Centerfield

As a kid, I loved baseball. As a kid growing up in South Jersey, I loved the Philadelphia Phillies. As a kid growing up in South Jersey who loved the Phillies, I loved Mike Schmidt. He was my hero and I watched him play every chance I got.

I remember being on a camping trip with a bunch of other boys and dads from our church. I was probably around 9 or 10 years old. I was playing with a friend near a shallow, slow-moving river where the occasional canoe would meander by. I recall a canoe and its paddlers paddling by when one of them–an lady probably in her 50s–called to me on the shore, “Hello!” “Hi!” I replied. She called out, “You look like a baseball player!”

She couldn’t have known it, but she had just gifted me with the greatest, most magnificent compliment a boy could receive. I was immediately dumbfounded and honestly don’t think I said anything else to the stranger in the canoe. My brain was spinning, trying to figure out how this women knew of my love for baseball and how its all I wanted to do, and how I dreamed of playing with my hero and idol, Michael Jack Schmidt in the major leagues someday. She must have just seen it in my eyes. I must’ve so powerfully oozed a love for baseball that she couldn’t help but see my future in it.

After she was gone around the next bend and out of sight, I stood there with mouth a-gape. Still reeling. Still reveling in those 6 glorious words, believing this woman was undoubtedly a prophetess, uttering the proclamation of my future glory on a major league diamond somewhere. Then I looked down at my left hand. And saw my baseball glove.

Oooooooooh.  So THAT’S how she knew I loved baseball. That lady wasn’t a prophetess. She just had functioning eyeballs and the ability to spout the obvious to little kids onshore.

I won’t say that my dreams of baseball stardom were dashed that day, but they were severely dented. Maybe I wasn’t headed for the majors after all.

This morning on my commute to work I was listening to the radio when the song “Centerfield” came on. If you haven’t heard it, John Fogerty basically created the defining song about baseball.

“Put me in, coach! I’m ready to play…today.  Put me in, coach! I’m ready to play…today.
Look at me, I can be….centerfield!”

As a youth pastor I sometimes think about who I am, where I am, and what I do.  It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while someone will dare to ask me if I’d ever consider taking a “lead” or “senior” pastor role. I think to many it equates to a call to the major leagues.

But I don’t think so…at all.

I love student ministry and while I’m very realistic about my plummeting “hipness” factor, I still love every single day that I get to pray for, serve, speak to, disciple, laugh with, counsel, help, support, walk with, listen to, and influence the next generation. I just love it. It’s not easy, it’s not pretty, it’s not lucrative, it’s not glamorous, it’s not simple, it’s not always fun…but I just somehow love it. Will I do this for another 21 years? Who knows. But for now, “Put me in, Coach!”

So whether you’re in full time ministry or mopping floors (there’s often overlap there), my prayer for you is that you wake up tomorrow with an insatiable desire to play centerfield. Wherever you find yourself.

C’mon…sing along…

 

A Misspelled Reminder

I remember back in high school, while walking between classes I’d sometimes hear a distant voice from another hallway calling out, “Fight!“. Nothing got people going in the same direction quicker than the opportunity for public spectacle, even if it amounted to not much more than a couple girls pulling hair and feverishly slapping each other. If we were really lucky, it would be a couple of juiced up jocks going at it.

A simple truth about human nature: A crowd draws a crowd.

That’s why I don’t put much stock in a church or student ministry that has the ability to simply draw a crowd. If you’re a youth pastor and you’ve bragged over your big numbers I can honestly confess that I don’t get too fired up about that. Good marketing doesn’t always equal good ministry. After all, that fight in the next hall over drew a huge crowd and there was nothing good happening there.

I attended a one-day conference called the “Orange Tour” the other day. For the most part, it was very enjoyable and I got to see and hear from some well-known and very impactful communicators. Big shots like Carey Nieuwhof and Jon Acuff to name a couple. While sitting among a small sea of ministry leaders, I was careful to take copious notes. But I don’t take notes like normal people. I’m a note-doodler. So there I am doodling two words that were being discussed from the stage. Two words that, according to the speaker (and statistical reality) trump the attraction of spectacle via lasers and fog and up-to-the-minute trendy music when it comes to why people go to and stick with a particular church.

