Saturday, January 17, 2009

Saturday Salute

I have used Saturday reruns of my previous blog posts to give me a weekly break from the creative cost of writing. While occasionally I have brought back a page that new readers appreciate, I have discovered it's not necessarily an effective way of providing great material for your reading enjoyment. Soooooo...

I will, at least for a while, introduce you to blogs I am coming to enjoy. Like many of you, I didn't read blogs very much until I started writing one. Writing, though, has begun to introduce me to some friends from various places. And I am deeply grateful for these budding friendships. Therefore, I will -- on Saturdays -- give you a chance to read some of the words of these fascinating people.

My first pick is from Scriptor Senex. Scriptor regularly (and often with profundity) comments on Dwell & Cultivate. Please take a moment to read his profile, then read this post from but one of his blogs.

Get ready to laugh!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Hash

Hash was one of my favorites when we were kids. Roast beef, sliced potatoes and a few onions for flavoring. M-m-m-m!

Today, let's mix up two ingredients and have ourselves a blog!

First, take a look at my daughter Becki's Veganish blog for some tasty and healthy food.

Then, here's a leadership story. I heard it about 25 years ago and it left a mark on my memory. To the best of my knowledge it's true...

A young man distinguished himself during his undergraduate days. His keen intellect and excellent communication skills seemed to indicate a healthy future as he pursued his dream of pastoring a church. A number of smaller churches near the college would have asked him to be their part-time pastor, but his Bible professors encouraged him to focus on his studies. "Wait until you get to seminary," they said. "You will have plentiful opportunities there."

He went off to pursue his Master of Divinity and heard similar words from his seminary teachers. "You will have ample time to get practical experience," they told him. "For now, take full advantage of the excellent education you will receive here." His strong academic performance also opened the door to funding so he followed their suggestions.

As he finished his Master's in that large, prestigious seminary, he caught the attention of a world-renowned theology school in Europe. He was not only accepted, but received a fellowship that fully paid for his living expenses and education there. After several years, he was awarded a Doctorate of Theology.

Now, with some of the premier education in his field behind him, he took his young family back to the United States to begin pastoring. But he had a problem. Large churches that normally would hire a pastor of his caliber weren't interested in someone with no practical experience. Small churches couldn't afford to pay him enough to meet the needs of his family. What was he to do?

No problem. The U.S. seminary he had attended hired him as a professor. His job?

Training people to become pastors.

What's wrong with this picture?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

115 In The Shade...

...And no shade to be found!

That's what our weather can be like in the summer! For most of us, even those who have lived here many years, it gets quite old.

Yes, our winter days are mostly gorgeous. The sun shines, the air is warm and dry and it's a great time to be outside.

Yes, I know that many of you are in the worst time of the year. I have read recently about the cold weather in our U.S. Midwest. I know people from Canada who describe the winter as "nice" if it's above zero.

So, here's a fun Thursday question...

What's your favorite season and why? (May you flood me with answers!)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Wheels Were Coming Off...

...I just didn't know it!

When my "jewel" Cathy read yesterday's post, she said: "You need to tell your readers the rest of the story. Tell them how you used to be." Having reread it myself, I quickly agreed that I almost made myself sound a bit "too together." So, here goes.

When our son was 3 and our twin daughters were 6 months, Cathy took the girls to the Dr. for their regular check-up. This one included one of their series of immunization shots.

I got home from work that afternoon all excited about the college basketball game I was scheduled to attend that night. It was late in the season and our small college (I worked there at the time) team was good. In fact, they ultimately won the national championship in their division that year. I tell you that small detail so you will understand how important it was for me to go to the game. (a-hem)

Our girls were having typical reactions to their shots. Both were running slight fevers and were extra fussy. Cathy, with two crying babies and a full-speed 3-year-old, was trying to prepare dinner. One look in her eyes and It was obvious she was wiped out!

"All fine and good," I thought. "Let's just get this thing put together so I can get to my game!" The only problem was that the girls weren't really ready for bed right after dinner. And our son didn't go to bed until 8 p.m. The game started at 7:30!

That's when it happened. I couldn't believe it! My thoughtless wife actually asked me to stay home and help her with the kids! I mean, couldn't she see how important this was?

Wonderful, suffering husband that I am, I stayed home until Sean was in bed. All the while, I was listening to the game on the radio and COMPLETELY DETACHED from my family.

As soon as our son was down, I ran out the front door to watch the second half live. In my most gracious (and clueless) voice, my departing words were, "Please check the basketball schedule next time before you take them for their shots."

I almost included the word "jerk" in today's title. As humbling as it is to tell you this story, I must also admit that it took several years for me to realize just how "out of balance" I was that night.

There you have it, Rachel Cotterill! And there you have it, other blogging friends. I hope it helps you.

I have no idea who won the game that night, but my personal failure helped prepare me for better times in the game of life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What About You, Sam?

That's the question I was asked after yesterday's post. I had told a story about decisions my dad made to choose "a life" over "a living."

In the midst of some great comments about "work/life balance," one of my blogging friends wanted to know how I am handling these issues. For what it's worth, here are a few ways I have tried to keep balanced...

1. I have a clear set of priorities. I determined this part of my life when I was a young man. In order, my five priorities are God, Cathy (my wife), our children, work and ministry.

I believe that these priorities reflect a Biblical worldview. I would mention that the way I express those priorities is different now that my children are grown. I also have the benefit of added simplification: my work -- the way I make the money to live -- is ministry. (As a side note, I sometimes teach on these at church. When I do, I explain that we really can't have a ministry from the overflow of our lives unless the first four priorities are in order.)

