The Sound of Trying

Philip Yancey concludes his book “Church, Why Bother?” with a thought worth its weight in gold for those laboring in the local church.  For those with their shoulders to the wheel, engaged in the fight, this is fuel! (An apology to the Milpitas High School orchestra. I'm sure things have improved greatly since the Rev. Palmer uttered the quote.) 

Enjoy!

C.S. Lewis wrote that God “seems to do nothing of Himself which he can delegate His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.” There is no greater illustration of that principle than the church of Jesus Christ, to which God has delegated the task of embodying God’s Presence in the world. All of our efforts are examples of God’s delegation.

Every parent knows something of the risk of delegation, with all it’s joys and heartache. The child taking her very first steps holds on, then lets go, then falls, then struggles to her feet for another attempt. No one has discovered another way to learn to walk.

Yes, the church fails in its mission and makes serious blunders precisely because the church comprises human beings who will always fall short of the glory of God. That is the risk God took. Anyone who enters the church expecting perfection does not understand the nature of that risk or the nature of humanity. Just as every romantic eventually learns that marriage is the beginning, not the end, of the struggle to make love work, every Christian must learn that Church is only a beginning.

The composer Igor Stravinsky once wrote a new piece that contained a difficult violin passage. After several weeks of rehearsal the solo violinist came to Stravinsky and said that he could not play it. He had given it his best effort but found the passage too difficult, even unplayable. Stravinsky replied, "I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it." Perhaps something similar is what God had in mind with the church.

I remember hearing a similar illustration from Earl Palmer, a pastor who was defending the church against critics who dismissed it for its hypocrisy, its failures, its inability to measure up to the New Testament’s high standards. Palmer, a Californian at the time, deliberately chose a community known for its unsophistication.

“When the Milpitas High School orchestra attempts Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the result is appalling,” said Palmer.  "I wouldn't be surprised if the performance made old Ludwig roll over in his grave despite his deafness. You might ask, 'Why bother?' Why inflict on those kids the terrible burden of trying to render what the immortal Beethoven had in mind? Not even the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra can attain that perfection."

“My answer is this: The Milpitas High School orchestra will give some people in that audience their only encounter with Beethoven’s great Ninth Symphony. Far from perfection, it is nevertheless the only way they will hear Beethoven’s message.”

I remind myself of Earl Palmer’s analogy whenever I start squirming in a church service. Although we may never achieve what the composer had in mind, there is no other way for those sounds to be heard on earth.

Philip Yancey, Church, Why Bother, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998) pages 99-100.

What's a First Church?

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Most of the churches I’ve led had “First Church” in their name. All were over 80 years in age when I arrived, so the word First had long ago ceased to have any missional meaning. Originally, the name represented the fact that the congregation was the first of its kind in the relevant city, but time and the fact that the Second church had not arrived made the name a bit confusing.

Conversations would often come up about whether we should change the name.

“After all, Pastor," someone would say, “it has been 80 years since we were First, isn’t it time to choose a name that people can identify with?”

As the churches grew and new people came to faith, the distance between the original name and what was happening in the local church seemed to widen. Nevertheless, I’ve never officially led a process to change the name of a church.

Please don’t think I think it would have been wrong. I just never did it. I will admit, the name of churches being planted around us did make more strategic sense and were far more understandable by outsiders. In addition, having First in the name made it tougher to get on a T-shirt or a sign, so a change could certainly be argued for communication's sake. Shortly after I left my previous assignment, the leaders changed the name and it was a great move. The church has since continued to grow and pioneer new things and it’s wonderful. I love it! 

At my current assignment, Chicago First Church of the Nazarene, the name thing has come up a few times. Leaders questioned whether keeping First in the title made sense. “What’s First got to do with anything?” was a question I heard more than once. For a few, it was even a question of pride. "What does the Bible say, Pastor, about those who want to be first?" The discussion made some folks wonder if we'd built an anti-Biblical theme into our title.

