Recently I had to make a phone call that broke my heart. It’s a phone call that I hope I never have to make again. A few years ago a couple came to me for marriage counseling. They had been struggling with issues for years but hadn’t talked to anyone about them. We met several times and made a little bit of progress but no breakthroughs. They couldn’t meet in the middle. Counseling kind of petered out and they eventually moved to a different state.
As life goes we lost track of each other until I received a letter from a lady I’ve never met. She told me she was the guardian ad litem for this couple. They’re getting a divorce. It’s getting messy. Accusations are flying back and forth. And worst of all, there are kids involved. The relationship had deteriorated to such a point that the government had to step in to help decide where the kids went.
That’s where my phone call came in. The guardian ad litem received permission from both parties to talk to me and get my take on the situation. It was a depressing phone call to say the least. I believed and still believe that it was a marriage that could have been saved. The greatest casualties are the children, pawns with no say in the matter.
I hope I never have to make a phone call like that again. If your marriage needs help, get help. Don’t stick your kids in the middle. Don’t make the government decide where they go. Talk to someone this week.
If you look in your high school yearbook, you’ll discover that it’s divided by labels. All the seniors are together, then the juniors, then the sophomores. Then you have the football team, the baseball team, the band, the mathletes, the puppet club. Everyone had a label in high school. You might have been the athlete, the cheerleader, the nerd, the party animal, the class clown, the JROTC fanatic, or the miscellaneous kid. We all wore a label in high school. Some of us even got a super label, a superlative: most likely to succeed, most beautiful, most athletic, most likely to be arrested, most likely to still be living in your parent’s basement when you’re 40.
As adults we’ve already figure out that sometimes life feels like we’ve never really left high school. We all have labels in life that attempt to define us. Maybe you’re too skinny and you wear the label ‘scrawny’ or ‘weak.’ Maybe you’re too overweight and you wear the label ‘fat.’ Maybe you grew up without a parent and you wear the label ‘unloved.’ Maybe you were abused as a child and you carry the labels of ‘shame’ or ‘worthlessness.’ Maybe you got a divorce as an adult and now you wear the label ‘single parent.’ Maybe you got in trouble with the law and now you wear the label ‘convict.’ Maybe you struggle with addiction and now you wear the label ‘addict.’
We all wear labels. It started in high school. The question is whether we allow our labels to define us and ultimately destroy us, or whether we allow God to redeem our labels. That was the conversation we started yesterday at Mt Vernon church. You can catch up on all my latest sermons by going to: www.vimeo.com/joshdaffern.
JUST FOR FUN: We asked all of our church members to get involved in the conversation by doing the following three things on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter:
1. Post an old picture of you from high school.
2. Finish sentence “In high school my label was _____.”
3. Use #mtvconversation
Get online and check out the responses. Better yet, add your own!
We all lost someone yesterday, a comedic genius that captured the hearts of generations. Appearing in over sixty films, all Americans feel like they knew and loved Robin Williams. For the vast majority of us, his death (apparent suicide) came as an extreme shock. Why would somebody so funny, so full of life, want to take his own life? It seems surreal, especially for someone to throw away what many of us spend our entire lives pursuing.
Here are a few thoughts I’m processing through as I mourn his passing:
- Like everyone, I immediately think about the movies. He was brilliant in Good Will Hunting, he moved me in Dead Poets Society, but strangely enough, I keep coming back to Mrs. Doubtfire. I loved that movie as a kid. He was so funny!
- He feels like a part of the family. Even though we don’t know him personally, we brought him into our home. Most of us can go and find a DVD with his face on the cover. We thought we knew him. That’s what makes this so hard.
- He was so funny! How could he struggle with depression? We all mask our inner struggles. We all project an image that we want others to see. Some just get paid millions of dollars to do it. We knew Robin Williams the actor, but not the private struggles of Robin Williams the man.
- Some of the greatest artists create the most beautiful hues of color from the deepest pallet of pain. Williams drew on the deep reservoir of raw emotion to create such lovable characters. His art as an actor and his pain were intertwined.
- Addictions are real and dangerous. Williams struggled with alcohol and drug abuse for most of his adult life. He got clean for several years, but recently the alcohol came back with a vengeance. Addictions are no laughing matter.
- Williams struggled from depression. Mental health is a real issue that has been stigmatized for too long. Any other part of our body can be broken and we seek help, but if our brain is broken we feel like we need to hide it. If you need help, get it.
As we mourn the passing of a person who brought us so much joy and laughter, let us not forget those close to us who may be walking through similar situations. Help where you can. If you need help, please ask for it. R.I.P.
Years ago I worked at a church that wanted to work on its outreach, so we brought in an outside consultant. We weren’t having a lot of first-time guests register each week, so we weren’t sure if any were actually coming. Our consultant came in for a “secret shopper” visit one Sunday (where someone comes to your church undercover to evaluate your services) and told us afterwards he had met six first-time guests. I was floored. I’d worked at the church for years and had never met anywhere close to six first-time guests on any Sunday.
