April 29, 2010

Words Matter

Yesterday I was going through a bunch of stuff in my nightstand, mainly throwing stuff away, in preparation for our move. As I was going through the junk, I found a box I hadn't opened in a LONG time. It was full of notes & cards that I have received over the years from former students, volunteer leaders, & parents. I try to hang on to all the cards I get because somebody to time to sit down & write it, & I value that. I looked through some of the cards & thought back to things like a special 18th birthday celebration that a former student's parents threw where they invited people who had been major influences on their son, & I was privileged to be there. The truth is they had a bigger influence on me than I did on their family. I read some of the notes & wondered where that kid (who is now like 24) is now.

Then I got to the bottom of the box & found a stack of cards that go back all the way to 1995 (That's literally one of them; I scanned it onto my laptop). I was in 11th grade. The cards were from the greatest teacher I ever had; even though sometimes I thought she was just plain nuts! In hindsight, I realize that's what made her great. I was on our school's academic decathlon team (yeah, I know "nerd alert") that year & she was the "coach" of the team. Those cards are full of encouragement that she poured out on all of us who were a part of that group, & she didn't just say those words to us; she took the time to sit down & write us all individual cards & letters of encouragement. Now, almost 15 years later, I still have those cards & it's weird how things she wrote way back then have become reality.

The bottom line: words matter whether their positive or negative. Encouragement is powerful, & we never know just how badly somebody might need to hear a word of encouragement or blessing. Better yet, why not write it down, crystallize that moment, make that blessing concrete, permanent so that they can reflect back years later on how powerful your encouragement was to them. And thanks to Mrs. Kee for teaching me another lesson all these years later.

April 26, 2010

Crunch Time

Well, we leave the beach on Tuesday to head back to Phenix City. Once we get home, here's a list of just a few things we have to do. I'm sure Valerie could add more, but I'm looking mainly at the big stuff.

1) Pack everything that's in our house into a box or sell it.
2) Do some work to the house in order to get it ready to sell. Things like replacing a post on our front porch, some touch up painting in some spots, & cleaning the carpets. And of course clean the place from top to bottom on our way out.
3) Get a moving truck & put all the boxes & furniture into the truck.
4) I also have two major projects left for this semester in my seminary classes: a book critique & a research paper. On top of that I have my normal week's work: a few hundred pages, discussion boards, & tests

Oh did I mention we have just two weeks to do all of this? The moving stuff wouldn't be stressing me as much if I didn't have the school stuff bearing down on me. The next two weeks are going to be a blitz for our family. I'll just be glad when we get everything out of the truck & into our new place.

April 20, 2010

The Calm Before The Storm

Today we're going to head over to Ft. Walton Beach/Destin, FL to spend a few days relaxing on the beach before heading back home. Once we get back, the moving blitz begins. We've got a few minor things we've got to do to the house to get it ready to put on the market. Then of course, there's the packing & more importantly the throwing away or selling. One positive thing about moving is that it can be a great opportunity to get rid of some stuff that's been cluttering up your house. One top of all of this, I'm coming down the home stretch of this semester's seminary work. I've got book critiques, tests, & research papers coming over the next 2-3 weeks as we're getting ready to move. So I'm hoping that we can enjoy the next few days at the beach before we have to get to work in order to make our move. We'd definitely appreciate your prayers as we tackle everything we've got ahead in the next few weeks.

April 18, 2010

We're Moving

Today our family was at First Baptist Church of Robertsdale, AL in view of a call for the position of Student Minister. Yesterday I had a great meeting with some of the leadership of the church where I had the opportunity to share my vision for ministry. It was a great time to hear from them & to share the vision for ministry that God has given me. After that, we had a meet & greet with more people from the church. This allowed me to meet some families that I hadn't already met. I was pretty impressed with the fact that some families with children who weren't in the student ministry yet came to the meet & greet & actually had some well thought out things they wanted to talk with me about.

This morning we had a great worship experience centered on the mission that God has called us to to advance His Kingdom around the world. I even got to meet a guy that we'll be working with in Moldova who knows my friend Roger Glidewell & Jamey Dickens who served as a Global Mentor in Moldova through Global Youth Ministry. Definitely a small world!

So with today, we close a one chapter & get ready to start a new one in the coming weeks. Thanks to everybody who has been praying for us over the last several months. It's been a tough time for us, but I know I've learned lessons I would have never learned otherwise. I'll be sharing some of those soon. Thanks again.

April 16, 2010

Prayer Request

This weekend my family & I will be heading to a town just north of the Alabama gulf coast for our final visit with a church there about the possibility of my leading the student ministry there. I'll be meeting specifically with the deacons, administrative team, & staff on Saturday before a church-wide meet & greet in the afternoon. We've met a lot of the students & their families, but this will be an opportunity to meet more people outside that specific group.

