Stressed Out???

Are you feeling stressed out today? Are you overwhelmed and overloaded? Do you feel underpaid, underappreciated, or just under water? Guess what? That’s completely normal.

Stress is not unnatural and it’s not uncommon. We all feel stress. In fact, most of us have a feeling of stress at all times.

Stress is just another name for pressure. If we have a deadline, a task that needs completed, or an obligation of any kind, we feel pressure to finish it. When the deadline is well within our grasp, a task is mundane or simple, or the obligation fits our expectations, the pressure we feel is minimal. In fact, we may not even feel it at all! But the pressure is still there.

When the pressure begins to build past those points, we call that stress. What we think of as stress is really abnormal stress. It’s being stressed out.

Here, let me give you an illustration to help explain what I mean. Think of a water hose. If there is no pressure at all, is the hose useful? Of course not. Without any pressure at all, you won’t get any water out of the spigot, through the hose, and onto your rose bushes or tomato plants. And I know how important water is to those two things. I’ve killed many a plant in my day by not applying pressure when needed!

But when the pressure is too much, when the water is coming too fast through the hose, it can get out of control. That’s why you don’t use a firehose or a pressure washer to water your garden. You’d destroy your plants! Pressure is good. Too much pressure is dangerous.

One way we try to deal with stress and pressure is to shut it out. We bear down, push it out of our mind, numb our emotions and feelings, and just try to get through it. That’s like crimping your water hose to cut off the flow. When you try to block off all the pressure, it builds and builds until it eventually bursts! That’s not good.

The biggest stressers we have are the things we can’t control. We can’t control when our kids get sick and we have to stay home from work. We can’t control when someone has an accident on the freeway and makes us late. We can’t control when our computer crashes right in the middle of writing this blog post! The things we can’t control are the biggest reasons for stress. We can’t shut those off at the source, so we try to block them out and then we end up bursting – we explode in anger, we drown in depression, or we treat it with self-medication. None of those are healthy or helpful.

Along with a lack of control, there are plenty of other sources of stress. Too many deadlines. The lack of time to complete a project. An increase in our own workload. Missed or unrealistic expectations. These are mostly within our control, but for one reason or another we let them slip through and cause stress. Which is fine, to some degree. But it can still be unhealthy.

We can’t really live a stress-free lifestyle. But we can live a stress-less life. Instead of shutting stress of completely, we need to learn to manage our stress better. We might think the only two options are to shut it off at the source – in other words, just quit – or block it off at our end – which just makes it worse. Instead, we need to apply filters – like a nozzle at the end of your water hose – to our stress. Here are a few filters you can apply:

Set Expectations

I’m not talking about lowering expectations to a bare minimum. Set realistic expectations. How long will it really take you to complete that task? How many assignments can you really finish in a week? What’s the right number of clients you can really handle at this time? These are all expectations that I’m setting for myself right now.

And it’s not just the expectations you put on yourself, but what you expect from others. What should you really expect from others that depend on you or you depend on?

Master Your Time

Make the most out of every opportunity that comes your way. I don’t mean that you assign a task to every single minute of the day and work until you burn out. Layer in breaks and take your breaks regularly. But then get back to work! Don’t make the mistake of scrolling Twitter and Facebook, surfing the web, or playing some computer game and thinking you’re actually working. Use your time wisely.

Unplug Regularly

It’s not just about taking breaks throughout the day, but taking a day (or two!) each week just for yourself. This is about slowing down from time to time so that you don’t run yourself into the ground. It’s also about understanding your own pace. Listen to your mind and body and obey it when it tells you to slow down or stop. The spiritual principle is called “sabbath,” which means seven. Every seven days we should stop and recharge.

Recharge Your Way

And that leads to the last point – recharge often. But don’t recharge the way everyone else does. What’s the right way for you? Some people love to go hiking, fishing, or camping. I gotta tell you, that would stress me out! I’m what you might call a “great indoorsman.” Give me a mystery novel and a comfy chair and I’m all set. But that’s how I recharge. And it may not be how you recharge.

These are just a few ideas about how to handle stress. It’s not about controlling the stress in our lives, it’s about how we respond to stress. Our perception and reaction are the two most important factors in how we deal with stress.

How are you doing? Do you manage your stress well? How do you recharge when you feel stressed out?