I was also confronted with the fact that our name is “Chicago First” when we’ve been located in Lemont, Illinois for over 40 years. This one was easier to address. While I recognized the incongruence, our commitment to multiply in Chicago from Lemont made the word “Chicago” okay in my book. It's a reminder of where our story began, and where we needed to return to in ministry, if we are to not abandon our post. Having First in our name didn't appear to be strategic or relevant, but all of that changed this last week.

Our movement held it’s General Assembly and I had the chance to hear a panel discussion of church planters and leaders on the issue of reaching lost people.  My friend Kevin Jack (he’s awesome by the way) was a member of the panel and said something that exploded in my heart.

He said, “Instead of trying to be somebody’s next church, why don’t we give ourselves to being someone’s first church.” And it hit me.

Wait? What?

Instead of trying to be somebody’s NEXT church, why don’t we give ourselves to becoming somebody’s FIRST church.

There it was. I have never had a statement so articulate what my wife and I and the four congregations we’ve worked with were trying to accomplish than that one.

Our goal is to see the people who haven’t had a first church yet, have one. Our prayer is to create an environment so Spirit filled, unconditionally loving, missional-minded, and on fire for Jesus, that those who come never get over it. 

The growing majority of our population who make up the “nones” or “dones” in our culture, (who have NEVER experienced the Body of Christ or whose experiences have caused them to be done with the Body of Christ), are the people God has called us to reach and why we exist. By the way, the number of “nones” in our culture is at an all time high. How did this happen in a country where we have had so much freedom and so many resources to accomplish our mission? I would suggest one of the issues is we began to attempt to become someone’s next instead of someone’s first church. I don’t think we meant to, we just did and have had a hard time stopping.

The questions you will ask trying to welcome outsiders are different than those if you’re attempting to attract insiders. The Gospel stays the same, but everything else is on the table. How you reach them is different. They are in different places than insiders. They have different questions and priorities than insiders. They speak a different language, listen to different music, and have different opinions than insiders. They may vote differently. Grew up hearing different stories. Have a vastly different view of the church, the Bible, the clergy, Christians, and as a result…Jesus.

Church outsiders have never taken the steps church insiders took, before they even remember taking them. Things we’ve never questioned; they will wrestle with.

Not everyone will enjoy a church designed to be someone’s first church. I’ve led four of them and “enjoy” is not always a good description of what it felt like.  Occasionally when people left the church because they wanted to go to a place that played the music they liked, preached sermons they liked, and had events they liked, I wanted to go with them. After all, a church for Brian will have more blues music and much longer sermons. Really long sermons. But, making Brian comfortable is not the mission of the church. The church doesn't belong to Brian. Brian belongs to the church. In each of our assignments, we’ve seen lost people found by Jesus and God’s people slaughter the fatted calf in celebration.

I listened just last night to a new Christian pray publicly for the first time. She thanked God for her friend who had taught her to pray by praying in front of her in a Life Group. We are Maria's first church and Allie is her first Christian friend. How cool is that?

Mission work is hard work. That’s why Jesus told us we would have a cross in the game, but it’s worth it!

So at Chicago First Church of the Nazarene, we're most likely keeping the name for a while. Our T-shirts will be less interesting, but our core values just found a new trumpet.

Here’s to all you out there, whatever your church name is, that are committed to becoming someone’s first church. May God bless and encourage you! Keep the faith! Finish the race! Fight the fight! It’s worth it. 

"Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ." (Ephesians 2:11-13) 

Peace!

 

 

Bill Wangler's 2,732 Sundays

As a young man, Bill Wangler landed a job with the railroad. For a depression era kid, that was a big deal. It promised a good living and security. A short time later he met my mother and when they married on Christmas Day, 1945, they celebrated the love they'd found and looked forward to building a home and raising a family.

Tucked in his first Bible which now sits on my bookcase is a yellowed letter. It is a letter of recommendation written on June 16, 1955 by my father’s foreman on the Wabash Railroad. The text of the letter is simple and so is the reason it was written. My father had wrestled with working on Sundays. His faith was firmly in God and his life was built around the work of God on earth, the church. His foreman worked with him as long as he could, but eventually my Dad believed he had to choose between the job he loved and Jesus. He chose Jesus. 

