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What You Focus On Matters

What You Focus On Matters

Have you ever found yourself in that moment where your kids were doing something absurdly cute or ridiculously funny?

What do we do? We grab our phones and try to take a picture, don’t we?

More times than not something goes wrong with the picture for me: my fingers get in the way, the camera doesn’t focus in time, or the moment passes.

I think life is a lot like that.

Life is a beautiful journey. We’re surrounded by so much good and get to encounter so much in life that is purely wonderful, it’s impossible not to be struck by the simple beauty of life itself.

It’s also easy to miss it.

Here’s the reason it’s so easy to miss the beauty of our journey: there will be difficulty, and it’s so easy to focus on the ugly in life.

When difficult times come, it’s easy to allow them to gain our greatest focus. When that happens it robs us of a greater perspective that allows us to see the real beauty of the moment we find ourselves in.

Here’s a few questions to help you regain your focus…

#1 – How big is the problem facing when you view it in the perspective of your entire life?

Often we blow things out of perspective. We make them bigger than they really are. We allow our minds to set the problem in front of the rest of our life. The problem becomes the finger in the way of the cute picture of our kids.

When you press pause on the circumstance, and back up to look at what’s really going on… How big is the problem, really? It’s probably not that big, and you’re probably both blowing it out of proportion and focusing on it.

#2 – Is your problem bigger than Jesus?

If you’re facing a big problem, it’s likely the reason the problem is so big is that Jesus is small in your life. When we have a BIG GOD, we will always have small problems.

Viewing your problem in light of our eternal, all-powerful God is an important step to gaining the right focus in life. He’s bigger than any problem we’ll ever face, and He is on your side!

#3 – What do you need to focus on?

This is the important step… If you’re going to shift your perspective from your problem, where is going to go?

This is where the truth of gratitude begins.

Gratitude is born out of a perspective of our heart, not a set of circumstances.

You probably have more than enough right now to be thankful for. You don’t need something new to happen. You just need to shift your perspective, and when you allow your focus to shift something wonderful happens.

Gratitude turns our problems into praise.

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What do you need to shift your focus from today? What do you need to focus on to be more thankful today?

It’s Lonely

It’s Lonely

During this blog series I’ve shared what I didn’t know about planting a church when I started the adventure to plant Vortex Church in Albemarle, NC.

Most guys who strike out to start a church come from a similar context to me: they were on staff at a church doing something awesome for Jesus.

It’s so easy to overlook something that’s obvious: when you’re on staff at a church you’re typically surrounded with significant relationships. To be on staff at church, the church would need to be larger in nature. There’s a large pool for relationship. From that, most church planters live in significant community prior to their transition.

That was my story. We had fully integrated into the community we lived. We had a ton of friends in our church and outside of our church.

I played kickball on a league in our city with a bunch of people who never went to church, and I loved it. I played golf with men from our church on a regular basis at their invitation. I had coffees and lunch meetings with people that I was mentoring and leading.

Life was full of significant relationship.

When you leave to plant a church, you leave that behind.

We didn’t fully parachute, but we definitely relocated and left our community behind (a parachute is when you move to a completely different city that you have no relational ties with).

During the first few months, I was excited. I was meeting new people, and heavy into the planning of our new church. There’s so much work to do in a church plant, that it often becomes consuming.

Half way through our launch phase, I noticed it creeping in: loneliness.

As we visited church plants and I talked with more experienced church planters, I asked one question about relationships: “When did your best friends show up to church: before you launched or after?” Invariably the answer was “after”.

That pattern was true for me, as well.

That means between the time you leave and the time you launch there’s a relational gap, and it’s easy to let the loneliness become a negative influence in your life.

Instead, I chose to do something that I honestly still must do…

I must find my most significant friendship in the relationship I have with Jesus.

Jesus, not other people, is always the answer to our loneliness. When we experience that relational gap, it’s important to allow the fellowship we share with Jesus to deepen. If you can’t do that, you’ll set yourself up to fail.

