Goals we should all set for 2022

Goals we should all set for 2022

I laughed-out-loud at the post a friend made about the upcoming new year: “No one claim 2022 as ‘My Year’! Let’s all agree to just walk in to the year slow, humble, cautious!” If we haven’t learned to slow down a bit and see what the year has in store for us by now, we’re never going to learn. Here are a few thoughts and goals I believe we should (and can) all set for ourselves for 2022…

  • Rest more. Slow down, breath, use your vacation time, take a sick day (mental health counts!), praying and meditating more… in fact, just practice sitting silently in God’s presence listening for a change would be great. Do something that actually brings rest to your soul even if it’s still technically an activity – like working out, reading, catching up with friends. We’ve been so drained in so many ways these past two years, but we still need to learn how to gain rest for our souls.
  • Learn a new skill. Rest isn’t always stationary. Last year I began the journey of learning new skills that could help me in the job market. I gobbled up several classes online for a nominal cost and earned some IT certifications in the process. There are several platforms, but I’ve grown to prefer Udemy as a fantastic site/app to learn practically any new skill or even hobby (like professional photography on your iPhone!). I learned so much and enjoyed the content I was taking so much that I began sponsoring their service as an affiliate. Click here to explore course on Udemy that might interest you.
  • See people in person. It’s been two years of quarantining. Vaccinated people outnumber unvaccinated people roughly 2:1 in California. In many ways, our emotional, mental, and relational health have suffered far worse than our physical well-being. While we still have some social distancing protocols in many places, and new variants are seemingly always going to be a concern, we must return to increasingly consistent social contact. If you’re nervous, just start small, but please start somewhere. You need people, and frankly people need you. Even with all our social media, we are in enormous need of real social interactions. Get in a church this year (or back to church). Go back to your gym, form a book club, birthday parties, etc. Heck… get some friends and fly to Hawaii!
  • Exercise gratitude. I’ve worked on journaling more lately and intend to do this a lot more in 2022. My wife recently got a three year journal for me (which you can find on Amazon here). It’s good to review where I’ve come from, and how God’s answered my past prayers. The three year component, makes it so that each following year I can see where I was that day and it actively reminds me of how God has worked in my life since then.
  • Take the easy wins. There’s some low-hanging fruit you can grab. Take whatever counts as an easy win. Make your bed, put your running shoes on, lay your clothes out for the next day, set the coffee pot to begin when you when you want to get up, etc. Have I ever talked about how good it feels to mark anything off a to-do list (Ooooh, the dopamine!)?! We overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can do in a day. Big change is the result of consistent, little actions. So knock out your resume, update your LinkedIn profile, read one verse in the Bible appjust start with an easy win!
  • See how people are actually doing. I hope this next year doesn’t just become a year of us learning to pay attention to our well-being more, but also that of others. We’ve got to start looking up more, seeking eye contact, and asking each other how we’re really doing. Begin with your immediate circle, but let’s expand to start noticing strangers. When we all begin to see each other, we eventually begin to get seen more as well.
  • Be more generous. When Tiff and I started a family, one piece of advice we were told is that if we waiting until we were “ready” to have kids, we would never do it. The same is true with generosity. We have so many noble goals, like buying a home, starting a business, and actually taking that vacay… all of which are good and we should do. But I sincerely believe that God reward us when we give of ourselves. And if we wait until we’re ready, we’ll never do it. I pray that 2022 becomes a year of unprecedented generosity for all of us – both in regards to our time and treasure. It’s been too easy to hide from volunteering and excuse a lack of generosity these past couple years. But 2022 could stand to be marked by a new commitment to giving of ourselves in such a way that we actually find ourselves in the process.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments! What are some simple, reasonable goals you’ve been thinking of for 2022? Which of the goals that I mentioned are you going to take action on? What did I miss that you would add?

Blessings,
Pastor John

Five Ways Jesus Handled Difficult People

Five Ways Jesus Handled Difficult People

It’s hard to imagine Jesus having “trouble” with anyone, but we know from the gospels that there were plenty of people who tried to make trouble for Him. After all, He was publicly executed for claiming equality with God the Father. But the Scriptures also give us much insight into His strategy for dealing with difficult people on the regular. And don’t forget, Jesus told us to “love our enemies,” which implies that we have enemies in the first place. Here’s how we see Jesus handling His enemies:

  1. He questioned their questions. In Matthew 21:23-25, Jesus gets asked “By what authority do you do these things?” Getting to pull rank, name superiors, and flaunt authority was big with the Pharisees, but Jesus answered the question with a question: “I will also ask you one thing… the baptism of John, was it from men or from God?” Jesus knew that their question was really a trap. So He turned it on them, as He often did. If they admitted that John the Baptist was from God, Jesus would have asked them why they didn’t listen to him, because John the Baptist pointed everyone to Jesus! If they said he was only from men, the crowd listening in would get angry, because they regarded John as a prophet. So they didn’t answer Jesus. In counseling, this is called “Guided Self Discovery” It’s the tool used to question people’s thinking, and lead them to deeper self discovery. In Jesus’ case, He was revealing their true motives, and their lack of desire to actually understand.
  2. He ignored them. One of my favorite verses in the gospels is Mark 5:36. In some translations it words Jesus’ response to His critics as, “Ignoring them, Jesus continued…” I have to admit as a pastor I find it ironic. I was told most of my life growing up, don’t care about what others think, just trust what God tells you to do! But as a pastor, people often treat you as if you should listen to what everyone thinks! Good news, no matter what your vocation is – Jesus ignored those who didn’t actually love Him, so you can too. And, yes, we do need to listen to those who sincerely love us and care about us. We have to be willing to have and receive difficult conversations. But when a difficult person is trying to make your life more difficult, and distract you from what you know God has called you to do, be like Jesus, ignore them, and continue doing what God called you to do.
  3. He addressed them publicly. Notice that Jesus almost always dealt with the difficult people in His life in a very public setting. He was never afraid to answer their questions, but He only seemed willing to do so in a public context. It’s harder for difficult people to deny what they said, or how you responded when you choose to only deal with them where others are present.
  4. He showed them grace. There is at least one clear exception where Jesus showed incredible grace to one of the difficult people in His life: a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemas. Nicodemas came to Jesus in private, at night, likely to avoid the scrutiny of his fellow Pharisees. It becomes immediately clear by his approach to Jesus in John 3, that he was hungry to actually listen and learn from Jesus, in humility seeking to actually know this miracle worker who claimed to be from God. And as a result of his humility, and Jesus’ grace to allow him, we have some of the most memorable and spiritually significant verses in Scripture. Jesus allowed for anyone, even difficult people, to truly repent and have a change of heart. And humility is the key. It takes humility for someone who has been difficult to us to admit they’ve been hurtful and try to approach us in a repentant spirit. But it also requires humility on our part to extend grace to someone who may have hurt us in the past. I’m grateful God showed us such grace, and we must be willing – when possible and appropriate – to do the same.
  5. He never compromised Who He was. Over countless occasions in the gospels, we see Jesus, very firmly, calling the Pharisees out, asserting His identity as the Son of God, and demonstrating His power right in front of them… often directly to them protesting Him. Likewise, as followers of Jesus, our identity is in who we are in Christ. We should never compromise the person Jesus is transforming us into in order to placate critics. When we stand before God in Heaven one day, He won’t ask us why we were not like our critics or even our mentors… if anything, He’ll ask us, “why weren’t you more like My Son?” Sometimes, the best response to our enemies is to make room for God to show off in our life, and be who He made us to be.

As you reflect on this, may you and I respond to difficult people the ways that Jesus did. Don’t be distracted or discouraged by the people who are letting Satan use them. Overcome them. And in Christ, and like Christ, we must overcome evil, with good.

Blessings,
Pastor John

The Three Levels of Leadership

The Three Levels of Leadership

Recently at LifeCity Church, we began a series walking through 2 Timothy called The Leader in Me, where I’ve been walking through the leadership principals the Apostle Paul gives in his final farewell letter to Timothy. The point of this series has been simple: Leadership, in a word, is influence – and God has given all of us a degree of influence in this world that we should cultivate. One of the main points of his leadership dynamics is founded in 2Timothy 2:2, “The things you’ve heard and seen of me, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Through this and other passages, I introduced our church to the three levels of leadership…

  • Leading self.
  • Leading others.
  • Leading leaders.

You must be able to lead yourself well, if you’re ever to be capable of leading others. Self-discipline, sacrifice, and the ability to follow all fall under this for me. Because you can’t lead, if you can’t follow.

The next step up is leading others, or leading a team. This is often coveted by short-sighted “leaders” who want to skip over level 1. I like to elevate people to this level who have demonstrated the ability to lead themselves, but are otherwise reluctant to be “over” someone else. Their humility and self-awareness often make them far better suited for leadership than they realize, and watching them grow in this capacity is inspiring.

The third level is leading leaders, more specifically, leading level 2 leaders. I’m reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 20:26, that the greatest among you must be “the servant of all”. Jesus ties greatness directly to the idea of servanthood. The greatest leader, therefore, should be striving to be the greatest servant. In God’s Kingdom where everything is backwards to our human perspective, this is the model of a growing leader.

Levels 2 and 3 are contingent on level 1. You can’t lead others somewhere you’re not going. If you’re undisciplined, unwilling to sacrifice, unwilling to follow others, then your leadership is ultimately based on yourself, not those whom you wish to lead.

