The Art of Ending

I never took a preaching class. As part of high school and core college classes, I had to take a public speaking course. I enjoyed them. It was good to get feedback, but apart from that, nothing. I’ve also never taken a formal writing class. You probably can pick up on that in my writing. There are far better writers in the world, and I don’t desire to compare myself to them…it just won’t make my day. Nonetheless, I still enjoy speaking and writing.

Why? That’s a good question. Their might be a bit of ego in there, being in the limelight, center of attention. Although, God allows me to fail in that area from time to time when my pride tries to block any glory going to Him. In those times, I search to find a greater reason why I like these forms of expression.

Thankfully, I have come to find a greater depth as to why I enjoy it. Depending on what I’m speaking, writing or talking about, there are two main reasons why it brings me joy and encouragement. First is that I am a bit of a visionary leader. I love being able to cast vision, help others develop a vision and encourage others to see what God could do if we took a risk. So much so, that it is very hard for me to follow someone who isn’t a visionary leader. Casting vision and then continuing to bring people back to that vision, for me, is key at making anything work. People who can’t do that cause me to question if they can’t dream or believe in something greater, how could I? But that’s another topic for another day.

The second reason why I enjoy speaking and writing is that I can simply share my journey in hopes that it may help someone else, just like others have shared their journeys with me, encouraging me to keep moving. Without us sharing our stories, we can end up feeling all alone, unique, un-relatable and isolated-not what God intended when He calls us the family of God, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ.

But in all of this, in looking at other leaders, one of the hardest things I’ve noticed is how to finish. Back to me never taking a preaching class-I’ve always heard that how you end the sermon is the hardest thing about it. How you “land the plane,” so to speak, could make or break any talk you give. Being able to make that conclusion bring it together, summing up to challenge others with what was just said or spur others on in a rally cry is a hard thing to do. In fact, it’s hard every time I write in this blog to come up with how I am going to end each post. The ending is what people will remember. The ending determines what will be remembered.

Though I’m only 37 (yes “only,” don’t mock me you young ones), I’ve come to learn that how I end things is important. How I will end my time here is vital to leave a legacy of God’s grace, provision and love. I struggle with not only ending a blog post, but with handing things off to others. Coming alongside someone to encourage, invest in and build up is something I enjoy. But handing things off entirely to someone else is hard. I know that if that project, business or ministry is to sustain and thrive, it needs to be handed off well. In order for that to happen, the leader, or in this case me, needs to hand it off well. If the pilot can’t land the plane, it doesn’t matter how fast or smooth it took off, and it definitely doesn’t matter how smooth the entire flight was. The landing is important.

Landing it, handing it off well, is not only you being able to empower those who are now stepping into the lead, but it is you submitting to God that He is ultimately over all.  Hanging on too long is nothing but fear based. I talked about that a bit last week. Paul wrote many letters to a lot of people, trying to empower them from afar. He moved from the lead role to a support role. A good friend of mine, Andreas, is the leader of a church planting movement that started out of Sweden. His ministry philosophy goes like this:

I do it, you watch me. I do it, you help me,

You do it, I help you. You do it, I watch you

Not only does he believe this, he has modeled it many times over the past two decades. He not only knows how to cast the vision (take off) and keep the momentum going (cruising altitude), he also knows how to hand it off well (landing). If Paul had not  handed it off, it makes me wonder if Romans, Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy would even be in the Bible we read. We simply move into different seasons of life. From being the one who needs support and encouragement to the ones who are giving both to others as they step into the roles God has for them. Modeling to them our trust in others and in God. A “giving back” to Him a portion of what He has given us.

My prayer is that we not only do that with every ministry venture we’re a part of, or job position we have, but also with our lives. To come to a place where we are passing  on what God has done in us to those around us. Encouraging, empowering and speaking truth.

How about you? Do you have experience with someone handing it off well? Have you handed things off well, or perhaps not so well? What was the impact?

be blessed today


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Are You Going Sideways?

My friend, Tim once called it sideways energy. The amount of energy you have to expend in order to either maintain power or simply survive through a crisis. It’s energy that is being used up on everything that is not life giving. Maintaining a certain way of life regardless of whether it’s hurting you or not.  You feel like you’re trying to keep all the plates spinning, but they are starting to fall. All of them. At the same time. You feel like you’re drowning and you cannot get enough air. That is sideways energy.   This is losing control.