Knowing when a first-time guest is critically important for your church. You want to make sure you give an overwhelmingly good first impression. You want your pastor to go out of his way to meet them, to give them a few minutes of his time. A great first-impression can go a long way to ensuring that your first-time guests become regular attenders. But how can you tell who the first-time guests are? They don’t advertise it. They don’t wear a sign. They don’t tell anyone.
And then our consultant told us the secret. And it’s a secret that works. I’ve practiced it for years now, and if I’m intentional about it, it really helps me spot the first-time guest. He simply said, “It’s in the eyes.” If you make eye contact with those walking in your building, you’ll spot the first-time guests. They’re hesitant. They’re not sure. They have a bit of the ‘deer in the headlights’ look. They’ve never been to your church before and they don’t know where to go, but they usually don’t want to ask anyone for help. So they hesitate for a moment. That’s the giveaway.
With some practice, you can spot them. I used it to meet some first-time guests to our church yesterday. (I didn’t go out of my way to let them know I that I knew this was their first time, I just made sure to go out of my way to be friendly and cordial to them). How can you spot the first-time guest to your church? It’s in the eyes. Try it this week and see if you can spot them.
The church I pastor is technically Mt Vernon Baptist Church, but on all of our letterhead, signs and communications we’re just Mt Vernon Church. We drop the Baptist for a reason. We’re not ashamed of our heritage nor are we planning on leaving the Southern Baptist Convention. The main reason we do it is because of the people we’re trying to reach. Our target audience is the dechurched, those who have had some type of religious experience growing up but haven’t been back to church in years.
There are millions of dechurched in the Deep South. Seemingly everyone was dragged to church by at least a grandmother, if for nothing more than VBS. But too many had bad experiences at church. We’ve found that the dechurched haven’t given up on God, they’ve just given up on the church. And if they saw Baptist on our sign, many would immediately associate our church with their negative experience growing up. We want people to judge our church based on what they experience inside our four walls, not on their preconceived notions of a Baptist church. So, we take the name Baptist off of everything.
One of the side benefits of this is that it leads to some pretty entertaining conversations. Whenever I teach at “Discover Mt Vernon,” our membership class, I always surprise someone when they find out they’ve been attending a Baptist church for the past few months. Sometimes I even have to settle fights.
Yesterday I was talking with two women who have attended our church for the past month or so. I was called in to settle a dispute: were we a Baptist church? One was convinced we were, one was convinced we were non-denominational. They were passionate about it. Figuring I would know as the pastor, they asked me. I broke one of the lady’s hearts when I told her we were a Baptist church. She grew up in a traditional Baptist church and walked away from it a long time ago. She thought she was living on the edge, rebelling a little by attending a non-denominational church. Nope, just a Baptist church that doesn’t act very Baptist!
After spending a wonderful week with my family, here are twelve takeaways that every person might need to know. You’re welcome.
1. You can never eat enough grilled shrimp at the beach.
2. A vacation with a 2-year-old is a faux-cation.
3. Vacationing with three young kids is truly a vacation when you’re used to four.
4. You feel bad about ditching your 3-month old with her grandmother until you see another family trying to ‘relax’ on the beach with a 4-month old (ain’t happening).
5. Songs from The Wiggles will haunt you in your sleep after listening to them in the van for five hours.
6. I love building sandcastles way too much.
7. When the string on the kite gets tangled, just give up. It’s not worth it.
8. The biggest fights your kids will have will be over who gets to push the elevator buttons.
9. Trying to eat (and enjoy) a nice sit down dinner at an expensive restaurant = fail. Making do with PB&J on the beach = win.
10. When your 7-year-old son gets super amped up about looking for seashells, just roll with it.
11. When you forget to lock the front door to your condo, plan on spending at least fifteen minutes frantically looking for your 2-year-old who likes to “be adventurous.”
12. There are moments when everyone is calm, no one needs anything, everything is peaceful, and you can truly relax. Enjoy those three minutes each day!
Looking forward to going back again next year!
The mood was set perfectly as I stood up to preach Sunday. We’d just been led in worship and our hearts were ready. Bob (our worship pastor) had prayed a beautiful prayer and the bumper video set a solemn, reflective mood as we were about to dig into the book of Ephesians. And then I forgot to take my microphone off mute, leading to those few awkward seconds when no one can hear you.
Realizing that I just broke the mood with my mess up, I had three options:
1. Blame it on the tech guys. Never a good option.
2. Try to pretend it never happened. Only it did happen, and everyone knows it. Pretending like it didn’t makes things weird.
