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Life in the "Fast" Lane

Every year, during the month of January, many Christians, churches and ministries call their supporters and followers to observe an extended 

I'm choosing to participate in the 21 day fast that many Christians participate in during the month of January. However, rather than the Daniel Fast related to food, I'm doing an extended fast of just water and juice for several days, coupled with a 21 day social media fast.

Here are the measures I'm putting in place:
  • No communicate via Facebook or Twitter for 21 days
  • No blog reading via Google Reader feed for 21 days 
  • Removing Facebook and Twitter apps from my iPhone
  • Replacing social media time spent with time spent in reading the Bible
During this time I will:
  • Replace social media with reading the Scriptures. I plan to read the New Testament during the 21 days
  • Have others that can update facebook pages and twitter feeds if needed (this would be related to work/ministry)
  • Begin a journey through the Bible in 2010 that I believe will nourish me spiritually and strengthen the ministry God has entrusted me with
  • Journal, daily, the things God shows me through prayer and Scripture
  • Have my accountability partner and others hold me accountable to this fast - the primary purpose of this is not a "check up" so much as to reflect to them what God is showing me
Benefits:
  • Separation from non-essential media to focus intensely on essential disciplines (reading Scripture, prayer, journaling)
  • Establishing a pace of spiritual disciplines that will set in motion the priorities and focus of my life for 2010
  • Clarity in hearing the voice of God as I reduce the "noise" of social media

    Blog Recap for 2009

    Here's a quick overview of my blog activity for 2009:
    • Before I get to stats, let me say that I've struggled to maintain a purpose for keeping this blog going - I still do somewhat. My numbers and activity were almost a third of what they were the year before. I hope to reverse that and have set some measures in place to help with it - I hope that regular, consistent blogging will help me develop a better understanding of WHY I should keep blogging.
    • Here's my look back at 2008 if you're interested.
    In 2009:
    • I wrote 53 blog posts (down from 160 in 2008). I wrote several others and rescinded them before publishing because of content or ambiguity
    • As of 12/20/09 I had 2,594 visits to rickwomack.com
    • They came from 69 different countries (up from 55)
    • There were 1,712 absolute unique visitors, spending an average of 6 seconds less on my site, but viewing .01% more pages
    • 29 people used dial-up as opposed to 72 in '08 - come on you 29, you have to give in and upgrade to high-speed internet!
    • Fewer people use IE, more people use Firefox and Safari double. Chrome went from virtually nothing to almost 4% of viewers.
    • The top referrers: Google, Facebook, then fellow bloggers (thanks Rachel & Debbie)
    Here are 7 of my favorite blog posts from 2009:
    1. http://www.rickwomack.com/2009/10/progress-demands-that-we-challenge.html
    2. http://www.rickwomack.com/2009/09/we-need-r-evol-ution.html 
    3. http://www.rickwomack.com/2009/09/in-light-of-eternity.html 
    4. http://www.rickwomack.com/2009/08/whats-first-thing-id-do.html 
    5. http://www.rickwomack.com/2009/08/intersecting-life-and-church-at-ruths.html
    6. http://www.rickwomack.com/2009/06/americas-newest-race-are-you-ready.html
    7. http://www.rickwomack.com/2009/05/hearhear.html 

    Looking Back - 7 Great Questions

    The following questions come from Michael Hyatt - great content to use as an annual life review:
    1. If the last year were a movie of your life, what would the genre be? Drama, romance, adventure, comedy, tragedy, or a combination?
    2. What were the two or three major themes that kept recurring? These can be single words or phrases. 
    3. What did you accomplish this past year that you are the most proud of? These can be in any area of your life—spiritual, relational, vocational physical, etc. Be as specific as possible. 
    4. What do you feel you should have been acknowledged for but weren’t? Okay, this is a little too personal for me to respond to directly. 
    5. What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year? As leaders, we naturally have high expectations of ourselves and others. Where did you let yourself down? Where did you let others down? 
    6. What was missing from last year as you look back? Again, look at each major area of your life. Don’t focus now on having to do anything about it. For now, just list each item. 
    7. What were the major life-lessons you learned this past year? Boil this down to a few short, pithy statements. 
    Here are my answers:
    #1 - Adventure
    #2 - Relationships, Process
    #3 - Deepening relationships
    #4 - Not sure...not sure I'd tell if I were.
    #5 - Discipline in reading & health
    #6 - More time with family on vacation
    #7 - In view of eternity...

    Looking Back '09

    I want to look back in this post at two questions that I heard posed this year from Bob Roberts...

    • What is the right way to do church? (For me, it's easy to slip into this mindset and begin to opine on what I think the "right" way to do church is) - but, it's the wrong question
    • What does it mean to fulfill God's purposes? This is the right question!
    I'm working through to make sure that question #2 is the first question I ask when I consider God's plan for: my life, my family, my ministry, my future, His Church, my role in our denomination, etc.

    Don't miss it, it's subtle...
    What does it mean...

    to fulfill...


    God's purposes?


    All of them!


    It may NOT be what you are presently doing, thinking, planning...

    My Most Meaningful Post All Year

    The Birth of Jesus 
    The birth of Jesus took place like this. 
    His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. 
    Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. 
    (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) 
    Joseph, chagrined but noble, 
    determined to take care of things quietly 
    so Mary would not be disgraced. 
    While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. 
    God’s angel spoke in the dream: 
    “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. 
    Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. 
     She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—
    ‘God saves’
    —because he will save his people from their sins.”  
    This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
    Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
    They will name him Emmanuel 

    (Hebrew for “God is with us”).  
    Then Joseph woke up. 
    He did exactly 
    what God’s angel commanded in the dream: 
    He married Mary.

    Merry Christmas All! This story, more than a story, a reality, brings hope-fulfilled, life-eternal, and joy never-ending.


    Thank you for reading & Merry Christmas!

    5 blog posts that have challenged me and you need to read!

    Just wanted to put some extracurricular reading on your radar during the Christmas break...these are 5 blog posts that I've kept in my Google Reader feed to read and re-read several times - scan through them - there are some important lessons to be found.
    1. I'm stoked about my friend Lee becoming the editor of our denomination's magazine! But in the midst of these changes, I'm thankful that he's addressing some hard core topics that need to be addressed by us in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement - issues such as: racism, materialism, erroneous theology and praxis, excessive focus on prosperity while shunning those in need. Recently, Lee picked up an endoresment from Ed Stetzer. Ed blogs about Lee's prophetic voice in his LifeWay blog (read, he's SBC and respects the voice of Lee and many others in our movement - for that, I'm truly thankful!). Here's his post: Holy Ghost Housecleaning. Thanks Ed for crossing the lines of your movement.
    2. One of my favorite blogs to read is churchmarketingsucks.com. Recently they offered some free advise - Don't Offend Those You Hope to Reach. If you get hung up over the word "marketing" then I suggest "communication" - that's what marketing, in essence, is. And, hopefully, you're not offended with the word communication - Romans 10:14 (from The Message version) says, "But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them?" I leave you with this question, "Does who you say you are match up with what others experience?"
    3. Leadership teams should always evaluate - I'm a big believer in evaluating what we're doing, why we're doing it, whether or not it's working and what we need to do next? Perry offers seven questions that leadership teams need to consider here. My favorite is this question, "What bothers us about our church?" - most aren't willing to ask that question - let alone answer it!
    4. Ron offers us 10 quick ways to lead like Jesus does here - my two favorites are #3 and # 6 - what are your favorite (by the way, #10 is my "ultimate favorite") - I hope you agree! To help you agree, see what Ron says in the post below.
    5. I've re-tweeted this, evernoted it & saved it in Google Reader - this MUST happen. Let me be very blunt (and perhaps a little R-rated) - it's imperative that leaders people keep their pants on and their zippers zipped. It's also imperative that leaders people protect themselves, their families, their communities and the church. It simply MUST happen! If you don't click on any of the others above - PLEASE CLICK on this post by Ron Edmondson. Ron talks candidly about 7 ways to protect yourself from an affair. For some related reading you can read what Perry says here (be prepared!), here, here, here or here.