Control is a nasty disease that infiltrates our hearts in subtle ways at first. As we become more “successful” and work our way up whatever ladder we’re on, our desire for control grows more and more. It’s the idea that those who have a lot, have a lot more to lose. It’s no coincidence that those who are the most impoverished in our world are also the most generous. Those who have little understand what it’s like to have little and are willing to spread what little “wealth” they may have. And those who have a lot in this world, on paper look like they give a lot, but when analyzing it based on precentage they fall way short of their “less fortunate” brothers.

The same can be said of anything, really. Organizations, the notorious 1% we hear so much about in today’s politics, governments, even in churches. It seems that the more our reputation grows (and for some that may simply mean our portfolio), the more we aim at protecting it. Failure looks like a failure, not someone who believed in something enough to take a risk. Being generous is accepted, unless it’s becoming too generous. Then you simply look like a fool. Being wise stewards becomes code for hoarding what we have. And faith looks much more like a well thought out, methodical, flawless plan than a strong conviction in something not yet seen or has come to realization. Anything less is just unwise.

I can speak about this particular issue seeing how it is one of struggles I have. It causes distrust of everyone around you. You may not even realize it. You may be completely blind to your actions of distrust, but everyone else sees and feels it. It causes you to put yourself in the position of God, telling Him He is not worthy of that position. His sovereignty is no longer believed. It’s grasping at everything you can to maintain it, only to leave a massive wake of destruction behind you. It’s sad. It’s heartbreaking.

Saul had this same problem (among many others in Scripture). He finally did himself in. He was not self aware. Becoming more self aware is an important part of growing up. Thankfully I am becoming more self aware. Though, I’ll never “arrive” at total self awareness, I am human after all. But it is a growing process.

When we need control of other people before we trust them, then our relationships are narrowed down to surround ourselves with ourselves.-Danny Silk

Control blinds us. Control is what allows us to hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see. Control is what will cause us the very thing we are trying not to be by controlling so much. I’ve noticed that as well. As much as I don’t want to be that thing over there, the more I control situations and people around me, the more I become that thing. Kind of like Paul-I do want I don’t want to do and don’t do what I want to do.

So, what’s a person to do? Well, first, if you automatically think you don’t have a problem with control, that’s a good sign that you do. Humility is part of this life of understanding  Christ and ourselves in Him. If we don’t think we have problems, then are we really submitting ourselves to God?

Second, What is it that gets you worked up? In other words, what are you trying not to be? Figure out the behavior of what you don’t want to be and work backwards to see if you are acting out in some of the same ways. This will take humility, and a lot of honesty with yourself (something that many people are afraid of).

Third, spend time in quiet reflection (another thing that freaks people out). Ask the Spirit to speak to you and show you if their are phrases that you keep hearing, reactions of people towards you that keep repeating, or if people are avoiding you. There might be something deeper going on that you just aren’t able to see. Quiet reflection and….time. Time spent in the Spirit’s presence will allow Him to speak. And in that time and honesty, He will reveal things to you.

Fourth, seek out someone who is trustworthy, honest with themselves, vulnerable and who has admitted to having control issues before. They should be able to guide you and if nothing else, point you in the direction of recovery resources/groups. That sounds scary, but admitting it and starting to own it shows a weakness that Jesus can begin to show His strength. That’s called freedom.

This is not a one time through and you’re done kind of thing, it’s a lifetime of growing more aware of yourself and Christ in you. Freedom!

As you look through those four points, does anything stick out? Have you found before you read this that you had control issues? What did you do? If you have found that you have control issues after reading this, how’s your journey through this going?

be blessed today

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Changing Your Ordinary: Living a Celebratory Life in Ordinary Time

I love celebrations. Mainly holidays. There’s so much that goes into our holidays, really. For me, Christmas is a big one. The food, the music, the presents under the tree. Easter is another big holiday in the West. We have certain traditions that we hold to both culturally and in our families. There’s a lot of preparation work that goes into it. Shopping, preparing for guests, taking time off of work, etc. But that’s all part of it when we get to just spend time with our families. It’s all part of celebrating.