You ready for the two words?  “Relational warmth.”

In a nutshell, its relational warmth that makes a church sticky to people. Its relational warmth that draws people in, puts them at ease, and allows community to happen. Its relational warmth that far outweighs the lighting effect budget or lack thereof.

Now, take a look at mrelational-warmthy doodle I drew as I was listening to this truth being talked about…

I got nearly all the way through this doodle and realized I misspelled the word “Relational”.  In the very next moment it dawned on me that in that silly mistake is a powerful truth. If my relationships aren’t real…that is, if I keep my guard up, if I posture like I’ve got my whole act together all the time, if I’m not willing to be vulnerable and honest, if I keep up an affront that gives the vibe that I’m more than I am or less than I should be….well, that relationship won’t get much deeper than…you know…something shallow.

Sometimes I wonder how people view me as a pastor. (And pastors in general, for that matter.)  Am I approachable? Am I welcoming? Do I engage others in authentic conversation well? Or do I seem too busy to most people? Do I come across as unteachable or unreachable? When you get my attention do you feel like you have ALL of my attention?

In other words, am I REAL?  Gosh, I hope so.

Here’s what I want to do.  *Gulp*  If I’ve EVER made you feel unimportant, overlooked, or marginalized, I’m inviting you to contact me. I’d happily contact you but I honestly don’t know who you are (or if you are).  Use the menu at the top of this page to find my contact information. I mean it: Would you give me the opportunity of knowing how I’ve hurt you and allowing me the chance to apologize?

I want my relationships to be realationships. I want my ministry to be marked by authenticity, even when that means the light shines on my imperfections. Because I know that it’s in my brokenness that God’s ability to mend and restore is most clearly seen.

8 Little Boxes.

What is it about taking advice about leadership that people eat up with a spoon? Leadership and its gurus have grown exponentially over the past decade. It seems if you want to be noticed, tell people how to be a better whatever it is they want to be better at.

Good stuff, for sure.  Heck, I’m swimming in that pool too. I want to know how to be better, do better, accomplish better, see better, hear better, plan better, and write better (to name a few).

But its really not that complicated. Let me tell you what I mean through an experiment we’ll do together. Grab a piece of paper and a pen. I prefer lined paper, but its your life.

What do you want to do?  Write that down. Keep it to one line and measurable. Break big goals like “Get on the New York Times bestseller list” into chunks like “Write page 1” or “Lose 40 pounds” into chunks like “Walk the block every night”.  You get the idea.

To the left, draw a small box. This is where you’ll put your “check” when you’ve done it. To the right, draw seven small boxes. One for every day of the week. Sunday through Saturday. You know how a week works.  This is your list, so make it as long as you want, but I’d stick with 5 things or less. Keep it focused.

Now, for every day you don’t put a check in the “done” box to the left, put a check (or frown) in the “day” box to the right. If you fill up every “day” box, take that thing off your to-do list. But first, figure out why you didn’t get it to “done”. No, you don’t get to make an excuse and leave it on the list. Take it off.  Live at least one week with it off the list, then you can put it back, remembering why it didn’t get done the first time.

After trying this little experiment for a while, let me know how it’s going. Send me an email or something. Feel free to comment if you don’t mind the known universe knowing what you’re trying to get done.

Or feel free to share your best practices in getting stuff done. THAT  I would love to see in the comment section. You never know who besides me could benefit from it.

If you want to use the list tool I’m using, give me a shout and I’ll email it to you. But seriously, it took me 3 1/2 minutes to make mine. You got this.

#revive

revive

What is the evidence of spiritual revival? Where is the spiritual revival so many want to see in our country and in our world? Who decides when/if revival arrives? Who decides when its here?

I was visiting a very large, well known church and speaking with one of the members of that church. He was sharing with me all that God was doing in their church, the crazy numbers of people coming to faith in Christ, the miracles they were seeing, and the overall sense of God’s power being poured out there. But then he made a statement I couldn’t quite let go of. He said, “I don’t know why they don’t call it a revival.” 

Wait a second. Is there some Revival Criteria Committee I’m unaware of? Is there some backroom table where a certain group of people look over evidences of supernatural things happening in different places and decide if they get that “YEP, THAT’S REVIVAL!” rubber stamp? Can somebody clue me in if such a group exists, ‘cuz I’d like to picket outside where they’re meeting.

