Make it count: Ignore the Excuses

My wife and I have a small group that I lead at our campus. It sounds more noble than it is. We stumbled into leading it, to be honest, but we truly love the people we're with in the group. They're all having kids, moving around, parenting, making a difference in the community in various ways. Big picture: it's a joy. 

But it meets on Sunday evenings. And on Sunday evenings, I can think up five or six excuses as to why we should cancel small group...

In the first place, I'm a pastor, and the only day I work is on Sunday, so I work really really hard on Sundays. So hard, that by 2pm, I'm exhausted and I need a break. 

Usually someone's out of town.

I just saw them all at church just a few hours ago.

My kids didn't nap today, so they're cra-cra...

My friend's kids didn't nap, and I don't hang out with their kids when they don't nap.

Football season is only here for 17 weeks. 

These are lame excuses. I always find when I ignore the excuses, hanging with other families that want to But I find it's the important things in life, the things that make our lives count that I'm tempted to short-change with lame excuses.

I was preaching through Ecclesiastes 11 this past weekend at Bethel, and these verses really cut to the heart of how we make our lives count...

If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie. He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.
— Ecclesiastes 11:3-4

The picture is one of a farmer standing in his field in the springtime, wondering what the wind looks like, and if today is a good day to sow seed. Too much wind and the seed won’t be scattered properly. There’s a lot of money in a bag of seed, no farmer can afford to just waste it. So the question is "Is the timing right?" 

But then we also see the same farmer at harvest time, looking out at the crops that need to be collected, and they look up at the clouds and wonder if the weather will rain or not, if they should harvest now or later, and they delay because conditions are not quite right.

These are excuses for why we procrastinate our responsibilities, or even worse, are paralyzed by fear. Solomon's encouragement to us is to ignore the excuses. You want to make your life count? Act when the circumstances around you aren't ideal. Take a bit of a risk. Get done what needs to get done, regardless of the storms around you.

If you wonder, "Will it rain? Is it going to be better tomorrow? Today is inconvenient…" then you are acting like a fool who thinks he knows when the right conditions will come. Acknowledge that circumstances are outside of your control, and the right moment might not come. And get busy. 

Are you one decision away from a great work? Then make the decision to ignore the excuses and get after it.

Of All People: Responsibility, Religion and Racial Reconciliation

This post is adapted from my message “Of All People” given to Bethel Hobart/Portage on July 24, 2016. Listen now.

Reflecting back on the days before we started dating, Kristin often mumbles, “I can’t believe I married Dan Jacobsen… of all people.” It’s that second bit that really gets my attention. The first part I can understand. I’m obviously a charming, handsome catch of a man. But then she qualifies it… of all people. Ouch?

In the gospels, Jesus does the same thing. Remember when Jesus is confronted by a lawyer and asked how to inherit eternal life? As Jesus responds, “What does the Law say?” it’s almost as if he’s says to the lawyer, “You, of all people, ought to know the law.” When the lawyer responds correctly, "love God, love neighbors," he asks Jesus a follow up... “But who is my neighbor?”

And to this question, Jesus tells one of the best known stories in the world. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. You know it well, probably... A Jew travels from Jerusalem to Jericho and is surprised by thugs who beat him, take his stuff and his clothes, and leave him half-dead without any help. Along the way a priest sees the man and doesn’t help out. Surely, of all people, the priest should have done something! Then comes a Levite, who probably saw the priest ignore the man and thought to himself, “If he, of all people, didn’t stop, why should I?” 

Finally, it's a Samaritan, of all people, who saw the man and had compassion for him, taking care of him. The Jews had little to do with Samaritans, so much so that when Jesus asks the lawyer the question about who was a neighbor to the man, the lawyer can’t bring himself to say the words “the Samaritan.” Instead, the lawyer generically responds, “The one who showed mercy.” 

It’s almost as if Jesus is telling the lawyer “If you want to inherit eternal life, you must love God completely and your neighbors thoroughly. This is so high a task, it seems humanly impossible.” Which is why, in the midst of this law-soaked story, Jesus infuses a message of grace and mercy. Jesus responds to law with grace. This is what he always does.

