May
18

Sorry there has been such a long break in the blog…I’ve been swamped with my Master’s Degree and such. I’ll try to be better, but I make few promises. By the time August rolls around I will have read about 8000 pages in three months and increased my books read in a 12 month period to 62…so sometimes the blog gets put off.

This week I wanted to talk a bit about what I’ve been going through and ask you a question. As I’m sure you can gather from my mention of the Master’s degree above, I’ve been swamped. In addition to the school work, I’m still married and still have a job at a large church – with continually expanding responsibilities. Monday, I had a little meltdown…I was exhausted just thinking about all the things I need to do and to be honest I didn’t really see a way to get it all done! I felt a bit like Cpt. Kirk dealing with all the tribbles!  Have you ever felt like that? After all there are only so many minutes in the day…

So my question to you: How do you deal with feelings of being overwhelmed?

Let me tell you what I did and let’s see if it’s helpful for you…

1. Seek Counsel

I was stressed and stretch – so I sat down and talked about it. In this case I spoke with my wife, but at other times I have used friends, peers, or bosses. The big key was for me to be able to articulate what I was feeling, step back for perspective, and have some additional eyes on the problem. Often, when we isolate ourselves, we end up making a mountain out of a mole hill.

It reminds me of the story of the little boy who solved a problem that even the smartest engineers couldn’t. A truck had become stuck in a tunnel – apparently the drive had missed the height warning and gotten himself wedged. Engineers, first responders, and all sorts of smart people looked at the problem and could not find a solution. After a while a car with a young boy came by…as the boy looked at the truck he innocently asked out the window “Why don’t you just let the air out of the tires?”

A different set of eyes on a problem can find a solution you may have missed.

2. Ask for Prayer

There is no reason to try and solve problems strictly on your own. Sometimes though we see prayer as a last resort. “Well, we’ve tried everything else…we might as well pray about it.” What we’re really saying is “Well, it can’t get any worse – so let’s pray about it.” What if we start with prayer and go from there? Perhaps some of our problems may not seem so big and insurmountable…after all, if God has the answer maybe we should ask him before we rack our brain!

3. Get Organized

A good friend of mine says being overwhelmed simply means you can’t figure out how you’re going to get done all the things you need to get done…I agree with the thought behind this statement mostly (sometimes being overwhelmed comes from a spiritual deficency in our life). But when you can’t figure out how you’re going to get it all done – then you need to step back and figure out how you’re going to get it all done…that’s right! You have to create a plan!

Give yourself some time, step back, take a look at what you have to do, set your deadlines, and then work backwards to fill in the steps. That’s what I had to do…I laid out all the homework, work stuff, and personal stuff and created a map to get it done. This is easy and hard. It’s fairly easy to create a plan – the difficulty comes from trying to remain disciplined enough to carry out the plan!

However you deal with being overwhelmed – you have to be able to step back, get perspective, and then get back into it. Hopefully this helps…even if it doesn’t help you, it helped me.

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Apr
11

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about goals, vision, growing as a leader…these are core values for me as a leader. As I’ve been thinking about things over the last couple of weeks I was presented with an interesting question in some of the challenges I’ve faced recently.  “How have I contributed to the problem?”

So I want to ask you a similar question – in the problems and difficulties you may be facing – how have you contributed to the problem? There are a lot of resources out there on how to become a better problem solver, but I think any solution that does not start with understanding how you contributed to the issue is inadequate.  Let’s be honest, if you’ve had the same problem (I’m not talking illness or infirmity here) for an extended period of time – you probably need to look inward to begin getting it fixed. Likewise, if you have moved to a new job, church, or location and you find that the problems you had at your last local have followed you–then it’s a good bet part of the problem is within you.

I wrote a chapter for a book that should be coming out soon and the entire chapter was dedicated to the concept of “Self-leadership.” At the core of self leadership is understanding what in you needs to be grown, healed, or cutout in order for you to advance in life. So when faced with a problem–start looking at yourself first and then look at the outside factors. Only you (and the Holy Spirit) can change you…

Mar
07

How many of you have an old pair of shoes you like to keep around just because they feel so comfortable to wear? I’m sure tucked in your closet, safe from your spouse’s attempts to throw them away, there’s an old pair of gym shoes hiding. When your wife asks what the source of the smell emanating from the closet is – you plead ignorance.

