success (11)



I am writing especially to you who are pastors, but much of what I have to say will apply to any believer in Jesus Christ. I suspect that much of what is pressed upon us by the church growth movement and its widely accepted continuations are little more than superstition. Some of these things remind me of the labors of Jacob in the 30th chapter of Genesis. Jacob put striped sticks before the eyes of the livestock while they were breeding so that they would bear striped and spotted offspring which were to be his wages. 

I have recently been trying to memorize chapter by chapter through Genesis. And frankly, I had great difficulty with this chapter. I did not believe for a minute that what those animals saw had any relation to how their offspring turned out. However, I am pretty sure that Jacob believed it while he was doing it. And low and behold, it worked! Jacob became extremely rich. That may be the mantra of some in the church growth movement. Whatever works must be right. 

I didn't really get any peace about this until I was into the 31st chapter, and discovered that at least eventually Jacob found out that his strategy was not what increased his flocks. And Moses had to have known it when he penned chapter 30. God made the animals produce the offspring that were designated as Jacob's wages, not his machinations.

Now, let me say emphatically that the Bible teaches that God and God alone adds numerically to His church. I am aware that by God's grace and in union with God's Spirit we, like Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:11, seek to persuade people. But we do not do it with cleverness, sidestepping truth that is uncomfortable, or appealing to worldliness. We persuade in the fear of God, the conviction of the word of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

This is not to say that you can never bring success by gimmicks. I once heard someone quip, "That church would have grown if there wasn't a God." But I strongly suspect that if you reach people by any means but the movement of the Holy Spirit, they are still lost. And they will often do harm to the fellowship before they leave completely.

What then can we do to become successful? Let me suggest some things that lead to long-term success, at least in the eyes of God.

  1. Seek to grow in the Lord by saturating yourself in God's word.
  2. Seek to grow in the Lord as you obey what God shows you of His will.
  3. Pray earnestly and lead others to pray for God's will and work in their lives and in His church
  4. Pray for people all around you, and help others pray for deep connections with people who need to hear the gospel.
  5. Compassionately minister to needs that God shows you.
  6. Consistently teach and train your people to walk with God and touch the lives of others.
The scriptures give us the fodder for this kind of development and teaching. Things like the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 and those things that pertain to life and godliness listed in 2 Peter 1 and in many other Scripture passages that God enlightens in your heart, in your preaching and teaching, for your organization and encouragement of the flock, and in the lives of your people.



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Billy Graham & the Law of FOCUS

Throughout Billy Graham’s life, people tried to give him career advice. “You would make a great congressman or senator!” some would say. “Have you ever thought about running for office?” Others even predicted he would have a good chance of being elected President, if they could just convince him to run.

Once a major motion picture studio offered him a million dollars to sign a movie deal. “Your good looks, booming voice, and natural charisma could make you star!” they told him.

But Billy Graham knew who he was and what he was called to do. His only ambition was to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and tell people about the cross.

That’s a great calling! Mr. Graham was just reflecting the words of the apostle Paul, who told the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 NASB).

However, there’s a principle here even bigger than analyzing Billy Graham’s specific calling as a preacher of the gospel: The Law of Focus.

You see, not everyone is called to have a worldwide preaching ministry like Mr. Graham. In fact, hardly anyone is!

Yet the Law of Focus is something that applies to everyone and every calling in life. Whether you’re in ministry, an entrepreneur, or are called to serve in some other role, you’ll be much more likely to succeed if you have focus.

Do You Know Who You Are?

How was Billy Graham able to find and maintain his laser-like focus? He knew who he WAS, and he knew who he WASN’T.

Is the same true about your life? If someone offered you a tempting opportunity today, would you be able to say, “Thank you very much, but that’s just not who I’m called to be”?

When I lived in Ohio, I had a nonprofit organization called Focus Ministries. But, ironically, focus has always been something very difficult for me. I’ve been an attorney, a pastor, an entrepreneur, and a writer along the way, and I’ve always enjoyed “juggling balls” and being multidimensional.

Nevertheless, these days I’m much more focused – and much happier – than I’ve ever been before. Yes, I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve had in the past, but at my ripe old age I no longer have the energy to run around like a chicken with my head cut off! I’m convinced that the key to my remaining legacy will be focus, focus, focus.

