Earp Takes Aim | Faith, Culture, Life

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As our church’s Lead Pastor, I am accountable to a team of elders.  A key component of that accountability involves measuring how successfully I lead us to the fulfillment of our stated mission.  We call this measuring process, metrics— a concept that sounds simple enough.  And broadly speaking, it’s a truth so basic you could call it Leadership 101:

“If you can’t measure it or monitor it— you can’t manage it.” 

But I’ve got to confess, I really struggle with how we monitor the metrics in my ministry.  My problem isn’t defining the concept of metrics— it’s DO-ing it, that’s what troubles me.  I find metrics especially gnarly in a ministry setting because, “What do you decide to count, and how do you count it?” 

In the corporate world, leader teams can easily measure their mission by checking out the bottom line.  But in ministry, our bottom line isn’t profit.  Our God-given mission directive is all about life-change.  The gospel of Jesus is about transforming people…nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. 

But how do you chart a changed life? 

Do you select only the stuff you can count so you can establish goals and have something to rally the troops around plus a tool for evaluating your senior leadership? 

OR…do you continue to beat the drum of life-change even though it’s a concept so unspeakably hard to measure?  Truth is, you and I can’t measure it.  We can only know life-change when we see life-change.  And when life-change isn’t happening?  We instinctively know it because something doesn’t smell right.

But does that inherent difficulty mean that you keep your feet firmly planted in mid-air?  So you count some beans— membership class attenders, baptisms, and the number of people moving into small groups— even though what keeps your heart beating [both hard and soft] are the stories!?

To me, in the end, it really IS all about all those amazing stories. 


I’d been struggling with this conundrum recently, so I grabbed my Bible {not a bad choice, I might add}.  And found a man described in the Bible as “successful in whatever he undertook.”[1]  Intrigued by such a glowing analysis, I grabbed my notepad and began scribbling a list of the key “metrics” that percolated up from King Hezekiah’s leadership. 

On the one hand, there were significant achievements I could count.  For example, Hezekiah “removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles.”[2]  He even “broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.”[3] 

These accomplishments were all quite notable and led to the success of Judah’s divine mission.  And Hezekiah’s snake deal?  That downright risky and courageous— since Hezekiah had demolished a relic that God Himself had used, but never intended it to be an enduring object of worship. 

But most of that list was deeds that other kings [both before and after him] had also done.  Yet the Bible says “there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah.”[4]  So why did Hezekiah receive such a glowing commendation? 

Well that’s where things get fuzzy.  Including such “fuzz” as:    

“He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.”[5] 

He “trusted in the Lord.”[6] 

He “held fast to the Lord.”

He kept the commands [of] the Lord.” [7]

Again…all really important stuff.  But how do you measure such stuff? 


That’s why success is so sneaky.  Because sometimes success can only be revealed within the folds of someone’s storyA lot of what Hezekiah did for Judah can’t be tallied on a spreadsheet.  He did many good things, but much of the good he did can only be appreciated by the telling of his story.

I say that because it’s the “and” of Hezekiah’s story that made such a huge difference.  “He did what was right, he trusted, he held fast, he kept the commands, AND…”


And…He did things that can’t be measured, but because he did them…? 

For that reason…

In response to his trust in the Lord— “the Lord was with him.”[8]

And that’s why Hezekiah “was successful.”[9]


How do we know the Lord was with him?  Because of his story.  A story that doesn’t read like most success stories…and that’s why measuring success can be so sneaky. 

Even though the Bible says that he was successful in whatever he undertook, at first glance Hezekiah’s “whatever” almost took him under.  AS you piece through his story, you find that this king faced what can only be described as relentless setbacks.  For example,

• He was attacked by the king  of Assyria, who captured all of Judah’s fortified cities.[10]   

He lost every city under his command. 

 • He was forced to pay, literally, a king’s ransom.  A payoff that included: “ALL the silver…in the temple and in the treasuries of the royal palace” {see verse 15, emphasis mine}.  He even “stripped off the gold” that had “covered the doors and doorposts of the temple.”[11]

He lost all of his kingdom’s financial reserves.  

