I’ve been sitting in my car at the playground parking lot for 45 minutes. It’s a routine I often do on Sunday mornings before most of the volunteers show up at church. It’s my calm before the storm. I eat something I probably shouldn’t, consume a high dose of caffeine, and look over my sermon notes.
Today I noticed something. The whole time I’ve been sitting here, there has been a man pushing his teen-aged, disabled daughter on the large, yellow disability swing. You know, the one that looks like a baby swing, but could hold an adult.
For 45 minutes, he has been pushing her non-stop. She is loving it. She squeals and flails her arms with every swing. He looks bored. He’s burned through a couple cigarettes now and the action of pushing the back of her swing looks automatic. I don’t think he’s unhappy, but I’m sure he could think of more enjoyable things to do on a Sunday morning.
But, he’s not doing those things, he’s pushing his handicapped girl on the swing set and she’s having the time of her life. Will it change her life? Will it cause her to function better in a neuro-typical world? I doubt it, but it means the world to her right here and now, and he knows it and he’s just going to keep pushing, sleepy, bored, tired feet.
It’s called love.
I think about serving others. Volunteering in church, caring for my kids, doing things that are often monotonous, grinding, or boring for the sake of someone else. Most of the time I don’t even see “fruit”. People aren’t giving their lives to Christ by the hundreds at our church (It’s single digits most years), I seldom get thanked for what I do, and sometimes my mind drifts to places that are more exciting and carry immediate rewards.
But, like the dad at the park, I have a responsibility. Children are learning about Jesus in our Kids Church, our camp for abused and neglected foster children is making a difference in young hearts, and people DO encounter God during our worship times.
Sure, it’s not sexy. We’re not bursting at the seems with newcomers, and we’re often hanging by a thread financially. We’re not the young, hip, on the move church in town. We’re more like that tiny junk drawer in your kitchen that has ketchup packets and the manual for your microwave oven in it. But, just like the park dad, God is all over us in a special way.
So, what does all this mean to me? I’m going to keep on pushing the swing. I’m committed to all the starfish that come through our doors and they can count on me that I’m not going to call it quits just because we’re not climaxing every week with explosive growth and dramatic encounters.
I’m in it for the long haul.
It’s called love.
I’m learning that amazing things can happen when we live with the awareness that God uses our availability more than our abilities.
When we focus on our abilities, then it’s too easy to disqualify ourselves from the opportunities God brings our way, because we feel we lack the skill or talent. We limit ourselves to only what we feel qualified to do.
But when we make ourselves available to the needs and pain of others, and trust that God can do the work through us, then we can change the world.
Be aware today!
As I write this, I’m winding down the final days of a one month sabbatical.
For the last four weeks, I haven’t worked at the church or my business. In fact, I haven’t answered my phone or returned any emails. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because I’ve spent the last three quarters of my life training my mind and body to do one thing; work. After all, I’m from the Midwest and the highest compliment a man can earn here is “He’s a hard worker!”
It was like trying to stop a train whose breaks had become stiff and rusty from never being used.
Before the sabbatical, I was compulsively working, checking emails, doing “one small thing” after another until I found myself horribly burned out, but unable to stop moving long enough to recharge and rest.
The last few weeks have been incredibly eye opening and I just wanted to share a couple of things I learned from it. (more…)
Most of you know that I had the honor of starting a new church last September. We’ve experienced some really great things, God is moving in our congregation, and our baby church is growing up fast. It’s been really cool and most of us have the strong feeling that we’ve stumbled on something really special!
When we first moved into the building, we all had to roll up our sleeves and get the place ready. You see, it had been a bar for almost 100 years before we moved in. We painted, put in new carpeting, did some deep cleaning, and of course tore out the bar.
The only thing we didn’t do was hang up any crosses. Come to think of it, there’s not a shred of religious symbolism anywhere. It’s not that we’re opposed to those things. It just never came to mind. In the midst of planning, reaching out to the neighborhood, praying for the sick, and worshiping Jesus, it hadn’t dawned on us that we should have a cross up somewhere.
An older gentleman asked me shortly after we launched why there were no crosses and I just scratched my head and said, “Uh…I dunno…”
My question is… should we have a cross somewhere on our church? Can God use us to bless our city and expand His Kingdom if we don’t have religious symbols? Please let me know what you think and why.
To cross or not to cross? Leave your answer below…
When I was a wee lad, I remember going to the store with my dad. He’d give me five bucks or so, and I’d walk around all wide-eyed to see what I could buy. My dad was pretty street wise and he’s always make sure to remind me to do two things.