I love that Jesus makes himself so available to us… That we can find Him in God’s Word, and in that He still speaks to us every time we open it. I love that we can find Him in prayer whenever we need Him, and that we can have confidence in knowing our God and Friend hears us. I love that we can listen to His voice and become more acquainted to the whispers of His heart to ours.

I’m not going to pretend I got that right the entire time. For a season I felt the loneliness of the transition, and it wasn’t good for me. I’m thankful that God is patient.

Loneliness is a part of any adventure. If we don’t learn how to address it, it will always have the power to derail the progress we’re making.

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How do you overcome loneliness by leaning into your relationship with Jesus?

It’s Harder Than You Think

It’s Harder Than You Think

Anything worth doing is not going to be easy.

That’s the truth in life, and that’s the truth in church planting.

As I coach other church planters, I’ve noticed that that are a lot of us that approach this without a lot of respect for the work it’s going to take to sustain a move of God.

Throughout history, all great moves of God have been a lot of work for the people involved. In mid-19th century the great preacher Charles Finney led revivals throughout the US in what became known as the Second Great Awakening. During that time whole communities would be converted to active believers.

Before Finney led revival meetings in towns, he oversaw massive efforts of prayer networks throughout the communities. This methodology would later be replicated by Billy Graham Ministries in his crusades.

Too often we’re caught looking at the harvest, and neglect to understand the work that it took to sow the seed and prepare the field.

Here’s a few observations on the work of planting a church…

#1 – You must lay a foundation first.

We often marvel at the architecture of a structure, but the foundation must always be solid if there’s anything that can be built to last on top of it.

The foundation for a church plant is the relationship of the Church Planter with God, and nothing else can supplement that.

A Church Planter must first be fully submitted to Jesus, in every area of his life. He must be growing in his capacity to discipline himself by studying the Scriptures, listening to God’s voice, and be responsive to the direction of the Holy Spirit. He must also be working hard to cultivate the kind of internal life that allows his work to be healthy and sustainable.

If you’re in business, or looking to strike out on your own in a new venture, these principles are applicable to you as well, because as a believer everything flows from our relationship with Jesus.

#2 – Don’t be afraid to work.

Far too many people sit back expecting God to do what He’s already given you the tools to accomplish.

I appreciate the heart that wants to wait on God, because I understand the great respect that accompanies that perspective. Starting something new isn’t a patient endeavor. If you don’t have a “No!” from God, and it’s a good thing to be pouring your effort into… Go for it!

#3 – Don’t be afraid to rest.

If you’re going to work hard, you’ll need to rest too.

A lot of entrepreneurs struggle with rest, and later into their journey they begin to fail in their creativity and production.

As a Church Planter, you must commit to a fast pace. Life will be a sprint. It can’t sustain at that level, though. So your rhythm is going to become, SPRINT… and rest. SPRINT… and rest. (repeat)

#4 – The work is culminating.

Planting a church is a lot like choosing to get healthy.

You don’t go to the gym and get upset because you don’t instantly have big muscles. No… you go the gym, week after week, often for years before you have major differences that are evident.

That’s what work that is culminating by nature looks like.

One thing I asked myself every day was, “What is one thing I can do today that will get me closer?” You can’t do it all every day, but if you do a little along the way, you’ll get there!

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How has your work ethic impacted the calling that God has on your life?

It’s Going To Hurt (Part 2)

It’s Going To Hurt (Part 2)

When you start a journey, it’s always exciting.

The first few steps of a run, the first few miles of a road trip… there’s always a sense of wonder and expectation.

The same is true of the journey to plant a church.

It started with good dreams: helping people find a meaningful relationship with Jesus, seeing broken families healed, and the lost being found.

I neglected to understand this important fact: to see all that happen we would have to gather a bunch of sinners together, build relationships with them, and watch Jesus move in their lives… since we are practically incapable of doing any of that in their lives!

I didn’t expect to get hurt when we started out in this journey, but planting a church is a journey filled with pain.

