Slowing Down Again

slothI don’t write very fast. I’m not talking about typing, I’m talking about manual handwriting. I’m not a fast writer and the further I get away from my school years when I had to write by hand every day, the harder it is to write for prolonged periods of time. I’m a much faster typist and it’s much less work for my poor hands. Not to mention, as fast as my mind moves, trying to capture my thoughts by writing things down by hand can be downright frustrating.

But slowing down is important. In fact, this isn’t the first time that I’ve thought about it or written about it (check this out). Writing things by hand is far from convenient for me, but the whole point of the sabbatical that I am on is to slow down, to rest, to recharge, and to refocus. If I try to maintain the pace that I keep all year long, how am I supposed to do those things?

A few weeks before my sabbatical started, I went and bought a journal. Part of the reason why I blog rather than journal is for the reasons listed above. I’m not a fast writer and it gets me very frustrated to feel like my hand moves at a sloth’s pace compared with the thoughts that are whizzing through my brain. But I figured I would give it the ol’ college try. After all, it was only 13 weeks, how hard could it be?

A week and a half into this sabbatical, I’m not sure that there’s anything profound or earth shattering that I’ve written in my journal, but is that really the point? Like I said, it’s about slowing down, resting and recharging. I think it’s achieving that purpose for me.

The other night, I connected with my accountability partner from when I was in Asheville. We spent a good chunk of time together and he was telling me all about his business and how God was using it to bless others. He hired a chaplain for his employees and was doing his best to make sure that his life at home, at church, at work, or wherever was the same, that there was no inconsistency across the different aspects of his life.

I was proud. I was proud that he is my friend. I felt privileged that for one short period of my life, we walked together, encouraged one another, challenged one another, and cried with one another. While we don’t talk often or frequently, when we get the chance, we connect and do our best to pick up where we left off.

There’s no way that I have found to REALLY slow down time. We can only control what we can control (which doesn’t seem like a whole lot), everything else is out of our hands. But why not do our best to control those things that we can control with reckless abandon? Why not completely capture those things and use them to our advantage?

Sabbath. Slowing down. Resting. I’m certainly not an expert in those areas, but I’ve been growing more and more and forcing myself to slow down while I am writing will hopefully cause something else to change in me.

We Are the Change

we are the change

I’ll be honest, politics disgust me. I both admire and abhor politicians. I admire them for the willingness and boldness to step into a broken system while abhorring them for the same thing. Our political system has come to such a flawed and degraded state that it’s hard to believe that change can happen without a major overhaul and restructure.

Just look at the impending November election. Opinions are fully entrenched on both sides of the political fence. The only bipartisanship that exists is in the opinion of Donald Trump, the supposed GOP frontrunner and both Republican and Democratic loathing of him. The devolution of values and ideals has come to parallel many people’s approach in the sporting world, specifically in Baseball when people like “anyone but the Yankees” or college basketball when people root for “anyone but Duke.” People simply don’t want to see Trump as president and so would elect Clinton in an effort to keep Trump from the office or vice versa.

I’m not sure the last time that I watched a State of the Union address. To be honest, I think this is an area of growth for me. Regardless of whether or not I agree with the sitting president, there is some respect that should be shown to the office despite personality or ideology. I’m learning in this area and need a lot of work, I can be honest about that.

President Obama’s valedictory SOTU address was no exception. In our fast-paced world of technology and information, it seems slightly unnecessary to watch for an hour what will be summarized and highlighted in a brief five or ten minutes the next morning.

As I read through the highlights of the SOTU address on my chosen news source (which is neither MSNBC or Fox News), I read a statement that President Obama made that stood out to me. He stated, “I believe in change because I believe in you!….we are the change we seek.” Those were interesting words, words that could easily inspire, but words that seem fundamentally flawed, at least to me in my own theology, ideology, and politicality.

Earlier that morning, before reading the highlights of the SOTU address, I met with my friend and accountability partner. We have been looking at 1 Kings and were talking through Solomon and some of his missteps in his reign as king of Israel. I made the comment that I was frustrated with myself for turning my mood and attitude on a dime. One moment I could be charged up, encouraged, and joyful and then I could move to an arrogant, impatient, and angry jerk. The repeated pattern had begun to frustrate and even disgust me.

