What to Do When You Blow It on Stage

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:

The Greatest Thing About Having Four Kids

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!). 7.21.14To 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?

This is Why I Give Online

7.16.14I 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.

Why Attending Church Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

7.15.14Maybe 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.

7 Things You Can Do To Make This Week Different

7.14.14Small things can make a big difference. If you want this week to be a little (or a lot) different than last week, here are some small things that could have a big impact on your week.

1). Set your alarm (or set your alarm 30 minutes earlier). If your morning is a frantic last-minute race to get out of the house to get to work, or if you have the mornings off and like to see how long you can sleep in, change things up. Get up earlier, don’t be frantic and stressed before you even leave the house. Don’t sleep in. Decide that you want to be productive this week.

2). Declare a “TV Free” day. Pick a day where the tv doesn’t come on all day. Choose to let something else besides the media influence your thoughts and actions. Read a book, play a game, just keep the tv off.

3). Listen to the Bible on audio. As you’re on your commute, as you’re doing things around the house, plug in those earbuds and listen to the audio Bible on free apps like YouVersion. See what happens when you allow words of truth to wash over you and settle on your soul.

4). Exercise. Yes, you know you need to do it, so do it! Get out and go to the gym. Walk around the neighborhood. Do something. As you take care of your physical health, your mental, emotional, and spiritual health will benefit as well.

5). Help someone accomplish something. To momentarily break the power of selfishness, choose to help someone else accomplish something they need. Help them with yard work. Help them finish a project. Do something intentionally for someone else and not you.

6). Don’t be a slave to lists. Just live!

I’m Doing Something I’ve Never Done Before Today

7.10.14Much of ministry (like any profession) is filled with repetition. I preach every week, only the subject changes. I minister to people every week, just the faces change. But today I’m doing something I’ve never done before in ministry, and I’m a boiling mixture of nervousness and anticipation, excitement and fear.

Today I’m spending all day with six of my staff in one meeting with one goal: to rip apart my sermons for the upcoming year and make them better. It’s a sermon series planning meeting with the goal of taking the “B/B+” ideas I’ve already prepared for the next school year and hopefully turning them into “A” sermons, creating 52 contagious experiences that overwhelm our people with the gospel of hope. It’s something I’ve dreamed about doing for years but finally get the opportunity to do today.

To be honest, this is also the most uncomfortable thing in I’ve done in awhile. But ask me in a year (more importantly, ask my church members) if this worked. Here are some of the factors that got me to today:

Openness - Most pastors create their sermons in a vacuum. It’s just them and the Word. As spiritual as that sounds, it also is very insulating for the pastor, closing him off from any potential negative criticism. That’s why many pastors choose to prepare on their own. It takes a certain dose of openness to admit that you need help and creative input to craft the best sermons possible.

Thick Skin – Pastors in a way are artists, creating word pictures that hopefully lead to life transformation. But to make anything better, you have to be open to criticism. Some pastors have thin skin and are closed off to constructive criticism, choosing the drape themselves in the Bible and labeling any attacks on their sermon as an attack on the Word.

Preparation – Thinking a year ahead has been daunting. I’ve had to create enough margin from the immediate to allow myself breathing room to project ahead. I’ve created nine sermon series ideas that will potentially take us through the end of next school year. Developing nine different series and a year’s worth of sermon ideas has been exhausting, but I’m hopeful that the results will be worth it.

Discipline – There’s no way I could sit at a desk in one sitting and spew out a year’s worth of sermons. My trusted friend in this endeavor has been Evernote, an app that collects and organizes my ideas and syncs with all my devices. A few of the sermon series are ones I thought of the day of. Several of the best ideas are ones I had months or even a year ago. When inspiration hit, I wrote everything down in Evernote before I forgot, and I’m able to pull up my ideas when I need them most. It took discipline to faithfully write down my ideas when I had them, knowing that I might not preach those sermons for a year or longer. But today that discipline is paying off.

Team – I didn’t just pick six staff and random and ask them to tear apart my sermons. This same team is one I’ve met with every week for months, planning and dissecting all of our Sunday experiences. They have familiarity with my sermons on a weekly basis, giving them the foundation needed to project out with me for the coming year.

Self-worth – We’re not going to get too far into the day before someone (very nicely) begins to tear my sermon idea to shreds and suggests another one. What I thought would be the perfect sermon might get left on the cutting room floor. I’ve got to continually remember that they’re not attacking me, they’re attacking an idea. I am loved whether they like my ideas or not.

If you get a moment, please say a prayer for us today!

Why Jesus Was a Horrible Preacher

preacherOkay so the title was a bit of a tease, but at least you’re reading. Here’s my beef with seminaries today (I understand most of you reading this aren’t preachers, so we’ll chalk up this blog post to #PreacherProblems). The overwhelming way they are training new pastors to preach is verse-by-verse. (This approach preaches through an entire book of the Bible verse-by-verse, then picks another one and preaches through that. This style is in contrast with ‘topical,’ where preachers take a topic or theme and preach about it from Scripture). Verse-by-verse is the latest rage. I recently had a conversation with a seminary student on his preaching style. He said that he preached verse-by-verse, because that was the safest way to preach the totality of God’s word. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Noted theologian John MacArthur was subtle enough to write on the merits of verse-by-verse preaching and name his book “How to Preach Biblically.” Case settled, right?

My beef with verse-by-verse isn’t its form or function (I’m actually preaching verse-by-verse through Ephesians this summer, the first time I’ve preached verse-by-verse at Mt Vernon). My beef is the prevailing mindset coming from seminaries today that assumes that verse-by-verse is the only true way to preach, and all of us ‘topical’ guys are somehow mishandling the Word of God.