3. Own it. Get them to laugh, even at your expense, reset, and get right back up on that horse.
Here’s my mess up, in all it’s glory:
I should probably put something sentimental here, something like ‘there’s always peace and joy in the house,’ but that would be a misrepresentation of reality. I’ve got four kids ages 7 and under. Sometimes there’s more crying than joy (especially when more than one of them gets going at once!). To be completely honest, parenting four young kids is exhausting. I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way, but my kids wear me out. Robin and I try and trade off nights to actually sleep (one of us gets to sleep, the other gets up with the kids if needed). In reality, Robin gets up a lot more than I do. Last night was my night to stay up. It was a typical night, getting up four times (three times with our infant Elle and once to stop a four-year-old trying to sneak into ‘mommy’s bed’). It can be exhausting at times, but I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s. I love how my life has unfolded.
Here’s the greatest thing about having four kids: you get over ‘you’ real quick.When you’ve got four young kids, the amount of ‘you’ time is laughable. I used to play golf a lot, then I had kids. I used to be able to watch whatever I wanted on tv. Now it’s a steady diet of Barney and The Wiggles. Robin and I used to be able to go out and eat whenever we wanted. We laugh at the thought now.
Our schedules revolve around nap time and bedtime. Even something simple like getting the family dressed and ready for church is a herculean effort. There is always another kid who needs something from the refrigerator, another diaper to change, another baby to be held. By the time we’ve successfully run the gauntlet and gotten the kids tucked in for the night, Robin and I usually fall down exhausted, coveting a full night’s sleep, knowing that one of us won’t get it.
Parenting four young children (simultaneously) is stretching, demanding, all-consuming, exhausting. And yet in the midst of this I find joy. I realize I don’t have to focus on myself to find happiness. As I empty myself out for the good of others, I discover a God who is ready to fill me up with a joy that never runs out. Once I get over me, I’m in a position to receive the blessings and joy and fullness that God promises me in Scripture. The trick is to remember that joy at 3 am when I’m changing a diaper while half-asleep.
QUESTION: How has parenting your children been a blessing to you?
I give online to my church twice a month, and I wish I could say giving online was for a more spiritual reason. Growing up in the church, I’ve always known what the Bible taught about giving a tithe (10% of your income, off the top, to the church), and there’s never been a time where I’ve really disagreed with it. It’s not my money, it’s God’s. I get that. God’s trying to break the power of greed in my life. I get that. The money I’m given is to be used to invest in the Kingdom both here and for eternity. I get that. I’m all about storing up for myself treasures in heaven.
And yet it took years for me to give faithfully, even after I became a full-time minister! Why? The power and lure of money was just too strong. There was always one more thing I wanted to buy. I obligated myself to a lifestyle beyond my means. Since giving online is a relatively new idea, for years I did it the old-fashioned way: drop a check in the offering plate when it came by. But that didn’t work for me. I never carry a checkbook with me. I’d wait till the end of the month to get all my other purchases out of the way, and would always find that I ran out of money before I ran out of month. Pretty soon I’d be six months behind on my tithe, and if I wrote a check to catch up it would bounce. All the while, I felt guilty because I knew better and wanted to be better.
And then online giving came along, and it’s been a salvation to me. This is why I give online: accountability. I need it for me. I get paid twice a month, on the 1st and 15th. I’ve got an automatic debit set up to give to my church twice a month, on the 2nd and 16th. The first thing that gets paid is my tithe. If I miss a week of church, it still comes out. It may not sound super spiritual, but I need that accountability to hold my feet to the fire and honor God the way I know I should.
And guess what? I’ve been faithfully tithing for years now, and I still have a nice house, still have cars and computers and toys, and our family still gets to go on vacation every year. I honor God with my tithe, and He’s been more than faithful to me. And online giving is how I’ve been able to do it.
Maybe you did it Sunday. Woke up, got the kids looking decent, scrambled out the door a little late, snuck into the church service a few songs into it, but at least you didn’t miss the main part (the sermon). Maybe you stay for the last song, maybe you sneak out early to beat the traffic (or just to avoid another awkward conversation with “Sister Betty”). In and out. Smooth. Clean. Hazardous to your health.
I would make the argument that attending church can be hazardous to your spiritual health. You attend shows. You attend ball games. You’re not supposed to attend church. When you attend something, you sit and watch as a spectator. If you like it, you offer some applause, perhaps you pay to get in or make a donation, but that’s as far as your involvement and commitment go.
The picture we see of the early church is just the opposite. They didn’t just attend church services, they did life together. They broke bread in each others homes. They got involved in each other’s lives. They gave to those in need. They sacrificed for each other. They practiced biblical community. They were the church for each other.
There is a difference:
- Attending church is about you. Being the church is about us.
- Attending church is about getting. Being the church is about giving back.
- Attending church is about meeting your needs. Being the church is about also meeting the needs of others.
- Attending church is about being entertained. Being the church realizes that you’re not the audience, God is.
- Attending church stays skin deep. Being the church goes deep into the lives of those around you.
- Attending church will eventually dry up your soul. Being the church will enrich your soul and those around you.
- Attending church is easy. Being the church takes work.
- Attending church is optional. Being the church is not.
Don’t settle for attending church this Sunday. Be the church.