Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Think You're God's Gift? You May be Right!

We’re self-centered, aren’t we? I mean, it’s incredibly difficult not to be consumed with ourselves most of the time. After all, we’re us. We live our lives, not others’. We look to fulfill our desires and needs much of the time, only looking to the needs of others when it’s convenient or when we can personally benefit from it. We strut our stuff, and believe we’re God’s gift to the world. What we fail to realize is how right we actually are.

I’ve been participating in a small group study entitled “iMarriage,” that was authored by Andy Stanley. Essentially, the study focuses on the tension between our desires and our expectations as it pertains to the marriage relationship. But, truly, the principles in the study are relevant and applicable for relationships outside of marriage, not just between husband and wife.

Perhaps the most profound message I have received through this study is what Andy said about how God uses us in relationships with others. He explains that God looks at us as a channel of His goodness, love, grace and mercy to others. When we accept Christ, we become pure and holy in His sight. That’s because He has washed away our sins, canceled our debts. In turn, we need to be loving, serving, and giving to others. Not because they deserve it. But, because God does that for us – even though we don’t deserve it!

So, that certainly raises the bar on our role in each and every relationship we have with another human being. Basically, God has given us as a gift to another. That’s right – we are literally God’s gift to mankind. He has chosen us to bless other people. But, here’s the kicker – we must do it unconditionally. We cannot have strings attached. We cannot have ulterior motives. Sure, we can hope that by serving people and giving more that we’ll have a positive influence, but we cannot stop serving, giving, and loving if we never see the desired outcome.

With it being Christmas, there’s really no better time to come to this realization: you need to give yourself away. And, don’t wait until you “feel like doing it” to do it. That’s the fatal error we make all too often. We hold back blessings because our heart just isn’t in it. But, as it has been said before, go ahead and do what is right, and the feeling will follow.

We each have immeasurable influence in the lives of others. We have numerous opportunities each and every day to lighten someone’s load, offer an encouraging word, give selflessly of our own resources, or do something intentional to help someone else. They may not deserve it. They are likely flawed. Perhaps they have fouled up one too many times. But, you know what? You were there once, and you could be there again. The difference is you have the privilege to help them overcome it.

I’d like to invite you to join me in doing something this holiday season. I’d like you to take a $20 bill and put it in your wallet or your pocket. Then, I’d like you to pray daily for someone who could really use that $20. And, sometime over the next week or two, I want you to give that money away, preferably to an individual that you encounter. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s the “right person.” When you give that $20 away, you are giving a gift. No strings. No stipulations. Don’t worry about how it will be spent. Do it joyfully.

And, with humility – not pride – be confident in knowing that you are truly God’s gift to others. As Max Lucado once wrote, “God’s greatest gift is Himself.” And, this Christmas, He’d like nothing more than to use you to deliver that precious gift to someone else.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Miserable Old Codgers

Perhaps my favorite quote of all-time was uttered by George Will, author and Pulitzer Prize winning political commentator: “The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.”

I feel this quote sums up my attitude for the first 30-plus years of my life. This is exactly how I lived. I always expected the worst and hoped for the best. This mentality always allowed me to say, “See, I told you so.” And, at worst, if I was wrong, then any positive outcome was just a bonus.

Always having a negative outlook on life may be an easier way to live, but it’s certainly not a better way to live. If you’ve spent any time around miserable old codgers, you know how widespread the claws of pessimism can reach. I had to put up with one recently myself, and it truly opened my eyes to how it can adversely affect people around you.

Amy and I, and our two boys, went out to Boulder, Colorado last month for the UGA-Colorado football game. Now, I am the first to say that this season has been a huge disappointment for Dawg fans. Nevertheless, most Dawg fans are loyal, and will stick with the team through thick and thin. But, every fan base has “those” kinds of fans – the ones that get under your skin. The ones who cannot find anything to cheer about. The ones who make the game miserable for everyone around them. That is who I had the misfortune of sitting in front of in Boulder.

Despite the fact that we were actually leading the game at halftime, this guy – probably around 65 years of age – insisted on complaining about everything. “Grantham is a $2.5 million dollar mistake,” he shouted at the top of his lungs. “Bobo needs to go! I hope they leave him here in Colorado!” He booed the officials after every single call. He even booed Bill McCartney, the coach of Colorado’s 1990 National Football team, when he was introduced during a ceremony. And, for me, that was the last straw. I couldn’t take it anymore.
I turned to this guy, and as politely and as under control as I could, I asked, “Can you find anything at all positive to say? Because I am really getting tired of hearing nothing but negative. I’m just wondering if you can find something good to say.”

