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My Pastor Didn’t Do It – Get Your Copy Today!

My Pastor Didn’t Do It – Get Your Copy Today!

Earl Middleton No Comments

mypastor.jpgThe pastor didn’t kill his seductive parishioner and is forced to embark on a hilarious journey to find out who did. ($2.99 e-book; $13.99 paperback. Available Now!)

This first of its kind American novel featuring a black clergyman as the amateur sleuth is set in a fictional bedroom community of Newark, NJ. There’s a lot going on in Belton, including an influx of college educated African Americans, a rising crime rate, and escalating racial tensions.

When a sexy member of the city’s lone African American congregation turns up dead in her basement, the only evidence recovered from the scene is Pastor Tony Hook’s DNA, and all he can offer for an alibi is that he was alone in his study, praying for Anemone’s soul. And his own. Of course, golden-eyed detective Sgt. Chris Sears sets her sights on him as her prime suspect, jeopardizing his future in ministry, and Pastor Hook launches his own sidesplitting investigation into the murder. With an anonymous rival who will stop at nothing to get him out of the way, and a crusty trustee who will try almost anything to get rid of him also breathing down his neck, only heaven can help Hook out of this mess, but God has chosen this time to go silent on him. Pursued by good and hounded by evil, poisoned by deadly wildlife and stricken with writer’s block, Pastor Hook must overcome Jobian loss and ugly suits, resist witchcraft, brave fire, dodge bullets, survive explosions, and tame ravenous beasts to track down the killer in this hilarious clerical romp.

In the end almost no one is who they appeared to be and Hook realizes that even for pastors some clichés are built on truth: home is where the heart is, and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.


The Blueprint for Busting Out of Pig Pens

Earl Middleton No Comments

blueprint, bust out, pig penIn one way or another we’ve all been in a pig pen. A prison of our own making. An unpleasant place in life arrived at via our own faulty, even foolish, navigation. Many of us feel like we’re in such a place right now in at least one area of our lives, and have no idea how to bust out of it. What if I told you there is a blueprint for busting out of your pig pen?

Busting out of a pig pen is not as easy as it sounds. By the time we arrive there we’re so resource depleted that it would seem like the only way out is to be rescued by some good Samaritan. Which makes the story Jesus tells of the lost son even more remarkable. This dude didn’t wait on a rescuer. He got himself out! And in so doing he created a blueprint for you and me to follow.

Warning! It’s not easy to follow this blueprint. But it works.

The blueprint reveals that there are no items to acquire to bust out of this pen, no metal files to steal, no bed sheets to turn into ropes, no tunnels to dig. The only thing needed is something even the most bankrupt person has in abundance. Thoughts. How a prodigal thinks about and views his pig pen determines when and how he gets out.

The blueprint is really a thought map with seven points of interest, like seven stops on an underground railroad. The points are sequential, and each stop is necessary.

1. Blame. When a prodigal first arrives in the pig pen, in the place of want and desperation, he immediately looks for somebody to blame. After all, this is the behavior of the powerless. The prodigal will blame the father who gave him the requested goods, the fake friends who helped him waste them, the people who refuse to give him anything when he extends his palm for a handout.

2. Critique. When prodigals realize that blame won’t change their circumstances they move on to system critique. It’s not people specifically that are responsible for the mess they’re in, it’s the system of life we’re all enslaved by. The economic system is unfair. Helping those who don’t have anything should be built into the system. Sharing should be required. It’s not fair that some have so much, way more than they need, while others have nothing.

3. Comparison. Critique failing to move the needle gives way to comparison. Prodigals soon begin to measure their circumstances against those of other prodigals and conclude that maybe things aren’t so bad after all. There are pig pens everywhere, in every city of every state in every country. “There are plenty of others in pig pens so maybe I’m really just a victim of unfortunate circumstances like them.”

4. Permissiveness. It’s only a short hop, skip, and jump from comparison to permissiveness. “I’m young, I’m supposed to go through this now. This is what young people do. This is the time of life to make mistakes and recover from them. I’m gaining valuable life experience. The pig pen is good for me right now. It’s teaching me character!”

5. Despair. Hunger pangs have a way of diminishing the immediate value of character. When prodigals begin to realize that they can’t eat intangible qualities forged through suffering they begin to take inventory of their ability to meet their physical needs and find the cupboard empty. That’s when despair sets in. “What am I going to do? How am I going to eat? No one’s trying to help me and I have no skills to help myself other than feeding pigs, something anybody can do. I’ll never get out of this pig pen!”

6. Depression. There’s only one place to go from despair; deep into the valley of depression. This is where the anger that was aimed outward in blame is now directed inward. The prodigal finally becomes angry with himself for helping to create his unpleasant predicament. This is absolutely the most important coordinate on the prodigal’s thought map, because this is the point where he finally begins to accept responsibility for the shape and circumstances of his life, and begins to reject blame.

7. Determination. From depression there’s nowhere to go but up. And that’s what happens when prodigals arrive at this final stop. They’ve finally made up their mind to arise, to get up out of their circumstances and move on. Along with determination comes vision, and a plan. These three working in concert propel the prodigal out of the pig pen. “It’s better at home. Even the servants have more than I do. I will go home and apply for a serving job!”

The blueprint for busting out of pig pens takes prodigals on a thought journey back to their source. It can be a quick trip, or it can take a lifetime. However long it takes you, happy travels.

How to Help Your Prodigal Child

Earl Middleton No Comments

prodigalHolding your child accountable is part of a legitimate spiritual skillset called parenting that does pay off in the long run. Cf. the prodigal son’s father, who held his son accountable by allowing him to make a bad decision he demanded to make which could only result in failure, watching him fail, and then staying out of his way while he gnawed on the bitter fruit of his failure. If many of us today were in that dad’s shoes we would have:
1. Given him only a small portion of the inheritance now and told him the rest is in a trust that can’t be touched until he’s 30. (In an effort to protect him from himself.)
2. Followed him into the far country…or at least tracked him by the gps on his phone. (In an effort to protect him from others).
3. Put alerts and spending limits on his account so he couldn’t waste all of his money on riotous living. (In an effort to protect him from financial failure).
4. Rented him a room and given him a food allowance just before he got to the pig pen. (In an effort to protect him from poverty/hunger…and perhaps spare our own reputation as well).
5. Given him a ride back home and paid his living expenses for a year to help him get back on his feet while he looked for a job. (In an effort to protect him from insignificance).
All this would have frustrated the divine plan to use this prodigal episode to change this young man’s heart.

