My Greatest Teacher in Life

I’ve had a lot of teachers in my life. I remember Mrs. Godbier in 3rd grade, Mrs. Mastroiani in 11th grade, and Dr. Jackson in seminary. They all taught me valuable lessons in life. But if I were honest, I have one constant teacher that helps me learn more than anything I could ever dream of in the classroom. My greatest teacher is failure.

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I hope and pray that my current church members never meet up with church members of my previous churches. It might shatter the illusion for my current church members that I actually know what I’m doing. Looking back on life, I’ve made so many mistakes: professionally, relationally, and personally. I could write a book on how not to run a youth ministry. I’ve burned bridges, dropped the ball, let things fall through the cracks. I’ve failed people, overestimated my own ability, grown too independent of God and paid the price. I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes in life.

And yet, for every mistake, I learned something. Mostly what not to do, but I learned something. The difference between successful people and failures in life isn’t that the successful people don’t make mistakes. Failure is unavoidable. The difference is that the successful people learn from their mistakes. Learning from your mistakes takes gut-wrenching honestly, painful humility, and a willingness to adapt and change. None of these are easy.

But if you’re willing to honestly reflect, willing to admit your mistakes, and willing to grow from them, you have access to the best lessons in the world. They’re painful lessons. They’re costly lessons. But failure can be the best teacher available to us all.

The question is, are we willing to learn?

QUESTION: What life lessons have you learned from failure?

The Best Thing About Mondays

I posted this blog at 7:00 am, but there’s a good chance you won’t read it before 10:00. It’s Monday. That day. The day of dread. You dragged into work this morning exhausted (or hungover) from another weekend. Now it’s five more days of work before you can enjoy yourself again.

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Most folks would avoid Mondays if at all possible. You’re physically and mentally tired, and your heart’s just not in your work. You back into Mondays. You lounge longer than you need to around the coffee maker. You spend the first hour and a half catching up on the weekend with others. Once you finally sit at your desk, you spend another hour looking at every (legitimate) website you can because you’re just not ready to work yet. By the time you look up, it’s getting close to lunch, too little time to get a project started. Better wait until the afternoon (or at least until the post-lunch coma is over). Before you know it, Monday is gone, lost in a sea of inaction and unproductively. Maybe Tuesday will be better.

Here’s the best thing about Mondays: it’s an opportunity to jump ahead in your work. When the default mode for many seems to be to slack off as much as possible and work only when necessary, Monday becomes the third day of the weekend, which crams five days of legitimate work into three (Fridays are gone too since you spend all day planning out your weekend or just fantasizing about not being at work). Stress levels get higher, the quality of work sometimes suffers, no one wins.

Here’s a crazy thought: put in a full day’s work today. Your body would like another day off. Decide to not give it one. Put your mind to work. Refuse to embrace the laziness that’s calling your name. Work hard today. You’ll find yourself way ahead for the week, leaving you nothing but good options for the next few days. Your work matters. The way you work matters to God. Jump ahead in your work today.

Why the NFL Messed Up So Badly on Ray Rice

If you’re even a hint of a sports fan, then you’ve seen the headlines filled with the Ray Rice scandal in the NFL. Here’s the quick recap: casino footage leaked months ago of superstar Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging (very ungraciously) his unconscious fiancee (now wife) out of an elevator. The implication from the video and the ensuing police report that it was a domestic dispute that turned violent, leaving Rice’s fiancee knocked out cold. The NFL responded by suspending Ray Rice for two games, which was instantly declared by the fans and media at large as being much too lenient for a very serious crime. Sports blogs and talk shows lit into the NFL for the paltry message it sent about the seriousness of domestic violence. In a rare about face, the commissioner admitted he got it wrong and changed the domestic violence penalties to be much stiffer in the future. Everyone congratulated the commissioner on his transparency in the issue. Matter settled. Ray Rice was welcomed back into Baltimore. Let’s play some football.

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And then TMZ played the other half of the video, the as yet unseen portion, showing the world what a world class athlete can do with a left hook to a woman he’s having a dispute with. It’s disturbing to say the least. The Baltimore Ravens and the NFL do yet another about face. After welcoming Ray Rice back, they cut him from the team and the NFL indefinitely suspends him. Matter settled, let’s get back to football. Wrong.

All day yesterday I listened to sports commentators ripping into the Ravens organization and the NFL at large. Why? Because they both claimed there was no way to get that other footage, the one that a celebrity gossip website apparently had no problem getting. Because the footage was so heinous that Ray Rice should have been cut immediately, not six months and multiple fan outrages later. Because the NFL knew what was on that footage through interviews, and they didn’t suspend Rice because of what he did. They suspended him because of the fan outrage of what he did. That’s not leadership, that’s just being reactionary.