The man had his arms folded, and had a smirk on his face. “Maybe,” he said. “I might. We’ll see.”

And, while he wasn’t as outspoken about his disdain for all things except A.J. Green, the guy continued to focus on the negative aspects of the game. At one point, we were up by three points, and were on the 10-yard line, 3rd Down and Goal to go. A.J. Green wasn’t on the field, and the guy started screaming about how bad our offense was, and how the Offensive Coordinator only knew five plays he could call. Well, on the very next play, Aaron Murray hit Marlon Brown across the middle for a touchdown! I caught the guy out of the corner of my eye, and he had his arms still crossed, and wasn’t high-fiving like the rest of us.

I turned to Amy and said sarcastically, “I’m sure Bobo probably didn’t call that play. He must only call the plays that don’t work.”

That poor guy’s wife sat there quietly for most of the game. She was embarrassed and ashamed. And, the one time she spoke up to ask him to stop “being that way,” he scolded her and said, “Don’t you talk to me that way.”

Hopefully, this story doesn’t describe you. If it does, I encourage you to do your very best to keep your negativity to yourself, and try – just TRY – to find some silver lining in the situation. You might even turn your scowl into a smile, and multiply that positive attitude into a winning result!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Choose Your Path

I went through the McDonald's drive-thru on the way to the office this morning. I grabbed a sausage McGriddle and decided to try the new Caramel Iced Coffee. McGriddle, good. Iced coffee, not so much.

Anyway, this particular McDonald's has a drive-thru that, if you really want to, you can pull in off the main road and maneuver your vehicle over to the left and avoid having to drive ALL THE WAY AROUND the restaurant. I mean, who has an extra 10 seconds to do that?

But, I am really trying to be more patient these days, and I wanted to "follow the rules" by going through the process as it was intended.

So, what happens? You guessed it. I am approaching the speaker to place my order at the big board, and someone has the gall to cut me off and "break" in line without going around the building like I did. I thought, "So THAT'S the thanks I get for being a good guy!"

My initial reaction would normally be to wave my arms or pound my steering wheel. I mean, not only did the guy cut me off, but he was in a huge SUV with two canoes strapped to the top, and was pulling a trailer full of baby "must-haves" for vacation - massive stroller, baby beach bubble, pack-n-play, etc. It would have been much easier for him to go around the building...but nooooo...he had to get that McMuffin pronto!

I calculated that I would have gotten through the line about three minutes sooner if that family had not pulled in front of me. Three minutes may not seem like a lot, but it's an eternity when you're Jonesing for a bite of that warm, syrup-oozing McGriddle.

In those three minutes, I think I may have grown as a person. I realized that it must have been more important for him to order before I did. Perhaps his baby was screaming in the back, or maybe his wife was urging him to hurry, or maybe he needed his McGriddle as badly as I did. The point is, I was actually able to chuckle and let it go. I didn't allow it to ruin my day, and it didn't fester.

I had a choice. I could have created a scene - made gestures or barked at him. But, I chose grace instead - and it was difficult, lemme tell you. But it was the right choice.

You never know the potential ripple effect you have in a situation like that. So, I opted to stop the ripples right there. Maybe I even started some positive ripple action. Who knows.

But, next time I won't drive all the way around the building.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Built to Last

It’s easy to be a critic. You just make judgments about people, places, events (or anything else) with little or no facts. And, you base this opinion almost solely on what does or does not appeal to you personally. Typically, we reserve the harshest criticism for the people and organizations in which we have the least amount of personal investment. The Church is no exception.

The Church has endured brutally negative words and actions since, well, right after Christ ascended into heaven around 33 A.D. Church was obviously God’s idea, because I am not sure any institution could have endured such trials to ultimately become such a widespread phenomenon.

Think about it: 12 guys were left to start The Church. They started from scratch. And, the church then was not a building, but people in certain geographic locations who came together and “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).” So, they did four primary things: they listened to preaching, they hung out together, they observed Holy Communion, and they prayed. That was The Church.

Apparently, it was effective, because churches started popping up all over the place: Corinth, Caesarea Philippi, Thessalonica, Rome, Galatia, Colosse, Ephesus, and eventually across all of Europe, Asia, and to North America in the 1600’s. It has been an unstoppable force, despite the efforts of many to thwart it.