Mountains, Trees, and the “Shouldn’t Bes”

There are some things in life that just shouldn’t be. A mustard stain on your tie right before a big interview. A dent on your passenger side door even though you parked it in the back forty. Tortilla chips without salsa or crunchy peanut butter instead of smooth. How about size 32 pants on a 38inch waist?

But there are more tragic “shoulnd’t bes” in life. The shouldn’t be of losing a loved one to cancer, of a marriage ending in divorce, or of a parent abusing a child. Many times we hear bad, awful, horrible news and shrug. “That’s just the way it is.” Well, it shouldn’t be.

Jesus didn’t put up with the way it is. He got in the face of the way it is and kicked over tables. He didn’t care what others thought. He knew it shouldn’t be that way, and he did something about it.

There’s a real strange story in the book of Mark, right in the middle of Passion Week, or the week leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s about Jesus getting mad at a fig tree and then cursing it.

The story is actually what scholars call a “Markan Sandwich.” You didn’t know that scholars used fancy words like sandwich, did you. It basically means that all throughout Mark he starts to tell a story and then interrupts it to tell another story before finishing the first one. The middle story is like the meat of a sandwich. And when you find one of these Markan Sandwiches, it’s from the meat that you get the meaning.

The fig tree story in Mark 11 is a sandwich. Here’s how it starts. One morning Jesus is heading into Jerusalem from Bethany to join the week-long Passover celebration. He’s hungry and wants a little snack and sees a fig tree. But when he sees the fig tree doesn’t have figs on it, he curses the tree! “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (This is all in Mark 11:12-14).

The next morning, the disciples are walking with Jesus back to Jerusalem and they see the fig tree. And it’s dead, right to the roots! (For this part, skip down to Mark 11:20-24) “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” And Jesus is like, “Yeah, what did you expect? Nothing is impossible if you have faith in God.” Which includes cursing fruit bearing shrubs, I guess.

It seems pretty menial, getting mad at a fig tree. But that’s just part of the reason that this story has always been strange to me. You see, Mark is careful to tell us it was spring and fig trees don’t have figs on them in the spring. But Jesus doesn’t care. He’s hungry now and there’s no fruit so he’s going to curse it.

Once I found out about these Markan Sandwiches, this story started to make sense. Remember, it’s in the meat that you find the meaning. And the meat of this particular sandwich is the classic story of Jesus kicking over tables in the temple (Mark 11:15-19). In those days, Jews were required to bring a sacrifice to the temple at Passover. It might have been a dove or another type of bird or even a lamb. If you didn’t have an animal, don’t worry, they would sell you one! Right there, in the temple. But there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. The exchange rates at the temple were outrageous! It was a rip off. They were cheats.

Everyone else who went to the temple said, “Well, that’s the way it is. I’ll just have to pay a little extra, I guess.” But Jesus said, “No, no, no…it shouldn’t be that way. I’m not going to put up with this anymore.” And he goes to kicking and throwing and flipping tables! And what does he say while he’s getting worked up? “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17)

The centerpiece of this teaching from Mark isn’t horticulture or snacks or sacrifices. It’s prayer. The whole point of this whole story is prayer! Jesus saw a situation that shouldn’t be, and his response in pushing against the system was to pray. “Make this place a place of prayer,” Jesus says, “And you won’t ever have this problem again.”

And that’s what’s going on with the fig tree, too. He sees something that everyone else shrugs at. “Well, Jesus, of course there’s no fruit. It’s spring. That’s the way it is.” But he’s not satisfied with the way it is. He sees the “shouldn’t be” and decides to do something about it! It’s no coincidence that the rest of the story, after they see the fig tree withered to the roots, is some of Jesus’ most powerful teaching on prayer.

22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Mark 11:22-24

Is there a mountain of “shouldn’t bes” in your way? To the sea with them! Is there a tree that’s not bearing fruit in your life? Curse it to the roots! Is there a situation that seems impossible? Don’t shrug another “It is what it is.” Get in its face! Is there a doctor’s visit, a court case, a parent/teacher meeting, a crime report, or a news alert that’s got you fired up because you know the way it is just shouldn’t be? It’s time to start flipping tables! It’s time to put some faith in God and believe for an answer to the “shouldn’t bes” in your life.