Here’s a few observations on how it hurts…

#1 – Hurt people hurt people.   

At a new church, you get a lot of “one more chance” people. These are people who have been hurt at other churches (often for very legitimate reasons), and they are willing to give a brand new church “one more chance”.

The church seems “different”, and at first that’s exciting. It’s not uncommon for the newness to provoke a new level of involvement and renewed communion with Jesus.

That new found devotion also does something I didn’t anticipate… it opens them up to the past hurt from other church experiences.

At this point, these people have two choices: to deal with the past pain or they will inevitably start to displace the past hurt into their present context.

When they don’t deal with the past hurt, they’ll start to find reasons to be hurt at the new church, and when they’re hurt… they’ll hurt other people.

#2 – People don’t care as much about your feelings as they do about their opinions.

Culturally we’ve shifted how we approach those in authority.

Years ago Teachers, Coaches, Pastors, and Police Officers garnered an immense level of respect. You treated them well. You honored them. Not because they were perfect, but because of the honor of the position they held.

This is not the case in our present context.

Sadly, we live in a cultural context that seems to always be working hard to second guess those in positions of authority. This isn’t a simple truth, but it is the context we find ourselves in.

In our current context, those with informed and arbitrary opinions have platforms to spread their opinions without thought to the feelings of the people they are criticizing.

It’s a part modern day leadership, but it is still painful.

#3 – Healthy always hurts.

One of the guys I work out with is somewhat of a freak. While in his mid-50s, he’s in incredible shape (essentially competition shape).

I remember working out with him one time and making this comment,
“Dude, I can’t wait to get to where I’m not sore anymore.” He repield, “Man, I’ve been sore for the last 30 years.”

That moment I learned something that continues to stay with me, and it’s a very uncomfortable truth…

Healthy always hurts.

During the process of planting Vortex, I’ve had to make decisions I didn’t want to because they were hard. They included having hard conversations with leaders, disciplining those in leadership for poor decisions, and even letting some people off the bus.

Those moments hurt deeply. Those moments also lead to health.

You cannot avoid pain, and if you attempt to avoid it… you’ll avoid being healthy.

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How has pain produced a healthier relationship with Jesus in your life?

It’s Going To Hurt (Part 1)

It’s Going To Hurt (Part 1)

I’m not a “health nut”, but I’ve learned something important about being healthy… It hurts.

Being unhealthy hurts, too.

When you plant a church, at the center of your motivation needs to be two things: God and people.

Planting always needs to be a response to a call. I’ve written about that before.

Planting also always needs to be focused on people.

I came back to our rural, Southern town to start a brand new church because I love the people of this community. I always have. This is place where people wave to you when they pass you in a car, where people pull over to honor a funeral procession, and where we still value being nice to each other. I’m so glad God has allowed us to live here.

When we started Vortex, I had no idea that our church (and me) would hurt people. I still dislike this very much. It’s been the source of much of my quiet pain and struggle for the past few years, but it is unavoidable.

Here are three ways that a church hurts people…

#1 – People are hurt by the sinfulness of others.

A church is a group of people, and any time there is a group of people there is a collection of sin.

People in church aren’t perfect; Pastors aren’t perfect.  Our imperfections aren’t often preferences. It’s often sinfulness.

One of the most important truths about sin to wrestle with is that sin impacts our relationship with God AND others. We often avoid the fact that our sins impact other people, but they do.

In our church, I’ve watched the sinfulness of one impact and hurt others. Sometimes it’s subtle, but most of the time it’s brutal.

Far too often our response is to disassociate the hurt from the people who were sinful and associate the pain to God and the promises of the Gospel. In this way, people far too often run from meaningful community after being hurt in a church.

A healthy perspective allows us to view the sinfulness of others in light of our own. We’ve hurt other people. We’ve offended them, too. We’ve needed grace and forgiveness. What we have received, we freely give.

#2 – People are hurt by the organization of the church.

The local church is an organization of people who have united around the cause of spreading the hope and love that the Gospel has brought to us.