Like anything that has survived for thousands of years, The Church has adapted. Church today is not like it was in the First Century. It’s not like it was in 1600, 1800, or even 1980. I am thankful for that. Creativity and innovation have helped keep Jesus’ story fresh to millions of new believers each year. Different songs, different buildings, different outreach techniques, same God.

And, with change comes criticism. I have had a few exchanges with folks over the past few years about The Church. What the Church is, what it isn’t, what it should be, what it shouldn’t be. Perhaps the harshest critic with whom I have spoken in that time only darkened the doors of my church twice before he began explaining to me everything we were doing wrong, and how it didn’t align with his personal philosophy on evangelism. He referred to my church as “the program,” and said we only want to fill seats and take people’s money. He said there were no opportunities to serve (where he wanted to serve) and that we were all about “show.”

Because he didn’t attend more than two times, he never knew how we serve schools, help businesses, send teams of missionaries to foreign countries, clothe families, provide reading glasses for kids, work concession stands for parents, deliver lunches to the poor, do laundry for MUST, give turkeys and groceries for Thanksgiving, adopt families at Christmas. All he saw was “the program.” And, in the end, that is because he made the decision to not get involved and show God’s love to others.

That is what the Church is about: serving others, learning more about who Jesus is and how to become more like Him, gathering with friends, remembering Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, and praying for everyone and everything.

Church should be simple. Not easy, but simple. I think too many times we complicate things and make it easy for the critics to throw stones. But, if we’ll stick to the plan that God laid out through the early church, we’ll continue to persevere and bring His Good News to many more thirsty and hungry people in the years to come.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Let's Make a Deal

If someone offered you the opportunity to stay the same age, and never grow older, you’d take it, right? No strings attached, no selling your soul to the devil, no caveat. Just accept this offer, and no more. I would!

But, for some reason, my kids won’t accept this deal. Every so often, Amy and I will say the following to our now 10 and 6-year old sons: “No getting bigger or older, OK? Just stay this size and age forever. Is that a deal?”

They don’t even consider it. They immediately shoot this idea down! They’re in a hurry to grow up, while we (adults) are desperately swimming upstream against the painfully swift current of time.

Father’s Day has just passed, and as I think about being a dad, I am overjoyed. I never knew exactly how fulfilling a role that Fatherhood would play in my life. And, I never knew how quickly the days, weeks, and years would fly by. It’s moments like these when I have to take a big breath and try not to think about what life will be like without my boys in the house every day. Deep breath.

I understand that my kids are “only” 10 and 6, and that I have several years to go before they are out of the house. But, that is little consolation when I can already see so much in the rearview mirror. After next year, one of them will be in middle school. Yikes!

There’s a laundry list of things I get to do with my kids that will vanish in the years to come: reading bedtime stories, kneeling and saying prayers together before turning out the light, practices and games at the ballpark, homework and school projects, shooting hoops in the driveway, playing on the playground, hearing that lovable “kid laughter” throughout the house when they are playing nice together, Disney World vacations (OK, maybe not Disney – we’ll never outgrow that!).

And, with each day that passes that list grows longer, and my time with them becomes even briefer. So, what can I do about it? How can I preserve this time and squeeze out every last drop? Simple: I continue being their dad.

What I mean is this: instead of lamenting the fact that they are growing up too fast, I continue to do what I have been doing. Some parents get to a point where they cease being their kids’ parents and try too hard to become their “friends.” They ease off the brakes and allow their kids to hit the accelerator. “I don’t want my kids to grow up hating me,” some parents say to themselves. So, they do the very thing that will result in their kids losing respect for them – they stop parenting.

I remember hearing some sage advice several years ago from a guy at our church. His sons and daughter are now in their late 20’s and early 30’s, but as he reflected back on his life, he made this comment: “I made the decision to be their parent and to make tough choices and to discipline them when they were young, so I could be their friend when they got older.”

So, that is what I will do. I will cherish these precious moments, but I will be relentless in my role as “Dad” to disciple them, lead them, encourage them, correct them, and love them.

And, in the end, I believe God will honor this, and will bless my boys and me with an incredible friendship for decades to come.

Now, THAT is a deal I can’t pass up!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

By Default, or By Design?

I wouldn’t classify myself as “control freak,” but in many ways I do want to have a say-so in what I am going to do, and how I am going to do it. I guess the fact of the matter is that I ultimately trust myself more than I trust someone else to determine my path. But, not only my path – my kids’ paths as well.

