LEGOS: Relationships

     Bob was in trouble. He forgot his wedding anniversary. His wife was really mad. She told him, “Tomorrow morning, I expect to find a gift in the driveway that goes from 0 to 200 in 6 seconds…AND IT BETTER BE THERE !!” The next morning he got up early and left for work. When his wife woke up, she looked out the window and there was a gift-wrapped box lying in the middle of the driveway. Confused, she put on her robe and ran out and brought the box back in the house. She opened it…and found a brand new bathroom scale! (Dramatic pause) Bob has been missing since Friday.

This is the 3rd week of our current series- Toy Box Leadership. We are focusing on lessons of Christian leadership learned from the toys we had as kids. The 1st week we considered the Slinky Dog and what it had to tell us about vision. Last week we talked about Little Green Army Men and what they could tell us about strategy. Today we consider LEGOS and what they can teach us about relationships.
In 2004, at the age of 31, high-powered, highly-paid attorney Nathan Sawaya won a contest. As a result of that win, he gave up his lucrative career and took a job making $13/hour. Can you guess what his new job was? He went to work for the LEGO company as a Master Builder! I don’t know about a 31-year old attorney, but I have a10-year old 5th grader in my house who would think he had died and gone to heaven if he could be a LEGO Master Builder!
LEGOs got their start in 1932, in Billund, Denmark. Ole Kirk Christiansen was a carpenter. Along with handmade step ladders and ironing boards, he also sold small wooden toys, which he called LEGO, derived from the Danish and meaning “play well”. In 1942, his factory burned to the ground. As he rebuilt, he decided to go with a plastic-injection molding machine instead of the wood. Then, in 1961, LEGOs were introduce to North America, and the rest, as they say, is history! More than 235 BILLION (with a “B”) LEGO pieces have been made so far, with the factory producing 33,000 bricks/minute! Their annual sales topped $2.1 billion last year!! In 2000, it was named the toy of the century! Did you know you can arrange just six 8-studded LEGO bricks in a staggering 915,103,765 combinations?! There is a life-sized car made out of 650,000 LEGO bricks…and it all began by connecting 2 little bricks.
In the movie Home Alone, grade schooler Kevin McAllister is accidentally left behind when his family flies to France for Christmas. At first, Kevin’s delighted, realizing he has the run of the house. He jumps on the beds and rides a toboggan down the staircase. But soon his attempts to entertain himself lose their attractiveness as he comes to the conclusion that without people to share in the celebration, Christmas is empty and sad. Because of his loneliness, Kevin overcomes his fear and reaches out to Old Man Marley, a reclusive neighbor he thought was a monster. These two neighbors encounter each other and quickly develop an appreciation for togetherness…for relationships. What does the Bible have to say about relationships?
Matthew 22:37 – Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all  your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
A group of kids were asked relationship questions. How do you decide who to marry? Kirsten, age 10- “No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.” What’s the right age to get married? Freddie, age 6- “No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married.” How can a stranger tell if two people are married? Derrick, age 8- “You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.” What do you think you mom and dad have in common? Lori, age 8- “Neither of them want more kids.” What do most people do on a date? Martin, age 10- “On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.” When is it OK to kiss someone? Pam, age 7- “When they’re rich.” How would you make a marriage work? Ricky, age 10- “Tell your wife that she looks pretty…even if she looks like a truck.”
A little boy entered the family room after dinner. His dad was tired after a hard day on the job. He had his recliner kicked back and was reading the paper. The little boy inched up beside him and said, “Daddy, I love you.” “I love you too, son,” the father replied as he continued reading the paper. But this didn’t satisfy the boy, so he went around the other side of the chair and began rubbing his dad’s arm. “Daddy, I love you,” he said. And with the slightest amount of impatience in his voice, the father again said, “I love you, too, son.” But still the little one was not satisfied. Suddenly the little boy came crashing through the newspaper onto the father’s chest, reaching his arms as far around his dad as he could, and said, “Daddy, I love you…and I just HAD to do something about it!” Love is selflessness- thinking not about yourself, but thinking first of those you love. We are most like God when we offer love to one another. If we are going to relate to each other as God intended, then our relationships have to be built on the foundation of love.
Sometimes loving those closest to us is the hardest thing to do. We can give money to feed starving people on the other side of the world, but to deal kindly with someone at work or our next door neighbor may be a different matter entirely. LEGOs teach us that each person is dependent on the interconnectedness of the whole. There are 3 aspects of connection that LEGOs help us recognize:
1. Connectional value– How do you build with LEGOs? You build from the bottom up! The same is true of relationships. Our relationships are ultimately more important that our power or position. Connection has great value- crucial to every stage of our spiritual life. Partnering with others means treating them with value and respect. How do we best do that? By working alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ, placing value in those connections. When we make a connection, it helps build a foundation. The more relationships we can foster, the stronger the foundation becomes. And the stronger the foundation, the higher we can build. Connecting helps bring about unity. Unity occurs when we set aside our personal agendas and support the greater good of the body. When a group of people comes together to make a decision, ultimately the majority votes FOR it and the minority votes AGAINST it. Unity occurs when those in the minority support the outcome…regardless of how they voted. Unity occurs through connection.
2. Connectional ability– LEGOs are reliable- only 18 of every million pieces produced don’t pass inspection. LEGOs are compatible- they fit well together because they were designed to…studs on top, tubes on the bottom. LEGO makes about 3,000 different pieces…yet they all fit together. A brick made yesterday will fit perfectly with a piece made in 1958. But pouring a box of LEGOs out on the floor doesn’t produce a castle…it produces a pile of LEGOs! LEGOs don’t come together by accident. They have to be intentionally joined together. Likewise, the best relationships don’t happen by accident. Relationships, at their best, are designed, intentional, connected and built. Bringing it all together required the ability to connect others…and connect WITH others. LEGOs are also reusable- you can build something, disassemble it, then build something else. Relationships need to flexible- we simply CANNOT stay the same…we have to be willing to adapt, change, rebuild.
3. Connectional failures– there is nothing more frustrating than when you are in the middle of a cell phone call and you lose service, or you are nearly done doing something on the Internet… and you lose your connection! When we fail to connect, communication fails, tasks go undone, and frustration reigns. When connections fail, relationships fail. In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy says to Snoopy: “There are times when you really bug me, but I must admit there are also times when I feel like giving you a hug.” Snoopy thinks to himself: “That’s the way I am – huggable and buggable.” This is the situation many find themselves when we try to connect with other people- they are all both huggable and buggable. But In the church, if we fail to connect…we’re out of business. That’s a good reminder that relationships are more important than accomplishments.
If you ask people what makes them happy, they’ll often say things like money, success, fame, good looks, popularity, prestige, power. And yet, there are LOTS of people who have those things and still have a void…a need for something more. That “something more” they crave to fill the emptiness in their lives is relationship…with God…with others.
Think of all the ways people can connect within the church. They can connect in worship, in Sunday School, in United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women, in WinGS, in the various musical groups, in the events of Wednesday Night Live, in Bible Study, in Youth Groups, in Children’s Church, in Missions work, in folding bulletins and newsletters…the list goes on and on. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10- says “Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble.” If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say?  And why are you waiting? The value of a relationship is in direct proportion to the time that you invest in it.
Gertrude always bought her stamps at the Post Office. One day the line was particularly long and someone pointed out that she didn’t have to wait in line because there was a stamp machine in the lobby. “I know that,” said Gertrude, “but the machine doesn’t ask me about my arthritis!” For her, buying stamps wasn’t about speed or efficiency…it was about personal contact and human relationship. Ben Stein said, “Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement…all success… all achievement in real life grows.” There is tremendous value in planning, but the real strength of any organization is the relationships.
Carl Printz had been the Swedish consul in Toronto for years. He was interviewed on his 99th birthday and asked: “Give us the rule you have followed during your long and useful life.” Printz replied: “I would mention one definite rule—one must be temperate in all things.” Then he added quickly, “Perhaps I should say: ‘Except one—to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself. These are the only things we can rightly do to excess!’” It’s impossible to love God too much. And the more we love Him, the more we will love others. The two go hand-in-hand. To love the Father means we must also love His children…all of them. Have you ever put a jigsaw puzzle together…only to find one piece missing? It’s SO frustrating, because it can simply NEVER be complete without that missing piece. As believers we are a part of the body of Christ, we are more than friends; we are family in the household of God. The love of Christ unites our hearts as brothers and sisters. Anything less is only a social club. We are a part of the church–those called to be in the world…but not of the world. God is putting a living puzzle together, and we are the pieces. I pray He knit our hearts together so that the beauty of His Body will be seen in us.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday! Please make sure and come back tomrrow, and stick with Jesus!