I find it so encouraging that in response to the demands of the law, Jesus tells the story of all people. What I mean is this… All of us have been dead in sin, left in a mess on the side of the road, and needed someone to see our need. It was Jesus who came to serve us, and he sacrificed himself for us, and spent his life to redeem us out of our debt to sin. Only by grace are we alive in the spirit. Christians, of all people, know this kind of grace and mercy. 

Because of this, here are three ways Jesus calls Christians to live as gospel neighbors...

Responsibility.
At the core of this passage is the question, “What’s my responsibility in this life?” However, people who have been changed by the gospel are freed from parsing the particularities of the law and recognize the question isn’t “what’s my responsibility?” but instead they simply declare, “I’ll take responsibility.” What was it that compelled the Samaritan to take responsibility for the man? It was compassion and mercy. Of all people, he would seem to have the most reason to cross the road, except mercy and grace say “I’ll take responsibility.” 

Religion.
Many people think the church is the place that does acts of mercy and grace. But when we deflect responsibility to the church as an agency to act with compassion and mercy, we’re crossing over the road and leaving people that God has positioned us to love. And this works itself out best when we aren’t limited to serve just others in our church community. Do you know the best way you can share the gospel of Jesus with your antagonistic atheistic friend? It's not through well rehearsed philosophical arguments... (This was the lawyer's tactic with Jesus and it didn't end well for him). The best way to share the gospel is to "Go, and do likewise." 

Racial Reconciliation
We can’t get around this fact: for centuries this story has been called the story of "The Good Samaritan." His race is a part of the title! Jewish pride was put in its place as the needs of a fellow Jew were met by a Samaritan. Here's the big idea: we ought not be defined and limited in our fellowship and in our mercy and compassion for one another that we only serve those who look like us or sound like us or believe like us or think like us. Gospel neighboring crosses racial roads to come together. 

Who owns the responsibility to champion racial reconciliation in the world? It can’t be the government. It can’t be the schools. Jesus says it's his followers, of all people.

Winning Father's Day

Father's Day is a punch in the gut for most families. As I was preparing for this year's Father's Day message, the stats on family breakdowns and its effect on children rocked me. I know so many dads, myself included, want to do this really well. So at the HP campus, we looked at the design, the failure, and the remedy this past weekend, and left with lots of dads inspired to win, hopeful for the future, and ready to serve their kids. (Listen to "The First Man" at Bethel's Media page.)

The one book on fathering that dads need to buy

Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker. 

If you're a dad of a daughter, this book is a MUST READ, and a great Father's Day present to yourself. The insight included in Dr. Meeker's book will help dads strengthen their resolve to fight for their family, to be their daughter's hero, and to know how to navigate those awkward moments. 

A Few Thoughts on Fathering

A Culture of Convention
We live in a world of convention, that how most people generally accept a thing is how that thing should be. For the first time, though, the conventional family is no longer mom and dad living together raising kids [1]. 46% of kids raised today in America will be raised in homes where Mom and Dad are together living in the same house. Which means more kids will be raised in families where relational pain is the backdrop, and a good majority of that pain stems from Dad. Dads, we can't just look around at what the other guys are doing with their families, because more of them are doing it poorly than we realize. It's time to get a better playbook.

A Humility to Repent
I was so encouraged by the dads that stopped me on Sunday to say, "Pray for me, I need a restart." We ought to be fair to dads and realize that growing up in our society today is a complicated mess of a thing, and it doesn't all rise and fall on dad. But when dads live in humility and actively model repentance and living according to your convictions, it gives power to your life example. Dads, we are setting up our kids for success when we teach them how to handle failure.

A Drive to Succeed
William Carey's words are convicting here - "I’m not afraid of failure. I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” Too many dads are working towards things that are of no real value. A lower golf handicap, a louder exhaust on the bike, perfectly aerated lawns, an encyclopedic knowledge of the NFL depth charts. What happens if you succeed at those things all the while your kids struggle. 

Recently I was told a story of A.W. Tozer. He was a prolific author and marvelous preacher who ministered not too far from where I serve today. One day after A.W. Tozer had died, a man met one of Tozer's six sons and began to tell him about how wonderful and inspiring his dad was to him. The son looked to the ground as this stranger recounted all the successful things Tozer had done in life and in the church and how very influential Tozer was in this particular man's life. The son stopped the man, saying, "Don't tell me about my father. I never had a father. His work was his kids."

That's the type of statement that drives dads to succeed at the things that matter - at being dad.