Top 10 Things I’ve Learned Lately

Top 10 Things I’ve Learned Lately:

(10) It really is okay to be different. People are different from each other. Churches are different from each other. Preachers are different from each other. Since God made us so unique, it would be irresponsible for us to try to be like someone else. There are many big name church leaders out there who insist that their way of doing church is the only right way, but I can’t find their method given such exclusive status in Scripture.

(9) Procrastination makes life exponentially more stressful. If procrastination is something you struggle with, it’s extremely hard to move beyond it. Even if you want to stop procrastinating and make a concrete resolution, you decide to start tomorrow. But few things stress me out as much as approaching a deadline and not being prepared. It makes it difficult to enjoy down time when I have uncompleted tasks hanging over me. On the flip side, when I’ve finished the most important things early in the day or the week, the rest of the day or week is much more relaxed, enjoyable, and stressless.

(8) People are one of life’s biggest problems, but also one of life’s biggest pleasures. It’s hard dealing with people. I can say that because I’m one of them. People can interrupt plans, create obstacles, draw time and attention away from projects, and hurt you. But people can also cheer you up, help you achieve goals, provide an outlet for expressing devotion to God, offer support during times of discouragement, and give you the rich rewards of relationship that cannot be found anywhere else.

(7) Coffee is better black. I’ve been drinking it this way for several years, but recently I’ve come to appreciate the subtle differences between varieties. (I hope I’m not becoming a coffee snob!) This same principle can be applied to lots of things. When we experience things as they are without trying to change them with lots of cream and sugar, we discover that they have their own distinctive qualities to be enjoyed. (Of course, if you like cream and sugar in your coffee, that’s fine–I would never discriminate against someone on the basis of how they prefer their coffee.)

(6) Down time is a necessity, not an indulgence. Life is stressful. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed to the point of panic. I don’t know if this ever gets easier or goes away. But something that helps enormously is to carve out regular down time and guard it ferociously. When I sit at home on a Friday afternoon, turn off the phone, grab some nachos, and sit down in front of a ballgame or a good book, I’m not being lazy or selfish or neglectful. I’m doing something that’s necessary for my health, balance–even my sanity. I’m also being obedient to God, who knew from the beginning that we would have workaholic tendencies and so commanded a day of rest.

(5) Prayer really does make a difference. Being consistent with daily prayer time has always been a struggle for me. I’ve had my prayer life ups and downs, but consistency has been extremely difficult to maintain. During the lows, I don’t handle life well. I have a stinky attitude, I’m not productive, I’m short-tempered, I have a bleak outlook, and God seems distant. But during the highs, God’s presence is closely and personally felt, I’m more patient, and I’m much better able to handle the difficulties that come my way. Currently I’m in a period that’s not really a high, but it’s consistent, and I’ve found that consistency produces the same effects as the up times.

(4) We all need grace–and lots of it. It’s so irritating when someone bills you the wrong amount, or sits through a green light, or doesn’t return your phone call, or doesn’t follow through with a promise, or forgets to leave the onions off the quesadilla you ordered. These things are easy to notice. What’s not so easy to notice are the times that I don’t call people back, or forget to do something I said I’d do, or fail to yield the right of way, or make a cutting remark, or miss a deadline. None of us will ever measure up to standards or expectations of perfection. We all need to give each other a ton of grace.

(3) Little kids understand more about life than adults do. This runs counter to conventional wisdom and even common sense. Grownups have more experience and knowledge. They understand how things work. But kids have more wonder. They are still fascinated by the little things in the great big world around them. They have a lot more questions than answers, and so they have a deeper understanding and appreciation of God’s creation.

(2) It’s better to be disarming than to be armed. There are plenty of hostile, antagonistic people out there who make everything a battle. When someone deals with me that way, the natural reaction is to respond the same way. But I’ve found that a supernatural reaction is better. With God’s help, I’ve discovered that a smile and a friendly tone catches people off guard and can soften their determination to wage war.

(1) I stink; God rocks. Even when I make the same mistakes over and over, God is faithful. He hangs in there even when I’ve let go. When I’m faithless, He’s faithful. When I start thinking that it’s up to me and then despair because I drop the ball, He reminds me that it’s not up to me, and He scoops up the ball and scores.

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Published in: on September 21, 2007 at 9:55 am  Comments (2)  

Turn Right After “Spiderman,” and Take the First Left Onto “Cars”

Recently I visited Carolyn’s kindergarten classroom.  All the hallways at the school have names, like roads.