If we always accept the way it is, then we’ll always have the way it is. But when we get the attitude that it shouldn’t be, it can drive us to divine prayer moments, tapping into the man who told us to pray for mountains to be moved. Wait, not moved…not budged just a little bit. But picked up whole and thrown into the sea! It’s time we get a little bit of “shouldn’t be” in our lives.

What “shouldn’t be” in your life do you need to flip the table on? What is causing you to doubt that God can do it?

Required

From a young age we’re told the requirements. Homework that’s required at school. An entrance exam required for that job you want. Or the wedding vows, required to prove your commitment.

For Micah the prophet, life in the community of God required something. It wasn’t sacrifices and offerings, right doctrine and theology. It was much more real to the earth than that.

Micah 6:8

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Life in community – with each other, under God – requires more than just saying and believing the right things. It’s more than a weekly check or a monthly service. It goes to the core of who we are and how we treat each other.

Act Justly

Theologian and Yale professor Nicholas Wolterstroff wrote: “The fundamental principle of biblical justice is that you should never treat a human being as if they had less worth than they have.” Wrapped up in what’s required of God’s community is an accurate sense of worth.

Justice is treating everyone according to the worth they have. Not the worth you assign to them, or the worth you think the world should level at them. But the worth that God has bestowed on them.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” reads the Declaration of Independence. “That all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” That endowment is not just legal standing in the world. It’s our worth.

Just as Adam was formed from the dirt of the ground and bestowed with the breath of our creator, so has every human being been given the life-breath of God. And through that breath comes the image of God. We all bear it – every last one of us.

The image of God makes you worthy. Not our accomplishments or deeds. Not our failures or triumphs. We are worthy because we are created in God’s image. Everyone with breath in their lungs is worthy – whether a hater or a lover, a mom or dad or uncle, a villain or hero or prisoner. But everyday people are robbed of their worth. Don’t be a thief!

Who around you is being robbed of their worth? Or better yet, who are you guilty of robbing?

Love Mercy

If justice is refusing to rob others of their worth, mercy is showing grace to those who have robbed you of yours.

In this world, you will be wronged. Bad things will happen to you. But more distressing, people will do bad things to you. Sometimes without thinking. Sometimes with malicious intent. Mercy cancels out the debt that is created when bad happens to us.

We like mercy a lot, especially when we’re on the receiving end of it. But when it comes to dispensing it, we’re okay with small little doses. We handle grace with an eyedropper.

But mercy is best loved when it is freely and judiciously given. Mercy’s biggest lovers know how to spread grace around with large handfuls. And their tastes aren’t overly discriminant when it comes to who gets it. Jesus went as far as to say our enemies should be on the other side of that fistful of mercy we’re hurling.

Walk Humbly

Humility is just understanding your own worth. C. S. Lewis famously said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” To walk humbly takes knowing who you really are.

Pride has two sides – a dark side and a right side. The dark side wants to inflate and exaggerate. The right side of pride is married to humility.

Our humility will also be evaluated by how we see others. If we have a positive and accurate view of our self-worth, we reflect that to others. Those who have a right sense of pride are rarely jealous or envious, degrading or disrespectful. Humility will lead to honor and respect, grace and dignity, especially in the presence of those who disagree with you and seek to dishonor you.

On a day like today – I wrote this on Martin Luther King Day, 2017 – these requirements are so very important. This verse is required reading. But we can’t leave it at that. Required reading must become required thinking, required living, required action, and required treatment. We must make these principles part of our personal life, and then let that justice flow like a river from within us to every person we encounter.

That’s what living in the real community of God is all about.

Greater Than

So there was this guy named Nathan (His real name was Nathanael, but everyone named Nathanael nowadays goes by Nathan, or Nate). When he first heard about Jesus right away he was like, “Um, no. That guy is from Nazareth and we all know that nothing good comes from that nothing town.”

But somehow Jesus knew what he was saying. And he totally called him out on it. “I heard what you said, Nate,” he told him. And Nate’s response? “Wait, what? You heard? No way because you were way over there and I was way over here under this fig tree.” But Jesus said, “You’re shocked that I could see into your heart and know what you were saying? Brother, have I got news for you…”

“You will see greater things than that.”