As I talked it out, I couldn’t help but hear my own words, “I’m trying” and “I’m working” and realize that was one of the main problems. As someone who wholeheartedly believes in God and in the power of the Holy Spirit to change and reform a person, I know through my own life how changes have taken place and I know that the credit cannot be taken by me.

No matter how caring, giving, or altruistic one claims to be, at the heart of each and every one of us is lies selfishness. I know that many (if not all) will push back on me here, but I firmly believe that even in our altruism, we can be selfish in seeking out a feeling for ourselves. We can do good things and help people, but at the heart of those actions, if not for a motivation outside of ourselves, we are still being selfish.

I commend the President for his thoughts. I get what he is trying to say and think that he’s halfway there, but the problem becomes when we try to do things ourselves and think that we’re doing it in our own power and strength. I always find two things are true, 1) we’re better together, when we work with others and 2) we’re better with God who gives us the power, strength, wisdom, and know-how to move forward.

Yes, the change lies somewhere in us, we can’t seek for others to make that change happen if we aren’t willing to be part of it. There will be no president or elected official who will swoop in and save the day. Superman is a myth. Israel wanted a king, just like the other nations, and thought that it would help and solidify their place, but it turns out that God was right in the end, he was the one who was to be their king because humans are human, faulty, broken, selfish, and flawed.

We all need restoration. We all need redemption. We may be the change, but in order for us to be the change, we need to be changed first!

Chipping Paint and Oncoming Complacency

chipping paintI heard a quote this past week that has been bouncing around my cranium since I heard it. I’ve made reference to it no less than half a dozen times since I heard it because the truth of the statement resonates so deeply with me.

“Time in erodes awareness of.”

That’s it! Might not seem too profound to the average reader or hearer, but to me, who has seen it played out a lot, it makes sense and there is a profoundness in its simplicity. The basic premise being that the longer you look at something, the longer that you are exposed to something, the less impact it has on you without a change of perspective.

Let me illustrate.

In your house, you have a section of wall going up the stairs where the paint is chipping. Every time that you walk past it, you scold yourself inside your head, telling yourself that you need to take time on a Saturday to repaint that section. But the more times that you walk past that chipping paint and don’t do anything about it, the more likely you are to just start to ignore it. The longer amount of time passes, the less your awareness of it will be.

This is why it’s absolutely ESSENTIAL to always be introducing new perspectives and viewpoints into an organization that is truly seeking to change and get better. If organizations or churches continue to have the people who have been within those organizations and churches take “fresh” looks at things, it won’t matter. The amount of time that a person is in an organization can be directly proportionate to their own awareness of that environment.

That’s not to say that a person’s awareness is completely eroded if they have been within an organization or a church for a long time, but the longer they are there, the more effort will have to be taken to gain new perspectives, inviting feedback not from those whose awareness has been eroded over their time and longevity within that place, but from those whose fresh look allows them to see more clearly, without the blinders and lenses of time that have eroded that awareness.

When we stay in the same place for a long period of time, there is a tendency towards complacency if we fail to do something to combat it. Unless we are intentional about changing our perspective and getting a glimpse of things with fresh eyes, we will grow complacent to the very things, ideas, and issues that need to be addressed.

So, what can we do within an organization or a church to change things up in order to avoid the erosion of awareness and the onset of complacency?

1) Be aware – Awareness is the first key ingredient to combating this. If we fail to be aware of our own inadequacies in seeing things clearly, we will continue to do the same thing over and over again, all the while expecting different results. We know where that leads, regardless of whether or not we are willing to admit it. We need to be aware of our own propensity towards complacency and a lack of awareness.

2) Be intentional – Once we are aware of this, we can’t just leave it there. We need to be intentional in addressing the issue. We have to create a structure and environment that looks for opportunities to see the possible erosion of awareness and move towards greater awareness. Intentionality means finding ways to raise awareness and perspective.

