Wednesday, December 31- Pick a Word

words

Two years ago, my wife read an article that encouraged the reader to choose a word. And not just any word, but THE word. A word that would be your one word for the year. A word that would be what you focused on for the year. That year we chose obey and courage. That was at the beginning of the year, and then 5 months later, on May 28th, we found out about the golf ball-sized tumor in my head. And BOY was “obey” and “courage” both put to the test in major ways!

As we drove home from a short vacation, we talked about what words we were going to pick for the new year. We laughed that, after the “follow through” of obey and courage, we thought “not involved” and “status quo” might be good choices! But we DID, instead, pick actual GOOD words for the year. My wife chose “transform”.

I thought a lot about what word to choose. In fact, I found a website with an alphabetical list of verbs…as I wanted my word to be an action word. I literally read through about 400 verbs. And then, it hit me. I had actually seen the word already and was several letters past it. But for some reason, it came back to me. My word for the year is “dream”.

I have always been a bit of a dreamer. I tend to live by the George Bernard Shaw quote, “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’” I tend to think outside the box and like to imagine “what if?” And I think that word- dream- is going to play a BIG part this year in the ministry of the church I currently serve.

THE hardest step for a growing church to make, statistically, is consistently breaking the “200 in weekly worship attendance” barrier. It’s one thing to occasionally tiptoe over that border and then slide back down into the comfort of the 180’s and 190’s. But to consistently break that barrier is a REALLY hard hurdle to cross. But for the 2nd year in a row, we ended the year WELL over that barrier. We have now proven that we can not only cross that threshold- we can STAY past it.

That is a GREAT thing. But it also has big implications. God has blessed this congregation in powerful ways. But like that great theologian from the Spiderman comics Uncle Ben says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” My experience with growing congregations is that if you are faithful with a little, God will give you more. But once you are no longer being faithful with what God has given you, it starts to contract. And eventually you will slide back to your previous comfort level.

The church I currently serve has space issues. We have more ministries going on than we have room for. The 80% Rule says that once you pass the 80% mark in capacity, people start getting uncomfortable and whatever you are measuring will start to dwindle until you get back below 80%. Churches tend to measure space in four main areas- worship, Christian Education, parking and nursery. At one of our 3 worship services, we are pushing the 80% mark. On Sunday mornings, we are over 80% in Christian Education. Some Sundays, we are pushing 80% in the nursery. And nearly every day, we are WAY past 80% in parking.

So we sit at a crossroads. We stand at the threshold. What we were is behind us. What we could be is in front of us. And we stand in the middle. And so, this year is going to require a lot of…dreaming. (“AH! You finally came back to it, didn’t you, Pastor?!”) And in this particular setting, dreaming doesn’t mean daydreaming. It means thinking outside the box. It means not throwing out ideas and possibilities simply because they seem a bit far-fetched on the surface. And most of all, it means being open to what God is calling us to do and then dreaming how that might look in real time.

Here’s my question for you- what word will YOU pick?

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

Tomorrow- A Look Back

Tuesday, December 30- The Ugly Christmas Sweater Cookies

Ugly Sweater cookies

My wife has this tradition at Christmas. Cookies. Sugar cookies. Christmas sugar cookies. We have done them for years and years. This year, however, was just a bit different. We did…ugly Christmas sweater cookies!

She got a sweater cookie cutter, different icings and a variety of Christmas-themed sprinkles. Then she and our older son rolled them out, cut them out and baked them. When they were ready, we set up an “icing station” on the dining room table. Everybody (that would be 6 of us- my wife, her parents, our boys and me) came to the table. We each had a generous sheet of wax paper with a sweater sugar cookie on it. (They weren’t, you see, UGLY…yet!)

We then all set to work decorating our sweaters. Icing was passed around the table. Sprinkles were liberally applied. Cookies were decorated. And, in the end, we ended up with 8 ugly Christmas sweater cookies. (Both boys did two!) The other sweater cookies just got…you know…eaten!)

