Why I go to church (or why I wear pants on Sunday)

Yes… I am a pastor so I kinda “have” to go. But even if I weren’t… I would.

A few years ago I wasn’t actively preaching, so I decided to skip church for a few weeks.

IT WAS AWESOME!

I slept in… puttered around the house in my underwear for a while… cleaned the garage… played with the kids… took a nap… put some pants on… took another nap… ate… went to bed.

After living six days of busy it sure felt nice to have one day of NOTHING TO DO!

I started going to church again and realized I had missed a few things…

  • Happy people. Sure there are some knuckleheads at church… but there are knuckleheads at the bar, work, and neighborhood events too! What I’ve found is that at most churches there are a lot of happy people working on making their lives better, and somehow just being around them made me feel better.
  • Helpful information. I’m a preacher so I know this… not every lesson is a homerun. I’ve struck out a few times and went home thinking, “Geez, if I were my pastor… I’d find something else to do on Sunday!” Having said that, most pastors work real hard to present God’s ideas in a way on Sunday that will be helpful for living on Monday! Sometimes it is new information, sometimes just some inspiration. Sometimes it is a kick in the pants, and other times it is an arm around the shoulder. What I find though is that I need all of these things from time to time and church on Sunday is a pretty safe place to get it!
  • Holy moments. I know you can have these on your own, BUT there is something unique that happens when a group of people are singing to, talking about, and trying to hear from God! It’s the difference between watching the Super Bowl on TV in your living room and actually being there! I’ve had some amazing moments with God alone… but I can’t deny that I’ve had some equally awesome moments with God surrounded by friends and other people who are listening to Him as well!

I understand why people skip church, but my experience showed me that getting up, putting my pants on and going to church usually has a payoff that makes the sacrifice worth it.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know.

How to pray

Recently I’ve been reading a version of the Bible called “The Message.” I like to read through this version of the Scriptures every couple of years because of the fresh way it presents classic ideas.

Today I read something about prayer that made me stop, pull out my pen, do some underlining, and make some notes!

Here’s what I read:

“…when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

I LOVE this!

As a public speaker in general, and preacher in particular, it is easy to turn prayer into a demonstration of oratorical ability.

Jesus said, “Don’t.”

God doesn’t care how eloquent I am. Besides that, even if I were a master orator… I’d be competing against every other prayer He hears… and I’m pretty sure there are lots of people with bigger vocabularies and more engaging presentations than me! In other words, if prayer is a performance… I’d get lost in the shuffle of great performers.

Fortunately, Jesus set me free from that way of thinking when He said, “Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”

I can do that!

Be alone and genuine before God!

Say what you feel, think, believe, hope, dream, etc. THAT’S WHAT GOD WANTS TO HEAR!

He’s not impressed with your big words and fake passion any more than He is impressed with artificial tears and trumped up faith. He wants you to be real… honest… just you!

I can do that!

Alone… honest… just me and God.

I can do that… and you can too!

And the good news is… that is what God is looking for! Someone who will be alone and honest with Him! He can and will help that person… that’s what Jesus implied when He said, “you will begin to sense his grace.”

You can’t grow without this…

man-looking-in-mirrorEvaluation.

Rigorous, systematic, evaluation of yourself.

The evaluators can include others, but MUST include yourself… because at the end of the day, you know you best.

Right now I am evaluating my prayer life and my performance in the gym, among other things.

Sitting over a cup of coffee at Starbucks, talking to no one, reading a book, listening to the quiet whispers in my soul… I know some things are missing.

I’ve known this for a while… but I haven’t known them as clearly or heard them as loudly as today.

Why?

Because today I set apart some time for a rigorous self evaluation.

Now, an evaluation is not necessarily a “let’s beat the crap out of myself” session. Nope. It is an honest evaluation of where I am, whether or not I am happy here, and what I need to do to grow to the next level.

This exercise has many uses… in fact, it is helpful for every area of life: spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, relational, professional… and any other word that ends in “al” that you can think of!

I want my biceps and my faith to grow… so that requires that I spend some time evaluating!