I don’t believe it was a legalistic approach to the Sabbath as much as it was a passion to be part of the church that drove my father. It was a huge step of faith. He never again would earn the kind of money he might have earned if he had stayed with the railroad, but his Sundays weren’t for sale. God provided. We never went without. The house got built, the family raised, and my father distinguished himself in a career of customer service. But it’s not my father’s Monday through Friday career I want to talk about; it’s those Sundays.

Sundays were extremely predictable around the Wangler house. Early, Mom would prepare a roast or chicken while my Dad peeled potatoes. Then, while Mom continued preparing, Dad would engage in the most difficult ministry of the day: getting the kids out of bed. Eventually we would leave for church and Sunday was on.

Mom and Dad were always serving. They taught, they cleaned, they cared for, they picked up and dropped off. Mom was missionary president and Dad served on the church board. In addition, he directed and drove a bus ministry for kids. When the services began, Mom and Dad took their place in an “amen” pew, 4th row, on the center aisle, organ side. No pastor ever had stronger encouragers and supporters than Bill and Hilda Wangler.

After Sunday dinner, while the kids played and the adults went down for a nap, Dad would drive to the county jail and hold church services. By 4:30 he was back home and preparing to load the family into the car for Sunday night.

Sunday nights after church were my favorite time. My parents would host other couples or the pastor or visiting evangelist at our home. The dining room table would be buzzing with conversation and laughter. Never did I hear my parents talk negatively about the church. Eventually, inevitably, the conversation would get serious, the Bible would come out, and tears would be shed as people poured their hearts out at the altar that was the dining room table of Bill and Hilda Wangler. As a child there was something warm about those times. I didn’t want them to end and they often didn’t until late into the night.

By my calculations, from the writing of the letter of recommendation on June 16, 1955 until the Monday my father died on February 9, 2009, there were 2,732 Sundays. On a vast majority of those save a few for vacations or illness, my parent’s Sundays were invested in the work of God through the local church.

They took their faith seriously and I and my brother and sisters were recipients of that faith. They loved people, each other, and our family. Dad was respected in the work place and our neighborhood. Mom was a natural leader.  They were students, both of them reading voraciously. They were deeply loved by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All in all not a bad return on the investment of Sundays.

So, in my Dad’s memory and as an honor to my mom, here’s to all the weekend warriors that commit to carrying on the mission of the local church.  

You prepare the environments. You shake the hands. You listen to the hurts. You teach the children. You park the cars. You unlock the doors. You turn on the lights. You set up chairs and then take them back down. You lock the doors when it’s over. You listen to the stories. You open your homes. You show up early. You leave late. You reschedule and prioritize around mission. You take bullets of criticism for pastors. You invite your friends and neighbors. You give your money. You use your talents. You sing. You play an instrument. You run a soundboard. You take out the trash. You make the coffee. You fold bulletins. You host a small group. You teach the Bible studies. You receive, count, and then deposit the offering.  You update the database. You load the message onto the website. You make sure the baptistery is filled and, God willing, the heater is on. You take the Gospel to nursing homes and jails. You welcome guests. You help regular attenders. You fill communion trays. You pray in anticipation and show up in expectation that God is going to change someone’s life the way he changed yours. And he still does.

Thank you! 

We Open Doors From The Outside In

There is a great documentary on Queen Elizabeth entitled, “The Queen At 90.” A portion of the show followed preparations for a banquet welcoming the Heads of State from several different countries to London. The preparation was incredible. Among other things, all doors were to be opened for guests from the outside in. 

There were a couple sentences in the documentary that spoke to me. I’m paraphrasing, but the essence is accurate.  

 “With everything prepared intentionally over a period of months, and with the royal welcome provided, the message a guest received was understandable in any language: “The Queen welcomes you. The Queen is glad you’re here.”

Regardless of language barriers, the welcome was understandable. Regardless of preconceived ideas about royalty, the warmth was obvious. Regardless of the understanding of what the Queen was all about, her graciousness was understood.

Fearful expectations melted away in the glow of such graceful hospitality.

The Body of Christ was organized for the purpose of welcoming people home. We open doors from the outside in both physically and spiritually.

