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The Most Underestimated Leader in the American Church

The Most Underestimated Leader in the American Church

Last week I had the privilege of spending the week with Bob Russell.  You may never have heard of him, but in my opinion he is the most underestimated leader of the American church.

For the past forty years, he’s done nothing but quietly and with great humility build one of the greatest churches in the history of the American church.  He’s solid, deep, compassionate, loving, well-grounded, and yet willing to take the right risks and innovate when necessary.  The great Southeast Christian Church is continuing to move forward and grow.

I’ve often heard it said that the greatness of a leader is not so much what happens while he’s there, but what happens when he’s gone.  I’m glad to say because of Bob’s insight, he planned for his own successor years ago.

And that succession plan is working beautifully.  Dave Stone, the new lead minister of the church is leading with clarity and support of the congregation, all of this made possible by the generosity of Bob Russell.

Bob Russell is the kind of leader I want to be – strong, committed, even driven, but undeniably humble, almost to a fault.  My only problem with Bob is I wish he were still in the saddle, leading that great church. He acts too young and looks too young to be retired.  But I’m sure God has a greater plan as Bob continues to mentor other pastors.  It was an unforgettable week for me to meet seven other guys I would never have met otherwise and to be around a great leader.

Who are the great leaders you see around you?   Have you told them?  Do you sit at their feet, and do you listen to them?  What do you admire about them?  What are you asking them that will make you a smarter leader if you know and practice?

3 Laws of Water-Skiing That Will Make You a Success at Life

3 Laws of Water-Skiing That Will Make You a Success at Life

I came across an article that I wrote several years ago entitled, “The Three Laws of Water Skiing.”  They are really practical and I use them everyday.
Here they are:

Law #1:  Hold onto the rope, lean back, and let the boat do the work.  How does this apply?  When you’ve done what you can do, hold on, lean back and let God do what only He can do – the work.   We can be prepared but only God can make us truly effective.

Law #2:  Keep your knees bent at all times.  The water gets rough without warning.  This is often true, that many of us are knocked off our feet because we are not expecting it.  We’re standing either so rigidly, or in such a casual manner that we’re knocked off our feet by the smallest wave.  Keeping your knees bent will keep you pliable for the changes that are inevitable, many of which come day-by-day.

Law #3:  When you fall, let go of the rope. This might be the most important law because it was the most difficult for me to get used to.  When you fall in the attempt to ski, for me at least, the natural response is to hold on.  But the longer you hold onto the rope, the deeper you go under water.  So a good skier learns that when they fall, they immediately let go.  How does this apply in your life?  When you fall, when you mess up, when you’ve done something stupid, let go of the rope.  Don’t get in deeper and deeper and deeper trying to justify what you’ve done.  Or when someone’s hurt you, let go of the rope.  Don’t hold them accountable once they’ve asked for forgiveness.  Or even if they don’t, let them go.  Because with the chord you use to hold other people you’re truly only enslaving yourself.

How Do We Respond to the Virginia Tech Massacre?

How Do We Respond to the Virginia Tech Massacre?

Like most of you I have been watching in disbelief the events that have transpired in the past couple days at Virginia Tech.  For me it hits home doubly hard because my youngest daughter is away in college.

When you see this senselessness, you feel helpless. The first tendency is to turn away, move on, not watch it, and ignore it.  And then the other, just as unhealthy, is to obsess over it, to not be able to pry yourself away from the TV, to want to hear everything 50 times, to sift through the information, to find out the name of the person who did the killing, then the names of the persons killed.  What’s the motive? What’s the sense of it?

This tragedy and others call us back to a fundamental decision, a decision we must make before we can respond.  Is there such a thing as objective good and objective evil?  Can evil people do evil things, or is it just a case of mental illness?  That’s how we describe the behavior of people in order to avoid the moral and ethical dilemma of good and evil.  If there is no such thing as good and evil, then there is no such thing as accountability.  And the bad that people do is a simple product of mental illness and therefore they should be medicated or locked away.

But the moment we deny there is evil in the world, that evil people do evil things, we also deny that there is any objective good in the world.  And if we do that, we lose our ability to respond because the only response to true evil is true good.  In the Scriptures we’re told that the only way to overcome evil is to overcome it with good.  So if there is no good we’re defenseless.