What’s Up With Halloween?

     Halloween is an interesting “holiday”. You dress your kids up in some strange, unusual, funny, bizarre costume and parade them around to other people’s houses, where they receive candy. (Remember the people who gave lame things like mints and tooth brushes when we were little?!) It’s also interesting to see how the Church responds to Halloween. The response is as wide and varied as the number of people involved. I have had people who thought the whole thing was evil…literally…and refuse to have anything to do with is. I have had people who wanted to have haunted houses in the church. And I have had everything in between! And in the middle of all that is…me!

     It seems to me that the one things we miss in this whole Church vs. Halloween equation is the folks we are trying to reach. Because the reality is this- the VAST majority of parents in this country are GOING to take help their kids celebrate Halloween- it’s a given. And when the Church refuses to acknowledge that fact, when we simply stick our head in the sand and ignore that fact…we are, in my humble opinion, missing out on Jesus’ call. He said, “GO and make disciples…” In other words, meet folks where they are and help them begin to see a different way of looking at things. And tomorrow night, where most of them will be is celebrating  Halloween. So it seems that the Church has a choice- we can either refuse to accept that reality and continue to struggle with being relevant in people’s lives…or we can embrace that fact and creatively find ways to be a part of it.
     I have shared before that I am a magician and a juggler. (I know, magician, juggler, drummer…preacher? I am TRULY a font of useless talents! My mother was proud!) But that rather…ODD…skill set provides me with an opportunity to embrace Halloween while offering the children of our community a safe alternative to other things they COULD be doing. Tomorrow night, I am offering a magic and juggling seminar at my church. The entire town is invited, and kids who attend will each receive a free set of practice juggling balls AND a magic trick. During the hour they will be at the church, I’m going to offer them instruction on how to juggle and how to do magic. I’ll teach them all one magic trick (in addition to the one they get to take home) as well as the basics of juggling. Do I think I’m going to save any souls this evening? Probably not! Do I think I will pick up a family or two who might be looking for a church? Possibly. Do I think the kids who attend will leave with a different, more relevant picture of what a pastor, what a church, is? Absolutely! And since that’s the case…job done!
     How will you celebrate Halloween? What will your kids and grandkids go away from tonight thinking? How will you reinforce the positives of their experience while trying to help them contextualize the less savory aspects of the holiday? For me, it has much less to do with “Halloween is evil and therefore we must avoid it at all costs” and much more to do with “how can we be a PART of Halloween while remaining true to who God has called us to be?”
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Locked Out of the Church

     Yesterday was a sad day in the life of my church. In the end, many people won’t even know it happened…but I’ll know. And it has less to say about the nature of the town in which we live and more to say about the nature of the world as a whole. The “it” I speak of is locking the church doors. Now you’re thinking, “You JUST started locking the doors to the church? Exactly how small IS the town in which you live?! No, we didn’t just start locking the doors to the church. When no one is here, the doors are locked (except for those time when the last person out either doesn’t check or forgets they are the last person out. Then…I come in and find the doors unlocked! You immediately wonder ALL SORTS of things at that point!) 

     No, what has changed is this- when I’m not in the building during office hours, the building is now locked, exclusively for the safety of my Office Administrator. We have had some…incidents…occur over the past few years that have brought us closer and closer to this decision. And now…we’re here! I have already had a couple of people complain about it…it’s inconvenient for them “and not very welcoming”. Well, I have to be brutally honest- I really could care less if it’s inconvenient for them…BUT…I couldn’t agree more that it’s not very welcoming. However, if my choices are being a bit more welcoming and tending to the safety of my staff…well there really IS no choice there, is there? So, if you come to my church during office hours, expecting to get it, and find the door licked, you simply have to ring the bell and wait for someone to come. 
     What does this kind of action herald? What does it point to? It points to the slow eroding of values we have seen in  this country over the past 40-50 years. I grew up out in the middle of nowhere, and we NEVER locked our house. Until, that is, we were robbed in broad daylight. I was at the neighbor’s house and although it was a tad more than a quarter mile away, I could see our driveway from their living room. I watched as a car pulled up in my driveway, two guys got out and walked around the back of the house. A few minutes later, they reemerged carrying something, which they loaded in the car and drove off. Turned out it was the portable colored TV from my parent’s bedroom. (Understand that this was 1970, and a portable color TV was VERY expensive!) We were pretty sure who did it but couldn’t prove it. After that, the house was locked up tighter than a drum. Now, I wouldn’t DREAM of leaving my house unlocked.
     But the church should be different. The church should be a safe haven, where people feel welcomed and accepted. Instead we have to lock the doors…even when we’re there! Sadly, the threat and fear of violence far outweighs the desire to “always have the light on”. Don’t misunderstand me- it is ABSOLUTELY the right decision to make. Her safety IS more important- no doubt. It’s just a shame that we’ve come to this as a nation. I would invite you to pray about these things. Pray for peace. Pray for understanding. Pray that enough hearts will change, enough people will come to know God in an intimate way that we don’t have to live our lives behind locked doors. We were made for SO much more than that!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Horrible Water Bill- Part II

     A few days, I wrote about a frighteningly high water bill I had received. (In case you didn’t read that entry, it was more than $7,100!) I recently received THREE separate pieces of mail regarding that same issue…so here’s the update!

     First- I called the water company to see what was going on, as I hadn’t received anything for a while. They said it had all been taken care of and that my amended bill was $14.43…a FAR cry from $7,300! So I just went ahead and paid it, right then and there. Done and done! Great! Perhaps! Because then I got a bill in the mail…the SAME day that I spoke with them, for even MORE money…the original amount plus the usage since then! BUT…since I had just talked with them I was sure that everything simply crossed in the mail and all would be revealed in the last act. THEN…I got ANOTHER bill two days later that said I owed…ready…$14.43! Which, of course, I had already paid. So, again, all is well!
     But wait…there is one more (so far) piece of mail to come…it came a couple of days ago. It was NOT a bill, but a letter. I thought to myself, “Oh joy, a LETTER! What, pray tell, will THIS be about?” Well, it basically said, “Oops! We messed up, due to a faulty meter, but all has been set right.” Awesome. But in the context of that letter, I finally found out how much water they thought, for a time, that I had used. Ready? 1.5 MILLION (yes, with an M) gallons! Can you even imagine that? (If you can, you are at least a step ahead of me!) That revelation took me back to my original conversation, after I had received the first gynormous bill. As I shared before , the customer service representative (a VERY nice and helpful lady, by the way!) asked me if I had been using more water recently. I shared at the time that I had NOT, and that the most water I had EVER used in a month was about 16 months ago when someone gave us a pool that I had to fill- it added about 45 bucks to my bill! But now that I know 1.5 MILLION gallons? Oh my goodness! 
     Do you realize how much water 1.5 million gallons actually IS? It would fill an Olympic-sized pool…3 times! It’s almost exactly the amount of water the Mississippi River (third largest river in the world) moves each second. Based on statistics, it would take the average American more than 33 years to use that much water. That’s a LOT of water!! All I can say is that I’m grateful to have that taken care of!
     What crazy “utilities” stories do YOU have? I would love to hear them! Simply comment on this blog or email me from the link above! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Crafta-whatsa?

