Even in the best restaurants…

The napkin goes under the table leg.

Even in the best restaurants – they still put napkins under a wobbly table.

They just use nicer napkins.

I was made aware of a wealthy family who took advantage of a couple of much lesser means. It was frustrating, because they were “legal”, but seemingly inflexible and even hurtful in their actions. 

The poorer couple was selling something to pay some unexpected expenses. In the closing documents they made a simple paperwork error in their original calculations – just a couple hundred dollars on a many thousand dollar sale – and, the wealthier couple held them to their original agreement – knowing it was an honest mistake and not the understood verbal agreement. They made sure every single penny was paid. 

It was a MAJOR loss for one couple. They needed every dime they could get. The extra money meant nothing in the grand scheme to the other couple – pocket change.

Of course, the wealthy was completely within their “rights”, but was it really the right thing to do? 

I hate when stuff like this happens. Jesus told a similar story I seem to recall. 

Shortly afterwards, Cheryl and I ate in a really nice restaurant. We were on vacation and treated ourselves to a great meal. It was one of those white tablecloth places where we had more than one waiter/waitress. You have forks you don’t – or I don’t – know how to use. 

At the table next to us sat a nice, well-dressed couple, also enjoying a romantic evening. I could tell the couple were struggling with the rocking table. It wobbled whenever they leaned on it.

What did they do?

The well-dressed man leaned over, lifted the table slightly, and stuck a folded napkin underneath the leg. Problem solved.

The two stories working together reminded me of an even greater life principle – far more important than money or wobbly tables. It’s one I hope we all remember. 

While some of us may think we are better than others – when it comes to a wobbly table – we are all the same.

My mom used to say, “Everyone puts there pants on one leg at a time.”

I say, “Everyone fixes a wobbly table with a folded napkin.” (And, sometimes with packages of sugar.) 

God says, “Don’t think you are better than you really are.” (Romans 12:3)

Have you been looking down others who have less than you? Maybe who don’t share your opinions or agree with your views? Have you judged people unfairly based on your expectations of them? 

Be honest. We can all be guilty of it at some level.

God, continue to mold us into who you want us to be – seeing others as you see them.

Peace Often Comes Through Obedience

Are you struggling with a “word from God”?

Do you feel there is something you need to do, but you aren’t quite certain about it yet?

Do you wish you had greater “peace” before you struck out to follow a dream – a dream you feel is God-given?

Are you sensing a desire to plant a church, revitalize a church, launch a new ministry effort, or surrender to vocational ministry?

If any of those or a similar scenario is your current story I may have a word of encouragement for you – or perhaps a word of challenge.

In my experience, peace often doesn’t come until obedience begins.

Seldom do I have complete peace prior to beginning to obey what I sense God is calling me to do.

Many times the direction God appears to be leading me doesn’t make sense. I’m restless. I don’t sleep well. I may even question myself and what I’m sensing.

I’ve previously written steps I take to discern God’s will (You can read that HERE and HERE), but after I’ve done those processes, and I’m still sensing God’s leading, the next place for me hasn’t always been an overwhelming sense of peace. The next place for me is one of obedience.

I’ve learned I may have to get my feet wet (Read Joshua 3) before the waters begin to part and peace begins to fill my heart.

When we agreed with God (and the search committee) He was calling us to leave an enormously successful church plant to go to an established 100 plus year old church almost a third of the size – where budgets were stretched and I was expected to preach three times as much and visit far more hospital beds – and to wear a tie on Sunday – it was difficult to get peace about any of those things.

It wasn’t until we agreed, and I showed up to tell the leadership of our church plant we were leaving where God gave me an overwhelming sense of peace. I had to obey first though.

To finish the story, we are a different church in many ways today. I preach once a week and very rarely have on a tie. And, the church has grown beyond our imaginations and the budget is healthy. But, we couldn’t see all this going into the process.

