Kingdom Business

Over the past year Jenny and I have become “accidental” entrepreneurs. It started with Jenny selling her hand-made caramels, as a fund raiser for a group going to Scotland, and has grown into a bustling business venture. I have also found a niche market, with Kingdom Coaching, that appears to have a lot of potential. This sudden success has us attempting to understand how “business” fits into our seek first the Kingdom lifestyle.

Business can be a fairly simple concept:

⁃ Create a desirable product

⁃ Market the product

⁃ Sell the product.

We are aware of the need to monitor expense/profit ratios, have consistent marketing strategies and make wise decisions regarding where and how we present our products. As good, hard working Americans we are also aware of the hard work, dedication and sacrifice that is required to grow a successful business in our culture.

Those of you who are familiar with our story know that, as a family, we agreed to always say yes to God. We also agreed to follow Him wherever He directed and to simply trust Him, as our good Father, to provide for our needs. As a result, we have had an incredible 5 year adventure that has seen miraculous provision over and over again. Now God has opened doors for these business ventures and we feel like we are at a crossroads. Do we follow the tried and true business practices of our culture, or do we seek God’s direction for each step. The obvious Christian answer is to seek God’s direction for each step, but we have found that the obvious Christian answer holds up in a Sunday sermon, but does not fair well in day-to-day living.

The Bible is full of examples of people seeking God for each step. It is also full of examples of God directing people to do seemingly disastrous things. As modern, American Christians we are often okay with giving lip service to the concept of seeking first the Kingdom, but we tend to shy away from following the seemingly disastrous directives that may come from seeking God’s plan. In modern Christianity God is not allowed to give crazy directives.

We experienced this as we followed God “off of the cliff”,so to speak, when we sold our home, quit work and followed God with only His promise of “seek first the Kingdom and I will take care of your needs”. We reluctantly followed as each step got crazier and crazier. Along the way we lost many good Christian friends who could not comprehend God directing us to do seemingly disastrous things. I don’t fault them, because I wanted to abandon the crazy directives as well, but found myself needing to answer the same question that Jesus’ disciples had to answer, when Jesus asked, “do you want to leave me as well?”. I reluctantly answered, as Peter did; “where could we go, only you have the words of eternal life”

Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?

Galatians 3:3

We began this journey in the spirit, and we intend to complete it in the spirit. That means following God’s directives as it pertains to our business ventures as well. We are not entirely sure what that looks like, but we invite those of you who are full of faith and confidence in the goodness of a God whose ways are not our ways, to join with us as we invite heaven to invade our earthly conception of business.

Advertisements

Kingdom Coach

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

John 10:2

When it comes to spiritual direction, many Christians simply assume that we obtain it by reading the Bible. While the Bible is an excellent resource for direction, not all of God’s communications to us can be found in the pages of the Bible. Scandalous, I know! This is why John 10:2 talks about us hearing God’s voice. Some specific, day-to-day direction requires spiritual maturity and “ears to hear”. I don’t propose that hearing from God is a difficult thing. In fact, I would wager that all believers have had God give them direction. The problem is that it is easily ignored. For example, I have a friend who felt like God told him that he was a writer. He had never had training or aspirations to be an author, so it would have been easy for him to ignore this seemingly impossible directive. Instead of ignoring it, he embraced it and was approached by Zondervan publishing to write a book. That kind of specific, day-to-day direction was not found in the pages of the Bible, and it took some serious fortitude (faith) to listen to it and even more to act on it.

A person’s gift opens doors for them and brings them before the great.

Proverbs 18:16

Many people have heard God’s direction for their life and have ruled it out, simply because it sounds impossible. As a result, they attempt to feel alive, but deep down they know that they are missing something. We live in Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville is full of creative people who have heard God’s call to pursue their creativity, but are at a loss about how to get started. The creative personality, in general, struggles with consistency and planning, which adds an additional hurdle to the fact that God’s direction seems impossible. Often the only option, for the creative person, appears to be a consultation with someone who is skilled at monetizing a creative gift. These people are producers, talent agents, and others with a proven track record of “success”. Sadly, this often results in the person’s uniqueness being lost in favor of a marketable product that appeals to the masses. I believe God fully intends for each of us to boldly pursue the things he has spoken to us about and we will not need to make it more marketable. Like my friend who felt God calling him to be an author, we simply need to accept the call and, by faith, treat it as if it is our job. Bold faith like that invites God to meet you with supernatural opportunities, like a publishing deal from Zondervan.