•  He was subjected to humiliation and public ridicule.  Vile, accusatory abuse was heaped on him.  “On what are you basing this confidence?”  “You speak only empty words.” {See verses 19-25}  These verbal grenades were hurled within earshot of Hezekiah’s people, goading them to panic claiming that they would “eat their own excrement and drink their own urine.”[12]

He lost Judah’s confidence and international standing.


At face value, the metrics on Hezekiah’s so-called “success story” seem lacking.  But it’s behind the folds of his story that you’ll see what set him apart. 

He was prayerful

“When [Hezekiah] heard this {Assyria’s assault against him}, he…went into the temple.”[13]  In other words, HE PRAYED.  He didn’t launch a counter-attack, he prayed.  And because he remained silent, his people did the same.  They trusted his leadership primarily because he didn’t expect from them anything he wasn’t willing to do himself {see verse 36}.

He was discerning

Why did Hezekiah pray?  Because he knew this attack was not a personal affront; these naysayers had been “sent to ridicule the living God.”  So Hezekiah refused to return fire.  Instead, he waited for God to “rebuke [Assyria] for the words the Lord your God has heard.”[14]

He was submissive to spiritual instruction

Even though Hezekiah was king, when Isaiah told him that the Lord had said, “Do not be afraid…I will have him cut down,”[15] Hezekiah took God at His word and did exactly as he was told.


There are more folds to Hezekiah’s storied success. 

When a second uprising rose up against him, Hezekiah responded exactly as before.  This amazing leader was steadfastly predictable, even in the face of relentless attack.  When Hezekiah received a letter intended to scandalize his leadership, he “spread it out before the Lord.”[16] 

What was God’s response this time?  “I have heard your prayer.”[17]  And sure enough, by morning, the King of Assyria was toast. 


On another occasion, Hezekiah’s success story meant a tragic sickness.  In fact, he became so sick, he “was at the point of death.”  Isaiah even told him, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”[18]

Wow!  You and I think success means, “wholeness.”  So if I’m less than whole…?  I’m a failure! 

But instead of allowing his death sentence to drive him away from God, Hezekiah, predictably, “turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord.” 

That doesn’t mean he didn’t struggle.  But as he struggled he prayed, pouring out his heart, telling God that he had “walked before [God] faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and [that he had] done what is good in [God’s] eyes.”[19]  “And yet…after everything else I’ve been through, now I get sick, too?”

Of course he got sick.  Because everybody gets sick…just as everybody also dies.  But that doesn’t mean that you don’t mourn that fact.  Truth is, “Hezekiah wept bitterly.”[20]

Some might inaccurately conclude that Hezekiah was successful because after he prayed, God quickly changed His mind and gave Hezekiah another 15 years of life.  And his healing really IS an amazing story!  {Check out 2 Kings 20:1-7}  It’s just that the healing part is God’s part of the story. 

Receiving God’s healing wasn’t part of Hezekiah’s metrics report, because healing is a God-thing.  Just as baptisms and attendance and building funds aren’t what we can own, either. 

Neither can we call him successful because in answer to another prayer from Hezekiah, God “made the shadow go back the ten steps it had [already] gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.”[21]  Making time go backwards is a stunning feat, alright.  But it was a feat done by God, not Hezekiah. 


What made Hezekiah successful is that he prayed.  He trusted.  He did what was right.  The results— the metrics of his amazing story— belong, exclusively, to God.  Hezekiah did what he could do, and then God responded by doing what He alone can do. 

It’s important to note that Hezekiah didn’t always get miraculous answers to his prayer.  He prayed for his country to be freed…and, in time, they would be freed.  God told him, “I will defend this city for My sake.”[22]

But not until after Babylon.  No, a time was coming when everything Hezekiah had struggled to build would be taken away— lock, stock and barrel— to Babylon.  Nothing would be left.  And all the descendants of Hezekiah’s loyal subjects would also be taken captive. 

This “successful” man would lose his entire kingdom.  A prophecy to which Hezekiah replied, “The word of the Lord…is good.”[23]  Even though you gotta know, to hear that felt anything BUT good. 