I hope this is helpful as you consider your leadership growth.

Blessings,
Pastor John

The Post Pandemic Pastor

The Post Pandemic Pastor

What a bizarre season of life and ministry this has been! Just in regarding pastoral ministry, SO much has changed. We’re fighting battles we never imagined, and tectonic cultural shifts that are impossible to predict or even keep up with. Most of us never fathomed a world where wearing a mask or getting a vaccine was a politically charged, polarizing issue within our churches. We knew racial tensions were a very real concern, but we never imagined a world where supporting black lives somehow meant you had to hate the police, veterans, or the American flag. We knew an online presence was important for a church, but we never would have guessed that it would be the exclusive way anyone interacted with our ministry for months on end, up to a full year.

Somewhere in the perceivable future is a relative end to the Covid-19 pandemic we’ve been living in for almost two full years. And the temptation to “go back” to the way things were before is strong. But what does going “back” even look like?! Is it possible even if it seems preferable?

“But what does going back even look like?! Is it possible even if it seems preferable?”

Most of the pastors whom I would consider peers are very hard working, driven people. Like most of them, I’ve felt trapped, stuck, or in some sort of holding pattern over the majority of the past 2 years. I’ve been itching to break out in “full throttle” ministry again. But the truth is, I haven’t rested much at all during these near two years of quarantining, sheltering in place, and social distancing. I’ve been busy trying to lead my church who is struggling emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. People have had financial setbacks, break ups, marriages, and deaths in the family. Spiritual needs have multiplied, rather than subtracted over the past 18-24 months. With shifts in office hours, schedules, and kids’ schooling, the “Type A” personality in me had to fill that shift with something – anything that felt productive.

As a result, I know hold two IT certifications, started writing a book, and started a BBQ business! What?... some of you got really into making sourdough! But I digress…

God willing, we’ll see a peak to this recent surge, and case rates will die back down soon. But what will that even mean for pastors, post-pandemic? I have some predictions, and they’re not all great…

  • There will be a rash of senior pastor resignations. Many are barely hanging on. Some of them – good men – are dying to quit, but can’t take the guilt of leaving their church in the middle of the current situation. They’re long past burnout, running on fumes. Some have quit, or emotionally resigned already.
  • Those who don’t quit, will need a break. The idea of a pastoral sabbatical has become much more common. Most pastors will likely need one over the next 2 years. If you’re an elder and you’re uneasy about the idea, please realize that this is generally preferable to the first scenario. Even allowing an extended vacation for your pastors is better than nothing.
  • Many churches will close or get consolidated. If I’m correct about my first prediction (and we already see the signs everywhere), it won’t be possible to fill all the vacancies. As a result, many churches will close down completely, while others will get absorbed into other, often larger churches; which is often a very good thing! But it will still feel like a reluctant necessity for many ministries.
  • Pastors who have rested will be eager. I’m trying to rest! I know there’s a coming wave of momentum that the church must be ready for – and I want to be ready. I believe people are longing for spiritual and community connections – a real need that healthy churches have a long track record of providing for. These lead to opportunities for the gospel seed to take root in hearts it might not have otherwise. Rested pastors will be ready pastors… Ready to take ground for the Kingdom in the next season.

That’s why I’m trying to take care of my soul better now. I’ve got a bad track record of of doing great for myself for a few months at a time, and then “falling off the wagon” of soul care. But you can’t pour into others from an empty vessel. And a cracked vessel doesn’t hold much for long.

“…you can’t pour into others from an empty vessel. And a cracked vessel doesn’t hold much for long.”

I want to be ready. I want to charge ahead when the time comes. I’m not just resting… I’m resetting. The next season after this pandemic is going to require the best out of me. We can’t go “back” – I don’t think it’s preferable or possible. But by the grace of God, I intend to charge forward with all my might. What about you, brother? What about you, sister?

Blessings,
Pastor John

Married and Unsatisfied

Married and Unsatisfied

You thought you were getting sex tonight. You swear you even caught your wife giving you the look she usually gives when she’s nonverbally letting you know it’s going to happen when you get home, kids go to bed, or whatever the normal context is for you two to get lucky. But once again, you got denied…

Whether you’re the husband or wife – it can be frustrating, lonely, and stressful when you’re in a season of sexless marriage. In marriage, we possess this awesome gift of guilt-free sex through intimacy with our spouse. But despite what you may have thought before “I do”, that doesn’t mean all your sexual problems just magically go away.