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed”

I Corinthians 12:1

It may seem like a creative person is doomed to either struggle with an unfulfilled calling or compromise the calling in an effort to make it more marketable, but that is not the case. Ephesians 4 and I Corinthians 12 detail some additional “gifts” that God gave us to facilitate His purposes in our lives. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are all tools available for the facilitation of our calling. The apostle keeps us accountable to the big picture of heaven and what it looks like to bring heaven to earth. The prophets provide supernatural wisdom and confirms the direction that the still, small voice of God has placed in our heart. The evangelist encourages us to continually stretch the boundaries of possibility with God and prompts us to share our testimony. The pastor walks with us through the raw emotions of walking by faith, not by sight. Finally, the teacher communicates the complexities of God into simple analogies and applications that we can understand. All of these gifts were given to facilitate, and hold us accountable to, our calling.

We have established that God speaks specific, practical direction to his followers and that the direction may appear impossible. We have also seen that God provided specific tools to assist us in accomplishing the tasks he laid on our hearts. Now let us examine what it looks like to walk this out. I will use my wife as an example, because God has spoken seemingly impossible things into her heart for many years. We recently met at a local coffee shop (I know her love language) and I used a computer program to map all of the things God has spoken to her and to our family. Then we began to examine what practical steps she could do to treat the things God has spoken to her as a job. That meeting was profound for Jenny. She found renewed hope and expectation to see the impossible come to pass. One of the things that God spoke to her, nearly 10 years ago, was that she would speak to, encourage and build up other ladies. I am happy to report that since our meeting, Jenny was invited to be a key note speaker for a ladies event here in Nashville. This was an unsolicited invitation and, I believe, the result of re-kindling hope and expectation. Her dedication to her calling had opened a supernatural door. Now that God’s directives for her are mapped out, she can avoid distractions and she has someone to keep her accountable to bring heaven to earth through her unique gifting and calling.

Others have heard about the power of these planning sessions and I am in the process of meeting with a song writer and an author. I believe that these “Kingdom Coaching” sessions will be met with supernaturally open doors and that God will also bring prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers along side the people who are bold enough to take God’s seemingly impossible directives as their job.

If God has spoken seemingly impossible things into your life, I welcome you to comment below and connect with me. I would love to partner with you and God to see His kingdom come through your life.

Good, Good Father

In March we were gifted with the opportunity to spend a week in Naples, Florida for spring break. The first morning we were there I got up early and went down to the pool. As I sat, enjoying the warm breeze and the ambiance created by the gently waiving palm branches, I was overwhelmed with thankfulness. Here I was sitting poolside at a beautiful resort in Naples, preparing to take my family for a day of fun at the beach. How does that even work? The trip was not the result of our hard work, good budgeting or a windfall of money. It was simply a gift from a loving heavenly father. Right then I realized that I have too often focused on the more challenging aspects (van down by the river!) of what God has asked our family to do, and completely missed the amazing things that he has allowed us to do. Here are some of the things I was reminded of:

  • We have been allowed to go on more, and better, family vacations than all of our previous life combined.
  • Jenny was given the opportunity to spend 10 life-changing days in Scotland.
  • Jenny and I have been able to be together all day, every day. Something that we have always dreamed of (we REALLY like each other).
  • We have time. We no longer feel like we are in a rat race.
  • We have had the opportunity to truly know our children.
  • Our children have had amazing opportunities to discover their passion, purpose and what they were placed on the earth to do.
  • Our children are part of a highly rated education system.
  • We learned that God is ALL that is needed.
  • We learned that God pays bills and provides housing and transportation.
  • We learned to stop relying on our own gifts and abilities and to simply trust.
  • We have been allowed to minister to tens of thousands of people, in over 40 countries, through our blog.
  • We have developed some of the most rewarding relationships with world changing people.
  • We have discovered who we are, not just what we can do.

As I reflected on these things, the more challenging parts of the adventure faded away and I realized that all of my fear and anxiety, over what God asked us to do, was a waste of time. He really does have our best in mind and he really can be trusted.