2. My priorities regularly drive my time decisions. Two examples come to mind. First, I made time to have a regular one-hour "date" with each of my children as they grew up. Many of you read the blogs of one or both my daughters. These are the same girls I sat in the floor and played paper dolls with as they grew up. I will never regret those hours with them or the ones I spent playing ball with my son (and I can't get that season of life back).

A second example is my choice to limit the number of times in a week that I eat lunch out. My life has its share of night meetings. Being a pastor can mean being on call 24 hours a day. Because of that, I choose to come home and have lunch with my wife. When our children were growing up, those were some of the quietest hours we shared -- the kids were in school!

3. I have learned intuitively what a balance feels like. I know that statement may be way too subjective for some of you. However, the truth is that I know when I'm overdoing work just like I know when I'm being lazy.

I have a busy life. I lead a growing church with multiple staff. I preach about 40 Sundays a year and on most of those I preach three times on Sunday mornings. I currently write two blogs. This one is six days a week and the other one is every day. I lead a home group. I prepare and lead meetings of our key lay leaders. I normally take two annual trips to work in the Dominican Republic. I often mentor younger pastors. And I want to read 50 books this year.

(Before you decide that I'm crazy to even discuss a work/life balance, sit down and make out your own list. You will be surprised how long it gets.)

In the midst of all that, how do I know when I'm out of balance? First, I feel internal anger rise up over stuff that normally wouldn't bother me. Second, a large portion of my work requires creativity. If my creative batteries are out of charge, I know I need rest (and/or recreation).

Finally, I have two accountability partners and get together with them almost every week. We decompress the pressures (we each have them) of our lives and come clean about sins -- even the ones in our thought lives. We encourage each other, advise each other and pray for each other.

Most important to my balance is my relationship to Cathy. She is a precious gift. Her middle name is Jewell and she is a jewel of rare supply. She loves me unconditionally, but she is unafraid to tell me when when I get out of balance. Each time I have resisted her input, I have learned a difficult lesson.

Tomorrow, to keep this story balanced, I will tell you about when my life was out of control.

Those are some ways I try to stay balanced. Which of them is most helpful to you?

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Living Or A Life?

I think it's amazing how much choice we have.

My mechanic dad worked very hard while I was growing up. It affected how much time we had together. I was finishing high school when he began to ponder it.

Don't misread me. I always think of him as the best man I have known. On the other hand, he had a totally different relationship with my brother who is 8 years younger than me. Dad decided by then that a life took precedence.

After working for a car dealership for 20 years, a series of circumstances left my dad with a decision. After much investigation and no small amount of prayer, he decided to start his own garage.

I remember how he spent the first year with an ad in the Yellow Pages. He had so much business coming in by word of mouth that he didn't really need it so he cancelled. The business kept growing.

A couple of years later, he was so busy that I asked one day why he didn't hire more mechanics to help him. His answer? "Son, a big part of my life was managing other people. I did it enough to know that I'm much happier staying small and managing myself."

His values reflected his words. I can remember how he would stop in the middle of a job and run into town (2 1/2 miles) to get parts for the car. He always took time to talk with the people behind the parts counter. He was their friend. They confided in him because they respected him and they knew he cared.

When a customer came for work to be done, dad would take the time to listen to what was happening in that person's car AND that person's life. Sometimes people would linger just to talk.

Frequently, people drove in from ranch country many miles away. Dad would start work on their car with them waiting. If lunchtime arrived, he would say, "Come on in the house and let's have something to eat."
My mom always cooked extra and was never really surprised. One time she counted and had something like 30 unexpected lunch guests in a month.

Each of those actions reflected my dad's choice about how to live his life. What choices do you need to make about how to lives yours?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Day That Will Live In Infamy...

At least for me!

It took me over 40 years to learn the lesson I will talk about in church today. Here's the story behind it all...

It was the latter part of 1999 or the early part of 2000. I can't remember for sure. What I do remember is a coffee shop conversation that completely reoriented my life.

The months leading up to that day included the most painful series of events I had experienced at the time. One of my children was struggling over a broken engagement. Another was suffering through a divorce. If you wonder why these would be so difficult for me, perhaps you don't have grown kids yet.

To top it all off, our church was in the aftermath of a split. As splits go, it had been rather tame. On the other hand, I had seen people who felt like family to me walk out the door to start another church. "Sorry you weren't good enough! See ya around!" Those weren't their words, but that's what it felt like.

I was beginning to feel like we were on the way back from the pain when I had the coffee shop meeting. Across the table from me was Tom, the "young guy" on our staff. Tom had been with us for 2 1/2 years when the split occurred and he had responded like a trooper. He was willing to take on extra duties, endure the complaining of people who didn't like the necessary changes and keep a positive spirit.

I had been excited about our meeting that day. I wanted to talk about the future. Before I could get started, he looked at me and said something I will always remember:

"My wife told me I had to tell you this or she would meet with you and tell you. I am very near the decision to leave here."

I was shocked. "What's wrong?" I expected the "I'm tired of this down cycle" speech. That's not what he said.

"It's you, Sam. You aren't real. You have been going through the worst time of your life and you won't let anyone in. I can't work on a team like that."

I wish I could tell you that I just said, "You're right. I'm sorry." And forever after things would be different.

Far from it. That was just the beginning. Why? Because, truthfully, I was clueless. I didn't know how to open up. I only knew how to go through stuff with my "God loves me and I'm okay" face. I struggled to even find it acceptable to hurt in front of people.

It's today. Tom is still on the team. He has taught me much about being open. I don't look as "together" as I used to, but I'm far more real.

That difficult meeting taught me an important fact of following Christ: it's not a solo act. You and I will never be all we were designed to be if we shut out the very people who would love to help us if only we would let them in.

Frustrations, difficulties, issues, hurts. They must be shared along with joy, hope, excitement and victories. That's what it takes to live connectively.

Want to share something with us? Go ahead!