Setting Things on Fire

Of course, I should have learned this principle earlier in life. When I was a kid, there were no video games or cell phones, so we had to entertain ourselves with simple, nonelectric toys. One of my favorites was the magnifying glass.

It’s amazing all the things you can do with a magnifying glass if you’re creative. Did you realize that by focusing the sun’s rays on a piece of paper, you can burn a hole right through it? I discovered that although the sun would have warmed the paper even without the magnifying glass, only a clearly focused beam of sunlight could actually start a fire.

This illustrates an important lesson in life. Many of us are content to simply provide enough sunlight so the world is slightly “warmed,” when God is looking for a focus that sets things on fire!

You see, Billy Graham sought to do more than just warm people’s hearts. He wanted to set lives aflame for Christ – and because of his single-minded focus, that’s exactly what happened.

Life is short, and I pray you discover what you were born to do. You’ll have no greater joy than when you throw off distractions and fit into God’s great plan for your life.

So, are you ready to regain your focus today? Beware: You might even set some things on fire!

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The Secret to Billy Graham's Humility

Billy Graham once told a humorous story revealing how he could stay so humble, even while accomplishing so much. He was an evangelical superstar, to say the least. Yet when one of his long-time friends reflecting on Graham’s ministry, he said, “Billy always saw himself as just a farm boy from Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He was amazed that God could use him like He did.”

Before I share Graham’s quite revealing story, it’s important to note the contrast between him and many of the other televangelists of his era. There were numerous other superstars back then, but many of them eventually flamed out because of scandals – their reputation and ministry destroyed because of money, sex, and power.

Like Graham, the others had charisma. But the thing that truly set Graham apart was his character. Above all, his humility stands out as the key ingredient for how he handled his great success.

Who Deserves the Applause?

Billy Graham told a fanciful story that can help us understand his humility.

Graham reminded people about the Bible’s account of a young donkey that carried Jesus down the Mount of Olives during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-40). Adding a bit to the story, Graham described how the colt was talking to one of his fellow donkeys later that day:

“You’ll never guess what happened to me today.”

“What?” his friend inquired.

“As I was coming into town, everyone bowed down and laid palm branches and garments in the road to greet me!” the donkey exclaimed. “They all shouted, ‘Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

“That’s incredible,” marveled his friend. “I’ve been down that road numerous times, and no one ever gave me that kind of reception. How did you ever merit such treatment?”

“Well, I always knew I would be famous someday,” the young donkey explained. “It’s about time I got the respect I deserve!”

While some Christian leaders make the same mistake as the donkey that carried Jesus, Billy Graham always recognized that the crowd’s adulation was for Jesus, not for him.

You see, when Jesus is “riding us,” there may indeed be applause from the crowd at times. But we must never forget that the hosannas are not for us, but for the One who accompanies us. True humility knows who the applause is for, and that’s why the humble will ultimately cast all their crowns and accomplishments at His feet:

The twenty‑four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:10‑11).

Many people have speculated on what it was like when Billy Graham arrived in heaven. I’m sure it was a joyous occasion, but one thing we know for sure: Declaring the worthiness of the Lord to receive all glory and honor, Graham cast all his crowns and earthly achievements at the feet of Jesus.

Another Insightful Story

I once heard another helpful story. I’m not sure the source of the story, but perhaps it came from Billy Graham as well.

An elephant and a mouse were walking together and came to a rickety old wooden bridge. As they set foot on the bridge, it rumbled and shook at the impact, making quite a disturbance.

Once they had safely reached the other side, the mouse proudly remarked, “We really shook that bridge, didn’t we!”

I love that story.

When we walk with the Lord, we can expect to see some “bridges” shake at times. However, if we aren’t careful, we’ll make the same mistake as the mouse – thinking we ourselves can take some credit for the impact. What a tragic deception.

Throughout his ministry, Billy Graham both built bridges and felt them shake. But he always kept in mind that he was just the mouse. As he humbly walked with God Almighty, the ground sometimes shook under his feet, but Graham knew he couldn’t take the credit.

Billy and Paul

Some people have said that Billy Graham was the greatest evangelist since the apostle Paul. That’s quite a statement. To me, the men had very different ministries, yet one thing they had in common was an understanding of where their power came from.

Paul described himself and other believers as merely being earthen vessels – jars of clay – to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NIV).

And a profound test of any ministry is found in Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 4:5 (NASB): “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.”

