Over the last 37 years, I’ve hired dozens of church staff at many different levels of responsibility. I’ve learned to filter every potential team member through the five C’s: Calling, Character, Commitment, Competency and Chemistry. If you had to pick only one of these five, which one would you say is more important than all the rest? I know, they are all important. But, especially in a church, if one of these five is lacking, which one do you guess might cause the biggest problem?

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Mountain Goats on Mount Evans, CO. More photos by Dennis at Gingerich Photo Art.

 

You likely guessed it. Character. A person with a character flaw usually crashes and burns. Sooner or later. And a flameout often does a significant amount of collateral damage. We’ve all seen the heartbreaking ripple effects that result from character meltdowns among government, business, church or family leaders. Debris is spread over the terrain of the organization, family or community.

I recently read how one leader tests candidates being interviewed for a job. Walt Bettinger, CEO of the Charles Schwab Corporation has created a system. Before every new hire, Bettinger takes candidates out for a breakfast interview. But what the potential employees don’t know is that every time, Bettinger shows up early and asks the restaurant to purposefully mess up the order in exchange for a handsome tip. After all, a person’s character is revealed during times of great pressure and distress. How do they react when they are thrown an unpleasant curveball? I’ve never tried Bettinger’s interview method of testing character but it is interesting….and a bit tempting.

A couple weeks back, it was the thirtieth anniversary of our family’s move to Cape Coral, FL to start the adventure of launching a new church. I shared three leadership learnings from the past three decades. I promised more. This one is about the importance of character, especially during adversity.

I’ve seen character carry people through great pressure and disruption of plans. The test of adversity doesn’t make character as much as it reveals it. Here are two things I’ve learned about character – how it can make or break someone in marketplace domain or in the ministry arena.

Both big things and little things matter – Character certainly is connected to the obvious things like honesty, integrity and morality. I’ve noticed that we tend to think mostly about the large breaches of character such as stealing money, lying, immoral relationships or unethical practices. Over the decades of my leadership experience, I’ve had to deal with a very minimal amount of these things (for which I’m grateful). Much more frequently are the little things of character—not keeping promises, lack of follow-through, moral boundaries that shift with circumstances or crowd, late for meetings or deadlines, saying one thing but doing another or repeatedly missing the bar of excellence. Frankly, it’s the little things that most often lead to a subtle but steady erosion of character and trust. Little things slowly morph into bigger things. We should never forget what Jim Rohn said, “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practiced every day.” Little things matter. Little things become big things.

Relationships are a big deal Never underestimate the importance of relationships in all areas of life. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many team members technically competent in ministry and some exceptionally talented in their area of expertise. Yet the truth is, character is recurrently displayed through interactions with people. Adversity will increase the pressure and stress during exchanges with others. One’s emotional intelligence will become evident to all. And for certain, if a team member’s world revolves around them, they think all their successes are because of their own accomplishments and all of their failures are somebody else’s fault. That character flaw will be exposed in daily work relationships. Relationships are a big deal.

Character is tested by adversity in leadership. Many other angles of character under fire could be explored in this “leadership learnings” series. After all, I have three to four decades full of examples I could share. But character also means I don’t distribute everything tucked in between the folds of my brain. Have a blessed day!

 

QUESTION: What would you add from your leadership learnings about character, especially while under adversity? I’d love to hear it in the comment section below. Thanks!

 

 

Last month, I posted my first guest blog. The very first since I launched the blog in 2012. I invited my sister Julia to write regarding the sudden passing of her 60 year old husband, Loren, a bit over a year ago. There were so many powerful responses and shares on social media to “God, Why Can’t I ‘FEEL’ The Way I Used To.”  I had her write a second, “Shaken Faith.” Same kind of response. My stat page showed her last two blog posts to be some of the highest reader count in months.  And, now, here’s a third–authentic, raw, real and from the her life experiences as a recent widow. Here are her words…

 

You read it right. “I’M NOT AVAILABLE”.

Within days of my husband’s passing I started receiving messages on my home phone, facebook, even email. A few messages from strangers. Messages from male acquaintances of my husbands. Most certainly some of those messages were not “just condolences”.

20131207_093556I was offended at the “less than condolences” messages from acquaintances. I was angry. I felt fragile. He’s gone less than a week and I become marketable? Yes, even in my mourning I felt those feelings!! How dare they encroach on my grieving? How dare they assume Loren and my relationship was so shallow that I wouldn’t “mind having them come to my house for a private visit in honor of Loren”?