John 1:50

Jesus tells Nate – and anyone else within earshot – that he was about to see some amazing things. These things were signs that pointed to who Jesus was: the Messiah, the Son of God come to earth. And right then the writer of the Gospel of John takes us into this incredible story of Jesus performing these amazing signs, one greater than the other, leading up to the raising of his dead friend Lazarus! And then, while eating a final meal with his disciples – and we think that good ole Nate was probably there – he tells them that he’s going away, he’s dying, and he’s going to raise again and go be with the Father. But he says, “Don’t worry! This isn’t the end…”

“Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”

John 14:12

And that’s where our real story begins. Not in the signs and wonders performed by Jesus, but in the presence and power of Jesus that has been with us everyday for the last 2000 plus years! We are direct descendants of that last supper dialogue. We are the ones called on to do greater things. Are you ready?

Greater Than

Let’s zoom back from that 2000 year landscape and take a brief 365 day jaunt. What was last year like for you? For many it was harrowing and horrible. For others it was amazing and astounding. Each year is like that, full of ups and downs.

For me personally, it was the best career year ever. I made more opportunities than I’ve ever had. I wrote more than I ever have. I even started my own LLC. Whodathunkit? I experienced the highest ups…but also some of the most depressing downs. Health issues in my family and a few bumps in the road weren’t so fun.

What can last year teach us about this year? If the words of Jesus are true we should anticipate “greater things.” We should be looking for him to take us to higher heights and newer places. We should be looking for opportunities to do greater things in this new year.

The first step is to evaluate what you did last year. Then see how it can be outdone or improved this year. What areas were lacking? What days did you let slip by without making meaning in life? What ups prepared you for the downs, and how can you carry that into the new year?

Next, how can God be greater than anything else in your life this coming year?

Greater than any struggle or rest.

Greater than any tragedy or triumph.

Greater than any loss or gain.

Greater than any win or loss.

When we put our selves on the little side of that “greater than” symbol and God on the other, no matter what comes our way we know we can overcome.

God-Given

That name – Nathanael – names are important in the Bible, and guess what Nathanael means? “God has given.” The words of Job tell us that God “gives and takes away” (Job 1:21). God gives, but really he gives me exactly what I need and takes away what is in the way.

Last year each of you were given some great things by God, but you also lost some things. This year, the things you will get may be greater than anything you got last year. But the loss may also be greater. The bigger the ups, the downer the downs. But when God is the giver we can be sure that no matter how high or how low we go, he is always  there. As we focus on him, he will be greater in our sights.

What greater thing are you preparing for in the new year? How can you achieve greater things in your personal life, your professional life, and your spiritual life?

Walking Into Your Destiny

Maybe you saw this video on social media the other day. His name is Chuck. And he walks people. It’s like a dog walker, but for humans. He literally walks humans. Watch the video and it will make perfect sense…maybe.

 

 

So, I like to walk. And I like other humans. What better way to earn some extra cash than by as a people walker! Sounds right up my alley. Finally, I’ve found my calling!

But then I looked again. Chuck is 6’2”, 235. You know, there’s probably a reason he’s so good at people walking. The video and the article didn’t say so, but I’m guessing his big selling point is that any would-be attackers are scared off by Chuck’s presence. Chuck doesn’t just “walk people,” he’s a bit of a bodyguard.

I like to walk, but I’m not 6’2”, 235. I can probably get up to 235, but I’ll never be 6’2”. My résumé has different advantages. My skill set is less Navy Seals and more Old Navy sales rep.

But I digress.

I thought about trying out for a people walking gig for about two minutes. Then I realized it wasn’t my destiny. A lot of us are looking for our destiny, aren’t we? We’re looking for that perfect fit. We’re trying to find that one thing we do better than anything else, fills our passion bucket, and gives us the opportunity to earn a living. If that’s where you think your destiny lies, then there are ways of making that happen.

But here’s the deal – your destiny will never contradict your design. I’m not designed to be a body-guarding, people-walking, beard-bearing “Chuck.” I’m a Chris. I’ve figured out that sticking my nose in books and turning thoughts into words into actions is more my design. So I’m betting all I have on that. I’m putting all my stock in the destiny of my design.

Find your design. Then, gamble everything you have in life – every last dream – on that being your destiny. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. And if you are designed for “people walking,” then all the better! I’ll gladly pay you $7 a mile for the company.

What job did you really want to do only to find out later you weren’t a good fit for? How can you better understand your design to fit your destiny?

A Motto That Means Something

Last week I talked about a Motto That’s On Mission, and basically I said that your mission statement is too long – shorten it to a motto that is easily digestible for your audience. This week I want to continue with that idea of motto, but in a different direction. About mottos that mean something more than just an organization’s existence.