Here’s what I think of when I think of revival…

It’s unmistakable. The evidence is beyond argument. There’s no ambivalence.

It’s personal. It may involve a crowd, but it invades individuals.

It’s holy. The sweeping of God’s Spirit convicts us to remove sin from our lives.

It’s unexplainable. We don’t manufacture it with the right mix of musical crescendo and prayer claps. We can’t.

It’s attainable. God gave us a blueprint for revival in 2 Chronicles 7:14, among other places in Scripture.

It’s never egocentric. It isn’t based on any one individual, pastor, or communicator. It’s based on Jesus. Only Jesus. If you hear any pastor taking credit for revival, run.

It results in boldness. Read the Biblical accounts of what happens when God moves in a person or group of people. They could give a rip what anyone thinks of them. They’re emboldened. Not obnoxious, rude, or pushy. BOLD.

It’s so very near.  My personal revival is closer than I might think and is ignited by a relentless pursuit of daily nearness and intimacy with Jesus. It is inspired and stoked by others who are also seeking that nearness. It’s contagious among those who desire personal revival.

 

This one is quick and messy, but I’ll ask you this:

What is YOUR view of revival? Have I said anything that is incomplete or incorrect?

I didn’t title this one. Sorry.

We have a problem. And its a big one. But its not a new one, a complex one, or an insurmountable one.

And its not Trump.  Or Hilary.  Or the mainstream media.  Or Target.  Or ISIS.

Its our incomprehension, misunderstanding, and consequential dismissal of one word:

 

Repent.

It’s an old word. It’s a biblical word. And today most of us would be offended by it if we weren’t so busy ignoring it.

If we want to “Make America Great Again”, its not going to be through some orange-skinned, egotistical, anti-establishment millionaire.

If we want to see our nation rise from where its been, its not going to be through the romantic notion that we can collectively put a woman in the seat of Commander-In-Chief. It didn’t work with Obama and our romantic views of ending racism, and it won’t work with Clinton and our romantic views of ending sexism.

If we want to again own our responsibility for where our country is headed, its not going to be through making NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, or any other talking head the whipping boy for our collective ills. Of course they twist information to fit their agenda. But if a waiter walks up to your table with a plate full of poo, you say “I’m not eating that.” and then you don’t eat it.

If we as a people are going to live free, its not going to be through nonsensical “tolerance” of nonsensical policy. While we’re arguing over who should pee where, our last sense of dignity, honor, respect, and sacredness take its last gasps of air. You’re gonna boycott Target? Okay. Go ahead. I’ll be over there at the end of the aisle, checking out the clearance items. Target isn’t our enemy.

If we as a people are going to rise and defeat the religiously oppressive and murderous Muslim extremists known as ISIS, it sure as heck isn’t going to be by throwing all religious thought into one sack and tossing it off a bridge. ISIS is certainly a threat, but ISIS isn’t the end-all, be-all of evil in our world. (Bonus thought: For every Christian they behead, they fulfill more Biblical prophecy.)    (If I had a mic, this is the point at which I’d drop it.)

What IS going to heal, restore, and revive us as a people is our response to the invitation to repentance. People may cringe at the word “repent” but that only proves the validity and vitality of the need.

When I repent of something, I turn away from it. I go in a different, better direction. But here’s the kicker: You won’t (and can’t) repent until you acknowledge the dysfunction and destructiveness of the current situation. And that takes what few people are willing to exhibit: brokenness, pridelessness, and humility. It takes me saying:

“I see things as they really are; and I confess that I’m responsible. I have put myself as center and the god of my own life and I have systematically wrecked my heart with sinful decisions based on what I want, how I feel, what makes me most comfortable. And with God’s help…I’m done.”

The message of the gospels and epistles in the New Testament by and large boil down to eight words, starting with the one: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

I’m no doomsday prepper. I admit this post has a bit of a somber tone to it, but please don’t picture me wearing a sandwich board, holding a megaphone, walking the streets and shouting incoherently about some nondescript future calamity. Please don’t.