First, he’d tell me to keep my money in my pocket. He believed that if I held it in my hand, some unscrupulous character would notice how much money I had and decide to steal it from me. Second, he made sure I could figure out how much change I had coming to me before I went to the register. That way, that swarthy teenager ringing up my purchase couldn’t short change me.
My dad was right and unfortunately times haven’t changed.
Most of you know that I’ve spent the last year and a half of my life planting a church. I found out the hard way that, just like some lowlifes have no problem stealing money from children, many people will also gladly take a baby church’s money and actually make a living out of it.
Last year, when I was looking for some help getting our church’s legal structure set up, I came across a website called www.start-your-own-church.com. It guaranteed to put us on sure legal footing and to get our 501c3 approval. I called the number on the site and spoke with a Mr. Abe Hernandez. I was really impressed! He claimed to be an attorney with years of church legal experience. He claimed he’d be available to me for any legal questions and that together we were going to get the church set up right.
I was sold! I immediately wrote him a check for almost $1,200 with the belief that he’d get right to work for me.
A strange thing happened though. As soon as the check cleared, he became difficult to get a hold of. Eventually, Mr. Hernandez provided us with a constitution and bylaws to start with and instructions for incorporating. He also sent me step by step instructions for preparing all the materials necessary for him to complete our 501c3 application. I was to follow the instructions and mail all materials to him so that he could do so. This is where his true intentions were revealed.
I mailed all the materials to him and waited. And waited and waited and waited. I called and received no answer and no return call. I emailed him and got no response. He never filed our application. He took the money and ran.
It gets worse! Several months later I finally gave up and called another company to take care of our legal setup. When I explained our situation to this new company, they asked me, “By any chance was the man’s name Abe Hernandez?” I said, “Yes.” They said, “Unfortunately, we get several calls a year from people who have ended up in the same situation.”
He steals from several church plants a year! Wow!
Please don’t misunderstand me. This is not “airing dirty laundry”. I’m a church planter and have several church planter friends. Every dollar is precious during this season. We operate on very little. I don’t want to see any other planters taken the way I was. Be warned! Abe Hernandez gets great Google search rankings when making relevant searches such as “church legal setup” or “church 501c3”.
The moral of the story for me and other church planters is DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Check the Better Business Bureau. I found out too late that Abe Hernandez’ www.start-your-own-church.com has an F rating from the Bureau.
I recently filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau hoping to recover a portion of our payment to Mr. Hernandez. I’m not very optimistic about it, but maybe I’ll be surprised.
It was an expensive lesson, but I’ve learned to be more careful with money. I’ve learned that a web presence and a great sales pitch mean very little. And I’ve learned that local is the way to go. Abe Hernandez lives in San Antonio, Texas. I can’t exactly show up at his office demanding a refund.
So what about you? What are some expensive lessons you’ve learned? I’d especially like to hear from you church planters out there!
I get tired. It’s true!
I know I’m part of some pretty awesome stuff. I’m partnering with God to write history. But I still get tired. Sometimes I even go beyond tired and get self-centered, petty, and prideful.
How does this happen to me? Well, there’s this really leaky stuff called passion and, when I let it dwindle, I notice that serving becomes less about partnering with Jesus to fulfill a vision and more about, well…me.
Passion is so important in ministry because it fuels us to keep serving, giving, and dreaming. Passionate people seem to have the energy to keep going after others have cooled off towards the calling. Passionate people are also contagious and seem to draw others into the vision naturally. John 2:17 tells us that Jesus was passionate about God’s house and look at the crowds He drew!
So how can we stay passionate? Here are a few things I’ve learned from James 4:8-10:
Stay close to God in prayer. When we move close to God, He moves close to us. Letting our prayer life get cold is like letting the car run out of gas and hoping the whole trip is downhill. You know it’s not that easy, so pray, pray, pray.
Purify your heart. Are you letting things that aren’t so “excellent and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8) into your entertainment diet? Does it seem to take longer to move past offenses these days? It may be time for some spiritual house cleaning. Regular times of self-examination and repentance can be really refreshing as we experience God’s grace and forgiveness.
Humble yourself. Check your gut. Are you really serving in humility or is pride creeping in? Pride is touchy, thinks it knows better, and bristles when given instruction. Pride takes the joy out of serving! It’s not fun for you or anyone serving with you! Humility takes joy in simply serving the King. God lifts us up when we’re humble.
Stay astonished. Boredom, touchiness, and being put out by the commitment it takes to fulfill the mission is a good indication your passion needs a resurrection. Luke 24:32 says, “They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” That’s where I want to live, in a state of passion and astonishment to what God is saying and doing in my life and my surroundings!
So how about you? How’s your passion pulse?
My prayer for you is for passion, astonishment, intimacy, and honesty.
In Jesus’ name. Amen