The narrative coming up from the talking heads (which may or may not be proved accurate in the days to come) is that the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens had one overarching goal in this whole thing: the bottom line. Ray Rice was a superstar. Ray Rice was a pillar of the community in Baltimore. Ray Rice sold a lot of jerseys and a lot of tickets. They were hoping the whole thing would just go away. The way this whole thing played out leads many to suspect that the safety of Rice’s fiancee and the ultimate integrity of the game were secondary to the desire to continue to maximize profits. That’s why the NFL messed up so badly on Ray Rice.

QUESTION: What do you think about the whole Ray Rice situation?

Are You a Fan or a Fanatic?

As football season roars back to dominate American life for the foreseeable future, fans come out of the woodwork to cheer on their favorite team. The word ‘fan’ is derived from ‘fanatic,’ which makes sense when you consider this quote attributed to Winston Churchill, “A fanatic is someone who can’t change their mind and won’t change the subject.” Many sports ‘fans’ are actually sports ‘fanatics.’

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What you may not know is that ‘fanatic’ is originally a religious word. Coming from the Latin word fanaticus, the term ‘fanatic’ rose up in the Middle Ages in Europe. Back then, the entire continent was Christian, or at least that’s how it appeared. A king would declare his entire nation to be Christian, and everyone was forced to convert. So you had millions of people who were Christian in name only. Into this world a new word was developed to differentiate the true followers from everyone else. They were fanaticus. They were the ones who believed in Christianity enough that it actually dictated how they lived. They were the crazy ones. The ones who lived it out.

I think we see the same thing in America today. We are a ‘Christian’ nation. The majority of Americans believe in God. The majority of Americans would consider themselves religious. We have a lot of ‘fans’ of Jesus. But how many true ‘fanatics’ are there? That’s what we’re discussing on Sunday mornings at Mt Vernon in our new sermon series Fanatics. Come join us!

 

Leaked Pics: The Dangers of the Digital Age

The celebrity world is abuzz with nude pics of famous celebrities (hacked from their phones) making a momentary appearance on the internet over the weekend before being drowned out in a sea of lawsuits. The majority of us simply shake our heads and ask ourselves, “what were they thinking taking those pictures in the first place?”

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Single men and women doing things intended only for married men and women is nothing new. As much as they might deny it, when your parents were tempted to fool around. As cosmically destructive as it might be to even comprehend, your grandparents were tempted the same way: do things you’re not supposed to do, show things you’re not supposed to show.

But here’s the difference: if your great-grandmother (God rest her soul) was tempted back when she was a teenager to show off something she shouldn’t have, it was a momentary indiscretion. It was in the moment, with nothing but a memory for the eye of the beholder. But today with the advancement of technology, our momentary indiscretions can now be captured digitally and used to haunt us for the rest of our lives.

A few years ago (back when I was a youth pastor) I counseled with a girl who was emotionally distraught. She wrestled with self-mutilation, she struggled in school, and she was broken emotionally. Why? Because of a topless picture she sent of herself to a guy she liked at the time. Just a momentary indiscretion, but one in the digital age. Once the boy lost interest, he still had the picture. He forwarded it onto his friends, it went viral at her school, and her world collapsed.

Technology is a double-edged sword. It enhances the speed of life, but it also enhances the speed at which life can be ruined. Beware.

The wise see danger and take refuge,
    but the fool keeps going and pays the penalty. Proverbs 27:12

The Greatest Compliment Someone Gave Our Church

“What a big church!”

“What great preaching!”

“What amazing worship!”

“What great buildings!”

8.28.14Those are all nice things a church can hear. But the other day I heard one of the best compliments our church could get. It came from an unchurched, unbelieving, alcoholic lesbian. I met her recently through the Recovery House, a local in-house rehabilitation facility (drug and alcohol addictions) that allows me to come and talk with the ladies there once a month. Every Sunday they make the journey to Mt Vernon church. 9:00 am, second row, every week.

As I was getting to know one of the new ladies there, she told me her story: she was born up north but raised in Mississippi. Her parents didn’t go to church and she went very sporadically growing up. Never considered herself a “believer.” She wrote church off for good eight years ago when she came out as a lesbian. Years go by and she decided to enter rehab to conquer an alcohol addiction that had grown out of control. Upon arriving to Recovery House she learned that the girls go to church every week. She freaked out a little and asked if she could get out of it. Everyone has to go to church, but she could sit in the van if she’d like.

Grudgingly, she made her way onto our campus for the first time two weeks ago. Naturally apprehensive, she told me how surprised she was that she actually liked it. It wasn’t like the other churches she visited growing up. The next Saturday night, talking to her parents on the phone, she caused their heads to turn on a swivel when she told them, “I’m actually looking forward to church tomorrow.”

Isn’t that great! She still has a long way to go. She’s not a believer (yet). She is in the beginning stages of conquering a difficult addiction. She has a lifestyle that doesn’t line up with traditional evangelical beliefs. And yet she feels comfortable enough at Mt Vernon to start exploring a relationship with God. I’ll take that kind of compliment (and those kinds of people) any day!