Theology is hard. Books and books have been written trying to explain all the intricate details of theology – and then more books are written about those books. But the point of faith is its accessibility to all. Anyone can believe, so the information for belief must be easily digestible. Just like a motto.

When it comes to preaching, the most important thing to keep in mind is the Gospel. But what is the Gospel? There are four books in the Bible that are called “Gospels.” They record the life of Jesus and much of his teaching here on earth. But when Paul talks about the Gospel (Romans 1:16), he’s probably not talking about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, at least half of which weren’t written at the time. No, he’s talking about the message of salvation that Jesus’ first followers were spreading. He’s talking about information.

What if we could take that complicated information of theology and reduce it down to something as simple as the message Paul preached, the message that unbelievers accepted, and the message that formed the backbone of the 2000 year old Church? What if we could take complex, intricate ideas and make them simple for anyone and everyone to get? I believe that’s the whole purpose of turning thoughts into words into actions.

Here’s how I’ve done this. When I think of the Gospel, I think of the basic information someone would need to know to understand who Jesus is, what he’s done for them, and how they should respond. So I’ve come up with a motto that explains this quickly, yet fully:

“Jesus died so you don’t have to, and he rose again so you can be with him forever.”

That, to me, is the essence of the Gospel message. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it’s all encompassing. From this motto you can springboard into more detail – How did Jesus die? What kind of man would die like that for me? How does his death mean I don’t have to die? What kind of death do I avoid by believing in him?

You can take this idea of motto and apply it to any number of other doctrines – justification by faith, water baptism, evangelism, accountability. Take the long form idea – with all its intricacies and details – and then break it down into the very essence of what the idea means and does. Then reshape it in as few words as possible. Finally, deliver that motto to an audience needing direction.

What big ideas do you think are obstacles to people believing in Jesus? How can you turn those big ideas into mottos that will help more people believe?

The Manager In Your Mind

You know when you go to a restaurant and there’s a wait. You go up to the host and ask how long the wait will be. What do they say? They say the same thing every time, right? “It’ll be about ten or fifteen minutes.” Somehow they’ve decided that people are willing to wait ten or fifteen minutes…but not twenty. That’s too long! So they always say “ten or fifteen minutes” knowing that you’ll stay there for a seat…even if it really takes twenty minutes.

Then, at some point in the wait, it happens. You see a table open up. But it’s just sitting there. No one’s cleaning it off. No one is rushing to get it ready. You’ve been waiting! Why aren’t they seating you?! There’s a table open!!!

That’s the moment when we all become restaurant managers, even if we’ve never worked in food service before. They need to hire more staff. Why don’t they expand their dining room? They need to train better. They should do call-ahead-seating like Chili’s does. Ah Chili’s – the great restaurant equalizer.

But anyway…

We all have these moments in our lives – whether at restaurants or somewhere else – when we become a manager. We see things going down and we jump to conclusions. We take over the position of manager in our mind and come up with twenty ways to fix it. With little or no experience, we are automatic experts.

Where else does this happen? A few other places that I’ve seen. One is school. Children come home that first week of school and we all seem to have a Masters of Education. Why do they send home so much homework? Why don’t they send home more homework? Why are they reading that book? Why don’t they teach cursive anymore? Who really needs algebra???

But here’s the things, parents: unless we’re educators, we really don’t know better…we just think we know better. Until we go around the counter and do the job that we are criticizing, we can’t fully appreciate how hard that job is.

This whole process of assuming we know better is like managing in our minds. We take on the role of manager without any of the responsibilities or instruction. Why does a certain business do what they do? If we asked enough questions we’d find out that they have a pretty good reason for it. It may be an inconvenience once in a while, but that doesn’t mean they should change just for you.

And the same goes for our churches. I’m guilty of this. Having spent over 20 years in church ministry, I think I know better. I jump into the manager role as soon as I walk into any church. I can usually point out five things wrong with any church within three minutes of passing through their doors. And I’ve already got a 9 Step Process for Turning Things Around power point ready to go. Now, where’s the pastor?

When we manage in our mind we’re usually unwilling to work with our feet. When we take the time to ask questions, see that good ideas are being put to use, and that there’s a reason for everything that’s being done, we generally turn down the volume on the management side of our brains.