If you’re currently holding your child accountable for his decisions and actions while being a resource for her when she repents then you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing as a responsible parent. You may seem mean and harsh to the rest of the world but you stay the course, it will bless your child in the end!

Claim your child’s success even when you see him headed to the hog pen. Declare that the hog pen will cause her to come to herself! That it will provide the moment of clarity he needs to turn his life around.

How to Make Hard Things Easy Peasy

Earl Middleton No Comments

hard, easyHARD – what does it mean? Define it. Does it mean impossible? Something totally unachievable? Like jumping over the Empire State Building in one leap, a single bound, a la Superman? The obviously unachievable doesn’t elicit anything from us when we consider attempting it, we just concede that it’s unachievable and let it go without batting an eye. I know I can’t jump over the Empire State Building so I wouldn’t even try. And it’s definitely not something that would occupy my thoughts at night before I go to sleep. How do I know it’s unachievable? Because I can’t even jump high enough to dunk a basketball anymore. And that only requires that I get 36” off the ground! If my best efforts when I was in my 20s got me 40” to 42” off the ground then how is it even conceivable that I would be able to make up the additional 1,000 feet needed to get to the top of the Empire State Building? That’s 300 times more lift than I’ve ever been able to muster at my strongest! That’s how I know it’s unachievable in my own strength. That’s not hard. That’s impossible.

So, what’s hard? How do we define it? Most would say hard means difficult. Not easy. And ease is about effort, something we can do without expending maximum, painful energy; or something we are assured of, even if it takes maximum, painful energy. If we know that every time we give maximum, painful effort it will produce the desired result then we consider that thing easy because it’s in our power and control to make it happen whenever we want. It’s like knowing that 1,000 cold calls in any given period will yield enough sales to return $10,000 in commissions. All we have to do is make the effort and expend the necessary energy, something well within our capacity, to make it happen. Given that knowledge, making 10 grand in a month, or even in a week, is not hard. That’s easy.

Hard is about effort, too. Painful effort. I think when we say something is hard what we’re actually saying is that it will require strenuous, painful effort and we’re not guaranteed the desired outcome despite that level of effort. We will experience pain without a guaranteed reward for that pain. This makes HARD a word imbued with emotion, with feeling, with psychic valence. When we say something is hard what we really mean is that it’s going to cost us some pain and the outcome is not guaranteed, so we’re ambivalent about making that pain investment. We’re afraid our pain and suffering will be for nought. And so, the thought of how “hard” the task is keeps us from action, keeps us from jumping into the fray immediately. It causes us to hesitate, procrastinate, and eventually miss out.

How can we eliminate the word HARD from our vocabulary and experience? How can we eliminate the life limitations imposed by our acceptance of the idea and validity of things being hard?

1) By changing our understanding of pain. When we see pain as something unnecessary, something to be avoided at all costs, we limit ourselves and narrow our potential. When we instead view pain as preparation for progress and a necessary, diagnostic part of the growth process we learn to embrace it rather that reject it. Pain serves a dual function in our lives. It’s both an alarm and a coach! It tells us when there is something wrong or out of place in our body. That’s it’s alarm function. It also tells us when we’re encroaching upon previous limits that we want to break through. That’s it’s coaching function. Growth requires stretching and breaking in order to repair stronger and better. Until an athlete embraces pain in the weight room s/he has limited ability to gain strength. In that context, pain is good. We want a HARD workout because it will produce growth. Because we trust the science and believe that pain is gain in the weight room. So we no longer think of the workout as hard, we think of it as good. If I consider that every time I encounter pain I’m being stretched and broken for growth that helps me to see pain not as something “hard” and bad, but something good; and it makes the decision to endure it easy. Math problems that make me scratch my head are not hard, they’re good, because they break me intellectually for growth. I’m getting smarter every time I attack a math problem that stretches my mind! I’m becoming a better writer every time I tackle a work that forces me to squirm in my seat and restart sentences or whole paragraphs and scenes over and over again. I’m becoming a better mate every time I broach a subject with my partner that challenges me to move from where I’ve always been to an unfamiliar, uncomfortable place that affords a better connection with my partner.

2) By changing our understanding of time. We equate ease with speed, and difficulty with length. If it takes long it’s hard. If it’s quick it’s usually “painless” and easy. Because the human condition condemns us to live under a ticking clock perhaps the hardest thing to do in this life is wait. We’re all faced with a limited supply of time, so, Dr. Seuss reminds us in Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, the most useless place in this life is the waiting place, where everyone is just waiting. He promises successful people that they’ll somehow “escape all that waiting and staying.” But we all know that’s not true. The road to success for most people is very long. And because it’s long, it’s considered hard. In most people’s mind it’s hard to become a doctor or lawyer or college professor or acquire the credentials to become any kind of professional because it requires years of schooling and often additional time to pass a standardized test to be admitted to those professional ranks. It’s hard to wait. Why? Because of the previously discussed concept of painful effort expenditures with no immediate reward. If we’re going to go to the trouble of investing strenuous effort we want a reward in a reasonable amount of time that makes the investment worthwhile for us. But it takes 4 years to earn a medical degree and 3 years to earn a Juris Doctorate. For most, waiting that long is hard. Here’s how to make it easy. Shorten the reward time.

