Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Do the Hard Stuff: Exceed Expectations

You can’t do that. How many times have we heard it? You can’t do that. That’s too hard. It costs too much. We’ve never done it that way before. You’re too young. And you’re too old. And you are not a man. The world is really good at telling us no. So good, in fact, that we often find ourselves living up to low expectations. Instead of seeking the things that are above and putting ourselves into every task as though we were doing it for the Lord (which is what we are instructed to do in Colossians 3), we settle for good enough.
In their book, “Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations,” Alex and Brett Harris note that our society doesn’t expect much from young people – except trouble.[i] As a result, teens become blinded by complacency.[ii]
“But don’t kid yourself,” the Harris twins write. “The cost of complacency is real, and it can be tragic. We slide into habits of mediocrity and excuse making. Life gets boring, and we’re not sure why. We know, or at least suspect, that there’s a lot more we could do or be. But floating along, there’s no way to be sure.”[iv]
So how do you know if you have become blinded by complacency? ShareFaith magazine offers five warning signs. 1. You depend on tradition instead of the Holy Spirit. 2. You tolerate sin. 3. You see no fruit, no evidence that your life of faith has accomplished anything. 4. You are not pursuing spiritual growth through prayer, Bible study, worship, or service. 5. You remain focused on yourself and not on others.[v]
Is some of that hitting a little too close to home? I confess. I found this chapter on complacency very convicting. There are a couple of areas of my life where I have settled for good enough. Perhaps you have, too. Take heart. We don’t have to stay where we are. We can move beyond the expectations of the world around us. We can strive for more. We can strive to please God.
One way to exceed worldly expectations is to do what is hard for us.[vi] What is hard for you might not be hard for me, but I may not be any good at the things that come easily for you. You might be very disciplined when it comes to diet and exercise. I am not. But I can become more disciplined in those areas. And you might find it very hard to talk to people about your faith, where I find that really easy to do. But you can start praying that God will help you take advantage of the many opportunities you have to share your faith with others. It might be scary at first. But that’s kind of the point. When we do what is hard for us, we are relying on God, and that’s when faith grows. And that pleases God very much.
One way to exceed expectations is to do what is hard for us. Another way is to be known for what we do.[vii] As followers of Jesus Christ, it is not good enough to simply refrain from doing what is bad. We must do what is good. Micah 6:8 spells it out. What does the Lord require? To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. And that pleases God very much.
We can exceed expectations by doing what is hard for us, and we can exceed expectations by doing what is good. Another way to exceed expectations is to pursue excellence, not excuses.[viii] If there are areas of your life where you are settling for just getting by when you know you could do better if you really tried, then you are not pursuing excellence. If there is some aspect of life that you have decided will always be this way even though you have never put forth the kind of effort that really changes things, then you are not pursuing excellence.[ix] And that does not please God because it shows a lack of faith.
Remember, in Philippians 4:13, Paul exclaims, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The world says we can’t. But God says, "Oh yes, you can!" Jesus calmed a stormy sea, made the lame walk, gave sight to the blind, and brought the dead back to life. Jesus could do such things because God was at work in him (John 14:10). But Jesus says in John 14:12 that everyone who believes in him will do even greater things than he has.
Now, I don’t know if David did GREATER things that Jesus, but David did great things. He certainly did far greater things than anyone expected of him.
David was the 8th son of a small town farmer named Jesse. The family was loyal to Saul, the king of Israel. In fact, three of David’s older brothers were already serving in Saul’s army, but David was too young for that. He was still a boy. He worked out in the fields, taking care of his father’s sheep. Sometimes, David was also called upon to play music to soothe King Saul when he was having one of his “episodes.” One day, Jesse called David and instructed him to deliver food and supplies to his brothers on the battle front. David goes, leaves the provisions with the baggage handler and runs out to greet his brothers on the battle field.
For 40 days, Israel and the Philistines have faced off against one another. These are two great powers who have repeatedly vied for dominance in the land. Both have had victories and defeats. At one point, years ago, back before Saul was king, the Philistines had captured the ark of God! But they learned, just as Israel had, that no one can manipulate God. Either you serve God, or you don’t. Those who do, find favor with God. Those who do not … suffer.
It didn’t take long for the Philistines to give up the ark. And Israel had finally wised up. They had turned away from the foreign gods they had been serving, and they turned back to the God of the ark, the God of their ancestors, the God who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. And, once more, God had intervened to protect Israel from attack. The Philistines were driven out, and all of the territory that Israel had lost was returned to them. For as long as Samuel served as judge of Israel, the hand of God was against the Philistines. But things had not gone so smoothly after Saul was anointed king of Israel. Ever since then, there had been hard fighting between the two.
And now they are at it again. They have faced off in the valley of Elah. But this time, the Philistines have a mighty warrior on their side. A champion named Goliath. He stands almost 7 feet tall, and he is strong enough to bear the weight of a full suit of armor. His coat alone would have weighed 126 pounds. This man is a powerful force, and he knows it. “Why are you lining up to fight? Am I not a Philistine? And you are servants of Saul. Tell you what. Choose someone to represent you. Send him out here to fight me. If he wins, then we will be your servants. But if I win, you will serve us.”