Our language, our gatherings, our approaches, our culture must open doors from the outside in, or they will not open at all. 

Jesus didn’t call us to follow Him by yelling to us from heaven. He moved onto our block and knocked on our door. 

“God made Him to be sin who knew no sin…”

He opened the door from the outside in.

 We don’t stand in our imaginary spiritual bubble (and it is an imaginary one) and welcome people to Jesus.  We win them by wading into the world and welcoming them home. We open doors from the outside in.

 In a very real, practical way, our greeting teams should never stand inside and watch guests come. We should, we must go out and greet them. It's a little thing that reminds us of an important principle and sends a valuable message:

"We've been expecting you. The table is ready. The King is glad you're here." 

The look in our eyes should communicate in any language.

The smile on our faces should cross any cultural barrier.

The warmth of our greeting should melt away fearful expectations.

"The King is glad you're here."

Here's to all the greeting teams out there who arrive at church early and stay late to make sure the heart of God is felt before it's talked about. Keep serving! You're where you are by Divine appointment and you're doing more than you can ever realize! 

"So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." (Luke 15:20) 

Christmas, Carrie Annie & Me

It was late February. It was still cold and there was slushy, dirty, snow everywhere. The wind was blowing and I was standing at a gas pump filling up the tank. As I put the cap back on and turned to go inside to pay, the wind blew a dirty piece of paper up against my leg. I kicked a little and it blew away. A few moments later I returned back across the lot headed for my car.  Again the wind blew the same dirty piece of paper against my leg. This time I reached down, wadded it up and put it in my pocket. A couple of days later, I remembered it. Reaching into my coat, I pulled out the wide lined yellow elementary school writing paper we all used as kids.

What was written on the page changed my life and established a trajectory for our ministry that is still true to this day. There is a picture below of the paper which hangs in my office. Here's what it says: 

Dear Santa, 

My Christmas wish is for my father to walk in the back door. Please try to accomplish this Christmas wish. If you can't accomplish this wish then that is fine because I know you have T-O-N-S of kids to attend to! 

Your Friend, 

Carrie Annie

Standing in my office that day in Fithian, Illinois, I promised God I would spend the rest of my life looking for Carrie Annie, her father, and all of the people in the world they represent. Those for whom the only hope feels like Santa Claus. Those children who are growing up wishing their fathers, mothers, or anyone who cares, would walk in the back door. Those adults who have regrets they can't go back and change, who would love to re-enter the lives of the people they've hurt, but have no idea how to get there. Those wounded, hurting, lost people who believe the way things are is the only way they can be. People for whom Christ died and about whom the church should be focused. 

There is no price too high to pay, no sacrifice too great to give, no change too difficult to navigate, no board meeting too long to process, no disappointment too tough to face, no budget too costly to raise, no criticism too harsh to endure, no sacred cow too sacred to slaughter, and no burden too heavy to bear in order for us to accomplish our mission.  There's no treacherous pathway we should fear to go down. There's no place we should fail to look. There's no new idea we shouldn't prayerfully consider. There's no obstacle or hardened personality we shouldn't confront. Fear cannot be our master. There's no comfort zone we shouldn't blow up, no mediocrity we should tolerate, no pity-party we should accept an invitation to, and no low level thinking we should embrace. There's no time too early to show up, no preparation too much to ask, and no schedule too important not to be adjusted.

May our goals be God-sized goals. May our efforts be bathed in God-sized prayers. May our actions be worthy of those who claim to be followers of the ONE who carried a cross and called for us to do the same. 

Standing on the promises of the One who cannot fail, committed to delivering HIS message to the world around us, we must not fail. 

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In a season when it is so easy to focus on insiders, may God help us to focus where He focuses, lost and hurting people. 

So, if you're out there, Carrie Annie, I'm still looking!

Peace and Merry Christmas! 

 

 

 

 

 

Church and the Strawdog Theatre Company

A couple of weeks ago, an evening meeting cancelled leaving my wife and I with a rare night off. It was 3 p.m so there wasn’t a lot of time, but I was determined to not let the freedom go to waste.