The fun thing about this annual event isn’t the decorating. It isn’t the competitive nature of whose cookie looks the best. It isn’t even getting to eat our finished product. No, the true fun of the whole event is the conversation…and laughter…that accompanies it!

As we decorate, we comment on each others cookies. (Some are of a complementary nature and some…not so much!) We laugh about sprinkles getting spilled or icing ending up on someone’s face. We reminisce and tell stories about “Christmases long, long ago”. We joke about previous years’ endeavors- especially the ones that didn’t turn out quite as well!

We don’t have a lot of money. (I mean, I’m a preacher and my wife is a teacher- we CLEARLY didn’t go into for the money!) We don’t travel a lot. We don’t spend thousands of dollars at Christmas and birthdays. We don’t drive an expensive car. We don’t even own the home in which we live. (Methodist preacher and all!) But what we DO have is fun! What we DO have is joy. What we DO have is a true desire to be with each other.

I have known my wife since we were 15 years old. (Which means, of course, that we have only known each other for 15 years! The math, however, would beg to differ!) And even though we have been together all those years, we never run out of things to talk about. There are never those awkward silences. We don’t sit across the restaurant table from each and read a book or dig on our phones.

Likewise, I like being around my kids. Oh sure, I love my kids. But I also genuinely like them. I see so many parents who don’t seem to really like their kids much at all. My boys are awesome and I love spending time with them. So events like driving out to cut down a Christmas tree or dragging all the Christmas decorations out or making ugly Christmas sweater cookies aren’t really about trees or decorations or cookies at all. They are about loving each other, enjoying each other’s company and wanting…truly WANTING…to spend time together. And that, for my money, is the true measure of a family! Now if you’ll excuse me…I have an ugly Christmas sweater cookie to eat!

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

Tomorrow- A Water Park…in Late December?!

Monday, December 29

Psalm 17:15 But as for me, my hope is to see Your face. When I am vindicated, I will look upon the holy face of God,   and when I awake, the longing of my soul will be satisfied in the glow of Your presence.

Hope is a fascinating thing. For many, hope is like a Christmas wish list: they hope for things that should not be of great importance. They hope for a nicer car, a bigger house, a promotion at work. Hope tends to fall into the realm of what THEY want. But hope…TRUE hope…is founded in Me. Hope, at its best, is prayer. To Me. Put your trust in Me. Put your hope in Me. Pray to Me. NOT strictly for what you want, either, Pray for My will to be done. Trust that My plan for your life is the best choice. Understand that I have your best interests at heart because I love you. You are My beloved child. Place your hope in that.

Monday, December 29- The Vacation Conundrum

vacation

What is vacation? It seems to be that time when you stay away from work and do “leisure activities”. People negotiate vacation time as part of their “employment package”. They plan in advance to get away from their job, completely disassociate themselves from work and head to Disney World…or wherever. And for many folks, there is a very clear line of demarcation between work and personal. It’s a big deal that work is left behind and play comes to the forefront.

So what about me? What does vacation look like for me? Well, as a fully ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, I am entitled 31 vacation days each year, including 4 Sundays. That means that, over the course of a year, I can be gone for a total of a month. A MONTH! That’s a long time, it seems to me!

“And how, may I ask, do you DO with taking vacation, Pastor?” Well, it depends on how you count it! I was off several weeks this year! “Yeah, but 6 weeks of that was recovery from major surgery! That doesn’t count as vacation!” Oh, well if that doesn’t count as vacation…then I don’t do very well! Counting the three days of vacation (plus holidays) I am in the middle of right now, I have taken a grand total of…7 days, including 2 Sundays!!

Now, before you chastise me too much, let me say a few things. One- I knew that I would be having surgery, so I tried to not take vacation early in the year. Two- I wasn’t in very good health earlier in the year and so true vacation didn’t sound all that appealing. And three, I so love what I do and my personal and professional lives are so intertwined, it doesn’t even feel like “work” most of the time!