3) Invite feedback – This is a dangerous one, I will fully admit it, so I’m following it up with #4, so be sure not to stop here. We need to invite feedback. If we fail to invite feedback, how else are we to measure things? In order to raise awareness, we need to realize our own limited perspective and invite the perspectives of others who see things differently than we do. It doesn’t mean that we take everything that we receive as feedback and implement it. That’s why we need this next one.

4) Measure feedback – This has become one of the hardest things for churches to do, at least the churches of which I have been a part. Measuring feedback is essential, yet the methods for measurement will vary based upon the individual unless there is a uniform process or procedure implemented and put into play that will allow for a more consistent measurement. In the case of awareness, time in erodes awareness of, so it’s important to measure feedback in terms of time in. Like I said, this doesn’t meant that you throw the baby out with the bathwater and you automatically dismiss feedback from someone who has been around a long time, but it also means that you carefully consider how much that person’s awareness of a situation has been eroded by their time within the organization or church.

We were never meant to be alone. In the second chapter of the book of Genesis, everything has been created and God has set Adam over these things, but he realizes that Adam does not have a suitable helpmate. His solution is to create Eve, and we see the beginning of community and partnership. We need each other, that’s how we can avoid complacency, that’s how we can avoid an eroded awareness of our current environment and situation.

As we build deeper relationships with one another, we build up trust and allow for feedback from each other. If our relationships remain shallow, the chances of us drifting down into complacency and erosion of awareness will become greater. Our lives will easily become environments of chipping paint, in need of restoration but lacking the awareness to realize that our perspectives have diminished and eroded our ability to see things as clearly as they really are.

Walking On

“The hardest part of suffering is that the rest of the world keeps going like nothing has happened.”

Jenny Simmons

I was talking to a good friend the other day who recently went through a difficult time with a Christian organization for whom he worked. He was recounting the hurt that he experienced and was telling me about his new job. While he was incredibly encouraged that he found a new job, it’s not in his “wheelhouse” and it sounds like it’s going to drain him if he doesn’t find something more satisfying.

He said that one of the hardest things that he was experiencing was the fact that people just assumed that since he found another job, everything was fine.

It made me think of the grieving process and the above quote. When there is a loss or pain or hurt, it’s natural for the rest of the world to move past it once the initial shock of the situation wears off. But that same movement that happens for everyone else doesn’t happen quite as easily for those who have actually experienced the loss or pain or hurt. The world continues to turn and people’s lives go back to their own sense of normality, but loss, pain, and hurt have a way of leaving their victims to hold the fragile pieces of their lives in their hands and wonder how to piece them together again.

I’ve been through my fair share of loss, grief, and disappointment. During those times, I discovered this truth and tried my best to navigate through what have become the societal norms when it comes to coping. It seems that we don’t know how to slow down well. We don’t know how to simply sit in our pain. Worse yet, we don’t know how to sit with others in their pain either.

Be still.

 

Be still.

 

Be still.

Those are two words that seem so simple and yet our ability to not only grasp them but to put them into practice seems elusive. They’re not hard words to understand but they’re hard words to follow. How do we find time in the midst of all that we have filled our schedules with to stop and process? More practically, how do we find the balance between completely ignoring the pain and letting it overwhelm and consume us?

God is bigger than my loss. God is bigger than my pain. God is bigger than my hurt. While I believe all those things, they too are hard to actually move from simple assent to full on embrace. How do I take those statements and allow them to be more than trite and superficial advice?

We’ve got to put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, moment by moment of each day. Like the Israelites journey through the wilderness, the path which we take seems more directed by circumstances or chaos than it is defined by order and understanding. While the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, life rarely affords us straight line paths through grief and pain and hurt.

The ones who understand this best are the ones who have experienced it the most. While there are highly empathic people on this earth, the ones who can understand this the best are the ones who have actually walked their own road, finding out for themselves that straight lines are overrated and journeys rarely go as the AAA Triptik tells us they should, especially through such unstable and unpredictable situations as grief or loss or pain.

We are created for community and we will find comfort and solace when we find others with whom we can share our experiences. We are a gift to each other and we can’t forget that we need others as much (if not more) than they need us.

