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?

“Why Did Someone Give Me Away?”

Try answering that question for your seven-year-old adopted son. By all other accounts it was a normal conversation and a normal trip to school. Zeke had just met one of his reading goals at school and I was building him up, really trying to encourage him in his reading. And then Zeke asked the question that is always bubbling below the surface for an adopted child, “Why did someone give me away?” To him it was a normal question. So I appeared normal and answered in the same tone of voice I’d answered his previous twenty questions about reading and frogs and ninja turtles. On the inside though, I was crumbling. My heart broke for the simple reason that my son will always have to wrestle with that question, “Why did someone give me away?”

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Robin and I made the decision early on that our adopted children would know the truth from the beginning that they used to live in another mom’s belly. There’s no way to keep adoption secret for life, and if a child is a teenager or older when they find out, we’ve seen it have traumatic effects. But this is the downside, having to answer questions like this, not taking it personally, hurting for Zeke as he wrestles with his identity in this.

Here’s how I answered him this time (I’ll have many more opportunities to talk with him about it in future conversations). I told him that his birth mom didn’t give him away, she wanted to make sure that he had the best home possible. She wanted him to have a home with a mommy and a daddy, so he became a part of our family. She did what she did because she loved him and wanted the best for him. And his mommy and I thank God every day that we get to be his parents.

And then it was time for school. Watching the sprouting seven-year-old get out of the car and walk into school like he owned the place, all I could think of was a chunky, square-headed baby named Zeke the first time I met him, trying not to get emotional in the process. In the end I’ll take these occasional uncomfortable conversations. They’re a small price to pay for the honor of raising him as my son.

 

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 I’m Preaching in Saints Gear This Sunday

We dress casual at Mt Vernon, but we’ve never dressed this casual before. We’re asking everyone who comes this Sunday (Sept. 7) to dress in their favorite team’s gear. We’ll see a lot of Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama and Auburn fans decked out from head to toe. I’m more of an NFL guy, so I’ll be representing my New Orleans “Who Dat” Saints. Why?

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Because this Sunday we’re kicking off a new sermon series called “Fanatics,” where we’re leveraging our love of sports as a picture of what true devotion looks like. Middle aged men who sit stone-walled in the pews of a church and refuse to sing in worship because it’s beneath them will dance up and down when their favorite team scores and will cry like a girl when their favorite team loses. They know what passion looks like, just not in the church.

I can talk about anything I want to on Sundays in September, but there’s only one thing that people are talking about Monday through Saturday: football. The SEC is king. The NFL has followers nationwide. Since we’re all talking about one thing during the week, we’ll leverage that same thing on Sundays to see what we can learn about being devoted fanatics of God.

Look forward to seeing you there! If you’re not in town, you can Livestream our services at: www.mtvchurch.tv.

You can always catch up on my sermons on my Vimeo page: www.vimeo.com/joshdaffern.

Who Dat!

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!

“He’s So Lucky He Has a Stepdad!”

It’s eye opening to experience first hand the innocence of youth. Recently a new family moved into our neighborhood. They have boys. That’s a good thing. There are currently 10 boys (now 12) in our neighborhood that play together, roaming around like Hell’s Angels on their Huffys and Schwinns. My oldest, Zeke (7), befriended one of the new boys and came home one day and told me, “[My friend] is so lucky, he has a stepdad!” Record scratch, head jerked sideways, “What you talkin’ about Willis?”

8.27.14I asked him what he meant. Apparently when Zeke was asking his new friend about his parents, he was told he lived with his mom and stepdad. Zeke had never heard of a stepdad before. What was that? It was like another dad that he lived with. So Zeke told me, “He’s lucky he has a stepdad because when one dad goes to work, the other one gets to stay home and play with him.” Wouldn’t it be great if it worked out like that?

I had what we call in the business “a teachable moment” and got to introduce my 7-year-old my the finer intricacies of divorce. Afterwards, Zeke didn’t think his new friend was so lucky. The whole episode reminded me of the simplicity of what marriage is supposed to be. One man, one woman, together for life. That’s what our kids are born expecting. We’re the ones who mess things up.

12 years strong married to Zeke’s mom (and my wife). With every power of my being, I never want Zeke to ever have to walk through a divorce first-hand. I never want him to have a stepdad.

The Best Self-Inflicted Pain I Subject Myself to Every Monday

Every Monday at 10 am, the pain comes. As crazy as it sounds, it’s good pain. It’s the pain I asked for. It’s time for the weekly worship service evaluation. Each week Mt Vernon’s creative leadership team sits down and rips apart the previous Sunday’s worship services. We nitpick stuff that most people don’t even notice: Was the service intentional? Were the transitions smooth? Did we achieve excellence? Was hope made tangible? 8.26.14

The first part is easy: we talk about the music. Song selection, notes missed, transitions. What did we get right? What could we have done better? It’s easy for me to pick apart someone else’s job performance. It’s all done in an effort to get better at what we do. The music’s the easy part. Then they get to the sermon. I’ll be honest: it hurts. I work hard each week to craft a sermon that engages and effectively communicates truth from God’s word. I labor over illustrations, applications, and an occasional one-liner just to keep things interesting. I always get the expected “amens” and “well done preacher’s” from the crowd on the way out. So why do I subject myself to the service review? Because I want to get better. As tempting as it is to hide behind the cloak of spirituality and assume that since I’m preaching for God every sermon is going to be a home run, I know better. I went too long in one area, I failed to adequately explain the main point I was trying to get across. Laying my work bare before others is never enjoyable, but I do it because I want to get better. I walked away from yesterday’s meeting with my sermon relatively intact, but more importantly, with an incredible piece of advice that will help me get better. Even if no one notices the results, I’m glad I subject myself to this every Monday.

The Phone Call I Hope I Never Have to Make About Your Marriage

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.

telephoneAs 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.

What Was Your High School Label?

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.

senior yearbook copyAs 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!

 

R.I.P. – Robin Williams

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. Robin_Williams

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.