     When I first got to my current church, the United Methodist Women there had tis awesome event called The Christmas Bazaar. (Please note: that’s BAZAAR…NOT BIZARRE!) They had an amazing amount of Christmas crafts/gifts/etc., great food, great baked goods…you name it, they did it. People from all around came to the event every year. Over time, the event got harder and harder to produce each year, while the number of ladies working on it dwindled. Finally, after requests for more help and some attempts at paring the event back, it was decided that it was a ministry that had run it course. Sadly, it was “put to bed” a few years ago. People in the town continued to ask each year, “When is the bazaar?” and we had to tell them…it isn’t.

     THEN…a great thing happened. A pair of younger women in the church got the idea, about a year ago, that they would like to resurrect the event in some form. They decided to call it something new, and so they dubbed it The Craftaganza! (You will NOT find that on a key chain at Stuckey’s!) They have spent the last year preparing for it. They have had monthly Craftaganza events, where folks in the church (let’s be honest…WOMEN in the church) have gotten together and made a variety of crafts. They have gotten the United Methodist Women involved, making their amazing soups and pies. They have gotten the United methodist Men involved, making their county-wide famous butterfly pork chop sandwiches. They have gotten the Missions Team involved, running a bake shop. They have gotten the youth involved, selling Christmas ornaments. They have somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 outside vendors coming in to sell their stuff as well. It has been an amazing sight- this “resurrection” of a ministry!
     Nobody was happy to see the Christmas Bazaar come to an end. But likewise, I think everybody’s happy to see it come back to life as The Craftaganza. It’s always exciting to see a wide variety of generations unite in a common cause within the church! And the great part is that the proceeds from the event will be used to help families in need in our community this Christmas. A united effort to provide a fun, delicious day…AND it benefits folks who need help. Hard to beat that with a stick, my mom would say! Please pray for this event (Saturday, November 13th from 9AM-2PM)- pray that is goes well, pray that it touches a lot of people, and pray that several families can be helped through the proceeds!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Leadership…a Lost Art?

     I have been thinking a lot lately about leadership. And the more I think about it, the more I realize the amazing leadership vacuum that seems to be happening in this country. At EVERY level of leadership, in EVERY  conceivable setting and scenario, there seems to be a crucial shortage of good leaders. 

     Now, you may be saying, “I don’t know what HE’S talking about…my boss/preacher/congressman/whoever is a GREAT leader! What does HE know?” (And the answer would be…NOT much!) But to clarify, notice I didn’t say “absence of leadership”…I said “crucial shortage”. If you are still having trouble seeing it, look at it this way. Consider your workplace. Consider your kid’s school district. Consider your church, both locally and beyond. Consider the stores and restaurants you frequent. Consider the companies you do business with. If your experience is like mine, then good customer service is the exception…NOT the rule. For my wife and I, when we receive GOOD customer service, it stands out SO much that we almost always find the manager on duty and tell them…and sadly…we don’t have to do that very often. 
     Now, don’t perceive this as a veiled critique of my kid’s school, or of the hierarchy of the United Methodist Church. Not the case. My kid’s school is run by very competent, able folks who care about my kid…and all the other ones there. And my bishop is one of the BEST preachers I have ever heard and is a great leader and motivator. I consider myself fortunate. But across the board, good leaders seem to be a hard to come by as lukewarm Cubs fans! You might be asking yourself, “So what? My life is OK like it is…why would I care if other people are good leaders or not?” Here’s my answer. Basically everything I learned about leadership I learned from some who led ME- a boss, a teacher, a minister…whatever. They were good, solid folks who were good solid leaders, and they passed their wisdom on to me. However, if all we have (or if the majority of what we have) is poor leaders, then what kind of role models do we have to follow? What kind of leaders are being produced? What impact does this all have on our kids…and their kids?
     The Bible says, “Where there is no leadership the people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14) Think about that- without leadership…the people fall. Seems like there’s a WHOLE lot of falling going on right now. BUT…an abundance of counselors provide safety. And in that statement, I hear the inherent “QUALITY counselors”. So what then are we to say about these things? It seems to me, the approach is two-fold: 1. identify and praise the good leaders, and 2. put those goos leaders into some kind of mentoring/training program so that they can replicate their good leadership traits in other emerging leaders. It would take intentionality and planning, as well as a willingness on the part of those leaders, but it would pay off with massive dividends. New leaders would be molded in such a way that they would lead with integrity, courage, intelligence and vision. (Doesn’t sound like too many of the leaders I currently know…how about you?) Imagine the impact that would have on our families, our communities, our nation, our world. Godly leaders committed to leading with integrity could/would literally change the world!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day!! Please make sure and come by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Magical Properties of Elevators

     The country family heads to the city for the first time. They get the the big, grand hotel…it’s more amazing, more opulent than anything they have ever seen. While the mother goes to use “the powder room”, the father and his son walk, slack-jawed, through the nearly overwhelming lobby. They come to a pair of shiny golden doors. As they stand there, trying to figure out what they are looking at, an elderly woman makes her way to the doors. She reaches out and pushes a button marked “UP” that’s next to the golden doors. After a brief moment, the golden doors slide open and the elderly woman walks into the small room that is revealed. Then…the golden doors slide shut. The father and son look at each other, wondering what in the world they are witnessing. Then…it happens. A few moments later, the golden doors slide open again, and out walks a gorgeous  young blonde woman. She passes the father and son, who watch her walk away. The son turns to the father and asks, “Daddy…what just happened?” The father,  after a pause, says, “I’m not sure, son…but go and get your mother!!”

     Have you ever given much thought to the elevator? They are really quite magical, when you think about it. You push a button, a door opens, you step into a small room, the door closes, and when it re-opens, you are in a TOTALLY different place, perhaps several stories higher…or lower…than you were when you started. And then of course there is Willie Wonka’s elevator- remember? It literally goes anywhere- up, down, sideways, whatever! It would be quite helpful to have such an elevator!
     Elevators are directional- they go FROM a specific place TO a specific place. Unless you push the wrong button, you know exactly where you will end up when you start an elevator journey.  It’s a shame that LIFE isn’t like that, huh? We have plans, and goals, but we really don’t know where we are headed at any given moment. (Don’t believe me? Let me put it this way- if you had said 20 years that I would be a minister…I would have laughed in your face! I’m the one who bragged about going to a United Methodist-related university and NEVER ONCE in four years stepping foot in the chapel!) 
     Life is simply NOT as predictable as the elevator is. We just kind of push our boat out into the stream and try and keep from sinking while we are carried along by the current. And if we don’t have a rudder…we are at the mercy of that current. I find a lot of folks don’t have a rudder. But I learned that God WANTS to be our rudder. He wants us to give our lives to Him. And when we do that, He becomes our rudder, helping us find direction in our lives. And let me assure you that direction, especially in these uncertain times, is a GREAT thing to have. I mean, God is NO elevator….He is SO much better!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Little Green Army Men: Strategy

          Albert Einstein was on a train bound for New York City. As the ticket taker came walking through the car, Einstein reached into his pocket to retrieve his ticket, but couldn’t find it. He frantically searched his coat pockets, turned his pants pockets inside out, but still couldn’t produce the ticket. The ticket taker said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Einstein, I know who you are. Forget about it.” 20 minutes later, the ticket taker came back through the car and found Einstein on the floor, still searching for the lost ticket. Again the ticket taker tried to reassure Einstein, “Really, don’t worry about the lost ticket. I trust that you purchased one, and that’s good enough!” Einstein looked up at the railroad employee and said, ‘Young man, this isn’t a matter of trust…but of direction. I need to find the ticket because I don’t remember where I’m going!”

WE are in the 2nd week of our current sermon series- Toy Box Leadership. Each week we’ll focus on lessons of Christian leadership that we learned from the toys we had as kids. Last week we looked at the Slinky Dog and talked about vision. Today we look at Little Green Army Men and we focus on strategy.

