When is the race finished?

Each morning I have a reading ritual. One of those readings is from a daily devotional. This year I want to increase my leadership capacity, so I decided to pick that for my study. For this, I turned to, who else, John C. Maxwell. 

Monday I struck by a story of a marathon runner from Tanzania. It relates to many of the decisions, I am wrestling with and probably many other leaders.

John tells of how in 1968 during the Mexico City Olympics there were a few die-hard fans who stayed in the stadium to watch the conclusion of the marathon. The Ethiopian runner had won the race over an hour earlier as the fans resolved that all the racers were done they began to leave. As some made their way to the exits, there was a sudden sound of sirens and police whistles. There was one last runner.

John Akhwari from Tanzania ran into the stadium for his final 400-meter lap. Observers could tell that he was injured. John had a bandage on his leg from where he had fallen. Yet, it didn’t stop him.

He was asked why, though he was injured, though there was no hope of winning the race, why did he finish?

“My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race,” He said. “They sent me to finish the race.”

John’s story left me with two observations. 

1) When things are hard, it’s easy to quit.

If Mr. Akhwari had quit, no one would tell his story. It certainly wouldn’t be an illustration of perseverance, character, and keeping your eye on the prize. Did he win? Certainly not gold. Still, John Akhwari’s story stands out to use because he continued.

We all face big decisions. When they encompass your dreams, and it seems like unbreakable obstacles stand against you, do you continue or fold? 

We can often be so focused on the pain that we miss the joy of accomplishment. We can allow our tenacity to be diluted with troubles so much that we don’t see our character growing through perseverance (Romans 5:3).

You started what you are doing to finish, not to give up.

2) We must stay focused on the goal.

Because we start to finish, it means quitting is not an option, no matter how hard it may seem. Bill Hybels tells the story of two prisoners in the same cell. Their surroundings overcame one of them. They are oppressed by the cold dark metallic bars. The other turn their sites to the window, looking past the bars, to see the stars and allowed hope to arise of a better future. 

What is the goal? That is what we are to set our sights on!

Imagine if the apostle Paul quit the mission of starting churches and raising leaders. While there is a plethora of adversity from local authorities (2 Cor 11), Paul faced incredible adversity working with the dysfunctional people of the Roman Empire and Judaism. Let’s be honest, if Paul were a church planter today, there wouldn’t be articles written about him regarding the exceptional disciples he produced, though he did. Think about some of the issues IN THE CHURCH. Corinth had some severe problems with promiscuity. Like, if you have to say stop sleeping with your step-mom, your church got some issues son. How about dealing with female sex cults in Ephesus or people insisting on being circumcised or un-circumcising yourself (don’t ask) in Crete and Galatia.

We must keep going. If we focus on the pain, trouble, hinderances, we never will.

We may finish bandaged up. We may have to take a route that we never imagined, do things differently than we thought. The question is, did you finish? Were you faithful to what God has called you to do? Did you serve and love him with all that you are? Did you love and serve?

Keep running. Why? 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

1 Co 9:24

Check out the resources used in this blog

When it hurts to dream

Regrets envelop our minds – trapped in a paper cage that is never mailed away. All the I wish I hads, should of beens, if onlys can consume, leaving us crippled.

Have you been there?

I have many dreams, an official bucket list you might say. Some I have accomplished while others await their chance.

Just because you can cross something off the “list” or you reach the goal–it doesn’t happen the way you think it should have. Maybe even though you have accomplished, the result feels empty. We are left wanting. 

Sometimes the dream crumbles beneath us. The dream is realized–things are-a-happening. Then without warning, brick after brick is deconstructed beneath you leaving your hard fought for dream (career, family, riches, experiences) either crumbling to the ground below or teetering back and forth like an upside-down pendulum awaiting imminent impact on the cold hard earth. 

If you have found yourself here, it can be hard to dream again. 

After all, it is much easier to accept a common existence. Why dream for anything more than your present status-quo if this is how it feels?