We will continue to experience loss and pain and grief, that’s part of life in a broken and fallen world, but we need not experience it alone. We can help others to remind them and ourselves how important it is to let the current take you rather than fighting it. It may be a wild ride and it won’t always be fun, but when the journey is through, we will be wiser to share what we have learned with those around us.

Redemption Free

The other day, I was reading through a thread on a Facebook page that was created for my hometown. I grew up in a town that can easily be described as privileged and many would suggest that an attitude of entitlement was felt throughout much of the community. Even though most of the friendships that I still maintain from there can’t be categorized by that same privilege and entitlement, it seems that a few bad apples spoil the bunch and we, as a society, consistently characterize and categorize based upon the negative behavior of the few rather than the exemplary behavior of the many. But I digress…

The thread that I was reading had to do with the current status of a man who, when he was in high school, had been accused of raping girls. At the time, he was the co-captain of the wrestling team, a popular athlete in the school. On the brink of his trial, he fled to Europe where he lived off of his parents’ money for years, continuing his life of privilege as he was hiding out, until he was discovered and extradited back to the United States to finally stand trial.

Someone had posted an article about this man’s current life, what he is doing and trying to do and how he is living. The article listed not only his successes in the business he was pursuing but his failures as well, indicating that some of the behavior which had characterized him so many years ago seemed to still be present in him. The article was posted for information purposes, but the thread underneath quickly escalated into a battleground as strong opinions emerged on both sides of the argument as to what this man deserved.

I took the time to read through the remaining thread (some of the initial posts had been deleted before I had arrived). I was fascinated at the vitriol that flowed through the black letters on the screen. It seems that the sexual assault of women is one crime for which justice is rightfully demanded. The severity of the crime was seen clearly through the passion with which people approached this thread. People were lamenting the fact that this convicted rapist was now creating a new and successful life for himself.

As I read through the comments in the thread, I was struck by the lack of grace exhibited. Of course, I realized that if the article that had been posted was true, this convicted rapist was still exhibiting some of the behavior that was indicative of his character. At the same time, when we cry for justice to be served, a conviction is handed out, and time is served, when do we stop vilifying someone for their wrongdoing and sin? At one point is it acceptable, in our eyes, for someone to move on with their life? At what point have we paid for our transgressions?

Reading through the thread, I thought to myself, “I’d hate to be friends with some of these people because I’m not sure how well they would forgive me when I did something wrong.” It struck me that we as a society are passionate about asking for and pursuing tolerance, but it seems that there are things for which we think that tolerance is unnecessary or even a moot point. While we may verbally seek tolerance on what we would consider to be ALL levels, when the chips come down, we want people to be tolerant for the things that we want them to be tolerant for.

I keep trying to reconcile in my head how a society that promotes such tolerance can be so unforgiving and graceless when it comes to perpetrators. Please hear what I am saying in this and don’t read into it what you want. I’m not saying that there should not be consequences for the crimes that people have committed, but I am saying that when justice has been meted out and sentences have been served, at one point do we promote restoration and reformation?

To be honest, the way that I see this is that true reform, restoration, and redemption can only come from one place: Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, those who claim to follow Christ can be just as guilty (if not more so) than those who don’t of pissing on the grace that has been given to them. The headlines have been hot with stories of Josh Duggar and his own indiscretions. His story is a post all its own, but I think a lot of that has to do with vilifying others for things with which you currently struggle yourself all while pretending to be living a model life.

Can people show reform, restoration, and be redeemed without Christ? I think that people can accomplish a lot on their own. I think that people can experience a certain amount of reform and restoration on their own, but redemption doesn’t seem to be achievable unless it’s perfect redemption.

This is why I think that we need a perfect savior and a perfect sacrifice. None of us by ourselves can do it. The problem with living and imperfect sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar. We needed a sacrifice that was perfect, that wouldn’t back down, that would perfectly pay the price for what was owed.

The problem is that we willingly accept the gift, we willingly accept the price that has been paid, but when it comes to graciously giving the grace that’s been given to us, we stink. We’re great at receiving grace and horrible at giving it.