On Sunday I'll share a little bit about myself during the worship service. Following the service, the church will vote whether or not to formally offer me the position. Should they make the offer & should we accept, we'll probably be hanging around town for another day chasing down leads to secure housing. Valerie has already been doing some research in that department & has found some possibilities.

We ask that you pray for FBC & our family as we continue to seek God's direction in this process. Everything so far has been a very positive experience, but we don't want to make a decision based on our feelings but upon His will. Thanks.

April 14, 2010

The Battlefield Is The Same

Right now I'm right in the middle of my Systematic Theology I class in seminary, & the other night I told Valerie that pretty much the one thing I've learned in all of this studying is that as much as we like to think we've evolved or grown, the battlefield that people live their lives on is the same. It's the battlefield for the truth.

We like to look at different eras in human history & think that things are totally different than in any other time. It's human nature to think that we're so unique that no one else, no other era in history or culture has experienced what we're experiencing. Specifically, it seems like in our time, people like to say that things are worse than they've ever been, but the more I study God's Word, history, theology, & all that stuff, the more I'm convinced that we're still pretty much the same. We're still battling to find truth, yet so many of us in the middle of a battle for the truth suppress the truth. We try to find the truth in ourselves, even though we'd admit that we're pretty screwed up people. That doesn't seem like a good place to find truth, I'm just saying.

If we are going to find the truth, we have to look outside of ourselves. We're too easily deceived by ourselves. We believe our own lies more quickly than anyone else's. The truth is available for us. God has revealed Himself to us in the creation around us, in our own internal sense of right & wrong (even though we like to ignore it), through His word, & most clearly through His Son Jesus. If we want to discover the truth, we have to look somewhere else than in the mirror.

April 13, 2010

That's Not Fair!

One of the greatest tensions in leadership is the desire to be fair. The concept of fairness is pervasive in our culture. Everyone demands that they be treated fairly, that they get their fair share. When that cultural norm bumps into our role as a leader, there is inevitable tension. Leaders have decisions to make that will affect people, & those people demand that the leader lead in a way that is fair, & the leader himself feels the pull toward fairness in his own leadership. However, there is something bigger than fairness pulling at the leader as well, & if you're a Christian leader, this is especially true. The longer you lead the more you realize that fairness & leadership are really incompatible. Fairness is usually determined by our present desires, but leadership demands we see the long-term destination.

Absolute fairness in leadership is a myth. It doesn't exist & never has. God Himself doesn't even treat us fairly. After all, if God were fair & gave us what we deserved, it would be really ugly. Even if you just brought it down to the level of fairness that we usually operate on which is all about what we think we need right now, God wouldn't dare treat us "fairly". If He gave us what we wanted now, it's likely that it would ultimately destroy us. Instead God does what all good leaders do: He keeps the big picture, the long-term destination in view.

As a leader, you have the responsibility of leading people into a future that they won't always see or understand. In the midst of that, you'll probably hear, "That's not fair," but don't be distracted by the world's mantra. Fix your eyes on the finish line, on the destination that you have been called to lead others to. Don't try to be absolutely fair; it's impossible. In fact, it's actually an enemy to your organization, ministry, or family.

April 8, 2010

Spiritually Stunted Babies-Part 4

This week I've been looking at how spiritually stunted babies are like real, physical babies. This whole idea came out of observing my two little girls, especially our 2 year old Audrey. So here's the last parallel that I want us to look at. When we act like spiritual babies or when we're spiritually stunted...

We Still Need Someone To Clean Up Our Mess

Believe me I could have used much more descriptive terminology because I'm thinking about a particular mess. Parents might not want to admit it, but the truth is that one of the greatest days in parenthood is not the day your child takes his first steps or speaks her first words; it's the day when your child finally learns how to use the potty all by himself! It's a great day when a parent doesn't have to deal with poopy diapers & all that goes with it, but imagine what it would be like if your child never hit that milestone. It wouldn't merely be gross; it would be tragic. They would forever be dependent on someone else to take care of a basic need.

Spiritually stunted babies are just as tragic. They constantly are running to someone else to clean up the mess in their life. Sure, every now & then we all need the help of others, but we all know people who are constantly having crises that they can't deal with on their own, & they need their pastors or some other spiritual leader to "fix" their mess.

Leaders, at some point you have to put the baby on the potty & let them learn how to deal with the poop in their life. If you don't challenge your people to deal with their crap & take responsibility for it, you are part of the problem. Why are you stunting them? Do you feel a desperate need to feel needed, & these clean up projects help meet that need? It may make you feel indispensable, but it's tragic. You are setting up those you lead to forever be dependent on someone else to actually deal with their issues. They'll never learn how to deal with the messes they make, with the conflicts they're a part of, or to take responsibility for their own growth.