If God has spoken some crazy things to you or given you a vision that seems impossible, I want to encourage you. He has your best interests in mind. You may be tempted to disregard the seemingly crazy directives, or strip the vision down to a more humanly manageable plan, but doing so will rob you of the good that God has planned for you. He really is a good, good father and he really does want to take you on an amazing journey.

Don’t lose courage when God shares his thoughts with you and they are not like your thoughts. He warned us that would happen. Simply. Trust.

Transformation Part 5 – Revealing the Heart of the Father

Thank you for walking with me these past few weeks as I process my thoughts on transformation.  I know this series is in no way an exhaustive look at transformation, I have merely been sharing some of the things I have seen and experienced in my own journey.  I needed to chronicle my thoughts because I was feeling a bit of self pity due to the length and heaviness of the process.  God began opening my eyes to things I had never paid attention to before; things that had always been there, but I hadn’t acknowledged or thought about.

I would say the majority of believers would agree our ultimate transformation will be when we get to Heaven.  In December I saw the story of Jesus as transformation in reverse.  Why on earth would God robe Himself in flesh and leave Heaven, the place we’re all longing to get to?  Why would Jesus subject Himself to depending on the care of broken, human parents as an infant, the painful awkward pre-teen/teen years, the tedious hard work of a carpenter, and the humiliation of crucifixion all to end up back in Heaven where He began anyway?  I contend He did it to show us how to live a transforming life, all the while revealing the heart of the Father.

The heart of God has always been mercy and love.  Go back through the Old Testament where many say God has an iron fist and is all about judgment, and read it through the lens of love and mercy.  I did that this last year and, wow, I was amazed at how many times God had been extending love and mercy over and over where all I had previously seen was punishment.  Yes, there were and still are consequences to our behavior and to sin, but God’s first response is to extend grace and call us to repentance and a closer relationship with Him.  Judgement is His very last resort and, as you can see in the OT, even then He is still asking us to turn back to Him.

When we live out transformation here on earth people are able to watch as God forms us into His image, they are able to see Him at work, even if they don’t understand it is Him.  As I mentioned in previous posts, people might not know how to respond to your transformation.  They might get angry, or take a step back from your life; they might embrace it full on and desire the same level of transformation in their life.  Your job isn’t to manage how people respond, your job is to allow God to be seen through the process.  So often we say our goal is to be like Jesus.  Here are a few verses to give insight into who Jesus was, what He did and what He tells us to do:

  • “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command…”  Hebrews 1:3
  • “If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”  John 14:7
  • “I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”  John 17:23
  • Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”  John 8:12
  • “But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”  John 9:5
  • “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden…In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14,16  

Again, I realize this is not an exhaustive list, I don’t think any human could make an exhaustive list of the character of God, how Jesus reflected it, and how we’re supposed to reflect it, but it does give us a good start.

Don’t be afraid of transformation.  He is with us through every phase: hurt, confusion, struggle, growth and triumph, we are able to shine the love of our Father.  Jesus already lived it out for us so we know it is possible.  No matter what phase you are in, keep your eyes on God, your source of hope (Romans 15:13).  I don’t know how it’s possible, but somehow even in the bleakest of circumstances, God is reflected in our lives and the people that encounter us are able to feel that hope and through it His love.

Transformation Part 4 – Collateral Damage

Over twelve years ago Aaron had a health wake up call.  He went in for a check up and the doctor told him his blood pressure was out of control.  So out of control in fact that if he didn’t do something about it immediately he would have a stroke by the time he was 35.  The doctor wanted to get him on blood pressure meds right away.  Aaron had zero desire to be on medication and asked if he could have a trial period of watching his food and working out.  The doctor said “yes” and gave him six months.  During that time Aaron was very diligent with eating clean and going to the gym at least three times a week.  When he went back in for his follow up appointment the doctor saw significant change.  Aaron was told that if he could keep up this new lifestyle he would not need meds and there would be no fear of a stroke at 35.

Everyone around Aaron saw the change in him and were affected by it in some way.  He wasn’t so careless with his food choices anymore.  When offered foods he would previously have eaten he would decline and choose a healthier option.  If we were going to be out somewhere he would either make sure he went to the gym before we left or make sure we left on time to get to the gym before it closed.  Then people started changing around him.  They started making excuses for their poor food choices or lack of exercise.  He would never say anything, they would pipe up to justify why they were eating whatever it is they were eating or share how they were trying to eat better.  People began to come to him for workout advice and tell him about how much time they had spent at the gym and what programs they were currently following.  These confessions weren’t anything he started or encouraged.  He simply lived healthy because he needed the change in his own life.