But we continue to try, we continue to press on, that’s the process of spiritual growth and maturity. We stumble and we fall, we continue to push forward, but we may fail more often than we succeed. That’s why we need a perfect savior, because…..We. Will. Never. Measure. Up.

I’m grateful for grace and I am trying more and more every day to mete it out as well as I receive it.

Just keep swimming….

Swimming In Grace

When we started our church more than two years ago, we knew that name was important. We knew that when you name something, it can be a powerful instrument in signifying identity.

Over and over throughout the Bible, people’s names mattered. Often, when they would experience a life-changing event, their name would be changed. Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Saul becomes Paul.

Names matter and we knew it.

As we poured through Scripture to see what possibilities there might be for us, we kept coming back to one word: restore. Among the verses that come to mind is Joel 2:25, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.” After much consideration, we knew that we had to have the word “restoration” in our name.

But we also knew that any time that you have something in your name, you had better expect that your identity and who you are would deal with that specific thing. We knew that putting “restoration” in our name would involve more than just a trendy or hip sounding name, but it would mean that we would be involved with the restoration that the Gospel brings to people’s lives…..at least, if we really took seriously the name and the task set before us.

Over that time since we first launched out at a middle school, I have been awed by the many ways that God has worked to make that happen and humbled by the fact that, at times, he has used me as an instrument of his grace and a means of pointing people towards the life-changing power of the Gospel which brings restoration.

Yesterday was one of those days.

There are moments when I show up on a Sunday morning and I am dangerously close to “phoning it in.” My attitude isn’t always the greatest and I’m watching the clock to see when we’ll be done. That’s the attitude with which I come in with at times.

In the process of the morning, though, I find my heart being changed. I find that my attitude starts to improve. If it doesn’t, I usually look back and marvel at the fact that God was still able to use me, despite my bad attitude. Usually I’m feeling a slight twinge of guilt knowing that I was wrong from the beginning.

But there are other times when I show up and I’m ready. I’m ready for God to do something special. Not because I’m special or gifted, but because he’s God, because he wants restoration to take place in the lives of his people and in the lives of those who have yet to meet him and know him.

That’s how I showed up yesterday.

I recently retook the StrengthsFinders test to see my top 5 strengths. This being the third time that I have taken it over the past 14 years, my strengths had changed slightly again. Making its debut appearance among my strengths was “Self-assurance.” A brief description from the StrengthsFinders 2.0 book, “Self-assurance is similar to self-confidence, In the deepest part of you, you have faith in your strengths. You know that you are able – able to take risks, able to meet new challenges, able to stake claims, and, most important, able to deliver.” I have confidence, even more so because of who I am in Christ. I know my strengths and know that I can be used by God if I am diligent and faithful in what he’s given me.

It was with that confidence that I came yesterday morning. I had done my part to study and prepare a message. I had leaned on God in the midst of that preparation, seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. Now I needed to have confidence in what he had given me and confidence in who he was, the author and perfecter of our faith. As I came, I came knowing that God was going to speak to someone just as strongly as he had spoken to me all during my preparation.

As I sat in the front row with my fellow pastor, we whispered to one another as the dots were connected and themes seamlessly weaved themselves through our prayers, the music, and the message.

Afterwards, I knew that God had done the work. I leaned on his words in Isaiah 55:10-11, ““For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Afterwards, I was swimming in grace, knowing that God had used a simple, broken, imperfect vessel like me to bring a Gospel message to a dry land, a place in need of restoration.

The thing about Sunday nights and Monday mornings for pastors is that they can be lonely times. They can be letdowns, of sorts. After pouring your heart and soul into preparation and delivery of a message, you feel tapped out, emotionally, spiritually, physically.

That’s why I needed the reminder of grace, and there’s nothing better than swimming in it, immersing myself completely in it, to better understand and appreciate just how powerful that message is and what it means to me. When I take myself out of the picture, or at least put myself in the second chair where I belong, it’s much easier to avoid the disappointment. When I allow myself to sit in the first chair, then of course I will be disappointed because, in and of myself, I am unable to sustain things in the same way that the Giver of Life does.