I jumped online and began to look for tickets…to anything. It was a Tuesday, so not a lot happening, but in Chicago you can always find something.  On this Tuesday, I discovered the Strawdog Theatre Company. Located on Broadway in Chicago, Strawdog does its thing in an old chocolate factory and by the appearance of the entrance, also houses a few apartments as well. The tickets were $15. What a price! So I made the call. 

I was surprised by how small the room was when the doors opened. There were about 40 chairs arranged in a u shaped manner. At the front there was a desk, a chair, and a lamp. To the right was a small sound, light, fogger, sound effects, and "what ever else is needed" booth.

The house filled up quickly and the performance began. I didn't know what to expect for $15 and such a small gathering of people, but it was awesome! 

These folks were serious about their work. They engaged the audience often and by the time it was over we all felt a little like family, at least I did.

On the way home, I thought about how much preparation, passion, and hard work had been displayed for such a small crowd. They did everything, lights, sound, weeks or months of practice, set up and tear down, for a maximum return to the theatre of about $600 that night. There would be additional income from refreshments sold, but not much. I'm not sure what the players make at Strawdog, but if it was divided hourly by their time investment, it wasn't much.

I didn’t get a chance to interview any of the players though I hope to eventually because we definitely plan on returning.  As we drove home, I wondered what their motivation was?

Maybe they were there because every little bit helps.

Maybe they were there because being there might lead to something great.

Maybe they were there because they were learning.

Maybe they were there because they simply loved what they were doing and believed it mattered in this world. 

As a guest and observer, I would vote for all of the above with a special emphases on the final option listed. Even if I'm wrong, the fact that I came away believing it, is a compliment to these actors and actresses commitment. These folks loved and believed in what they were doing.

So, let's talk about church. A vast majority of churches in America are small in numbers. As a pastor who's led churches of 5 to 1,000 I am aware of the difficulties associated with each layer in between. Sometimes, the size of the crowd can be discouraging. Don't let it be. 

Do what you do because every little bit helps. The Body of Christ has a mission that can only be fulfilled if we take advantage of every venue, every time. 

Do what you do because it might lead to something great. You never know what God will do on any given Sunday when the Gospel is preached. He alone knows his plans for your congregation large or small. 

Do what you do because you're learning. Aren't we all? Engage every opportunity to preach, sing, act, usher, greet, invite, teach, or run sound as a chance to grow in the gifts God has given you. 

Do what you do because you love the One for whom you do it, and because you believe the Gospel is making a difference in this world because it is! 

I say two things to pastors and church leaders every chance I get: 

1. "You are where you are by Divine appointment." Give it all you've got! 

2. "You're doing better than you think you are!" 

Keep going, church leaders, and let church roll on! 

Peace

p.s. 

This post is dedicated to Pastor Evan Offut, Mr. Don Hespell, and everyone at C1 who makes our FX Service a reality each week. These committed followers provide drama, music, lighting, sound, dancing, and yes even fog for a family service held every Sunday at 10:00 a.m. in our main sanctuary. We do it because of our belief that families experiencing something unique together is a powerful teaching environment, and one people who might not normally go to church will want to come to if invited. We're just getting started so the crowd is seldom big, but it's building. I recently counted 40 fathers in the room who were sharing a fun experience with their family in which could be used as a teaching point later. Ask any Family Pastor what they would give to be able to speak to that many Dads on a regular basis and you'll understand how significant this is. C1, you rock!

 

 

 

 

"I am not you."

In the AMC series “Turn” about Washington’s spies during the American Revolutionary War, there is a special moment that is likely fictional in content but true in experience. Washington is deeply dejected at Valley Forge. He has major life and death decisions to make but lacks the emotional strength to continue. It was a season of self-doubt in the face of major criticism from opponents.

After suffering a near nervous breakdown, he walks into the woods at night to ponder what his beloved brother might have done. Lawrence died in 1752. Washington idolized his brother and missed him deeply. Once inside the snowy darkness, he falls to his knees.

Washington: “Lawrence, what is all this, this war? Was it a mistake? Was it greed? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

He looks up to see his deceased brother standing a short distance away, motionless.