This test isn’t as easy as it sounds. When people look at our publications, fundraising letters, television programs, and video promos, and other communications, do they conclude that we are exalting Christ, or merely promoting ourselves?

Although Paul was a mighty apostle, he never lost sight of the fact that he was the Lord’s bond-servant, a sinner who had received God’s amazing grace. That’s the same posture Billy Graham took, and hopefully we are taking as well.

So, let the hosannas come. Let the bridges shake. But may we never forget where the power comes from and who the applause if for.

P.S. This blog post is adapted from a chapter in my highly acclaimed leadership book, Walking the Leadership Highway – Without Becoming Roadkill! In all humility, I can say it’s one of the best Christian leadership books ever written…

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Lessons from My Unbalanced Tires

A few years ago I purchased a new set of tires for my car. They weren’t the highest-rated tires, but they came with a 60,000-mile warranty, which seemed like a safe bet at the time.

As I drove away, I patted myself on the back for getting such a great deal. It was good to know I wouldn’t have to deal with buying tires again for at least 60,000 miles.

Everything was fine as I drove down the road, 25 mph, 35 mph, and 50 mph. But when I took my new tires on the freeway, my satisfaction soon turned to dismay. At 60 miles per hour, the car began to bounce and shake. Not a good feeling at all.

At first I wondered if the stretch of freeway just had some rough spots. But no, there was nothing wrong with the road.  

It turned out that my shiny new tires were unbalanced and had hidden defects. Rather than surviving for 60,000 miles, I had to quickly return to the tire shop and replace them with some better tires.

Many lessons can be gleaned from this dismal experience. You probably would point out that, in some ways, I got what I paid for. In the end, I would have saved both money and time by purchasing better tires in the first place.

However, another lesson has come to mind lately: My defective, unbalanced, cheap tires would have been just fine if I was content to only drive 25 miles an hour! There wasn’t a noticeable problem until I pushed down on the accelerator and embarked on the freeway.

Do you see why this lesson goes far beyond the automotive realm? Look at these examples:

  • A person’s career may seem to be doing quite well when it’s only moving at a slow speed. But what happens when the speed increases, the responsibilities build, and the expectations rise? If there are latent imbalances or defects in the person’s character or capabilities, they’re exposed by this added stress, often in rather shocking ways.
  • It’s dangerous for a person to be raised up in ministry based on their charisma and gifts, without sufficient regard to proven character and experience. The harsh roadway of ministry will inevitably reveal character flaws and vulnerabilities that weren’t apparent when the person was merely coasting down the road.
  • When a new relationship forms between a man and a woman, things often are relatively easy in the early stages. But when superficiality is replaced by vulnerability, the underlying dysfunctions come to the surface. High speed in a relationship tends to carry with it an even higher risk, as the personal weaknesses of each person come to light, often in startling ways.

How does all of this apply to your life right now? Are you already experiencing some turbulence because of dysfunctions and imbalances in your foundation? Is everything going smoothly at the moment, yet you’re playing it safe because of fear that trouble may be ahead if you venture out at higher speeds?

Although there isn’t always an easy way to test your “tires” before entering the freeway, David had it right when he prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24 NASB).

You see, David was like a long-distance runner who knew he should get his heart checked out before trying to run a marathon. Lots of problems could be avoided if we prayed his prayer and followed his example.

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Victory to Those Who Finish Well

Congratulations to the Cleveland Cavaliers, winners of the NBA championship this week. It was quite a success story, especially since the team was down 3-1 before winning three straight games from the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors had been the winningest team in NBA history in the regular season, winning an incredible 73 games and losing only 9.

But victory, in sports or in life, is seldom a matter of getting off to a good start. Rather, it comes to those who finish well.

Most NBA games are pretty boring until the fourth quarter, don’t you think? The clutch shots in the final minutes often make all the difference.

The Cavaliers played better than the Warriors in the final quarter. They finished well, and the Warriors didn’t.

Well, I find myself in the fourth quarter of life these days. From this vantage point, all the accomplishments or failures of the past decades will tend to be eclipsed by how the game of life ends. I’ve found that people tend to forget the opening moments but remember the game’s finale.