After multiple conversations with people afterwards and then some additional words of encouragement in message form later on, I was able to rest in the grace of God that had sustained me and had used me, not because of who I am by myself, but because of who I am in Christ.

And just as I had started the day swimming, I ended it swimming as well. My family and I took a trip to the pool and spent a few hours there. I was immersing myself in a different kind of grace at that point, the grace of God to use me in the simple situations as well.

As I waded into the water, with kids hanging on my arms, I looked up to the sky and smiled.

Grace comes in different forms and at different times. Yesterday, I saw a bit of the gamut of that grace and it brought a smile to my face.

If there is any encouragement at all, it is this, that God can use one such as I to be an instrument of that grace despite my imperfections and my flaws. Every day I make new mistakes, often I make the same ones, but God’s grace works through those mistakes and picks me up, humbling me, changing me, and transforming me to be who I need to be in him.

Today is Monday, but when I start with grace, it doesn’t feel so much like a Monday at all.

Further Thoughts on Place

This past Sunday, a young woman shared her story of faith and doubt in our community of faith’s corporate time together. I had heard bits and piece of it before she had stood that morning, but I hadn’t heard all of the gory details that she shared. A story of rejection, of hurt, of pain, of doubt, of abandonment, and finally, redemption and restoration.

As she shared her story, she looked around and started by saying that she didn’t fully realize until that moment that part of the story that she shared, part of her rejection, took place in that very room. As she talked about a gang of middle school girls who bullied her and said some heartbreaking things to her right there in that room.

She shared her story for a few minutes and when she was done, she received applause that continued…..and continued…..and continued, until the whole place was standing. There in that room, in that moment, redemption had happened.

It wasn’t until later that I fully appreciated what had just happened. The very place where this young woman had been rejected, the very place where she felt that her faith had died was the very same place where new life was given. There in that middle school cafeteria, the place that had probably haunted her memory for years, new memories were made. As she courageously shared her story, the story from life to death back to life again, she saw a room full of people who saw her as she is, a forgiven child of God. She was affirmed in her honesty. She was affirmed in her bravery. She was given a new start.

Isn’t it just like God to take the very source of our hurt and turn it around? How hard it is for some of us to face certain things because of the memories that those things conjure up for us, yet he sees fit to use some of those very things to remind us that we are not in control, nor are those things or those circumstances. He is the one who is in control. He is the one who can turn things around.

I’ve seen it happen in my own life, and I am reminded that God cares about the little things. Sparrows don’t fly or die without him knowing about it. While we shouldn’t be so consumed with some of the trivial things in our lives, we also shouldn’t be surprised when God shows up in some of those places where we least expect it. God is in the redemption business and there’s nothing like seeing it played out right before your eyes.

Time Away

Time away is always a good thing. It’s good to get away to clear your head, to change your surroundings, to change your perspective. It can be helpful, especially when that time is full of restoring, recharging, and life-giving activity. Time away can prepare you for diving back into the fray of everyday life, of facing the pressures that come on a regular basis.

At the same time, time away can be a strain on family. Spouses are tasked with single-parenting for a period of time, children who are not old enough to understand this absence may be confused, and most likely other various impacts on the family.

My seminary education was done by distance. I had to go away for 2 weeks every year. I also was gone from my family for one night a week during that time as I traveled to a class 2 hours from my home. I remember the night before I left for Minnesota, where my classes were held, my wife was pregnant with our second child and we were up in Connecticut with our family.

I had never been away from my wife and 18 month old son for more than an evening. As I stood in the room where my son was staying, holding him in my arms, I began to weep. I wept because of the gravity of the moment. I was going back to school after a nearly 10 year hiatus. I knew none of my classmates. My background had been in engineering and this was going to be a significantly different degree. I wept mostly because I would be away and would be missing moments with my family.

My wife and I had made a commitment at the beginning of the seminary process that I would not be gone for more than 2 weeks a year. That was the best decision that I ever made. While the 2 weeks away were difficult, I grew to appreciate them and even benefit from them. I grew to know many of my classmates and the time away truly became life-giving, restoring, and recharging for me, so much so that time outside of class felt like the more significant time than the time spent within the classroom.