For 40 days, Goliath taunted Saul and his army. All that bragging did just what Goliath intended. Saul and his entire army were intimidated. They were afraid. They were very much afraid. But the shepherd boy was not.
When he arrives with the provisions for his brothers, David hears Goliath’s taunts, and he says, “Who is this guy? Who does he think he is? Does he honestly believe that one uncircumcised Philistine can stand up to the armies of the living God?”
 “Don’t be afraid,” David tells Saul. “I will go fight the Philistine.”
And Saul tells him, “You can’t do that. You are just a boy!”
Low expectations. Saul had very low expectations. He did not believe there was any way possible that this young, untrained boy. A musician, no less! There was just no way this child could defeat a massive, fully equipped, trained and seasoned warrior. But, see, that’s the problem. Saul was looking for a person he could trust. David was trusting God.
David knew that the Lord had been with him out in those fields when he was taking care of the sheep. Whenever a bear or a lion had attacked the flock, David had taken it down. But he knew that it was God who had given him the power to do it, and David had faith that God would save him now. “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” Now that is faith!
In fact, David had so much faith in God that he refused to wear the body armor of a soldier. He didn’t even carry a sword. All he needed were his shepherd’s staff, five rocks, and a slingshot. “The battle is the Lord’s,” David said. God will give us the victory. And that is exactly what God did.
David exceeded everyone’s expectations. Because he trusted God. He had faith in God. He had faith that God could and would work through him. David had faith that God could and would do miraculous things through him. And God did.
God can also do miraculous things through us. I don’t know what giants you are facing today, but I know there are a lot of giants out there in the world. Maybe you are facing a giant called cancer or depression or anxiety. Maybe the giant you are facing is debt or loneliness or bullying. Maybe the giant standing in your way is bigotry or injustice or drug abuse. I don’t care how big that giant is, stand up to it. Exceed expectations. Have faith. Remember: the battle is the Lord’s.

[i] Alex and Brett Harris. Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2008. 36.
[ii] Harris, 90.
[iii] Harris, 91.
[iv] Harris, 91.
[v] “5 Signs Complacency is Killing Ministry.” Published by ShareFaith magazine at www.sharefaith.com/blog/2012/12/5-signs-complacency-killing-ministry. Downloaded September 9, 2016.
[vi] Harris, 92.
[vii] Harris, 93.
[viii] Harris, 93.
[ix] Harris, 101-102.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Do the Hard Stuff: Move Outside Your Comfort Zone

He was 8 years old and about to take his first big step into adulthood. It was not a decision he made willingly. His parents had decided it was time. So they pushed him. Right out of the bathtub and into a shower stall. Before he could object, Brett found himself wearing nothing but his birthday suit and staring up into the dreaded showerhead. “It pointed down at me like an executioner’s gun,” the young man recalls. “Then Dad pulled the trigger, the shower began to rumble and hiss, and I was screaming before the first drop of water hit.” But that was years ago, and now Brett showers every day and doesn’t think twice about it.[i]
Be strong and courageous. God is with you wherever you go.
In the summer of 2005, Brett Harris and his twin brother Alex took a long hard look at the world around them and realized that our society has very low expectations of teenagers. But it hasn’t always been that way. Before labor and school reform laws were introduced in the early 1900s, young people were treated like adults. And young people were expected to perform like adults. And they lived up to the challenge.
George was only 11 years old when his father died, so he studied hard and mastered geometry, trigonometry and surveying. At 17 he got his first job—as the official surveyor of Culpepper County.[ii]
David was born in 1801 near Knoxville, where his dad served in the state militia. At the age of 10, David began a career at sea, serving as a naval cadet on the warship Essex. At 11 he saw his first battle, and by the time he was 12, David was the commander of a ship that had been captured in battle.[iii]
Clara was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, on Christmas Day in the year 1821. When she was 11 years old, her older brother David fell from the roof of a barn and was seriously injured. Clara begged to help take care of him. For two years, she nursed her brother until he made a full recovery. A year later, when she was only 14, Clara became the nurse for a hired hand who got small pox. As the epidemic spread, Clara’s work load increased.[iv]
These 3 young people accomplished great things because great things were expected of them. They did not stop doing great things as they got older. George went on to become the first president of the United States. David became the US Navy’s first admiral. And Clara founded the American Red Cross. But their commitment to excellency started in their teens. The Harris twins believe all young people can do hard and important things so they set out to start a teenage revolution against low expectations. In that way, they hope to change the world.
Friends, I believe we can learn something from Alex and Brett. I believe the Universal Church is suffering from the same dreaded disease of low expectations.
According to a 2015 report from the Barna Group, only 20 percent of Christian adults are involved in some sort of discipleship activity such as Sunday School, Bible study, spiritual mentoring, or Christian book clubs. And why should they bother? 38 percent of Christian adults say that they are happy with where they are in their spiritual lives, and another 36 percent say they are almost where they want to be.[v]
But, at the same time, about 49 percent of unchurched adults could not tell you a single favorable impact the Church has had on our nation.[vi]
We do little because little is expected of us. As a result, more and more people are growing up without any religious instruction. We can do better. We must do better.
