Various and sundry

It’s been so long since I’ve written a real blog post, I barely remember how to start them. That’s why you get this awkward intro. Looking back at the history of my writing, it’s odd for me to go long stretches without saying something. Over the last few months I feel like I’ve had things to say, I just haven’t had the time to pull the thoughts from my brain and place them here. And so this post serves as a stretching of muscles. I’m trying to remember how it was that I used to write on a regular basis.

We survived the long stretch of the spring baseball season, only to enter summer, which has somehow been just as busy. Cody and Colton’s teams both finished somewhere at the back of the pack, but they both had fun and learned a lot. Conner’s made a run at the championship and ended up in third place. It was the most fun I’ve ever had on the baseball field.

Since joining Life Church in February, we’ve once again become sucked into ministry which seems to eat a substantial amount of time. More so than actual church work though, we’re spending a lot of time really getting to know people we’re doing life with. It’s honestly something I’ve never been good at, but I’m learning.

My business continues to grow and branch out. Not as quickly as last year, but still growing, slowly but surely. Always with me at the helm, questioning everything we do all the time. Does that ever stop? That uncertainty that comes, not only with developing a business, but with knowing the decisions I make help or hurt the future of my family. It’s the odd position of always having to be sure of what you are doing, but never actually being sure.

In a few weeks I get to preach on the Gospel. All the study that goes into that has me examining my life to see all the places where the Gospel of Jesus really doesn’t have a hold. It’s a process of God prying my fingers off the things I want to control. It’s a battle He is winning, and I’m thankful for that. The transformative work of Christ is by no means easy or even fun, but I can see changes for the better.

Maybe that’s the source of my introspection this hot July evening. Maybe it’s my impending 32nd birthday. I tell myself I’ve accomplished a lot in my 32 years but the other side of my brain knows I probably could have done more, made better decisions here and there. But my deep-seeded theology about the sovereignty of God tells me I had to make every decisions the way I made it. He has been very gracious in my life and I should be more thankful for that.

As a rule, getting older doesn’t bother me. A big part of me relishes the idea of being in my sixties or seventies and really enjoying the wisdom of age along with finally having an excuse for my cantankerous nature. But, every so often, I have the occasional day when I acknowledge that I am getting older. My kids are growing rapidly and before I know it will be out of the house. I tell myself I’m looking forward to that day so Becca and I can start a different chapter in our lives, but I know the day one of the kids leaves my house I’ll be devastated.

God has blessed us with some of the most amazing friends in the world. Tomorrow night they will descend on our house for hamburgers (hopefully), margaritas (definitely) and swimming. We’ll swim and splash with our kids. We’ll relish the fact that their oldest just had his cast removed and is on the way to recovery. We’ll stay up entirely too late and talk. We’ll probably spend a lot of time dreaming about the future of the people God has entrusted us to care for in the church. And in that time I’ll take a moment and thank God for all he has done and I’ll forget that I’m about to turn 32 and anything else that’s bothering me.

But for now I get to be quiet and introspective and listen.

And that’s okay every once in a while.

The view from the parking lot

I’ve done everything there is to do in a church. I’ve taught kids, welcomed people, cleaned up after services and preached from the stage. Until Sunday I had never worked in the parking lot.

Now I have.

Often through my life I’ve worked on the big picture at the churches I’ve been at. Despite working in the trenches, my love and focus was really on the overall direction things were headed. People weren’t people. They were Sunday stats, demographics and groups. It happens because that’s how a big part of my brain is wired.

What I learned Sunday, as the Texas heat radiated up from the parking lot, was that there is an intimate view of the church to be had from the parking lot. I was able to welcome every person there that day. People were no longer groups. Suddenly it wasn’t about the total number of people we could serve on Easter. It was about each individual family. Each person who had decided to come to Life Church on Sunday.

I saw members who knew what to do and where to go. I saw families who had clearly fought all the way to church. I saw new visitors who just wanted to know the quickest way in because of the nervousness that comes with visiting a new place for the first time. I saw faces. Individual faces.

We worked for weeks prepping for Easter, often with our eyes on the big picture. On Sunday, in that hot parking lot with a bright yellow vest on, the big picture came into focus. It was made up of a group of people, some new, some old, but all family.

If you’ve never worked the parking lot, volunteer to wear the yellow vest, at least for one week. There’s a lot of value there. It might just change the way you look at the big picture.

Stepping Back: Forging Friendships

The first in a series of posts on what I’m learning by temporarily stepping away from ministry.

A little over three months ago we decided to step back from ministry for a while. I had felt for quite a while like God was telling me to take some time off, work on my own faith and work on leading my family better. After the last half of 2010 kicked us around quite handily, I decided it was time. It wasn’t easy but we really needed some time.

