Rest

April 22, 2014 — 2 Comments

It’s been a busy season. When you’re working in ministry, the Easter weekend and the time that leads up to always is. And as I was coming through the other side of that particular time frame and setting aside a day to be home and rest, I gave some thought to the question: How best to rest? Knowing that I hadn’t seen my family as much in the week prior, and knowing there was a lot I could fill that time with, I was reminding myself about the truth behind what it means to really rest…

How do we view rest?
The concept of rest can be uncomfortable for us sometimes. I think society has linked all kinds of assumptions and thoughts onto it’s real meaning and can get us feeling funny about prioritizing it. It’s a two-sided coin in how we view our need to rest. On one side is the feeling of laziness. In a world with so much to do and such limited time, we can feel lazy in wanting to prioritize rest! Or, we can hold a right to rest mindset in which we view our obligations through what we’re “expected” to do. For instance, work hours – I work until 5pm, and then it’s my time! Or, I have vacation time so I need to use every last minute of them. We get protective about “rest” time, but in truth, we’re not seeking rest, but usually an opportunity to fill that “free time” with other stuff. We leave work and then have a whole other calendar of busy time.

For me, a real view of work vs. rest has to include stuff outside of my “work hours.” Plenty of other things have demand on me. I can’t just go home and say to my wife “I’m done!” House work, social obligations, children, all have demand on my capacity. They are usually all great things, but still require focus and effort. I can often feel like I’m working even while laying in bed – my brain is still going a million miles an hour, and I’m not really resting.
Rest is a biblical concept, and one worth paying attention to. Starting in the very first book, God introduces us to the concept of rest, and so the first truth in rest is this:

1. God modeled rest for us
Genesis 2:2 says “By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” Obviously God wasn’t resting because He was tired. You’re not interrupting God’s day off by praying on Saturdays. No, He did this to model rest for us. He worked for six days and then He rested.

Think about the nation of Israel and how this had impact on them. They were farmers, so they worked long, hard days. God is certainly affirming work in this passage of Genesis as well. But, in the sabbath model, when the sun went down on Friday, you were done until Sunday morning. It must have been tough for them to follow this model sometimes – I imagine that farmers always have something they need to do. Animals have daily needs, crops are delicate and were their source of survival. How often would they have worked seven days, never taking a break had it not been for God’s model of rest? And how many of them would be able to keep up the non-stop pace for the long haul? Not many. In our culture today, we often idealize these people who never stop as hard workers, go-getters, self-starters, etc. It comes with a badge of honor most times, but that pace ends in burn out. You just can’t keep it up, and God knows this. That’s why He modeled rest for us.

2. God is rest for us
Here’s the truth about rest. True rest doesn’t come with a vacation day, a nap, a few hours to yourself, or any other kind of scheduled time. That can help, but as I already mentioned, I can lay in bed, with my mind focused on all that I need to do, and never find true rest. The truth is, that as much as sabbath was important, Jesus fulfilled the promise of rest and has become that rest for us. He didn’t remove the need for rest – Matthew 5 reminds us that Jesus didn’t come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. And in that fulfillment, He’s removed the tendency for legalism over what hours to observe or rules to follow. He promises in Hebrews 4 that He is our rest, saying “we who have believed have entered that rest.” Matthew 11:28 says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Real rest is a mental and spiritual focus shift toward Christ. He is the giver of rest, of strength, and renewal. If we’re not drinking from the spring of life, we easily burn out. God knows we need rest, and that rest is provided in Jesus. To experience rest, the real rest that He promises, we need to focus on Him and spend time with Him.

Jesus is our rest
3. Rest is about humility and trust
Think again about the Israelite people and their need to humbly trust God for their provision while they observed the sabbath. How often must they have worried about their crop and said “If I don’t do this, we’ll lose it all.” Yet, God was telling them work was off limits for that day. For our context, missing a day of work won’t likely result in us losing our livelihood, but how often do we view our time that way? We approach everything as if we can’t really stop – we just need to squeeze one more thing in, and by that mentality we say that our trust is in our own ability rather than in God. We’re just not that important that we can’t create some margin, especially margin that will allow us to find rest in our Lord.

