Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Reasons to Come to Grace on Christmas Eve

If you are in Erie I would urge you to get to one of our Christmas eve services tomorrow - they're going to rock! I would also challenge you to bring someone along with you - even if they don't usually go to church. Grace has a way of surprising people who haven't been to church in a while with comments like, "can you do that in church?" Our services are at 4:30, 6:30, and 11:00 PM. There is free and secure nursery care available at the first two services. Here are just three of the reasons you should come:
  1. The music - I would stack our musicians at Grace up against the best in the region. The music is going to be awesome. At 4:30 and 6:30 our band will put a modern flare on all the traditional Christmas carols along with a song that they are performing that is going to really blow you away. At 11:00 a vocal team will be singing through an even larger selection of carols and inspirational Christmas songs.
  2. Creativity - all our services will be highlighted with creative elements that will inspire your faith and make God happy. We will put a new twist on the traditional candlelighting ceremony, and my very own Ayden will be making a really cute vocal appearance which I can't wait for you to hear! We also have some video elements that are just amazing. 11:00 is going to capture your imagination with dramatic readings and participatory elements. It's going to be awesome.
  3. The message - Pastor Al and I have taken great care to prepare a challenging and inspirational message to everyone who attends no matter where they are at on their faith journey. I will be speaking at 4:30 and 6:30 and Al will be bringing it home at 11:00. You're not going to want to miss these services -get there early- we'll see you there.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Top "Memo" lines on a tithe check

I came across a top 10 list on Monday Morning Insights that made me laugh. It was a top 10 tithe check memo line notes. You can check out all 10 here. Obviously I'm only including my favorite 3. :)
  1. $1 less for every minute past noon.
  2. Casino winnings.
  3. For voice lessons for the worship team.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Favorite Christmas Traditions from Childhood

  1. Making hard candy - we would always make multiple flavors of hard candy during the holidays to have around the house and to give away to friends. I loved how the cinnamon made the house smell but liked the taste of root beer the best.
  2. One present on Christmas eve - we would draw names on Christmas eve and open the present from that person. It was a cool way to satisfy the itch of anxious children.
  3. Fondu - I don't remember when it started, but my family often would do fondue on Christmas eve. We experimented with the oil and cooking meat in there, with the cheese and dipping hard bread, and with the chocolate and dipping fruit and stuff.
What are your fond traditions from when you were growing up?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Favorite Things to Do on a Day Off When the Kids Are in School

I have some vacation days that have accumulated throughout the year that I now need to use up in December and January, so I'm doing something new (because I have to). I'm not taking them all in one big chunk - I'm spreading some out on Mondays and a Thursday during December. Today was one of those days and I was reflecting on a couple of things I like to do on a day off while the kids are at school:
  1. Do stuff with Kim - it's fun to be able to run errands together, go to the grocery store, do projects around the house, etc. Kids often don't allow us to just do simple "us" stuff that we used to do before we got outnumbered by rugrats.
  2. Manual Labor Projects - I love to get out and do projects. Because I work in an office most of the time and work with people - I love to get away from both (no offense people) and do projects that are a physical challenge and have a clear completion goal. It is sometimes hard to see objective results when dealing with people because most relational situations stay in a permanent state of development. So on days off I love to start something and finish something and see the result. Often #1 and #2 happen together because Kim builds houses and often wants me to help her with her latest house project.
  3. Head to the gym - I always try to hit the gym on a free day and pick up a raquetball game or a run. I typically catch up on some podcasts that have been backlogging or blast music into my skull and sweat like crazy.
What are some of your favorite "free day" activities?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December Coaching Network Learnings

As some of you know I have been a part of Tony's coaching network at Newspring Church in Anderson, SC. for about 4 months now. There is a picture and some more details about the guys in an earlier blog post here. Here are a few of my takeaway quotes from last week. This month's topic was Communications and Sermon Planning.
  1. When people don't show up to your stuff - it's usually not a marketing issue, it's a ministry issue. The easy thing is to announce it louder and more often, but that doesn't address the root problem that your ministry event is not very good.
  2. In most churches the pain of change is higher than the pain of ineffectiveness, so they refuse to change and continue to be ineffective. (from Simple Church)
  3. Leaders must avoid the two extremes of micromanagement and neglect –one way to walk this line is to continually cast vision. (also from Simple Church)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Prayer is Hard

This is difficult to confess as a pastor - but prayer is hard. I've always been a good Bible study guy because it's objective, it's concrete, it's easy to measure. Prayer has always been more difficult for me because it is the opposite of all those things. Plus, it's so personal with God it's threatening. Because maybe He's going to ask me to actually change something about the way I'm doing my life. In the past couple years I have made some good progress in the area of prayer - here are a few of my learnings:

  1. Pray out loud - this may seem a little weird but it has helped me a lot. If you do this around people you will look nuts (which is not always bad), but I would recommend a quiet room somewhere by yourself for a designated amount of time. It is much more normal to just talk - much easier to stay focused. Approach prayer like a conversation.
  2. Follow my mental wanderings - for years I was frustrated because during prayer my mind would wander to other, seemingly unrelated, things. Now instead of trying to clear my mind of all that stuff - I use it as a springboard. Maybe God is bringing those things to mind because they are the very things I'm supposed to be praying about. Now when something pops in my head I just go with it. I pray about that thing - give it back to God - try to discern if there are other things I should be praying about in and around that topic- and then move on.
  3. Listen to God - after doing these first two things I'm usually at a place where I've said what I needed to say out loud to God. I have also followed my mental wanderings wherever they lead. This finally leaves my mind clear and focused. Instead of saying Amen, I stop to listen, and ask God what's next for me. This is the part that gets dangerous because God does speak- we just usually don't stop long enough to listen. He challenges me, encourages me, corrects me, rebukes me, loves me, laughs with me, expresses disappointment in me, pushes me, etc. Then I have to decide whether I will obey or not - but at least there no room to question what God wants - He has made himself clear...

Anything that has been helpful for your prayer life?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Invasion of the Canadians

On a clear day, we can see Canada across the lake from the beaches in Erie, PA. The shores of Ontario are 34 miles from our shores in Erie. I like to think of us as the first line of defense against any Canadian onslaught that might come against our great land. When you think about it we are a key cog in the National Security wheel. No season of year is as dicey in this regard as Christmas time. With the convenient excuse of "no sales tax" the Canadians cross the border and invade Erie by the busload each winter. We may regret allowing them to move about our country so freely and shop and eat and drink and whatnot...they are sneaky those Canucks. Here are three recent sightings:
  1. Kohls - My mother in law saw a large bus emptying at the front of the Kohl's department store in Erie. She approached one from the emerging legions and discovered that they were all from Toronto. I wonder if the word "kohls" is some canadian military code word...it sounds kind of Canadian, eh?
  2. Buffets - the buffet restaurants in Erie have been overrun with the foreign visitors as of late. C'mon you can't use the sales tax excuse on buffet restaraunts people. I looked it up -there is no sales tax on restaraunt food in Canada.
  3. Starbucks - I saw a busload emptying near Starbucks the other day. Seriously? They have their precious Tim Hortons for heaven's sake - what the heck are they doing in our Starbucks? There must be reconnaissance and surveillance going on for some future initiative...
I'm not trying to be an alarmist or anything but the first time I see a Mounty trotting down the street - I'm calling Homeland Security...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ideas to Jump-Start Your Spiritual Life

The majority of people out there believe on God and believe that there is a spiritual component to all of us.  Many people have given up on the God of the Bible because they had a crappy experience with church or with Christians sometime in their past.  Many people have not given up on the God of the Bible but still have a languishing spiritual life because they haven't been intentional about nurturing this part of themselves.  They spend much more time on physical health, occupational health, familial health, emotional health, and while these things are important they are not as critical as the spiritual side of us when it comes to our true fulfillment and purpose.  Here are three ideas to help jump-start a faltering spiritual life.

  1. Take a regular half day away - go somewhere away from all media and technology and use the time to pray, write, reflect, ponder, take inventory, confess the junk in your life.  I often ask God the question, "what's next for me?"  What's next in my own personal/spiritual development, what's next in my family life, what's next in my job?
  2. Adjust your input - most people are addicted to media.  Media can be a very positive thing if we utilize it to allow soul-expanding content to enter our hearts and minds. About two years ago we cancelled cable at our house (although we still get some channels that we watch).  Some great sources of spiritually enhancing content are: youversion - the bible for i-phones, podcasts of godly pastors/speakers, blog subscriptions to people who will challenge and stretch your thinking on a regular basis.  Use your media intake to expand your soul and not just as a mindless outlet.
  3. Find a spiritual partner/ mentor - this takes some initiative and some guts, but if you don't have someone walking your spiritual journey with you, you likely won't progress.  Most of my Christian life has been shared with like-minded travelers who served as sounding boards, confidants, truth-tellers, and butt-kickers.

What's your logical next step toward spiritual progress?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Life Is Short

I spoke a couple of years ago on this theme, and considering my recent post about almost dying, I think it's an appropriate time to post something on the subject. My sermon was based on the words of Moses in Psalm 90:10, 12. He wasn't at a real good place in his life, "As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away…So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom." Three things to learn from this passage:
  1. The “27,740” Principle - that's the number of days in 76 years. The average life of copper wire is 20 years. The average age for a cat is 15 years. The average life of a dollar bill is 18 months. The average life of a painted line on the road is 3-4 months. The average life of a pro basketball players shoes is 2 weeks. The average life of a tornado is 10 minutes. The average life of a person in America is approximately 76 years or 27,740 days. So far I've used up about 13,380 of mine- almost half- and I subtract one more off the total with every sunset. And so do you.
  2. The "Time Flies" Principle - Moses says that soon our time is gone and then we fly away. I read a quote one time that said something like- in childhood, time creeps, as a teenager, time walks, As a young adult, time runs, and during adulthood – time flies. I look no further than the size of my kids to be reminded how quickly time flies.
  3. The "Make it Count" Principle - Moses turns to prayer and asks God that He teach us to "number our days." The truth is, our days are already numbered, we’re just not aware of it most of the time. And when you come across people who are aware that their own days are numbered, their perspective is totally different than the rest of us. They’re working on making every moment count on the important stuff. I pray I will follow suit.
"Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve. Our souls are hungry for meaning … we want our lives to matter." -Harold Kushner

