Tuesday, June 30, 2015

No More Busy Seasons

Here's a little something something I wrote up for our church newsletter. I figured you might like it here as well.

Can we all agree to officially let go of certain phrases? I know everyone likely has their own peeve over a certain word or phrase. One of mine is “this is a busy season for us.”

First of all, I don’t know if you’re referring to season by weather, by sport, or by when all your reports are due. That’s right students; reports never go away, even after you graduate college. Get used to it.

I’m not here to judge our busyness. I’m busy, you’re busy, we’re all busy. For families with children, that’s just part of life, even when you limit each child to one extra-curricular activity per season. Yes, I said season.

So, if we’re all so busy, how do we do anything? Perhaps without realizing it, we make time for the things that are important to us. Some of those things give us natural reasons to make time for them. For instance, a job gives us money, so we can pay for pesky things like mortgages and groceries. Making time to clean (our bodies, our homes, our clothes) makes it possible for people to hang out with us without gagging.

We make time for church because God is important to us. He has made a difference in our lives, so we take time to worship and serve Him. We just completed another year of kidZone, our midweek children’s ministry, where almost 20 teens and adults made time to serve every week. Why? Because, on some level, they value children.

Do you know who else is busy? Don’t think too hard because I’m going to tell you. It’s the Church! In fact, it’s our Church! We have lots of different groups and ministries going on, to various ages, to people inside and outside the church, for people who have a little time and for others who seemingly have no time.

We have these ministries because they matter. We have these ministries because we love God and we want to see others come to love God. More and Better is what I see in our church mission statement.

Here’s how the Apostle Paul wrote it:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. ~2 Timothy 4:2

Paul was writing to Timothy, but the encouragement is for us as well. So, I know you’re busy. But what are you going to make time for? What I’m really asking is; what do you value?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Getting Rid of Stuff

Do you want to know the best way to be ready to return to work after a vacation? I've discovered it.

Consider this. You've worked for a while (perhaps a long while) to save up money to get away. Family vacations are nice and all, but going anywhere is going to cost you some cash. And for the sake of argument, let's assume you added some extra time off. You won't be at your destination all that time. You just added a few days at home, in order to get some stuff done.

There it is.

You just gave your wife unfettered access to your skills and labor around the house. That garden won't weed itself. The thorough cleaning and reorganization of a kitchen needs a partner, right?

For us, it was cleaning out the garage. Because when you clean out any other area of the house, the garage becomes the new catch-all. Let's just put this stuff we don't want to look at in a bin in the garage.

Cleaning it out later became cleaning it out now. When moving the vehicle and the bikes out of the garage does not leave a lot of uncluttered space, you know the job needs to be done.

But now the difficult part of the job is deciding what to do with all that stuff.

  • The tools you used once. 
  • The gloves and balls and bats.
  • The wedding gifts you received almost two decades ago. 
  • The toys your kids have outgrown. (Maybe the grand-kids will like this stuff.)
  • The trophy you won for a spelling bee in first grade. (Yes kids, spelling is important.)
  • The graduation caps and gowns. (There might be a costume party, right?)
  • Old pictures and yearbooks. (Seriously, how cute was I?)
Five hours after we started, I was driving a truck-load of stuff to donate. Let it fill someone else's garage. The fact is that we did not need this stuff. We hadn't used it in 20 years. Even some of the stuff we kept was mostly for sentimental value. Very likely, our kids will have to sort through it when we die. We'll consider that payback, I suppose.

It was unnecessary clutter. And if you're looking for the spiritual connection from a pastor, here it is. Go check out Galatians 5 for your spiritual garage. There we find the Apostle Paul talking about freedom from the law, which was simply clutter in the way of our freedom in Christ. 

You'll also read about the acts of the sinful nature, which we've all got a list of. Some of it will bring back memories and some of it will be hard for us to let go of. But if we take an honest look, we'll realize it's just taking up space that could be better used. 

The biggest difference in cleaning out the spiritual garage and getting rid of stuff we don't need there is that we don't need a few days off to get it done. You simply need to partner with God and let Him sort out the junk. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Associate Pharisees?

Were there Associate Pharisees?

I like to think I have some experience with being an Associate Pastor. Even though I've only worked at 2 churches, I have worked with 8 different Senior Pastors.

Yes..., I know that's a lot.
Yes..., I have wondered if it's me.

But being an Associate means different things to different people. It means different things to the people working with the Associate and it means various things to each Associate. What I have discovered is that it primarily means being willing to follow the leader. Leadership comes from the top and to become a good complement, one must be willing to follow the vision being given from the top.

So one day I wondered if there were Associate Pharisees. We read about these religious leaders all the time. Surely there were some junior members. There had to be someone to work with the kids, right? Someone had to lead those overnight trips with camel racing and Dodge Scroll. (The trick to Dodge Scroll is to avoid being hit by the jot and tittle.)