History is full of examples of this principle:

  • George Washington seemed like a hapless leader in the early years of the American Revolution. But then he won.
  • Abraham Lincoln was widely criticized and ridiculed during the Civil War. But then the Union forces won.
  • Richard Nixon won reelection by a landslide. But then he resigned in disgrace when the Watergate scandal and cover-up came to light.
  • Televangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart were both extremely popular during the pinnacle of their influence. Yet most people today remember them for their moral indiscretions.
  • Apple founder Steve Jobs was booted out of the company at one point. But he achieved incredible success when he was asked to return several years later.

You see, it’s usually what happens in the fourth quarter that counts. That’s about all most people remember.

The Bible has a lot to say about finishing well. Kings like Saul and Solomon got off to a great start, but then got off track. In contrast, people like Peter and John Mark overcame momentary failure and finished the race with flying colors.

So, what does it take to finish well? Entire books have been written to answer that question.

The apostle Paul painted the picture of an Olympic runner who relentlessly pressed on toward the finish line, forgetting the successes and failures of the past (Philippians 3:12-14). In order to win the crown of victory, he recognized that he would need to run with purpose and self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Hebrews 12:1-2 points out that life is an endurance race rather than a sprint. In order to compete for the long haul, we’re told to lay aside every unnecessary weight and burden. We’re challenged to honestly and ruthlessly deal with sins that would hamper our progress. And, most important of all, we’re reminded to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

In order to finish well, we all will need God’s grace and the support and accountability of good friends—people who love us unconditionally, but who love us enough to speak the truth even when it’s uncomfortable (Ephesians 4:15).

Here’s the good news, even if we see the clock clicking down: There’s still time to achieve victory and greater impact before the final buzzer sounds.

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The Downside of Being a Goal-Setter

I’ve been a goal-setter for as long as I can remember. Whenever I got a “B” on my report card, my dad and I would sit down and come up with a plan for getting an “A” the next time. And when my batting average fell below 300 on my middle school baseball team, we would spend extra time hitting balls in the batting cage.

After I gave my life to Christ at age 18, I found Bible passages that seemed to endorse my enthusiastic approach to goal-setting. I quickly embraced Paul’s statement about forgetting the successes of the past and pressing on toward a calling that was always “upward” (Philippians 3:3-14).

I also was influenced by motivational speakers and self-help gurus who warned that “If you don’t set a goal, you will hit it every time,” and “People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.”

But now, at this advanced stage in my life, I’m rethinking my approach to goal-setting. I find myself disregarding the promotional emails I receive every from authors wanting to sell me on their “revolutionary” new approaches to better goal-setting.

Maybe I’m just feeling too tired for all of this goal-setting hype. But some recent events in the lives of other people have also given me quite a wakeup call. Could it be that my goal-setting approach has been off-balance all these years?

When Perry Noble was removed as pastor of New Spring Church because of alcohol problems, some of the “back story” really caught my attention. Perry clearly was an amazing goal-setter, and this helped to make him wildly successful. His church was one of the largest in the country, with 30,000 people over 17 cities.

Yet it turns out that Perry wasn’t satisfied by this incredible achievement. In fact, he wasn’t even close to his ultimate goal of having a following of “100,000 or more.”

Wow. A goal for New Spring to grow to “100,000 people or more.” This was goal-setting on steroids. Although I’ve tended to be driven by ever-higher goals, I’ve never driven myself anywhere near this extent.

A friend pointed out to me that Perry Noble probably wouldn’t have reached 30,000 members in his church if he hadn’t aimed at 100,000. Perhaps so. But I’m wondering if he also wouldn’t have had a problem with alcohol…

So I’m working on a new approach to setting goals. Here are some of my preliminary thoughts for your consideration:

  1. 1.     Make sure you involve God in setting your goals. A few years ago, one of my divorced friends set a goal of “finding a new wife in the next 12 months.” Although I’m sure his intentions were good, the result wasn’t. He should have spent more time consulting with the Lord before setting such an audacious goal.
  2. 2.     Make sure you’re looking to God to help you reach your goal. Even if you have a correct, God-given objective, you’ll end up frustrated if you try to attain the goal through your own strength and ingenuity. The Lord not only wants to show you His will, but He also wants to work through you to accomplish that goal (Philippians 2:13).
  3. 3.     See your goal through the dual lenses of quantity and quality. Numerical goals are important, but too many leaders and churches judge their success only on the basis of numbers. Hey, wouldn’t you tend to feel successful if your church had 30,000 people, like Perry Noble’s? Yet Jesus saw things much differently. Knowing that the crowds would come and go, His central objectives were to (1) do the Father’s will and (2) pour His life into some true disciples (John 8:29, John 6:60-71). Even after three years of Jesus’ ministry, only 120 people showed up for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
  4. 4.     Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. If you compare your church to the size of Perry Noble’s, you will undoubtedly get depressed. No wonder the Bible warns us against comparing ourselves with others (2 Corinthians 10:12). Listen to me on this: If you’ve been faithful, you’ve been successful. But even as I encourage you on this profound truth, I know there will be many times when I’ll need people like you to remind me to apply this principle to my own life.
  5. 5.     Healthy things grow, but they don’t grow by striving. I’ve visited many churches that have done well in gaining numbers, but there’s clearly a spirit of “striving” in the air. The pastor, staff, and volunteers all seem entirely exhausted and burnt out—a symptom that they’ve achieved their objectives with self-effort rather than abiding in Christ and waiting on the wind of His Spirit (John 15:1-5, Isaiah 40:28-31).

So, I wish you happy goal-setting, my friend. But don’t forget that the Father loves you, no matter what your earthly achievements may be (Matthew 3:16-17). Remember to cease striving, always recognizing that He’s God and you’re not (Psalm 46:10). And if, like Perry Noble, you’re dealing with personal issues behind the scenes, take time to disengage from the rat race. Get the help you need so you can finish well.

One more thing...

My son Ben is finishing his final college class this week. The past few years, I’ve been telling him not to worry about grades. “Just shoot for a ‘C’ Ben!” I regularly say.

Despite my encouragement not to sweat the grades, Ben has been getting “A’s” lately. He tells me goal-setting is a good thing, and perhaps he’s right. But I’m really not so sure anymore.

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By nature, I’m an “all in” sort of guy. One of my favorite mantras is “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” So when I set an objective, I’m always looking for the quickest and most direct route to get there.

Lots of us guys are like that. We don’t just want a new car that can get us to our destination, we’re looking for how fast it can take us from 0 to 60 mph.

But not everything in life works like that…

  • If it took you two decades to put on those extra pounds, you won’t be able to remove them in two days.
  • If you’ve been on a downward spiral of debt for years, you’ll have to be patient as you make the necessary changes to dig yourself out.
  • If you’ve allowed your muscles to deteriorate since the beginning of the century, a week at the gym isn’t going to immediately turn things around.

I know, it’s hard to accept the reality that some things take time. Ever since the invention of the microwave oven, our understanding of goal-setting has been skewed. Why can’t we make the changes in our lives as fast as it takes to cook a bag of microwave popcorn?

As another year begins, I find myself (as always) trying to figure out my objectives. You probably have been doing that too. As we dive into 2016, I’m trusting that we’re right on the brink of some wonderful changes and progress. Today I feel the same kind of excitement the Israelites must have felt when they were about to enter into their Promised Land.

But I’m also reminded of a word of caution God gave His people as they prepared to enter into their place of new beginnings (Exodus 23:28-3). Even though He had prepared a great land for them to enter and enjoy, He made certain things clear about what they would experience in the process:

  1. They would encounter enemies and obstacles (v. 28). No matter what you hope to achieve in the new year, it’s certain that you will have to overcome some hurdles along the way.
  2. They would have to view possession of the Promised Land as a long-term process, not a quick and easy event (v. 29). As Christians we’re sometimes so wrapped up in one-time events and breakthroughs that we don’t commit ourselves to persevere for the long haul. Let’s remember: We’re in a marathon, not a sprint.
  3. Although God would help them in this journey of faith, they would have to recognize that their progress would come “little by little” (v. 30). I’ll admit, I don’t really like this. I would prefer God to always give us progress as a quantum leap. But that is seldom how things work. Yes, if you starve yourself for 40 days, you can say you’ve lost weight. But the “little by little” plan is far healthier and works better in the long run.

So, my friend, I hope you’ll be patient and persistent as you pursue your objectives for the new year. Little by little, the Promised Land can be yours.

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Success Secrets of History's Greatest CEO

By any measure, his accomplishments were astounding and unparalleled:

  • With virtually no start-up funds and only a handful of staff, he established an organization that has seen annual growth for 2,000 years.
  • He led the organization for just three years before leaving it in the hands of his handpicked successors.
  • Without any of the benefits of modern technology, his product was marketed in every known nation on earth in less than a century.
  • From its humble beginnings, the organization founded by this leader has grown to billions of adherents around the world, some of whom are willing to die rather than give up the life-changing product he introduced.