Many years ago I caught a late night show at Catch a Rising Star, a New York City comedy club, along with my wife and brother-in-law, who had just completed his first year of law school. When the comedian asked him what he did for a living my brother-in-law replied, “I’m a lawyer!” My first thought was, “That’s just not true. You’re a law student, not a lawyer.” But many years later the light bulb flashed on for me. My brother-in-law was shortening his reward time in order to make the journey through law school easier. For a whole year he had been thinking like a lawyer, behaving like a lawyer, carrying himself like a lawyer, hanging around other lawyers, studying what lawyers study. That made him feel like a lawyer, so in his mind it was totally appropriate to identify himself as a lawyer. And by so doing, he reaped the intangible benefits of the designation even though he didn’t have the degree in hand yet to confirm it. At Catch a Rising Star he grabbed the cache that comes with the profession and everyone in the room esteemed him as such even though he was still on his journey. He understood that it is the entire journey that defines us, not just arriving at the destination.

Is there a task in front of you that you’ve refused to start because you think it’s too hard? Embrace the pain. The reward will come. It’s an immutable law. Success is guaranteed. Are you thinking about starting a journey you’ve considered hard? Stop hesitating. Get going. It’s not hard at all. Make it easy by rewarding yourself along the way and owning the identity you will have at the end of the journey right now. Nothing in this life is hard when we change our understanding of pain and time.

3 Reasons to Stop Grieving!

Earl Middleton No Comments

grief, grievingYou don’t have a relationship with one of your parents and it hurts. I know how you feel. It’s like the grieving goes on forever. Will you ever heal? Will it ever get better? Will they ever show you the love you so long for? It’s almost as if your grief is the only thing you have that connects you to them, the only thing that reminds you that you really care, the only thing that gives you hope that they might finally embrace you one day.

Grieving is essential for growing through your loss, but the sober truth is there’s also a time when you have to stop. At some point you’ve got to complete your grieving or it will become counterproductive. As important as it is for you to learn how to grieve productively, it’s probably even more important for you to learn how, when, and why to stop. So many people who have been rejected by a parent remain locked inside their grief far too long and it drains them of the vital resources necessary to own their present days and future lives. This is why many ancient cultures have a structured time for grieving embedded in their death rituals. In Judaism it’s 30 days up to one year. In Islam it’s 3 days up to four months and 10 days. In Hinduism it’s 13 days or 40 days. In the Caribbean it’s 9 nights.

The grief process was thrust upon you and began involuntarily (because you didn’t choose to suffer the significant loss you have, you didn’t ask your parent to reject you),  but if you’re ever going to enjoy the following three necessities of a satisfying life then you must decide to take control of the process and determine its endpoint. You’re going to have to decide to put and end to your grief.

1. Joy. Grief and joy are mutually exclusive. Grieving turns our full focus to our loss and invests all our attention and energy on processing that loss. Many people mistake joy for a feeling, but it’s much deeper than that. Joy is full presence and participation. When we are grieving we are unavailable to be fully present and participatory in anything but our own loss. In this way grief is isolating, the very opposite of joy, which is full on engagement. If you’re ever going to fully engage your life, you’ve got to decide to put an end to your grief.

2. Strength. The ability that the Holy Spirit gives us to be fully present and engaged,  the joy of the Lord, is the thing that grounds us and gives us traction, our strength. We don’t have access to this strength, this ability to stand against resistance and endure on our course, when we’re in full on grief. That’s why we need to complete one step before we move on to the next in the 5 GRACE steps. We’re not ready for forgiveness until we’re done grieving, because forgiveness requires the joy of the Lord. And that joy gives us the traction, the strength, to let go. If you want the strength to achieve your goals in this life you’re going to have to decide to put an end to your grief.

3. Pleasure. Grieving is active and deliberate, with a goal and an agenda. It includes weeping, self denial and flagellation, refusal of tasty foods and sweet drinks and anything pleasant to the senses, and forceful expression of energy. Grieving is not fun. It never was, and was never intended to be. Grieving calls us to a life of suffering, to asceticism masquerading as piety, to a commitment to struggle without a real cause. I surrendered so much pleasure in my life and denied myself so many good feelings because I was grieving and didn’t even realize it. If you’re going to enjoy the pleasures that this life has to offer you’re going to have to decide to put and end to your grief.

The 5 S’s of Team Success

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teamTEAM: families, companies, churches, community organizations, government entities. They’re all teams. They all function by using the same five fundamental principles. And they all succeed or fail based on their effectiveness in implementing these 5 S’s of team success into their culture.

1. Script. This is the life blood of every successful team. The ancient Greeks used the word symphone, from which we get the English word symphony, to express our idea of agreement. It literally means making the same sounds or SAYING the same things. It doesn’t necessarily mean BELIEVING the same things. For a team to succeed everyone has to make the same confessions publicly despite what they think, feel, or believe privately. This requires individuals sublimating their belief system for the success of the team. Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant BELIEVED he was the best player on the Lakers’ team during their threepeat in the early 2000s, but when it was time to win in the playoffs he often SAID that Shaquille O’Neal was the one who would lead them to victory. Despite the cacophony that surrounded the team it was their internal symphony, their decision to stick to a common script, that kept them centered and balanced, allowing them to win the ultimate prize in their sport. What script is your team using to produce its unique symphony?
2. System. Every team needs a belief system that organizes everyone and everything in the team’s universe and makes agreement, symphony, possible. In order to say the same things there has to be an established mantra, a communal coda that everyone adopts. This constellation of principles and behaviors must earn everyone’s trust, every team member’s assurance and conviction, that it will produce a specific set of results. This is the team belief system that everyone adopts by sublimating their personal belief system. For the threepeat Lakers that system was the triangle offense. What system is your team using to produce the results it wants?
3. Sacrifice. Some call it “buy-in,” but buy-in suggests immediacy. When we buy something there is usually an immediate exchange of goods and/or services for some sort of currency. Sacrifice is more like an investment. People “offer up” something of value to themselves in the hopes or belief that they will reap a greater reward at some point in the future. Sacrifice first requires that everyone on the team be aware of what they possess that is of value to themselves and others, and what that approximate value is. The threepeat Lakers boasted several players who were featured scorers on their previous teams. But with the Lakers these players sacrificed high scoring averages, and in some instances the contract money that went with being a leading scorer, for the promise of winning a championship. What sacrifices are the people on your team making in order to succeed?
4. Sum<Parts. In successful teams the sum is less than its parts. I know you’ve heard it the other way around all your life, “The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.” This suggests that commitment to a group identity and group action produces a total result greater than what would be possible if everyone acted individually. Hence the popular acronym for team: together everyone achieves more. This also suggests that synergy magically transforms the ordinary into something special and that cooperation elevates individuals to a level of functionality they are incapable of by themselves. It’s a nice sentiment, and we’d all like to believe it because it means that despite our ordinariness we can be a part of something special and feel elevation to a level previously believed unattainable. The truth is that successful teams are much more often less than the sum of their parts because it takes talented individuals to win. Teams win not when everyone does more than they’re capable of; but when everyone does less than they’re capable of so that everyone can do everything together. The “magic” of synergy is like lightning in a bottle. It’s not subject to scientific replication under controlled conditions. It’s more reliant on the whim and caprice of the “gods.” The discipline of restraint on the part of the talented is a far more reliable approach, far more subject to human control, and much more likely to be replicated under controlled conditions. Even on teams where there is an unquestioned megastar, in order for that team to experience success there has to be a constellation of other stars who intentionally dim their shine for the good of the team, as with the threepeat Lakers. Is your team greater or less than the sum of its parts?
5. Star. Every successful team has one main star, and everyone on the team “agrees” who that person or star is (whether they “believe” it or not). That’s the go-to person, the closer, the one counted on to lead the way when the going gets tough. And because leaders do the hard things first, the star is the person who’s always tackling the hard stuff. Whether or not that person is considered the most talented, or the most experienced, or the most fill-in-the-blank on the team, s/he is always highly respected for his/her willingness to and insistence on handling the hard stuff first, and showing others how to do it. Who’s the star on your team?