    When need and Kingdom collide...

    This is an appropriate video to share during the Christmas season, let me set it up...

    I've been really pondering John 1:14 over the last month...from The Message version it says,

    The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
    We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
    Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

    I've blogged about it already, but this verse so strikes me and is quickly becoming a life-verse for me - I'm amazed when I ponder the richness of this verse - how God (Jesus) left heaven to rescue man. How he took the form of a man, became a man, and died as a man. How Jesus went to the ultimate end to rescue mankind...what astonishing love!

    Transition to the video I've embedded below. I don't know Carlos...I keep track of his twitter feed and read his blog, but what you are going to see below is and example, I believe, of God (in the form of the Holy Spirit) moving into the neighborhood, interrupting one artist's plans for the day, and bringing the Kingdom, as it is in heaven, to earth.

    To set it up, Carlos has recently recorded a worship album. While doing some photo-ops for the album around Atlanta, Danny, a homeless man, approaches Carlos and joins in the song. Unscripted, unedited and unplanned, God establishes His Kingdom in their midst. I literally cried as I watched this video. I repented because I probably would have shrugged this man off, avoided eye-contact, moved about my business - I'm guilty...I've done it before - in fact, twice this weekn while I was in downtown Atlanta. But Carlos is approachable, loving and compassionate toward Danny - Carlos invites him to join in, he embraces him, he celebrates in praise with Danny...


    Watch the video, examine yourself, cry with me, learn with me...


    God, make us patient, loving, generous from inside out. Help us to move into others' neighborhoods. May our lives be true - start to finish. God, help us to become, belong, believe and be transformed so that we can reach others - as Christ did. God, make us sacrificial and give us a willing spirit to reach people far from You so that they can be filled with life in You. In Christ name, Amen!

    How Much is Too Much?

    Like it,
    Hate it,
    Love it,
    Or, Leave it...

    Change happens!

    The opposite of change, I once read, is death. If you're living, you're changing.

    I was made aware of a very large, and very growing church that purposely tries to change at least 10% of what they are doing each year. That has to be a difficult metric to track, but the heart of the metric is that they are able to continue to grow, evaluate, reach people and make a major difference in their community because they are willing to constantly change. By the way, they realize that if they DON'T change at least 10% every year, in just 5 short years half of what they are doing will be ineffective. That's an eye-opener!


    So, how much change is too much?


    How can a local church continue to serve the members that are present (an important role), while still focusing on the people that need Christ the most?

    I have my thoughts...but, I'd really like to hear yours!

    When I reach 5 comments, I'll weigh in...ready, set, comment!

    How Far is Too Far? (Pt. 2)

    I thought I was finished blogging about this topic from yesterday - sorry, I'm not!

    I have become acutely aware, as I have reflected the past few days, of what some call the "spirit of Christmas." No, it has nothing to do with shopping (did that and survived), nothing to do with trees and decorations (still to be done...), and nothing to do with gift exchange. Well, maybe it does have to do with the last one!

    Gift exchange?!?!

    Christ...God's gift...exchanged His place in Heaven to "move into the neighborhood" (Jn 1:14, The Message translation). Paul reflects (from The Message; Philippians 2:6-8), that Christ "didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion."

    As I read these two passages together I'm challenged with these thoughts personally:
    • How much do I think of myself?
    • How much do I cling to the advantage of life as it presently is?
    • Am I willing to sacrifice? To live without? Knowing that my sacrifice may be rejected!
    • How many "special privileges" do Iput into place to shield me from sacrifice and suffering?
    • To what extent am I willing to "become" so that others can be made aware of the hope and eternal life that I have found in Christ?
    • Do I live a selfless, obedient life?
    • How could I ever die a selfless, obedient death if I can't live such life?
    • Am I willing to move into someone else's neighborhood? Across the ocean? Around the world? For a season? Forever?
    How Far is Too Far?

    I'm wrestling with this one - I hope some of you will wrestle with it as well.

    If I knew I were going to die in 6 months, I'd live my life in a drastically different way from day-to-day - what's keeping me from it?

    As I said, yesterday: People, people matter!

    How Far is too Far?

    When I was a youth pastor, that was a common question.

    Typically, it was a teen wanting to play it "safe enough" to push the limits of their sexuality and sexual expression, while retaining the right to be considered a Christian. Now that I'm not in youth ministry and I deal more with adults...

    Nothing has changed!

    Let's move away from the discussion of sex and toward the discussion of salvation...

    How far is to far?
    How far do we go to reach people?

    Do we enter the world of porn shows and conventions like Craig Gross does?

    Are we gutsy enough to enter the world of human trafficking like Charles Powell is willing to do? (by the way, human trafficking is now the 2nd largest illegal crime behind the drug trade - some of it is for the purpose of the sex trade, but it's not limited to that-article by Charles is a little over half way down)

    Are we willing to give up all that we have for the sake of reaching someone?

    How much are we willing to sacrifice?

    Our chapels and churches?
    Our sanctuaries and seating?
    Our voice and our vote?

    People, people matter!

    They are who Christ came for...died for...arose for...waits for.

    I'm convicted when I read John 1:14, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

    Christ became human (yes, I know, fully human, fully God - but don't forget - fully human!).

    Are we willing to become ______________ in order to dwell among some to reach them - no, not become a porn star or drug pusher or homeless person. But are we willing to sacrifice our status quo, our safe place and our sanctuary to understand the hell someone else is trapped in - all in an effort to reach them with Christ's love and life?

    I'm convicted that I have chosen comfort and convenience over risk and uncertainty. I'm convicted that I have chosen status and safety over sacrifice and peril. No, I'm not looking to be a martyr. But I wonder, given the choice of safety, comfort and convenience have I sacrificed some of God's richest plans for my life - I wonder!

    The issue of relevance can be a hot button topic in many settings within Christendom. So sad! Christ...left heaven...became man...became relevant...sacrificed...died - given the choice, would we choose this path?

    Have we chosen this path?
    Or, do we think that sacrificing all is going too far?

    4 Questions Everyone Must Wrestle With

    A couple months ago I took a day off after having gone for 20 days straight...I went to church on my day off - here are the notes from my church service at Elevation's Online Service:

    • What's in your hand?- Exodus 4 - The Question of Calling. Whatever you have in your hand, throw it down at God's feet and let him do what He wants to do with it. You have to find the thing that you have in your hand, offer it to the Lord and let Him turn it into something. You don't have to be able to preach, you have to do what you can with what you have now. Eph 2:10
    • Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? - The Question of Acceptance. Gal. 1:10. You cannot live for the approval of men and the approval of God - you must choose to serve one or another. Illustration using Kanye - "Who cares what you think?" - "It's not your award to give anyway." - In similar fashion, who cares what the opinion of others is? You are approved by God - it's settled!
    • How can a young man keep his way pure? - Ps. 119:9 - The Question of Integrity - Purity is a gift from Jesus and you walk in it - you don't earn it. How can a man do this? By living according to your word!
    • Who do you say I am? - The Question of Eternity - Mat. 16:15-16. If you get this one wrong, the others don't matter. So many misconceptions about who Jesus is. God has not sent a universal friend request on facebook - He's looking for followers, not friends.
    This was a message taught by Pastor Steven Furtick to the students in their church - it has universal application!

    Have you answered these questions?

