents to draw them into similar behavior. When my players were knocked down, they got up without saying a word. When they were tripped, held, or yes, even pinched, they didn’t complain. When they were taunted, they failed to respond in kind. I have coached most of my life, but I can honestly say that I was never prouder of any group of young men than I was of them. They shared remarkable poise as they lived out their faith on the court.

I shared the following reflections with them as we met the next day following the game for practice.

I wrote “We are not always going to find players from other Christian or non-Christian schools acting out their faith on the floor.  Unfortunately, and it saddens me, there were instances on the floor where opposing players did not act in a Christian manner. Regardless of how teams act and regardless of what they say to us, we must always demonstrate self-control and protect and preserve our Christian walk. You did just that, and I am proud of you for the way you conducted yourself. Coach Sean (my assistant coach) and I are blessed to be your coaches, and we want you to know how very much we desire to see you develop, not just your basketball skills, but the kind of character that enables you to say with the Apostle Paul, ‘“Follow me as I follow Jesus Christ.’” 

I then read to them from Hebrews 10: “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes, you were publicly exposed to insult; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated...So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. For in a little while, e who is coming will come and willk nhot delyqa. But my rightouws one will live by faith. And if He shrinks back, I will not be please3d with him. But we aqr4e3 not of thoswe who swhrink back and are dewsxtroywesd, but of those who believe qand are saved. Hebress 10:32He whHe who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved (Hebrews 10:32-33;35-39).

And by the way CCA athletes don’t just come to pray, they come to play as well, and this fall our six sports’ teams have amassed an almost 75 %-win ratio in all sports in all the varsity sports in which they have participated. Just maybe there is something to this praying and playing.”

It has been 12 years since I wrote the above staff devotional, and I look back with great joy knowing that even today, Calvary Christian Academy, Fort Lauderdale, exemplifies what it means to be a Christian School, not just in the classroom, or on campus, but on the fields and courts of athletic competition. May these kinds of schools continue to flourish for the glory of God.

Yours in faith and friendship,

Friday, July 3, 2020

Leadership: Thought: I Am Tired of the Blame Game

Dear Friends,

A lot of people are playing the blame game these days. It is frustrating that that almost every tragic event that happens in our nation somehow becomes politicized by those looking to stick it to those who are their political enemies.

Angry people look for scapegoats, while politicians point fingers. Newscasters enter the fray with their own agendas, asking the kind of political questions guaranteed to fan the flames of blame. I am sure that if we are all honest enough we would find plenty enough blame to go around.
We are a society that has grown accustomed to blaming others for our problems. Rather than accepting any responsibility, we are quick to point the finger at someone else "It's always their fault and not mine." and consequently the courts are inundated with frivolous lawsuits that get more preposterous with every passing day.

As the former late great basketball coach John Wooden once wrote, “Nobody is ever defeated until they start blaming others.” If people would follow his advice, we could begin to wipe out the disease of ‘victimitis,’ or ‘the poor me disorder almost immediately.

We see a vivid example of this disease in Genesis 16. Sarai, who was childless after many years, gave her servant, Hagar, to Abram to she might bear him a child. Abraham sleeps with Hagar, but when she becomes pregnant and begins to treat her mistress Sarai with contempt, Sarai points the finger at Abram. “It’s all your fault!  Now the servant of mine is pregnant, and she despises me, though I myself gave her the privilege of sleeping with you. The Lord will make you pay for doing this to me” Genesis 16:5). Hold on Sarai, “Who told your husband to take Hagar as his mistress? Who encouraged your husband to sleep with your servant?”

Blamed rears its ugly head in the first pages of the Bible. It appears right in the midst of the garden. “Yes, I ate it, “ said Adam, “but it was the woman you gave me who brought me the fruit and I ate it."  And when the Lord turned to Eve, and asked her how she could eat of the fruit, she had her own excuse. “The serpent tricked me," she replied. "That’s why I ate it” (Genesis 3:12-13).

As Christians, Let’s be careful not to enter into the blame game. When we do something wrong, we need to accept responsibility, confess our sin, and ask God to forgive it.

I close with part of an article I filed away many years ago that should serve as a reminder to all of us of the pernicious nature of blame.

“Blame never affirms, it assaults.
Blame never restores, it wounds.
Blame never solves, it complicates.
Blame never unites, it separates.
Blame never smiles, it frowns.
Blame never forgives, it rejects.
Blame never forgets, it remembers.
Blame never builds’ it destroys.”

One of the most innovative psychologists in this century said that he considers only one kind of counselee relatively hopeless: that is the person who blames other people for his or her problems. “If you can own the ‘mess you’re in’, he says, there is hope for you and help is available. As long as you blame others, you will be a victim for the rest of your life.”

Have a wonderful weekend.

Yours in faith and friendship,