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Kids Questions that Adults Keep Asking

There are some questions that we ask as kids that we continue to ask throughout adulthood. Here are three:
  1. Why? Ever been around a three year old that asks "why" about everything? Sometimes out of curiosity and sometimes they don't really care, they just zone out and keep asking for the sake of asking. Sometimes I think adults keep asking, "Why God?" "Why did you let this happen to me?" "Why couldn't my life have turned out differently?" because we either don't have the guts to admit to knowing the answers or we're afraid to walk forward courageously in faith. For some, our questioning becomes an excuse for our inertia.
  2. Are We There Yet? Kids are impatient on trips - so are we. We are used to instant gratification. We forget that God is in the process of making something in us and He isn't quite done yet. It seems that God is often less concerned with our final destination than He is with who we are becoming along the journey.
  3. Do I have to Share? We are mortified when our kids don't share and are blatantly selfish while playing with other kids. We insist that if they have two of something that they give one to the kid who doesn't have anything. It's just common courtesy. I wonder what runs through God's mind when He looks down on those of us with a lot refusing to share with those who have little? "Immature selfish brats..."

Any other good childhood questions that we can't seem to let go of?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Things I Learned from Almost Dying

All right, I mentioned this in passing a couple of weeks ago, but figure it's time to expound on my experience. I was driving back to Erie on Rt. 85 near Greenville, SC by myself. It was about 5:30 PM, during rush hour on a very busy highway. I was going about 75 mph along with everyone else - it was a fast moving bumper to bumper traffic pattern. I passed out and ran into a guard rail in the median. I regained consciousness as my head and shoulder were being slammed into the driver side door and window. Here are three things I learned.
  1. The way I laugh can actually make me pass out. If you know me, you know I love to laugh - sometimes hysterically. Something funny came on the radio in the car and I laughed at the same time I was yawning - and bam! I was out. I have felt the sensation of being light-headed before while laughing - but I've never actually passed out - until now.
  2. Close calls lead to a lot of personal reflection. After crashing there was nothing for me to do and no where to go other than to get back on the road and keep driving. The car was drivable although the driver's side was pretty demolished. I drove the remaining 11 hours home and had a lot of time to take inventory of my life. Thinking about Kim without a husband and my kids without a dad messed me up for a few days. My mood was a bit more somber in the days following the crash. I wasn't even aware of it until people started commenting. I have made some life commitments with myself since.
  3. God has something left for me here. There were two things that allowed me to narrowly avoid death. If I had regained consciousness any sooner than I did - I am certain I would have tried to jerk the car back onto the road - I would have been obliterated. I had also fortunately just taken off the cruise control. If the cruise had been on - I would have hit the rail and carromed back into traffic. It would have been ugly. There is more for me to accomplish on this earth - and I'm pretty committed to chasing whatever it is that God has for me next.

Carpe Deim... life is a gift... may God be pleased with how we use our moments. Anybody else have a brush with death?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Best Movie Endings: Part 3

This ended up being a more suspenseful finale than I had anticipated - but a crazy weekend pushed this to a Monday post.  Anyway - you can see my 9th, 8th and 7th favorite movie endings here and the 6th, 5th and 4th  here. Here are my top 3 favorite movie endings.

  1. The Usual Suspects - This gets my top spot because it was the first movie I watched that made me truly appreciate the twist ending.  Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) walks out of the Police Station, and the detective begins to look around his office and see all the items that Verbal used to craft the story of the movie -and with the drop of a coffee cup and the correction of a limp - Keyser Soze walks off scott free.  The voiceover to close it out is, "...my guess is, you'll never hear from him again... The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist ... and like that... he's gone."
  2. The Game - This movie is really high on my list of favorites and the ending is a big part of it.  I love psychological thrillers and this is a doozie.  Micheal Douglas - shoots his own brother and predictably jumps to his death.  As he's in flight, his life flashes before his eyes, he falls through the glass ceiling and lands on the inflated "X", "Happy Birthday Nicholas!"
  3. Shawshank Redemption - The beauty of this ending is really in the writing of the voiceover in the final scene.  The words come from "Red" (Morgan Freeman's character). The final scene starts with Red saying, I guess it's time to "get busy living or get busy dying." He breaks parole and sets off to find his escapee friend.  As his bus meanders through the counryside he says, "I'm so excited I can barely sit still - I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel - a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain...I hope I can make it across the border... I hope I can find my friend and shake his hand... I hope the pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams... I hope..." Great last words... love it.