Four Ways to Boost Creativity…Naturally

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Are you facing a seemingly impossible challenge? Need answers to a question that’s been stumping everyone in your organization? Painted yourself into a corner and desperate to find the way out? You don’t have an information problem. Your solution lies in a jolt of creativity.

Companies turn around, teams succeed, schools achieve, families heal, and neighborhoods change when creativity is unleashed in them. Our society has long been defaulting to left-brain logic to broker change. It’s time to overthrow the tyranny of the left and also begin to engage the wonders of right-brain creative approaches. But how? How do we introduce creativity to a previously sterile void? By thinking counterintuitively.

1. Ramp-up Restrictions. I know the culture’s company line is, “We need more freedom to spur creativity.” It sounds good, but it’s just not true. Creativity ignites in narrow spaces, in confinement, through struggle against one’s environment. In sports it’s a response to pressure and hostility, and the need to get out of a tight squeeze, a jam, an impossible trap. Skilled players in football, offensive players in basketball exhibit creativity when the defense closes in on them and shuts down the lanes to the end zone or basket. Pressure spawns creativity, and pressure is just another term for building, growing restrictions. The human fetus is birthed through the painful contractions of a narrow passageway. Restriction is necessary for creation to happen. This is why many artists have to starve before they ‘make it.’ To spike creative solutions in your organization, whether it be a company, team, school, family, or neighborhood, artificially pump up the pressure by ramping up environmental restrictions for a season.

2. Cultivate Conflict. Most of us think conflict is bad and try to stamp it out as soon as it rears its head. But the earth was created in the midst of conflict, rising out of chaos to become organized. And continued conflict in the atmosphere produces the rain that maintains it. Big Bang theorists posit that creation is the explosion that takes place when two opposing, powerful forces collide. Inside the petri dish of creativity what’s really going on is a lot of chaos and conflict. Collisions, explosions, and life spurting everywhere. When God wants to birth something out of you He has to put chaos inside of you to activate it, then He has to put you in chaos to draw it out of you. The creative process is often loud and ugly and messy and sometimes bloody, but what it produces is undeniably unique, and beautiful, and transformative. Confine the strongest polar opposites you have in your organization in the same space for structured seasons and enjoy the fireworks. The clean up afterwards will be significant, but so will be the overflow of useful ideas.

3. Prioritize Pain. The US healthcare systems pumps billions of dollars annually into pain management. The entertainment industry is itself a multibillion dollar behemoth that feeds off the country’s growing need for pain avoidance and management through distraction. Human beings would much rather avoid pain that confront it, process it, and benefit from it. But pain is a pre-requisite for creativity and a co-requisite for birthing. Creating and birthing anything is painful because the passageway out of us is always much narrower than the size of the created thing inside of us. If we’re going to be creative we’re going to need pain and pressure, conflict and chaos in our lives. Creation can’t happen without them. Introduce a new perspective on pain in your organization. Reward those who show a capacity for enduring it, and help others to embrace it, even for short seasons at a time. Teach those experiencing the birth pangs of creative ideas to scream if they have to, and help them to surrender to the fact that they can’t control the delivery. The baby, the ideas, will come when they come and all one can do is recognize and endure the process. Weeping will endure for the night but joy does and will come in the morning.

4. Deliver Drama. Creation is a drama. The most creative people seem to be the most chaotic and carry with them a load of drama. It’s almost as if they provoke drama because they are most comfortable in the midst of chaos and conflict. That is the right-brainer’s plight. This is the reason why artists are always chosen by their art, they never choose it. Who in their right mind would choose a life of chaos and conflict and dramatic tension? But these are precisely the people you need in your company, team, school, family, or neighborhood to break the creative spigot and let the ideas that bring solutions gush out.

How to Fast Track Victory Over Any Trial

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Man Running Reaching Finish LineTrials are a certainty in every life, no matter how rich or connected or evolved one might be. The great philosopher Job once said, “Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” Man, was Professor Job on point.

But although we can’t eliminate trials from our lives we certainly can shorten them, and endure them with a sense of clarity and assurance about their origins and purpose. By following a short and simple instruction from the greatest trial overcomer in the history of the planet, we can do just that.

Jesus said that we should always pray, and whenever we do, that we should make sure we include this clause: God, don’t lead me into a trial today, but deliver me from the evil one. That’s it. Short. Sweet. Simple.