A few practices that I’ve found to be helpful in this area include:

  • Plan a regular meeting with yourself to evaluate yourself.
  • Have a general outline that you follow during this meeting.
  • BE HONEST and MAKE NO EXCUSES!
  • Speak sternly to yourself when you must, and take every opportunity to celebrate what you can! You’re not doing EVERYTHING wrong. You are undoubtedly doing a few things right. Point them out… and have a piece of cake to celebrate! ;-)
  • Talk to God during this time.
  • Make some notes! (Remember, a fair idea on paper is better than an excellent idea that is forgotten… because you didn’t write it down!)

Well, that’s what I think. How about you? Do you evaluate yourself? Do you find self-evaluation to be helpful?

What ideas do you have to make this a more efficient practice?

Working with a part-time/volunteer team

ooVoo_2014-07-17At Church180 we have a great team of pastors (missing in the picture above is our student pastor and our administrative assistant). Only one of our pastors is full time so we have to get creative to find a space where we are all available to meet and communicate.

One of the things that is working really well for us these days is online meetings!

We are currently using GoToMeeting. (The screen shot above was taken when we were experimenting with OoVoo).

Every Tuesday Night at 9 p.m. we connect online. Everyone takes a turn giving updates and asking questions that pertain to their area of oversight. It is a great opportunity to catch up, eliminate silos, and maintain organizational clarity.

This meeting takes one hour. After the meeting our administrative assistant sends out notes of the meeting to our executive pastor and myself.

Throughout the week I meet with our pastors on a one-to-one basis to trouble shoot, encourage, and plan ahead.

Once a month our pastors and spouses all huddle together for some “play time.” We believe that the team that laughs together is much better equipped to work hard together.

Another resource that is working great for our team these days is all the tools on Google Drive! From calendars, to excel spreadsheets, to the ability to upload and share photos… we use this a lot! We can create, share, and edit documents online without having to meet face to face. Some documents that are always on include:

  • Our teaching calendar
  • Upcoming Event planning
  • Budget
  • Church/staff activity calendar

And then of course there is always texting, e-mail, and phone calls.

So, the three things that are making it possible for a part-time team doing full time work are:

  • Weekly online meetings that keep us aware of the details.
  • Shared documents on Google Drive that keep the details in order.
  • Monthly team huddles that keep us laughing together.

If you work with a part-time and volunteer team what tools are you finding helpful?

“You’re getting fat.”

I’ve heard that TWICE today! Once from a friend… and once from the lovely and talented Mrs. Peterson.

Now keep in mind that in May I had abs that won second place in a physique show.

I’ve gone from hearing, “You’re getting really thin” in May, to “You’re getting fat” in October.

What’s going on?!

I’ll tell you…

I’m working on a dream.

I want to win my next physique show competition on May 9, 2015.

After the competition in May, when I came in second place, I asked the judges what I needed to do. They said, “You need to add size to your chest and arms.” So I am. I workout five times per week, and I eat seven times a day… seven meals. Minimal junk-food… lots of meat, rice, and vegetables! And, believe it or not… I’m gaining weight! ;-)

Here’s the thing…

To get to your goal you’ve got to be willing to go places you’ve not gone before and do things you’ve not done before.

In other words…

You’ve got to be willing to live like you’ve never lived.

I just read a quote that is stuck on the back of my eyelids:

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” Andre Gide

I’m not a big fan of being called “fat”… but I’m a HUGE fan of winning. I know that all of this excess fat/water weight I’m putting on now will begin coming off in January and by next May I’ll be lean again with 8-10 pounds of muscle that I didn’t have last year! And you know what? I’ll undoubtedly hear things like, “You’re looking really thin.” ;-)

I want to win so bad next year that I’m okay putting on all this extra fat, water, muscle… even if it means being a bit uncomfortable now.

Now, this is a rather shallow goal, I will give you that. BUT, the idea is not shallow at all. The idea of leaving your comfort zone, being misunderstood, not feeling, looking, acting like the old you… in order to create a new you… THAT is something worth hanging on to! It’s a journey worth taking!