Washington: “Answer me! I have done everything you have ever taught me. Tamed my temper. Sought opportunity and became a gentlemen. I’ve climbed and clawed and fought. Now I am respected, feared, hated, and worshipped, but for what? I’m not who they think I am. But for the love of God, say something. Please.”

Lawrence: “As always you ask what I would do, but I will tell you what I would not. I would never spare a murderer, nor lose Long Island, nor retreat at White Plains, nor be outflanked at Brandywine.

          Washington sinks into despair as hears his failures listed. 

Lawrence: “Nor cross the Delaware on Christmas night to claim a surprise victory. Nor have led a campaign against the mightiest empire on earth, but then I am not you.”

           Washington looks up and smiles through his tears. 

Here’s the point: leaders make decisions others would be terrified to face, and sometimes they fail. However, the God given wiring which enables a leader to make decisions is key to leading others to accomplish the impossible. Sure you’ve made mistakes others haven’t made, but you’ve also attempted things others have never attempted. Don’t let a few mistakes make you doubt your call or ability. You are you, and you have been uniquely placed, scars and all, at the position you serve. You serve by Divine appointment. Carry on!

Peace.

Note: The scene mentioned above is in season 2, episode 7, about 33 minutes in. 

"Blindsided!"

“Sometimes, she had discovered, you had to walk around the holes in your life, instead of falling into them.” ― Priscilla Cummings

 

It happens to every leader. For pastors the most vulnerable time is often a Sunday morning when their primary focus is preparing to preach. Other leaders may experience it headed into an important meeting or in the middle of it. It happens to all of us; we get blindsided. An argument or confrontation happens we didn’t see coming, and often it’s inappropriate and in public. Humans have immediate physiological and psychological reactions in these moments. Adrenaline increases, blood rushes, and defense mechanisms kick in.

One of the leadership principles I treasure most is the fact a leader may choose to respond instead of react. While there are moments in life that demand reactions, a child wandering into traffic, for instance, a majority of the issues facing leaders do not demand an immediate reply. Often, when blindsided we respond in emotion, without clarity, and too soon. A reaction means a trigger has been pulled. A response means a well thought out answer is given, even though a trigger has been pulled.

Responding means listening. Responding means seeking to understand before we seek to be understood (Covey). Responding means looking past the manner in which something is communicated to see if there is truth inside of it. Responding means weighing the emotional weight of a moment and deciding whether it is the right time and place to engage. Someone has to be the grownup in the room; it should be the leader. Responding means weighing the words we use in order to protect the mission and our own heart. Responding means refusing to sink to someone else’s level because we voice the first witty thought that comes to our mind. For me, responding means talking it over with Jesus before talking it over with my critic. 

Responding means in some cases, doing nothing but listening and then scheduling a meeting for later. Passion is no excuse for poor behavior in a leader or anyone else. Below are five positive outcomes from choosing to respond instead of react:

1.     You might learn something. Our critics are sometimes right even if their approach and timing isn't. 

2.     You may be able to redirect a negative into a positive by turning a toxic moment into a teaching moment…if you keep your head.

3.     Poise in the face of chaos always earns the leader credibility.

4.     You can minimize the number of people who get hurt in the midst of conflict including innocent bystanders, the person approaching you, and … you.

5.     You can reduce the number of times you have to apologize to toxic people. While it's great for learning humility, having to apologize for your own behavior in the face of divisive actions by others, stinks. Eventually, I got weary of needing to apologize to people whose position was not only wrong but also presented in a juvenile manner. However, when my reaction is cynical or cutting it’s also wrong, regardless of whether or not my point is valid. The standard for a leader is high. Apologizing to toxic people will wear you out. I’ve had to eat a ton of words in my life, but never those I didn't speak. 

Leadership is difficult. It's true, a leader has to think on their feet. Put the emphasis on "think." When blindsided give yourself some margin for clarity, wisdom, and learning.  

Peace.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1: 19-20)

 

I Resign!

“It was the most relaxing day of my life when I resigned as General Manager of the universe.” (Rick Warren)

Sometimes it happens because the leader is a control freak actually believing they are GM of the universe. Most often it's because the leader has accepted responsibility for so long and in ways so wide, they don’t realize they’ve taken God’s job description away from Him.  So, in the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy, take this test to see if it’s time to resign.