Are you in one of those times of discernment? Do you sense God’s leading? Do you believe God is calling you to a new level of faith and dependence on Him?

The next step may be to get your feet wet.

Improve this post. Share your stories of where peace came in obedience.

Pick Up Your Mat and Walk!

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” John 5:8

In order to appreciate the value of Jesus’ command, you need to consider the culture of the day. Today, although some may feel we don’t do enough, there are limited opportunities for the physically handicapped to work and lead productive lives. In Christ’s time on earth, the handicapped were outcast. They lived off handouts they could obtain from begging.

In the above instance, the man had been crippled for a long time. Probably the only possessions he had were the clothes on his back and the mat on which he lay. The mat was almost a symbol of the only hope in his life. His existence was one to be pitied. There was no known cure for what ailed him (except Jesus), and even if there had been, he certainly couldn’t have afforded it.

Jesus had sympathy for the man, and with the spoken word, the man was healed. Jesus told him to “Get up!” Take his mat and walk. Obviously, this was a gift greater than anything money could have bought.

Whenever I read this verse, this question comes to mind:

What mat am I holding on to today?

This man was holding on to his mat. It had surely become a treasured possession to him. He slept on it, rested on it, and watched the world pass by on it. He couldn’t have imagined facing the day without it. Jesus tells him to pick it up and walk. When Jesus was finished with the man, he didn’t need the mat anymore. It would take faith to trust Jesus and attempt to walk, but the victory was worth it all. Instead of a mat of hope, this man had the hope of Christ!

What would Jesus have you and I pick up today? What are you holding on to tightly as your only hope?

  • Money
  • Health
  • Relationships
  • Hobbies
    • I think Jesus was telling the man to pick up his mat because he wouldn’t need it anymore. He wouldn’t need a place to beg, to worry, to suffer. He needed no more dependence on a mat. He had found the Healer!

      And, I think even today – whatever you are holding on to tighter than your faith, I believe Jesus would say, “Pick up your mat and walk!”

      If we aren’t careful our mats can become our hope rather than our hope being in Christ.

      Our goal should be to trust Him with we trust in most. We are to allow Him to carry our burdens, strengthen our walk and brighten our future.

      Jesus wants to help you – and, the best way He can do this is lead you to trust Him more. Listen for His command to pick up your mat and walk!

7 Ways to Stop Gossip

In my job, I hear far more junk than I care to hear sometimes.

One part of the drama of messiness which always frustrates me is how gossip begins about other people’s problems. As if dealing with the consequences of sin is not enough, many times the hardest repercussion is the gossip which occurs about the people involved and the situation which occurred.

I have been the victim of unfair gossip. I know the pain it can cause. I have never found gossip to be helpful to the people involved or to the Kingdom of God. Gossip has become something I hate, because I have seen it destroy so many people!

Gossip hurts innocent people who are caught in the middle, it exaggerates the situation, and it keeps the one who did wrong loaded with guilt and frustration, and from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace.

(Consider these passages: Proverbs 11:13, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 20:19, Proverbs 26:20, Romans 1:29, 2 Corinthians 12:20, 1 Timothy 5:13 – the Bible talks a great deal about this issue.)

With this in mind, I’m listing 7 suggestions for stopping, or at least slowing, the spread of gossip.

Will you consider each and internalize them – as needed?

If the shoe fits will you wear it?

Together, perhaps we can help stop the deadly spread of this harmful virus!

Here are 7 ways to stop gossip:

Don’t repeat something unless you know it to be true first hand.

Second hand knowledge is not enough to justify repeating something. You will get something wrong and it will hurt others. By the way, reading it on Facebook does not make it true.

Don’t repeat unless it is helpful to do so, you have a vested interest and permission.

Never share another person’s story unless you have permission to share or what your sharing is equally your story as to the other person’s. It is almost always gossip if anything is shared otherwise.   

Don’t “confess” other people’s sins.