I’m going to get straight to the point. I believe one of the major problems with the world is that we have a bunch of scaredy cats running around with no idea where they are going. There’s no target they are aiming for. No goals to be accomplished. No process in place to get them or their families where they need to be – financially, emotionally, spiritually, or physically. These are the people that just let life “happen.”

Priorities are out of whack all around us. It can be sickening. We can make just about any decision seem like the right one, can’t we? We rationalize. But, as Rick Warren once said, when we rationalize, we are feeding ourselves a “ration of lies.” Parents choosing their jobs and financial “security” over their kids or spouse. Kids choosing a false sense of acceptance over doing what is right, what is best. Business owners choosing the almighty dollar over consumer and employee loyalty.

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine was speaking at church. He made the following comment: “It takes no effort to drift.” When you jump into the ocean, splash in the waves, and hop on the boogie board, where do you end up? Usually, you wind up 40 or 50 yards down the beach from where you entered the water. And it takes a ton of effort on our part to fight the current that pulls us away.

It’s no different on land in the “real world.” We have to plant our feet firmly into the ground and take a stand. We have to be intentional with every move, every step. If not, we drift. And, the further we drift, the less likely we are to fight our way back.

Many have no sense of purpose or mission, and lack any direction at all in their lives. Generally, these people “want” certain things – to become wealthy, to be a good mom, or to work in a certain profession. They stand at Point A, occasionally dreaming about Point B, but lacking the discipline and initiative to ever make the necessary changes to get to their preferred destination.

It’s why people don’t put away money for retirement. They choose to spend what they earn here and now, sacrificing their futures all the while. They have this idea that one day they will take it easy, travel, buy a vacation home. But how? It’s no wonder that nearly 1/3 of Americans’ current retirement plan is to “win the lottery.”

Perhaps you have a vision for your kids to really become something special one day. You want them to be well-educated, have impeccable manners, be physically fit, have a profound impact on others. In order for you to help pave the way for 20 years into the future, you’ll need to make some changes now. You’ll have to scrutinize and alter the TV shows they watch, who they hang out with, the types of music they listen to, the way they talk to others, the way you talk to them, what they wear, what they eat, how much effort they put into their studies. If your son listens to heavy metal, stays up until 1 a.m. watching WWE wrestling, talks back and shows disrespect, looks like a slob, eats and drinks whatever he wants, and rarely studies, you can probably guess where he’ll end up in 10-20 years. And, in order to prevent that, you’ll have to do the tough things now.

Otherwise, you’ll continue to drift – and so will he. So, choose to live your life by design, not by default. Your future – any probably others’ – hangs in the balance.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More Than a Feeling

My alarm buzzes at 6:35 a.m. I’m tired. I hit the snooze. My alarm buzzes again. I have to get out of bed. But, I don’t feel like it. I do it anyway. My kids need to be at school on time, and I have a responsibility as an employee to be at my place of work at 8 a.m.

I’ve been at the ballpark every night this week, and have logged more than 12 hours coaching and attending games for my kids. We have practice scheduled for tonight. I am beat, and I have so many things I need to do around the house. I don’t feel like going to the field again. But, I go anyway. I made a commitment to my son and to ten other kids and their parents to volunteer my time to help them improve and have fun on the baseball diamond.

It’s been a long day. An eight-hour work day, baseball and homework with the kids. I am reminded at 9:30 p.m. that it’s trash night. Oof. I am exhausted, and I don’t feel like getting the trash together and making the 250-foot uphill trek to my curb with a 95-gallon wheeled container. But, I do it anyway. I pay a fee for waste disposal, and I don’t want it to pile up for another week.

These are just three out of probably a dozen or more “I don’t feel like it” episodes in a day in my life. These are relatively mild examples, but what about when more is on the line?

I pick up my kids after work. I want peace and quiet. They want to play and carry on. I want to lie down and prop up my feet. They want to play football or baseball (or both) in the front yard. But, I don’t feel like it. I could go for some R & R. But, I go outside anyway. I only get one shot at being my kids’ dad, and these moments are priceless and fleeting. I revel in their energy and joyous spirit, and know it was the right decision.

I have been married to my wife for 13 years. I know she loves me, and she knows I love her. I don’t always “feel” loved, and I don’t often feel that same “in love” feeling we had very early in our relationship. I could easily use this as an excuse to go out and try to fabricate these feelings in the wrong places, doing things I shouldn’t be doing with people I have no business being around. But, I don’t. I made a vow to Amy that I would be with her always. Each day I make the choice to love her – not because it FEELS right, but because it IS right.