I felt I must respond to two of the emails, so I did…….see, I knew these men well enough that to not have responded might have encouraged them. I did my best to kindly make it clear that I was not interested in their suggested visitations. I purposefully stated I intended to healthily learn how to be a GODLY, SINGLE, WIDOW. Yes, I used all three of those words. Here’s why:

  • Godly because my adult kids need me to remain consistent. I was consistent as a faithful spouse for 37 years. Consistent in serving My Lord. Not only is it important to my family that I show consistency it’s important TO ME that I maintain my values.
  • Until now I had never truly lived on my own. After High School I went to college for 2 years while coming home in the summertime to live on the farm with my parents and sibs. When in college I had dorm mates. I had always shared. As a child I shared a bedroom and a bed with my sister Jean. Never alone, unless I was out in the barn with my horses enjoying the solitude or mowing. It’s about time I learn to become comfortable with the new me.
  • Because I was so distraught the day after my husband’s memorial service, that day daughter Brenna took me to my family physician Dr. Edwardson. While signing in, the form stated I was no longer “married.” I could barely breathe knowing 6 days after his passing, my status, was already changed to “widow”.   One more example of every ounce of strength being needed to move, to concentrate, to exist. But even in my sorrow I knew “widow” was just a label to identify someone’s status.

“So, God, help me navigate this path of widowhood 13 months later. I still feel married to my husband. The tie that bound us together is not easily broken and my heart is with him. Lord I’m available to You and my family and friends. I do not want to bring reproach to Your name in my actions or choices. I’m really going to need You more than ever in my life! Amen.”

P.S. btw….those acquaintances of Loren’s that sent me “I’m available for you condolences”..? Haven’t heard another word from them. Moral of the story: Head ‘em off at the pass immediately.

QUESTION: Your kind words of support and affirmation to my sister in the last two guest blog posts have been inspiring. What would you say to her in the comment section below this time? By the way, she loves to respond to each and every comment.

 

It was 30 years ago. May 7, 1986. The final leg of our move was completed. The adventure for our family of five was about to begin. We pulled our Ryder moving truck into the driveway of our rental home. Cape Coral, Florida. Excited. Nervous. Anticipating. Expecting. Fearful. Eager. Called.

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1986 Move to Cape Coral, FL

Called to start a church in a southwest Florida growing community of 48,000 people. Two other couples in our support team. Two denominational agencies–each giving one-fourth financial support. Dreaming of such an opportunity for years. Now a reality.

Fast forward three decades. So many stories that could be told. Thousands of relationships. Dozens and dozens of principles learned about leadership and life. I choose to share only three leadership learnings from the last three decades.

1. Determine Your BrandAfter surveying 200 homes in face-to-face interviews, many interactions with young families at our children’s school and rubbing shoulders with parents out on the soccer field sidelines, we envisioned the end. Helping unchurched families experience the fullness of God through a contemporary, relevant, authentic and down-to-earth church.

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Our family in 1986

Some of the finer nuances and expressions have changed over the decades, but thirty years later, Cape Christian is still known for all of the above. We become what we are intentional about. Our vision determines our mission and the practice of our mission determines our reputation or brand—what we are known for.

What is true of a church, a business or any other organization is also true of us individually. We must determine our brand. When it’s all said and everything is done, what do we want to be remembered for the most? What do we want our spouses to say about us? Our kids? Our neighbors, friends, employers, employees, co-workers? You can determine your brand from the start.

2. Persistence is MandatoryThere is no other way to say it. You won’t see good long term results without persistence. Some look at Cape Christian thirty years later and imagine an overnight success. Not at all. Persistence was mandatory. Nearly 2,000 coming to worship each weekend didn’t just happen. It started with an average of 65 the first year. 91 the second year. 126 in year three.

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Fourteen acre campus of Cape Christian includes a park for the families of the community to enjoy.

It took nearly ten years to piece together 48 individually-owned pieces of property to assemble three city blocks of property into our current 14 acre campus. Persistence. Prayer. Perseverance. Tenacity. Focus. Endurance. And not taking “no” as the final answer. It always looks easy after its been done. But there was nothing easy about it. You can only live your vision with stick-to-it-ness. Every project includes obstacles and barriers. Persistence is mandatory.

Jim Collins writes about the “flywheel effect” in Good to Great. Right on. Absolutely correct. The premise of the flywheel is simple. A flywheel is an incredibly heavy wheel that takes huge effort to push. Keep pushing and the flywheel builds momentum. Keep investing energy and eventually it starts to help turn itself and generate its own momentum–and that’s when an organization goes from good to great. Persistence is mandatory.

3. Leadership Partnerships are SeasonalMy default thinking used to imagine team members and partners working together for the long haul. I was wrong. People come and go. Leadership team members come and go. Those who join you and take you to one level, may not have the capacity or the competency to get to the next level. Or they may have experienced or learned what they needed for their next season of where God wants to use them. God has many people with many giftings and strengths. He brings some for a season. We rejoice when they partner with us. It’s rarely easy to see them go. But, I’ve learned to enjoy the seasons. I’ve seen the benefits of change and transition. Good things can result from variation and new leadership styles. Hang tight to the vision and the mission. Keep an open hand as to who God might bring to partner with you in reaching the vision. Leadership partnerships are seasonal.