    Let's talk about it...

    Re-Engaging the Workplace

    How do you feel at the end of a vacation?
    Most of us are tired, and typically say something along the lines of "needing a vacation to recover from a vacation."

    I'm convinced that the success or failure of re-entering the workplace is predicated on what happens BEFORE you leave and WHILE you're gone.

    BEFORE YOU LEAVE:
    • Empty all of your in-boxes. Michael Hyatt gives you the steps to "Declare Email Bankruptcy" if needed. As well, Hyatt blogs about staying on top of email here (the first step will go the furthest to helping you!). Empty all of your work email, personal email and "junk email" (I have one address that I use strictly for contests, promotional events, etc and I check it once or twice a month). As well, empty all of your in-boxes in your social media (Facebook, etc).
    • Empty all of your return messages. Take the time to make any phone calls or follow-up emails before you leave so that you come back to a fresh, clean slate. Before I left for vacation I spent several hours on the phone talking to key people that I talk to on a regular basis.
    • Empty all of your files. Before vacation I had an estimated 30 files or so on my desk. I've invested in a nice, qwerty-style label maker that I use for filing. All files go into the filing cabinet or the desk files that I keep near me for frequent use.
    • Empty your desk. Again, I typically have numerous books, magazines, notepads, etc lying on my desk - they must go away. When I returned to work, I had only a picture of my wife, one of my Bibles, my phone and typical desk-organizational tools. There were no stacks, no files, no books, no magazines.
    • Empty your head. Take time to list any important follow-up items that you can't get to before vacation. By doing this, you give yourself permission to totally check out and forget about work.
    Which leads me to...

    WHILE YOU'RE GONE:
    • Be gone! Don't call. Don't email. Don't "check-in." BE GONE!
    • Give yourself permission to forget about work, your responsibilities and what awaits you. You've created an action plan for when you return - forget about work.
    • Check out of social media at your pace - I have about 25-30 twitter followers that come to my phone via text - during vacation, that was eliminated. I only checked twitter or Facebook at my pace and only when it wouldn't infringe upon quality family time. For some, you may want to check out entirely. For others, only minimally. Whichever you fit into, let the deciding factor be how it affects your interaction time with others. If social media reminds you of work or projects, then I suggest you check out entirely.
    • Don't work. I restricted myself from checking email, making calls, etc. The only interruption I received was from one of our employees (not sure he knew I was on vacation) and he needed a phone number. I took 30 seconds, copied and pasted the number into a text and responded - back to vacation!
    • Engage in another story. I usually read fiction while on vacation to engage my mind in someone else's story. That was my intent this time as well - but that's not what happened. As we began together on our journey together as a family, I realized the story I needed to engage was not a fictitious character, but the very real lives of those God has blessed me with. As a result, I was able to connect with my wife, son and daughter on a level was tremendously needed and very enjoyable.
    What "Re-Engaging the Workplace" tips do you have?
    What strategies have you found successful for "checking out" of the workforce?

    I think I'm going to buy this truck

    Andy Stanley Catalyst Video

    One of the great things about Catalyst is the fun. The team that pulls this conference together obviously spends a lot of time thinking of creative and fun elements. This year we had pink flamingos lining the entry, a dozen or so hammocks outside of the venue, small footballs to throw across the arena and hilarious videos as transition elements between speakers or interviews. The video below set up Andy's last talk of the day and he had no idea it was coming - enjoy!

    Catalyst 09 Recap

    Visit CatalystConference.com
    My wife and I had the privilege of attending this year's Catalyst event here in Atlanta - it's the second one I've attended, her first. We enjoyed the conference w/a bunch of EC students - so happy to hang out with many of them, learn more about them and build bridges toward the next generation of leader.

    Here are some of the thoughts that most captured me, followed by some links to other bloggers that did a better job of taking notes:
    • Most leaders won’t realize the significance of their mark until long after it has been left. (Andy Stanley)
    • “God takes full responsibility for the life that is wholly devoted to Him.” (Andy again quoting his dad, Charles Stanley) - Andy went on to give real life examples of how he had seen his dad live this out.
    • Living to make my mark is too small a thing to give my life to. But when God calls us to let him make his mark through us, that is the thing willing to give our life for. (Andy Stanley - the conference name was "On the Mark" - this was one of the most powerful things I heard)
    • 10 Things Chuck Swindoll Learned in 50+ Years of Ministry: 1.) It’s lonely to lead. Leadership involves tough decisions. The tougher the decisions, the lonelier it is. 2.) It’s dangerous to succeed. It is dangerous to succeed while being young. rarely, does God give leadership that young because it takes crushing and failure first. 3.) It’s hardest at home. Nobody at home is applauding you. They say, “Dad! You’re fly is open.” 4.) It is essential to be real. If there is one realm where phoniness is personified it is leadership. What I care about is that you stay real. 5.) It is painful to obey. There are rewards, yes, but it is painful nevertheless. 6.) Brokenness and failure are necessary. 7.) My attitude is more important than my actions. Some of you are getting hard to be around. And your attitude covers all those great actions you pull off. 8.) Integrity eclipses image. What you are doing is not a show. And the best things you are doing is not up front but what you do behind the scenes. 9.) God’s way is better than my way. God is going to have His way. 10.) Christ-likeness begins and ends with humility. (Chuck Swindoll)
    • A leader in the Bible named Joshua knew how to handle interruption. Four things that Joshua did in Joshua 3 that show us how to handle interruptions: 1.) Act immediately in obedience to God; 2. ) Act fearlessly; 3.) Acknowledge the presence of God; 4.) Anticipate God’s miracles. (Priscilla Shirer)
    • Sometimes the crowd thins, and people leave, even ones who are close to you. (Rob Bell)
    • Does your spouse get your very best, or does your spouse get what is left over from the church? Do your kids get your very best, or do they get the scraps? Our children pick up on what really matters to us without us saying a word. (Rob Bell again - and he brought it)
    • We think we need daring and bold decision making from our leaders in time of crisis. But we don’t. We need humility. (Malcolm Gladwell - retelling the story of General Joe Hooker and the sense of arrogance with which he led. Ultimately, he had better information and more troops, but his bold decision making and daring thinking led to defeat)
    • Incompetence irritates me, overconfidence scares me (another Malcolm Gladwell quote)
    Finally, here are some other bloggers you can gain more info from:

    Progress DEMANDS that we challenge

    I've been teaching a series in Sunday school from the book by Mark Batterson titled, "Wild Goose Chase" - the teaching series is called, "Chase the Goose."

    The basic premise is this - the Celtic Christians had a name for the Holy Spirit - An Geadh Glas - which means "Wild Goose." For them, following the Holy Spirit, pursuing God was an adventure - a "Wild Goose Chase." Anyway, pick up the book, read it, it WILL challenge you.

    But this week Mark makes the statement to the effect that "Progress demands that we challenge assumptions" - that got me to thinking...what else needs to be challenged?

    Here are some of my thoughts with regard to local church leadership, denominational leadership and Christian ministry in general:
    • Progress demands that we challenge structure - can we be more effective & more efficient? I know it worked last year/week/decade/century, but is there ANOTHER way it'll work better?
    • Progress demands that we challenge tradition - what should be remembered (but not idolized)?
    • Progress demands that we challenge practice - are we really doing all that we can do, or is there a better way to do it? I know it's always been done that way, is THAT the right way or is there a better way?
    • Progress demands that we challenge worldview - do we really have it figured out? Is there another way to view the world, issues, society, culture and mankind that perhaps is more honoring to God and redemptive in purpose?
    • Progress demands that we challenge theology - most will shun doing this, but challenging theology sharpens the theological sword and makes us better leaders?
    • Progress demands that we challenge ecclesiology? Are there other ways of "doing" church? Mark my words, the American denominational system will HAVE to struggle with the "house church" movement. It'll be tough and will create a divide unfortunately. This coming from a "denominational guy" - but the ones that wrestle with it and embrace it, I believe will benefit from it. God IS using the house church around the world...oh yeah, and it's found in the New Testament.
    Just last night I was able to challenge a local church (and hopefully in a Christ-like, humble fashion - that was my heart and intent). I challenged them to experience their service from the view of a guest, their language from the ears of a guest, and their setting from the eyes of a guest.