Admit it – we like things we know will fit and are comfortable. We like to know when we put on a shoe, shirt, or pair of pants it is going to fit right. Here’s the problem with the old shoe, shirt, or jeans: they look old, ratty, and worn out. They may be comfortable, but they may not be the best to wear in public.

Old shoes are not the only things we need to check occasionally for freshness. In our personal life, professional life, and spiritual life we need to make sure we’re not just settling for what is comfortable. People as a who will return to what is easiest, the proverbial path of least resistance. And I’ll admit there are seasons when easier is better, but this cannot be our whole life. If we never learn to press through problems, if we never seek growth, if we never question what has become the status quo in our own life we will never grow.

We’ve already gone through the whole being a growing leader series, so you can read back through that if you need to – I want to look at one thing that will help us from returning the lowest common denominator in life. “Wait a sec! There’s one thing that can help us overcome and grow?” I’m glad you asked…what is this magical, miraculous, wonder product? Accountability. Accountability can help you grow. Accountability can help you overcome. Accountability can help you succeed where you’ve failed before. (Sounds like I’m selling accountability doesn’t it?)

On our own, we are going to drop back into our old patterns or ruts. My friend Jim Wideman says a rut is a grave with the ends kicked out. Accountability, with a mature individual who will help you stay on task, will help keep your goal in front of you. Knowing you are going to have to talk to someone about your success or failure on a regular basis does wonders for your focus on the task at hand.

Don’t believe me – try this little challenge. Think of a goal you’ve had for a while; something you’ve tried to do on your own and have failed at over and over. Now think of a mature friend, peer, or mentor who would be willing to ask you once a week how you’re doing on the goal. Then talk to them. Track your progress over the next six weeks and you’ll be amazed at how well you do. And remember an accountability relationship is only helpful if you are actually honest with your partner.  Choose wisely and you will see improvement. “Inch by inch is a cinch – mile by mile is a trial.”

Mar
01

The Self-less Way of Christ Part 3 (read Part 1 & Part 2)

I can be a little hard headed. Ok…I for those who know me I can be really hard headed. Sometimes I need lessons repeated since I didn’t learn what I was supposed to learn the first time.

Speaking with a friend this morning I made the comment that I know all the principles for conflict management – yet there are still times when I just want to yell at a person instead of work through the conflict. Know what I mean? Knowledge is rarely the problem in working through an issue-the real problem is behaving the way we know we should behave (In case you’re curious, I didn’t yell at anyone today…)

The reason I titled this post “The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Learned” is because it is something I am still learning. A lesson I repeat often and here it is: Downward Mobility.

What is downward mobility? Well it is exactly the opposite of upward mobility. In American culture we’re taught we should strive for bigger and better things all the time. We feel a pressure from those around us to succeed, to get promoted, to increase, to climb the corporate (or sacred) ladder. Onward and upward – more is better! Don’t you want to be famous? Don’t you want more? You can be an expert!!

Let me ask you this simple question: Are you sure that’s what Jesus would have done? In his book “The Selfless Way of Christ” Henri Nouwen says this:

“I am not denigrating ambition, nor am I against progress and success. But true growth is something other than uncontrolled drive for upward mobility in which making it to the top becomes its own goal and in which ambition no longer serves a wider ideal. There is a profound difference between the false ambition for power and the true ambition to love and serve. It is the difference between trying to raise ourselves up and trying to lift up our fellow human beings.”

Is ambition and promotion a bad thing? No. The Bible even tells us in 1 Timothy 3:1 “Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” Promotion and ambition are not bad things. It is a heart issue.

Think of the example that Christ gave us. “He moved from power to powerlessness, from greatness to smallness, from success to failure, from strength to weakness, from glory to ignominy. The whole life of Jesus of Nazareth was a life in which all upward mobility was resisted (Nouwen, 31)” Jesus behaved in a way counter-culture to the American way of life.

Philippians 2:6-8: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

This is a hard lesson to learn. I have to remind myself on a regular basis that promotion comes from God. Recognition comes from God. I do what I do, not for the approval of man, but for the Glory of God. We can all stand to be reminded of this from time to time. When we feel like we’re being taken for granted – remember you serve for the glory of God. When you desire a greater level of recognition – remember you serve for the glory of God. When you see someone else in your field who is getting recognition for something and you feel that twinge of jealousy – remember you serve for the glory of God. This is genuine downward mobility. Not for your glory, but for His.