I noticed that Carolyn’s hallway was called “Finding Nemo Lane.”  Seemed like a funny name for a hallway, so I asked about it.

Her explanation?  They let the kids pick the names!

Kids are so funny about naming things–like my 9-year-old niece, Jazlyn, who just started playing the trumpet at school and named her trumpet “Hannah Montana the Trumpet.”

Published in: on September 20, 2007 at 10:41 am  Leave a Comment  

New Schedule

Moving from one church to another has affected my weekly schedule in a bigger way than I’d expected.

At SonRise, my typical work week went from Sunday through Thursday.  And since my most productive time was spent in my study at home, I tried to put in mornings there whenever possible.  But I’ve found that it doesn’t work that way here at CrossWay.  After four and a half months, however, I think I’ve figured out a schedule that works.

When I was at SonRise, it made sense to count Sunday as a work day.  I’d roll out of bed around 4:15 a.m., shower, have my devotional time, and hit the office about 6:30.  Setup for worship services in the high school cafeteria began at 7:00, the first service was at 8:30, the second one was at 10:30, and by the time we packed everything up and were ready to go, it was usually around 1:00 p.m.  Add to that the fact that I usually had a couple night meetings each week and a weekend event at least once or twice a month, and it made sense to take off Friday and Saturday.

But at CrossWay it’s really different.  There’s only one service on Sunday.  There’s no setup, and I don’t even teach Sunday School.  Some Sundays I don’t even get up until 7:00!  During the worship service my only responsibility is preaching.  That’s hard work, but so is leading the music, teaching a class, and signing for the deaf–all done by volunteers.

During the week, the only regular evening commitment is our Wednesday night Bible study.  The regulars who come so faithfully are, of course, volunteers.

It seemed obvious to me that preaching on Sundays and leading on Wednesday nights should not count as work time–not when everyone else is working a job, raising a family, and serving in the church!  So I’ve come to see those things as my voluntary ministry in the church, just like everyone else in the church has (or at least should have!) a ministry.

Another factor to consider is the Training Station, the preschool here at CrossWay.  Parents drop their kids off in the morning and pick them up either late morning or afternoon.  It’s really important to me to get to know the parents and the kids.  That means being here and being available at those times.  In addition, Friday (my former day off) is Bible Story Day at the Training Station, and I’ve been given the opportunity to participate in that.

After prayerfully weighing all these considerations, I’ve finally arrived at a new schedule that really seems to work so far.  Sunday is my Sabbath.  That might seem weird for a pastor, but I look at it as coming to church just like everyone else, and carrying out my ministry.  And really–our church days at CrossWay aren’t very long!  Monday through Thursday I come in between 8:00-8:15 a.m., plan my work day, greet parents and kids, do stuff, and head out around 5:00 p.m.  I’m actually able to accomplish a whole lot more here in the office that I’d ever anticipated.  I think it helps being able to take periodic breaks to go play outside with the kids!

At night, I’ve found it works well to do my work-related reading for a couple hours before bed.  And on Friday, I come in at the usual time, but after the last Bible story time, I’ll leave around 1:00 or so.  That will give me some time for solitude and refreshment to rest from the previous week and gear up for the coming week.  Some people don’t seem to need time alone, but if I go too long without it, I begin falling apart.  So Friday afternoons are going to be crucial for me!

That adds up to roughly 50 hours a week, enough time to be productive without pacing for burnout.

Saturday is the only day Carolyn and I have off together with no other commitments, so I protect it quite seriously.  There are still times I’ll have to take a class or something, and I’ll take an hour or two at some point to review the sermon for the following day, and of course there are chores to be done and errands to run, but most of the day is spent with Carolyn.

Anyway, I don’t know if that’s the most boring thing you’ve ever read or if it might help you some with your own schedule, but it’s my blog so I can write dull stuff on here if I feel like it.

Published in: on September 20, 2007 at 7:27 am  Leave a Comment  

He Must Be Around Here Somewhere

One of our Training Station teachers told me something funny the other day.  Last week I spent a good amount of time–and energy–pushing some preschool kids around the playground in a big toy Jeep that seats two kids (or eight, depending on how many pile on).  After doing this for several days, I happened to not be outside while one group of two-year-olds (or three-year-olds, I’m not sure) was on the playground.

This one little guy sat in the Jeep for a minute, noticed it wasn’t moving, looked around, and asked: “Where’s that guy?”

Published in: on September 19, 2007 at 10:55 am  Leave a Comment  

The Team Names They Come Up With These Days

Over the weekend my mom was spending some time with my nephew (her grandson) Justin.  He was watching the Ohio State Buckeyes playing football.