It seems that in the Church in the West, we tend to pour a large amount of financial resources into outreaches for these two holidays. It makes sense, right? It’s an open door to talk about why Jesus came to this earth. It gives us an opportunity, that perhaps the secular world is almost inviting us to use, to share about why Jesus died and why He miraculously rose from the dead. Therefore, it make sense why we as the Church would pour so much money into these two times of the year. We want to create a place, a mountain top experience where others can encounter and experience God. But what’s interesting is that we pour so much money into these two holidays and those two holidays are a small percentage of our actual life every year.

There was an important holiday, a historical marker, that passed today, May 15th, that we heard little, if anything, about. It was really the foundation of the explosive early church movement. Today, May 15th is 50 days after Easter…today is the day of Pentecost. This day written about in Acts 2 was not only when the small group of followers of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit for the first time, it’s when the Church became the Church and started to grow.

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.”-Acts 2:1-6

I never used to consider the church calendar, but over the years have come to appreciate it’s purpose in bringing focus and order to our sometimes crazy lives. When looking at it, there are some important things to take note of. First is that the calendar year starts on the first day of Advent, not January 1st. Then, there is Advent time (the time starting a few weeks before Christmas) and Christmas time (starting Christmas day and leading up to the first day of Lent). This time combined makes up 15% of our calendar year, or 55 days. Next, there is Lent (usually starting in February and leading up to Easter day) and Easter time (starting Easter day and ending on Pentecost). This time makes up about 25% of our calendar year or about 146 days. Finally, comes a massive portion of our calendar year, 60% of it actually. It’s called Ordinary Time and it lasts 219 days.

Most of our lives are lived in the ordinary time. The normal everyday, go to work, come home, sleep, wake up kind of place. We do our shopping, eating, sleeping, playing, schooling and our normal routine during this time. We have a rhythm during this time. We all do. Besides birthdays and anniversaries (and a few national holidays) most of our lives are lived in ordinary time-reality. Holidays and celebratory times are not reality per say. They are celebratory, not the ordinary. Our ordinary, routine, habitual lives.

I have met a lot of believers, followers of Jesus who live for those holidays. They are only a part of a faith community on Christmas or Easter, but that’s it. I’ve been in churches who pour a lot of time and money into those two holidays for outreaches. But other than that, they really don’t reach out the rest of the year. The problem with living this way is that we are basically saying God only cares about us during those mountain top experiences. Or perhaps, what we’re saying is we only care about God during these few times a year. By living this way, we are showing that God doesn’t really care about us at all apart from these times. That He doesn’t care about us when we are in the ordinary time of our lives, or worse yet, when we’re in the valley and the pit. Man, what a horrible relationship that sounds like, right? Could you imagine a relationship where your spouse only cares about you on their birthday and anniversary and ignores you the rest of the year? Or let’s think about heaven. If there are no celebrations, no holidays in heaven, how boring it’s going to be for all eternity. No mountain top highs there. Do we really believe that?

No. No, we know that’s not true, don’t we? We know that God loves us no matter where we are, mountain top or deepest valley. But it seems we only live for the mountain high.

So, what if we changed our ordinary? What if we created a new ordinary? What if we began to live a celebratory life in our ordinary time? What would that look like? We’d have to change our routines, our habits, but could we? We can, and it’s not something earth shattering or even something new. It’s already been shown to us, modeled for us.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47

Before Pentecost no one knew what to do. Jesus was gone, ascended into heaven. His followers had no idea what to do next. Their leader gone. But, then the Spirit fills them, Peter gives an incredible speech, and then we read this. The apostles, the early church, their ordinary changed. And God moved dramatically. They ate together daily, they prayed together daily, they listened to teaching together, again, daily. Starting in Acts 3 we read that healings began on a regular basis. And, it says that God added to their number daily. Daily!

So what happened?

At some point, we as broken humans, looked at what was going on daily and decided to condense it to a Sunday service and Wednesday night bible study. We did that. And then those times of communion happened less and less. Healings happened less and less. These ordinary things back then, became extraordinary. Or sadly, perhaps even non existent.

We created a new ordinary that took those days and condensed them and in doing so we put the responsibility of our own spiritual growth and development onto the pastor. We put the weight of that onto someone else so we didn’t have to have the responsibility of being more disciplined, having compassion, of growing in Christ. And by doing so, we could excuse our lack of discipline and put the blame on the pastor.  I don’t think we set out to do it, but we did. And it continues on.