4. Rest is required to live like Jesus
I realize that time is a precious commodity for us. And I know that my tendency is to eek out every last minute of productivity that I can. I go over my calendar time and again looking to see how I can squeeze out another hour here or a half hour here in order to be more productive, or to accomplish one of many good things. And in that light, I read Deuteronomy 24:19-21:

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner the fatherless and the widow so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees do not go over the branches a second time Leave what remains for the foreigner the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner the fatherless and the widow.

I’m not harvesting crops, but I am combing over my calendar looking for any leftovers that I can grab and use. But how can I live like Jesus in my neighborhood, or to my extended family, or in any context when I’m not leaving time to be present? Rest isn’t just for me. It’s for those around me too. And I’m convicted today about “harvesting” my calendar for the leftovers rather than leaving them be so I can hang out in my front yard and casually chat with my neighbors, or spontaneously have time to hang out with family members. Rest and margin are required if I want to live like Jesus in the context where He’s placed me.

 

So my takeaways on rest are this:

1. God modeled rest for us – knows how we’re wired and what we need
2. God is rest for us – He’s our strength, our peace, and our renewal
3. Rest is about humility and trust – do we rely on ourselves or on God’s provision
4. Rest is required to live like Jesus: we need margin in order to live out our faith 

Rest is going to look different to each of us. Please don’t confuse it with a calendar or vacation time. It isn’t always about a set time, but it is a rhythm that can’t be neglected. Rest can actually be experienced at really busy times, if we’re willing to carve out moments to shift our focus intentionally away from all that’s before us and onto Christ. But don’t fall into the temptation of thinking that it can be another appointment on your calendar. Intentionally seeking rest in Christ is important. Rest comes by shifting our focus fully toward him, breathing Him in fully and not making time with Him another task on a long list.

Rest is important, so make it a priority. You’ll find that rest in Jesus.

 

My lesson on patience

March 19, 2014 — 3 Comments

Psalm 130:5: I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope

 

You’ll have to forgive the public post here, in which I’m fleshing out a lesson really aimed at myself. Hopefully it’s helpful for you as well, but this is a lesson God taught me this week…

By nature, I am not a patient person. Thankfully, it’s an area of my life where God has been working on me and forming me more and more into how He wants me to be. But it’s definitely an area that I wrestle with. I’m wired to move quick and keep moving; to press hard for results and assume that if I insist on getting them, that I’ll get it done. When that doesn’t happen, I can get easily frustrated. It’s ugly when I’m not surrendering that to God.

This week I struggled with patience – I even verbalized that I was losing my patience. Not over the simple stuff. I think God has tamed me as He’s taught me in this area when it comes to the less consequential things; lines, traffic, promptness, etc. But the harder things require more focus on patience. This week, Leslie was feeling sick again. She’s been dealing with sickness in some form since November. For 16+ weeks we’ve wrestled with trying to figure out what is causing all of these symptoms. We’ve seen four doctors, been to a dozen appointments, and have no real leads or answers. And in those four months, at least every other week there’s been a day where we need to figure out how the kids will be cared for so that I can go to work and Leslie doesn’t get overwhelmed. The weight of that is stressful and not something that can be planned for in advance (I really like to plan ahead). And so, I said I had lost my patience with it. Not with Leslie – it’s not her fault that she’s sick. But I wanted results.

God led me to Psalm 130:5, which says “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Charles Spurgeon wrote some commentary on this verse, which is extremely helpful. He says “If the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole hearts; for blessed are all they that wait for him. He is worth waiting for. The waiting itself is beneficial to us: it tries faith, exercises patience, trains submission, and endears the blessing when it comes…And in his word do I hope. This is the source, strength, and sweetness of waiting. Those who do not hope cannot wait; but if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. God’s word is a true word, but at times it tarries; if ours is true faith it will wait the Lord’s time…Jehovah’s word is a firm ground for a waiting soul to rest upon.”

In the last part of Psalm 130:5, it says …”and in his word I put my hope” and Spurgeon said “Jehovah’s word is a firm ground for a waiting soul to rest upon.”

I don’t want the situation we’re dealing with to sound blown out of proportion. We’re fine. These are the dealings of life. I’m aware of so many others with far greater struggles than the ones we’re wrestling through. The point isn’t in the struggle, but rather the patience to walk through it. When the harder stuff comes along, I realize that it’s not about self control, but about giving up control. If my heart isn’t positioned toward submission and humility, even me trying to wrestle myself toward patience is a matter of wanting control.