I’m just saying, “If I delivered that kind of devastating news to my elders next month?”  I don’t think they’d call it, “good.”  Much less make a mark in their book of metrics under a column marked, “success.”


So my study is through and I’m just as confused as before I started.  When it comes to success in my ministry, I simply don’t know how to measure it.  Except I do know this much:  I want to “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”[24] 

And I want those I serve to “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”[25] 

So until I get this thing figured out, here’s my plan:  I’ll do my best to do what is right.  I’ll trust in the Lord and keep the commands of the Lord.  And I will keep going to the temple.  And I’ll keep praying that as I lead, more and more people will reach over into faith and then mature in their faith. 

And I’ll trust God to use His “reed like a measuring rod” and lay it alongside the part of the temple my elders and I are trying to build…and that He will make the final read on the story my life has written with the same mercy with which he measured the king. 








[1] II Kings 18:7b

[2] II Kings 18:4

[3] II Kings 18:4

[4] II Kings 18:5

[5] II Kings 18:3

[6] I Kings 18:5a

[7] II Kings 18:6

[8] II Kings 18:7

[9] II Kings 18:7

[10] II Kings 19;13

[11] II Kings 19:16

[12] II Kings 19:27

[13] II Kings 19:1

[14] II Kings 19:4

[15] II Kings 19:7

[16] II Kings 19:14

[17] II Kings 19:20

[18] II Kings 20:1

[19] II Kings 20:3

[20] II Kings 20:3b

[21] II Kings 20:11

[22] II Kings 20:6

[23] II Kings 20:19

[24] Ephesians 3:19

[25] Ephesians 4:13


Making Sense of the Numbers

The news coming out of Japan is so indescribably beyond description that our minds can’t make sense of what we are reading, hearing and seeing. 

A historically seismic earthquake followed by mountain-sized tsunamis…?  And now, nuclear meltdown— a “bad-news-comes-in-three” combination that has sent Japan careening toward catastrophe. 

The death toll, initially estimated at 1000, has now reached into the tens of thousands.  The economic loss is beyond all calculations.

But here’s the thing:  Maybe it’s just me, but if you’re like me, the sheer pace of these “hits” even as the scope of the loss so stiflingly excessive— I’ve been so overwhelmed I’ve occasionally had to close the paper, shut off my iPad and switch away from the news channels. 

At least that was my response…until Monday. 

That’s when a friend of mine wrote a few simple lines in an email: 

“My mother is desperate to contact any of our family in Japan.  Many of them live on the eastern coast of Japan and up until now, she has been unable to reach anyone.”

All of sudden, my interest in this “news story” became exceedingly personal. 

So personal, I started viewing all the pictures and video with a passion I hadn’t known just hours before.  Instead, with this information, I saw each house that was swept away, as “home” to a real flesh and blood family— much like some families I know and love— whose homes have also been swept away [by a housing market gone amuck].

And I saw each business and commercial building— housing firms that once employed men and women charged with feeding their families…now flattened.  In a way not dissimilar to the flattened employment opportunities which many experience in our part of the world.

However, and this is the one that really captured me, every single lost life was just as precious and dear to their loved ones as Cindy was dear to me and to my family. 

And that’s when the devastation in Japan instantly became personal.  And why my viewing habits suddenly changed.  See, I find myself praying a lot about Japan— for my friend and his family specifically, but for those countless other families, too. 

I also find myself rejoicing with those far too infrequent “miracle” stories— a man rescued from his floating rooftop, a baby found alive beneath the crushing rubble— and I find my heart sinking when the tote board are updated— with numbers that marking those far too frequent stories that didn’t end with a smile, a blanket and a touching embrace. 

I wonder if a similar thing happened to Jesus when He set foot on this ball of dirt?  Although He came precisely because He loved us and because He was moved by our need and because he had been called into action by the will of His Father– as soon as Jesus rubbed shoulders with us humans and cried with us in our pain, it became personal.  So personal that Jesus paid the ultimate price to rescue us from our collective and crushingly pervasive tsunami…called sin. 