Here’s how it works. If I pray don’t lead me into a trial today then I am released, if I fall into one, to “count it all joy” because I know it’s not from God, it’s from the enemy, and thus I know how to proceed: don’t accept it, but resist it, endure it, and overcome it with God’s help. Praying this way gives me certitude and confidence about how to handle the trials I face in this life.

The hardest part of facing trials is not knowing if it’s God testing us or Satan tempting us. This doubt (a literal tossing back and forth of two different ideas) is what delays us from immediately attacking the trial with all of our resources. This prayer eliminates that time consuming doubt! Which in turn eliminates indecisiveness (that great elongater of time), which in turn eliminates failure (the child of inaction).

Show me a New Testament scripture which teaches that God tests His people. It doesn’t exist. God’s Old Testament “test” of Abraham was unique, to establish a lineage of faith. Since then Jesus has passed all the tests for us, so God doesn’t need to test us. He knows what’s inside of us already.

God has a solution for, and a way out of, every trial that you will ever face. So, victory is assured. It’s really up to you just how long it will take for you to realize that victory. Praying the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray will put you on the fast track to overcoming.

Is Your Behavior Telling Your Spouse to Cheat?

Earl Middleton No Comments

orgasmscoverSome 3800 years ago Sarah, the ‘mother of faith’ told her husband, Abraham, “Go, sleep with my slave” Hagar. Some women are still doing this today, telling their husbands to cheat on them. Not so much by what they say, but by what they do. And many more husbands are listening to their wives, like Abraham did, rather than listening to God.

What could possibly drive a woman to tell her husband, through words or actions, to go out and cheat on her?

Although she lived so long ago Sarah is not unlike many women in relationships today. She had a desire to build a life with her husband and leave a legacy together. But after years of stumbling in her attempts to keep her end of the bargain, and in the face of God’s promise that an heir would come through Abrahams flesh and blood, Sarah did what many do after failure. She gave up.

Not only did she give up, she was convinced she had a good reason for giving up. She felt justified in giving up. In fact, she was convinced it was the only thing left for a God-fearing woman to do. Sarah tells Abraham to sleep with Hagar because she believes God is “holding her back/detaining her/stopping her/restraining her” from having children. Here is wisdom: if you believe God is holding you back don’t try to find a way around the road block! Stay held up! Stay kept back! God’s timing is perfect. If you’re being held back, held up, delayed, stopped, restrained, it’s for a good reason that you can’t see at the moment from your moribund vantage point. Stop trying to run God’s red lights. It will always cost you.

Sarah gave up in the bedroom, and blamed it on God. Have you secretly given up on your ability to make it work in the bedroom with your husband? Actions speak louder than words. And when you decide in your heart, like Sarah, to drop the rope, outsource the intimate component of your marriage and let your husband fend for himself, by your actions you’re telling him to cheat, to go sleep with another woman. And yes, it will usually be someone beneath you, the equivalent of your handmaiden. It is always a bad idea, and against the will and plan of God, to drop the rope, give up on intimacy in your relationship, and tell your husband (via your behavior) to go find Hagar.

Men, do you need more intimacy in your marriage?

But husbands, you are equally at fault. Just because she tells you to go sleep with another woman doesn’t mean that you should. Just because Eve told Adam to eat the fruit didn’t mean that he should have. And notice she told him to do it without saying a word! Scripture says “she also gave some to [Adam]…and he ate it.” Actions speak louder than words. But your wife’s actions or words are not what you should listen to when you already have a word from God! If your spouse is proposing an action that conflicts with the word of God, don’t listen!

It seemed like a good idea to Sarah to let Abraham connect with someone more capable of giving him what he wanted, what he was promised by God, what was rightfully his. It seemed like a good idea, but there’s a way that seems right to a human being that always results in death. What Sarah proposed to Abraham was in her mind to achieve the end result that God wanted. But with God the means are always just as important as the ends, because He is a God of ways and means. It’s not enough to just get it done, you’ve got to get it done God’s way. Sarah thought, “It’s just the man’s seed that matters, and my handmaiden is gonna raise the child for me anyway. I don’t have the energy at this age to be chasing around no active little boy.” But it was a bad idea, because God didn’t tell her to do it. And by doing what seemed good to her she delayed the inevitable plan of God for her life and ended up having to raise Isaac by herself without her handmaiden and chasing around an active little boy at an even older age! It seemed like a good idea to Abraham to “go into” Sarah’s younger, more exciting, and nubile handmaiden as many times as necessary until he was sure, and I mean really sure, for sure sure, that she was pregnant, and then a few more times just in case. But it was a bad idea, because God didn’t tell him to do it. Failure can be part of the journey with God, even in the bedroom. Giving up in word or deed just creates a mess.

Why Preaching to Your Rebellious Kid Won’t Work

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Preaching won't workShow, don’t tell anymore.

In a Christian, word based church culture we can get seduced by the transformative power of the word to the point where we think that it’s the word that will also get people’s attention. But this is not, was not, and will never be the case.

The word is a/the change agent, but it is not the attention agent. And attention always has and always will precede change. God’s attention agent has been historically and will continue to be miracles!

We have to demonstrate the power of God before it will be received. That’s why Jesus came doing signs and wonders, so that the people would listen to what he had to say. And that’s why the Holy Spirit released signs following the word, so that people would believe it. And that’s why when raising rebellious children we need to stop depending on the logic of the word to produce change in their lives.

Just telling them what to do and telling them why they need to do it won’t get them to do it. They need a sign. They’re not seeking after a sign, but they need one. They need a demonstration of power before they will submit to the power.

When our son expressed, via his behavior, that he no longer wanted to do his chores no amount of reasoning, cajoling, or threatening could make him change his mind. So we stopped setting a place for him at the dinner table and removed the TV’s remote control to our bedroom. When he finally asked, “Why?” we told him, “Only those who participate in the operation of the household can enjoy the benefits of the household.”

He needed the gentle signs of lost control over television viewing and having to get his own food to eat alone to arrest his attention so he could hear the connection between household participation and household benefits clearly.