When my mom asked Justin what he was watching, he said: “The Butt Guys!”

Published in: on September 19, 2007 at 7:49 am  Leave a Comment  

Now for the Mug Shot…

Got fingerprinted earlier today.  It’s been several years since I’d been fingerprinted, and that was when they used that messy black ink.  (It made criminal investigation easier, because everyone left black fingerprints everywhere.)  But today they used some digital stuff, which was pretty cool.  One of the best parts is that it checks the prints right away, so if it doesn’t come out right, it lets you know and you can go ahead and get another print.

Fingerprints are pretty amazing.  It’s so weird that God made each of us so unique that we even have these weird, tiny, unique, swirly designs on our fingers!  And not only that, but we actually leave impressions from these designs on stuff we touch!  Weird.  It’s pretty wild that God made it to work that way, and also pretty wild that someone figured out how to use that strange reality to help solve crimes.

I was pondering this aloud while I was being printed at the Berlin Police Department, and the officer who was “booking” me told me that since I have dry hands, any prints I leave behind won’t be clear or easy to detect.  Seems kind of unusual for a law enforcement officer to point out this crime-committing advantage I have, but I guess I looked pretty safe to him.

Oh yeah, maybe I should explain why I was in the PD getting printed.  You see, whenever you get arrested….  Just kidding.  I just figured that as much time as I spend with the kids at the Training Station, I ought to go through the same background/screening procedures that’s required for teachers.  Just to be on the up and up.  That way if a parent ever wondered about the guy who’s playing with their kid on the playground, and wondered if I have a real job and if I’ve been checked out, hopefully I’ll be legit enough to put their minds at ease.

Plus, the kids already told me that this afternoon on the playground they’re going to put me in jail (again).  This way it saves them the tedious trouble of printing me themselves.

Published in: on September 18, 2007 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Skollership

This fall I’m taking a course on Anabaptist Missions & Peace.  You can read about it here.  It looks pretty interesting!  Nerdy as it sounds, I’ve been wanting for years to go back to school.  Fortunately, I’m now required to by the conference our church is affiliated with!  There are four courses designed primarily for Mennonite pastors who don’t come from a Mennonite background, and I’ll take all four of them over the course of two years.  (Grueling pace, huh?)

Anyway, I got some good news in my email inbox last week: Our conference is paying my tuition for the course!  Since I’m not taking the course for credit, that knocks the price down to $150.  But hey, that’s still 150 bucks!  Until last week I didn’t even know there was a scholarship available.  I received an email about it, applied, and found out two or three days later that I’d been approved!  Woo hoo!

Now that I think about it, this is the first scholarship I’ve ever gotten.  Sweet.

I’ve been really impressed with the generosity I’ve experienced in my short time as part of the Mennonite community.  When I first found out I needed to take these classes, Carolyn and I did the math and found that it could add up to be quite expensive–tuition, lodging, books, food, gas, etc.  But some of the friends I’ve made the past few months have offered to let me stay with them while I’m up in Lancaster for the courses.  And now a scholarship….  God does indeed provide!!!!

Published in: on September 18, 2007 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  

“Facing the Giants”

On Saturday, Carolyn and I watched Facing the Giants.  Yeah, I know–what kind of Christian waits so long to see this movie? Oh well.  If it makes you feel better, I did see part of it back in February.

The movie has a really good storyline and some good dialogue.  Unfortunately, much of the acting wasn’t that great.  But if you approach it with the awareness that the movie was made by a church and not by a Hollywood studio, it’s forgivable–it has enough redeeming qualities to make up for it.

There were five aspects of the movie that really made it worth watching, and even re-watching:

(1) It’s a real Christian movie.  Too often, Christians are guilty of getting all hyper about a movie that’s merely acceptable.   We use words like “wholesome” or “family friendly.”  But that’s like getting excited because the new puppy you got for your kids doesn’t bite their heads off–nevermind that it doesn’t actually play with them.  This film, however, is a legitimate Christian movie.  It doesn’t have a “positive” message–it has a Christian message.  And I love that.  The characters pray, read their Bibles, and actually use Jesus’ name–respectfully.

(2) Some unexpected twists in the plot keep the viewer engaged.  There are at least a couple times when I found myself thinking, “Aw man, I thought it was gonna work out!  I guess they’re just trying to keep it ‘realistic.'”  And then a new twist would come, and it would work out after all.  The ending is somewhat predictable, but how the characters get there is not predictable.