The dreams hurt.

I’ve been there. If you’re the type of person who is willing to take a chance on a dream, you have probably been there. If not, you will be there. Even the chance takers like Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein have been there.

When we find ourselves in such places, we need to ask ourselves, is my purpose to fulfill the dream or is the dream my purpose?

If our purpose is to fulfill the dream, then a failure of that dream is utter doom. Also, if this is the case, why not only have small attainable dreams where there is little risk of failure, to which I would say, that’s not much of an existence.

Instead, I lean to the latter. I believe we were born to dream. We see pictures of this in the Scriptures. Joseph dreamed of more, Abraham dreamed of lineage, James and John dreamed of glory, and I’m sure Paul dreamed of reaching more.

What this means is that it’s okay to take a chance on a dream and fail. You were made to dream. Success (whatever that is) is the bonus. Jon Acuff writes,

“Forget finding a purpose. It’s a never-ending story that will leave you empty. Live with purpose.”

I believe this is what dreaming does. It helps us live our lives with purpose. We are not seeking to find it in some empty accomplishment they may or may not happen depending on an insurmountable amount of variables that you have no control over. Your purpose is to dream and try.

Do your best. Try hard.

If you fail, that’s okay. At least you tried. 

When others heave judgements from the sidelines, you can sluff them off knowing you are at least in the game.

If you are genuinely taking a chance with your dreams, there will be setbacks. There will be the aforementioned I wish I hads, should of beens, and if onlys. It is a guarantee. It is in these moments you have a choice, you can let the failure define your and end your dreams, or you can do something with it. You can choose to define the failure–use the pain–learn the lesson to either try again or as you move on to the next chapter of your life.

When dreaming hurts, remind yourself, this is what you are made for.

Check out the resources used in this post.

Why you shouldn’t plant a church

It seems like everyone is doing it! Pioneering a church. Did you know that the average church plant closes within the first three years? It is a tough business! The only thing that is tougher is the restaurant business.

Before I get too far into this, I believe we need more new churches.

But if you think you are starting the next Elevation, do yourself and those you serve a favour and don’t!

If you pioneer a church, I hope it explodes! (not literally, that would be awful). I hope you reach billions for Christ.

However, if you only reach a few, would it still be worth it? I hope it would. If you are going to shut things down because you don’t have the numbers you want or the finances aren’t good enough, or life is just hard, please don’t. You need to have tenacity!

There will be struggles in the church. Whether big or small, it is a certainty (about the only certainty).

The hardest part, though, is what happens in your life personally. They are things that no one really cares or thinks about. They are things that will dramatically affect how you do ministry.

I started Life Boat Church 4 years ago. Before planting, there were a ton of things that happened to my wife and me before deciding to move to start a church. However, they were from the outside.

In the vein of 2 Cor 11, here’s my list of things of all that has happened in the last four years.

The gift of blessing, our daughter was born. You’re thinking what, that’s not a difficulty. You’re right. But you’re wrong. Context is everything. At the time, we were living with my parents, which meant 8 people in a house. My parents, me and my wife, our 4-year-old, 3-year-old, and 1-year-old. And now, a newborn. We love our kids. But we also love sleep. Two months before our church launched our beautiful daughter was born, we started a church. We were barely sleeping (even now it can be a struggle). But this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Bedbugs! We presume they came from the hospital. As I laid on the bed after our second pre-launch service, I saw a bug crawl across the bed. FLICK! It exploded–full of blood–all over the sheets. Do you know what it is like calling everyone on your launch team and tell them that they need to check their houses just in case I had transferred some to their homes? Added to the sleepless nights, this meant paranoid sleep (I don’t want to recount the memories).