This past year, I have been away from my family a lot. I realize that statement is relative considering that what is “a lot” to me is normal, average, or typical to many others. The time away has not been easy, but I think that it’s been beneficial. This recent trip away, my middle child broke his arm when he fell off the monkey bars (those @#$% monkey bars). It was hard not being there, but squeezing him and hugging him will feel that much better when we reunite.

Home is a good place to land. It always feels good to be back there. No matter how many times I go away, there is nothing else that can bring me joy and peace like coming home again. While I’m grateful for time away, there’s nothing like time at home. I think that the old adage still stands true, absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.

Dream Big Dreams

dare to dreamFor the next few days, I am hoping to be energized. For the next few days, I am hoping to be reminded that I am not in charge, but God is. For the next few days, I am hoping to be reminded that dreaming dreams that are big enough that I can accomplish them on my own is not enough, I need to dream dreams that are big enough that ONLY God can accomplish them.

I am spending the next few days at a conference with others who are seeking to see what God can do through the imperfect vessels that make up his church. I expect that it will be a lot like drinking water from a firehose. I am glad to be with others with whom I work on a daily basis, all of us with different perspectives, talents, and gifts.

When you live a life in the trenches of full-time ministry, it’s too easy to become complacent. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the details and needs of those who are already convinced that Jesus is Savior. That’s not to say that those who already believe in Jesus as Lord are inconsequential, but just like any of us can become self-consumed and elevate our own needs above those around us, they and we can easily lose sight of the sheep that have yet to be called into the fold.

When we get caught up in our own needs, desires, and wants, we easily lose sight of the needs of those who still don’t know Jesus. When our own needs crowd out the needs of those who need to hear the Gospel of Jesus, that is a tragedy that, sadly, happens all too often within the Western church.

I once heard a speaker at a worship conference talk about dreaming dreams that are so big that only God can fulfill them. That same phrase was spoken to the pastors and staff at my church not too long ago by a minister from Latvia. It’s a phrase that I need to be reminded of every day, and I think all of us need that same reminder. We need to remember to stop putting God in a box, to stop making him in our image and try living into his image more and more every day.

I am excited to see what God will do. I am excited to be challenged. I am excited to be shaken out of my own complacency in order that I might encourage, teach, and shake others as well. May we dream big dreams and seek God’s help, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to fulfill those dreams!

Then Comes the Weekend

It’s hard to calculate just how many times it’s happened to me.  It seems like when I find myself needing energy and rejuvenation, the calendar suddenly wakes me up to realize that the weekend is right around the corner.  While there have been plenty of Mondays when I wake up and wonder what happened to the weekend and what exactly I accomplished during it, there have been plenty of Fridays and Saturdays that I have rested.

We all need rest, despite how much energy we think we have.  We all need renewal.  There was an intentionality in God’s design of us and the incorporation of a Sabbath, a rest, into our schedules.  Despite that incorporation and despite a command to keep it, we still seem to find ourselves running on fumes all too often.  Even in the midst of our “rest” we don’t really seem to be able to rest.

Then comes the weekend.  And what do we do?  Do we take advantage of the pace slowing down or do we continue to fire on all cylinders, hoping to take advantage of the time that we have available?

I have often found myself feeling guilty for a day when I did nothing but sit around and relax, spending time with my family.  We may not have done anything significant or earth shattering, but I’ve often marveled at the significance those days have had on my children.  When asked what they enjoyed most about those days, their answers usually have something to do with spending time together.  Those answers are reason enough for me to keep coming back to those days of rest.

So, here we are, on the brink of the weekend.  How will we spend it?  Will we do what we can to make sure that our time is planned out from the moment that we get off of work until the moment that we’re back to the grind on Monday morning?  Will we take the time to rest and relax, to rejuvenate and be restored?

I’m looking forward to finding some rest in the midst of the next 48 hours.  I hope I find it.  If I don’t, it certainly won’t be for lack of trying.