In Philippians 3:10, the apostle Paul reminds us of our objective: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection….” Therefore, he continues in verses 13 and 14, “… this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is not marking time. He is pushing himself hard to win a great prize, and he urges all believers to be just as diligent, if not more so. “Do you not know,” he writes in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.”
God calls the Church to greatness. “Go … and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus urges in Matthew 28:19. And 1 Peter 2:9 reminds us, “… you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to do great things. Not mediocre things. Great things! So for the next few weeks, we are going to look at some of the ways that we can overcome complacency. Friends, I’m not gonna lie to you. This is hard work. Striving for excellency is hard work. And it can be scary. Following Jesus may lead us to places we would rather not go. Following Jesus may lead us to do things we would rather not do. Following Jesus may lead us to do some really hard stuff. Following Jesus may lead us to move beyond our comfort zone.
Be strong and courageous. God is with you wherever you go.
No one knew that better than Joshua. We first meet Joshua about 2 years after the Israelites escaped from Egypt. They had been making their way through deserts and mountains, and they had encountered one trial after another. No water. No food. Attacked by enemies. But God had been with them all the way. God had provided for their every need. They finally reached the edge of the Promised Land, but instead of moving forward in faith, the people say, “Let’s send spies to scout out the land. What is the land like? Are the people who live there strong? How many of them are there? Are they prepared for battle? Is the land rich? Are there trees? Bring us some of the fruit that grows there.”
So the spies go and see how great the land is that God has promised to give them. The land is fertile. Livestock produces well. Crops provide abundant harvests. BUT the people who already live there are strong. Towns are well fortified. And the people are huge! So 10 of the scouts try to discourage the Israelites from going into the Promised Land. Only 2 say, “Let’s go. God is with us! We will overcome.” One of those is Joshua.
But the people were terrified, and they threatened to stone Joshua and Caleb. God gets angry because the Israelites are being disobedient. Again. They still do not trust God, even though God has already done amazing things for them. God has taken them safely through difficult times. God rescued them from slavery. God led them through the deep waters. God had provided for their every need. And they are still afraid! They are still rebelling against God. They are still determined to do things their own way instead of God’s way. God is fed up with them and threatens to strike them with disease and disinherit them. But Moses appeals to God. Seeks forgiveness. And God forgives. BUT there are consequences. The Israelites will be forced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years before they will ever be allowed to enter the Promised Land.
So now it’s 40 years later. Moses has died. Just about everybody who left Egypt with Moses has died. There’s a whole new generation of folks following the Lord. And they have a brand new leader. God puts Joshua in charge. The assistant is now the commander. And the first thing God tells Joshua is, “Go on now. Cross the Jordan. It is time for you to receive the land I have promised to give you.”
Talk about stepping outside your comfort zone! For 40 years, Joshua had lived comfortably under the leadership of Moses. Sure, as a leader of the tribe of Nun, Joshua had certain responsibilities, but, in the past, he could always look to Moses for guidance. Now the buck would stop with Joshua. He would now be the one everyone would look to for answers. And that can be kind of intimidating. Stepping into a place of authority for the very first time. New things can be a little scary.
Not only was Joshua being called into a brand new role, he was also being sent in an entirely new direction. He and his people would no longer wander in the wilderness. God was sending them into the Promised Land. A land brimming with promise and possibility. It was an exciting time! But it had to have been a scary one, too. After all, Joshua had seen with his own two eyes how formidable his opponents would be. This was no easy task that God had given him.
But don’t worry, God says. Be strong and courageous. I will be with you. Joshua had trusted God in the past. And Joshua can trust God now. “I will not fail you or forsake you,” God says. And God kept that promise. With God’s help, Joshua was able to do great things.
The same is true for us. When we have faith in God, we can do the hard stuff. We can move outside our comfort zone. We can face the challenges that lie before us. We can do new things. Things that challenge us and stretch us. Because God is with us. And God works in us. When we are weak, God is strong!
So, even if we only have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move outside our comfort zone. That doesn’t mean we won’t be afraid. Doing new things can be scary. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is being afraid and doing what God calls us to do anyway.
So we have faith in God and move outside our comfort zone. And we can be bold because, even though we don’t know everything that lies ahead of us, we know God. We know that God is good and God loves us and God wants us to succeed!  
Be strong and courageous. God is with you wherever you go.

[i] Alex and Brett Harris. Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2008. 65-66.
[ii] Harris, 31.
[iii] Harris, 31-32.
[iv] Harris, 32.
[v] “New Research on the State of Christian Discipleship.” Published December 1, 2015, on the Barna Group website at https://www.barna.com/research/new-research-on-the-state-of-discipleship/#.V8uYeyvF8xM. Copyrighted @ 2016 Barna Group Inc. Downloaded September 3, 2016.
[vi] “Five Trends Among the Unchurched.” Published October 9, 2014, on the Barna Group website at https://www.barna.com/research/five-trends-among-the-unchurched/#.V8uc8yvF8xM. Copyrighted @ 2016 Barna Group Inc. Downloaded September 3, 2016.