A few things to consider before I share some practical advise:

  • The frequency of sex for a couple is often very different for each couple, and through different seasons also. The newly weds in their early 20’s are probably far more frequent in their sex life than the couple 18 years in, with teenagers in the house. And that’s ok!
  • One spouse may have a much higher libido than the other. Generally, we know men tend to want sex more often than their wife, but that’s not always the case. Once a week may be enough for him, but she may long for intimacy multiple times a week.
  • There are often legitimate reasons where intimacy is less possible. Your wife is 9 months pregnant and on bedrest… a little grace and understanding may be in order! Maybe there’s a particularly stressful season at work that’s killing the mood, or sapping your energy when you get home. Maybe there’s stress in your extended family that has you distracted. It’s ok…

But what do you do when things seemed to have just stopped, or significantly dropped in the frequency that you use to have sex? I want to offer some some practical application to help you get past a dry season, and more importantly, deal with the root issues behind the issue.

Sexual health in marriage = healthy intimacy. This is why masturbating alone in the bathroom doesn’t fix the problem. It’s not just hormones needing to be released, it’s harmony being missed. What your marriage really, really needs is deeper intimacy. True intimacy is based on vulnerability and trust. And you can not demand either.
Often husbands are not seen as being the “vulnerable” ones, but it is very emotionally risky to attempt to initiate sex after feeling rejected over and over again, whether you’re the husband or the wife. Trust for the man is often built when his wife sees his longing to be intimate, and reciprocates – if not this time than the next time, on her initiative. Wives may feel like their husbands have withdrawn, so maybe he just doesn’t want sex as much. But often, he feels rejected and is acting out in hurt, unwilling to risk rejection again. And the longer the time it takes for her to initiate, the longer and greater the feeling of rejection may last on his part.

Healthy intimacy requires consistent communication. I’m still amazed at how few couples actually talk to each other about their sex lives. But when an emotional wound exists, it can be very difficult to even try to bring up the subject. Married couples should routinely talk to each other about sex! What do you talk about? Well you’re married! So nothing is really off limits here! There is nothing dirty about talking to your spouse, about sex with your spouse! So here a few ideas: express your needs/desire for sex, ask questions about their desires, what they like, what they don’t like. It could be, that your spouse isn’t enjoying sex – and it’s your job to learn how! More than your job, you should see it as your privilege. So you have to speak up, ask good questions, and always demonstrate care and compassion towards them in the process.

Sex is more of a thermometer than a thermostat. In other words, while a healthy sex life does sometimes improve the overall health of your marriage, it is always an indication of the health of your marriage. Sex definitely helps set the mood for marital happiness, but in my personal and pastoral experience, it is always a reliable indication of the happiness that already exists between husband and wife.
When there is a lack of sexual intimacy and fulfillment in a marriage, it is almost always a sign of deeper issues. Maybe for one spouse, it feels like their partner has more of a desire for sex itself, rather than for actual intimacy with them. In these cases, one spouse often feels like nothing more than a means to an end – a sexual object – rather than a true lover. Perhaps there is an underlying issue that has caused your spouse to not feel very “intimate” toward you. Maybe they are simply going through a personal struggle and need you to reach out to them lovingly. Maybe they just don’t realize it, and need you to say something! Maybe they feel alone in the finances or household responsibilities, and hold some resentment toward you that is manifesting in not feeling very “sexual” towards you.

Sex in marriage, the Christian marriage specifically, is an act of consistent, mutual humbling of one’s self toward their spouse. In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul corrects the church in Corinth for this strange, aberrant view they had on marital sex. They had (incorrectly) come to the conclusion that all things of the “flesh” were evil, including sex – within marriage! Paul gives them a better word; “Stop depriving one another…” He teaches us that a husband’s body doesn’t belong to himself, but to his wife, and conversely that she belongs to him. Either of these two thoughts on their own would sound possessive, sexist, and potentially abusive. But together we learn to see that our body, our desires, our needs – belong to our spouse. It is their job to think of us, as it is our job to think of them.

Sometimes, the most loving, intimate thing you can do for your spouse is not try to figure out how to get them to “put out” tonight, but to lay aside your desires to see that she’s exhausted, stressed, or scared. So instead of making a sexual advance, you put the kids to bed, read them a book, and rub her feet. And the irony to it all, is that as you show true love for your spouse – not by demanding sex, but by modeling humility and intimacy towards them – your chances just got much better.

Sex is easy. Intimacy is rare, and precious. Marriage requires us to value the intimacy over intercourse. Instead of thinking, “how can I get my spouse to have sex tonight?” a better thought is, “what does my spouse need from me tonight?” Maybe he needs you to communicate your needs. Maybe she needs to talk to her husband about her day. Maybe they need you to risk making the move again. Maybe they need your arms around them, with no sexual outcome intended. Maybe you both need to get out and have a date together – no kids.

May your marriage be filled with deep, meaningful intimacy.
May you put your spouse ahead of yourself, and model sincere love.
May you communicate the real heart issues behind the issues.
And may you have a loving, strong, enviable sex life as a result.

Blessings,
Pastor John