What I am saying is even if one or one hundred people were to read these words, entertain the thought that our humanistic philosophies have completely failed us, and turned away from our sin in repentance as we turn to God, the author of our only salvation, and began to live lives of others-first action…well….maybe our nation can live again.

 

 

If you’re ready to repent but you’re not sure what to do next, just reach out. Send me a message. I’m no perfect anything. Far from it actually. I’m just someone who has understood a bit of God’s grace and that’s only because of God’s grace. That grace is open to anyone and everyone.

And I do mean everyone.

“We NEVER use the ‘P’ word.”

fitting20room20431x221coverflow1I was in a fitting room recently trying on some pants.

Down the hall at the entrance to the fitting rooms, I could hear the store manager talking with the fitting room attendant employee. It seemed they were doing some on-the-job training. He was presenting a scenario to her then asking her what her response would be in that situation:

Manager: “Let’s say a customer came in and wanted to exchange an item, but they didn’t have a receipt, and all tags had been removed from the item. What would you say?”

Employee: “Mmmm. Well, I guess I would tell them that it is our store policy—“

Manager: “Whoa. Wait a minute. We don’t EVER use the ‘P’ word.”

The manager then went on to tell the employee what would be a good response to that imaginary customer. I didn’t catch much of that part of the conversation because my mind was already off and running, mentally writing what you’re reading right now.

Why would the manager stop that employee in mid-sentence like that? What was so bad about the word “policy” that the manager felt he needed to correct? I’m gonna take a crack at it, and in doing so make some connections to ministry.

Simply put…

Policy = “We’ve learned from the past.”  Generally speaking, policy is created based on past experiences. We learn from getting burned, so we make policy to keep it from happening again. Policy isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. But it can become an obstacle to ministry.

Like when…

Policy = “This is just how we do things.” I’ve seen that sentiment drive death nails into ministry. Once a church gets “stuck” in that rut, it takes everybody working together to kick that coffin open from the inside. Its possible for sure, but if you hear those words uttered and don’t get an explanation as to WHY that is, push for an answer.

Policy = “We like things this way, so don’t ask us to change.” This one is a first cousin to the one above, but when we get comfortable with the routine we have created, we escort the Holy Spirit to the door. Or at least to a corner where we can keep an eye on Him.

When policy takes priority, people know it. Customers at a retail store know when they’re not valued and likely don’t return. But what happens when someone attends a church and doesn’t feel that people are priority?  What happens when the emphasis is placed on caring for the carpet more than caring for the congregation?

Other P words that need to be addressed:

Pride. Pride says I’m better than others. Scripture clearly states I’m not, and also states that pride will lead me to death.

Pity. Pity says I’m worse than others. Scripture clearly states I’m not, and also states my exact worth. We are all worth the life of Jesus, given on the cross. Everyone.

A couple P words we should all focus on:

Prayer. God tells us “You have not because you ask not.” I’m not saying God is our Almighty Vending Machine, but what if we actually believed God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves? And that He wants to? And that He prizes above all else an intimate conversation with us on an ongoing basis?

People. Only two things will last forever: God and people. So it would make sense of us to invest in those two things. Nothing else matters.

Passion. Those who follow Jesus, the most passionate man who ever walked on earth should be the most passionate people on earth today.

What other P words can you think of that we should avoid OR focus on?

 

(The rest of the story: I didn’t buy the pants.)

Why We Wander

wandering linesAt the ripe old age of 8 I decided that following Jesus was a good idea. Even though I was a pastor’s kid, don’t be fooled. I was still 8. And my brain was too. My life experiences were that of an 8 year old boy. But still. Jesus’ love invaded and I found Him and His forgiveness irresistible.

Not much changed for me at that point. Except the eternal forgiveness part, that is.

As I grew into my teen years and as my brain developed, I began to learn that I lived life from one choice to the next. That in all actuality this is the essence of the human existence: We make a choice, that choice plays out. We make another choice, that choice plays out. And so it goes.

Those who follow Jesus are not at all exempt from this. The choices we make in regards to Jesus and our followership of Him have their own set of results; for better or for worse. And let me be quite clear. While I profess to “follow” Jesus, I’m not comfortable with the possible idea in your mind that I have attained to anything that looks like I’ve got anything figured out. And as a pastor, I’m not sure if I should have just said that.