    It’s one of the few times a five-year old kid slows down. Jut pour out a bag of little green army men…and watch them work! Their minds offer strategic consideration as they meticulous place  each soldier. If fact, the time they spend setting up their men greatly outweighs the time they spend on the actual battle. And in the midst of all that, little green army men prove that success is found in the setup. Toy soldiers have the been the “go to” toy in toy boxes for centuries. Miniature military figures have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. In the 17th century they were mass produced as a pastime for the aristocracy. Over the years they’ve been made out of clay, flour, wood, paper, and various metals. In the 1940’s, with the advent of both plastic and World War 2, they took the form they have today. As kids set up their elaborate scenes, they formulate strategic plans. As they do that, they learn that good plans take careful thought, contain multiple steps and contain endless scenarios.  

    A woman decided to have her portrait painted. She told the artist, “Paint me with diamond rings, a diamond necklace, emerald bracelets, a ruby broach, and gold Rolex.” “But you’re not wearing any of those things,” he replied. “It’s in case I die before my husband. I know he’ll remarry, and I want his new wife to go crazy looking for the jewelry!” Our purpose is the big picture. But we can’t stop there. We have to connect our purpose with our daily life. That’s where strategy comes in! Bobby Knight, the winningest coach in college basketball history, said, “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.” Do you have a clear sense of where you want to go in life? Are you headed in that direction, moving in the OTHER direction, or simply standing still? What about your church? Do WE have a plan for our future? What does the Bible have to say about it?

    Mark 14:12-16- On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

    So Jesus sent Peter and John to look for the place where they would eat together. But I want you to think for a moment about what Jesus said to the disciples. Three of the four Gospels contain the description of Jesus’ instructions and plans for celebrating the Passover with his disciples. Before the Passover Feast could be celebrated, there had to be a place where Jesus and the boys could go and be together. The disciples had no concrete plans for the feast. Fortunately, Jesus had done some strategic planning. He foretold exactly what would happen to them when they searched for a place. Jesus knew exactly what would happen before it happened. The disciples would meet a man carrying a water pot- they were supposed to follow him to his house and ask him where the Master’s room was. The man who owned the house is clearly a follower of Jesus. Jesus had clearly made some arrangements ahead of time- he had done strategic planning.

    Strategic planning is more than making a to-do list or keeping a calendar. It involves calculated design and intentional planning. Christians should have a sense of their God-given destination and should be making plans to get there. We should know where we want to go in our spiritual life and have a plan for getting there. There are five checkpoints that lead to success in the strategy phase of growing in spiritual leadership:

   1. The checkpoint of involvement– when kids pour their army men out on the floor, what do they do next? They get down on the floor WITH them! You can’t play with army men from a distance. The same is true for strategic planning in the church. You have to be able to see things from “ground level”. Strategic planning focuses on the big picture…but the place to start is on the ground floor. We have to pay attention to what others see when they walk in the door. Are they greeted? Is the building convenient and welcoming? Are WE welcoming? If we are to make disciples…who is our target audience? Ground floor…ground floor!
    2. The checkpoint of assessment– when kids play with army men, one of the first things they do is see what…or who…they have. You’ve got gunner guy, flame thrower guy, crawling guy, kneeling guy…and of course the two lame ones…minesweeper guy and radio guy! Nobody EVER wants minesweeper guy or radio guy! BUT…they serve a purpose! You can’t know your church’s collective potential until you know the individual potential of her people. Why? Because, as every kid who plays with army men knows, there is purpose in our differences. And so, we do a SWOT analysis to help plan our strategies. SWOT- Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. Strengths and weaknesses- what we do well, where our growing edges are found- tend to be internal descriptions, while opportunities and threats- what things come up that we can capitalize on and what things come up that hinder our forward progress-  tend to be external issues. What ARE our strengths? Our weaknesses? Churches say they are friendly, but what they usually mean is they are friendly to each other. How do we welcome the stranger when they walk in the door? What are the things that hold us back? There are 4 measuring tools when considering the capacity of a church: worship space, Sunday School space, parking space, and Nursery space. If a church is at 80% capacity in ANY of those areas, it can hinder their ability to grow. We are consistently beyond 80% capacity on TWO of them- Sunday School and parking, and we have pushed up against capacity on both worship space and nursery space over the past 7 years. I would contend that the biggest single thing that hinders our ability to make disciples is our space.
    3. The checkpoint of placement– this is specifically the positioning…of people. There are three aspects of this checkpoint: 1. the who, 2. the where, and 3. the when. The who is crucial- finding someone who is passionate about serving and not just a warm body on a list. But it is irrelevant if not correctly matched with the where. We all have our own gifts and graces, but the right person in the wrong place is not helpful. It’s crucial to match the gifts and grace of the person with the needs of the position. Once those two are in place, the last piece is when…knowing the right time to put that right person in that right place. Your church works hard at that, trying, through prayer and discernment, to help enable people to do good ministry.
    4. The checkpoint of development– it never fails- once you have all your army men in place and are ready to commence battle…something happens. Your kid brother runs through, the dog runs through, the VACUUM CLEANER runs through, and you have to regroup…adapt. It’s been said, “A leader who’s not willing to revise his plan will rarely reach his destination”. So many times, churches put grand plans into action…but at the first sight of a bump in the road…they get cold feet and want to scrap it all, retreat to where they were. To quote Pres. Bush the First, when we hit bumps in the road, we need to “stay the course”. If we believe that God has called us to the missions we are about with the staff we have, we need to be confident of that fact and stay the course.
    5. The checkpoint of refinement– our little green army men would call it by its military name- “debriefing”. This step focuses on establishing specific points when the church intentionally gathers to review what’s been done, assess the success thus far, and refine the plan going forward. It’s important to periodically check the compass and make any necessary course adjustments to ensure that we are still on the right track.
    Little green army men are amazingly simple in form- they have no moving parts or batteries…but what they can teach us is profound. And like the army men, the core of strategic planning is pretty simple- where are we, where do we want to be, and how do we get there? When we implement the checkpoints of involvement, assessment, placement, development and refinement, we find that we win more spiritual battles than we lose.
    Although nearly half the population says their faith was a critical resource in helping them respond to the 911 terrorist attacks, recent poll suggests that our religious beliefs and practices haven’t changed since then. Immediately after the attacks, church attendance rose for several weeks and then fell back to normal levels by November. Since then, there has been no lasting change in people’s religious practices.  That says something about the spiritual complacency of the American people.
There’s a story about an atheist who stated in his will that he wanted to leave his farm to the devil. When he died, the legal system was dumbfounded over how to honor the request. Finally, after weeks of deliberation, the court decided that the best way to carry out the farmer’s wishes was to permit the weeds to taker over the farmland, let the house and barn slowly crumble, and let the soil erode and wash away. The court stated in its ruling, “The best way to let the devil have possession of anything…is to do nothing.”
Life is a composite of the decisions we make. Every decision either moves us closer to our goals or further away from them. Even if you don’t know where you’re going, you WILL end up somewhere…but you might not like where that is. Are we moving toward our goals…or away from them?
Sometimes we need to work smarter, not harder- cut back and commit to doing a few things well instead of a lot of things not as well. Set right priorities – take control of our life. It amazes me when people say they want to be strong in Christ and deepen their relationship with Him…and then spend a total of 60 minutes a week on the relationship. They want their kids to think Jesus is important in their lives…but they treat sports, band, TV, and everything else in life as more important. They want to be committed…but only if it doesn’t interfere with all their other stuff. We need to not just LIVE life, not just let life happen around us. Instead, we need to set our priorities, do some strategic planning.
Henry Ford said, “Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.” If we want to live a more abundant life in Christ, it’s not going to happen by accident – it takes planning and commitment to the goals God has established for our lives…individually AND collectively. If we want Godly children, Godly marriages, Godly lives, a Godly church, we have to identify the plan God has for our lives, we have to to plan our work and work our plan. Success is in the setup.

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Who’s Bashing Who?