Are there more than three learnings in thirty years? Yes. For sure. At least twenty-seven more. I’ll share a few of those in some future blogs. Stayed tuned.

 

Question: Which of the three learnings surprise you the most and why? Do you have a story of how one of these has played out in your life? I’d love to hear more in the comment section below.

 

 

“There is no other option.” Those five words. That’s it. Just five. That’s all he said to me. With a couple smiles inserted before and after. Five words said it all. No more. No less. Nothing else needed to be said.

I heard those five words while on a recent business trip. They were spoken by a legendary coach imagesmost American’s admire. I spotted him when I arrived at my gate at the South Bend Regional Airport. We were both early. Just a few of us in the waiting area. I was talking to my wife Linda on the phone. What a great blog I could write with a few quotes from the master of quotes. Yet I was debating with myself as I whispered to her on the phone. Leave him alone or go over and start talking to him? Grab some nuggets of gold from one of the greatest football coaches of recent history or mind my own business?

All of a sudden it was too late. Like flies on spilled honey, everyone realized his presence and gathered around Coach Lou Holtz. They were asking for their pictures to be taken with him. They had him autograph shirts, pieces of paper and more. They huddled around him. They stood in line. It was the weekend of the Notre Dame inter-squad Blue-Gold Spring football game. High school football recruits. Their coaches. Fighting Irish fans. Nearly everyone in the gate area wanted a piece of this famous coach and now ESPN analyst. After all, Notre Dame is where Coach Lou Holtz left one of his most memorable football legacies from 1986 -1996. But, at this point, I felt sorry for the 79 year old football icon.

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Coach Holtz at South Bend, IN airport

I wanted to chat with Coach Holtz because I’ve always admired his leadership, faith, and character. I’ve often quoted him. But I quickly realized that it was more about me than it was about him. I figured if it was meant to be, I might be seated next to him on our small commuter jet to Atlanta. Lou was in 2A, I was 5A. Maybe when we get off in Atlanta. But I determined I wasn’t going to be like one of “them” and pounce on him, wear him out and ask for a picture or an autograph.

Soon we were getting back off the plane. Still in South Bend. A mechanical issue, they said. Another plane was to take us to Atlanta. So I was back in line waiting to see if I could rebook to a later flight from Atlanta to Fort Myers. On my phone, checking the later flights on my Delta app, I happened to turn around. There he was in line, 30 inches behind me. The celebrity. The most sought after man in the entire airport. The legendary Coach Lou Holtz.

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Fans posing with Coach Holtz

 

He smiled. I smiled. I asked only one question in a pastoral-caring kind of way. How do you put up with the constant barrage of requests for autographs and pictures? And that’s when he responded with the five words that said it all. “There is no other option.” I smiled and told him, “You are much more gracious than I am. I would be very annoyed by now.”  He smiled.

I’ve read and used a lot of quotes from Lou Holtz. One comes to mind after watching him graciously respond to dozens and dozens of strangers over a two to three hour period: “Do right. Do your best. Treat others as you want to be treated.” And another: “I follow three rules: Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care.” For Coach Lou, there is no other option.

And for me, those five words have haunted me, convicted me, inspired me and shaped my behavior over the past couple weeks. As a leader, pastor, husband, and follower of Jesus. Some things I need to do just because: “There is no other option.” Being weary, stressed, or busy isn’t a legitimate excuse for impatience or harshness with others. Because of who I am and whose I am, “There is no other option.” Thank you Coach Holtz for your kind smile. And, for those five words.

QUESTION: What do those five words speak to you about your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

 

 

95 years ago today. April 27, 1921. A ten-pound baby boy was delivered by Doc Toot in the bedroom of a rural Elida, Ohio farm house. Clarence and Stella Augsburger were the proud parents of their first born of five sons and one daughter. Over the years, while planting, cultivating and harvesting tomatoes and melons on the small family farm, God was nudging Fred to a distinctive kind of sowing and reaping.

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Fred Augsburger in his 30’s

After a five-year apprenticeship helping start a church in rural Wisconsin, Fred and his wife Carolyn and young family of two daughters, were invited to Youngstown, Ohio to start a church in 1952. A Caucasian farm boy answered the call. A predominately African-American inner city community was the field.

Seeds of love, compassion, acceptance and authenticity were freely planted. Acts of kindness, servant-hood, mercy, justice and respect were consistently cultivated. Everything was drenched with the living water of the Holy Spirit. And a church was planted. A harvest of fruit was evident. People of all skin tones worshipped God together. First a church on the south-side, and then a second church 15 years later on the northeast side of Youngstown. Thirty years of faithful and fruitful ministry.