    What did I miss? By the way, Amazon challenged the notion that shopping had to be in a "brick & mortar" store. JFK challenged the assumption that man could ever walk on the moon.

    What other areas of church/ministry need to be challenged so that we can progress?

    I'm still learning...

    I've spent the past 3 weeks preaching in a local church that is without a senior pastor at present. I offered to do so because I felt they were in need of some consistency in the midst of transition. They've spent several months hearing from some amazing ministers. They also have a great pastoral team in place that is capable and anointed to fill the pulpit. But I just felt that some consistency in moving the ball forward was important. I'd like to share some important lessons I've learned in sermon preparation as well as hear your's in this post. But first...

    I listen to a lot of messages and preachers - I like to to stay sharpened, be stretched, challenged and encouraged as well as to hear what the Spirit of God is saying to others.

    But there's something I've noticed...if we're not careful, we can easily start sounding like ourselves and not like God. The problem is that sounding like ourselves often means we're bringing "day old bread" to the platform when God has something fresh and piping hot to be delivered.

    I challenge preachers to listen to themselves...if you revert to preaching about political/current affairs often and with ease, you may just be sounding like yourself...if you revert to telling some of the Old Testament stories and making them applicable to every message, you may just be sounding like yourself...if you spend a lot of time preaching about how people are living, what's wrong with "folks today" or if you spend a lot of time drawing up nice do/don't do lists, you may just be sounding like yourself.

    Am I saying..."don't preach about current affairs," etc...No! What I'm saying is that if that becomes FILLER for the majority of your message, then I challenge and encourage you to withdraw for a longer time in preparation and hear more clearly from God.

    Here are some lessons I've learned:
    • Preaching/teaching more than 2 times per week is crazy! In fact, it's crazy stupid! I can almost promise most preachers that are doing this (because that's what we've always done) are horribly being UNDER utilized for God's purpose - much better to allow them to preach once (twice maybe or occasionally), hear clearly from God the direction He wants to take the entire service and have a divine Word that is applicable and life-changing.
    • Come loaded for bear - each week I preached about 65-70 percent of my notes. I simply had too much - but I was ready! And that's the key - preparation is work (and to me it's fun) and it can't be taken too lightly. My view on this is that a lot of the "extra" that I didn't preach was most likely for me - it gives me the ability to preach from the "overflow" of what God is doing.
    • Don't wait till the last minute - once in this series I ended up waiting until Saturday for the majority of my preparation. I spent 13 hours preparing for a sermon and a Sunday school lesson I would teach that one morning. By the way, this was due to sickness in our family...I did some casual reading through the week and prayed a lot about the direction for Sunday - but yes, it took me 13 hours of prep for approx 90 minutes (total) of preaching/teaching. This past week I prepared all week and by Friday was about 95% finished. It gave me the freedom to enjoy a college football game on Saturday with just a bit of tying up the loose ends late Saturday night.
    • Sweat the outline - I have moved away from worrying so much about my word-for-word preaching/teaching event - I'm more concerned with making sure the outline is what God wants...that it takes people from one place to another...that it flows (not that it's an acronym or uses alliteration)...and that it's accurate for the main theme of the message.
    • Develop a main theme - for me this is probably where I spend the majority of my "prayer time", "hearing from God time" and "creative thinking time" - yes, I literally sit and "think" of different ways of saying the "main thing" that I want to communicate - when I land on it, that becomes my main theme and the outline typically flows or revolves around that. For instance, the first week was "When reality sets in, we have to let the Remedy set it" - I said that probably at least 8-10 times in my message and it framed my outline. It's the "takeaway" that I wanted people to have at the end of the day.
    • Sweat the transition - this is where most people are lost - transition. Transitions are key and when I'm reviewing my notes before preaching, I spend MORE time thinking through and perhaps even preaching through the transition either out loud or going over it in my head. Transitions tie things together and take us from place to place. It's like visiting Disney, but riding the monorail to get to the theme park - the monorail is fun to ride and builds anticipation at arriving at the destination - so should our transitions.
    • Have some passion - passion is a missing element in many preachers. It could be because not enough time was spent in preparation or because the preacher is not able to preach from "the overflow" (by the way, that's really difficult to describe, but once you've experienced it, you'll understand). Passion is not yelling, talking fast or adding "uhhhh" to the end of each word. Passion is seen and communicated when you BELIEVE what you're saying is from God and for this moment. When you believe you have God's Word for God's timing, it's easy to be passionate.
    Of course there are many amazing, anointed preachers that much more gifted than I am. I would love to hear your thoughts...what have I missed, what have you learned? Let's talk about it...

    We Need A R-evol-ution

    Civility...definition, "courtesy, politeness" -
    an endangered species

    The past few days have given us the opportunity to witness the decline in civility in the public eye. First, Representative Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) arrogantly shouted out during President Obama's address to the joint session of Congress, "You Lie" - you may view the video here.

    Last night, although I wasn't watching the VMA's on MTV, I saw the chatter across the internet regarding what Kanye West did while Taylor Swift was making her acceptance remarks for Best Female Video of the year - you may see Kanye's actions here.

    The definition above, extracted from a few "dictionary" websites across the Internet, is weak and lacks the necessary punch needed to counter the lack of civility present in our society. This is nothing new, lest you think this is a "race thing" it's been going on for a while. In the country music scene, you have Toby Keith that has been an outspoken critic of the Country Music Association (CMA) awards - article here.

    So, what's the problem with the above definition?

    It is weak. Politeness, can be extended, all while hijacking a conversation or situation, and stabbing someone else in the back. For example, "Excuse me (that would be polite), I'm happy that you won that award or were recognized for that achievement (more politeness), but the real recognition goes to so-and-so."

    What just happened?
    • Politeness was extended (sometimes more than once)
    • The situation was turned from the original intent to your intent
    • You made the situation about you, even though you tried to make it about someone else
    • That is called selfishness
    And it's rampant in the world around us...

    For example, our 1st Amendment rights to free speech have been hijacked in the name of selfishness - I have no doubt as to your rights, but there's something to be said for timing, tone and context.

    Rep. Wilson's timing couldn't have been worse - it's terribly rude, inconsiderate and selfish to interrupt the President (or ANY public speaker). The tone was hateful and dehumanizing - something that ought never happen. The context was the worst possible scenario - the beauty of our society is that after the fact, we can express our opinion, we just need to do it in the right context - for Rep. Wilson that context would have been after President Obama's speech.

    Kanye's timing couldn't be worse - he made his remarks, intended to be about Beyonce, about himself. His tone was crass and careless (also demonstrated by his action of taking the stage...something that never should happen...notice the word usage - "taking the stage" - the stage is a privilege not a right, one is given the stage, the stage ought never be "taken"). And the context was awful - Kanye has a blog and an appearance on tonight's Jay Leno show - that should have been the context of his opinion.

    We need a Revolution

    George Washington had his list of 110 Rules of Civility - list found here. While they may seem old-fashioned and outdated, one of the common denominators is this: Consider Others First.

    Romans 12:10 puts it this way, "Honor one another above yourselves."