This is the selfless way of Christ. “not my will, but thy will be done…” Luke 22:42

Are you willing to lay aside your will? And accept what God has for you?

 

Feb
23

 

The Mystery of Christ (The Selfless way of Christ Part 2) Read part 1

Last week we talked about why you are in ministry and understanding our involvement in ministry comes from the overflow. Those are foundational aspects of being a minster (I use minister as a term applicable to paid, unpaid, pastor, sunday school teacher, etc…we all have ministry potential, therefore we are all ministers.)  But the discussion of why and how we minister does not sufficiently encompass understanding what I mean with the title of this blog: “The Mystery of Christ (The Selfless way of Christ Part 2).”

I fear many Christians do not see their place in the Body of Christ. I think they can see their place in the local body, but do not begin to comprehend the fullness of what God called them to in the Body of Christ (the bigger Body representative of the Church around the world.) I’ll stop right here and let you ask the question: “What does this have to do with Children’s Ministry?” The answer is everything! I believe once we know where we fit in the vision of Christ for the Church we can function in the fullness of the calling of God.

Never will we fully understand the fullness of who God is. For God to be able to describe himself as simply I AM. Let’s me know I will never fully “get” him and that has to be ok.  There are other mysteries that while they are deep mysteries help us to understand our role in the kingdom. The apostle Paul shares about the mystery a bit in Ephesians 3:

6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

This shows us a mystery we will never fully understand yet still gives us direction. How can we be joint heirs with Christ? I have no idea, but I know what it means.  Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” I am a joint heir – because Christ lives in me. Again an example where the benefit we receive has nothing to do with who we are and everything to do with who God is…

So the mystery for us today means we are spiritual beings on a physical journey–representing Christ to the world around us. It is a radical idea, even more radical than what Christ asked of the Disciples. He asked them to walk with him. Here he asks us to walk for him. This means we can’t do it just a little–this is a full life commitment. If you look at what Christ says in Matthew he leaves little wonder about what he expects from a follower (I didn’t say fully committed follower, because I have trouble finding that in the text).  Jesus says “No one can be the slave of two masters” (Matthew 6:24) “It is a narrow gate and hard road that leads to life…Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 7:14, 10:37). This isn’t a challenge just to ministers – it isn’t event a challenge – it’s a statement to those who call themselves followers. Everyone who calls themselves followers. These statements really indicate the radical nature of following Christ…we get tremendous benefits, but it requires a total commitment.

The mystery really turns into a two-fold mystery: 1.How do we get a reward comparible with what Christ recieves? 2. Why are there those who never fully commit to the opportunity to receive the eternal gifts that Christ offers?

How does this all apply to Children’s Ministry–it is this simple. We minister because God calls us to minister as Christ ministered. All Ministry is God’s ministry and if we’re going to be in ministry–we might as well enjoy it and what is more fun that working with kids?

Feb
14

Why are you involved in ministry? What makes you give of your time, talents, and resources?

For me, it comes from a desire to serve God. I was called at a young age to serve full-time in ministry. There are many ways to serve in ministry, not everyone needs to be a full-time pastor to be “in ministry”.

The reality we face though is that being called to serve isn’t enough to sustain us in our ministry. It’s a great starting place, but if we only serve because we are called then we miss a large part of serving.

1 John 1 (The Message)

1-2From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.

3-4We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!

Our service needs to be joined with our experience! Look at verses 3-4 :”this experience…we want you to enjoy this, too.” John, the beloved, writes that the reason he serves is so he can share his experience with others! If we have no experience with God then our service, or at least our desire to serve, will eventually run out. Our ministry life and spiritual life (experience with God) belong together!

We minister out of the overflow – so if we are not overflowing with God then we are ministering on reserves, at best. Henri Nouwen shares this thought in his book titled “The Selfless Way of Christ”:

“When our ministry does not emerge from a personal encounter, it quickly becomes a tiring routine and a boring job. On the other hand, when our spiritual life no longer leads to an active ministry, it quickly degenerates into introspection and self-scrunity, and thus loses its dynamism. Our life in Christ and our ministry in his name belong together as the two beams of the cross.”