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Children’s Bible Club in 1957

During and for an additional 15 years beyond planting two churches in Youngstown, were hundreds of fruitful ministry opportunities as the Fred Augsburger family of five children and parents travelled, sang and preached their way across the landscape of North American churches. Stories of transformation, healing and restoration abound. Several interim pastorates from Ohio to Oregon. (A book with their life story has been written). Sowing and reaping. Faithful and fruitful.

A God-loving, Christ-following, Spirit-empowered faithful leader. Married to an equally called, passionate and gifted wife. Together, they created five children who all married and birthed 13 grandchildren who now have added 10 great-grandchildren. At all levels of the legacy, there are younger generations living out a similar call that has been shaped by their father, grandfather and great grandfather. They have been faithful and fruitful.

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My wife Linda on the far right.

Fred’s legacy has been lived out in many powerful ways through this family. They are as varied as the uniqueness of each child, in-law, grandchild and great grandchild. But one I know most intimately. I married his third daughter, Linda, nearly 42 years ago. Together we have spent 37 years in ministry. The last 30 of those ministry years, planting a church in Cape Coral, FL. Our passion for loving God and loving people has been shaped by our father and father in-love. We have been faithful and fruitful.

And our three children have also been molded by their grandfather. One of our sons recently wrote: After just passing two years of sobriety this month, I was praying for Grandpa and reflecting on the wonderful man he is and the wonderful family I have been blessed to be a part of…and then it hit me…grandpa asked me one time if I was ever going to be a pastor. He said he had a dream where I was walking in his footsteps, I believe he said literally walking in his giant shoes, trying to fit into them. Although I am not going to be a pastor, I realized that I am finally walking in his shoes. At the time, the shoes were too giant and too big for me to fit into. But, through the grace of God, I feel the shoes fit now. I am not perfect. I still am trying to “wear them in” and they are becoming more comfortable as I wear them. And I just wanted to thank you grandpa for being a man of God and passing that down through the generations. Thank you for the shoes grandpa, they fit!

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Five Children Celebrating Fred’s 95th Birthday

Even at age 95, having just moved last week into the nursing home section of the retirement community he has resided in the past eight years, he is still laboring in the fields where God has placed him. He regularly prays for, encourages and inspires his peers. He sows seed. Cultivates and waters spiritual soil. And he still has the joy of a fruitful harvest.

If God gives me another three decades of life and health, I want to still be living and leaving such a legacy like my father in-love. Happy 95th Birthday Fred Augsburger!

QUESTION: What are you doing now to leave a legacy like my father in-love Fred Augsburger? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

 

 

Last week I posted my first guest blog. The very first since I launched the blog in 2012. I invited my sister Julia to write regarding the sudden passing of her 60 year old husband, Loren, a bit over a year ago. There were so many powerful responses and shares on social media. My stat page showed it to be one of the highest reader count in months. So, I know a good thing when I see it. I asked her to write another blog post. Eventually, I’ll get her set up to have her own blog, I hope! And now, in her words…

 

When my husband lay deceased on our bedroom floor that Tuesday morning in March 2015, I lay beside him… stretched up against him, caressing his face and rubbing his chest while looking intently at him. Studying every detail of the face I loved. I ran my hands through his mustache, beard and hair. I massaged his hand and studied both beautiful hands I’d loved for 37 years. The hands that represented determination, hard work and sacrifice. And LOVE.

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Julia and Loren Wasson

I loved my husband in life. And I chose to love him in death. While laying beside him on that hard wood floor, the hymn “MY JESUS I LOVE THEE”, ran through my mind and breath. The 2nd verse says, “I’ll love thee in life, I will love thee in death. I’ll love thee as long as thou lendest me breathe…” I knew the lyrics were written to express a person’s love for their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But somehow at that moment, my reverence and devotion was towards my husband, the man whom I grew to love as much as I loved my Lord and Savior. And having learned to love my husband that deeply, while honoring him, was pleasing to the Lord.

I had considered myself to be a woman of faith. I had considered myself to be a God-fearing woman. And most people would’ve considered me to be a strong woman. But my faith was shaken. As if an earthquake had occurred from the bowels of the earth, my core was disenegrated. The very God that I worshipped had allowed my husband to die far too early. How could I possibly exist without his companionship, his physical presence, the multiple texts, phone calls, funny pictures we’d send each other….you know, ALL of those things couples share? What was his passing going to do to our children? What was his passing going to do to our young grandchildren? These were mere firsts of the many “WHY’s?”