Here’s what I would say to that mindset: we never see Jesus preaching verse-by-verse. From our records in the gospels, Jesus was a straight ‘topical’ guy. You never see Jesus taking his disciples on a verse-by-verse exposition through the book of Leviticus. Rather, he’d pluck a verse or two from Old Testament scripture (Luke 4:18-19 is a good example) and expound on that. Even more frustrating for verse-by-verse folks, sometimes Jesus would teach simply by using stories (parables) with no Scripture involved. By today’s seminary standards, Jesus would have been a horrible preacher, reckless with Scripture and too cavalier in handling the holy texts. But as sacrilegious as it sounds, Jesus’ number one preaching goal wasn’t a verse-by-verse exposition of the Scriptures of the day. It was to teach people about and introduce people to his Heavenly Father. Jesus wasn’t a slave to verse-by-verse exposition, and neither should we be today.

QUESTION: Is there a ‘best’ way to preach? What’s your preferred style?

Kicking and Screaming Into Monday

7.7.14Monday came too soon. That glorious weekend, full of laughter, replete with memories, chocked full of leisure. But now it’s Monday, splashing you with the cold water of reality. Now it’s back to work. Back to the grind. Back to the real world.

If you’re like me, the temptation is to be dragged into Monday kicking and screaming, already looking forward to the next weekend, the next getaway, the next opportunity to relax and do nothing.

Today may be nothing miraculous. You may be shuffling paperwork, catching up on emails, at home with the kids. But even in the mundane, God can create something glorious. God loves to work in the quiet moments, taking ordinary encounters and turning them into something extraordinary. But we have to have eyes to see it.

Like a kid desperately holding onto the blankets when mom comes to pull him out of bed, some of us will be thrown into this week, whether we’re ready for it or not. We can sulk, we can daydream about memories past, or we can tackle this week head on and make something memorable of this opportunity called life.

Monday isn’t a throwaway day. This week is not a throwaway week. Others may be on vacation, having more fun than you, but you’re where you are. You’re at work. You’re with your kids. And God wants to do something glorious through you. There are lives that need to be impacted, spirits that need to be lifted, the name of Jesus that needs to be spread.

So if you’ve been dragged into Monday kicking and screaming, you’re here now. Go make something of it.

Repost: 601 Marbles

11.15.13

originally posted November 15, 2013

I have 601 weeks left until my oldest son Zeke graduates high school. I know that may seem like a lot, but when he was born I had 936 weeks. I’ve already lost a third of my time with him.

In his book Playing for Keeps, author Reggie Joiner makes a great suggestion to help parents visualize the amount of time they have left with their kids. He suggests that you get a glass jar and fill it with marbles, one marble for every week you have left with your child. Each week, take a marble out and throw it away. It will serve as a tangible reminder that the few moments you have with your children are precious.

So, I have three glass jars on my nightstand. One for each of my boys. Each Sunday, I take out another marble and throw it away. I don’t like it. It makes me a bit sad. But it’s incredible motivation for me. Every time I’m tempted to waste a day, watch a useless television show, or squander a weekend, I see the jars of marbles. Every time my boys want to play ‘rough’ and I’m not feeling up to it, every time they want to throw the football outside even though it’s freezing, every time they want me to take an interest in what they’re doing even though I’d rather be watching SportsCenter, I see the jars of marbles.

When I see the jars of marbles, it serves as a reminder that every week is precious. I’ve already lost a third of my time with Zeke. How I choose to spend the remaining time with him is up to me. I want to make every marble count.

To help calculate how many weeks you have left with your kids, download the free Legacy Countdown app from the App Store.

What the Church Can Learn from Chuck E. Cheese

chuck_e_cheeseLast week my family took our semi-annual pilgrimage to the mecca of children’s experiences: Chuck E. Cheese. We didn’t just go there. We shut the place down. Three hours (and a fistful of tickets) later, we walked out of there full, victorious, and with a few cheap plastic toys that broke within an hour. But that’s beside the point.

On the drive home, I began to dwell on what elements in this restaurant would captivate the attention of my two-year-old for three hours. That’s quite a feat! (It’s also the only public restaurant we willingly take him to). The more I thought about it, I pulled out a few overarching principles that I think apply to the church:

1. It was fun. I say the words “Chuck E. Cheese” to my kids, and their eyes light up. Why? Because it’s fun. They get to run around, they get to play games, they have freedom to explore. Our kids would drag us to Chuck E. Cheese if they could. Fun isn’t a sin. Fun is fun. Is there an element of fun, of joy in our Children’s Ministries, in our churches?

2. It was interactive. Chuck E. Cheese is sensory overload for a kid. They literally impact all five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell). The kids don’t just sit and watch. They get up and do. They get to take part. A church will always better capture the hearts of children and families when those families get to do more than just “sit and watch.” Churches should work hard to engage all five senses.

3. It was simple. One token, one game. All games are one token. Simple enough for a toddler to understand. Some games were worth more, but for the sake of simplicity all games are one token. Simple sells. The lack of theological understanding and biblical foundation is only increasing with this generation. To reach them, we must start simply.

4. It was rewarding. My boys were laser-focused on winning those tickets. They didn’t just want to be entertained through the games, they wanted to win something. At church, how are we rewarding people? How are we enabling our people to participate in and celebrate the rewards of the Christian life? We should want them to know that all their sacrifice and hard work they’ve given to the church is worth it.

5. It was safe. My wife’s favorite aspect of Chuck E. Cheese was the check-in system. Our whole family got a unique stamp, and it was checked again before we went out. Our kids were safe to roam. That safety enabled my wife and I to enjoy the experience without worrying about our children’s safety. In today’s society, safety is king. A church must have a secure check-in system for preschoolers and children if they want to have any type of effective ministry.

QUESTION: What else can we learn from Chuck E. Cheese’s?