We need to create a new habit so that what happened in Acts 2 becomes our ordinary. Perhaps our new habit will include daily reading in the Word, or daily prayer. Perhaps it will include regular confession to another or regular sabbath and rest. And maybe even consistent, regular service towards others around us.

By doing this, we won’t just experience God in the mountain top or on Easter, but we’ll be continually engaged with Him all year long. We will become more aware of His presence both on the mountain peak in the hellish pit we’re in. Perhaps we’ll be more able to see and be grateful for the blessings of abundance and the blessing of learning in the struggle. I can say that others will see that our God is a God who cares about us no matter where we are, no matter what we’re going through, no matter what holiday it might be. And through that, perhaps that “added to their number daily” will no longer be an action of the past. What if we all lived a celebratory life in our ordinary time? What could happen?

be blessed today


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Are You Going In Circles?

     It would be really nice if we could just follow everything in the Bible to a “T.”  Oh, and get a diploma or certificate at the end. Something we could look at and say “I have arrived.” No more issues, dealing with people or dealing with our self and our own stuff. Just a nice little certificate. And maybe a frame. Have a “graduation” party. Or perhaps a plaque. A glass one that looks really cool. Yes, heaven is nice and all, but wouldn’t it be nice to have something in the here and now?
     But, we don’t get a certificate, nor a plaque, not even a party. It isn’t a straight path from believing in Jesus to holiness. It just isn’t. And sometimes as we are on this path of becoming more holy, the changes in us aren’t even tangible. We can’t follow everything because we are us. We’re human. There is no “arrival.” Not in this life, anyway.
     AJ Swoboda writes “ As far as I can tell, there is no streamlined path toward arriving at holiness. Every path I can find seems to endure the same kind of bumpy circles that Israel endured. The real road to maturity is miserably slow. A to B in God’s kingdom sometimes includes lots of circles on the journey, a journey that is rarely linear. It would be nice if we were crows and flew the way they do. But God’s people never travel the way the crows do.” (AJ’s book “The Dusty Ones”)
     The lessons we learn come in the circles. They come in the times when we are trying to understand what is going on, leaning into community, into Christ. Not that we can’t learn when things are going well and God is clearly leading us, speaking to us and revealing Himself to us. But, it seems, that the times we learn and grow are the times when the vision we have isn’t clearly tangible, or at least, isn’t manifesting like we think.
     I do believe that among this circly (yes it’s a real word…that I just made up), ambiguous and sometimes seemingly un-efficient life, God teaches us in the most imaginative ways. I’ve written before about how disruption and holy distractions shake us from our hum drum, tunnel vision, going through the motions life to get our attention and create a sacred space for God to teach us. Sacred space that is created out of no where for the purpose of strengthening our faith and understanding in Him. Perhaps He uses these moments to vindicate Himself to those that mock him or to prove without a doubt who He is. Maybe. Moses is one small example. A burning bush in the middle of a normal, everyday day of shepherding sheep and suddenly the whole course of human history is completely shifted. Go fig.
     The Oh Hellos, a great band by the way, writes in their song I’ve Made Mistakes, “And the sun, it does not cause us, the sun it does not cause us to grow. It is the rain that will strengthen, the rain that will strengthen  your soul. And it will make you whole.” Yes, in those moments of what we would normally call blessings-sitting in the sun, picking daisies, everything’s going great- God is there and with us. However, there are also the other blessings, those times that are so agonizingly hard and sad that God actually does more teaching. More teaching in the Bible is from people going through hardships than in time of plenty, when everything is going well. Seriously.
     I think we forget that blessings are both. At least I know I do. It’s hard to see going through hard things as a blessing. Admitting when we were wrong and making amends with people is hard. But in that, the relationship is restored. Fear is removed. Courage and strength are given. All of those things are blessings. This in no way makes it easier. At all. And it is also something that I need to be reminded of when I am in the thick of whatever difficult situation I’m in. No matter how hard. Seeking out those who are trusted in the faith who have been through hardships and have been honest about them are great people to lean into. Hopefully for a listening ear and shoulder to cry on, but also to help us see beyond the situation we’re in. And see God’s presence has never left us. It’s all in circle.
How about you, have you had someone come alongside you and help to see God at work? Have you been there to simply be the presence of God to someone who is hurting? What did God do through you in that moment? What did He do in you?
be blessed today
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You Are Not As Unique As You Think