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Loren Wasson and Granddaughter

At week 20 after his passing, while driving to church one Sunday morning I had an “ah-ah” moment. I felt I actually heard Loren telling me that our goals and dreams for our 4 children were not over, that though he was in heaven with the Lord and I was still here on earth, I would be praying for them on earth while he was praying for them in heaven. Death could not separate us from the Love of Christ. Nor could death stop the love our family shared.

Since that Sunday morning, the scripture “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 and also check out 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14has fresher significance to me. I’m here. He’s there.

So my prayer today is, “God, I’m here with our children and grandchildren. All of our days are numbered and You have purpose for us, whether we are with You in heaven or down here on earth. Give me wisdom to live responsibly and honorably, because no matter what circumstance we are living in…You still reign.”  — Julia Gingerich Wasson

COMMENTS: I would love to hear your comments and any words you for how Julia’s writing has touched you. She would welcome your feedback. Thanks!

I’m privileged to share this guest blog from sister, Julia Gingerich Wasson, who lives in Oregon. I am frequently moved to tears when reading her monthly email reflections to my parents and siblings. They are brim full of raw emotion, transparent breakthroughs and setbacks, along with incremental steps of movement toward renewal in the journey of deep grief and loss. As a pastor for nearly 38 years, I’ve walked with hundreds of folks through the pain of losing a spouse, a parent or a child. My sister’s story is one I thought you need to hear, so here’s a peek. Maybe I can convince her to start her own blog! Let me know what you think.

When my husband unexpectedly passed away at 7:15 a.m. in our master bedroom with me by his side, one year ago March 2015, I went into “work mode”. Having worked for a public school for 15 years, I’ve been trained in First Aid/CPR. Every 3 years I have to practice CPR on a dummy or “live dummy” (co-worker). Every year I have to watch a demonstration video of the CPR technique.

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Loren and Julia Wasson

So, that morning when my husband dropped and quit breathing I instinctively knew to call 911 and to immediately start CPR since it’s a good 10 minute drive to my house. I didn’t allow myself the privilege of watching the clock because I knew every minute, even second, counted. Life and death counted.

When the Fire Chief/EMT later exited the bedroom pronouncing him deceased, my “life saving mode” was still in gear. I shook my head, saying, “Yes, I know he’s gone. I watched him breathe his last breath and I felt my hands crushing into his chest…an unresponsive chest.”

When I could go kneel beside his body and then pull back the white blanket to see his face again, the first words that exploded out of my mouth and heart were, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!   This JUST isn’t right!  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…this just isn’t right!”

Those 5 words were the first words that left my lips the moment my world stopped. That morning Loren’s and my world stopped spinning, TOGETHER, that is. That is the morning when my FEELINGS stopped feeling. That is the morning when God even protected me from the actual pain I was feeling, that is the degree of physical pain I was experiencing.

ONE YEAR LATER I have come to appreciate the protection of SHOCK. Naturally I cried. I wept. I screamed at God. I could barely eat. I could barely sleep. I was so weak I could barely stand in the shower on the morning of his memorial service.

When someone would come up to hug me, I would find myself falling forward into their arms. THEY were hugging me. Not me hugging them. I couldn’t feel God’s love towards me any longer. I couldn’t feel any sort of Loving-kindness or Mercy from our Lord, the God I have worshipped. But I COULD feel the embrace of a human being. That embrace was God’s arms extended to me. That alone was what I needed. I no longer had my husband’s arms of love and protection.

“Beauty and the Beast” was captured in Oregon the day after Loren’s memorial service. It’s a picture of a healthy journey through grief. For this and other photos by Dennis, go to Gingerich PhotoArt.

Here I am, ONE YEAR LATER…and I am seeing there is a price to pay for embracing feelings again. To welcome my soul back to life, out of the barrenness that I have lived in this past year, means I am waking up inside. I am feeling much happiness and more normalcy. But, it’s just now that I’m feeling such heart rendering, gut wrenching, knife in my stomach, feeling like I’m going to pass out because I can’t catch my breath…PAIN of the loss.  For every bit of happiness I’m feeling, I’m equally feeling physical pain when a rush of grief hits me.

But I am confident I’m on the way to renewal. I’m not moving “on” (I very much dislike that phrase). But, I most definitely am moving forward. So for today, God, I pray that you help me learn to walk this unrequested walk of widowhood. Gently guide me towards balanced healthiness in all areas of my life. God, you know my physical body. You know what I can handle and what I cannot handle. So if it means gradually waking me up inside I embrace your tender wisdom because You are my Maker and You will complete the healing that You have started. — Julia Gingerich Wasson

QUESTION: I’d love to know how my sister’s guest blog has impacted you in the comment section below. Or, if  you think anyone else you know who could relate, please share it on your social media with the links above or below. Thanks for welcoming Julia as a guest blogger!