Too often someone will get “burned out” in ministry and react by quitting everything to focus solely on their relationship with Christ. The mistake that is made with this reaction is they associate Sunday morning with their only opportunity to experience God. If we are leaving our experience with God to 90-minutes once a week, it’s not going to be a enough. We need to spend time daily, feeding ourselves.

Then there are those who are so wrapped up in soaking up all they can that they never find a place to serve (so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.) In Galatians 6:9 when Paul says “Let us not grow weary in doing well…” there are a couple of things implied. The first implication is that you are serving. The only way to stop doing something is to be doing it. The other implication is that we should not stop serving.

When we take our eyes off the mission that God has called us to we become focused on our problems, situations, and obstacles. When we keep our eyes focused on Christ all other things pass away. We need to continue to serve, not to the detriment of our relationship with God–our service should come from the strength from that relationship! If we find our desire and ability to serve waning then we may need to examine our experience with God. Up your experience – up your ministry.

Jan
31

Ok, so in high school – I was not one of the cool kids. I wasn’t an outcast, but I wasn’t part of the “in” crowd and I was ok with that. As a teenager at church – I wasn’t part of the “in” crowd either. Again, I wasn’t an outcast–we all knew each other and got along well, but if the cool kids threw a party I usually didn’t make the list. And I was ok with it…here’s the fact of the matter: I’m kinda dork…I used to play role playing games, I love StarWars, and on a Friday night I was just as happy to play some BattleTech as I was to hang out and do nothing.

So why the confession? Am I looking for sympathy? Not at all. I’m actually content with who I am. I still love StarWars, I still play video games, I still watch Muppet Movies periodically, I can carry on an intelligent conversation about any of the Star Trek series…in a lot of ways I’m still dorky. And I’m still ok with that.

The reason for the confession is that I was reflecting on the blessings that God has put into my life. And as I sat down at my desk last week, I was overwhelmed with how faithful God is and how much he has blessed me.  I have a great wife, I have a great job, my boss is awesome, I’m able to pursue a Master’s Degree, my family loves each other…I could go on and on about the great blessings that God has given me.

Lamentations 3:22-24 in The Message says: “God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.”

His mercies are new everyday and I don’t want to ever forget that, neither do I want to think it’s because of me…so I keep reminding myself that I’m essentially a dork. I always want to remember that I am where I am because of who God is…

How about you? Do you count your blessings and give God the glory for all the great things that have happened in your  life because of who he is?

Jan
17

“…so are the days of our lives.” Yes, I just quoted a soap opera…no I don’t watch them.

Who out there has ever said – “Where did the time go?” “It’s how late?” “I lost track of time!” or something else to that effect? Time can be slippery – especially if you don’t manage yours well.

I think one of the greatest hurdles to accomplishing our goals is not using the time you have wisely.  There are a lot of resources out to help with time management (Here’s a good one from Jim Wideman – Beat the Clock). I wanted to share a good resource with you that I came across. It’s from Gene Wood’s book, Leading Turnaround Churches.

Self-Discipline Tips

  1. Just say NO! (learn what you should and shouldn’t do)
  2. Hold Stand-up meetings. People will stick to their focus if they don’t get comfortable.
  3. If you have an open door policy – remove the chairs from your office so people can’t sit and settle in.
  4. Use to-do lists. Quote: “A commitment unwritten is nothing more than a nice intention.”
  5. Use a time analysis sheet for a week or two. Compare it (using 15 minute blocks) to what you planned to do vs. what you actually did.
  6. Establish Priorities and review them regularly.
  7. When you suddenly remember something you forgot to do just before you drift off to sleep – get up and write it down.
  8. Carry something you can take notes on for when you remember things you forgot.
  9. Do tasks that require creativity in your peak time.
  10. Do mundane but necessary tasks in your downtime.
  11. Handle paper only once. Don’t just shuffle things around your desk – make a decision and move on.
  12. Develop a habit of punctuality.
  13. Do two things at once. (Listen to a book and drive, etc.)
  14. Get sleep.
  15. Build extra time into your schedule for unexpected things.
  16. Do the hardest things first.
  17. When you’re very busy, avoid new things. Stick to routines.
  18. When on the phone, deal with business and get off the phone.
  19. Meet in other people’s office – this means you can leave when the purpose of the meeting is fulfilled.
  20. The goal of a to-do list is not to have a long list, but to cross things off in proper order.
  21. Delegate – use the time of others.
  22. Plan your time.
  23. If you can communicate in writing – do that. Don’t have a meeting to talk about something you could have emailed.
  24. Do your most bothersome tasks first.
  25. Avoid television like the plague!