(3) The main character actually grows and changes through the film.  This isn’t a Cinderella story.  It’s not bad-stuff-happens-to-good-guy-but-then-good-stuff-happens-instead.  The guy’s not even likable at the beginning of the movie.  Sure, lots of stuff is going wrong.  But stop being so whiny and grumpy!  As God works on the circumstances, however, He also works on the guy’s character.  By the end of the movie, he’s a real hero you find yourself pulling for.

(4) Inspirational moments.  This is one of the movie’s greatest strengths.  Some films just kind of move along and everything works out at the end, but they never really grab you, never really inspire you to anything.  But Facing the Giants has more than its share of inspirational moments; not just “feel good moments,” but scenes that are actually inspiring.  Watch the scene where Brock drags a kid down the football field and you’ll see what I mean.

(5) The Bible turns out to actually hold the missing key.  So often we mistakenly assume that the Bible has answers for spiritual issues, but for “real life,” we need to look elsewhere.  This movie is about football–what in the world could the Bible possibly have to say about that?  Everything, we find out.  I love the way this movie shows that Scripture really is the key to a fulfilling, God-filled life.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, I’d definitely recommend this film in spite of some less-than-stellar acting.  Not all of the acting is bad, by the way.  And its redeeming elements more than make up for what’s lacking.

Published in: on September 17, 2007 at 1:00 pm  Comments (3)  

Creed: God the Father

Yesterday at CrossWay we continued our Creed series by opening a three-week exploration of God.

The whole premise of the Creed series–in which we’re taking a look at Mennonite beliefs–is that our beliefs determine our behavior.  Look at the way a person acts, and you can see what they believe.  So when we talk about Mennonite beliefs, we’re not just talking about dry and dusty doctrine to which we give intellectual assent.  We’re not just talking about ideas we have that are irrelevant to our daily lives.  Instead, nothing could be more important and relevant than our beliefs.  They direct the whole course of our lives… and our eternity.

In “God: the Father” (not to be confused, of course, with The Godfather), we discussed the reality that everyone believes in and worships some kind of god.  That god might be money, sex, food, self, fame, a spouse, hobby, sports team, or whatever, but everyone passionately invests their resources in something or someone to which their heart is deeply attached and committed.

Of course, for many people, the object of their worship is not a god but God.  However, a problem that frequently arises is that people who claim to believe in God–which includes about 90% of Americans–end up worshiping a god instead of God for one simple reason: they never take the time or make the effort to get to know Him.

God wants us to know who He is.  He has revealed Himself to us in the Bible, in creation, and in Jesus.  He wants us to know who He is and what He’s like!  But if we never bother to find out who He is–according to what He’s revealed about Himself–then we end up worshiping an imaginary god of our own making.  (A god who, “coincidentally,” just happens to look a lot like us, sharing our own values, priorities, preferences, and opinions.)
So who is the one true God?  Wow, it’s a good thing that God offers us eternity to explore that one!  In our worship service yesterday, we broke the answer down into two parts:

First, God is the Holy Trinity.  The Trinity consists of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Spirit (or as King James folks like to call Him, the “Holy Ghost”–sounds spooky to me!).  These are not three Gods, but are one God in three persons.  Tricky, absolutely.  But when our three-and-a-half-pound brains try to wrap themselves around the One who created the vast universe with its countless billions of galaxies, that’s just what happens.

Second, there are the characteristics that God has revealed to us about Himself.  He is loving, eternal, holy, merciful, just, gracious, compassionate, powerful, infinite.  This list could go on forever and forever.  It could include spotless, measureless, unique, glorious, wise, all-knowing, perfect, majestic, kind, immense, sufficient, sovereign, patient, forgiving, creative, beautiful, invincible, radiant, victorious, good, faithful.

With a God like that–who is so worth getting to know–why settle for less and make up our own imaginary god?

Published in: on September 17, 2007 at 10:19 am  Leave a Comment  

CrossWay On Purpose – Session 11

It’s kind of hard to give a summary from CrossWay On Purpose on Wednesday.  We had 1o people there, and we looked over the long list we’ve compiled over the last couple months.  The list is comprised of everything we found in a bunch of Scriptures about what God wants His church to be and to do.

Before we met I sorted the list into several groups, and we looked them over to try to categorize them.  We spent some time with it, but didn’t get far enough to really report on the progress with any kind of certainty.  But I’ll keep the updates coming with as much detail as I can give during this phase of CrossWay On Purpose.

Published in: on September 15, 2007 at 10:01 am  Leave a Comment