As we leaders shape the organization of the church there will always be strengths and weaknesses to that organization.

There is no such thing as a perfect church. In our imperfections, we’ve hurt people along the way. I hate this. Of all the ways hurt creeps into a church, this is the worst. It’s also unavoidable.

There are often decisions that we make, as a team or simply as a leader, that will inevitably lead to hurting someone. Even the right decision will often hurt people.

This is why we must continually work to recenter ourselves on the two most important things in our church: Jesus and the people He has sent us to reach. We must be willing to be open and honest about our failures in repentance, and we must be willing to make adjustments when we miss the mark.

#3 – People are hurt by the Truth.

When we started Vortex, my heartfelt commitment was that if someone was going to be hurt or offended, I wanted them to be hurt by the Truth.

The wounds that come from the Truth are healthy. They allow us to face our faults and sinfulness, be healed, and move forward into new life that is only found as we are restored in Jesus.

It would be a mistake as a leader to not want this sort of pain for our people, because it is precisely this sort of thing that leads us to a progressive relationship with Jesus.

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How has pain drawn you to or pushed you away from God?

It’s Not About A Church

It’s Not About A Church

One of simplest, yet most profound questions we’ll ever wrestle with is: “What’s the purpose of my life?”

I believe that Jesus still invites us to follow Him, just like He did His disciples.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where God is going.

I know a lot of people who wrestle with this. The wrestling comes in the form of “calling” and “career”. We want to have a clear roadmap, and too often it just feels hazy for a lot of us. We don’t know what where Jesus is leading us or what He specifically wants us to do.

When God convinced me that He wanted me to move to back to our small, rural hometown and start a brand new church I thought this would all be about a church.

So during the process of preparation I did what anyone would do: I studied, prepared, and planned to start a church. This wasn’t a mistake. It’s what anyone in this sort of venture should do.

If you’re starting a brewery, you need to know how to make beer. If you’re opening an auto shop, you need to know cars. My calling and career has been in church ministry, so I was very devoted to learning best practices for church planters.

I thought it was all about a church.

But it wasn’t.

You see: In a career, you give yourself to a vocation. You work hard to improve your craft. You devote yourself to the opportunities, and you climb the ladder. Success is measured in metrics like salary and sales.

For me, this is not a career. It’s a calling.

Like the disciples who heard Jesus invite them to abandon their jobs as fishermen and to come and follow, I believe there is something vastly greater awaiting those of us who respond to that deep sense of motivation and purpose that is found in calling…

We discover that it’s all about Jesus.

When we chase a calling we get closer to Jesus, and that becomes the greatest gift that all of life could leverage.

For me and my journey of starting Vortex Church, planting a church has not been about a church. Instead, it’s been about responding to an invitation that Jesus has given.  That invitation is simply to follow Him and draw near to Him.

It’s not about a church. It’s all about Jesus.

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How has pursuing your calling brought you closer to Jesus?

Loved How We Need To Be Loved

Loved How We Need To Be Loved

A vast research project from the University of North Carolina studied how we, as American culture, view God. Christian Smith, a Sociology Professor at UNC, determined that the most common understanding of God in America aligns to these statements:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  3. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.

Dr. Smith summed up this perception with this statement:
For most of America, we view God as a “Divine Butler”… someone to come and help us when we need Him, but not too involved in our lives.

There’s one huge problem with all of that…
That’s not how it works.
We’re not in charge. (and I’m thankful for that!)

The greatest problem with that perception of God is that we expect God to love us how we WANT to be loved.

That’s not how love works.

Love isn’t about what we want. Love thrives in what we need.
Love isn’t about me. Love is all about someone else.
Love isn’t about my needs. Love meets somebody else’s needs.

Why do we make love about us? It cannot work that way. It will only fail.

The same application needs to be made to how we understand God’s love.

God does not love us how we want to be loved.
God loves us how we need to be loved.

At times, what we need is not comfortable, and I’m afraid that many of us spend way too much time running from God’s loving invitations.