The “CEO” I’m referring to, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve recently been thinking about 5 of his success secrets we all can profit from:

1.      Put as much emphasis on preparation as on implementation. Jesus spent 30 years in preparation for a 3-year ministry. In contrast, many pastors today spend 3 years at seminary in hopes of having 30 years or so of fruitful service. In our impatient, microwave society, we nearly always undervalue the importance of careful preparation.

Jesus urged his disciples to take time to lay a firm foundation before trying to build anything. On a sunny day, it may be tempting to build a house on sand, but storms will surely come to every life (Matthew 7:24-27). Instead of being overeager to start the building process, Jesus said we should first “count the cost” and see if we have what it takes to finish the job (Luke 14:28-29).  

Every successful sports team understands this principle. The key to victory is in painstaking preparation, not just showing up for the game.

2.      Carefully select your inner circle. Few things will impact your life more than the entourage of friends you choose to live your life with. On the positive side, the Bible says if you walk with wise people, you will become wise (Proverbs 13:20). But it also warns, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Jesus was very deliberate and purposeful in selecting his inner circle. In addition to spending time getting to know each of the men who ultimately would become his disciples, he spent an entire night in prayer before the final selection was made (Luke 6:12-16). How much time, attention, and prayer do YOU give toward selecting the main people you spend time with?

Notice that Jesus’ selection process wasn’t based on people’s resume or their outward qualifications. If you were going to choose a team to take your message and product to the ends of the earth, would you pick theologically inept fishermen and tax collectors?  However, guided by prayer and discernment, Jesus saw the great potential of these men, even though they seemed to be unlikely candidates for success.

Despite his careful vetting process, Jesus frequently had to confront those in his inner circle when they got off track. For example, Peter wanted to block Jesus’ pathway to the cross and was sternly told, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Matthew 16:21-23). Are you willing to stand against your friends when they try to hinder God’s will for your life?

3.      Remain focused on the mission instead of the numbers. Those of us in ministry can be especially prone to place an undue importance on statistics. How many people attend our services…the size of the budget and staff…how many seats in our sanctuary…etc.

And often the numbers are truly a significant indicator of God’s blessing on our endeavors. For example, I work at Inspiration Ministries, and in 2015 more than 125,000 people will have clicked the “I prayed the prayer” button on our salvation website. Every four minutes or less, someone is indicating a decision to make Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior! I thank God for this tangible fruit from our outreaches.

Throughout the Bible, we’re frequently told about the number of people involved in one story or another, so it’s fair to conclude that numbers matter to God. However, Jesus also realized how fickle and misleading numbers can be. His ministry rapidly grew to more than 5,000 people, only to fall back to the original 12 disciples when he preached an unpopular message one day (John 6). On another occasion, he experienced a crowd cheering “Hosanna,” followed just days later by some of the same people shouting, “Crucify Him.”  And then all of his disciples scattered at the cross except John. So much for “numbers” as a sign of success.

These illustrations in the life of Jesus also are a reminder that our mission is to make DISCIPLES, not just CONVERTS or fair-weather followers (Matthew 28:19-20). The next time a friend boasts of the Sunday attendance at his church, ask him how many of those people are truly becoming dedicated disciples of Jesus instead of spectators in the crowd.

4.      Have a clear succession plan. Even if you build a very successful organization, the real test will come when you die, retire, or leave. Will your successors have the skills they need to continue and even expand the mission?

Entire books could be written on this, but let me just quote two mind-blowing statements by Jesus about his succession plan. In John 16:7, he assured his disciples that it was actually to their advantage for him to leave them, because then they could be empowered by the Spirit. And he was so confident in the outcome of this empowerment that he promised they would be able to do even greater works then he had done (John 14:12).

So, who are you empowering in the next generation to follow in your footsteps and expand the mission you’ve started?

5.      Understand who you must please in order to be successful. Modern-day CEOs have lots of “bosses” that they must keep happy. For example, they must have the support of the board, the stockholders, and their management team, and it’s incredibly hard to please all of these people. You may not be a CEO today, but there’s a good chance you have many bosses you’re trying to keep happy: spouse, kids, friends, boss at work, pastor, etc.