It’s so easy for us to shake our head and cluck our tongues at the enormity of the losses in Japan.  Just as it’s also easy to look at the uprisings in Lybia and Egypt and immediately look to the skies and wonder, “Is it time, Lord?”

Meanwhile, the loss Jesus sees isn’t just about prophetic fulfillment; it’s personal and its painful.  It’s not only about His end-time clock slowly tick-tocking its way to another cataclysmic event:  That moment when the clouds split, the angel’s voice sends up a shout, the trumpet gets sounded, graves all across this planet break open, and those of us who are still alive will meet the Lord in the air. 

It IS about that to Jesus.  That…and so much more.

But until then…?  It’s also about the plight of those who suffer; and His desire that you and I— His temporary hands and feet— do whatever we can to alleviate that suffering. 

Jesus takes the loss of each life and the grieving families left behind…personally. 

And so, also, must we.  



It’s happening again.  Authentic manhood has lost its sheen— ironically, at the hands of a putz named Sheen. 

Charlie, that is.

Dude Nation has a new hero.  According to The Daily, “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis, a cultural icon of all things manly, “can really relate to” Charlie.  Along with a lot of other guys whose main interests are beer and chicks {or, in Charlie’s case, goddesses}. 

“I’ve got tiger blood, man!” 

Yeah, and he’s also a “warlock,” a “$#@%& rock star from Mars,” and is pretty much “winning, duh” at everything.  Charlie also has two live-in porn stars for nannies, gets paid {or did} $2 million a week, and lives a real-life version of The Hangover. 

What about that is any self-respecting man NOT gonna like? 

And “like” it is what millions of guys do.  Charlie’s recently opened Twitter account already has over one million followers…and counting.  And as quickly as yet another incoherent and blathering bit of drivel comes foaming out of his mouth?  It just as quickly gets silk-screened onto t-shirts and loaded into cell phones as ringtones. 

Personally, I find this shocking, but positive sentiment for Sheen has more than tripled negative sentiment!  Can you believe that? 

Did you just read what I wrote?  More than tripled.

Francis says, “Charlie has lots of hot girls and he’s living the dream or, as he would say, he’s winning.”  On the website, guyism.com, writer Marty Beckerman called Sheen, “the epitome of manhood, a modern icon of unfiltered, untrammeled masculinity.”


“Marty [as in McFly], are you [even] in there?  I mean, really? 

“The epitome of manhood?” 

“An icon of masculinity?”


We are talking about the same guy, aren’t we?  The guy who employs porn babes to babysit his 2-year olds?  The “winner” who just lost custody after snatching those two poor kids from their mother upon learning she had the audacity to seek rehab and is working on her sobriety?  We are talking about the same Charlie who threatened his ex-wife, telling her, “I will cut your head off, put it in a box and send it to your mom!”— same guy, right? 

That’s in addition to several other charges of domestic abuse and random acts of mayhem far too numerous for this simple blog. 


Then there’s stuff Charlie has said.  Dumb stuff.  Obscene stuff.  And far worse.  Stuff like: 

“If you’re a part of my family, I will love you violently.”  {You’ve proved true to your word on that one, Chuck.}

“They lay down with their ugly wives in front of their ugly children and just look at their loser lives and then they look at me and they say, ‘I can’t process it!’”  {Yeah, and “process” is exactly what your goddesses and several ex-wives do with the big checks you’re forced to write just so they will lay down with you.}

“The run I was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger, Richards, all of them, just look like droop-eyed, armless children.”  {No comment…way too easy.}


Enough of Sheen’s nonsense.  He’s spoken enough already.  It’s for someone else to speak.  And on this blog, that “someone” is me.  So let me write a sentence that, sadly, millions of so-called “men” may consider just as insane as Charlie’s rants:

Charlie Sheen isn’t a man; he is Peter Pan in black fedora.

He’s not!  He’s a stunted, selfish, boorish little droopy-eyed boy.

I’m sorry if that’s too strong for you, but the measure of a man isn’t in how many grams he can “bang” or the gaggle of hookers he can buy.  A real man doesn’t leave countless women in his wake— women who fear him, loathe him and consider him “insane.” 