So, are you willing to be called “fat” because you are gaining muscle? “Tightwad” because you are not spending money so you can get out of debt? “Boring” because you’ve decided not to party and instead invest those hours in writing that book?

Remember the quote…

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” Andre Gide

 

Evolution of a dream

Starting this weekend at Church180 we are going to learn how dreams go from beginning to end… and what happens in between!

main_blankI’d bet that at some point in your life you had a dream… a vision of what you wanted to be or do.

But somewhere along the line your dream met reality.

Then you made a decision… to stop dreaming or to start moving.

We are going to learn some lessons from the life of a man named Joseph (sometimes referred to as “The Prince of Egypt”) that will help all of us as we move towards making the dream a reality!

If you can’t be at Church180 at 10 a.m. on Sunday, then make some time next week to go online and follow this conversation at our website - right here. (If you have some time before then you might want to catch up on our conversation called, “Elbow Room”.)

What a husband who just lost his wife told me today…

This is Kelvin and Mary…

mary

Mary died last Thursday.

This morning I ate breakfast with Kelvin.

We talked mostly about Mary.

Kelvin told me something that I need to tell you. He told me that I could.

“Don’t fight over the little things.” That’s what Kelvin said.

So she forgot to pay a bill. Don’t fight over it.

So he left his shoes in the hallway. Don’t fight about it.

Kelvin and Mary didn’t fight. Seriously, they didn’t.

Looking back he says that even the small moments of tension they had weren’t worth getting stressed out over.

What matters is love. Memories. Working together. Building something together.

Sometimes we fight over the little things… assuming that she/he will be there later on to clear things up.

She may not be.

Kelvin encouraged me to tell you to live with grace. Kindness. Patience. Love. Live today like she might be gone tomorrow.

That’s what Kelvin said.

Sometimes you need another voice

mosesThis morning I read the story of Moses… how he led the fledgling nation of Israel out from under the oppressive hand of the Egyptians.

But before that actually happened something else took place…

Moses had gone to Pharaoh to tell him it was time to release the Jewish people from slavery. The conversation had some unintended, negative consequences. Instead of releasing them, Pharaoh doubled down on them; he essentially doubled their work load!

Of course this took the people to a new low. They were disappointed… discouraged… and ready to quit hoping.

Moses went to God and said, “Why did THAT just happen?”

God said to Moses:

say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’” (Exodus 6:6-8 NLT)

So Moses did.

The people looked blankly at Moses and essentially said, “We want nothing more to do with you.”

Here’s how the history writer recorded that moment:

Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery. (Exodus 6:9 NLT)

As I read this something hit me…

People still do this!

Discouraged people write off optimistic people as “naive dreamers.” They say things like, “You just don’t understand…”, and make any number of other excuses for giving up and living in slavery.

I’ve done it. You may have too… so discouraged that it seems like more work to escape than it does to just settle in and build a hut in the land of misery.

So I wondered, what made the difference for these people?

It was a leader… a leader who persisted… who wouldn’t let the idea of freedom slide off their mind. A leader who worked with God and eventually moved the needle in the lives of those slaves… helping them to embrace a new mindset!

If you’re a slave today, a slave to discouragement, maybe what you need is another voice… a voice that calls you to a better place. Don’t write that voice off! Don’t make excuses… excuses will only empower your inner slave master. Listen to that optimist who calls you to a better place… follow him/her… and someday you, like the nation of Israel will live in a new place, enjoying freedom and fulfillment!

Talk like today is your last day

This morning I got the call that every pastor dreads… “She’s gone.”

Only this time it wasn’t someone I was expecting.

It was Mary. Young Mary. Full of life. Great mom. Exceptional wife. Much-loved teacher. True-blue friend. Exciting, funny, caring, helpful… that Mary.

I can’t believe it.

No one can.

4 1/2 months ago I was pastor at Mary’s wedding.

This week I will be pastor at Mary’s funeral.

Today I sat with her family and listened as people recounted their last conversations with her.

Mary did well. As were most of her words, her last words were loving, fun, and helpful.

I often find that in these moments it is helpful to be reflective. Today I will think on this, “What if these words were my last words?”

mary