Unless you are in physical danger – even if the wrong included you and you feel the need to confess, share your story, but not someone else’s. Doing so in the name of a prayer request is not a good excuse.

If you must tell, and have passed the test on the first three suggestions, tell only what happened.

Do not share your commentary on the situation or your “I think this is probably what happened” or why you think it happened. Just the facts – as you know them to be true.

Choose to pray for others every time you are tempted to tell their story.

Instead of telling their story – instead of spreading gossip – pray for them and your willpower not to share anything you shouldn’t.

When someone tells you something you don’t need to know, don’t allow curiosity to be your guide.

Stop the person and tell them you don’t want to know! Remember, if they will spread gossip about others they will spread it about you!

Keep the circle of confession limited to the people involved or to no more than needed for accountability purposes.

Even when it is your story you usually don’t have to tell the world. The wider the circle and the more the story is repeated the more likely things will turn into gossip – and, the more people who will be injured.

If my tone seems intent about the issue it’s because I am. I have little patience for gossips. My desire is to see people live in healthy community together. Gossip is a betrayer of this becoming reality.

Please chime into the discussion to help make my case here. What else would you add?

Your Life Can Change In One Day

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro… (Exodus 3:1)

It apparently began as a normal day for Moses. In the morning, Moses set out, as he had many years, to tend to his father-in-law’s flock of sheep. Shepherding was a dirty, thankless job, but it was Moses’ livelihood and so in typical fashion, he began another day’s work. As the story goes, however, it was not a normal day for Moses. This particular day would change the course of Moses’ life forever.

If you know the story in Exodus 3, this was the day Moses met God in the burning bush.

This was the day God recruited Moses for Kingdom service. This was the day Moses became the chief representative for God to the Israelites. Beginning this day, Moses led the people out of Egypt towards the Promise Land. Along the way, God used Moses to lead the people through a parted sea, deliver the 10 Commandments, and feed the people with manna and quail.

Oh yea, and Moses got to speak to a rock and watch as water poured out also. Moses life was never the same from this one day forward.

The story of Moses is a great reminder to me of the power contained within a day.

In one day, a life can be changed. One change of direction can alter a person’s future for good or bad. One new resolve, one decision to do the right thing (or the wrong thing), or one personal conviction can alter the outcome of a person’s life in positive or negative ways.

This thought really leaves me with one question for you:

How are you allowing your “one days” to shape your life?

Is there something in your life you know you need to be doing, some change of direction you need to make, some new commitment, but so far, you have not been obedient to what you know to do?

Could this be a day you surrender to the will of God for your life?

Will this be the day you begin to head your life in the direction you actually want it to end?

Will the resolve you make today carry you towards the vision you have for your life?

Life altering decisions usually begin “one day”.

Is this your day?

This One Song Can Dramatically Improve Your Marriage

She Believes in Me” written by Steve Gibb and sung by Kenny Rogers has the power to improve your marriage.

Wow! Is this is misleading statement designed as a catchy phrase to get you to read a blog post?

No!

I’m not saying I’d never do something like it, but I’m not this time. I promise!

And, granted, the song itself can’t improve your marriage. Listen to it a thousand times and your marriage may not be any better.

But, it’s the principle within the song, which if applied, I’d come close to guaranteeing it will work.

Years ago I used to share that song on marriage retreats I led. Contained within it is one secret – one principle – which can dramatically change, maybe even save, a marriage.

Here are the lyrics, in case you don’t remember them:

(The bold emphasis is to make my point.)