Think about the picture of a traffic jam. You’re trying to get somewhere, and you come upon stopped traffic. It’s an issue, because you really wanted the result of getting to your destination on time. But instead, you’re stuck. In this moment, you’re faced with three options:

1. Wait it out: You can sit there and go with the speed of traffic, hoping to eventually get to your destination.
2. Bail out: You can decide to abandon the mission and turn around.
3. Work an angle: You can try to ride the shoulder, take a detour, drive down the center lane; try to work an angle to move faster.

I realize the metaphor isn’t perfect, because you can be frustrated and impatient in any of those three choices, but consider the options we face when we hit a traffic jam in life. We can give up and throw our hands in the air, we can do everything possible to work an angle and find a way through on our own, or we can resign to the fact that we’re not in control. God doesn’t tell us to sit idly by in all of life, but He does want us to trust Him, rely on Him, and be patient in His timing.

Isaiah 30:18
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.

 

Maybe you find yourself in a specific situation where you really want to see progress, but it hasn’t come. Maybe you’re unsure of a next step for your life, and God has been silent so far. Maybe you simply find yourself in a daily posture of impatience and frustration in life. You react impatiently with people or situations in general, and it weighs heavily on you. Trust God. Give that over to God and release control. “Blessed are all who wait for Him!”

 

 

Do you know the feeling when you go to someone’s house for the first time? Maybe you are just getting to know them or even have yet to meet them in person. You walk up to the house, hoping you’re at the right door and that this isn’t one of those places that never uses their front door. You ring the doorbell and hope they hear it. Then the door opens, and you come inside and stand awkwardly in their front entranceway, not knowing where to put your shoes or coat. It’s as if your feet are clued to the floor waiting for instruction from the host.

Then, even if they’ve made you feel welcome and directed you on where to put your stuff, you keep to where the host directs you. Usually that’s the kitchen, dining room, and living space. Even going to the bathroom becomes a question. You look around, and ask crazy questions like “Do you have a bathroom I could use?” As if the alternative would be “…or would it be better for me to run home and use mine?” You just tread carefully because you’re new to the space, to the relationship, and want to be respectful.

Now compare that experience with the home of someone you know a lot better. In this place, you know where to enter, you still knock but then come right in, not needing to ask where your coat or shoes go. You find your own way to the bathroom, and you might even grab a drink out of the fridge asking if you’ve gotten really comfortable. But, you still keep to the main gathering areas. You wouldn’t likely wander into the basement or master bedroom on your own. And if, for instance, the paper towels ran out, you wouldn’t rummage through all their storage to find it without asking.

Now compare both of those experiences to how you feel at your parent’s house. This is home away from home. It might be the home you grew up in, or if not, certainly a place you’ve spent some time. You don’t knock or feel awkward about entering, but feel comfortable coming right in. You know where most things are in the house, and if something is needed, you run and grab it, regardless of where it is in the house. And what if you were at a party where your parents had guests over? You would feel totally comfortable acting as a host on their behalf. You’d answer the door and direct them on where to hang their coats, put their shoes, and you might even offer them something to drink. This isn’t your home, but you feel like you can represent the owners of the home well because you’re their child. If you brought a guest with you to this party, they would follow you as you comfortably enter the house, listen to your directions on where to put things, and accept hospitality from you as a representative of your parents. You’d say things like “go ahead, they won’t mind at all.” You know your parents, and are fully comfortable making other guests feel comfortable in the home on your parent’s behalf. You invite them to feel that they can be comfortable here.

Well, this is our responsibility in the Kingdom of God. We are given a great privilege of being called God’s children! 

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:16-17)

The privilege of calling God “Father,” even “Daddy” gives us an incredible level of closeness. We know Him. We love Him. We understand more about Him than someone who doesn’t know Him understands. And those that don’t know Him may feel like that guest that has never been in the house before and doesn’t know the host. Even simple things may feel awkward and uncertain to them. They don’t know where to enter, what’s appropriate, or how to act. It’s our responsibility to make them feel at home.

This concept has application both for us corporately as a church and for each of us individually.