 

This week, all around the world, billions of people are celebrating Easter. It is the most celebrated event in history. We date our calendar by it. Every time you write a date, what is the reference point? The life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All of history is divided into A.D. and B.C. by this single event. What’s the big deal? Why is it so important? What difference does it make?

Hand with KeyThe Bible says in the New Testament, “If Christ has not been raised from death then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe. If Christ has not been raised then your faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14 & 17). This means that the resurrection is the cornerstone of Christianity. If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead we have nothing to believe, there is nothing to preach, all the martyrs have died in vain, all the money spent on building churches has been wasted, anything called Christianity is a waste of time. We might as well close up shop and go to the beach. There is no reason for any of us to celebrate Easter if it didn’t really happen.

But what difference does it make? Big deal! So He did rise from the dead. So Christ is alive. What difference does it make? For just a few minutes, lets suppose that there is something to this Jesus who has been on the cover of every major magazine and the feature of every news show over the years. Let’s suppose that just maybe there is a legitimate reason that a movie about his last 12 hours before His crucifixion has become one of the all-time blockbusters. What does it mean for you and me, what difference does it make, if Jesus Christ is alive and the resurrection story of Easter is authentic? There are three ways it makes a difference in my life.

 

  1. BECAUSE JESUS IS ALIVE, HIS PURPOSE IS STILL UNCHANGEABLE. Jesus Christ is still in the same business He’s been in for 2000 years. What is His business? “Jesus said, `I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly'” (John 10:10). A lot of people think the Jesus said, “I have come so that you might have religion and that it might make you miserable” or “I have come to dump a bunch of rules and regulations on you and make it so that you don’t have any fun.” A lot of people think being a Christ-follower is filled with a bunch of “don’ts.” Don’t do this, don’t do that. If all being a Christian means is that you don’t do anything, anybody who’s dead would qualify as a Christian. They don’t do anything.

The truth is, Jesus is in the life business. Most people are not living. They’re just existing. They’re on a treadmill: Get up in the morning, go to work, watch TV, go to bed, get up in the morning, go to work, watch TV, go to bed…go to the beach on the weekends. They think they’re living! They’re not living, but just existing. Jesus said, “I came to give you life” because you’re not living unless you know God in your life and understand that He made you for a purpose. I meet people who are always getting ready to live. “One of these days I’m going to start living! … One of these days I’m really going to start enjoying life.” Oscar Wilde said, “The rarest thing in the world is to find somebody who’s really alive.”

Jesus said, “I came that you might have life.” The word “life” is used over 200 times in the New Testament. Jesus said, “I’ve come that you might have life” – life to the fullest. And He’s not talking about overeating. He’s talking about life that is meaningful, life that’s full.

  1. BECAUSE JESUS IS ALIVE, HIS POWER IS AVAILABLE. Have you noticed how many best sellers deal with power — how to get it, how to use it, how to keep it. We learn everything about power — to dress for power, to eat for power, to shower for power. The power lunch. The power nap. Everybody’s looking for power.

Jesus says, My power is available. Ephesians 1:20 in Bible says, “I pray that you will begin to understand how incredibly great His power is to help those who believe Him – the same mighty power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.” The Bible says the same power that caused the resurrection 2000 years ago is available to you. He holds the key to life and power. That’s good news!

What do I need power for? Did you ever feel powerless to change a situation? Did you ever feel powerless to change a relationship? Did you ever feel powerless to change yourself? Did you ever feel powerless to change a bad habit? Did you ever have a personal energy crisis? Did you ever need power to start over again after a failure? Nothing is beyond God’s power. God gives us starting power. He gives me the power to get my act in order and to make something of myself, but He also gives me staying power to hang in there and to keep on doing what I know I ought to be doing in the first place

What difference does the resurrection makes? It makes a big difference. It means that Jesus is still in the life changing business. And that’s His purpose. And it means His power is still available – the same power that blasted the tomb wide open and brought Jesus back to life, that caused history to be divided into A.D. and B.C. and, it’s available to you and to me.

  1. BECAUSE JESUS IS ALIVE, HIS PROMISES ARE STILL RELIABLE. When you read through the New Testament, you realize that Jesus made a lot of incredible promises. A lot of amazing things. Like “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” That’s pretty much a blank check. A lot of promises. If Jesus were dead then obviously He couldn’t keep any of them. But because Jesus Christ is alive today, His promises are still reliable.

The Bible says this about Jesus, “He carries out and fulfills all of God’s promises no matter how many of them there are” (2 Corinthians 1:20). That’s a full time job. There are over 7000 promises in the Bible. But don’t forget, a promise is only as good as the dependability of the person who made it. If God makes a promise to you, you can count on it. You can bet your life on it. His promises are still reliable. 1 Peter 1:3 in the Bible says “We have been born again into a life full of hope through Christ rising again from the dead.” You’ve got to have hope in life. It is absolutely essential. You cannot cope without hope.