No, a thoroughly masculine man doesn’t endanger his children or use them as props to validate his “not bipolar, but bi-winning” life. 

I’m not mad at Charlie.  I’m not even mildly annoyed at his antics.  Truth is, I pity the dude.  It’s not my desire to pile on, either.  He’s doing enough damage to himself, he doesn’t need my help.  

I’m not mad, I’m concerned.  And deeply worried that Charlie’s boys and my sons and millions of other young men-in-training will take their cues from a culture where most boys don’t live with their dads.  I’m concerned that our future husbands and dads will search for goddesses instead of godly women.  And that they’ll come to view the worth of a woman in terms more akin to a product, not a person. 


What I’m trying to do is sound a call [albeit a comparably muted one] for ALL men, both young and old, to choose far more noble heroes. 

What I wish I could do is write a better cultural definition for masculinity.  A description that celebrates what a real man looks like, talks like and lives like.

What I don’t want to do is make this about me.  However, since I’m the only “me” I’ve got?  And since this blog is my blog?  I’m gonna use “me” as a very weak and thoroughly flawed illustration of what masculinity should look like.  Just understand, I could also write a post about the “me” emerging young men should NOT look like…so this isn’t coming from pride.  It’s coming from raw fear for what silence might otherwise suggest.

So, with more humility than you can imagine, here we go: 

When my bride got cancer, the one who took her to chemo was me. 

When it was time to cut her hair, the one she wanted cutting her hair was me.


When she got nauseous, I held the bucket.

When her pain was beyond bearing, I rubbed her back.

When she breathed her last breath, I was tearfully holding her hand. 


Now THAT is manhood. 


Forget sensitive versus hard-as-nails.

Forget arts-lover versus sports-fanatic.

Forget teary eyes versus stiff upper-lip.


That stuff is nothing but posing. 

But that’s the problem with most men today.  We are way too concerned about projecting an image.  An image that quantifies manliness by grunting, scratching and making various gaseous emissions {something I can do with the best of ‘em, by the way}— or in how much beer my hero can guzzle or the number of “chicks” he can bed. 

It’s sad.  We men, in our fallen state, are far less “manly” than God intended us to be.  That’s why we compensate so much.  We cover our true insecurities by discussing box scores and by trash-talking each other.  Deep inside, trust me, Charlie knows he’s not a warlock.  But he’s way too insecure and yes, frightened— to actually admit it.  Because nothing is more potentially mind-blowing than to suggest my life isn’t “perfect,” as he put it.


Bottom line, it’s not the size of his biceps that reflect the real measure of a man, it’s the circumference of his heart.  

One of the shocking results of my recent journey with Cindy is the number of men who have said to me, “Thank you, Wyatt!  Your example of unconditional and sacrificial love for Cindy has made me want to be a better husband!” 

I never expected that. 

But I DO get it.  Almost 60% of all marriages disintegrate…and that’s among believers!  So when even one husband decides to “man-up” and love his wife deeply and serve her faithfully…?  There’s incredible power in that! 

You wind up some guy who’s willing to say, “Ball and chain?  Are you insane?  My wife was more like wings to my soul and a powerful thermal that gave my whole life its lift!” 

You let loose a man who’s willing to say stuff like that…?  And then prove it by holding his bride’s head while she vomits into his lap…?  And that kind of love will make other men wanna fight to have that kinda love, too. 


I’m afraid I’ll never be like Charlie Sheen.  My Twitter will never reach one million followers.  I’ll never have Dude Nation enlist me as their poster boy.

But I don’t care.   

What I did have was a wife who adored me and who called me faithful.

And what I still have is a tribe of children, all of them now adults, who still say, “I love you.”  And grandchildren who call me Papa and run for my embrace.

I don’t have tiger blood or Adonis DNA, but I have known and still do know, great love.  I have made more than my share of mistakes, but instead of constantly boasting about “winning, duh!”— I admit my screw-ups.  I apologize and then get busy trying to re-build the broken places.  Simply put, I stay in the game. 