If you are contemplating your future based upon figuring out what other people are thinking, resign as GM of the universe. You do not have the ability to do this and neither did your mother. Stop it. That’s not discernment, it’s guessing with a large ego.

If you are attempting to get people to do certain things or act a certain way, resign as GM of the universe. The strings are imaginary, the puppets will eventually turn on you, and they might make a creepy movie about it terrifying children for decades to come. Do what you know to be right and leave the results with God.

If you are worrying about things you can do nothing about, resign as GM of the universe. It’s not the things you can’t control you’re responsible for.

If your self-worth is based upon what others think of you, resign as GM of the universe. They actually aren’t thinking about you that much. There are far too many people and not enough of you to stay on the campaign trail even if they were. It's not we don't care about what people think, it's that we can't be driven by it. 

If you are continually feeling guilty because you can’t be in more than one place at a time, resign as GM of the universe. You’ll end up not even being in one place at one time, much less two.

If your peace of mind is subject to the reality certain people understand certain things, resign as GM of the universe. They don’t “have to” understand anything and will go to great lengths to prove it. Trust the people around you draw their conclusions about you on who they believe your really are, not on your explanation of every action or inaction. 

If you’re in bondage to the past, overwhelmed in the present, or afraid of the future, resign as GM of the universe. You don’t own those, God does. He has the power to redeem and restore, and He will if you let him. You do not have the power, so lay the gavel down.

When my kids were little, they had a toy hammer with a squeaker in the soft plastic head. I can still hear the squeak as the hammer pounded. Remember it? It was a cute toy which became irritating very quickly. A person in charge in our culture often holds a gavel. By pounding it they call a meeting to order, seek to control chaos in the room, or pronounce an end to whatever discussion is taking place.

You and I don’t hold the gavel for the universe; never have, never will. The plastic hammer we hold is… plastic; lay it down. The noise is really irritating and the fact we pound it changes nothing. Resign as GM of the universe and allow God to be God in yours. 

Leader you care. What a beautiful thing. You're willing to accept responsibility for your actions. This is how the world gets changed. The fact you've taken time to read this blog says you care about the people you lead. The weight of the trust placed on your shoulders is heavy and I commend you for being willing to carry the burden of leadership. However, here's the thing; you might be carrying more than your share of the load. 

A reality I want you to consider is you are doing better than you think you are. God's got this.

Lay down the gavel, resign as GM of the universe, and soak in Matthew 11:25-30.

Peace. 

 

Heart & Sole

It's one thing to have a heart for what you're doing. It's quite another to put shoe leather to it. I am grateful to be part of a church that is on mission, "heart and sole."

Putting your sole into it means change. Putting sole into it means work. Putting sole into it means risk. Putting sole into it means having crucial conversations. Putting sole into it means learning how to say, "I'm sorry." Putting sole into it means learning how to say, "We're moving on." Putting sole into it means sacrifice and service. Putting sole into it means putting your money where your mission is. Putting sole into it means making principled decisions regardless of the way the wind is blowing. Putting sole into it means trusting and forgiving. Putting sole into it means caging your ego and surrendering your pride. Putting sole into it means quitting some things that work in order to discover what might work better. Putting sole into it means trying and failing and trying again. Putting sole into it means getting there early and staying late. Putting sole into it means research and study and hours and hours of prayer. Putting sole into it takes every week volunteers and a crazy committed staff. Putting sole into it means marching out of your comfort zone and into the “land in between.” Putting sole into it means committing to your own spiritual and professional growth. You will quit if you don’t. Putting sole into it means walking through difficulty and away from security. Putting sole into it means going where you’ve never gone, doing what you’ve never done, to reach who you’ve never reached. Putting sole into it means pain and struggle and ultimately victory.

So, here’s to all my friends out there who are putting cardboard in the bottoms of their spiritual and emotional shoes this morning. I know it hurts. I know you’re tired. I know it seems like the struggle will never end, but it will. Keep going! God is faithful.

“Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” (1 Samuel 14:7)