     I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my lifetime. It seems to cross ALL lines- racial, gender, age, heritage, orientation, religion…doesn’t seem to matter. It is an equal-opportunity offender! And here’s how it usually plays out. Some group (again, really doesn’t seem to matter WHICH group) has an ax to grind. They feel that some OTHER group (again…doesn’t matter) is “out to get them”…discriminating against them, demeaning them, devaluing hem. And, of course…sadly…it happens all the time. And it should NOT happen…it’s wrong, regardless of who you are. But what I want to focus on today is the RESPONSE to that fact. 

     What often happens (please note the word “often”…I am trying to NOT simply paint with a broad brush and lump everyone into one tidy package!) is that the group who feels they are being attacked…lashes back. They point out that the attacking group is showing prejudice in their behavior. And they decry that prejudice. So far, so good. However, it’s the next step that’s often the problem.
     After they have identified the presence of prejudice…they begin to participate in it! As they decry the prejudicial behavior, they exhibit it themselves, resorting to the same name-calling and slandering they railed against. And USUALLY, they don’t even recognize that fact. And it becomes a vicious cycle.
     Sometimes, groups that are often the target of this type of behavior don’t even wait for the first shot to be fired…they begin lobbing cannonballs over the port bow preemptively. And yet they are the first to cry “foul” when someone starts in on them. Perhaps the most obvious current example of this is the spate of political ads that simply sling mud at the opponent, completely ignoring the qualifications of the candidate who actually paid for the ad. But don’t misunderstand- this is NOT just a political thing- it goes on all the time, in nearly every setting, with nearly every imaginable group. 
     So, what do we do about such behavior? It’s really pretty simple (not necessarily EASY…but simple)- we refuse to participate in it. And when we catch ourselves doing it, exhibiting behavior to another person or group that we would not want aimed at us…stop. The Bible says that, along with loving God, we should love our neighbor as ourself. Sounds pretty… Pollyanna-ish, I know, but imagine a world where this would be the norm, not the exception. A world where we realize that while we aren’t all alike, that we aren’t going to agree all the time, we can still treat each other like…what?…oh, yeah…people! Give it a shot- it won’t be easy, but it can be VERY rewarding!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

What Are YOU Allergic To?

     My youngest son has had a rough fall! He started running cross country at school for the 1st time ever this fall. About 3 days into the season (literally), he developed tendinitis in his knees. We had to take him to a sports medicine doctor because the pain was so great. He said that my son had grown SO much in a relatively short period of time that his muscle development hadn’t kept up with his bone growth. So, when he started running regularly, the muscles couldn’t do what they needed to do, putting greater strain on the knees! This led to a very unsatisfying 1st season of cross country AND a month of twice/week physical therapy appointments. But that’s NOT all!

     He then started having these allergic reactions. He would get hives and his face would swell, sometimes substantially. After about the third one (which was also the worst one), I took him to Convenient Care. They said we were doing all we could to treat the systems…but it was time to identify the disease! In the meantime, we had begun to suspect that at least one thing he was allergic to was yellow food dye..we identified that in his food before each reaction. We also found out that Ibuprofen can, in some people, exaggerate allergic reactions. Well, the kid had been on Ibuprofen constantly since the start of cross country!
     So we were referred to an allergist. He took FIVE (count them…5!) vials of blood so they could run tests. He also told us that, regarding the two things we had tentatively identified as possible/likely culprits, there were NO tests for those. It would have to be trial and error! When we got the blood tests back, they identified tree mold, milk, peanuts and eggs as things his blood made antibodies against. Now, the kid was LIVED on peanut butter and dairy his entire life- probably NOT that. The tree mold, we were told, was NOT it. He’s had eggs a gazillion times. So it appears we are back to yellow food dye and Ibuprofen. (Honestly, it appears to be mixes of things that push him over the edge.) So, we simply continue to monitor his health and keep the epipen handy! (Haven’t had to use it, thank goodness!) 
     Are you allergic to anything? Is there anything that causes you to have a reaction? I would argue that, as Christians, we ARE allergic to something…ALL allergic to something. And that something would be sin. We are constantly around it, but if we refuse to participate in it, we remain immune. It’s when we give to that it begins to erode our soul. It often starts small- tiny reactions. But over time, the “allergic reactions” get bigger and bigger until it is what we have become. How do we fight that type of allergy? Benedryl? Nope! Zyrtec? Uh-uh! We fight it by immersing ourselves in the ultimate cleansing solution- Jesus Christ. When we submit ourselves to Him, He promises to cleanse us of ALL unrighteousness. What a promise! To what will you commit yourself and your family? For my money- the love of Jesus!
     Thanks for stropping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A “Shepherd’s Pie” Ministry!

     At my church, we have an event called Wednesday Night Live…I’ve talked about it here before. The whole church is invited to dinner, and then there are classes and youth groups and music practices…and…and…and…! It really is a great evening of fellowship- there is nothing quite like breaking bread together! 

     Some weeks we have different groups within the church volunteer to provide the meal. They plan it, buy it, cook it, serve it, and get to keep the money they make from it to apply to their ministries. We never make a ton of money…but every little bit helps! So, in the end, the church gets fed, a group within the church makes a few bucks for their ministries, and our Food Ministry (frozen pre-portioned meals for anyone who needs/wants them) gets the food that is not eaten that evening- it is a WIN-WIN-WIN!
     I enjoy cooking, and all modesty aside…I’m pretty good at it! (My momma trained me well!) So when there is NOT a group that has volunteered for a certain week, I often will take that week. So far this year I have served grilled chicken on a salad, vegetarian vegetable soup, white bean/chicken chili, lasagna and spinach lasagna. Most recently, I made shepherd’s pie. Everybody makes their shepherd’s pie a bit differently, but here’s how I make mine. I brown the ground beef with lots of onions and fresh, grated garlic. I drain that and add cream of mushroom soup, corn, and shredded cheddar. I get that all hot and mixed together, then dump it in a pan. I top that with mashed potatoes. (If I’m making it for a small group, I make REAL mashed potatoes. If it is for a large group, I use instant. Interestingly, I have found that almost no one can tell the difference when it is part of the larger dish!) I then top that with fresh, “scratch” biscuits. I used to actually put the unbaked biscuits right on top and then cook the whole thing, but the biscuits never get done correctly on the bottom. SO…I bake the biscuits separately and THEN put them on top- right before I serve them. Rib-sticking comfort food at or near its best!
     What I have come to realize that something as simple as shepherd’s pie can be a ministry. It may require a different “prep” than teaching a Bible Study or visiting someone in the hospital, but it can be just as impactful. Let’s face it- we all like to eat. We all NEED to eat. And very few of us truly enjoy eating alone all the time. Having a time when “the body” can gather together for something as simple and routine as dinner can truly have a positive impact on folks. The hospitality and fellowship that is offered and modeled makes a difference- both in the lives of the people receiving it AND those offering it!
     How have you shown hospitality today? You don’t have to cook dinner for a bunch of people. It can be as simple as smiling at someone as asking them…genuinely asking them…how they are. Or holding the door for them. Or giving them your cart when you are leaving Aldi’s and refusing their quarter- instead encouraging them to “pay it forward” to the next person. Hospitality doesn’t have to be rocket science to make a difference. In this world where so few people seem to care terribly for those around them, the simplest act can have the most profound impact. Try it…see what happens!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Water Bill From H-E-Double Hockey Sticks!

     I got home for lunch one day (I eat lunch at home most days!) and checked the mail. Let’s see…magazine…magazine (my wife likes magazines!)…ad…ad…catalog…water bill. Oh, the water bill. Wonder how much it is this month? Let’s look! Needless to say…I was SHOCKED to see the total! $7,337.28! For real! No foolin’! 