I don’t know that there are very many jobs where the professional and personal are so inexplicably connected as they are in the ministry. I live on the church grounds. I walk 20 steps out my back door and I’m at the church. The folks who make up the congregation I currently serve are not simply people I go to church with- they are, in the best sense of the word, family. I go to Bible study with them. I eat with them multiple times each week. I worship with them. They have embraced my family as their own. So to think, “I have to get away from the job for a while” simply doesn’t cross my mind.

Now, I DO understand the need to step back, take a big breath, get some rest and have some fun sometimes. And I will admit that I struggle with doing that. But I don’t dread going to work. (And there have been times in my life when I DID!) I don’t think, “Oh, when will the end of the work day finally come?!” Instead, I find myself saying to my Office Manager, “How could it ALREADY be time to go home?!”

So as I write this, I am on vacation. And I am happy to spend more time with my family. I’m happy to get out of town for a bit and let my hair down…metaphorically speaking, of course! I’m thankful that I get the opportunity. But I am NOT saying, “Oh, only X number of days left and then I HAVE to go back to work!” Instead, I’m already thinking ahead about what the new year will bring. I wait with great anticipation to see what God has in store for the congregation I currently serve! God is good, all the time!

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

Tomorrow- Ugly Sweater Cookies

Sunday, December 28- Sermon? What Sermon?

shock

There are many things that are unique to being in the ministry. And one of those is sermon writing. And if you are the sole or lead pastor of a church, weekly sermon writing is simply part of your life. Regardless of what else may or may not happen during the week, you have a sermon to write for Sunday.

The are about as many approaches to sermon writing as there are pastors. Some work well ahead. Some work throughout the week the sermon is due. Some work as the last minute. And some…well…I had a pastor friend in seminary who had a unique approach to sermon prep. He subscribed to some service and would buy and download his sermon every week. Yep, that’s right- he didn’t WRITE a sermon, he bought it. And his version of “sermon prep” was when he actually bothered to READ the sermon before he actually “presented” it to his congregation! (That was NOT how they taught us to prepare sermons in seminary!)

Sermon prep is such a part of the rhythm of any given week that when you don’t have to write one…well…it almost makes you feel lost! I felt that for the 9 weeks I was recovering from surgery in April-June. And I have felt that this week because I’m on vacation! That’s the interesting dynamic this time of year. Many pastors take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. And this year, because of the day of the week Christmas fell on, the timing was very…interesting.

You had to do the “regular” prep for Sunday, December 21. And then you had to be ready again 3 days later for Christmas Eve. And even though you start the Christmas Eve prep early, there is still a crush around the 23rd as you try you get ready. And you have to also get everything ready for the days AFTER Christmas when you are gone.

So as I write this, on Saturday night, I have NO sermon written. Oh, there will BE a sermon preached on Sunday in the church I currently serve, but it won’t be me. And it feels REALLY weird! In fact, it is SO weird that I have had dreams each of the past two nights that revolved around getting ready to start the worship service and suddenly realizing that I HAD NO SERMON! (One night, I was also dressed in nearly Pope-like robes for the service! And if you know me at all, that is SO unlikely!)

So Sunday’s blog is normally my sermon for the day. BUT…no sermon today! So I thought instead I would share with you the way that weekly sermon impacts the pastor!

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

Tomorrow- The Vacation Conundrum

Saturday, December 27- The Christmas Chili

chili

Ah, the holidays! Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year’s Eve. They run right into each other, helter skelter. And they are all…ALL…built around food in this country. Ham. Turkey. Pork roast. Beef roast. Those tend to be the staples of our American tables at the holidays.

Along with those delicious main dishes, we tend to lean toward awesome…and rather involved…side dishes. Fancy vegetable dishes. Amazingly complicated potato and/or pasta dishes. Fancy breads.