How do we respond to the events at Virginia Tech?  By advancing the good.
How, specifically?  In this case we are learning this young, South Korean man felt like a nobody, felt isolated, felt dehumanized, was a loner, had no close friends.

As a person who believes that there is good because there is a good God, I’m called and commanded to live as though every life matters to God, to not allow the people around me to be disenfranchised, to not make fun of people, to not ignore people.  It was Jesus who said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  That’s the good.

So how do we respond to Virginia Tech?  Look around you today at the people who feel ignored.  Who are you ignoring?  Who have you shut out of your life?  Who has become invisible?  Maybe it’s the person at the market.  Maybe it’s the person who cleans your offices.  Maybe it’s someone on your staff.  Maybe it’s your neighbor.  Who around you is disconnected from people, disconnected from love, disconnected from feeling recognized, loved, and celebrated?

How do you advance the good today?  By making sure that no one can live within themselves, by themselves, without the human connection of love, not being appreciated, accepted and celebrated.   That’s something you can do today to respond to Virginia Tech.  For if we fail to recognize good and evil, that this was an evil act, we also deny our greatest weapon – good.  And from good comes mercy, peace, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, and most of all, hope.

This will happen again so we need to be on the offensive today searching out people who feel lonely and unloved, and bring them into our lives.

Today at The Gathering, April 15

Today at The Gathering, April 15

Well, this is the Sunday after Easter and we usually expect the attendance to be low, but in spite of the cold temperatures and the pouring rain, The Gathering’s attendance was amazing today.

I’m also amazed at how responsive both services are.  Traditionally the 8:30 service is a little more subdued because they are not awake yet.  And the second service is a little more active.  It was almost the opposite today.  It’s as though people are coming anticipating.  Hey, that’s a good word.  Let’s talk about it.

One of the things that is true of all great churches is that, as they gather, they gather with anticipation, an expectation, a buzz.  I totally disagree with those people who believe that we ought to come into church and sit silently in our seats.  I understand what they mean, that is, being focused, centered, be in the moment, and be prepared.  And I think there is value to that.

But I also think there is more value to coming into a place that’s exciting with anticipation.  We’re beginning to see that develop here at The Gathering in both services:  anticipation; anticipation during set-up, during the services, between, and afterwards.  It’s exciting.

The other thing I noticed today at The Gathering was the music was exceptional.  Brittini Black and Sandra Lee led music today and did an exceptional job.  I particularly enjoyed their rendition of the old hymn, “How Great Thou Art.”  It didn’t sound anything like it did when I was growing up, but it still moved me.  Thanks, ladies, for a great weekend.

I was also overwhelmed at how great people were in receiving the message this weekend, “Savoring the Sacred Now.”  I have to say it’s probably my favorite chapter of the book.  It’s one of my favorite subjects because we all easily get there.  We lose the joy of the moment waiting for another place and time to really live.

I talked about why we trade our joys for jobs, our humanity for hurry, our souls for security, and our relationships for responsibilities – how we lose our sense of wonder.  When did we lose our silliness, our ability to be in the moment, to laugh?  Why are we so serious?  Why is image so important?  Why can’t we just love life and love each other as we are?

The two things I talked about this weekend that I do every week, I encourage you to find your own, is to get up every single day and submit to the devastating love of Jesus.  I’m talking about the kind of love that changes everything; the kind of love that says I am loved as I am, not as I ought to be, where I am; the kind of love that says God will never forsake me, never leave me, never run away from me.  What a great joy!

I also talked about the importance of not only submitting to the devastating love of Jesus, but surrendering to God’ divine providence, knowing that I am exactly where I am, going through what I have, on the way to where God wants me to go.

Savoring comes from a word which means to taste.  So here’s what we talked about at The Gathering this weekend: savor, taste, enjoy, sample this moment.  It is the only one you have.  Be glad in all the circumstances you’re facing – good or bad – that God is at work.  Live an 8:28 lifestyle.  You know what 8:28 means, don’t you? “For we know that God is at work in all things for our good.”