    In the book titled, "The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct" - author P.M. Forni offers advice for us all. At a glance, here are his 25 rules are (note: I've bolded the ones that are appropriate to these two situations in mind):

    1. Pay attention
    2. Acknowledge others
    3. Think the best

    4. Listen

    5. Be inclusive
    6. Speak kindly

    7. Don’t speak ill
    8. Accept and give praise

    9. Respect even a subtle “no”
    10. Respect others’ opinions
    11. Mind your body
    12. Be agreeable
    13. Keep it down (and rediscover silence)
    14. Respect other people’s time

    15. Respect other people’s space

    16. Apologize earnestly and thoughtfully (note: both have done this)
    17. Assert yourself
    18. Avoid personal questions
    19. Care for your guests
    20. Be a considerate guest

    21. Think twice before asking for favors
    22. Refrain from idle complaints

    23. Give constructive criticism

    24. Respect the environment and be gentle to animals
    25. Don’t shift responsibility and blame


    I recently preached a sermon and blogged saying in effect, "We need an Honor Revolution." Today, I say we also need a Civility Revolution. We need a Revolution!

    We need a Revolution of Civility - one that affirms the worth of people rather than exerting some sort of self-imposed superiority. We need a Revolution of Civility - one that listens first with the intent of hearing the heart of the other person rather than waiting impatiently or interrupting someone to spout out our self-declared importance of opinion. We need a Revolution of Civility - one that respects people rather than gazing down the nose of our self-exalted position.

    We also need a Love Revolution (By the way, if you look at the word Revolution, you see the word "love" spelled backwards. I've bolded it in the paragraph above...that's because love goes against the flow, is hidden in the many facets and dynamics of day-to-day life and and can be found even in a revolution). Join me in coming days as I blog about Revolution - a Love Revolution.

    (By the way, pastors and church leaders, are you prepared for this type of interruption in your service...I sense that if we don't see a Revolution in Civility, we will see this type of debate taking place soon. While I'm all for dialogue, one of the reasons I embrace twitter, facebook and commmenting on the blog, timing, tone and context are also important).

    In Light of Eternity

    "If you see a light at the end of the tunnel - RUN!"

    Perhaps you've heard that before, perhaps in a movie, perhaps joking around with a close friend. The problem with it, is that it's wrong. Today, I want to encourage you to run toward the Light...

    Yesterday I mentioned that I'd be posting about an amazing thing that happened to me this past weekend.

    On Sunday, I celebrated another birthday - I'm not one that cares too much about a lot of fanfare on my birthday, I prefer to keep it pretty simple, eat some cake, and enjoy a relaxing day!

    This year was no different in my expectations. I did, however, ask my wife to plan a simple date for us to share since it was on the weekend and the grandparents wanted to keep the kids. I decided we would attend church with the grandparents since that's something we're not often able to do, it was a holiday weekend and I purposely scheduled a "down" weekend in terms of ministry and speaking.

    Sounds pretty simple (ok, and maybe boring)...but God interrupted the span of about 7 or 8 minutes during church on Sunday morning completely without warning. We were in the middle of worship, and moving toward participating in communion. The worship team was singing a song I have never heard before (I've included a YouTube worship video below). The lyrics are:

    You awaken my heart
    From slumbering
    Meet me in mourning
    And you speak to my grief

    You're the light in my darkness
    The delight of my eyes
    The hope of the daybreak
    When the sun's slow to rise

    (Chorus)
    I trust that every moment's in your hands
    You're the God of my days

    The King of my nights

    Lord of my laughter
    Sovereign in sorrow
    You're the Prince of my praise
    The love of my life
    You never leave me

    You are faithful
    God of my days

    You unveil my eyes
    Help me to see
    The arms of my Father
    Encircling me
    You're a constant companion
    I am never alone
    Your love is the banner
    That's leading me home

    My eyes are on You
    My hope is in You
    My faith is in You
    My eyes are on You
    My hope is in You
    My faith is in You

    During this song and communion I had a wonderful mid-life crisis. It's one that I've had before, just never in this fashion. In just a few moments of time, God began to help me see once again the journey of life He has us on. Full of life-changing decisions, but they pale in comparison to eternity. Complete with opportunity for adventure, yet quite boring if He's not involved. He helped me to see: 1.) my birthday - in light of eternity; 2.) my life - in light of eternity; 3.) my contribution - in light of eternity.

    I left that service, and now have spent the last 4 days, glaring intently through the lens of eternity - because everything, every-thing, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g is dismally small compared to eternity.

    This type of awakening in one's spirit is usually reserved for a funeral of a close friend or family member; perhaps a parent, or a brother or sister. But God, by His Spirit, chose to interrupt my worship of Him to remind me...

    In light of eternity, He's all that really matters!

    • He's the God of my days (and my birthdays)
    • He's the King of my nights (those lonely seasons where darkness and solitude are all that are found)
    • He's the Lord of my laughter (bringing joy that sustains through every season of life)
    • He's Sovereign in sorrow (reminding me that in my sorrow and sadness, all I need do is trust Him)
    In light of eternity, He's all that really matters!

    Isaiah says it this way:

    The high and lofty one who lives in eternity,
    the Holy One, says this:
    “I live in the high and holy place
    with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
    I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
    and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.

    Isaiah 57:15

    In Light of Eternity...
    regardless of your situation...
    regardless of your relationships...
    regardless of station in life...

    He is the God of my Days

    Enjoy

    Fearless - the sermon series and the book...

    I'm preaching a three week sermon series in a couple of weeks in a local church...when I heard the title of this book, I knew I had to have it! I had already felt like God was saying, "This church needs to learn to be fearless again...they have been locked up in the past, in fear and in dread of the future and it's time to be set free" - so, I quickly DM'd Michael Hyatt @ Thomas Nelson to let him know of my interest in the book.

    My three weeks of sermon titles are shaping up to be along these lines:
    • What's Next?
    • Is it Over?
    • Fear Knot
    Having this book has been a useful and practical resource in personal preparation for preaching this upcoming series. I always find it easier to minister "out of the overflow" as they say. So, I have been very intentional about facing my personal fears, evaluating them and working toward overcoming them - tomorrow, I'll write about one of those - it's going to be an amazing post about something God did in my life this past weekend.

    This book also helped me see the fears of others (some I haven't embraced), understand them, and also embrace the Biblical solution to those fears - in typical Lucado fashion, this book is full of plenty of "ah-ha" and "wow" moments (as well as a few "uh-oh" moments that get a little personal).

    Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
    • "It's not the absence of storms that sets us apart. It's whom we discover in the storm: an unstirred Christ" (p.8)
    • "Fear, at its center, is a perceived loss of control. When life spins wildly, we grab for a component of life we can manage: our diet, the tidiness of our house, the armrest of a plane, or, in many cases, people. The more insecure we feel, the meaner we become" (p.9)
    • "The fear that you are one big zero will become a self-fulfilling prophecy that will ruin your life." (p.25)
    • "Putting your worries into words disrobes them." (talking about prayer) (p.85) - italics mine
    A little more information:




    (full disclosure here - I received an advance copy of this book for free in agreement to review this book on my blog site. I was not, however, forced to write a positive review - the review is my own personal opinion and a postive review was not part of the review agreement)

    5 Student Ministry Values to Embrace

    I'm going to venture out in an area that I haven't wandered in for a while - student ministry.

    I spent close to 10 years in youth ministry - ministering to middle and high school students - but that's been quite a while ago. I've had the opportunity to speak to some youth groups and minister in college settings since then, but things have changed - drastically!

    My college roommate is still in youth ministry and I admire that. There are others that I know that have stayed in it for the long haul - for me, it was honestly a season of preparation for the next season that God had for me.