     When I regained consciousness and picked myself up off the floor, I looked at it again. Nope…still says $7,337.28! (I was hoping there was a decimal that was wrong! WAY wrong!) So I  immediately got on the phone and called customer service. I got this very nice woman on the phone. I explained my dilemma to her. Her first question was, “Have you had increased water usage in the past month?” You’re kidding…right? I mean, the most water I have EVER used in a month at this house was last summer when someone gave us an above-ground pool. It took quite a while to fill it up, but it added like $45 to my bill that month! Far cry from $7,337.28! So…NO…I haven’t had increased water usage. “Well, have you noticed a wet or spongy spot in your yard?” Maam, I would have to have a wet or spongy spot in my yard roughly the size of Lake Michigan to warrant a bill like this! So…NO…no wet or spongy spot! 
     She then allowed as how…PERHAPS…there was a problem with the water meter. Perhaps? I’m BETTING on it personally. She said they would send someone out to check the meter and then I would be contacted with the results. I thanked her for her helped but shared my concern that they would shut off my water in the meantime for non-payment of the $7,337.28. She told me she would put a “hold” on my account. “Sounds great…but WHAT does that mean?” She told me that, in simple terms, it meant that A. no one was going to shut off my water, and B. no guy with a broken nose named Vinnie was going to come trying to collect $7,337.28! Well, THAT’S a relief at least! A few days later, a guy came out, check the meter and found out that it was, in fact, defective. he assured me that they would fix the problem and correct the bill, both of which have in fact come to pass!
     During my conversion with the woman from customer service, I mentioned that I was  pastor and that the house was a church parsonage. Near the end of the conversation, she said, with more than a little amazement in her voice, “You sure have been amazingly calm and polite about all this…of course you DO have God on your side!” It made me laugh…but it also made me think. Although she didn’t mean anything more than trying to be funny, there ARE people who think pastors have some sort of mystical “direct line” to God that gives them special privileges that “ordinary citizens” don’t have. And while I DO in fact have a special “direct line” to God…so do YOU! We ALL have it…if we are willing to commit to being in a true relationship with God. Without that relationship, we simply don’t have the right receiving equipment. But when we DO have such a relationship, we are much better able to both speak to/with God…AND more importantly hear what God is saying to us. And when that happens…great things are underfoot! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go around and check all the faucets…make sure they’re off!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Found: Money!

     I have a friend who had an interesting thing happen recently. He went to a gas station…to get gas…who’d a thunk it? After he pumped his gas, he went into the store to get a soda. As he approached the building, he found a $20 bill. Then another. Then a $100 bill! When all was said and done, he found $220 scattered along a trail leading into the store! He was shocked….didn’t know what to do. So…he kept it. That’s right- he went home with the money. BUT…after he got there…he thought about it. And God started working on him. He realized that it was NOT his money, and probably whoever lost it couldn’t afford to lose it. So…he called the gas station and told them he had found it, but was vague about how much he found. He left them his name and number, in case anyone came asking about it. And then…he waited.

     About an hour later, he got a phone call from a gentleman who claimed he lost some money at the gas station. He was able to not only correctly name the exact amount, but even new the exact types and number of bills. It was CLEARLY his money. My friend agreed to meet him at the station, where he gave his money back to him. He found out that the man was a young father who was trying to raise his kids by himself. The money was crucial to him. And he got it back!
     When my friend told me this story, he didn’t tell me as if to say, “Look at how awesome I am!” Instead, it was like he was saying, “I have struggled with what it meant to be a Christian for years…and I just had a BIG breakthrough!” And it got me to thinking…what would I have done in that same situation? What would I have done 20 years ago in that situation? What would YOU have done in that situation? 
     Temptation is an alluring thing…isn’t it? Something looks SO good, and even though we know it’s not the “right” thing to do…it seems to be the BEST thing to do! And so…we give in to it…and almost always regret it. OR…we can be like my friend- even though the initial temptation was too much to overcome, reality set in…morality set in…and he did the right thing. Are you struggling with issues of temptation? When they rear their ugly head, here’s what I want you to do…pray. Yep- that’s it…pray. But don’t pray that God will take away the temptation. Let’s be honest- remove THAT temptation and two more fill in to take its place. Instead, pray that God will give you the strength to overcome the temptation. The more you can overcome individual temptations, the more you can resist it altogether. Pray…without ceasing. God will do the rest! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Marching Band Mayhem

     In high school, I was a drummer in the marching band. I LOVED the marching band! Some of my fondest high school memories revolve around that group. We had a LOT of fun. Oh…and we played some music, too…I guess! Our band was known for being a bit…out there. When it came to marching band competitions, we weren’t really that good…but we definitely marched to the beat of a different drummer…EVERY pun intended!

     One of the things we did was the screaming run. As the football game neared the end of the first half, we would gather JUST beyond the end zone, crouched…ready. When the buzzer sounded the end of the half, we would instantly spring into action! We would RUN, SCREAMING, onto the field, We looked less like a precision marching band and more like William Wallace’s army from the movie Braveheart! We would be in NO order whatsoever. And at the LAST second…we would all snap into place! (It was, I must say, pretty cool!) 
     Another thing we often did was a special way to get from one formation to another. Instead of having pre-ordained, elaborate patterns to follow to get from point A to point B, we simply did whatever we wanted…as long as we got to our destination on time. We were supposed to A. march, B. make sharp, 90 degree turns, and C. look good doing it, but we had NO road map…just get there. The “newbies” in the band were each assigned a “veteran”. They were to stick to that veteran like glue during the show, to ensure they did what they were supposed to do. The “newbie” assigned to me…well…we’ll call him Jimmy. It was our first show of the season. Friday night. Home field. Stands PACKED with fans. It was “game on”. We got the the middle of the halftime show, and it was time to “wander” from one formation to the next. I took off…in COMPLETELY the wrong direction…with Jimmy firmly in tow! The whole rest of the band is going one way and we are going the OTHER way! And Jimmy is YELLING! “We’re going the wrong way! Where are you going? We’re NOT going to make it!” And I just kept right on going! And he is getting SO upset, because the “transition song” is ALMOST over, and we are nowhere NEAR where we needed to be! I thought for a moment that he was going to have a stroke…right there on the field. And then, on the LAST note of the song, we stepped into our places…just like I planned it! He talked about that for WEEKS after!
     Who are YOU following? Are you following the world, who often marches the wrong way and tends to barely make where they need to be when they need to be there? Does it drive you crazy? Try something new…try following God. Try going to church for…let’s say…6 months. Already do that? Then try stepping up your involvement. If church is a series of concentric circles, then figure out where in that series you are…and move one circle closer to the center…one circle closer to God. You can’t go wrong following THAT leader! Thanks fro stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Slinky Dog: Vision

     A boy brought home his report card…heavy with poor grades. “What do you have to say about this?” his dad asked. “Well…Dad…look on the bright side…at least you know I haven’t been cheating!” Today, we begin a new series, Toy Box Leadership, based on the book by Ron Hunter Jr. and Michael Waddell. We will focus on lessons of Christian leadership that can be learned from the toys we played with as kids. Today, we focus on the Slinky Dog…and on vision, and we will come to realize that having vision is more than just looking on the bright side. It’s looking at God’s side!

Do you remember this jingle? “What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkity sound? A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing, everyone knows it’s Slinky!” I can remember that like I watched it yesterday. When I YouTube-ed it and actually got to see the commercial…talk about a wave of nostalgia! Did you know that song is the first toy jingle released as pop music single? Did you know that the Slinky is the first toy to be used in outer space for zero-G experiments? Did you know it’s the first toy to get its own US postage stamp? Did you know it was created by accident? It was 1945 and Richard James was in the Navy, developing a method to measure horsepower on battleships. As he worked at his desk, a tension spring rolled off, hit the floor and started “walking”! He immediately realized the potential and showed it to his wife. She recommended the name, a Swedish word which means sinuous or having many curves and turns. She also came up with the idea for the Slinky Dog, which was later popularized in the Toy Story movies.
   Did you know about the Law of physics that makes the Slinky work? It’s called Hooke’s Law, which states that when an elastic body is placed under stress, it’s shape changes in proportion to the applied stress. In Toy Story 2, the toys are tyring to get everybody on the back of a moving truck and Slinky Dog is stretched out as far as he can go. He yells, “Buzz! My back end’s going to Baton Rouge!” When the Slinky Dog is stretched, it changes shape, becoming longer and sleeker, and when it’s stretched far enough, the back end catches up with the front end and it returns to its original shape…only farther down the road!
The Slinky Dog is a model of Vision- it’s all about “pull”- leading from the front. Try pushing a Slinky Dog and see where that gets you! More than any other trait, vision pulls an organization forward by giving it direction. But the “pulling and catching up” is a delicate balance. As you pull with vision, potential energy is stored up. And when the time is just right, that energy is released, sometimes explosively, in the movement of people. People with vision talk about possibilities instead of improbabilities. Leaders find it easy to move because they’re at the front end of the slinky dog. It’s the BACK of the organization that’s the hardest to budge.
    What does the Bible say about vision? ALL sorts of things! But here is one example. Romans 8:22-25- For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.