In contrast, Jesus only had one person he was trying to please. And even before Jesus’s ministry had begun, his Heavenly Father had declared his great pleasure: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  

When you recognize that you ultimately have just one Boss (2 Corinthians 5:9), all of life becomes simpler and more peaceful (Psalm 46:10).

My friend, whether you have any aspirations to be a CEO or not, I encourage you to put these 5 success secrets into practice. Your life will surely change for the better. 

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Shaking off Your Failures

When you remember sports stars of yesteryear, you probably remember their finest moments. Babe Ruth is famous for hitting 714 home runs in his career, and few people remember that he also struck out 1330 times, almost twice as often.

I guess the moral of the story is that if you want to hit a lot of home runs in life, you can’t be afraid to strikeout from time to time. If Babe Ruth had spent time thinking about his strike outs, he would have become too discouraged to be the great ballplayer that he was.

Basketball great Michael Jordan said on a TV commercial toward the end of his NBA career: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost more than 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot—and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

Should we consider Michael Jordan a failure at basketball because he missed a lot of shots and lost a lot of games? Of course not. Yet missing the winning shot in a big game would have sent some players into a tailspin. They might have gone into a slump for several games, unable to shake the memory of their failure. But not Michael. He learned to start each game with a clean slate.

Michael Jordan had actually learned to overcome failure several years before starting his career in the NBA. In 1978 he was cut from the basketball team at Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina. Instead of giving up, he worked hard to improve his game. He made the team the following year, and by 1985 he was the NBA rookie of the year.

No one ever became a great success in life without also experiencing some failure along the way. The person who’s intent on never making a mistake has probably never made much of anything.

The key is your ability to shake it off and bounce back. You have to forget about that last shot that you missed.

In my mid-20s I went on a date with a girl and ended up telling her my life story. “You sure have failed a lot!” she told me after a while.

Well, I’ve failed many more times in the years since then.

However, when I examine the lives of the Biblical heroes in the Hall of Fame of Faith in Hebrews 11, I see plenty of failure before their ultimate triumphs. And I love the apostle Paul’s conclusion in Philippians 3:13-14: “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

I guess we all need some “selective amnesia” as we age. We have to forget about the strikeouts and missed buzzer-beaters and focus on the great opportunities ahead. Let’s keep swinging for the fences. Let’s keep shooting, particularly after we’ve missed our last shot.

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The Superstar Syndrome

Do YOU Struggle to Delegate and Defer to Others?

In my younger days I used to be a rather good volleyball player, and it was always fun showing off my abilities at our church outings.

Many of those who played volleyball at our church picnics simply weren’t very good. On every team would be several uncoordinated players who frequently missed the ball or hit it in the wrong direction.

Not only did I like to show off my volleyball prowess, I also liked to win. If I was in the vicinity of weaker members of the team, I felt obligated to help them play their position. When the ball was hit their way, I was there to give assistance in case they missed it.

Inevitably, I ended up covering a lot of ground on the volleyball court, helping my less-competent friends in every way possible. Usually they didn’t seem to mind too much, since I was saving them the embarrassment of making a fool out of themselves.

Yet as I went up and back and from side to side, covering for the weaker team members, there often was a troubling result. The ball would drop—you guessed it—right in the position I myself was assigned to cover!

At the time, I really didn’t think much about the problem of volleyballs dropping where I was supposed to be. After all, I was making some pretty sensational shots while guarding everyone else’s position.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized my tendency to do exactly the same thing in my role as a church leader. I saw myself as strong, and I was desirous of helping my “weaker” brothers and sisters with their assigned tasks. If there were “holes to plug” in the church, I would generally take care of them myself instead of waiting for the people who were assigned to the jobs.

The result of this codependent tendency was often similar to my experience on the volleyball court. Although I covered a considerable amount of territory trying to plug the holes left by those who missed their assignments, I frequently found that the “ball” dropped right in the position I myself was supposed to be handling. Again, I was so busy filling everyone else’s job that I didn’t satisfactorily fill my own!

I began to understand the predicament of the maiden in the Song of Solomon, who complained that she had been so busy taking care of other people’s vineyards that she neglected her own responsibilities (Song 1:6). While I originally figured God would be impressed that I covered so many gaps in the church, I now am struck by the reality that He will primarily hold me accountable for whether I fulfill my own appointed role.