While she lays sleeping, I stay out late at night and play my songs
And sometimes all the nights can be so long
And it’s good when I finally make it home, all alone
While she lays dreaming, I try to get undressed without the light
And quietly she says how was your night?
And I come to her and say, it was all right, and I hold her tight

And she believes in me, I’ll never know just what she sees in me
I told her someday if she was my girl, I could change the world
With my little songs, I was wrong
But she has faith in me, and so I go on trying faithfully
And who knows maybe on some special night, if my song is right
I will find a way, find a way…

While she lays waiting, I stumble to the kitchen for a bite
Then I see my old guitar in the night
Just waiting for me like a secret friend, and there’s no end
While she lays crying, I fumble with a melody or two
And I’m torn between the things that I should do
And she says to wake her up when I am through, 
God her love is true…

And she believes in me, I’ll never know just what she sees in me
I told her someday if she was my girl, I could change the world
With my little songs, I was wrong
But she has faith in me, and so I go on trying faithfully
And who knows maybe on some special night, if my song is right
I will find a way, while she waits… while she waits for me for me!

End of song.

There it is. 

Did you catch it?

It’s pretty simple. I’ve written about the principle before HERE, but the principle is simple. Inside the heart of every man is a desire to be respected, especially by the one he loves. When a man feels a high level of respect – from anything or anyone, he will do just about anything to earn it again – so he goes “on trying faithfully“, as the song says.

I know. The woman needs respect too. I know also, if she’s not receiving the love she deserves, it will be much harder for her to respect. I get it – I really do. It may not even seem fair to suggest what I’m suggesting – respecting anyone who doesn’t deserve respect. It would almost be like telling someone to love someone who doesn’t deserve to be loved or forgiving someone who doesn’t deserve forgiveness.

It’s radical talking. (Of course, Christians are called to love and forgive radically – just a reminder.)

I can’t help, however, pointing out something I’ve seen improve many marriages. When the woman makes even slight changes in how she respects – in the way she says things – the language she uses – the genuineness of her admiration – something changes in the man. Something good. He wants more of it.

And who knows, maybe on some special night, if his song is right, he’ll will find a way, while she waits, while she waits for him.

By the way, a note to my wife Cheryl: Thanks for believing in me – even when I don’t always believe in myself.

10 Ways to Help Your Spouse Transition to a New Position

In a previous post, I wrote about the emotions of a pastor or leader’s spouse during a time of ministry transition. You will need to read the post HERE for this post to make complete sense.

The post resonated with several who are dealing with this issue. My post was to bring awareness to those emotions, but as I expected, it generated questions.

People wanted to know how – how do they help their spouse transition?

Great question. I don’t have all the answers, but I have some.

Here are 10 ways to help your spouse in a job transfer:

Celebrate what they are doing

Many times your excitement will seem to diminish what your spouse is doing. I was talking to a young pastor recently who is experiencing great success in his new church. At the same time, his wife is watching their children. I reminded him that changing diapers on the children he loves is just as powerful. He knew that, but he needed a reminder to celebrate this fact.

Help them explore and pace themselves

Eventually, the spouse needs to find their own identity. It will take time. Allow them the freedom to do so, even if this means you have to keep the children or do other responsibilities some so they can.

Don’t lock them into your world

Don’t dictate their ministry. My wife and I are partners, but she is not me. Nor am I her. Her interests and mine are different. And, it’s okay. It’s actually by design. She makes me better. And, in a much smaller way I’m sure, I make her better.

Listen to your spouse

This is always important, but even more so in times of stress or change. You’ll be busier than ever. But your spouse will need you – more than ever. Listen. The practice will serve you and your marriage in the days ahead.

Let them grieve

They may mourn over the separation from friends. Especially if it was your job for which you moved, they may be more likely to miss the old house. They may complain at times the supermarket isn’t as easy to navigate or the conveniences of the city are not as good. It’s a part of the acclimating process. Give it time.

Be conscious

It won’t be the same. It probably never will be. Each of your roles will be different. You will have different friends. Your schedules may be altered. Your routines will change. Be conscious this creates stress in people and relationships.

Be present when home

When you finally get home 1 be fully home. Shut down. Have some times where you quit everything work related and be with your family. Give your family the attention they deserve.

Celebrate your new area

Explore the new city together. Discover the hidden gems and be a tourist for a while. (I wrote a post about how to acclimate to a new city HERE.)