And that has always been my family’s approach to the holidays. My wife and I both like to cook. And she LOVES the “big meals” with the out-of-the-ordinary dishes. And they are always (did I mention “always”?!) amazing. But they take a LOT of time, ingredients and effort. Which means they tend to be stress points when your day is already busy.

So this year, we took a different approach. We have gone for “good but easy”. At Thanksgiving, we did turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, BOXED stuffing mix (which my wife supplemented with sauteed onions and craisins…it was GOOD!) and a pot of good ol’ fresh green beans. The meal was super easy to make and just as good to eat. We had a great meal and got to spend more time enjoying the family!

We kept that tradition going at Christmas. Christmas Eve is a busy night for us, with two worship services. So we bought frozen finger foods- egg rolls, pizza bread, chicken fries, etc. We popped them into the oven, ate them and were done by 6PM, when I left for church. Between services that evening, we cooked sausage and hamburger. The sausage went into a breakfast casserole that got refrigerated for Christmas morning. The hamburger went into a roaster full of chili that was for Christmas afternoon/evening.

We baked the breakfast casserole Christmas morning and added it to AWESOME cinnamon rolls/tea ring made by parishioners. We had a GREAT breakfast and didn’t have to spend much time in the kitchen. After breakfast, we put the roaster of chili back on and it was ready to eat mid-afternoon. All in all, a new tradition was born!

Spending time with the people you love is SO much more important than just about any other way you can spend your time. Spend an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen, or on the golf course, or at any number of sports practices or games, or whatever, should pale in comparison to building relationships. There;s NOTHING wrong with those other things- they simply need to be put in perspective. And my perspective is pretty clear- God, family, church…everything else!

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

Tomorrow- Sermon? What Sermon?

Friday, December 26- The Collective Sigh

sigh

There is a phenomenon that is unique to major events. I call it The Collective Sigh. Whether it’s a wedding, a baby coming, a huge project at work…or Christmas, The Collective Sigh goes up as soon as the event is done. You’ve worked SO hard on something that, when it is finally time to “put it to bed”, you can’t HELP but offer up a sigh. It is, primarily, a sigh of relief. There is some sense of satisfaction. There is so sense of “a job well done”. There is sometimes even a sense of regret or sentimentality because the event, as challenging as it was, is over. But The Collective Sigh is commonplace this time of year.

Christmas is over. Oh, sure- there are still “the 12 days of Christmas”, which doesn’t end until January 6th. But really- who pays much attention to that?! After weeks and weeks of preparation and expectation…it’s over. The decorations are still up. They’ll probably be up for a few more days and come done sometime around New Year’s Day. So the SIGNS of Christmas are still around. But Christmas itself is over.

This Christmas season seemed really short to me. I attribute that to two things, primarily. The season is busy by nature, and the church I currently serve is just busy. So that tends to make the time fly by- there’s not a lot of time to sit around and “contemplate your navel”, as my mom would say. The other reason the season seemed to fly by is much more personal in nature. After almost six months of not having to think about doctors, scans, blood work and hospitals, I suddenly HAD to think about those things. As we drew closer and closer to my December 15th and 16th appointments, my thoughts were drawn more and more to the outcome of those appointments. Basically, one of two things was going to happen: they would either SEE the tumor or NOT see the tumor. If they saw it, then the question would be, “How much has it grown and what, if anything, do we need to do about it?” If they didn’t see it…well…there would be MUCH rejoicing!

As you probably already know by now, they did NOT see it. There had been NO change in the MRI from the one I had almost 6 months ago. And as the neurosurgeon delivered that news, very simply and plainly, a collective sigh went up- first between my wife and me and then from lots of other people! But I realized that day that I had been metaphorically holding my breath in anticipation of that news. The weight that was lifted was enormous…and wonderful!

Have you let out The Collective Sigh over the end of the Christmas season yet? And further, is there something hanging over you that weighs you down? If so, identify it and then, to quote those great theologians over at Frozen, let it go! And once it’s gone, once you have given it fully over to God, then let a collective sigh!

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

Tomorrow- The Christmas Chili