Joking aside, have you considered what or who you are an Associate to? What is the vision you are following? Who are you choosing to be seen with? Fairly or not, I have been seen as being of one mind with every senior pastor I have worked alongside of. The same truth will apply to you. Fairly or not, you will be judged as being most like those you like the most.

Perhaps we should be viewing ourselves more often as Associates of Jesus. If you read the gospels, you see that the people Jesus chose to associate with were not seen very fondly by the world. Or by the church, for that matter. But they flocked to Him. They saw their need of Jesus. They knew there was something special about Him.

They were quite ready to be Associates of Jesus. So am I. How about you?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Treating Jesus Like We Treat Our Girlfriend

I want to tell you a little bit about my first girlfriend. (This was before I met Jen.) I was head over heels for this girl. Because I was so ‘in love’, I was willing to do anything to be able to date her and tell people that I was dating her. So she had some standards that she wanted me to reach for if we were going to be a couple.

I really wanted to date her, so I said, ‘Lay it on me, babe.’ (Those are the kinds of things I say to woo damsels...works every time.)

She wanted us to talk every day, at least on the phone.

She wanted us to go out on a date, at least once a week.

She had some rules for how I should act, both when we were together and when we weren’t. After all, she said, ‘I’ was now an ‘us’ and we should consider how people view us, even when we weren’t together.

I really wanted to date this girl. So I agreed to her standards. How did I do?

The first rule was that we talk every day, at least on the phone. Well, this was before cell phones, so this was kind of difficult. It meant I had to use the phone in our living room, where my whole family was always at. Sometimes I didn’t want to talk on the phone. I didn’t always want to sound mushy, like new couples do. When I did call, sometimes it was hard to pay attention to what my girlfriend was talking about because there was something good on the TV. So, when we did talk, I was often distracted. To be honest, I did not meet her standard on this rule.

The second rule was that we would go out on a date, at least once a week. Well, this was before ‘this guy’ had a job, so money was scarce. My dad didn’t exactly see the need to fund my ideas of classy dates. But I didn’t want to make my girlfriend think I wasn’t willing to class it up, so I would often tell her what I wanted to do. When I did have some money, I was sometimes busy or tired from other stuff that week. To put it simply, I did not meet her standard on this rule.

The third rule was more like, ‘rules’. She wanted me to think about ‘us’ and who I was representing. So, basically, I was supposed to rethink everything I said and everything I did, and make sure it was something that would make her look good. This was hard. I had habits. I had friends. They didn’t always care what my girlfriend thought about what we said or did. And quite frankly, my girlfriend had lots of ideas about how I should be acting. I don’t even remember all the things she said. Sometimes I would tune her out while she was talking on and on about us. It was just too much, and obviously, I did not meet her standard on this rule.

Clearly, we didn’t last long. I’m not really sure why. Other than the fact that I broke all the rules and I just made her up.

If we treated our girlfriend like we treat Jesus, we wouldn't have a girlfriend very long.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Blank Space

I just know that some of you saw the title and are reading now, hoping for lyrics to a Taylor Swift song. My apologies.

Yes, T. Swifty does have a song titled Blank Space, where she writes about her ex-lovers and the apparent vacancy for the next ex-boyfriend. But I have a different picture of what a blank space can offer.

Blank space offers a space for grace.

I have conversations with people all the time where the unspoken request is for grace. Deadlines weren't met, relationships need to be restored, wrongs have been committed. While there is certainly an understanding of consequences in most people's minds, it occurs to me that the blank space we can offer provides a way out.

This way out is not something people immediately consider. After all, what's done is done and there's no going back, right? But I see a blank space that says otherwise. New deadlines can be established. Relationships don't need to remain broken. Wrongs can be made right.

The Church should always have a blank space.

Every school year is a blank space, giving us a new chance to be a student that tries.
Every new job is a blank space, giving us the opportunity to offer our best with a team.
Every move is a blank space, offering a fresh slate to be who God made us to be.

But some of us are way past school age. Perhaps a new job is not out there and a move is impractical. What hope is there for us?

Every new day is a blank space. Every new day we awake, we have 12 hours of decisions to make. What will we make of this day? What kind of person will we be?

Every Sunday is a celebration of these blank spaces. We come together, as people of grace. Some of us come feeling more broken than others. Some of us come attempting to fool ourselves and others about our brokenness. Nevertheless, we come. We need the blank space.

We need the healing. We need the restoration. We need the grace. We need to be reminded that there is a blank space. The blank space is not there for our next mistake, but for our name to be written next to Jesus. Since creation, Jesus has had a plan, carried out to perfection.

Next to His Name is a blank space.