Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Piece of the Rock

Marrying and burying. It's so much a part of my life that, in my first months as a pastor, I had to buy a dark suit for a wedding. From then on, it was called my marrying and burying suit.

We were talking about performing weddings and funerals one day when a minister friend of mine said he preferred to do the latter. I asked him why. "Most of the weddings I have performed haven't lasted," he said, "but the funerals: no problem!" Groan.

I'm performing a memorial service today for a man who really invested his life in his family. In fact, I so enjoyed talking with them about him that I didn't want to leave. It's pretty powerful to have an eleven-year-old grandson tell you that the thing he loved was having talks with is "Poppa" while taking walks in the desert.

"He loved to celebrate the special times together as a family!" What a legacy.

On this Saturday, I hope you can create a memory or two for your family. In the meantime...

I'll "see" you tomorrow right here.

Friday, November 7, 2008

You Got Me Goin' In Circles, Part 2

First off, if you missed it, please take a minute and read yesterday's post.

... So, you want to get off the Merry-Go-Round? You want to escape the insanity? You want to turn in your blue tights with the big "S" on the front and occasionally get some time to invest in the things that matter the most?

Here's a little secret. Just between us. You can.

I'm going to introduce you to a powerful tool that will help you have more time to do the really important things like having dinner with your spouse or cheering at your kids' games.

Everywhere you turn, someone wants -- NEEDS -- you to do something. You must learn the answer that will set you free.

Here it is. "No."
Practice saying it. "No."
Listen to the sound of your voice. "No."
Try to say it with gentle authority. "No."
You don't have to yell or scream. You don't need steam shooting out your ears. Consider the following...

Many years ago a pastor friend was teaching me from one of his life lessons. At the time, he pastored one of the largest churches in the country. He told me how, in his busy schedule, it was hard for him to meet people he could talk to about Christ. Therefore, he made himself available to a local mortuary to preach funerals for families who had no church or pastor. He told the Funeral Director that he could call on a moment's notice and the pastor would change his schedule to perform the funeral.

About then, his older son was playing Pop Warner Football. The boy's coach called the pastor, who had played college football, and asked him to help out as assistant coach. The pastor politely explained that he was so busy he just couldn't do it.

As he hung up his phone, he looked up from his desk to see his secretary standing in the doorway. She was old enough to be his mother and she had a "no nonsense" way of talking to him. "You have time to do anything you please," she said. Then she turned and walked out. He knew she was right.

He picked up the phone, called the coach back. "I've changed my mind," he said. "When's your next practice?" As soon as he ended that call, he called the Funeral Director. "I'm sorry, but I am changing my schedule. Please don't schedule me again without checking first to see if I have time."

In a simple, gentle, authoritative way, he said, "No."

Gordon MacDonald is a pastor and author whose writings mean much to me. I learned something from him that set me free: "I have another commitment." He goes on to explain that "another commitment" might mean time with my kids or my wife. It might mean time for rest on a Saturday before a "crazy busy" Sunday.

Those four words have helped me stay in the race, doing what I do. Sometimes I am asked by one of life's sprinters why I don't cram more into every day? My answer is that life -- and I think ministry -- is a marathon. Don't get me wrong. I have plenty to do and I stay pretty busy. The difference is that I mostly work on those things that I think make a huge difference in the long run. And I constantly reevaluate, making adjustments as needed.

I discovered long ago that lots of people have great plans for how I can use my time. That's why I must establish priorities and set my schedule first. Then I change it as necessary.

It's not perfect. But I'm not as dizzy as I once was!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

You Got Me Goin' In Circles

"Blessed are those who go around in circles, for they shall be known as 'Wheels.'"

A few years back, Cathy and I sat in a conference for pastors and wives. A few hundred people filled a ballroom in a nice Phoenix hotel. It was the early days of cell phones and they had just morphed in technology so you didn't have to carry one of those "bricks" around. At the time, the latest and greatest was the very first "flip phone." They were still monstrous, overwhelming any pocket and many purses.

Most people weren't using them yet. Minutes were expensive and precious back then. Maybe that's why this incident sticks in my mind.

One of the pastors kept walking out of the meeting to answer his phone, which had just (again) demanded the attention of the entire room with its loud ring. Most people would have been embarrassed enough after the first time to just turn the phone off, but not this guy. Each time he returned to his seat, all the way across the room from the exit, almost every eye followed him. We had some outstanding national speakers for that conference and I can only imagine how they felt each time they had to reclaim our attention from that one guy and his Motorola.