When was the last time you tried to manage in your mind? What can you do to put a quick stop to it next time?

Benefit of the Doubt

During my first stint in full-time ministry I ran into a problem. Actually, I ran into a “problem person.” I had a volunteer that had an attitude problem. It came to a head one Sunday morning when she cornered my wife and spewed hate at her for no reason.

That next week I talked to my pastor about it. I was lit! I wanted to fire this volunteer, and let her know in no uncertain terms that she were unfit for any position in our church!

My pastor just looked at me. He sat there for a while, motionless and not talking. Uh-oh.

Finally he told me something that would change my life as a leader. “You need to give people the benefit of the doubt,” he told me.

“Yeah, but what about when they really mess up?”

“Give them the benefit of the doubt.”

“But what if they hurt your feelings, or worse – the feelings of those you care about?”

“Chris. This is not a debate. You give them the benefit of the doubt.”

Then he went on, explaining that yes, people will disappoint you. That people are imperfect and imperfect people do imperfect things. “But it’s much better to be surprised by people’s mistakes than be jaded and expect them to make mistakes.”

I took that advice with me. Ten years later, different church, different staff position, but same imperfect people. I took over a ministry area with over 100 volunteers and the first thing I was told was, “This one volunteer leader has got to go.” Apparently this guy – let’s call him Mark – had been disgruntled and upset for a few months. He was starting to let his attitude affect others too, always complaining about the church or the staff or his ministry area. So it was given to me to get rid of him.

Do you know what I did? I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I scheduled a meeting with him and sat down to chat – not about church or ministry or volunteering, but about his life. When we finally got around to his volunteer position, I laid out some options for him. The biggest frustration he had with the church was that he thought he had to stay locked in to this area of ministry. He wanted to do something else, like be a group leader in the student ministry.

I let him know that was more than okay. “Mark, if you want to cut back on your responsibilities, that’s fine. We can find a replacement.” All of sudden it was like a load was lifted. Benefit of the doubt. Repurposing volunteers. They go hand in hand.

Let me just give you some lessons I’ve learned about giving the benefit of the doubt.

First, giving the benefit of the doubt gives you freedom.

Where once you were jaded or cynical, now you are hopeful and expectant. Where once you would lay in bed at night wondering why people won’t do what you want them to do, now you’re free to expect great things from them. Sure you’re going to be disappointed and surprised. But you’ll only get hurt when they hurt you. When you’re jaded, you’re in a constant state of hurt.

Second, giving the benefit of the doubt gives the other person freedom.

When you assume the worst of people, you will get the worst from them. But when you give the benefit of the doubt, you release them to do so much more. My friend Mark would never have realized a passion for a different type of ministry if I had simply fired him, got rid of him, shaming him for his attitude.

Finally, giving the benefit of the doubt uncovers real issues.

When I started thinking about the problem of Mark, I wondered if there wasn’t something else going on. I asked around about him, starting to get a full picture of what was going on. Turns out he had just been laid off, his wife just had a baby – their fifth child – and she was going to have to go back to work. Mark had a lot going on that was causing a lot of frustrations. I would have never known about them – and been given an opportunity to pray for Mark and live life with him – if I just assumed the worst about him.

 

Giving the benefit of the doubt is loving like God loves. The reason God remains so faithful to us when we are so faithless at times is because he always gives us the benefit of the doubt. And that is why he was so willing to give so much for us – his very son.

When have you assumed the worst rather than giving the benefit of the doubt? Was it helpful? How can you start giving the benefit of the doubt in the future?

 

A Motto That’s On Mission

If you’ve been in ministry for a while you’ve probably heard the importance of a good mission statement. Guy Kawasaki in his book The Art of the Start says you’re wrong. You don’t need a good mission statement – you just need a motto. He suggests we replace “highfalutin, all-encompassing” mission statements with short, easily digestible, right-to-the-point mottos, what he calls a “mantra.”

Kawasaki gives a few examples from the business world:

Nike – Authentic athletic performance

Disney – Fun family entertainment

Starbucks – Rewarding everyday moments

These mottos are usually employed internally to direct the day-to-day vision of the company. But it’s not hard to see how they would translate to the general public in a pretty easy way.

Mottos are not only catchy, they also help the audience know – right away! – what they’re in for. So how does this work in the church?