    So, I've been thinking about some values that I would pass along to those that minister to students - if you're a student minister, I'd love to hear your input - am I off base, out of my league, close, or dead-one (doubtful about that).

    But before I tell you what the five values are - here's why I feel I'm qualified to speak about this: I have a teenage son - that's called OJT.

    1. Talk -spend time talking with teens - that means listening! What is it like in their world. Go where they are, listen to what they listen to, see what they see - that's what Jesus did.
    2. Text - it's the language they use. Get over your hangups and stop making excuses about not knowing how, it being too timely to learn, etc - it's not about you. It's about reaching them. Learn to text and you learn more than you could ever imagine. Teens, by the way, are still suspicious of twitter.
    3. Time - teens need time. Time with you, time with people that care about them, time to process, time to grow, time to believe - time!
    4. Transfer - help them know they are world changers. Transfer a belief in them that helps them see that they are valuable and will make a huge difference. Transfer some belief, some confidence and some ability for them to make a difference
    5. Truth - teens are hungry for the truth - are you ready to give it to them? They will question everything - that's not so bad. In fact, it'll make them a more formidable force for world change to see the life of Christ lived out because they will own it.

    Honor Revolution

    I preached this morning at Abundant Life Worship Center in Stateboro, GA - (a.k.a. "The Boro") - I love this town and I love this church!

    Here's what the town has going for it:
    • Diversity - racially and generationally
    • University - Georgia Southern University is located there so it has the "university vibe" of many university towns
    • Growth - all around The Boro there are signs of growth - new housing, new retail, new schools
    • Location - there are more gnats than you could ever imagine - this is great for cyclists (smile real big!), outdoor cooking and bbq (a little extra protein) and the locals(the locals are used to them and know how to "shew" them away without using their hands, this makes spotting someone from out of town much easier) - ok, that's not really a "plus" for the town - it's really kind of "buggy" (overheard today at lunch...just sayin')
    Here's what the church has going for it:
    • Diversity - racially, generationally and leadership-experience
    • Unity - they are moving forward toward making an impact in their location
    • Identity - they are not your "typical" Pentecostal church - they are unique! They understand their identity and DNA, understand their values and identity and work toward making it hard for people to go to hell - you will be accepted and welcomed @ ALWC
    • Buggy - not really, just had to make it match the above
    • Creativity - they are intentional about taking the Gospel message, making it come alive, helping apply it to your life, and challenging you to believe and live that message - all while pushing the limits of creativity
    • Excellence - they are doing a few things well - and they are intentional about doing them better - Every. Single. Week.
    In a nutshell, here's what I preached (Scriptures used: Philippians 2:25,29; Ephesians 6:5-9; Hebrews 12:7; Acts 13:36; Psalm 133; Ephesians 4:11-13):

    We have an Honor Crises:
    1. We've been too casual
    2. We've been too critical
    3. We've been too "care-less"
    We need and Honor Revolution!
    I outlined the 5 solutions that lead to an Honor Revolution:
    1. Honor those Before Us - those that have blazed the trail; our historical leaders
    2. Honor those Below Us - there is structure & hierarchy - we should honor those that serve or work for us
    3. Honor those Beside Us - those people that are our peers, our co-laborers
    4. Honor those Behind Us - there's a generation that's looking to us as leaders - honor them with your integrity and humility
    5. Honor those Beyond Us - our leaders, the one's God has set in place over us at this time

    My top 3 websites!

    Here are my top 5 websites that I use almost daily:
    1. Evernote - this is the best site I've found to compile all of my clippings/findings on the internet into one place. It syncs with my iPhone so that I can instantly see all that I've stored. I clip articles about church growth, church revitalization, church planting, technology, "how-to" articles (for instance, I found a great article about how to sharpen a chain saw), sermon illustrations, devotional content, articles about the next generation of leaders, basically, everything.
    2. All things Google - I've actually linked the apps site because it's increasingly becoming the first stop for all things Google. I use Google for: email, calendar, docs, photos, analytics, reader, news, images for print or publication, search, and hopefully soon as our corporate email solution for my employer (more storage, better search, better filtering, FREE!).
    3. Pandora - Pandora is on constantly throughout my day. I tend to listen to mostly jazz, but every now and then I like to mix it up. Pandora is a great online music listening source - just type in the name of an artist or song and it will find similar styles/artists.
    What's missing?
    You probably would think those would've made the cut - truth is, a lot of that happens on my iPhone or through Tweetdeck. I'm not on it nearly as much as it appears!

    What are your top 3 sites?

    Be Our Guest



    Let's have a little fun today - ok?

    This song popped in my head, so I decided to look up the lyrics - wow! It wasn't revelation from heaven, but what I found was a slew of "best practices" and "topical considerations" for churches that offer a guest services (and if you don't...well, another post for another day).

    I've included the lyrics below.

    Please invite me to your church to help with training ushers, greeters, guest services, parking lot attendants - anything that interacts with a guest on Sunday morning - I promise I won't sing Disney songs and I won't use the following as an outline - well, maybe for kids church services I would...:)


    Beauty And The Beast - Be Our Guest Lyrics

    Lumiere:
    Ma chere Mademoiselle, it is with deepest pride
    and
    greatest pleasure that we welcome you tonight.
    And now
    we invite you to relax, let us pull up a
    chair as the dining room proudly presents -
    your dinner!

    Be our guest! Be our guest!
    Put our service to the test

    Tie your napkin 'round your neck, cherie
    And we'll provide the rest
    Soup du jour
    Hot hors d'oeuvres
    Why,
    we only live to serve
    Try the grey stuff
    Chip:
    It's delicious
    Lumiere:
    Don't believe me? Ask the dishes
    They can sing, they can dance
    After all, Miss, this is France
    And a dinner here is never second best
    Go on, unfold your menu
    Take a glance and then you'll

    Be our guest
    Oui, our guest
    Be our guest!
    Lumiere and Chorus:
    Beef ragout
    Cheese souffle
    Pie and pudding "en flambe"
    Lumiere:

    We'll prepare and serve with flair
    A culinary cabaret!
    You're alone
    And you're scared

    But the banquet's all prepared
    No one's gloomy or complaining

    While the flatware's entertaining
    We tell jokes! I do tricks
    With my fellow candlesticks
    Chorus:
    And it's
    all in perfect taste
    That you can bet
    Come on and lift your glass
    You've won your own free pass
    To
    be out guest
    Lumiere:
    If you're stressed
    It's fine dining we suggest


    Chorus:

    Be our guest! Be our guest! Be our guest!
    Get your worries off your chest

    Let us say for your entree
    We've an array; may we suggest:
    Try the bread! Try the soup!
    When the croutons loop de loop
    It's a treat for any dinner
    Don't belive me? Ask the china
    Singing pork! Dancing veal!
    What an entertaining meal!

    How could anyone be gloomy and depressed?
    We'll make you shout "encore!"

    And send us out for more
    So, be our guest!
    Lumiere:
    Be our guest!
    Chorus:
    Be our guest!
    Mrs Potts:
    It's a guest! It's a guest!
    Sakes alive, well I'll be blessed!
    Wine's been poured and
    thank the Lord
    I've had the napkins freshly pressed
    With dessert, she'll want tea
    And my dear that's fine with me
    While the cups do their soft-shoein'
    I'll be bubbling, I'll be brewing
    I'll get warm, piping hot
    Heaven's sakes! Is that a spot?

    Clean it up! We want the company impressed
    Chorus:
    We've got a lot to do!
    Mrs Potts:
    Is it one lump or two?
    For you, our guest!
    Chorus:
    She's our guest!
    Mrs Potts:
    She's our guest!
    Chorus:
    She's our guest!

    Be our guest!
    Be our guest!
    Be our guest!