Try to implement a few of these things at a time and you will find you have a better handle on your time…

Jan
10

So this morning I was supposed to fly out at 10:54 for class. My flight was supposed to go through Atlanta. I don’t know if you heard, but Atlanta got 3″-6″ of snow…so my flight got cancelled.  As soon as I found out my flight had been cancelled I called Airtran. After 20 minutes on hold I decided to go ahead and get ready for the day while my wife listened for a customer service rep…they kept saying it would be soon. After 35 minutes I decided it would be quicker to run up to the airport and see what they could do for me (I live 2 minutes away). So by the time I got to the ticket counter I had been on hold for 45 minutes…fun times.  I told the Ticket counter lady about my flight being cancelled…she looked me up and said “Oh, they’ve already rebooked you on the direct flight.”  What?  I didn’t have to call and ask them to do that? They had already done that?  They took the initiative and took care of my problem?  Way to go Airtran!!

The proactive-ness of Airtran is exactly what a leader does! When we read the parable of the servants who were trusted with the talents – the first two servants didn’t need to be told to do something, they just did it! The third servant is the one who really messed up because he waited for someone to tell him he should try to be productive! Really?  Does someone need to tell you to be productive?

Sometimes that’s the mistake that a lot of people make – they wait to be told what to do.  Granted there are times when you should wait for instructions…if you’re disarming a bomb, make sure that you know if you’re supposed to cut the red wire or the green wire. If the decision you’re about to make will have long-term ramifications – make sure you know what you’re supposed to do first! But there are somethings you just don’t need to ask about you can make the decision on your own.

If you’re teaching a lesson and you have an epiphany that would help reinforce the lesson, but isn’t written in the curriculum – do you need to ask before you share? No! If it doesn’t detract from the lesson and isn’t heresy – then use it! You don’t need to ask!  If a child cuts their arm – do you need to ask to get a band-aid? No! Just do it! If there’s a parent who is lost do you need to ask if you can help them? Nope!  If you are doing something that adds to the vision for the ministry and is appropriate in the context you are serving in you probably don’t need to ask!

Too often individuals focus on what they can’t do. “We don’t have enough workers…” “We don’t have enough money…” “We don’t have….” W-H-A-T-E-V-E-R! What about the things you do have?  What can you do with the resources you already have? Quit focusing on what you can’t do and find the things you can do! It’s like the warning on the side of a cup of coffee – “Contents may be hot!” Really? Did I need to tell you that?

Now go out and be proactive initiators of the things you can do!

Jan
03

Well, the New Year is here!  Who made a New Year’s Resolution? Who has broken it already?  Everyone loves to make new commitments at the first of the year and almost without fail we break those commitments. Some commitments may last only a couple of days–while others make it months…very few make it through the whole year.

Personally I really identify with Paul in Romans 7.

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

We want to do right and we have so much trouble actually doing it…we often end up feeling like failures.  Does it mean you’re a failure? Does it mean you’re a bad person?  Nope..it probably just means you’re crazy. As a lefty I like to joke that Left-handers are the only people in their right mind (get it?). The reality we face is that we are all out of our mind and that’s the problem.

Paul continues of in Romans 8 to talk about living by the Spirit.

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

To quote the movie “Cool Hand Luke” we’ve got to get our minds right…1 Corinthians 2 tells us what a right mind is.

15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

If we strive to get the mind of Christ then we learn to walk as one directed by the Spirit and we’ll find out that life isn’t about a bunch of commitments made at the beginning of the year; life is about learning to walk in the Spirit daily, following the activity of God, and living that out everyday. Goals are good (you can be reminded how to set good goals here) but if the goal isn’t a God driven goal then chances are you won’t follow through on it. Learn first how to find the mind of Christ and then set goals…then maybe you’ll be a little less crazy in the end.