So how has it been? So far, just like the rest of life — crazy. Out of the last three-ish months we’ve been in Austin and well enough to attend church maybe four times. It has been nice, however, to be able to attend church and just be there to worship. It’s not something I was really wired for, but I’m trying to get used to it for however long God has us on this path.

One of the big things I’ve discovered is that I need to be much more intentional about forging friendships. I did a terrible job in my three years at Legacy making friends. There was a small group of maybe six people that I was in regular contact with outside of Sunday mornings. I’m still in semi-regular contact with those same people. The rest of the church? I talk to them the same amount I used to, which is to say, almost never.

In working on the church, I forgot to actually be a part of it. For whatever reason, I have never been able to really open up to people. This is Rebecca’s number one complaint about our relationship (well, she’s also not too fond of my inability to put dirty clothes somewhere other than my side of the bed), I just don’t open up well. Working in the churches for the last ten years has allowed me to be part of them without actually having to be a part of them. It’s a crutch and I think one of the primary reasons God wanted to pull it out from under me. Now my lack of deep friendships shows. The fact that I’m no longer serving as a pastor has left a glaring hole that should be filled by genuine relationships. The fact that I haven’t fostered those well in the past has caught up with me.

This is really true of anyone in life. My situation is unique to me, but really if we don’t take the time to grow these relationships, there will come a time when we need them and they aren’t there. No matter what the future holds for us, this is one of the things I have got to work on.

Living for God’s glory and avoiding security guards with tazers

This last Sunday we visited The Village Church in Highland Village, Texas. The Village is kind a home away from home for Becca and I. God has used their pastor, Matt Chandler, to greatly influence our lives, so it was nice to finally see him in person.

We arrived late and got the last two seats in the building. I almost geeked out when my seat ended up on the front row. I was in the splash zone. Somehow, I managed to avoid my urge to jump up on stage and hug him. That would have been a little creepy and I’m pretty sure they have security for just such occasions. Being tazed wasn’t on my Sunday to-do list.

Once I settled in for the sermon, one of the things he said that really jumped out at me is that the entire reason for our existence is to bring glory and renown to the the name of Christ. Of course, I’ve understood this for a long time, but I rarely take time to really think about it in regards to my life.

What areas of my life don’t seem to serve this purpose?

Turns out there are quite a few. If you take the time to really examine every part of your daily life, I think you’ll be shocked how much of it doesn’t serve that purpose. My goal this week is to really dive into things and see how it is bringing God glory. Do I work in a way that brings glory to God? Do I lead my family in a way that brings glory to God? Do I relax in a way that brings glory to God? I think it’s an important exercise to try out.

Note: I really don’t know if the security guards have tazers. They may be packing more heat than that or just a trusty Mag light. I really didn’t pay that much attention.

The end of me

Tomorrow will mark our three-year anniversary in the Austin area. Three years ago, I was probably on the phone with the U-Haul place, booking our truck. I was surrounded by towers of brown boxes. All of our life had been packed into those tiny cardboard transports.

There was excitement and anticipation. A new city. A new house. A new church. A new everything. Just like the beginnings of any new adventure, possibility is the fuel behind it all. There is always some doubt, but challenges are there to be overcome.

And now, three years later, I sit in the house and the city. If I had to describe the last three years in one word, I would describe it as a beating. Physically, financially, spiritually, emotionally, we’ve taken a beating. We’ve had our victories, but they seem small and pale in comparison to the darkness of the defeats. I thought last year was the culmination of the rough ride. I thought the entire year was as bad as it could get. This year seemed much better, until August rolled around and we endured 60 days that were like no other. It’s hard to describe all the things that happened. All the heartache and despair. But, it’s also hard to describe the way God moved in those times. The way he pulled us closer to him despite the storms raging all around us was beautiful.

I’ll be the first to tell you we didn’t enjoy the events of the last two months. I’ll also be the first to tell you that God orchestrated every second of every one of those events. He did it to bring the end of me. He did it to show that I cannot operate under my own power and make it. I don’t believe that just because God tells us to go somewhere it’s to bring us success. He’s not all about wealth and health. He’s about cutting to the center of our hearts, so that we would be dependent on him and he would be glorified through it. Sometimes that means taking us into the desert and pushing us beyond ourselves. He brings about events that we can’t face on our own.

I have no doubt he wanted us right here in Austin, right here in the church and right here in our lives. In his mercy, he strips away what we don’t need to give us what we do. What I’ve needed is him and a dependence on him. What I don’t need is pride, arrogance, ego and confidence that I can make it on my own. He has brought the end of me, and I pray from here on out, I operate under his power.