    Lumiere:
    Life is so unnerving
    For a servant who's not serving

    He's not whole without a soul to wait upon
    Ah, those good old days when we were useful...

    Suddenly those good old days are gone
    Ten years we've been rusting
    Needing so much more than dusting
    Needing exercise, a chance to use our skills!

    Most days we just lay around the castle
    Flabby, fat and lazy
    You walked in and oops-a-daisy!
    Chorus:

    Be our guest!
    Be our guest!

    Our command is your request
    It's been years since we've had anybody here
    And we're obsessed
    With your meal, with your ease
    Yes, indeed, we aim to please
    While the candlelight's still glowing
    Let us help you, We'll keep going
    Course by course, one by one
    'Til you shout, "Enough! I'm done!"
    Then we'll sing you off to sleep as you digest
    Tonight you'll prop your feet up
    But for now, let's eat up

    Be our guest!
    Be our guest!
    Be our guest!
    Please, be our guest!

    OK, now you too can sing this song in your head all day like me...

    Save the Drama for your...tv?


    I tweeted this statement today:

    "I need two more of me"

    Of course, that prompted several sarcastic remarks (which I expected!) and some ensuing thought on my behalf.


    Here's what I've concluded from my thoughts (sorry, not too deep) - just real!
    • There's only one of me - for which my friends are really happy :)
    • There are some things in life that are simply "time killers"
    • I'm coming to the place in my life and ministry where the phrase "killing time" is appalling
    • Time is a gift from God - each day, hour, minute and second is to be stewarded and redeemed for His purposes
    • Having said all the previous things...what I really need is better management of "me"
    So, one of the immediate measure I'm putting into my life is limiting the amount of tv I watch on a weekly basis. I am a "news junkie" - particularly Fox News. But what I've come to realize is that Fox News (nor any other network for that matter) does NOT promote the news - they promote DRAMA!

    Next time you're watching, carefully observe how each segue and promotion of each upcoming story is all about the drama involved - the tone of the anchors, the video/audio used in the background, the secondary screen graphics - all of it is geared to create drama and suck you in (ultimately so that you'll watch the commercials and they'll get paid).

    I'm not sure about you, but I don't really see the need for the addition of drama into my life.

    So, I'm now limiting the amount of tv that I watch to a few hours per week - there may be times when we have a family movie night that I may go over, but for the most part, I'm sticking to just a few (like 5 or less) hours per week - there's simply better things to do with my time.

    What about what's going on in the world? Well, since you asked...I'm using RSS feeds and online editions of papers - I check them 1st thing in the morning in my morning reading (which is when I also read the blogs I follow). If something catastrophic happens, I always have CNN Breaking News coming to my phone via text and twitter.

    A little less drama,
    A little more time,
    A little less drama,
    A little more mind.

    (hey, it's corny, but it works!)

    What's the First Thing I'd do?


    I've never been asked this question before, but I'm going to pretend I have...
    play along with me...

    Pastor: The Rev. So-and-So (Sr. Pastor of Nameless Church)
    "Rick, you've visited our church several times now, what's the first thing we could do to make an impact in our services?"

    Me:
    "Pastor, are you sure you want the honest answer to this question?"

    Pastor:
    "I don't know is it going to be painful?"

    Me:
    "Yes!"

    Pastor:
    "Ok, go ahead and let me hear it..."

    Me:
    "Pay attention..."

    Pastor:
    "Go ahead...I'm listening"

    Me:
    "Ummmm, that was it - Pay Attention!"

    Thanks for allowing me to do a little role-play dialogue with you - but you ask..."what do you mean?" (Glad you asked)

    I visit a LOT of churches, I'm in a lot of services, I see a lot of things, I've traveled the east coast from Maryland to Florida in preparation for where God has me today.

    And the one thing I'd say over and over to all pastors is that if you want to make an immediate impact in your Sunday service - simply pay attention! (I know...all the "spirituals" out there will say "pray more" - I'm assuming you're already doing that - if not, get on your knees and start!).

    Paying attention is:
    • free (although it may cost a lot in terms of humility)
    • easy to do (although we don't because of the curse of the familiar - what we see too often, we too often forget - i.e., the cobwebs in the back corner of the church)
    • immediate (we can all find one or two things to perhaps "fix" or make better)
    • the start of a journey to effectiveness

    Let me give you some practicals:
    • Pay attention during the worship service...does it connect? Ask people what genre or style of music they listen to during the week - does your even come close to theirs?
    • In addition to the style of music...are people singing along? Clapping? Enjoying themselves? Is it too loud? Is it balanced well (voices with band)? What about the lighting? What about the quality of the graphics you use for media? Is your worship band together and ALL going in the same direction? Have they practiced? Are you introducing too many new songs? Are their some songs that are just a flop? Are their some songs that we've used too many times? Do all of our songs sound the same?
    • I'll move on - there's probably enough there chew on for a while - but there's more: What about the transition off the stage by the music team and on the stage by the minister? Is it well planned? Planned at all? Do we reference what just took place? Or, do we "move on" with the next thing planned? Transitions are KEY in EVERY ASPECT of a church service!
    • What about your decor on stage? Have you payed attention to the dusty plastic plants hiding the choir? (Yes, I've seen it!)
    Ok, this list could go on and one - I'm simply saying this:
    Pay attention to what you have in place now and try to make it better!

    I'm not advocating the best in sound reinforcement and lighting...I'm not saying that media has to be top of line - what I am saying is this: let's take what we have now, make it better or make it gone...try to improve upon each element, each facet, each transition, each sermon point (another blog post...)...each piece of decor...each and every thing that our guests encounter weekly.

    Making things better is not such a bad thing is it?

    Perhaps this is too simplistic but what if our goal each week was NOT to: heal everyone, save everyone, fix every marriage, bring ethical understanding to each businessman and right every societal wrong around us...

    What if...instead

    Our goal was to get people back next week? (and in doing so, let God fix all the other things)

    What do you think?

    Intersecting Life and Church at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse



    Last week my wife and I celebrated 18 years of marriage with a dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.

    I absolutely love Ruth's Chris! The menu is great, the food is incredible and the service is warm, personable and second to none. I could write this post about learning how to do "guest services" in a church from the "business side" of Ruth's Chris, but I want to take a different approach...

    While waiting on our order to arrive a group of 3 business men in suits arrived and were seated - not too uncommon, this particular location is in a white-collar business district. Shortly thereafter, a young lady arrived dressed in a business suit - of course, the gentlemen all stood to welcome her and wait until she was seated.

    What happened next absolutely amazed me and could easily go unnoticed...

    About 10 minutes later (our food had arrived and we were well on our way to filet-bliss) another gentleman arrived. He was NOT in a business suit - simply a pair of slacks and nice polo. Of course the entire party stood to welcome him, waited for him to be seated (including the lady). Then, after he was seated first, the lady sat and ALL THREE MEN took their coats off before sitting.

    You may ask, "why does that matter?"

    Glad you did...

    Now, I don't know what these people did for a living...I don't know of the last arrival served in some sort of supervisory role...I don't know if they were attorneys, investors, or what...I do know this...

    The three men:
    1. Were gentlemen when the lady arrived by preferring her above themselves...
    2. Changed the atmosphere of the meeting by taking it to a more "casual" atmosphere by simply removing their coats when the last attendee arrived...
    3. Were perceptive enough to think about the comfort level of the last guest
    4. Sought to remove barriers between themselves and their guests
    So, what can church leaders learn from this interaction:
    1. Perceptiveness & Awareness - the 3 gentlemen displayed a keen awareness of their guests
    2. How to change and adapt based on the crowd - the entire mood and atmosphere of the dining party changed with the arrival of each guest. Not to placate or lower some sort of standard, but to make others embrace the company of each person. After some time, the lady removed her business coat. The dining party had shifted from a very cordial (almost stuffy) mood to a more relaxed, fun mood.
    3. How to prefer others - thinking of others first is not natural to people - it MUST be worked on and developed.
    Have you ever seen situations like this? What if, instead of wearing a suit each week in church, we showed up in khakis and polos? or, jeans and a tshirt? In what other ways can we adapt, change, and prefer others that visit our churches? (obviously, without removing the message)

    do you tweet? what is twitter?