God will tell you what demonstration is necessary in your particular situation and will move you to release it. He will work it through you once you accept that it has to come before the power of the word will take effect.

I know it goes against everything you’ve been conditioned to believe in church: the word, the word, the word, they need the word. Yes, they need the word, but before they can be ready for the word they need the demonstration of the power of that word to grab their attention.

Stop trying to grab their attention with the word (by yelling, and cursing, and threatening), it wasn’t designed to do that. Miracles were. Signs. Wonders. Show them something! Then you can tell them anything!

Divine Failure

Earl Middleton No Comments

failure3Jesus came to his own, and his own received him not (he was sent to be rejected, God knowing he would be rejected because His people, Israel, were still blind and not ready). So to as many as received him, to them he gave the authority to become sons of God. [Jn 1:12]

Jesus often referenced this by saying, “I’m sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Later, Peter would also be sent to Israel, to feed and shepherd the converted, not win the lost ones.) MAIN TRUTH HERE: Church people say there is no failure in God, and scripture suggests that God always gives His people the victory. But my bible also shows me that just because God sent you doesn’t mean you will succeed! At least not always on the first go round. Sometimes embedded in the core of your call and commission (and hidden from you) is your penultimate rejection and failure. We can’t always judge the validity of the commission by the fruit of the mission.

Jesus didn’t get much fruit in Israel, but instead plenty of contradiction and rejection. I experienced the same thing in the baptist churches I was sent to, plenty of contradiction and rejection, and very little fruit. That doesn’t mean I was not sent, or that I messed up. It means it was a Jesus Mission, doomed to poor numbers and high frustration from the start!

And Jesus Missions are just like Jesus’ mission: short lived! There is no glory in a Jesus mission, only failure, and in the end, a cross. A shameful, painful conclusion to a launch that held such promise of great things. BUT, if you can remain faithful on your Jesus Mission and submit to the cross, glory WILL come…AFTER! On the other side of every Jesus Mission is a resurrection, and a second coming!

According to Rudyard Kipling, success and failure are both impostors we should treat the same. Don’t let an impostor define you! Instead, know who you are and expose the impostors in your life for what they really are! When God sends you on a Jesus Mission (a suicide mission, a D-Day mission, a 300 mission, a charge-the-hill-knowing-you-will-be-killed mission) it’s because He 1) trusts you; 2) values the message He has put inside of you, His treasure in an earthen vessel; and 3) prioritizes process over props and spoils and results.

So, if you’re on a Jesus Mission, know that 4) your faithfulness to the message is the true mission, not spectacular results. Know that 5) if you’re faithful to the message your mission will be brief. Know that 6) your cross is not the end of your ministry, just your mission; you’ll be back! Know that 7) your resurrection won’t convince everybody, you’ll still have many doubters. And finally, know that 8) you won’t get total vindication until the Second Coming, when every eye shall see!

God’s Green Room

Earl Middleton No Comments

Image converted using ifftoanySometimes we think and feel like we’re in a prison, left on God’s ministerial shelf and forgotten, only to find out later that all along we were just in God’s green room awaiting our turn to go on stage and perform for Him.

There have been several times in my 35 years of ministry that I’ve felt like I was in jail for quite a while, like I was in a dark box, all alone. I was convinced that no one saw me in there, no one knew about my gifts, my abilities, what I had to offer. I felt hidden from the church and the world, tucked away in a dungeon with a lost key. But the years have granted me perspective and now when I read the word I take heart, realizing that God’s nature and ways don’t change, and that often what looks like jail is actually the love of God, the protection of God, and the impeccable timing of God.

Because of what I know about God, because of my knowledge gained through relationship with Him, I now choose, by faith, to see any box of isolation I might find myself in not as a prison, but as a green room. God’s green room. They’re decked out pretty much the same way, no matter where the stage is. The furnishings are spartan, the food is minimal, the company is scarce, and the wait usually seems interminable. But every memorable performer on His stage has spent time in God’s green room.

Moses was in the green room for 40 years in Midian, David for 16 years in the desert, Paul for 3 years in the Arabian desert, Jesus for 40 long days and nights in the wilderness of temptation, and then there’s Joseph and Abraham and Noah and the list goes on and on.

So, rather than trying to figure out how much time will pass, or how to do my time, I’ve decided to use any time in isolation for preparation, instead. Because I’ve done it enough times I know the drill. I know that soon enough someone is going to walk down the hall and open the door and call me out. It always happens, and those stuck waiting never know when. And when it does it’s never a jailer that opens that door, but a production assistant commissioned to bring me to the stage God has prepared for me.

No More Handouts

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No-Hand-OutMan, I get so annoyed sometimes that I need a place to vent to keep myself from exploding. We need to get back to earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints, to God’s original intent for life. I think I’ll use this space for that purpose on Throwback Thursdays. So, here’s what’s bugging me today.

I’m so tired of people running to the church for a handout. And I’m equally tired of the church itself perpetuating the bad theology that encourages people to continue running to her for handouts.

There, I’ve said it. I know, you’re appalled that I would challenge the sanctity of the idea that the church is the institution God established to meet all, various, and sundry human needs. There was a time when the church provided healthcare, education, government, even military might to men and women looking for someone to help them, heal them, teach them, protect them. And in so doing, I believe the church lost her way, and herself.

The modern church erroneously views itself as a need-meeting institution rather than what it was charged by Jesus to be: a mission-focused institution. When the church is the need-meeter people become dependent on it rather than on God. When the church is the mission-center people become work and mission minded, and not dependent. We recycle an attitude of dependency in society and the church by casting it as a need-meeting savior rather than a mission-centered warrior.

The church is not God, it’s God’s army!

If the main purpose of the church was to meet needs Jesus would have created a social service agency, not a church. He would have sent his apostles to do needs assessments, not heal the sick, cleanse the leper, and raise the dead. He would have focused his energy on gathering wealth to redistribute, not scattering the transformative word of God like seed to the wind.