Corporately
Especially in our worship gatherings, but really in any group setting of believers, new people might just feel like they don’t know what to do. I was never more aware of this than when I attended a service at a church that operates very differently than ours, and everyone around me was responding to cues from the platform and would speak something or to take a physical posture at times throughout the service. I felt like a complete outsider, and I felt really uncomfortable. In that moment, I asked myself “what things do we do every Sunday that make new people feel exactly like I feel right now?” The truth is, if we’re aren’t focused on this question, we draw assumptions. We assume everyone knows where to park, where to enter, where we gather, what the words of the song are, where to find certain books in the Bible, what our ministry-specific names mean, and a whole host of other stuff. The truth is, they can walk away feeling like an outsider and they won’t feel at all welcome.

Imagine the same scenario with you at your parent’s house, except you don’t greet them at the door. The doorbell rings, but you stay on the couch and assume they will find their way in. Or maybe at this party, everyone is bringing a gift or wearing something specific, but you didn’t bother to tell them. Or maybe, after they’ve been walking all around the house with their shoes on, you tell them your parents get really mad when people don’t take off their shoes. What about our environment makes people feel this way? How can we ensure that they are invited to make themselves feel at home?

Personally
This is our responsibility to be involved in disciple-making. Using the same scenario with your parent’s house, imagine you’re standing on the front porch at their house as someone is pulling in the driveway. While they pull up, you’re waving them in and yelling “Hey! Come on in!” But as soon as they get out of their car, you put your coat on, get in your own car, and drive away. You invited them here, but you didn’t do anything to help them along and make them feel welcome.

We need to, on a personal level, invite people in to the family of God AND hold their hand as they grow and learn. Be there to answer questions and help them know that they are just as welcome to become children of God as you are. We’re all adopted into the family. For those who have been in longer, it’s our privilege to invite new people in and show them the ropes. When we make our relationship with Christ all about us, and we never link arms with others, we waste the potential for our maturity in faith to bless those are newer.

So today, consider how you’re using your privilege as an “insider,” as a child of God, to make people feel welcome. Be a good host and represent the owner well.

 

Dream Big & Pray Bigger

February 18, 2014 — 1 Comment

Today, I’m reminded that God is bigger than I am, more passionate about His Kingdom than I will ever be, and able to do far more than I could even dream of asking Him to do. But I’m also reminded that He wants to involve us and wants us to dream big.

Ephesians 3:20 says “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

In diving deeper into this verse, I found the following commentary:

We can ask every good of which we have heard, every good which God has promised in his word; and we can think of, or imagine, goods and blessings beyond all that we have either read of or seen: we can imagine good things to which it is impossible for us to give a name; we can go beyond the limits of all human descriptions; we can imagine more than even God has specified in his word; and can feel no bounds to our imagination of good, but impossibility and eternity: and after all, God is able to do more for us than we can ask or think; and his ability here is so necessarily connected with his willingness, that the one indisputably implies the other; for, of what consequence would it be to tell the Church of God that he had power to do so and so, if there were not implied an assurance that he will do what his power can, and what the soul of man needs to have done? (Clarke)

I read this and believe that God wants us to dream big! Here are a few takeaways:

1. We should be be asking and imagining. The verse says “to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” It’s implied that we are already asking and imagining. Are we?

2. We should dare to pray big. It’s God’s prerogative on how He’ll use us, but we know He’s able to do not only more than we ask, but more than we can even think to ask. So let’s dream of how we can join God in a big way. We’re not doing this in a spirit of discontent with where He has us now, but in faith and anticipation of what He could do through us if we trusted Him for it.

3. Don’t ask or imagine based on today’s reality. God can provide whatever He wants. Look at how He provided food in the story of the fish and loaves. He wasn’t constrained by the limitations of circumstances. We can’t look at what’s possible right now and say “if only _____ wasn’t this way, this could happen.” We have to rely on God to provide and open doors.

4. Dreaming must become part of our rhythm and part of our conversation with God. We can’t only talk to God about what is true today, but begin to talk with Him about tomorrow. How will He use us, and where do we need to grow to be used.

5. God’s going to use us, but we need to take steps and engage. We can ask for God to open doors, provide resources, and give us creativity, but if doors are already open, resources already available, and ideas already had, then He’s already provided. We need to step forward and utilize the opportunities that He’s already given.