February, as I did a shoulder press with my oldest son, POP. I tore the labrum in my shoulder (it’s the cartridge) and the nerve in the shoulder that goes up the neck and through the back, somehow, got wrapped around the ball of my shoulder. I was sleeping very little due to the newborn, the bed bugs, and now the excruciating shoulder. While I experienced healing with the nerve, I suffered from this for two years. Two years of sleeping 3-4 hours a night… You try being nice! Of course, when you have a portable church, and you can’t pick up heavy stuff–it doesn’t go over well. People don’t care that you’re in severe pain, haven’t slept, and irritable because of it. They care about the fact that they have stuff going on in their life–parents, work, kids. Real things. They’re hurting. They can’t carry yours too.

The next December right before our big Christmas Eve event my daughter, the one who was born the year before, got sick. I mean like really sick. Pneumonia, strep A, sepsis, fluid in her lung. Literally, she almost died. She was in the hospital for twelve days and had to get a chest tube. It was a terrifying scene. My wife stayed in the hospital with her while I watched the three boys while trying to get ready for our Christmas event. I had some fantastic help during this time. However, as much as the support is appreciated, it was only a mild aid to the extreme stress. It was during this time that I wrote the song, Invite You To Move (which is in my blog on May 24, 2019).

We luckily had a little break, other than my chronic shoulder pain and the odd emergency room visit due to the kids breathing and allergies (3out of 4 have anaphylactic allergies. 2 at of 4 have asthma).

Then came 2018. As I spoke about in my blog “What I learned in Africa…and it’s not what you think” (June 24, 2019, where I go into more detail), I was dealing with a lot of stress due to difficult situations with the church. This was when I ended up with shingles. Stress-induced shingles. I was confined to bed for nearly two months, except for Sunday mornings and important meetings.

You might pause, as I did and reflect on if this is for you, again as I did. Thoughts of something different. Maybe a position with more security and with less stress.

We determined that we had to be faithful to what God called us to. In fact, this was an opportunity to learn to be more dependent upon God–to learn what He wanted to teach us in the midst.

This was when we had a fantastic Summer and Fall. I felt refreshed. I had learned so much about my self and what needed to be changed in my life to be more like Christ.

Then came January 2019…

First, my daughter rolled out of her bed as she slept and landed awkwardly on the ground, breaking her collar bone. It happens to lots of kids. It’s a thing; however, it’s not that big of a deal. Yet, this was the beginning!

9 days later…

I joined a basketball league to get to meet some people. After all, my shoulder, after two years, just started to be pain-free. Seemed like a good idea. Noticing that I was the oldest on the court should have been a warning sign. While guarding a guy 10 years younger than me POP… I ruptured my Achilles. If you weren’t aware, this is a 12 month recovery period. I am currently approaching the halfway point, and it has been a long road. I’ve been worn down physically and drained me emotionally. It has also played tricks on me mentally. Yet it has caused wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth.

February was filled with doctors, appointments and physiotherapy.

Then March… my two oldest kids became very ill. They missed a week of school they were so sick. That’s when I heard my wife scream…

I grabbed my crutches and hobbled as quickly as I could to see my 8-year-old as stiff as a board, eyes rolled back, frothing at the mouth, and a deep moan/groan like sound. He was having a seizure. It was scary. VERY VERY Scary. We called the ambulance.

A couple days later, my middle son could barely breathe. He was admitted for four days with a severe asthma attack.

One child can’t lift their arm, I’m on crutches, one son is seeing the neurologist, and one sitting in a hospital bed hooked up to a ventilator.

It would be really easy to hand in the towel. Life is hard.

Just because life is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be faithful. Just because things are difficult doesn’t mean you get to redefine how God’s calling is manifested in your life.

We need more churches, but if you are going to fold just because things are hard, that’s a good reason why you shouldn’t plant a church.

Starting a church can be hard. Many struggles will arise from within the new fellowship. They can be hard. If you think the battle stops there, you will be disappointed. Satan will stop at nothing to squash the God-dream in your heart and the amazing work you will do.

It is hard, but it is worth it! So so so worth it.

If you were to start a church, where would it be?