     You’re not unique. At least that is what someone told me once. Well, let me be honest, he said “You, you are unique. Your situation- not unique.” I am unique. Intricately made in God’s image. Carefully placed gifts, skills, personality and character traits, physical attributes and everything else. We are uniquely us. You are uniquely you. However, we think that because we are uniquely made that our situations and struggles we face are also unique.I wrote a post on being awesome, and how this new desire to “be awesome” isn’t really helping anyone’s self esteem. It’s not helping anyone become better people, better influences in their local communities. Being awesome is a grand idea, but how?
      When I started down the road of recovery, one of the first things I encountered was having to admit I had a problem. After that, the struggle became to continuously recognize that the problems I face are not unique to me and therefore I have no excuses for how I choose to react to them. To put it as Iris so eloquently put it, when it comes to struggles “there is nothing new under the sun.”
     What do I mean? Well, let’s take guys for example. Just one simple example. Guys, generally speaking,  tend to struggle with purity and sexual integrity. That struggle is not unique to John down the street or the guy who just got arrested for hiring a prostitute, it’s something that has been struggle for guys for a long time. David, Job, Solomon, and more struggled with that thousands of years ago. Or let’s take control issues-Pharaoh, alcoholism-Samson, grief-Naomi, Fear-Abram (Abraham),  blaming-Adam, physical disability-Jacob, being cut off from family and friends-Paul (while imprisoned), too much to do leading to burn out-Moses,  to name a few. The list goes on and on in the Bible.
     I find myself getting into those places in my life where I think that my issues are only unique to me. “Well, ya, I could do that…but it’s different for me, for my situation, for my family, for my job, for my ministry,” and the list goes on again. I justify this by thinking I’m unique therefore my situation, hurts, hangups habits, addictions are solely unique to me. And that’s simply not true. This mindset is a victim mindset. Thinking this way is like saying “this is the way it is because life happens to me, therefore it will never change.” And we begin to go down the road of self pity and simply trying to survive here as long as we can. I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating, surviving life is no life.
     This differs from being an actual victim. Living a victim and being a victim are two different things. Being a victim is where you are totally powerless to what has happened to you. Living a victim, which is what I’m talking about, is allowing things to happen to you even though you have power to not let them. For a great post on living a victim, see Donald Miller’s recent post about the dangers of living this way.

     Another good friend of mine has been in recovery for a long time. He gets it. He understands compulsivity, addictions and hangups. I was talking to him one day over a nice cup of coffee, giving my long list of excuses why I couldn’t forgive, couldn’t recover, how life was going to change because of a big move and others around us might react harshly to our new journey of recovery. Again, a long, very long list of excuses how my situation was unique and no one could understand. Never. He called me on my crap, my excuses.
     He then proceeded to tell me a bit of his story.
“I used to believe my situations, tensions, hurts were unique to me. This way I could justify my behavior whether it be lashing out at someone, or hiding in my workaholism, escapism or shopaholism. No one lived my life and no one understood everything I was going through because no one was me. And part of that is true, no one is me. But my issues, my addictions, those were not unique to me. When I sit in those breakout groups on a Friday night after the Celebrate Recovery big meeting, or I sit in a Step Group with other guys working the 12 Steps along with me, I hear my situations and issues coming up. They come up in all those other people who are going through recovery along with me. One person in the group may not be going through the exact same things I am, but collectively, we all are. Therefore, my situations are not unique to me. Therefore, I have no excuses and justifications for my behavior and choices. Once I realize this (and notice how I said that in the present tense), I can stop being the victim and start living my life. Making choices that will bring life, not simply try to survive till I die.”
      I can find the things I struggle with in other people, no matter race, age, profession or gender. Honestly looking at them and myself, I can then stop the excuses and start living. Start setting up boundaries. Setting boundaries isn’t so much as keeping things and people out, it’s setting up space that once was God’s and giving it back to Him. It’s an act of submission, of humility. It’s showing that I’m done playing god, and relinquishing what little control I thought I had, to Him.
     But, as my friend mentioned above, it’s in the present tense. It’s not a “been there done that” kind of thing. It’s an on going, life long growing process of recognizing my own stuff, admitting it, and continuing to move forward. I pray that we all continually do this.
What about you? Are you able to find your struggles in other people? Have you reached out to them for guidance, help and support? Do you struggle with the victim mindset?
be blessed today
Photo Credit: image from the movie “Being John Malkovich”