    A 5th grade Sunday School class was asked to go home, go into their backyard, and count the stars in the sky. The next Sunday, they came back with various numbers. Some said 100, some said 1,000, some said a million. Finally the teacher asked one little boy who had said nothing, “How many stars did YOU count?” He replied, “3”. The teacher asked him how he could have only seen 3. His reply? “I guess we just have a small backyard!” That’s often our problem when it comes to vision — we have a small backyard! There are 4 steps to the process of pulling:

1. Pull through communication– Simply HAVING a vision isn’t enough- you have to be able to clearly and forcefully articulate it on every occasion. Communicating the vision is achieved when it is driven into the very DNA of an organization. But we make the dangerous assumption that once a message has been heard, it’s both understood and embraced. White House aide David Gergen said, “A leader’s role is to raise people’s aspirations for what they can become…and to release their energies so they will try to get there.” We have to communicate our vision. Do you know what my church’s vision is? The Mission of our church is to invite all people to grow in faith through Jesus Christ. The vision of our church is to gather as the body of Christ in worship, fellowship, and service; grow in faith through prayer, encouragement, and support; and go share God’s word and love daily with the world.
2. Pull with courage– vision can be scary- it points us toward places we haven’t been before. It requires courage to pull others (and yourself) into new territory. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” When you go to the mall, there’s a map that tells you where the individual stores are. There’s also that vital addition to the map…”You Are Here”! It’s important to know where you’re headed…but it’s vital to know where you are! Vision sets a direction for our lives. It serves as a road map. 

One summer morning as Ray Blankenship was preparing his breakfast, he gazed out the window and saw a small girl being swept along in the rain-flooded drainage ditch beside his home. He knew that farther downstream the ditch disappeared with a roar underneath a road and then emptied into the main culvert. Ray dashed out the door and raced along the ditch, trying to get ahead of the foundering child. Then he hurled himself into the deep, churning water. He surfaced and was able to grab her arm as they tumbled end over end. About three feet of that massive culvert, his free hand managed to grab hold of something sticking out from the bank. He clung desperately as the tremendous force of the water tried to tear the two away. By the time fire-department rescuers arrived, he had pulled the girl…and himself…to safety. What makes the story even more amazing is that this selfless person put himself at even greater risk than most people realized. Ray Blankenship can’t swim. Courage is going forward in spite of fear. Leaders need courage to help others connect the dots between where they are and where they’re going.
3. Pull by example– If the head of the Slinky Dog doesn’t move in a definite and certain direction, the rest of the body cannot and will not ever get there. Visionary leaders never send their people out to places they wouldn’t go themselves. When you step up and reach beyond your normal duties, beyond your comfort zone, it sets a tone for others to see and emulate. Albert Schweitzer said, “Example isn’t the main thing in influencing others- it’s the only thing.”
4. Pull with determination– in the 6th Century BC, there was an archivist in the royal court of China named Lao Tzu who wrote a piece called Tao Te Ching. In it, he pointed out that nothing in the world is softer or weaker than water, but nothing is better at overcoming the hard and the strong. Look at the Grand Canyon. Water did ALL that…over millions of years. Determination can have a subtle and compelling effect. The tail of the Slinky Dog is the last to move- only at the last minute does it spring forward. Often the people who fight the pull are the people who need it the most. Therefore, leaders need to have determination.
    Hundreds of years ago a shipload of pilgrims landed on the northeast coast of America. The first year they established a town site. The next year they elected a town government. The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness. In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway? Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get there. But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision. When we fail to embrace God’s vision, we lose our pioneering spirit. We become grumblers. We become more about maintenance and less about mission. We become ineffective.
    Pull…then be patient. We have to move before anyone will follow us. If we’re not moving like we wish we were, I would respectfully submit that it’s because we haven’t stretched ourselves far enough. To do that, to adequately pull the Slinky Dog forward, you first have to find the string…the point of contact. For many in the world, that would be profit, or power, or reward, or recognition. For us, I think it’s purpose. We are a faith-based people, and faith is what feeds vision. Without faith, our vision simply withers on the vine. With vision, we pursue our purpose, which is to gather as the body of Christ in worship, fellowship, and service; grow in faith through prayer, encouragement, and support; and go share God’s word and love daily with the world. Without a clear vision of what we can become in Jesus Christ, we can’t move beyond our current boundaries. But WITH a clear vision, no ocean of difficulty is too great.

    Where there is no vision the people will perish. Without a vision we are like a rock that has been skipped on the top of a lake- we have no way of guiding ourselves. We’re at the lake’s mercy as to where and how far we go. And in the end…we simply sink. We have no control. Helen Keller was asked once “What would be worse than being born blind?” to which she replied “Having sight without a vision.” What a profound statement by a young woman who was born completely shut off from the world. She had no control over how she came into the world but she sure could help how she left it. Without a vision the people perish.    

    Vision is not about maintaining the status quo, but instead is a reflection of how God wants to impact the world through us. Visions are born in the soul of a Christian who’s consumed with the tension between what is and what could be. It’s not merely something that could be done, but something that should be done. We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones. A nest is a great place for an egg to hatch, but it’s a horrible place in which to spread your wings and fly! 

Bruce Lee had an unorthodox fighting style. Know what his secret was? He aimed for a spot 6” BEYOND his target. Is that what we, as Christians, do? I would argue that, all too often, we aim at a spot about 6” SHORT of our target. Imagine if we could adopt this concept of aiming beyond the target! What could we accomplish? If we understand how awesome God is…we shouldn’t hesitate to believe He will do great things for us, in us…and through us! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Extravagant Generosity- Day 7

     Do you ever have selective hearing? (If you’re a man…and married…your wife would say, “Yes!”) You know what I mean- someone says something that you didn’t really want to hear, or didn’t really want to respond to, and so you pretend not to hear, hoping they won’t repeat it. We’ve all done that…probably today!
     I have an interesting situation regarding this subject. After just under 40 years of playing the drums, I have what is know as tinnitus- ringing of  the ears. If you’ve ever been outside on a hot summer night and heard the cicadas loudly chirping away…that sound is in my head 24/7/365. Add that to some hearing loss in the higher register, and sometimes, when it appears I’m simply practicing selective hearing, I am in fact NOT hearing!
     We are choosy about what we listen to. We intentionally tune some things IN…and just as intentionally tune some things OUT. And that “picking and choosing” helps direct, in large part, how we live our lives. It helps shape what we think…and to what we devote our time…and our hearts. 
     With that in mind, what…or whom…do YOU listen to? Is your attention given to the news media and endless parade of talking heads who spout intolerance, anger and hate? Is it given to Wall Street, who preaches a gospel of “get all you can, regardless of anyone or anything else”? Much of America lives it’s life in one (or both) of those arenas. But I would propose that there is another…better…way! I would propose we listen instead to…ready?…God! I find that when we listen to God, whether it’s through prayer, or worship, or reading the Bible, or whatever…we see a “way” that is radically different than those others mentioned above. We see a way that is constructed around loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. 
     I see an awful lot of people in this world who DON’T live their lives that way, and I see the condition the world is currently in. It helps me understand just how well their approach is working. If you want what you’ve never had, you have to do what you’ve never done. What do YOU want… really? What are you willing to do differently to get it? Here’s a suggestion- try the way proposed here for a while…say 1 year. At the end of the year…see how things are. What do you have to lose? I mean besides the hate that the world encourages us to live in?!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Extravagant Generosity- Day 6