Believe it or not, I don’t always feel like opening my Bible or preparing for my small group study or going to God in prayer. I am not riding an emotional high that has swept me up off my feet. No, I’d prefer sometimes to do something else. And, when I’m not overcome with the Holy Spirit and get the warm fuzzies, I don’t get discouraged and go looking for God in other places. God – through Jesus’ death and resurrection – now dwells within me ALL the time. He is a part of me. So, I don’t have to go looking for Him someplace else.

In the end, wise decisions are not based on feelings. Perhaps they can be influenced by them, but by and large we should honor commitments and do the things that really matter because they ARE right, not just because they FEEL right. Love, selflessness, sacrifice, gratitude, generosity, humility, and honor do not come easy. Each requires an intentional choice on our part. Don’t wait until you FEEL like being noble to be noble. Do it despite feeling self-centered and hard-hearted. If you do it enough, you’ll be surprised at how your wise choices will help shape you into the person you’ve wanted to become all along.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Man on a Mission

I had the privilege this morning to see and hear a man I truly admire: UGA Head Football Coach Mark Richt.

Coach took the stage and almost immediately, he dove into what he wanted to share.
Coach Richt said, "I am 50 years old now. And, one of the things I have learned to do as I have gotten older is to get right to the point."

From there, Coach Richt shared the passage out of Luke, where the resurrected Jesus is walking along the road to Emmaus with two of his disciples. Coach shared how these two men were dejected because their savior was "dead," and there were not sure what to do. But, Jesus walks a little longer with them, and ultimately reveals himself to the disciples, once again filling them with hope, and proving that he is who he said he was.
Coach shared why he has chosen to put his faith in Jesus Christ.

The first reason is because of the hundreds of prophesies we read about in the Old Testament that were all fulfilled when Jesus came into the world, and ultimately paid the price for our sin.

The second reason, Coach Richt shared, was because of the passion and conviction with which Jesus' disciples lived their lives after he ascended into heaven. Because they trusted God more than the religious authorities of the day, all but one of Jesus' disciples died horrific deaths - stoned, crucified, imprisoned, beaten. Coach said there's no way someone would choose the harsh life or death that these disciples endured unless he or she was absolutely certain that what they were saying was the truth.

Finally, Coach Richt said the primary reason that he put his faith in Christ is because he came the realization that he was (is) a sinner. He was confronted with the fact that without God in his life, there is no true peace. And, the only way to have that peace is to invite Jesus - God's one and only son - into his life to cover his sin, and allow him to have a relationship with his Heavenly Father.

It was a simple message, but was right on the money. And, with it being Passion Week, it came at the perfect time. On this same Tuesday nearly 2000 years ago, Jesus was only three days away from being humiliated, tortured, and crucified. All so you and I could be reunited with God in heaven when we die.

This gift, too, can be yours when you choose to invite Christ into your heart. If you've never done it before, just lift up this simple prayer to God right now:

God, I know that I am a sinner, and I have fallen short of your best for my life. But, today, I want to change that. I acknowledge that your son - Jesus - was brought to this earth so that he could die for my sins. I thank you so much for his sacrifice, and I invite him into my life today to be my Lord and Savior. I don't want to live for myself any longer. I want to live for you. Thank you for saving me.

May this Easter be the most meaningful and joy-filled Easter you have ever experienced!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The "S" Word

No, not that "S" word. Or, THAT "S" word. Not Spurrier either. I'm talking about an "S" word that I fear people do not truly comprehend: Sacrifice.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word sacrifice as follows: To forfeit (one thing) for another thing considered to be of greater value. And, as much as we like to toss around this word, the painful truth is this: we consider ourselves to be of greater value than others.

If we didn't, we would embrace sacrifice. We would look for opportunities to give up more for the benefit of others. We'd spend less, we'd serve more, we'd give more, we'd love more. We'd let Johnnie over in front of us in bumper to pumper traffic.

Some equate the word sacrifice with inconvenience. According to, inconvenience is "something that causes discomfort, trouble, etc." And, while a sacrifice may result in our discomfort at times, it shouldn't be regarded as a negative term.

But, we make it seem negative, don't we? When we are faced with actually having to make sacrifices, we lament. We gripe. We mope. And, after lamenting, griping, and moping, we convince ourselves that sacrificing isn't worth all the self-imposed grief. So we take a step back up the ladder, often times stepping on others' fingers.