Transformation doesn’t only shake the transformee – spell check is telling me that isn’t a word; well, it is now – it shakes those that were around pre-transformation and those that hear the story mid/post-transformation.  Transformation shines a light and opens people’s eyes to see where transformation is available or needed in their own lives.

Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Acts 2:37 

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.  Acts 5:33 

In both of these verses people were being told the story of the Gospel.  Same story, two completely different reactions.

When we moved to Tennessee our intent was not to create a stir or have a fabulous story to tell.  We moved because we felt like God was calling us to deeper faith in Him.  Leaving behind everything that was safe and predictable was the method He chose for us.  Since moving our life has taken turns we never anticipated and God has changed our hearts and minds in places we didn’t know were in need of changing.

All this change has caused varying reactions from people and not all of them were pleasant.  At first the negative reactions really hurt us.  We were very self focused and often reflected on the “betrayal” and questioned how people could know us for so long and then turn on us so quickly.  We met with one of our pastors to talk over our journey, desperate for wisdom and wanting to make sure we weren’t totally insane.  During that conversation he said something we won’t ever forget; “Your story causes tremors.  There is a shaking that happens when people see your life or hear your story.  They are left with this conundrum on how to respond to it.”  Basically, if they accept it, they have to acknowledge that God could cause an upheaval in their lives to grow their faith.  If they’re not ready for that they need to reject it and in so doing reject us as well.

That ended the self pity.  We are now able to understand and sympathize with people’s reactions to our transformation.  This crazy story isn’t only messing with our spiritual boxes we’ve built, it’s messing with the boxes of the people we’ve known for years and the people that are just now hearing our story.  They have to grapple with the underlying question of “What does God require of me?” and that can be scary.

If you are in the middle of a transformation process and the people you thought would always be there are gone or aloof, ask God to show them to you through His eyes.  Take your hurt and turn it into earnest prayer for them.  They have been shaken.  What was predictable is now a wild card and they’re not sure what to do.  Ask God to speak to them and show them the way He has for them, and pray for them to have strength to follow.

 

 

Transformation Part 3 – The Cost of Personal Relationships

“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life.  Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.  And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.  But don’t begin until you count the cost.”  Luke 14:26-28

Truthfully, this passage used to bother me.  My personal aim in life is to love every person like Jesus loves them.  I want people to feel a love from me that cannot be explained, because it comes from the Father.  So for me to read “hate everyone” was really hard.  I knew it didn’t mean to literally hate them, but I couldn’t get my heart and mind to agree on what “hate everyone” meant.  These last few years have shown me the “cost” this verse is talking about.  It isn’t about literally hating or loving them; it’s about me and my heart and what I’m willing to sacrifice.

Laying down my life doesn’t bother me because it’s something I can do.  I can look at the time, comforts and possessions I’ve sacrificed and have an account of what I’ve done for God and for His kingdom.  What I’ve struggled with is the things that have been sacrificed unwittingly; specifically relationships.  This is where the “hate everyone” has become real.  This is a cost I didn’t even know to count.

We will be the first to admit our faith journey, since leaving Wisconsin, has been crazy.  Most of it has made no sense and we look like we’ve lost our ever lovin’ minds.  We have. We didn’t leave behind all the “great” we had (job, house, friends, family, church) because we were angry, setting out to prove something or seeking a new thrill.  We left it all behind because we were desperate for greater faith, for a deeper walk with God.  We want to see the God of the Bible alive and well and active in our modern age; to experience and witness miracles, signs and wonders.  In our naiveté we thought leaving everything behind was the greatest sacrifice, (sell all you have and give to the poor) but we found that was just the beginning.  We had to lose ourselves.  And in losing ourselves, we lost others.

Our “cost” focus tends to be on the things we can change and let go of ourselves: changing our environments, the things we listen to and watch, the way we speak and act.  These are all needed and are all great visual, tangible examples of sacrifice and transformation.  But what about the sacrifice after the transformation?  There is collateral damage to transformation.  Suddenly people don’t know what to do with you anymore, they don’t know how to act or speak around you.  All your previous anticipated responses have changed and they don’t know how to navigate the relationship anymore.