It’s interesting to note that a unified team of ordinary players will often be able to beat even an all-star team. The synergy created when players know how to work together harmoniously is sufficient to defeat a team of all-stars who each are more intent on their own success than on the success of the team.

The Bible is filled with stories of leaders who struggled with these issues. Moses had to be told by his father-in-law Jethro to delegate some of his responsibilities in problem-solving for the Israelites (Exodus 18:13-27). King Saul angered God by impatiently usurping the role of Samuel, the prophet (1 Samuel 13:7-14). And the apostles wisely recognized that their highest priority should be giving themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” rather than overseeing the distribution of food to needy widows (Acts 6:1-7).

What about you? Have you found and focused on your God-given role? Or are you trying to be a superstar, unable to work together with the rest of the team? Remember: If you try to do the job of others, you’re likely to find that your own job is soon neglected.


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The Power of Relinquishment

Rediscovering the Lost Secret to a Fulfilled Life

If you’re like me, there’s hardly anything in life more frustrating than when you lose something that’s important to you. The day is off to a bad start if you can’t remember where you put your car keys, your cell phone, or the computer file you’d worked on all day yesterday.

Everything else is put on hold until you find what you lost.

On the other hand, nothing is more exhilarating  than to find something you thought might be gone forever. Jesus tells three stories about this kind of experience in Luke 15, where a lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son all were regained with great joy.

Have you ever had this kind of experience?

Recently I uncovered a “lost” secret to having an adventurous, discovered-filled life. I feel like the man in Matthew 13:44 (MSG) who unexpectedly found “a treasure hidden in a field for years.”  How could I have missed or neglected this “treasure” for so long?

The secret is amazingly simple, found in a single word. It’s a word that probably sounds wimpy or even defeatist at first—yet it’s anything but that.

The word is filled with explosive power and potential, but this may not be obvious at first. It is a lot like nuclear energy—power hidden away for millennia inside of tiny atoms until activated.

Even though this word is never used in the Bible, the concept is found throughout. However, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard a sermon by this name.

So here it is, the forgotten key to a happy, impactful, and prosperous life:


Dictionaries define relinquishment as surrendering, releasing, letting go, or yielding. The closest Bible “proof text” I could find was an obscure marginal reference in Psalm 46:10 (NASB): LET GO and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

The secret to having God exalted in our lives is in simply letting go—relinquishing  something we treasure to Him. Or, as Jesus told us, we must lose  our life in order to find  it (Luke 17:33).

Relinquishment takes a person’s life from ordinary to extraordinary…from bland to blessed…from victim to victor…and from boring to bold. In contrast, nothing is duller or more depressing than trying hold on to what we already have.

Abraham’s son Isaac was just an ordinary young man until Abraham relinquished  him to the Lord and put him on the altar of sacrifice (Genesis 22).

Once Moses relinquished  his ordinary shepherd’s staff (Exodus 4:1-5), it was transformed into “the rod of God,” able to perform mighty miracles.

There was nothing extraordinary about the five loaves and two fish the disciples had on hand—until they relinquished  their supply to Jesus (Matthew 14).

The stone waterpots in John 2 contained only ordinary, colorless, tasteless water, until Jesus took the bland water and did a miracle—turning it into sparkling, tasty, intoxicating wine. You see, whenever RELINQUISMENT takes place, God does miracles and life gets exciting.

So why is it so easy to miss this? The answer is simple: Because of fear and unbelief, we tend to hang on to our meager resources rather than entrust them into the hands of God. How sad, for He has shown throughout history that He can do far more with the resources than we can.

The life of faith is never ordinary, bland, or unexciting. But the “religious” life is a completely different story. Religion always turns the wine back into water and removes the fizz from the adventurous life of discovery God planned for us.

Jesus relinquished the rights and privileges of His heavenly life in order to embark on the great adventure of redeeming humankind and giving us a right to enter the kingdom of heaven. Still today, He beckons us to a life of relinquishment, where it is “more blessed to give than to receive”  (Acts 20:35).

Instead of being a life of boredom or defeat, a life of relinquishment is a life of anticipation, success, and victory. What could God do with that “thing” you are holding in your hand? You’ll never know until you relinquish it to Him. That’s when the fun starts and the fizz returns.


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