Keep your spouse informed

They will naturally feel somewhat isolated from your exciting new world. Don’t promote this emotion because you’ve excluded them from it. Make them feel a part of things as much as you can by giving her details of your day. I realize requires more patience, but during transition the spouse needs to be even more a part of your day they missed.

Be patient

It may take longer for your spouse to acclimate to the new environment than you think it should. This is okay. Your spouse is not you. Don’t expect them to respond to change the same way you would.

Those are my suggestions. If you’re in a time of transition, for the good of your marriage and yourself – be intentional!

Have you transitioned a position recently? What recommendations do you have for dealing with your spouse’s response?

The Emotions of a Pastor or Leader’s Spouse in Times of Transition

When I’m talking to a pastor or other leader who has accepted a new position or is in a time of transition – after I hear the excitement in their voice of what they see God doing – I almost always ask the same question:

“How is your spouse dealing with the change?”

There is usually a pause, followed by an “umm” of some sort, then a statement such as, “She/He seems to be doing okay.”

Push a little more (which I usually do) and I’ll hear something like:

It’s been harder on him/her than I thought it would be.”

Pushing even further, I might hear, “I don’t understand why he/she is not as excited as I am. We agreed this was what God had for us.”

Many times, when the leader is honest, the transition hasn’t gone as well for the spouse as for the pastor. It will likely come in time – if given time – but for now, the spouse is simply not as excited about the change in positions as the one who made the change in career is.

Why is this?

I like to encourage pastors and other leader to remember their spouse’s emotions in the process of transition. The person who moved to a new opportunity has found their center of gravity and purpose. Most likely the spouse will feel a sense of loss and have to look for theirs. It takes time.

Often a new pastor, for example, comes home at the end of a long day and has something exciting to share every time. Things are moving, changing, challenging them daily. Even on days things aren’t going well – they have drama in their day they can’t wait to share.

Many times, right now, the spouse has days which look the same.

You come home pumped at what God is doing, so naturally you share your enthusiasm with the one you care to share with the most – your partner in life and ministry.

But, if you’re not conscious of your spouse’s emotions, depending on their state of mind, they may hear, “My life is exciting. Yours is boring.”

Or worse, “My life has meaning. Your life has none.”

Granted, you are not and would not think those things – and would never want your spouse to think you do – but emotions are high in times of transition. Don’t be surprised if they produce irrational thoughts and actions at times. This is part of change.

Your spouse moved from friends and has to learn who to trust again. They may even be more relation-centered emotionally. Their heart may transition slower. The roles they held in the church or community haven’t been replaced yet.

You moved forward in your career and passions. Many times hers took a step backward. Or, at least, seem to have for now. This will change in time, and the spouse probably knows this intellectually, but emotionally they feel a sense of loss which will take time to replace with a sense of purpose equal to yours.

The key is to remember your spouse is an individual person, with individual needs for a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Failure to acknowledge this and be sensitive to it is not only unfair it can damage the relationship and slow the process of acclimating in the transition. 

In a future post, I’ll share some specific thoughts on helping your spouse find their center of gravity in a time of transition. Stay tuned.

5 Reasons This Pastor Attends Church While on Vacation

Pastor and ministry leader, as you consider your vacation this year, I want to encourage you to find a church wherever you are and visit.

I understand why you may not. Church is your “job”. You’re on vacation. It’s a break from “work” by definition.

One of the first things Cheryl and I do when we go out of town is look for a place to attend church on Sunday. We’ve had some incredible experiences attending other churches and its one of our favorite parts about vacation.

I know many pastors who look forward to some weeks they don’t have to attend church. I have often been asked if we are legalistic because we don’t take a vacation from church while on vacation. Do we feel we “must” attend church in vacation? Is it because I’m a pastor?

Absolutely not. We feel no obligation. It’s what we want to do.

Here are 5 reasons this pastor attends church on vacation:

We love church.