Dream big
Pray hard
Take action

Unconditional Worship

February 6, 2014 — 1 Comment

This week I’ve been spending time reading in the book of Job.It’s an account filled with incredible insight into who God is and how we need to posture ourselves toward Him. In case you’re not familiar with Job’s account, here’s a quick summary:

(The links throughout will take you to scripture associated with corresponding statements)

1. Job was a wealthy guy who was respected and revered by everyone in his community. He loved God and was obedient to Him.
2. Satan argues that Job’s love for God was conditional on how God had protected and blessed Job.
3. God allows Satan to test that, and in one day Job loses all of his possessions and all of his children die.

If we pause the story right here, we see an incredible reaction that we can learn from. Job is told all at once that he has lost everything; everything he has worked for AND every one of his children are gone. And in that moment, Job falls to the ground in worship. 

Job 1:20: ”At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

May the name of the Lord be praised. Job, after this incredible tragedy, points to God and acknowledges that He has prerogative to do whatever He wants.

The story goes on, but before I move on, I just want to pause on that point and reflect on the reaction. A right perspective toward God will prompt worship, not blame, when something goes wrong. When we know the character of God and the difference between our ignorance and His all-knowing quality, our automatic reaction will be to praise God and trust that He knows best. This reaction doesn’t come from head knowledge alone, but from a love for who God is and a relationship with Him that reminds us of His incredible goodness. For unconditional worship to take place, we need to trust God’s character far above the circumstances we can see in front of us.

It’s the same reason we see Abraham willing to obey God in sacrificing Isaac. That request seemed SO unfair! Yet Abraham knew who God is. He went so far as to guess that God might raise Isaac from the dead, but he trusted God unconditionally.

As the account of Job continues, that posture of worship is tested further. Satan goes back to God and argues that Job’s faith is only because his health hasn’t been affected. So God allows Satan to test that as well, and Job is afflicted with terrible sores. So terrible in fact that when Job’s friends arrived to comfort him, they hardly recognized him and sat in silence with him for seven days.

Job wrestles back and forth between an understanding of God’s character and a feeling of unfairness and lack of justice. It’s an interesting tension to read, and only furthers the point that knowing and believing are critical. Knowing alone won’t sustain you.

In the middle of all this, Job begins to remind himself, his friends, and us about the source of wisdom. In chapter 28, Job tells us that there’s no way for us to access wisdom apart from God, and that God has told us “The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” Simply stated, we need to posture our hearts in reverence toward God. Worship Him unconditionally, and in that trust and reverence we will find wisdom.

James 1:5-8 says “If any of you lack wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

It’s not enough to just know that God is in charge of the world. We have to know He’s in control of our lives and believe in who He is; in His goodness and love for us and in His understanding that is far beyond our own. Our reaction, regardless of the circumstances that we can see in our limited scope, will be to fall to the ground in worship.

 

A friend shared this song with me this past week, which fit’s perfectly with this reading. It’s called “I Will Follow” by Vertical Church. The lyrics are declaring this exact lesson, that God will be praised regardless of circumstance. The chorus says:

I believe everything that You say You are
I believe that I have seen Your unchanging heart
In the good things and in the hardest part
I believe and I will follow You

 

While not an exhaustive list, when you’re a leader, the following needs to be true about you:

 

When you’re a leader, begging God for wisdom needs to be a daily activity.
I started leading people at a pretty young age, and so I got in the habit of this out of need and desperation. I had no wisdom of my own to draw on. I still am in need and am still desperate for God’s wisdom. Beg God for His wisdom daily.

 

When you’re a leader, you can’t avoid change for the sake of comfort or pleasing everyone.
If change is needed, lead people through it. Don’t get tempted to try and sway and bend in an attempt to please everyone. Love people through the change, but don’t be stunted by an attempt to keep everyone happy.


When you’re a leader
, you must make and stand by tough decisions.

Decisions will need to be made, and you’ll be the one that needs to make them. Have the guts to make them and stand by them when you believe they are right. Balancing this with the humility to have an honest view of the course and change if necessary, but don’t shy away from making the right decision because it’s tough. Also, standing by tough decisions may mean being respectful of decisions made by those in authority over you. Standing by and upholding those decisions rather than conveying your disapproval speaks volumes to your loyalty and respect for those in leadership over you. Stand by them.


When you’re a leader
, you must embrace healthy confrontation.

Confrontation is a part of a leader’s life. When it’s healthy and needed, confrontation can move the needle in areas where change and new direction are needed. While not desiring it, you need to embrace it when needed and lead through it in love. You’ll have a healthier team for it.


When you’re a leader
, you must love people and make their growth your priority.