     About 9 years ago, I went with my son on a school-related trip to Boulder, Colorado. While we were there, we visited the Pearl Street Mall, an outdoor mall that is loaded with things to do. We had been there the year before and had thoroughly enjoyed the street performers we saw- especially a very good, very funny magician. (We also saw a rather nervous juggler who, sadly, managed to cut his face open while juggling knives! It was NOT pretty!) 
     As we walked through the open-air mall, we happened upon a man who was, to use the common vernacular, panhandling. He had clearly lost a leg, and the sign he held said he was a veteran and needed help. He was NOT the first panhandler we saw that day. He wasn’t even the 20th. They were everywhere. And sadly, when you get as many requests as I have (in my role as clergy) for money, you get a bit…jaded. Not proud of that fact…but it’s the truth. So I saw him…and kept on going. But my son, on the other hand…my 13-year old son, who had a very finite “trip budget” to begin with, said, “Hang on, Dad. I’ll be right back.” And as I stood there, he took $5 from his meager “trip budget”, walked over to the man, gave him the money, told him “God bless you”…and then cam back to me. “OK…we can go!” I was absolutely floored…and as proud as I could be…and more than a little convicted about my own skepticism. I sheepishly walked over and gave the man $10 more before we went on!
     That’s what extravagant generosity IS (NOT what I did, but what my son did!)- it’s giving sacrificially. It’s like the widow in the New Testament who only has 2 coins…and gives them away. My son had just a bit more than two coins…but not much. And he chose to set an example by giving generously to someone in need. And in the process, taught me a great deal about extravagant generosity!
     What will YOU do today to show extravagant generosity? Remember, it’s NOT all about money- you can give extravagantly of your time, your talents, your prayers…the lost goes on. But what WILL you do? Remember, no matter how extravagantly you give in the name of God, He will always bless you with more than you gave. And in the process, you’ll be making s positive different in the Kingdom! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Extravagant Generosity- Day 5

     Have you ever given any thought to those people who came before you? You know what I mean. Whether it’s the place you work, the  organization  you’re  a part of, your school, your community, your family, your church…whatever you’re a part of, there are people who preceded you there. You might be saying. “So what? What do I care about people who USED to be here?” Well, you should care a lot.
     Let’s imagine that you work for a company that has been in business for 65 years. You have been there for 15 years. You have an impeccable record. You do a good job. You are a valued member of the  organization. In fact, your boss once said that, without your valuable  contribution, they wouldn’t be where they are today! Feels pretty good, doesn’t it? So good, in fact, that you start to get a bit of a big head. “Oooh, look at me. I am ALL that AND a bag of chips!” 
     Sounds great, but the reality is this- without the extravagant generosity of the people who came before you, you wouldn’t even have a job to go to every day, let alone be “the man” (or woman)! Think about it- folks that you will never know worked their fingers to the bone, working long  hours and sacrificing much in an effort to help make the place all it could be. They paved the way for you. Puts things in a bit of a different perspective, doesn’t it? 
     The same is true of your family, your church, wherever. People demonstrated extravagant generosity…and without it, you wouldn’t be who you are. (You might not even BE at all!) How will you choose to honor the memory of those people? How will you recognize the impact they have had on your life? One of the best things you can do toward that end is to practice extravagant generosity yourself. Life your life in such a way that you give of yourself- your time, your talent, your treasure- in all that you do. Share of yourself whenever you can. When you offer extravagant generosity to others, you often impact them in such a way that they will begin to model that behavior. When that exponential spreading begins…great things happen!
     Today, thank God for those who came before you; recognize and honor the fact that their often selfless behavior helped make you who you are. Also, let their example guide you- become extravagantly generous…and God will bless you beyond what you could imagine! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Extravagant Generosity- Day 4

     At my last church, there was…make that IS…a woman who…just… loves…everybody! She has a heart for mission that is second to none. BUT…she has a heart for other people in general that is unparalleled. \When we arrived at that church, she took to my family like a duck to water. She was always doing something nice for us. And it wasn’t like, “Oh, look at me, I have lots of money and can be extravagant any time I want!” Far from it. Instead, it was more like, “You are a part of this church, therefore…you are a part of my family/” Simple as that. When my kids, were little, they called her Grandma. When MOST of the kids in the church were little, they called her grandma!
     Come to think of it, there was a lady at my home church, before I ever went into the ministry, who also was called Grandma by most of the kids there. She loved the fact that they called her that…and they seemed just as happy about it!!
     What do you make of that? In many other, NON-church, setting…it would be seen as…well…creepy! Having some lady NOT related to you asking your kids to call her Grandma? Nope…sorry…creepy! BUT…in the church, it is simply a different story! In the church, at least in healthy, fruitful, vibrant growing churches, the people there ARE family…regardless of what genetics says. In the best of churches, the folks who attend care for each other. They are genuinely interested in each others lives…and their well-being. They laugh with each other. They cry with each other. They live, in the best sense of the word, with each other. 
     A church should be SO much more that simply a building. It should be SO much more than a loosely-affiliated group of people who happen to show up at the same place at the same time. A church is a family of believers- a FAMILY of believers. And, speaking personally, it is a MARVELOUS thing to be a apart of! Are you a part of a church? If so, thank God…and your church family…for that fact. If not…find a church that’s a good fit…it might takes several tries…and become part of something bigger than yourself! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Extravagant Generosity- Day 3

     When I was little…I had it ALL! I had G.I. Joe’s…not the wussy little 4″ ones either. I’m talking the massive 11 1/2″ ones…the ones that were big enough to beat up Ken and date Barbie! I had Matchbox cars and Hot Wheels cars…and the tracks to run them on. I had army men…LOTS of army men. Of the little…green…variety. In a myriad of poses. I had baseball cards. About 2,000 baseball cards. I had a bike. A REALLY cool bike. With five speeds, a banana seat AND a sissie bar! (And let me assure you, sissie bars are NOT for sissies!) I had comic books…LOTS of comic books. (my favorites were Superman and Batman. I was, and still am, more of a “DC” man than a “Marvel” man!) I had it all…AND a fat bag of chips! And it was ALL MINE!! Or so I thought.
      What I didn’t understand at the time…what I really didn’t understand at all until I had kids of my own…was that, really, NONE of it was mine. In the end, all of it belong to my parents…they just let me have the  enjoyment of it. It was theirs, bought and paid for. 
      And as I contemplate that fact, the fact that everything I had as a kid belonged to my folks, another fact comes to mind- that everything I have now actually belongs to…ready?…God. Think about it- the living room I sit in as I write this, on my laptop, with the flat screen TV on, broadcasting digital cable…all of it is made available to me through the grace and love of God…nothing more and nothing less. 
     Now, you may be saying, “Bull! I work HARD for my stuff! I earned it. I paid for it. It’s mine!” BUT…where did the gifts and graces come from that have enabled you to make the money to “buy the stuff”? Where did the generosity come from that has provided you with the blessing you have? One word- God. It is God that provides for us. He’s the one who gives us the unique mix of skills, gifts and traits that make us who we are. All that we have, and all that we are…belong to God.
     If you look at life that way, then you gain a different perspective on your “stuff”. Suddenly, it’s like my toys when I was a kid- not REALLY ours…just “on loan” from a higher source. And if it’s on loan from God, then we should feel free…perhaps compelled…to offer a portion of it back in His service. A percentage of our money, a healthy helping of out time, a good portion of our talents…they all should be offered regularly in service to God. And when we do that, God not only blesses those who benefit from those gifts…God blesses us as well. With even more than we gave. God multiplies our giving and rewards us for our generosity in the same graceful motion! How cool is THAT?!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!