Speaking of being a pastor, its really irrelevant here. Not that I take it lightly. Or ever have. Or ever will. Its a calling on my life that I tremble at every time I think about it. I want to talk as a fellow follower. I want to share my own experience and my own observations.

First of all, why would I wander off from Jesus? That’s not what I really want to do and that’s definitely not what He wants me to do. But it happens. And from what I can tell, its a nearly universal reality for those who follow Jesus. We wander. Robert Robinson knew it in 1758, when he wrote these words…

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart Lord, take a seal it. Seal it for your courts above.”
(From “Come Thou Fount”)

Reason to wander #1: I get distracted. I freely admit that getting distracted away from the Creator and Savior of the world sounds about as lame as it gets, but there you have it. Distraction takes many forms.

I get distracted by activity. To me, that’s different than being busy. I know being “busy” is still a badge of honor we Americans proudly wear, and it’s often a word we use to impress others but I’m not what I would consider an overly-busy person. It would be more accurate to say I’m distracted by activity. And if I had to psycho-analyze myself, I’d say that sometimes activity is where I find my sense of worth, my sense of self. Sometimes I allow myself to be defined by what I produce rather than by knowing I’m loved by Christ.

Reason to wander #2: I get bored. As I look at those three words on the screen, I cringe. But if I’m being honest sometimes the walk gets uneventful. The relationship finds a routine, the routine finds a repetitiveness, the repetitiveness makes a rut, the rut feels like religion, and the religion brings rigor mortis.

But here’s the thing. Its not Jesus or following Him that’s boring. Its my choices to play it safe that are boring. You wouldn’t stand in front of a gigantic roller coaster, look up at it while refusing to ride, and call the roller coaster boring. You’re the one playing it safe. Ask yourself: What would radical obedience look like? What if I did exactly what Jesus said to do, instead of doing my scaled-back version of what Jesus said to do?

Reason to wander #3: I buy the lie that the world has got it going on. I’ve been in student ministry for over 20 years. When I see a young person wander off away from Christ to see what the world has to offer, one of two things happens:

They are slowly but surely drawn away from spiritual intimacy with Jesus and spiritual community with others into what amounts to self-centered living (taking a wide variety of forms) and it is years before they return, if ever OR they are drawn into the world’s ways only to find that the promises Satan offers are completely hollow and the thing they thought they’d find ended up being nothing like what they thought it would be. Then they return bruised and broken. I’ve seen it happen so many times to so many students. Its the allure of money, sexual activity, alcohol, drugs, the thrill of rebellion, the dream of fame, sports accolades, or just plain busyness.

(10 times out of 10 when I speak to those students on the other side of those choices, they look back and see that their relationship choices made THE difference. They literally became who they chose to be closest to.)

Reason to wander #4: I believe God is done with me.  I used to have a view of God that I could tick him off. That I when I did something wrong that offended or hurt Him, He needed some time to “cool off” before I tried talking to Him again. Eventually, I’d start to believe that I could actually drive God to the point of being done with me. That I could do enough wrong to cause Him to throw His hands up, exasperated at my constant failure.

There’s a story in the bible that people refer to as “The Prodigal Son”. This punk kid wanted his inheritance but didn’t want to wait around for his dad to die so he goes to his dad and says, “I want that money now, not later.” Then the son goes out and lives it up. Then the money runs out. Then he realizes he’s been an idiot. Then he rehearses a speech to give his dad when he returns home. He’s planning on telling his dad that the son is no longer worthy to be the son. And he starts the long journey home.

But “while he was still a long way off, the father ran to him.”  You remember that speech the son had worked so hard to prepare? He never got the first word out.

By the way, the word “prodigal” means “reckless, extravagant”. So, as reckless as the son was in his rebellion, the father was even more reckless in his restoration of the son. Maybe we should be calling this story “The Prodigal Father”.

I don’t know where you are with God, but if you think you’re useless to God you need to know that God isn’t primarily interested in using you. He’s supremely interested in loving you. Stop grading yourself. Stop believing God is grading you.

You and I are prone to wander. But the wondrous thing about Jesus is you might wander a million steps away from Him, but the moment you turn back, He’s right there loving you.