Don’t make your people a means to the end. If you forsake the relationships with your people and put their health second to your drive for an end result, you will stoop to bulldozing people and manipulating them in order to meet that goal. Make them more important in your structure than than output, and the output will be quality as a result.


When you’re a leader,
 you must structure what you plan to achieve.

Like it or not, your long-term goals are nothing more than dreams without a plan. If you are really setting out to accomplish something, put a structure and plan in place to make it happen. Just hoping you’ll get there someday all but ensures that you won’t. If you do, it won’t be because of your leadership.


When you’re a leader
, you must be willing to take the hits to protect your team.

This is a big one for your team morale and credibility. When a question of “who’s to blame” comes around, your answer needs to always be “it was my fault.” Take the hit for your team, and own the fact that in some way, you could have led better that would have helped prevent the failure. Don’t throw your team under the bus. Be that buffer for your team.


When you’re a leader
, you must have to dream and let your vision excite those you lead.

If you’re not excited about where you’re going, who will be? You need to dream about what your team could be and get those you lead excited about that direction.

When you’re a leader, you must be a constant learner.
If you stop learning, you quickly become out of touch. Consume information, acquire new skills, and learn from those you lead! Look for ways to always be a student in the arenas you’re responsible for. Then, have the guts to apply the lessons you learn.


When you’re a leader
, you must seek wise input from others.

You don’t know everything, haven’t walked through new territory, and can’t always have an objective view of yourself and the decisions you’re making. It’s imperative to invite wise input in from those who have gone before you and can speak truth to you. Don’t let this replace your desire to seek God’s wisdom and direction for your life, but do use it as a sounding board to make sure you’re hearing correctly and have thought about all the implications.


When you’re a leader
, you need to own your mistakes.
You will make mistakes. Own them. Apologize for them. Fix what you messed up and accept responsibility for the consequences. Set the model for others in how you walk through mistakes. They will happen. How you handle them will shape your leadership.

 

Now it’s your turn – fill in the blank: when you’re a leader _____________________________

 

Today I’m highlighting the dangerous pitfalls of over-reliance on procedures and systems. I’m coming from a perspective of personal experience in this area, as I have felt the effects of these pitfalls as well as the temptation to be overly reliant on procedures.

I’ll start by saying that I’m a big fan of structure and procedure in a team environment. When I see details being missed or communication breaking down, my natural problem solving process drives me right to the toolbox of systems and procedure development. I would guess many of you do the same. It makes sense! When we see that communication has failed and details have fallen through the cracks, we assume that a more structured approach will ensure improvement. And in some cases, especially in the short term, it does work. But this solution alone will cost you.

You know who else has the default problem solving method of systems and procedure? The Department of Motor Vehicle.

Yes, the DMV has procedure down pat! If you want to study how to create forms and processes, the DMV is a research goldmine. And most times, those processes are effective. Everyone’s car can be registered and each adjustment has a process, complete with a form, to fill out. But what is the DMV’s reputation and culture? It’s not efficiency or customer service. It’s viewed as cold, unfriendly, and confusing. The same can be said for the IRS, medical insurance companies, and any other institution entrenched in and reliant on procedure.

This isn’t to say that systems aren’t important. They are! Without a procedure, you might lack the ability to capture important details or keep everyone on the same page. But what happens so often is that a system replaces the need for human interaction and understanding. And a procedure, enforced as the only option, discourages relationships and problem solving, and this is the danger! When your procedure discourages relationship, you damage your team and prevent growth. 

Here’s a real-world example of the dangers of over-reliance on a system. At our church, we have a few systems that track and process every day information. We have one for our building use calendar, one for projects that our design team works on, and a few others. Most times, they work great. We have a ton of incoming information, which needs to be sorted, prioritized, and approved in much the same way each time. A phone call or in-person conversation regarding each one would be very inefficient. So, when a person wants to use a room, they go onto this electronic system, schedule the dates, and then fill out the form, checking boxes for whether they need heat, lights, audio support, and so on. When everything goes smoothly, all that the people on the support end need to do is look at the system, determine the needs, and provide those items. But do this day in and day out, without any other interaction, and you’ll discover that two things are happening:

  1.  The requestor and the supporter never need to speak to each other in order for these activities to happen. What kind of relationship do you think they have when there is absolutely no conversation taking place?
  2. The support team member is trained to always look at the system and never ask questions or think for themselves.