And I don’t care what anybody else may think, that’s more than “man” enough…for me.  


Train Your Brain

I told you I would…and I did.

I spoke to the campus at KCU last week about balancing ministry and family in the midst of crisis.  It was painfully obvious why I was assigned that topic, so I spoke in a very direct, hard-hitting and often very painful manner. 

After Tuesday’s session, during which I unpacked much of the gruesome suffering Cindy endured as well as stuff I’ve endured since she embraced Jesus, I was emotionally and spiritually— out of gas. 

I was also alone {not a good thing}— with nothing to do but feel sorry for myself.  So that’s what I did.  I wept and started asking that same tired question I’ve asked so many times before. 

“Why God, did this awful thing have to happen?”

I also told him that I still wished for a different end to her story. 

After several minutes of whining, my whining became a whimper.  And that’s when I heard a Voice.  Not an audible, spoken voice, but I “heard” it speak to me nonetheless.  The Voice asked a question that I will never forget.  A simple question, but one that shook me to the core.

“Steve, is Romans 8:28 still in the Bible?” 

I knew this Voice was speaking not to my ear but to my soul [and had actually been birthed in me through some recent reading I’d done], but I answered out loud anyway.

“Yes Sir, I ‘spose it is.”

By the way, Romans 8:28 says that “in all things God works for the good of those Who love Him, Who have been called according to His purpose.”[1]

“So Steve, you’re saying that verse is still in there?”


“I thought so.  Look, Steve, from time to time, bad things DO happen.  And I know what happened to you still feels really bad.  But you need to train your brain to see what you eyes cannot see and what you cannot even begin to conceive.  You need to re-wire the way you think about losing Cindy.  Cuz Steve, I am still in charge and even this chapter of your life WILL turn out okay.”

“But Lord, how come You didn’t heal her?  I prayed that you would.  And so did loads of other people.  How come you didn’t heal her, God?”

“Don’t you get it?  Healing is never about the person being healed.  Healing is always a function of My glory.”

“Lord, I don’t understand what You’re saying!”

“Steve, every person that has ever been healed…still died!  You understand that?  You can’t name one person— either those who got healed by Jesus or those who got healed later— everybody eventually died. 

Remember Lazarus?  He got raised from the dead…but he still died!  And the blind man?  He could see again, but he died.  There’s not one person still walking around Palestine going, ‘Dude!  I’m 2,073 years old and I just can’t seem to die!’”

“Steve, healing is always about ME…and rarely only about them.  It’s always about bringing ME maximum glory…and never about the healing itself.”

That’s when I remembered another verse that’s also still in the Bible.  It’s a verse I had showed Cindy, but now God was showing it…to me.

We’d just started chemo and Cindy was crying.  And I didn’t have to ask why.  But that is what she was asking:  “Honey, why is this happening to me?”

Wiping away my own tears, I told her about the time Jesus’ men asked the same question.  “Jesus, is this man blind cuz HE sinned or his parents?  Why’s he blind, Jesus?”

Jesus answered, “It’s not that [he] sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”[2]

I said, “Honey, I don’t know why we’ve gotta go through this.  Except these are the lines God wrote for you.  But if you read them humbly and with great trust in His purpose– ‘His works will be displayed in you.’  And there could be no greater use of your life— no matter what the future holds.”


And now, I DO know what her future DID hold.  And in my human emotions, it doesn’t seem to have worked out so well. 


But I’m learning, cuz Romans 8:28 is still in the Bible, I’m learning that God WILL work all things out in the end.  And so, if it hasn’t worked out very well yet…?  All that means is, it’s not the end yet.

Because God will, His Word promises that He does— work it “all” out…for “good.”

And so…although my heart was still heavy, I decided that I was NOT gonna slide back into that old, dark and foreboding ditch. 

Not this time. 

And I didn’t. 

I trained my brain instead to function to “know” that what happened DID happen so that the “work of God” could be “displayed [in my amazing Cindy’s] life.” 

And mine, too. 

[1] Romans 8:28

[2] John 9:3


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