I have no idea what those calls were about and certainly don't know the motive for jumping up to answer each one. Heaven knows that, back then, I thought I was pretty important when I had one of them up against my ear as I drove down the street. (In my earliest days, it was the end of the month, I had minutes left, and I called Cathy from Wal-Mart just to talk, even though I would be home just a few minutes later. Embarrassed smile.)

What I do know about is this: some people want to be indispensable. It's epidemic among us pastors. It can maim us, ministerially speaking. It can even be fatal.

You see, for most of us, pastoring is a mixture, of leading, teaching, caring for the hurting, managing, budgeting, writing, editing, showing hospitality, counseling, fixing office machines, and -- sometimes -- locking up at end. We care because, well, it's part of our default wiring. We feel guilty if we can't make it to every hospital call, family emergency or committee meeting. We often live in fear that we will miss something, causing someone we care about to take offense. We thrive on being the calm voice in the midst of the chaos and we worry about it all coming apart without us.

At the end of the day, or week, or month -- we look back with exhaustion and think, "At least I earned my paycheck." But there's a problem.

It's addictive.

AND it robs the gifted people around us from sharing in the joy. It keeps great people from becoming who they were designed to be.

Wanna get off the Merry-Go-Round? Tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Grand Slam!

I was a baseball star.

Actually, I wasn't a very good baseball player, but my last year of Little League, I had an advantage. I was one of the youngest guys in my grade. I also, for some reason, hit my adolescent growth spurt early. My last year of Little League, I was just about the biggest kid out there. (Never mind that, when we lined up by height for High School Graduation, I was about 2/3 of the way toward the short end!)

Being a bit bigger than the other kids had its advantages. The pitches that tied me up in knots in previous years became somewhat easy to handle.

Our hometown baseball field at the time didn't have an outfield fence. The only way to hit a home run was to find a gap in the outfield and circle the bases faster than outfielder threw the ball back in. That was the setting the day I came up to bat with the bases loaded.

I was just a kid. I may or may not have realized the significance of runners at every base. I don't remember whether we were behind, tied or already ahead. I don't fully remember who the pitcher was, which team we were playing. I think I barely remember where I hit the ball, but I did.

And I ran. And ran. And made sure I touched every base -- I had learned from previous mistakes.

And scored just behind the three teammates I drove it.

I want to tell you why I remember. It wasn't the excitement of the crowd or my coach or the other players on the Rainbow Yankees. It's because I went to the refreshment stand just outside the chicken wire fence surrounding our field. And my dad was there.

Dad got up very early every morning and headed out to the corrals with my mom to milk cows and take care of livestock. He left for work a little after 7:30 a.m. and frequently didn't get off until close to 7 p.m. (sometimes later). He volunteered in many ways at church, often going straight from work to a meeting. I can think of many nights that he didn't arrive at home until after we were in bed. Right after I left for college, he lamented that he wished he had spent more time with me.

He rarely got away for one of my games. But that night he was there.

"You hit a Grand Slam!" he said. "Yeah, with the bases loaded!" I exclaimed, not understanding the term.

I have never forgotten that moment.

Yesterday, while the nation was busily counting votes, Cathy and I were watching the rapid rise in followers of The One Minute Writer. Yesterday, it was named as Blogger Blog of Note for the day. The One Minute Writer is a unique blog idea by our daughter Beth, who started it for fun because she enjoys her other blog C. Beth Blog so much.

Beth, I wanted you to know how proud I am of you. You're a wife, mommy to two preschoolers and the blogger who inspired me to get out off the sidelines and start writing. Watching you grow brings me great joy.

AND, you hit a Grand Slam!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What do you see?

Last week I mentioned Mrs. Hollinger, one of my high school teachers. Actually, I had her for 2 years of German ("Frau Hollinger") and Senior English. She was, without doubt one of the most challenging teachers I ever had. Our report cards were scored with both our letter grade AND our percentage -- rounded to the nearest tenth -- for the grading period.

I goofed off through plenty of classes back then, but not hers. She was strict. She was demanding. She brought me into focus, though, for one reason: she believed in me! She believed that I could learn and do good work. She never accepted less than my best, but she believed I could learn to speak and write effectively.