April 7, 2010

Spiritually Stunted Babies-Part 3

Sadly, churches are filled with spiritually stunted babies who cling to their routines & who throw fits when someone dares to challenge the statues quo. Why are these people stunted in their growth? Here's a possible answer:

We Still Need Some Help Feeding Ourselves

It's funny to watch a little kid try to feed themselves. They get as much food on them as in them. It's cute when they're learning how to manipulate a fork or spoon to get the food to their mouth, but it's not cute when all of this happens & a few minutes after the meal, the kid is complaining because he or she is hungry. For most kids there is a stage where they should be able to feed themselves but sometimes they still need Mom or Dad to spoonfeed them in order to get what they need.

Spiritual babies are not that different. They either don't know how or refuse to feed themselves spiritually. To draw a parallel, they get just enough of God's Word into their lives to make a mess. That's why it's not uncommon for spiritually stunted babies to be self-righteous hypocrites who hold people to standards of "holiness" that aren't even biblical. Each Sunday they climb into their high-chairs, known as a pew, & demand to be fed by the pastor or their small group leader. If you want a picture of a spiritually stunted baby, go check out the Pharisees in the Gospels. They embody the idea of spiritually stunted.

The question leaders must ask themselves in this area is, "Have we actually taught people how to feed themselves?" Too often we assume that because people are in church, they know how to discover the truth of God's word & how to apply it on their on. That's not always the case. Leaders, take time to teach people to feed themselves; don't keep them in the high-chair just to stroke your ego & to make yourself feel needed. Yes, teaching them to feed themselves is messy, but in the end, you'll be equipping them to take responsibility for their own growth.

April 6, 2010

Spiritually Stunted Babies-Part 2

All of us hit the pause button from time to time in our spiritual growth, but sometimes something happens and our growth gets completely stunted. It's as if we're spiritual 2 year olds & we definitely know how to show it. Here's the second way to spot the spiritually stunted babies:

We Still Throw Fits

Yesterday I talked about the fact that little kids love routine & when that routine gets messed up, the kid usually flips. That of course leads to the fit. We've all seen them. The kid momentarily loses their mind as well as control of their body. They jump up & down or roll around uncontrollably; there's usually crying or screaming involved. It's fun, big fun, but usually if the parent can wait it out, it's over relatively quickly.

The same is true of a spiritual baby. Babies, both spiritual & physical, are still primarily focused on themselves & their needs. And both spiritual & physical babies cry & throw fits when they have a need they think is going unmet. Here's the thing: not all fits are the result of purely selfish desires. A lot of times the needs are real, but the way a person goes about expressing the need is what is selfish. That's where it takes real leadership to determine whether you're dealing with a selfish person or someone who has some growing to do & is just acting selfish.

So the next time that person throws a fit because you messed with their routine, you have to figure out whether they're being selfish at the time or if they are just plain selfish. A lot of times a little kid needs you to stop & explain things further to calm them down. Then they're good. Remember that simple practice next time somebody throws a fit.

April 5, 2010

Spiritually Stunted Babies

All Christians go through seasons where we aren't growing. It may be due to our laziness or it may be some other sin that drags us off the path of Christ, but no matter what the cause, we've all been there. Those who deny that are lying to themselves! However, I've also noticed that our churches are filled with a lot of people who don't look like it, but they are spiritual babies. They've been Christians for a long time, but somewhere along the way their growth was stunted. They may know the language & the culture, but in reality they're reliving the same year(s) of their faith over & over again.

This week I'm going to give you handfull of ways you can spot the spiritually stunted babies around you or maybe that stunted baby is the person looking back in the mirror (that's how it is for me sometimes). Here's the first way that we (church people) act like spiritually stunted babies:

We Like Routine

Babies like routines. Babies need routines in order to function at their best. Try messing with a two year old's routine & see what happens (we'll talk more about that tomorrow)! But here's something I've noticed: Little kids get into routines & they expect their parents to keep them up even if the child doesn't really participate. For example, my younger daughter learned a little prayer song & she insists that we sing it at meals & at bedtime along with our other prayers. She would sing along enthusiastically, but lately she doesn't participate at all. But guess what? If we try to skip the song, which is getting kind of old to her mother & me, she freaks. She has to have it done that way.

In the same way, our churches have been built on routine, & there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Routine is important, but why should a routine stay in place when it is no longer useful? But that's exactly what happens in many ministries. The routine & the status quo are guarded, even at the expense of the ministry.

Watch out when you start messing with the routine. Those who need it will freak.