What are you putting your hope in? A new president? Dr. Oz? Dr. Phil? The stock market? Name your source of hope. Is it reliable? Is it faultless? I submit to you that there’s only one thing that’s absolutely, totally, irrevocably completely reliable – the promises of God. Because Jesus Christ is alive today, if He said it, it will happen. You can count on it.

Let me return to my original question that I started with. What difference does it make that Jesus Christ rose from the dead 2000 years ago? The answer is absolutely nothing unless you take advantage of the benefits of it and establish a relationship with Him because He is alive today. Otherwise it doesn’t mean anything. I am not talking about becoming religious. I’m talking about a relationship. You may be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Baptist, Buddhist, Mormon, Hindu or nothing. I’m not talking about a religion. Religion is man’s attempt to get to God. Jesus Christ is God’s attempt to get to man. Jesus didn’t come to give you a religion. He said, “I came to give you life. I want to have a relationship with you. I want to know you everyday.”

A Christian is not somebody who goes to church. Sitting in a church will make you a Christian about as much as sitting in a chicken house will make you a chicken. Attending a church doesn’t make you any more a Christian than being in a garage makes you a car.   Being an American doesn’t make you a Christian. Joining a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than joining the Lion’s Club makes you a lion.

A Christian is somebody who says, “Jesus is Lord. He’s number one, boss, manager, CEO, executive in my life. He calls the shots in my life and I believe that Jesus is Lord and He’s alive today. He’s still around.” That’s what it means to be a Christian. Jesus says, “because I’m alive, I’m standing at the door of your life knocking. If you open the door, I’ll come in.” It’s that simple. Jesus made it so simple nobody could say it was too hard to understand. He said just trust Me. Even a little child could understand that. We complicate it and make it so hard. You can talk to Him at any time and say something as simple as “God, I realize that I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I ask You to forgive me. Jesus Christ, I believe You are alive today. I don’t understand it all but as much as I know how I ask You to come into my life. I want to believe in You. I want You to be number one in my life. I need Your power. I need Your promises and I need Your purpose for my life.” Saying that simple prayer will make this Easter the best one you could ever imagine and it definitely will make a difference in your life.

QUESTION: I would love to know if you have ever prayed this (or similar) prayer and have trusted your life to the resurrected Lord? Let me know in the comment section below. Thanks!

 

 

 

In his book, Six Hours One Friday, Max Lucado writes this prose:

The Cross.

It rests on the time line of history like a compelling diamond.

It’s tragedy summons all sufferers.

It’s absurdity attracts all critics.

It’s hope lures all searchers.

 

My what a piece of wood!

History has idolized it and despised it, gold plated it and burned it, worn it and trashed it.

History has done everything to it but ignore it.

That’s the one option that the cross does not offer.

No one can ignore it!

You can’t ignore a piece of lumber that suspends the greatest claim in history.

A crucified carpenter claiming that he is God on earth!

 

The Cross.

It’s bottom line is sobering.

If the account is true, it is history’s hinge. Period.

If not, it’s history’s hoax.

On that first Easter morning, the Kingdom of death was repossessed and hope took up the payments.

But even Easter has to start with the cross.

 

The Cross.

 

“Captivating Cross” on North Captiva Island, FL. For more of Dennis Gingerich’s naturescapes, go to Gingerich PhotoArt

 

For those who are followers of Jesus, we need to wrap our arms around Good Friday. That’s a lot like saying we need to greet torture with a kiss. After Jesus asked His closest followers who they really thought He was, Matthew recorded this encounter: From that time on, Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.”  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:21-25)

Good Friday is the day we remember the crucifixion of Jesus, but there’s more to it than reflecting. Here’s four truths we shouldn’t miss.

  1. FRIDAY IS THE ROAD TO SUNDAYWe wall want to celebrate Easter. We love the story of the resurrection. But Jesus calls us to the Cross first. It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming. Friday is the road to Sunday. There’s no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. There’s no resurrection without the cross. Dying to self is the way to find Life in God’s upside-down Kingdom. Friday is the road to Sunday. Let’s not forget that.

 

  1. EVERYONE HAS A PROBLEM WITH THE CROSSThis one Friday of the year is NOT a TGIF kind of day. The very idea of Good Friday causes us concern. It’s not even a good Friday, it’s a bad one.

The problem is that both Christ’s power and wisdom led him to the Cross—a brutal denial of everything He had done before. (Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31). Those who had seen his power wondered why he seemed powerless at his greatest point of need. Those who saw his intelligence wondered how someone so smart could miscalculate so badly. Both sides missed what Jesus and his Father were saying. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24)

Friday is the road to Sunday. Everyone has a problem with the Cross.