You know that your kids need to eat their vegetables. They’d rather eat candy. You love them, so you force them to eat their green beans and broccoli.

You want to live a comfortable life.
God wants you to live a meaningful life.
So… God convicts you and invites you to change your direction.

Even though its uncomfortable, He convicts you because He loves you!

I’m thankful that God doesn’t love us how we want to be loved.

He loves us how we need to be loved!

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What’s something that you’ve been running from that you realize is a loving invitation from Jesus?

The Light

The Light

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:14-16)

Let’s face it: this world is quite confusing these days.

People have all sorts of opinions about what’s good and bad, what’s right and wrong, what we should do and not do, etc.

When the world seems dark, our typical reaction as Christ-followers is…

We blame the dark for being dark.

You know, I think God is pretty smart. When Jesus described the church and His followers as “the light” it was not on accident.

What is “darkness”? Darkness only exists in the absence of light.

Just one tiny spark lights up a completely dark room.

So, is it more helpful to blame the dark for being dark? Or is it a better question to ask where the light is?

When the world seems to be getting dark, let’s make these commitments:

#1 – Let’s blame ourselves.
If we are living out the Gospel as the people of God, the world will be full of light. If it’s not, then it’s our fault. It’s that simple.

#2 – Don’t get mad at the world for being the world.
The Church and the Gospel are intended to be instruments of healing and restoration, not blame and condemnation. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:17

#3 – Make a difference in your own world.
“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

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How can we more fully be the light Jesus wants us to be? Leave a comment below and share you thoughts:

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Three Ways To Listen To Our Sermons

Three Ways To Listen To Our Sermons

One of the most common questions I get is:
“How can I listen to the message from this Sunday? We’re going to be out of town, and I don’t want to miss out on it!”

That’s a huge compliment.

We work hard each week to prepare messages that we think will be life-giving, meaningful, and relevant to your life right now. The fact that so many of you connect to them is a powerful testimony to what Jesus is doing in our church!

By Tuesday morning, we’ll have the message from that Sunday posted online.

Each week we provide several ways for you to connect to the messages we’re sharing on Sunday (or reconnect if you were with us).

Here’s how you can listen:

#1 – Access past messages through the Vortex Church app on your iOS phone or tablet, Android phone or tablet, Windows phone, or Amazon Fire.

The Vortex App is the best way to find our most recent messages, consolidated into one, convenient place. Once the app loads, it’ll load directly to the “sermons” tab.

The great thing about the Vortex App is that you can watch our latest videos, my blogs, and check out for upcoming events all in one place.

To get the Vortex Church App, visit: http://get.theapp.co/0230

NOTE: Make sure you enable “Push Notifications” so that we can send you important updates. We did this during the ice storm this past weekend and it was very helpful.

#2 – Subscribe to our Podcast.

Our podcast is going to become an interesting way for you to interact with the messages, because we’ll be providing exclusive content on it.

We’re planning to do some Q&A and sermon follow-ups posted mid-week that will only be available on our podcast!

There are THREE ways to subscribe to our podcast:

  • iTunes: If you’re an iPhone, iPad, or just iTunes user, you can find our podcast in the Apple Store by searching “Vortex Church Sermon Audio” and selecting “subscribe”.
  • Stitcher: Stitcher has become a popular podcast app, and you can access our podcast through Stitcher now. Again, just search “Vortex Church Sermon Audio” and subscribe.
  • Podbean: Podbean is an industry standard host for podcasts, and we recently relocated our podcast over to them. You can find us on podbean at: http://vortexchurch.podbean.com – just select the “follow” button!

#3 – Listen directly from our website.

Our website has been a constant source of information for our church, and we’re thankful that many of you visit it frequently.

To find the catalogue of our sermons, starting with the newest and working it’s way backwards, visit: http://vortexchurch.com/sermons/.

From the website you can stream the audio, download the messages, and often download the notes as well.

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Is there any other way that we could make the sermon audio more accessible for you? If so, tell me in the comments and we’ll work on that for you!

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