This Sunday, Tony had the staff of Legacy Fellowship stand in front of the church as he thanked us for our hard work. Standing there with that amazing group of people, the spotlights warmed my face, but inside I was fighting back tears. He was thanking us for all the hard work we’d done in the past year, but I knew the truth. I had resigned as a staff member this last week. I was abandoning the people I thought I never would.

When we were considering a move to Austin, we had a choice in front of us. We could either move to the DFW area and attend the Village Church or move to Austin for Legacy. The Village represented a place to heal and rest after a very long and hard few years of ministry. Legacy represented a church where I felt we were needed. We could help out and work toward growing the church. Honestly, it felt good to be wanted after such a tough few years of feeling like we weren’t. We instantly connected with the staff and loved it there. To this day, it remains the friendliest church I’ve ever encountered. The strength is the people and their amazing connections. We made our decision to put off the rest we probably needed and dove back into service for a few more years.

Church for me has always been about service. Since I was 18, I’ve been working in a church in some form or another. This service has represented so much of my faith. At times, I’ve let it replace a true connection with our great King. In those times, he pulls me back and shows me what I’ve been doing.

I feel like God has something huge out there for us in the future. I really don’t know what it is, but I know if it came along today I would not be in a healthy enough place to take it on. Starting at the beginning of the summer, I began to feel like God was calling us to step way from working at Legacy to focus on us. Our crazy travel and work schedule this summer just made that feeling stronger. I was worn out by August. Then it hit, and I reached the end of what I could do.

I don’t know how long God is putting me on the sidelines. I know it’s for my good, the health of my family and the good of Legacy. Resisting the call to ministry is like resisting gravity for me, but I’m fighting the fight for now. It seems so odd to me, because I’m always the one preaching that you have to get out there and serve. I still believe that. But, you have to serve out of strength God provides, not your own. I need to recover my strength. I’m on a quest to really explore my relationship with God. My first inclination is to already start looking to the future and trying to discover what the light at the end of the tunnel is. I have to stop that, though, and just focus on God and his voice. That will be a difficult change for me, but it is needed.

Practically, what does this look like? Well, of course, I’m no longer a pastor on staff at Legacy. We have a lot of traveling to do in the next few months which means we wouldn’t be here too much anyway. In that time I plan to explore other churches and just seek God wherever I can find him. I love the people of Legacy desperately, but I also have problems worshipping and resting in a church where there are so many things that have to be done. So we’ll see what that looks like. I honestly don’t know.

When I think of this in terms of my own ego and self worth, it feels like failure. But when I think of it in terms of God’s calling, it feels like victory. God has been gracious to us in the last three years. Even with the challenges, he has surrounded us with people that have become great friends and supporters. Tony and Kandy especially deserve credit. God has used them as an example to me that I’m thankful for. There is nothing they wouldn’t do for us and that part of this breaks my heart.

Through it all, God has been there as our comforter and I’m really excited, for the first time in over a decade, to just rest in him. All it took was finally reaching the end of me.

The big question

I’ve had a big question that has bothered me my entire adult life. Most people go to church to be ministered to, worship God and be in community.

So what if, instead of those things, the church becomes a place to work?

I’ve been a pastor for a good chunk of my adult life. Where do you go to be ministered to when you can’t separate what church should be and all the work that has to be done?

This is something I’ve fought with for over a long time now. I can’t be the only pastor that has ever struggled with this.

Who is your faith really in?

Do you have a person in your past who helped you along your walk toward Christ? I think for most people God has sent someone along to give you that big push. If you had someone like that, they probably instantly popped into your head.

So what happens when they fail? What happens when their lives completely take a 180 and the seemingly ignore all the things they’ve taught you about walking with Jesus? It’s these moments that make me question who my faith is really in.

For some reason I was thinking about this just before I read this announcement by Gary Lamb. Now, I don’t know Gary. I’ve never met him and probably never will. But, I have followed what God was doing through him and Revolution Church. I’ve prayed for Gary and the church. I’ve celebrated their victories with them. Like I said, I’ve never been there, but through the magic of the internets, it’s easy to get on board for what churches across the nation are doing.

So when I read that Gary had failed, it kind of hurt. Isn’t that weird? It actually put me in a bad mood that day. I stopped and prayed for Gary, his family and Revolution Church.

And it reminded me Greg.

Greg was working as a youth pastor at a church I started attending when I was 18. Greg was the one that really opened my eyes to what walking with God is really like. He encouraged me to learn for myself what the Bible teaches. I can easily say that if God hadn’t sent Greg along, I’d probably be wandering aimlessly through my faith (or lack thereof).

And then Greg failed. He got into drugs among other problems and his life literally took a 180. That hurt. It hurt a lot. Fortunately, Greg himself had taught me to put my faith in Christ and not others. When we put it completely in others, we will be disappointed on some level at some point.

When someone helps us along in our journey with Christ it can be pretty easy to get confused in put our faith in them.