What am I learning at The Gathering?  It’s exciting to start over.  It’s exciting to be in the Franklin/Brentwood area.  It’s exciting to see new faces.  It’s exciting to see things develop.  And I’m so surprised that I’m not in as much of a hurry as I used to be.  I’m taking every day, enjoying it, learning to enjoy the people around me, just staying in the moment.  How about you?

See you next weekend at The Gathering.

Today at The Gathering, April 8 – Easter

Today at The Gathering, April 8 – Easter

Today at The Gathering far exceeded my expectations.  Almost every seat was taken in the early service, and every seat was taken with people standing in the aisles in the second service.  Plus, when I came in, all the hallways were full of people talking and serving, loving kids and doing great things.  Just the chatter should be recorded, just the happiness, just the being in this moment, this divine place where God meets man in a moment of divine exchange!

For the first time since the existence of The Gathering, today we actually had video.  We have been working hard and faithful to be able to plug into the theatre’s digital video systems and now that’s been accomplished. And it was great to see all the cool stuff, which really brightened up the room and made it an exciting experience – from the words, to all the pictures, to the countdown videos.

It was also exciting today to see the choir. And the music was really high quality and moving – not just something that you watch other people do, but that you joined in, too.  There was that feeling of great participation.

It’s exciting to be around something that is just being born, with so many possibilities, so many happy people.  People are doing things that matter; things that mean something.   There’s less time to worry about the system and more time to focus on just serving one another in the love of Jesus Christ.

Unless I’m mistaken, we’re going to look back on today, not at the amazing attendance of so many people sitting and standing, but at what God has done in the hearts of the people who were sitting and standing in the room and outside; to see the reality that a risen Christ makes in everyday life.  Because, let’s face it; if all Christianity is, is a bunch of historical stories about people that we’ve learned in our childhood, it’s really failed us in the world.

Christianity is the only enduring, prevailing rumor of hope the world really can hang onto.  It’s the hope that life not only will get better, but the belief that God will help us.  He’ll not leave us to ourselves.  He is here to rescue, to redeem.  And though very few times do you see in the news the God factor put in, we all know it’s there.  And we trust it.

Today at The Gathering truly was a time to gather to worship, to get fired up to go worship wherever we go.  Yea God!  I can’t wait until next weekend when we go back to our series, “Loving God,” and we talk about savoring the sacred now.  It’s probably my favorite chapter of the entire book.  It’s about how we often get robbed in our lives from not being where we should be – not physically, but emotionally and spiritually.

Is God Obligated to Love Everyone?

Is God Obligated to Love Everyone?

I often hear the question, “If Jesus Christ is the only way to God, what about people in India or Africa or others who haven’t heard?”  This is based on two false premises.  One, that a person enters eternity, and is rejected by God and eternally separated from God on the basis of whether or not they “accept Jesus as their Savior.”  This is not true.  Your eternity as you stand today is already fixed.  I’ll tell more about that later.

The biggest error we make, it seems to me, when we ask these questions is if God is obligated to love anyone, He is obligated to love everyone.  And that’s a question we need to think about.  Yet, the Bible does say God is love, but everything God is, is not encompassed by love.  The Scriptures make it clear that God’s core character quality is holiness.  And out of that holiness come His justice, His mercy, His love, His providence, and His divine decrees.  Just because God has committed Himself to love someone, doesn’t mean He has obligated Himself to love everyone, does it?

Let me illustrate it this way.  This past Sunday after The Gathering, my family gathered for an afternoon meal.  There are six of us altogether.  As the head of the household, it was my privilege to buy everyone’s meal.  Now at the time that we were in the restaurant there appeared to be between 70 and 80 other people.  Here is the question:  I bought my family’s meal, was I obligated to buy everyone’s meal?  And the answer of course is “no.”

Being the sovereign of my money at that moment, I could decide on my own terms whom I provided a meal for and whom I didn’t.  I don’t think anyone in the restaurant felt slighted because we all understand.  But we take the love of God and in some way we see it’s very different.  That though God is a person, that He is Sovereign and Lord, Creator and Owner of all things, that He was before all things, is before all things, and will remain uncreated, a being who has the power of life in Himself; that He in some way is subjugated to His creation.

Is God obligated to love you?  Absolutely not.  That’s what makes His love that much more amazing.

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