5 Things the Church Can Learn From Jimmy Fallon

I’ve got a morning routine. I drop off my oldest son at school each weekday, then I stop by my gym just down the street for a quick workout before heading to the office. I’ll spend ten minutes on the elliptical, partly to get a good heart rate going, but really it’s an excuse to watch last night’s monologue from the Tonight Show on my smart phone.

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I never used to watch the Tonight Show. No disrespect to Jay Leno, but I just didn’t connect with him. Since taking over, Jimmy Fallon has taken the Tonight Show to new heights, leading in the traditional Nielson ratings as well as online ratings. Always trying to learn from others, here are five things I’ve learned from Jimmy Fallon (and what the church can learn too):

1. The core remains the same. From Johnny Carson to Jay Leno to Jimmy Fallon, the core remains the same: entertainment and making people laugh. For the church, whether it’s traditional, contemporary, liturgical or charismatic, the core should remain the same: leading people to follow and worship Jesus.

2. Jimmy Fallon brought a 20th century show into the 21st century. Many of the elements that Jay Leno did rolled over into Jimmy Fallon’s tenure, just with new names. Jay’s monologue was “what’s in the news.” Since many young people don’t watch the news, Jimmy uses the phrase “Here’s what people are talking about,” referencing the importance of social media. Jay Leno did a bit called “Headlines,” where people sent in funny advertisements from the newspaper. Jimmy does “Screengrabs,” where people pull funny photos off their computer. The essence remains the same, just updated for a new generation. It’s the same essence behind “worship wars,” updating worship music to a style that connects with a younger generation.

3. Jimmy Fallon makes the show interactive. One of Jimmy’s most successful bits is called “Hashtags,” where he sends out a hashtag on Twitter and allows viewers to send in funny tweets with the hope of making it on the air. Today’s generation doesn’t want to simply watch a performance, they want to interact and feel like they’re taking part in what’s going on. This should inform how a pastor preaches and interacts with the crowd during his message. I’ve recently started using YouVersion’s “Live Event” option on their Bible app for their sermon notes, which allows members to take notes, go to church web links and answer questions in real time.

4. Jimmy doesn’t just talk to guests, he plays with them. The traditional late night format was to interview a number of guests with a musical number at the end. Some of Jimmy’s most searched for web clips are of him playing with guests, whether it’s catchphrase with Artie Lange, pictionary with Wiz Kalifa, or a kayak race with Cameron Diaz. The audience loves to see Jimmy and celebrities play together. In churches, we’ve lost the element of fun. While it should never overpower the reverence of worship, there’s nothing wrong with a little fun in church. It’s an incredible way to break down walls and build community.

5. Jimmy Fallon genuinely enjoys what he’s doing, and you can’t help but get caught up in his boyish enthusiasm. In a world of fakeness, Jimmy is the real deal. He loves what he does, and you can’t help but get swept up in it. As a pastor, your enthusiasm, your passion, your enjoyment of what you do each week will be broadcast loud and clear to your audience. You can’t manufacture it. You can’t fake it. If you genuinely love what you do and who you’re doing it with, people will naturally be drawn to it.

QUESTION: What else can the church learn from Jimmy Fallon?

12 Small Things You Can Do to Create New Ruts

Last night at The Conversation (our mid-week adult Bible study) we talked about how to practically stop the bad habits that are destroying our lives. Those bad habits may be: bitterness, lack of exercise, poor eating, viewing pornography, or overspending (to name a few). While many people think the answer is pure willpower, modern neuroscience shows that to be false.

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In a fascinating article, John Ortberg applies modern science to spiritual discipleship, saying “Most of the time, a change of behavior requires the acquisition of new habits. Willpower and conscious decision have very little power over what we do.” The way our brains our wired, our habits create “ruts” in our neural pathways. Call it muscle memory. Once an action becomes a habit, it’s a rut in your mind that’s very hard to get out of. Practically speaking, the only way to change is to create new ruts, new habits. That’s how our brains work.

With that, I shared a few small habits we can begin that can help us create new ruts in our life.

 

12 Small Things You Can Do to Create New Ruts

  1. Set your alarm 20 minutes earlier. (get more accomplished).
  2. Lay out exercise clothes before you go to sleep. (get more exercise).
  3. Have a curfew and stick to it. (nothing productive happens after 9 pm).
  4. Take the television out of your bedroom. (robs too much sleep).
  5. Cancel cable/satellite television. (television is pure distraction, doesn’t make you better).
  6. Put your phone in a kitchen drawer when you come home. (be present with your family).
  7. Make the Bible the first and last thing you read each day. (make your mind dwell on Word).
  8. Listen to the Bible on YouVersion during your commute. (use quiet moments to dwell on Word).
  9. Keep a journal. (helps you reassess. Gives you perspective. Forces you to slow down and evaluate where you are).
  10. Buy a stack of thank you notes and leave them out as a reminder to write at least one a week. (habit of thankfulness)
  11. Write out a budget and keep track of every dollar you spend each month. (fiscal responsibility).
  12. Join a small group. (relational community).

QUESTION: What other habits would you add?