So who is your faith ultimately in?

WeTheChurch.org is back up

we-the-church-org

In case you hadn’t noticed, WeTheChurch.org has been down for a while now. We had to change servers and there was a problem in the transfer that disabled our security measures. Not wanting to leave it up unsecured, I pulled it down. Then life happened and my schedule prevented me from really spending any time on it.

But, thanks to the efforts of Scott and Kyle it’s back up and running. Spread the word and submit your prayers and praises at the site.

Jump on The Love Boat

love-boat-blog-spot

Yesterday we launched a new site for Legacy at Jumpontheloveboat.com.

It’s for our two-week sermon series kicking off this Sunday. Starting this weekend, we’ll be posting practical tips you can use to love your spouse better. Some will be simple things you can do. Some will be grand gestures. All are designed to keep your marriage exciting and let your husband or wife know you love them.

We’d love to hear your ideas too. You can email any of them to theloveboat [at] me.com or follow us on Twitter and send them that way.

We want to use this site beyond the sermon series to enrich people’s marriages. If you are married, you know the stresses of life and how they can effect your relationship.

And please feel free to blog about the site as well. Let me know when you do.

Mad Church Designer

Mad Church "Prescription"

I received an email yesterday from Chris at Zondervan, letting me know an ad we’d submitted has been chosen to market Anne Jackson’s new book Mad Church Disease.

I have to give all credit to my friend David. I’d originally seen the contest via Anne’s blog and didn’t do anything for it. After David sent me a few ideas he was working on I was inspired and we collaborated to come up with what you see above.

Part of the reason I was excited about it was because of the book itself. Having been through church-induced burnout myself, I think it will be a very important book. Even as I write this I know two very good friends going through burnout brought on by working at their churches. It’s a very real problem and I hope the book does some good to reverse the trend. The book is in stock and can be ordered here.

The ad should appear in the March/April issue of Neue Quarterly. Below you’ll also find another ad we submitted. Thanks Anne for writing the book and the fine folks at Zondervan.

Mad Church Disease "Recovery"

What a year it’s been

October 18th marks exactly one year living in Austin. And what a year it’s been.

In no particular order we’ve:

Had one of our biggest clients close down.
Had the same client reopen and rehire us.
Had one surgery and two expensive trips to the ER.
Created WeTheChurch.org.
Become a huge fan of Twitter.
Signed Becca up and actually found she likes Twitter too.
Completely reorganized our roles at church.
Seen some growth at church that can only be described as perfect.
Learned our way around Austin quite well.
Tried a ton of great restaurants.
Really enjoyed life here.
Officially launched the wedding photography side of the business.

I was telling my mom yesterday that I could see us living in Austin for the rest of our lives. I know things can change and we are young, but I really do love it here. It’s the perfect combination of everything for our lives right now.

I can’t wait to see what God has for us in our second year here.

Twitter church

Here’s a question for you.

Would the church function better as a community if everyone used Twitter?

I think it would. It’s turned into a great way to keep track of people in the church and how their days and weeks are going. Good, bad or ugly it allows us to know what’s happening and hopefully feel like we know people beyond the standard Sunday morning “how are you doing?” conversations.

You can read my “how-to” for Twitter here. And you can follow me on Twitter here.

So what do you think. Could it improve your community?

Money issues

Yesterday I talked with two different churches, both having money issues. Summer tends to bring the lean times as people are gone or spending on other things. The economy hasn’t helped anything.

And here’s where the church is no different than your average marriage. Take mine for example. When money becomes scarce, my marriage suffers. The stress a lack of money brings puts the focus squarely on the financial situation. It makes that the center around which everything else revolves.

And let me tell you, it’s a crappy thing to base your life on. Suddenly you can’t see the amazing things happening around you. It’s all about the lack of money.

Same thing with churches. Struggling with money tends to slow things down. It distracts the focus of everyone involved. It can dull the dreams of what God can do.

So what do we do about it? I’d like God to just miraculously solve my money problems when I have them. However, he usually has us work our way out. Same thing with churches. He’s called us as members in the body of Christ to take care of this. Through good times and bad. Great economies and bad. The call of Christ to reach people does not change based on how well the stock market is doing. It’s either important to us at all times or it’s not.

If you’re church is struggling financially, step up. If you don’t give, really pray about it and give as you feel God calling you. If you’re skeptical, talk to someone who gives faithfully. I don’t know anyone who does so faithfully that will tell you they hate doing it. It’s an amazing feeling.

If you are one who already gives and goes over and above, go overer and abover (yeah I know, not real words, but it flowed).

This is ultimately not really about the church and money, it’s about our relationship with Christ and his call on our lives. Money is just one more way we sacrifice for God’s call to reach others.