The bible says Jesus went forth teaching and preaching, not blessing the needy. In fact, not once do we see Jesus doing a money miracle. All his miracles were about healing the body, soul, spirit, & mind. The church meets temporal needs as an addendum to prosecuting its mission in the world to loot hell and restore humanity to edenic power and purpose.

Handouts are not life transforming. Instead they reinforce need and perpetuate the status quo. The biblical model for helping the poor is a one time gift, a supply of seed, not an ongoing program of handouts. When you give the poor a daily soup kitchen and clothing bank, and put them up in a nightly shelter it reduces the desire to to convert the gift into a process, an ability, a function that produces an income stream for themselves.

Man, I’m tired of people running to the church for a handout. We need to change the perception of what the church is, so that people will begin running to her for a vocation, instead.

Self Inflicted Pain

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painSome of the hardships we face and endure are really because of our own foolishness, disobedience, and misjudgment. Does God offer relief and healing from this kind of pain? Absolutely. When we see our kids suffer because of their own mistakes we rescue them when they acknowledge their fault and recognize their role in their current circumstances. When they confess we forgive. When they repent they make different decisions.

We continue to wallow in our own pain when we refuse to repent (or are not yet granted repentance to the acknowledging of the truth). We don’t suffer from our own mistakes because we haven’t been forgiven, we suffer because we haven’t repented yet. When we think differently we will behave differently. Instead of hurting ourselves we will help ourselves.

What do I need to change in my thinking to stop hurting myself?

1. Don’t despise the blessing of God. Whatever we have that generates income is of The Lord and is a blessing. We begin to despise it when we start comparing it to the blessings of others. Be ‘content’ with whatever God has blessed you with and make your mark and difference in the world with it. It’s when we maximize the blessings we have that we are given more.

2. Think like a farmer. As in sowing and reaping, abundance comes in season after dispersing MANY little seeds; not immediately after planting one large seed that yields one huge beanstalk! Instead of having a homerun mentality we need a singles mentality. On base percentage is more valuable than slugging percentage. Only God plants trees, we are called to sow fields. Multiple streams and fields of small, steady income beats waiting for one tree to grow to maturity.

3. Communicate and Connect. Communicate with everyone. Connect with some. Disconnect with others. Success is collaborative and God sends people into your life with the resources and wisdom to prosper you. The only way to receive these people is to communicate. The only way to know who to connect with and who to disconnect from is to communicate. You don’t have to hang with everybody to communicate with everybody. Prosperity never comes in isolation. Only when we break out of iso or somebody breaks in do we receive the ‘inflow’ that brings prosperity.

No AO in SAE at OU

Earl Middleton No Comments

SAE-800x400You’re white, running low on gas, and forced to turn off the highway to refuel in an area you know nothing about. You pull into the gas station and are immediately gripped by fear. Heavy bass thumps in your chest and rattles your windows. It’s a black neighborhood. The station is teeming with young black people at the pumps and in the mini mart. If you could drive off and find another station in a ‘better’ neighborhood, you would. But you’re running on fumes and can’t risk it. So, you pull up to a pump, get out, lock your door, quickly insert the nozzle, and keep your head down, refusing to make eye contact with the young black guy at the pump on the other side of the island from you. No one approaches you. No one speaks to you. But your discomfort is building. Why are you feeling this way? Why are you unwilling to engage this environment. The gas seems to be dripping into the tank more slowly than molasses. You realize you need to use the restroom but quickly reject the thought of using it here and prefer to risk peeing on yourself. As you pull out of the station with your tank full, your heart racing, your palms sweating, you tell yourself you’ve done a good job, you’re a survivor, you can overcome anything.

Now, imagine that gas station being ACME Corporation on Main Street, USA. Imagine the pump being the HR office, and the young black guy at the pump across the island from you being the HR director you are interviewing with. You’re uncomfortable. Why? You want to get up and leave, but you need the job. You’ve got over 100 grand in student loans to pay back and the meter started running the moment they handed you your pigskin last month. People of color run into this kind of environment frequently, especially when pursuing education, employment, and housing.

Attitudes and beliefs, far more than specific actions, create climates that are comfortable for some and oppressive, even suffocating for others. The racist chanting on an SAE frat bus at OU caught on video last week by one of the riders isn’t in itself responsible for a climate of hostility toward blacks on that campus. It merely exposes the attitudes and beliefs that conspire to form such a climate.

Two students from SAE fraternity at Oklahoma University subsequently issued an apology. While such apologies offer some solace, they do little in the way of effecting real climate change.  They do more for the racist chanters than for the students most negatively affected by the chanters’  racist ideology. Really, these two students were apologizing to the authoritative people, organizations, and systems that can in the future and do now exert influence and determinative power over their lives, their careers, their futures. They issued apologies to the university officials who will have to allow them admission to their next schools, the HR directors who will be hiring them for their first jobs, the residents who will be welcoming them into the neighborhood of their first homes. They were apologizing to protect what’s possible for their futures. They were not apologizing to the people whose discomfort was amplified by the environment their chanted beliefs helped to create and reinforce. They were not apologizing to the black students on campus who were not welcomed to engage the environment SAE openly and distastefully excluded them from. Their apology was an attempt at damage control, not reconciliation or bridge building or healing.

The most telling silence is that of the other 53 students on that bus who were fully engaged in that racist chant. It’s the kind of silence that allows racist systems to endure, that allows racist people to remain cloaked, that allows hostile, divisive environments to flourish, that keeps us racially divided as a nation.

Despite all of this, I still don’t know that our goal as a society should be to eradicate discomfort from the public square and all of our institutions, including the marketplace. Discomfort has been known to spur creativity, determination, and accomplishment. Just ask a generation of blacks who braved the first waves of government mandated integration to become outstanding torchbearers in their chosen fields. Perhaps a better goal, a more noble goal, though just as difficult to pull off, is to forge a community buttressed and galvanized by love. The kind of love embodied in the Alpha & Omega, the beginning and the end, the one who endured the ultimate hostile environment to model transforming love to humankind. Expulsion and shame will not transform these racist chanters, nor eliminate environments hostile to blacks on college campuses. We continue to try to legislate a world free of hate, refusing to even consider the glaring truth that it’s only possible in a world full of love.