The adversary to sacrifice is entitlement. It’s on the other end of the spectrum. It’s when we believe we deserve the best, almost always at the expense of others. The Apostle Paul had something else – something far better - in mind. Check this out:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:3-5 (NIV)

I bolded two things there: (1) We are told to think of others as better than us. Say what? Somebody’s better than me? More important than me? You’re asking the wrong questions. Paul says to “consider.” So, instead of asking ourselves if we’re being overlooked, we should ask ourselves if we’re considering others.
(2) Consideration is an action that is dictated by our attitude. Jesus only considered one thing when He was on earth: his Father’s will, which meant loving and serving others to the extreme.

Jesus had something much better in mind when he came to earth. He viewed sacrifice as an opportunity to glorify His Father. He knew that by decreasing himself, others would increase - and ultimately God Himself would be reflected in his actions.

But, by sending His son to earth, God also knew there was a cost. He was giving up (forfeiting) His only son temporarily for "another thing considered to be of greater value" - you and me.

We don't have to die a physical, tormented death in order to sacrifice for others, but we do have "die to self" in many respects. You and I have opportunities each and every day to make choices that affect the lives of countless others - whether we realize it or not.

It's not easy, but it's rewarding. And sacrificing is a great way to remind ourselves that it's not about us. It's about God, and it's about others. Others who don't know Him, or may have walked away from Him. And, we have the ability to bridge that gap by putting ourselves aside and giving people a better view of the One who loves them most.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Three Times a Lady

Ahhh…love is in the air. Cupid has drawn his bow. Pepe Le Pew is getting his smooch on. “C’est L’Amour!”

To be honest, I really don’t get into the whole Valentine’s Day deal. The best part about it is spending a meal alone with my wife – quietly, with no kicking, squirming, or arguing from our two boys. It’s the simple pleasures that you really cling to.

But, even though I am generally not a romantic guy (I do like to plan trips with my wife, but I am terrible about saying “mushy” things to her), I would like to dedicate this month’s article to Amy, the love of my life. So, without further ado, here are the three things I love most about my wife.

(1) My wife loves God more than anything. I am a pastor at a church, and I am the spiritual leader of my household. But, both of these responsibilities are SO much easier, and are enriched because Amy loves the Lord with all her heart. When I hear her sing in the services on Sundays, it really tenders my heart and fills it with gladness. When I walk in on her reading a daily devotional, it motivates me to thirst after God even more myself. When she serves selflessly in the nursery at church, it reminds me how much of a servant she really is, and that she does it because she is serving the way Jesus served. Is Amy a saint? No. She simply loves God, and it shows in all that she does.

(2) Amy goes the extra mile – always. You could never out-do Amy. Not that it’s a competition, but Amy will always do more than what is expected of her. Professionally, she is almost always the first one to arrive at work in the morning (she gets there by 6:45 a.m.), and often leaves at 5:30-6:00 p.m. Is it overwhelming for her? Yes – many times it is. But, she does all things with excellence. When we’re supposed to only provide a side dish for a gathering, Amy will not only make the side dish, but she’ll also throw together a delicious dessert and a pitcher of sweet tea. She hand-made 155 Christmas cards this year, working easily 40-50 hours on them, and staying up until 2:30 a.m. some nights. In case, you are wondering – YES, I helped. Some.

(3) She loves me, and more importantly, makes it very clear that she does. Some men and women never communicate their love and affection to one another, except by signing a birthday card or anniversary card, “Love, Larry.” And, that is a shame. On the other end of the spectrum is Amy. She is always demonstrating her love for me – with her words and her actions. She cannot get enough hugs and kisses (I need to improve in this area). In fact, “physical touch” is one of her primary love languages. Unlike some wives, she wants to be with me as much as possible. We do stuff together all the time – trips, movies, Bible study groups, you name it. We really DO “do life” together. And, that is my primary love language – quality time. When I give her the love and affection she needs, she is eager to want to do things for me. Funny how that works.

I could ramble on about all the other qualities I adore in my wife, but this is a snapshot of the blessing God gave me more than 13 years ago when I married my best friend. My prayer for you this Valentine’s Day is that you will show AND tell the love of your life exactly what you appreciate about them. Trust me, it will pay off for you, too!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Who Needs Church?

We had a special guest at our staff meeting yesterday. His name is Allen Hunt, host of the Allen Hunt Show, which airs locally on AM 750 on Saturday and Sunday evenings. Allen's show blends faith and "real life," and is one of the most interesting call-in shows on the air today. MUCH more intriguing than Sean Hannity, if you ask me.