Craft Mottos, not Mission Statements

Chances are your church already has a mission statement. I’m not telling you to scrap it. It’s probably pretty important for driving vision. But you can substitute it for a motto. Maybe take a snippet of the mission statement and turn it into a motto. Or start with something fresh that you’ll advertise to everyone.

The church I attend, NorthPoint Church in Springfield, MO, has as its mission statement: “NorthPoint exists to create a safe place for people to find and follow Jesus.” That’s pretty short, it’s definitely to the point, and it’s not difficult to remember. But it’s still not a motto. Sometimes our mission statement is shortened to just: “Find and follow Jesus.” In the end, that’s what the church is all about.

You can also look at your values and decide what’s important enough to advertise to the world. Another way to think of a motto is this: “If I only had a few seconds, how would I describe my church?” I know a lot of churches that use the “Real, Relevant, Relational” tag as a motto. Or maybe it’s “Love God, Love People.” There’s really an endless supply of good mottos when it comes to the list of values your church has adopted.

Once you’ve crafted a motto, get it out there! Start putting it on fliers, on handouts and bulletins, on signs and walls all over your church. Start advertising it on business cards and mailers, splash it across billboards, and repeat it on the radio or TV. Get your motto out there!

This is really about turning your church inside out. For those who have never visited, how can you – in just a couple of seconds – explain what your church is all about? They may already have an idea, and that idea could be wrong. But with a motto, you shatter their preconceived notions and invite them to experience it for themselves.

How can you use a motto to increase your audience’s engagement? How can you incorporate mottos in your weekly teachings?

The Best Part of Getting Lost

I love road trip! Probably because I love having long conversations with someone else, and that usually happens on a road trip. You’re stuck in a car for ten, twelve hours. What else are you going to do? And that’s what was going on a few years ago when we got lost. Here’s how it went down.

We’re heading north, out of Florida and right into Alabama, on our way back home from a great beach vacation. My wife is handling the navigating while I’m handling the wheel. And we’re talking. About what? I have no idea. But the conversation is really great and neither of us is really paying attention to the road until all of a sudden my wife says, “Wait! We’re lost!”

“What? What do you mean we’re lost?”

“We were supposed to turn left back there. Now we’re lost in Alabama!”

Well, we’re not so lost as much as off track. But no worries, just a quick reroute up ahead and we’ll be right back on track. So my wife plots a course and yells out, “Turn here!” So I veer our trusty Ford Escape off the highway and onto a dusty dirt road. Up and down a couple of hills and we’re right back on track. But then I looked up. And then I hit the brakes.

“What are you doing?” my wife yells, and rightly so. But I just had to stop.

I get out of the car and walk over to a little intersection on this back road of Alabama. Before me is a beautiful scene – a little farm house, rolling green hills, cows grazing lazily, and a pure blue pond. But I wasn’t looking at the farm scene. I was pointing at a road sign.

“Look!” I shout to her, still in the trusty Ford Escape. This road is an off-the-track, out-of-the-way, oh-no-we’re-lost road. This road is really just 150 yards of dirt leading to a stranger’s driveway, and there’s no way in the world that we would ever know about it. Unless we got off track. But we did, and so we saw it.

The road? Well of course it was called “Colvin Road.”

Was it fate? Was it coincidence? It doesn’t matter! It was Colvin Road!!! And Colvin isn’t the most popular of last names, trust me. It was meant to be, no matter what you think.

Sometimes we get off track. We get distracted, confused, or maybe just lazy. But we get our eyes off the map and before we know it we’re heading down a dirt road to try to catch up.

But in those times, if we don’t take time we may miss something amazing. Something you would only see if you get off track.

In life, you’re bound to get off track. It happens. You lose your job. You get robbed. Your boyfriend breaks up with you. Your spouse dies. God forbid any of those things ever happen! But if they do, and while you’re getting back on track, don’t miss what’s right around you. Use this time of being off track to find something beautiful, amazing, perplexing, astonishing – something you would have never seen, known, or experienced if you had stayed on track.

Look, I’m not saying that God is responsible for getting you lost. But I am saying that if you don’t stop and look around when you do get lost, you may miss something he’s trying to show you. About yourself. About your world. About something you’re really passionate about but don’t think about when you’re lost.

When have you gotten off track and thought you couldn’t get back on track? What have you seen that you wouldn’t have seen if you hadn’t gotten off track?