 

  1. FRIDAY MEANS THE BEGINNING OF CHANGEGood Friday provides the opportunity to proclaim, “Once you’ve been to the cross, everything changes.” Stumbling blocks and foolishness turn into power and wisdom. The cross changes everything. If something’s stirring inside of you today, then perhaps, the event that will change everything for you is the Cross. If nothing is changing, maybe you haven’t been to the Cross. Easter is certainly about the empty tomb. But first, it’s about the cross. Friday is the road to Sunday. It was the road for Jesus. It is the road for us.

 

  1. FRIDAY DEMONSTRATES FAITH We often say, “God promises to never forsake you.” But if we are brutally honest and transparent, it doesn’t always feel that way. Think about the two phrases Jesus uttered on the cross….“My God, why have you forsaken me?” and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” How can those two go together? They don’t jive. They don’t mesh or make sense. But, Friday demonstrates faith. Jesus showed us how to trust the Father beyond the circumstances.

Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. It’s one thing to predict the future. It’s quite another to go to the cross willingly. At least three times, Jesus shared His destiny with the disciples. They didn’t get it. In fact, Jesus embraced this destiny by faith. He knew the Father’s promise of resurrection, but death was still on the road ahead of him. And death was still death, horrific, painful and difficult.  Even for Jesus. Friday demonstrated faith. It was his trust in the Father’s promise that caused him to wager everything he had—his very life. As a man, God in human flesh, Jesus modeled how to trust the Father. Jesus revealed faith over circumstances. Friday demonstrated trust in the big picture God wanted to paint—the picture of God’s Salvation Plan, His redemption through the cross.

 

On this Good Friday and every Friday, God wants you to have faith in Him.  Yes, regardless of the circumstances or situations you might be facing today. Remember, Friday is the road to Sunday.  Earth’s saddest day and gladdest day…were just three days apart.

Thanks to Ray Hollenbach for many of these great thoughts on Good Friday.

 

 

 

“Why do most of us spend more time planning a week’s vacation than we spend planning our lives?” Ouch! That question grabbed my attention. And then a second statement was the zinger of zingers: “It’s no wonder so many of us find our lives have ended up in a place we never would have chosen. We sit in the passenger seat and accept life as it comes.” This was all packed in a pre-release promo paragraph for a new book.

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Photo of Lake Thun, Switzerland. For more inspiration to transformissional living thru the lens, go to GingerichPhotoArt.

I was hooked. I pre-ordered the book. It arrived this week. “Living Forward” by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. It’s going to be a good one. Can’t wait to work my way through it. The subtitle is: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life you Want.

Drifting. It is so common. In every area of life. As a spiritual leader for over 37 years, I constantly encounter drift. People who had no intention of ending up where they are.

Yesterday, it was an older man. Just showed up at my office. Had to talk to a pastor. Lost his decade-long job at a church due to budget cuts 18 months ago. Drifted spiritually for the past year. He was angry at God and the church. Suddenly, he realized he was headed over the waterfall of pornography addiction when his wife came home and surprised him in the middle of his secret vice. He told me it was a slow drift. Unintentional. But now, it’s a crisis.

This morning, it was a middle age woman. A private Facebook message.  More than two decades of marriage. Raising kids. Busyness. Career advancements. Now it’s a crisis. A husband that wants a divorce. Devastation. But it didn’t happen overnight. It was drift. Marital drift. Little to no investment in each other over the last several years. Minimal intentionality. Didn’t make any effort to stay connected. They drifted a part. Now it feels like the gap is too wide to reconnect.

The first chapter in “Living Forward is appropriately titled: Acknowledge the Drift. Hyatt and Harkavy identify four reasons drift happens: 1) It happens when we are unaware. 2) It happens when we are distracted. 3) It happens when we are overwhelmed. And 4) It happens when we are deceived. I’ve experienced all four of these at one time or another. How about you?

The second half of the opening chapter is focused on the consequence of drifting—confusion, expense, lost opportunity, pain and regrets. In pastoral counseling, I’ve listened to thousands of “if only’s: if only I had spent more time with…, if only I had been courageous enough to…, if only I had been more…, if only I hadn’t….if only, if only, if only.

Today, even if you feel you’ve drifted too far off course, it’s simply not true. It’s never too late to start over. You can’t change the past. But you do have the power to change the future. God will help you if you ask Him. Good choices today will positively alter your life tomorrow. It’s all about intentionality and being purposeful.

There are many different ways to live forward. I’m working through this very practical step-by-step guide…Living Forward. You might choose a different path. That’s okay. Just be intentional. Choose not to drift. Get the life you want.

 

QUESTION: What is one step you will take today to prevent drift in your life? I’d love to hear it. Please share it in the comment section below. Thanks!