A few years later, while I was in college, a prominent Phoenix businessman made the commitment to come to our campus and teach us how to share our faith in Christ. A group of us met with him once or twice a week in the late afternoon. Just before we started one day, he approached me out of the blue and said, "God is going to use you." I was caught off balance, but I never forgot that moment.

I'm not sure, but I think most of us pretty much believe in ourselves when we're small. (The other night at our Family Fall Festival, I saw a boy -- age 6 -- deftly take out his light saber and start taking on imaginary Imperial Storm Troopers with moves that would have made even Yoda smile.) Along the way, though, we each hit the wall (or the ground or the tree or the Principal's Office) enough times to thoroughly shake our confidence.

I'm convinced that many of us -- including me -- wouldn't have the courage to shake off the failure and try again if we didn't have someone we respect make it clear that we have possibilities. The encouragement we receive from one or two key people can become the fuel that burns deep within us when all outward evidence says our fire is gone.

Here's the best way I know how to say it: tell me what you believe about the people in your circle of influence and I'll tell you how much chance they have to succeed. Or fail.

Jesus took a handful of misfits that the high and mighty of his culture had no use for and, through them, shook the world!

He might just be able to use someone like me.

And you.

Monday, November 3, 2008

When Kings Go Out

First, this is not about the election tomorrow. If you haven't already... vote! 'Nuff said.

As I march through the years of life, certain phrases -- most, but not all from Scripture -- stick in my mind. Consider, "Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab..." (2 Samuel 11:1 NASB) David was getting older, he had paid the price of many battles, his nation was more secure and ever and it just wouldn't do to have him killed out there. So he stayed home and send General Joab.


Joab was a gifted leader and totally loyal. He was a master strategist. He was on top of a world-class winning streak.


Joab had the troops he needed and cutting-edge armaments for the battle. He understood that wars are won over a season rather than a day. He was ready to serve his country and his king.


You see, the problem wasn't with Joab. It was with David, back home. David's army was at war and the King was home quite comfortable. Relaxed. Enjoying a cool evening stroll on his large, flat roof. The wife of one of his finest officers -- her name was Bathsheba -- was on the rooftop a short distance away. Bathing.


I got a call from our Missions Team leader late yesterday afternoon. He scheduled an unexpected meeting first thing Monday morning. One of the leaders within the ministry needed some input about a project and Mark called me to ask about how to handle it. We talked through a strategy and Mark immediately took his next step. Yayyy!

In the middle of the call, I faced a small dilemma. Do I move into the middle of this tactical situation or do I stay on the sidelines while General Mark takes the lead? I chose to sit. Mark is doing a great job and keeps growing.

I make more decisions like this all the time. I'm grateful for the growth in all of us. It's a temptation for us pastors to remain in the front. Because of my age and my growing awareness that I don't have the emotional stamina to carry the load I am responsible for, I try to do more and more coaching from the sidelines.

I'm not naive, though. King David was called "a man after God's own heart." He discovered that "uh-oh" can be far closer than you think.

Dear God, please help me walk in the balance between mentoring and doing as I go through my week. Amen.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Second Seventh

I am writing this on Saturday, my "day off." I was up late last night and slept late this morning. Here it is, almost noon, and I've pretty much been goofing around. Anyway, I ran onto the following item on LifeHacker and thought I would pass it along to you. With the holidays fast approaching, it might save us all a few dollars. is one of those URLs that you could imagine turning into a veritable spam factory, but it thankfully hosts a roundup of free shipping coupons found for more than 600 stores. If you think you can do better, or your online merchant isn't covered, also check with Free Shipping On, which sometimes hosts different versions of similar coupons. If you're buying from Amazon, though, and you're just a few bucks short of hitting your free shipping target, try the Amazon Filler Item Finder, which takes in a dollar amount and shoots back hopefully useful plug-ins to save money and get you more gear.

On a very personal note, I talked to an old friend Friday and he has moved to New Braunfels, TX. That means he is only an hour away from my Austin grandkids. Friday night at the Family Fall Festival, I met a lady who lives in Boston and she was going home today. That puts her very close to the Boston granddaughter. Cathy and I love our webcam and the joy we get from talking to those "best grandchildren in the world" on a regular basis.

But it's hard not to be jealous when others are so close and we're so far away.