So, with that as your interaction, what happens when a problem arises? Maybe the person requesting the room forgets to check the box saying that they need a microphone for that room, and the support team, having been trained to just read the system and never being in a rhythm where conversation is part of the process, skips setting one up. Maybe they skip it out of an innocent view of just completing what’s on the system. Or maybe they’ve come to believe that the requestor is solely responsible for thinking through and filling out what’s needed, and decides that if it isn’t on the sheet, it won’t get set up.

That’s one example, but this tendency happens in the church world in many different scenarios. Maybe you’re struggling with someone on your team not perfectly executing what they are supposed to (music, tech, grass cutting, you name it!) and you think a procedure is the sole solution. Or maybe you’re utilizing a system to schedule the team and communicate details about Sunday, but you haven’t had a real conversation with those people to allow for questions or feedback.

The biggest breakdown in all this is the lack of relationship! Since no conversation is taking place, and no relationship is being built, any conflict that arises is handled poorly since the two people don’t know each other or feel they have a relationship to maintain and protect. There’s no benefit of the doubt, because the one side doesn’t even know what went into the decision. And the requestor doesn’t really know what they’re really asking for (and what it will take to get it done), because they just filled out the form rather than discussing what’s best and what’s possible. You create a scenario where all parties involved dig in their heels and point fingers rather than come to the table and say “how can we work together to make this as successful as possible?”

So again, I’m not saying get rid of system and procedure. For our context, they remain necessary in many areas. But we need to keep the perspective that we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing! We’re one body with different gifts. What an incredibly relevant picture God has painted for us in using the body to illustrate the church. If you’re walking down the street, and for some reason your right foot doesn’t step out correctly, you’ll start to fall. Imagine the right hand saying “the foot’s supposed to carry us all along down the road, but he didn’t follow procedure. No way I’m covering for him!” Well, guess what – that body’s about to do a face plant on the concrete! We compensate for each other, because we support each other and need each other.

Avoid the pitfalls of over-reliance on a procedure. Look beyond what is supposed to be and begin asking how you can build better relationships with those you serve with. Ask yourself how you can best serve them and bring what you can offer to the table in order to make what you’re doing as successful as possible! Don’t allow a structure or system to convince you that you should shut your brain off and just click the checkboxes. Connect with people and serve alongside them, and use procedure as a tool that can be held open-handedly and sometimes deviated from!

 

How have you experienced the benefits and pitfalls of procedure in your context?

Last year I wrote about the importance of creating lasting impressions for your family. We did it up a bit, having Jackson be Batman, complete with a lit batmobile. Here’s that article.  So this year, we had to at least meet the bar set last year; hopefully take it to the next level. I love the creative outlet that days like Halloween provide to imagine and create something that my kids will get excited about. We landed on a Super Mario Brothers theme a few months back, and if you asked him, Jackson knew that he was Mario for Halloween as early as the 1st week of September.

I knew that the theme had to include some sort of mobile vehicle or set, and I really wanted it to have a traveling theme song. Unfortunately, I didn’t start building right away, so I had to cram all of the work into less than a week. But, here was the progression:

 

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The concept
I certainly can’t draw very well, but here’s what we set out to build. It would be a rolling platform, 6 ft long and 3 ft wide, that would have a place for the three older kids to ride on. Mario and Luigo (Jackson and my nephew Noah) would ride in the tubes. The princess (Mila my daughter) would ride in the castle, as Mario is always searching for the castle that the princess is in.

 

 

 

 

The Tubes

For the tubes, we used sonotube concrete forms. They are 12″ wide, which was big enough for the kids to stand in, and easy enough to cut to any length. For the lip of the tube (on top) we used thick weatherstrip insulation that had a self-adhesive back to it. Both tubes were sprayed green.

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The Platform

The actual platform was a simple floor-like framing using 2x4s and plywood. Harbor Freight had inexpensive pneumatic casters that swiveled, making the ride smoother and easier to steer.

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Layout and framing

I wanted to make sure everything fit on the platform before it was set in stone. The castle box was built out of 2x4s, and just screwed to the deck. For the tubes, I used angle brackets and put a single bolt with a washer through the sonotube to keep it secure while the kids were in it.