Church is the best part of our week. We don’t view church as an obligation. It is a privilege. We believe the church is God’s plan to make disciples. It’s our community. It’s where we find our best friends in life. It is a large part of what fuels us for the week ahead. Why would we take a vacation from this important part of our life?

We get to worship without distraction.

Honestly, Sunday can be a very distracting day for Cheryl and me. We are both busy with ministry obligations. On vacation we are freed to worship.

We get to sit together.

Cheryl is beside me during the worship portion of the service, but she has never stood beside me while I preach – even as many times as I’ve asked her to. 🙂 Actually, we did dance together on stage in one service. (Another story) On vacation we enjoy being together for an entire service.

We learn from others.

I love sitting under the teaching of other pastors. Cheryl never admits to anyone preaching better than me, but she seems to take plenty of notes when we are out of town. 🙂 We also always go home with new ideas and renewed energy from attending other churches.

We get to encourage another pastor.

We know how much we love visitors. On vacation, we get to attend another church, pray for the pastor, and many times meet and pray for the pastor and pastor’s spouse. Those have been awesome experiences over the years.

Please understand. I’m not saying you have to attend church when you’re on vacation. I am far from being legalistic. I’ve often been referred to as more of a rebel, but don’t dismiss this advice too quickly. It could be one of the greater parts of your vacation. (And if you’re ever in Lexington for vacation, come see us. Did you read my post about vacationing here?)

The Best Routes in Life Find You Dodging Geese Poop

Some of my favorite trips or vacations are where I get to take a long run. Through parks, subdivisions, and back roads. But, my favorite runs always involve water – along a river, lake or ocean. I have run in some incredible places.

Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington, DC., Madison, Wisconsin, Dallas. Just a few which come to mind.

On those runs one word can usually capture the time.

Glorious.

I worship. I talk to God. I dream.

Long runs along a body of water are awesome. Love it.

I have come to this realization though:

The best places to run all have some common characteristics.

The best cities in which to run, in my opinion, have these attributes in common:

A body of water.

A path beside the body of water.

The peace and tranquility of running on the path beside the body of water.

The chance to connect with nature and God along the body of water.

But, here’s the other thing I learned – and the point of this post.

The best places to run require dodging geese poop.

(Sorry if you don’t think a nice blog like this, written by a mostly nice pastor like me, about leadership and life, should use an analogy – or a word = like “poop” in a post. I guess I could call them geese droppings, but that doesn’t seem to capture what they drop.)

But, it is true. If you want to run in the best places –

You’ve got to dodge the geese poop.

And, right about now, you’re wondering why you’re even still reading this post. I understand.

Well, it’s because – once as I was dodging the geese poop – it occurred to me.

The same principle is true in life and leadership.

You can settle for mediocre.

You can choose to go for second best.

You can compromise before the right decision is made.

You can refuse the risk you might get dirty.

But, if you want to experience the best life has to offer.

If you want to settle for nothing but the right decision.

You have to dodge the geese poop of life.

The path to the best places in life are often lined with difficulties along the way.

(By the way, for my pastor friends, this principle has been true for me in church planting and church revitalization. We’ve dodged a lot of geese droppings.)

Following your dream – achieving God’s plan for your life – maximizing your goals and ambitions – those aren’t easy. They never are. They require a lot of faith, a lot of hard work, and a lot of prayer and patience.

It’s messy, filled with setbacks, conflict and obstacles. There will be times we are tempted to give up, choose an easier route, or quit before the end is in sight.

It’s a choice. You can choose where you want to run. You can stay on the boring and safe treadmill of life if you want, but, as for me, no doubt about it, whenever I get the chance, I’m choosing to run by the body of water.

I’ll just watch out for and endure the geese poop, because I know it’s a part of the path.

Are you on one of those body of water paths of life right now?

Are there a lot of “droppings” in your way?

Don’t give up – the Glorious part comes to those who endure!