In my mind I assumed all relationships that change or end are ones that were toxic.  That isn’t the case.  Sometimes the relationships that change are the ones you thought were there for a lifetime.  They were the people that were there for you at any moment and they walked through life with you: through marriage, babies, houses, questions, loss, gain, etc.  Then you begin this transformation and you’re in a place they’re not familiar with, nor are they ready to explore.

Now we’re faced with the decision: Do we continue on this walk with God that seems crazy and unpredictable?  This walk that is making us question our sanity?  Or do we stay with what is comfortable and predictable?  Here is where it is important to know the sound of God’s voice in your life.  Sometimes the words He speaks completely contradict human logic and common sense.  Actually, quite often they do.  Are we willing to walk away from relationships where you have found comfort and experienced joy to follow an unknown path that God is calling you to?  This is where we need to examine: is He truly the source of our joy and strength, or are we relying on our relationships with people?

Here is the great cost, not only for you but for them.  God has called you to a path you can’t really see and you don’t know if you have the strength to walk, but you’re willing to give it a go.  Sometimes in order to grow you have to leave things and relationships behind.  You have to “hate” them.  Remember, these were the closest of relationships so you’re not the only one feeling the pain, but you are the one being called and you are the one that will stand before God someday and answer for your own life.  Are you willing to leave all behind to follow Him?  He won’t lead you down a path of what appears to be loss and destruction without a purpose, but you need to trust His purposes.  He loves your friends and family even more than you do so, of course, He is going to take care of them in this journey as well.

 

 

 

Orphan or Adopted?

cropped-cropped-sanders-kids.jpg

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God

John 1:12

John gives us a quick overview of who Jesus is and what his intentions were, in the first chapter of his book. Prior to verse 12 he details that no one recognized Jesus. His own people, who studied the scriptures intentionally looking for the Messiah, missed him. That is when John says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the RIGHT to BECOME children of God.” I would like to focus on the concept of “becoming” children of God.

The opportunity to become children of God, indicates that we are not naturally children of God. According to John, we need to “receive him” and “believe in his name”, then we have the right, or choice, to become children of God. It appears that we can receive him and believe in him, but still choose not to become his children. As a result we default to the status of orphan.

According to what I have read, an orphan has a fierce sense of independence. They know that if they don’t take care of themselves, no one else will. They are aware that there are good, kind, loving people in the world, but they feel that they are not good enough to deserve that kind of love. They often exhibit a need to prove their worth, through hard work and determination, and are very proud of their ability to do things for themselves.

If I combine John’s insight, with what I know about being an orphan, I come to the following conclusion: I have spent the majority of my Christian life as an orphan. I received Jesus and believed in Jesus, but I have never chosen to become his child. I exhibited all of the characteristics of an orphan. I was fiercely independent and knew that if I did not take care of myself no one else would. I read the Bible my entire life and was aware that God was good and kind, but somehow felt that I did not have access to his bountiful riches and kindness. As a result, I was left to fend for myself. I started a family, got a good job and continued to receive and believe in Jesus, but never fully accepted the opportunity to become his Child.

As I look back over the last four years, I see that my family and I have been reluctantly choosing to become children of God. As strange as this may sound, giving up our orphan status was very difficult. Our culture and religious training reinforced our orphan mind set at every turn. God would say, “listen to my voice, and I will take care of you” and our orphan mind would respond with plans and ways to take care of ourselves. We would read in Matthew 6 where Jesus tells his followers that they are not to worry about where they live, what they eat or what they wear and that those concerns are for the pagan people who reject God, yet we still wanted to take care of ourselves. Because we were well versed in scripture, we attempted to use the Proverbs to talk ourselves out of allowing God to be our father and take care of us. We would point to Proverbs 6 and attempt to explain that we can take care of ourselves and that we really didn’t need him to provide for us.

As you can read in our story, it has taken us a long time to accept the love of a father. We still have overwhelming moments where we think like an orphan and begin to plan to meet our own needs, but we are at least aware that there is an alternative now. We are also diligent about listening for our father’s voice and obeying his directions for each day. After all, that is what seeking first the kingdom is – listening and obeying. Our father promises to take care of all of our needs, if we will seek his kingdom first.