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The Castle

The Mario Bros castle was made of bricks, so in order to create that look, we bought a sheet of gaslight brick, like the stuff people hang up around a fake fireplace, to make the look of the castle. The top of the castle was plywood, to allow a place for the princess to sit.

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We decided to raise up the brick and create the fins in the top like the original, and to give more of a barrier to protect Mila up on top. Plus, we wanted to represent the floor of the original Mario game, and so we added a layer of flooring tile that looked similar to the Mario pattern. For the princess to sit in, we used a swing seat and screwed it to the top.

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The Flag
Every castle in Super Mario Bros has a flag pole. We built our flag using corrugated plastic and a driveway stake. 

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The Lights
We added LED chrismas lights around the base of the platform as well as around the inside top of the castle to create a glow at night. The lights ran off of a power inverter attached to a car battery. The lights were layed into J channel sprayed black to hide the actual bulbs. In addition, we had three LED spots attached to light up each kid’s position.

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Final Product
The final product was tested out on the Tuesday before Halloween at a mall. All of the kids rode on it, except for the littlest one, who had to be carried. We trailered it to the mall, and had a blast!

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For those serving in our Worship and Creative Arts Ministry at The Chapel, please take a minute to listen to the above audio. If you’re not able to listen, or aren’t into hearing me talk for a few minutes, here’s a few takeaways from what I’m talking about:

Thank You!
Above all else, I’m just really grateful to be serving alongside you in ministry. God is doing some incredible things and it’s cool to play a small part in His plan.

Please Pray
It really is a busy season right now, as Christmas planning is in full swing, and there are several other big items on our plate as well. Please remember to be praying for Benji and Jenna, as they are in transition. We’ll still be seeing them around a bit until the end of the year, but there are a lot of items they are still working through as they transition out. Please pray for our process in seeking who God would have to come on to our staff team to fill some of the holes that the Cowarts have previously filled.

The team and the body
With a team this large (300+) I realize that I can’t know and have touchpoint with every single one of you on a daily basis. But, I do feel the weight of responsibility for you and a desire to encourage and support you. I also realize that every believer on this team has responsibilities to each other (see my last post on this site for more details on that) and that community is built upon every person here taking that responsibility to encourage, support, and support each other. We can be the body of Christ to each other, and we need that sense of community on this team. It’s something that has been weighing heavily on me; how we build more of that into what we do here. I don’t want us to be about just pumping out an end result and the expense of those of you who serve. I care deeply about you, and want to see you growing and satisfied in Christ.

God has a role for you
I was reading in Ephesians 2:10 where it says “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” It is so good for us to remember that we are his handiwork, He took time creating and forming us, and it was for a specific purpose; for work he prepared ahead of time for us. We have a role to play in His plan. Certainly part of that role is in serving here at The Chapel, but it also includes your responsibility to your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, and others that God has given you touchpoint with. Take some time today and pray about how God is leading you in the role He has for you.

 

I hope you have a great week!

I was talking with my team this morning about the role we have in leading people within the church. However, as I dug into the notes for this, I realized that the responsibilities I wanted to touch on didn’t just apply to leaders, but to every believer and follower of Jesus Christ. See, I think we so often fall into the trap of looking to “professional Christians” as the ones responsible to care for hurting people or to create a sense of accountability. But this mindset robs us of the priesthood that we all have as believers. Remember that 1 Peter 2:9 says “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” and 1 Timothy 2:5 says “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” We are all called to live out our faith and hold to the instructions given for each believer, rather than leave it to the “professionals” alone to do.

Here are some of the instructions we are given as it relates to other believers:

  • Love one another (John 13:34-35)
  • Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
  • Be kind to one another (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
  • Have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7)
  • Offer hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
  • Confess your sins one to another, and pray for one another (James 5:16)
  • Carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)

Depending on how God has gifted you, you may do some of these things more easily and be drawn toward certain actions as part of how you’re wired. But these are things each of us as been called to do. Don’t make the mistake of sitting back and thinking it’s the professional’s job to love, serve, be kind, and encourage the body. It is every believer’s responsibility to be about these things.

If you find yourself in a place where you are leading in the church, of course you as well are responsible to these things, just as any believer is. In addition, you have the responsibility to lead others in these ways and encourage them toward these actions. Live your life in a way that your faith is worthy of imitation (Hebrews 13:7).

God wants us to actively follow him and take ownership of the role He’s given you in His body, and in the world we live in.