    [UPDATE:]
    Found a couple of other links and tools regarding twitter - decided to post them to this blog and repost it - let me know if you find some good, basic, beginner articles regarding twitter by posting them in the comments section for others to click through to...thanks!

    twitter is catching a lot of traction. i signed up early on (as i do with things that i think have the possibility of gaining momentum...).

    so, if you're wondering what twitter is, i'm offering a 'roundup' of great twitter-related articles here. most pertain to ministry, some relate to facebook. interesting conversation i had recently...someone thought i spent "a lot of time" on facebook - actually, i spend very little. how do i update my status so often - via twitter (after all, the question is, "what are you doing?" right?). also, i "spot check" facebook throughout the day using my iPhone(while on hold, waiting for a light to turn green or during a commercial...it takes about 30 seconds to see what's going on). i actually only sign in using a computer once or twice a day - and that only because the facebook app on my iPhone doesn't offer all of the same abilities as the online version...so, on to twitter...and, read these in order...

    some other benefits:
    • i use it to update quickly a "news" type item on our conference blog
    • i use it to ask questions of people that i'd never have access to otherwise
    • i use it to pray for others and ask others to pray for me (as i did this morning for my son...it posted to facebook and people prayed - he's better now - prayer works...twittter works...God used these two tools to answer prayer and bring healing to my son
    • i use it to be encouraged by what others are doing in ministry
    • i use it to learn - finding interesting articles that others link to that i'd otherwise never find
    • i use it to stay in touch - hopefully, moreso now with family and friends - my sister is on twitter and thanks to that fact, i know that my niece decided to use her cup of applesauce as a "scrub" for bathing this morning...just a glimpse into their lives while seperated by a couple hundred miles - priceless!
    • finally, i use it to hear from God...through the Body. yes, there have been times when i've read a tweet (a post from a twitter account user) and it has encouraged me, challenged me, or even ended up as a quote that i re-tweeted because it spoke volumes to me...
    • God can use twitter - just be careful that twitter doesn't become your god (or any technology)
    i've posted a video that better explains...i suggest you watch it first!

    America's Newest Race - Are you Ready?

    I just finished reading an interesting article on MSNBC's site about the newest and fastest growing race in America...

    • It's not African-American
    • It's not Hispanic
    • It's not Asian
    • It IS...
    Multiracial people!

    Here are a few snippets for you to consider:
    • The number of multiracial people rose 3.4 percent last year
    • First given the option in 2000, Americans who check more than one box for race on census surveys have jumped by 33 percent
    • Demographers attributed the recent population growth to more social acceptance and slowing immigration
    • Second- and later-generation immigrants who are more likely to "marry out."
    • Utah had the highest growth rate of multiracial people in 2008 compared to the previous year, a reflection of loosening social morals in a mostly white state
    • More than half of the multiracial population was younger than 20 years old, a reflection of declining social stigma as interracial marriages became less taboo
    • Interracial marriages increased threefold to 4.3 million since 2000, when Alabama became the last state to lift its unenforceable ban on interracial marriages
    • Due to declining immigration because of legal restrictions and the lackluster economy, the growth rates of the Hispanic and Asian populations slowed last year to 3.2 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, compared to multiracial people's 3.4 percent. The black population rose at a rate of about 1 percent; the white population only marginally increased
    So, it got me to thinking...most of our churches in Georgia are of the white variety - a few are multi-cultural, a few are African-American and a few are Hispanic...

    Could it be...
    • that the church is 20 years late (we are in most things) when it comes to acceptance of multiracial people? i see this when i hear church attendees talk of the "stigma" of interracial marriages that will be attached to the children of said marriages
    • that the church is not ready for the influx of multiracial people, and thus their expectations regarding culture, values and tolerances? the "old" blended worship was mixing hymns with choruses - the new "blended" worship will be mixing black Gospel songs with Latino music - are we ready for that? have we begun to make the changes? are we even thinking about it?
    • that God is sending a wake-up call to Western Christianity that it's not a "white thing" any longer? Rather, it's a God-thing to see all people, their intrinsic value as being created in His image and their worth validated by sending His Son to the Cross on each person's behalf for their redemption?
    • that maybe, just maybe, immigration was God's plan for the Church in America to awaken to the need of looking beyond our skin color and culture? that maybe we're being stretched to look at humanity as God sees them, not as we see them?
    Would love your thoughts about this...

    As I was preparing this post this afternoon, I received an email from Lee Grady, editor of Charisma Magazine. Lee has become a good friend and we keep in touch via Twitter with each other's lives. Lee had this to say in his most recent post regarding ministering in Alabama this past weekend:

    I reminded them from Mark 7 that Jesus led the way for us in breaking the racial barrier. When the Pharisees questioned Jesus because His disciples did not follow their strict religious codes of hygiene, Jesus called them hypocrites and then immediately went to the region of Tyre—outside the borders of Israel—and ministered to a desperate Gentile woman who was considered unclean by Jewish leaders (see Mark 7:1-9; 24-30).

    Jesus was clearly showing the Pharisees that true faith has nothing to do with living in a sanitized, racially segregated world. Jesus popped their bubble by venturing into Gentile territory, setting up His base in a Gentile house (7:24) and casting a demon out of a Gentile woman.

    Jesus told the Pharisees that their holier-than-thou traditions actually nullified the Word of God. They were obsessed with washing their hands and dishes to keep themselves pure; Jesus was focused on touching the untouchables of society so that God’s love and mercy could spread to everyone. We have a choice: Sterile religion or radical compassion.

    I’m convinced we won’t achieve true racial reconciliation until we all become more intentional about it. Healing won’t happen if we don’t make it a priority. What will it require? If we truly want to be a prophetic people, the church must address racism from every angle:

    • We must offer Christ’s healing to those who have been treated unjustly (this includes Native Americans as well as immigrant communities).
    • We must challenge Christians to let go of racial offenses rather than tolerating a climate of bitterness and resentment.
    • We must build multi-ethnic churches led by multi-ethnic leadership teams.
    • We must be willing to feel the pain of those who have suffered discrimination so we can truly “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2, NASB). That means we have to educate ourselves about the history of racism in our own communities—and dialog with the people who have been most affected.

    This week would be an appropriate time for all of us to jumpstart our reconciliation efforts. June 19 is Freedom Day, otherwise known as Juneteenth—a holiday commemorating the emancipation of black slaves (an act President Abraham Lincoln said was a response to God’s leading). Instead of viewing Juneteenth as a “black thing,” all churches that care about justice and compassion should celebrate the fact that God heard the cries of American slaves and blessed them with freedom and dignity. Then we should link arms across racial lines and work to bring that dignity to everybody.

    I stood with a church planter this past weekend as he launched a new church called Vertical Community Outreach - they launched in a city park near downtown Barnesville. At the end of the service, Shane Harris (church planter and pastor) asked the multi-racial and multi-generational crowd to stand and renounce the sins of the past; to ask forgiveness of one another for our intolerance and prejudices; and, to serve an eviction notice to the kingdom of darkness that the walls that have divided us are coming down in Barnesville, GA!

    It's happening in at least one city and in at least one church - will you be a part of making it happen in your city and your church?