Ex-Pastors: The Most Overlooked Resource in the Church

Earl Middleton No Comments

Many, if not most, churches are constantly looking for qualified, competent, caring, and committed people to help do the work of their ministry. Many, if not most, of these churches have at least one such person hiding in plain sight in their pews at every worship service.

According to Bo Lane’s website, expastors.com, 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month. The Hartford Institute for Religious Research estimates there are roughly 350,000 congregations in the United States. Fifth grade division and fourth grade multiplication lead us to the following conclusion: if pastors have been leaving ministry at that rate for just the last 20 years there would be and average of 1 ex-pastor available for every congregation in the country.

I’ve been that guy for almost 5 years now. And I continue to marvel at how difficult it has been to find a new ministry role in the two churches I have attended since leaving the pastorate (by choice, not scandal) after 22 years of preaching, teaching, counseling, and sacrifice. A role that would utilize my gifts and calling, which are without repentance. At 52 I believe I have a few more years of useful service to render in a church context; just not as the head guy. And I see many areas of obvious need in my current church’s ministry where I could help, but have been rebuffed or simply ignored at every offer.

I’m not an ogre. I brush my teeth, comb my hair, and use deodorant every Sunday morning (and the other days of the week, too). I smile, I worship, I give. And then I sigh, and go out to eat with my family. I don’t believe this is a unique experience. I’m convinced it’s a systemic issue that plagues many larger congregations. And I think it’s a shame that the glaring solution might be to attend a smaller church where it would be impossible to hide in plain sight.

So, I’ve made my own ‘deal with the devil’ and decided to remain hidden in plain sight at a church where the word challenges me and the worship invites me into the presence of God. And I have begun to develop ways to fulfill the still rich call on my life by doing ministry outside of my church. I’ve launched elijahworkshops.com to heal families and help people who have been rejected, abandoned, forsaken, or abused by a parent, and am contemplating a bible study to teach the basics of the faith to the un-churched and de-churched.

This decade has given us an economy where many have had to retrain and accept positions that underutilize their talents, experiences, and skills in order to make ends meet. Former managers and leaders are now waiting tables or processing phone orders. Doctors from other countries are now driving cabs or working at 7-11. And at church some ex-pastors, like myself, are serving on the parking lot ministry (I’ve done that), or ushering, or running the soundboard or presentation software (I almost did that). To be clear, I am not disparaging any of those ministries. As an example, what I am saying is that when a now defunct small groups ministry in a church of thousands needs leadership to refocus and re-launch it, that ex-pastor’s gifts and experiences could be better utilized to help in that area of the ministry.

If I could speak to pastors of medium to large sized churches who have untapped clergy resources in their pews I’d offer these 7 suggestions on how to identify and integrate those resources into their ministries.

LOOK. If you’ve prayed for leadership help, or if people in your ministry have been praying for help for you, then expect that God has answered/is answering that prayer and LOOK for the answer. Many times we want the answer to hit us over the head and announce itself, but God often moves more subtly than that and slips the answer right under our nose. There’s a good chance the help you need is hiding in plain sight right there in front of you on Sunday mornings. Like Hagar with the well in Genesis 21 and Abraham with the ram in Genesis 22, your provision may have been there all along is just waiting to me noticed.

ASK. Depending on where they are in their journey some exes will seek you out and reveal themselves, expecting to get plugged in right away. (This was me at my first church as an ex. That pastor agreed to have coffee with me and then spent the next 9 months rescheduling through his secretary. We never did meet, and never had a ministry conversation, nor conversation of any kind.) Others will avoid you at every turn, remain mysterious, and pray that no one notices them. It is the reluctant ex that needs to be drawn out. Periodically, or as the Spirit moves you, ask ex-pastors to identify themselves to you. Invite them to come and meet you. One such small gesture can yield a lifetime of reward.

MEET. Don’t wall yourself off from possible clergy in the pews. Once you’ve I.D.ed them make yourself approachable. Engage them. Talk to them. Take them out for coffee. Go to lunch with them. The ministry is a collegium. We all have something to offer to each other, and all have something we can learn from one another. We are stronger when we draw from shared experiences than we can ever be on our own.

VET. This is what the leaders of the Jerusalem Church, James, Peter, and John, did with Paul. He didn’t come with a recommendation from a trusted preacher friend, or a recognized ordination from an ecclesiastical body, so they vetted him. They tested him for signs of grace (Gal 2:9). And when they perceived the grace that was given to him they gave him the right hands of fellowship and embraced him as their own. When you vet an ex and he checks out, invite him into ministry fellowship. View him as someone called to labor alongside you in the same vineyard.

SURRENDER. Sometimes we say we want help to do the ministry when what we really mean is we want somebody to help US do the ministry. Examine your heart. Are you really ready to surrender some of the spotlight? Being a lead pastor makes you something of a rock star in your congregation. No matter the size, that can be intoxicating if what really motivates you is attention. There’s a good chance that ex in the pews is going to be ‘better’ or ‘more anointed’ or ‘more experienced’ at some aspects of ministry than you are. Do you really want the help if it means sharing the headlines like Moses did with Eldad and Medad (Num 11:24-30)? Surrender any insecurities you may have about your place or abilities in ministry and trust God to honor His word with plans to prosper you and not to harm you (Jer 29:11).

LISTEN. An ex’s perspective on your church can be as valuable to you as the insights of a secret shopper are to a department store, or the tastes of a food critic are to a restaurant. We are all naturally better at seeing the splinter in our brother’s eye despite the log in our own. The ex in your pew can offer insider information about how to improve the systems in your church, or how to start some that need to be started.

THANK. If you do connect with an ex in your pews thank God. It is a form of blessing that only a lead pastor can fully appreciate. And it’s a blessing that will appreciate after it is acknowledged. Two are better than one, because they have a good return on their labor. Another set of objective eyes can be revelatory. What price can you put on insight and revelation? Some revelation comes through more natural channels than we expect. Like Moses, thank God for sending you a Jethro (Ex 18).