As business leader and author Patrick Lencioni once said, "We don't need to learn more and become more educated. What we really need are reminders." And, that's what Allen did for all of us in attendance yesterday.

A few days ago, Allen was talking on-air about the report that had come out stating that President Obama had only attended church three times in his first year in office. This is a man who attended church in Chicago quite regularly over the previous 20 years. But, having become the "most important" official in the world has evidently precluded him from being an active part of the church.

Allen said callers came flooding in. Some said they were "proud" to have a President who didn't go to church, who didn't "need" God, and who was "his own" man.

But, Allen said the majority of callers were so-called Christians who said they didn't believe Obama needed church, just like they didn't need church. "All I need is Jesus," many of them said. "As long as I have Jesus in my life, I don't need church."

Really? I mean, if that was true, would Jesus had left the church for us? Would he have changed Simon's name to Peter, saying, "Upon this rock I will build my church"? The church is known as the Bride of Christ. It's the body of Christ. And, as Allen pointed out, in the New Testament, the church is referenced as family more than 200 times.

All that said, here are some things Allen shared with us:
  • For someone who has accepted Christ, church is not an elective. It is essential. Giving up church would be the equivalent of giving up your family or oxygen.
  • Max Lucado said, "The church is God's forever family."
  • Church and faith are team sports, not individual ones.
  • Love is both a unifying and separating force. It unifies those who belong to Jesus, but sets us apart from the world.
  • People WILL find any substitute for a loving family!
The evidence that God has left for us revealing His plan for the church, as you may guess, is in His Word - the Bible. Time after time, we see the believers engaging in authentic community with one another - unity, fellowship, sharing, and communion. This unity has a name: koinonia. It's when Christ's followers engage with one another, sharing in his sufferings, in his glory, in his godly nature, in the breaking of bread, in teaching, in serving, in loving.

Allen added tons of other insights, but one more I'll mention briefly is this: we are God's poem. Each of us is only a letter or punctuation mark. If it's just a few of us, we may be able to form a word or phrase. But, when all of us come together - and become the church - God forms a beautiful Masterpiece that is unlike anything else on earth. And, that was His intent from the beginning.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Nothing Fashionable about Being Late

I hate being late. I don't even like being "on time." I prefer to have a cushion, arriving for an appointment or an event in plenty of time to give me some margin.

When I am late, everything changes. Especially my mood. It becomes rotten, and it will likely not only spoil MY evening, but perhaps yours, if we cross paths.
So, I avoid being late at all costs. I'd much prefer to get there early than to make my problem yours.

I would wager that most (not all) people feel the same way. Being late compromises their "plan." Hurry will do that. When we hurry, we skip over things that deserve more of our time, and we make everything - and everyone - miserable in our wake.

Let's apply this in the church world for a moment. I am fortunate to be on staff at a church that really has a lot going for it. We have energy, life, vitality. And, because of that, space has now become an issue. That being said, parking spaces and seats are now in short supply.

So, if you are me, and you don't like being late, and you don't like fighting for a parking spot or for a seat, I have some choices to make. I can either show up really early - say, 30 minutes before the services begin, and ensure that I get a seat and a parking spot. Or, I can just jump into the sea and let the waves carry me wherever they want to take me.

Our church services begin at 9:30 and 11 a.m. If I choose to show up at church any time after 9:25 a.m. for the 9:30 service, I am in trouble. Likewise, if I show up after 10:50 a.m. or so. Keep in mind that if I arrive 10 minutes early, I still have to find a parking space, walk to the building, take my kids to their classrooms, then find a seat in the auditorium. Can I do all that in 5 minutes? No way. Could I do it in 10 minutes? Maybe, but I'd still be rushed, which will put me in a bad mood. SO, my best bet is to arrive at least 20 minutes early and be certain that I can get it all done with a few minutes to spare.

It still surprises me that we have cars drive up 15 and 20 minutes after the service begins. I'm glad they are there, but many of these people expect to find a parking spot close to the building and a seat in the worship center at this time, and they are upset when there's not.

Further, it's just plain rude. Imagine if you had an important meeting at work that began at 10:00 a.m. Everyone is there except one person, who arrives 20 minutes late. What happens when that person walks in? There's a distraction. The person delivering the message is distracted, and may lose focus. The other employees are distracted, and some may have to move so this person can find a seat closer to the door, so they don't have to crawl over people.

Does this sound familiar?

Obviously, there are times when we cannot avoid being late. But, when you are always late, you have a problem. And, your problem doesn't just affect you. It affects your entire family, your co-workers, your fellow church congregants, drivers around you on the road - everyone in your wake.

Do yourself a favor. Leave ten minutes earlier than you think you need to leave. You'll be glad you did. And, I will too!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pest Control - Part Three

Following is the third installment of some of the leadership lessons and excerpts from Tony Morgan's book, entitled Killing Cockroaches:

Follow the Leader
The multiplication of leadership is something that is nurtured over time. As a leader, you need to:
  1. Communicate a big vision - remind people often, then do it again.
  2. Point to the destination - Let others determine how to get there. Your job is vision.
  3. Find people who are smarter than you - and give them keys to the car.
  4. Think relationships before you think results. People need your time, and they need to know your heart, your passions, and your desires. Leadership only goes as far as the relationships you have built - and no further.
About web sites:
Ask yourself, "Does the web site for our organization engage conversation and help connect people into community, or are we just spewing information about who we are and what we do?"
If you're just giving people pretty pictures and sharing information on your web site like it's an online bulletin, they're probably not using your web site.

Implementing New Ideas
How quickly do new ideas get implemented in your organization? Does your decision-making model allow for rapid deployment and testing, or do ideas get bogged down in meeting discussions?

Gunky Build-up
For me (Tony Morgan), gunky build-up occurs when I let less important stuff squeeze out the real priorities in my life. For example,
  • Sometimes I believe the lie that I'll spend quality time with my wife at the end of the day after everything else is done. The reality is that the last thing on my priority list rarely gets done.
  • Sometimes I believe the lie that goals will be accomplished without a plan if I'm just patient and faithful. The reality is that most goals worth pursuing require counsel and strategy and hard work and commitment.
Cultural "Irrelevance"
Wouldn't it be something if Christ followers embraced these opportunities (like facebook, Twitter, going trick-or-treating at Halloween) rather than trying to create a Christian alternative to every cultural fad?

I need to end on that one. I give that last one a huge AMEN!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

This, Bud, 's for You!

For years – OK, actually three decades – I refused to read anything I wasn’t being graded on. And, even then, my best friend was a little yellow and black striped publication called Cliff’s Notes. But, since I turned 30, I have been a reading fool. Since January 2004, I have read at least 85 books, many twice. According to recent studies, that is about 75 books more than the average person read over that same time period. Yay me!

My goal when selecting a book to read – whether it’s the Bible, a novel, or a book on leadership, is to personally benefit from the wisdom the author shares – to apply bits and pieces to my life and influence others in a positive way. But, while this is my intent, it’s funny what happens when I begin to read. I become a Pharisee.

I don’t know about you, but many times I’ll be reading a profound truth, and instead of looking inward and prayerfully considering how I can change for the better, I’ll say something like, “That perfectly describes so-and-so. If only he/she could read this…”

But, here’s the deal. More than likely that person in my mind – or yours – who would benefit greatly or improve themselves in our eyes by reading these nuggets of wisdom, wouldn’t get anything at all out of it, because they’d be thinking of other people, too, when they read it! It’s a vicious cycle!

Some of you right now are reading this, and you’re saying to yourself, “This article is right on the money! Johnny – or Sally – needs to read this! They are ALWAYS so critical other people, and rarely heed their own advice.”

Here’s what Jesus had to say about that: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5 (NLT)

Is it wrong to automatically think of others’ shortcomings when you read the Bible, or an Andy Stanley book? According to Jesus, it sounds like that’s the case. This is so tough. We all have people we love, work with, live with, spend a lot of time with. We spend enough time with these people that we actually begin to see the chinks in their armor. And, if we’re not careful, that is what we wind up focusing on – their flaws, imperfections, and inadequacies.

If you really have an issue with someone, speak with that person and do it humbly with love. But, don’t let it fester. And, if you find yourself never trying to improve in any areas in your own life (or maybe you think you’re perfect), you’re on the road to alienating everyone who knows you.

In the end, it’s the attitude of your heart that dictates the amount of joy you bring into your life, and into others’ lives. If we really want to see other people change, then we have to be willing to change. When we seek God, with the goal of becoming a better friend, better father, better co-worker, etc. and we put those thoughts into action, we’ll all be shocked to see how the pieces fall into place – far better than we could have imagined!

Oh, and don’t pass this on to anyone else. This, bud, ‘s for you.