Relationships in Life and Ministry

Finding our way through relationships in life and ministry can be a sticky business.

We, as a culture, are obsessed with finding our way. Google, Mapquest, TomTom, Rand McNally, Magellan, and so many others have made their fortunes telling us which way to go.

We treat the Bible like a spiritual atlas, a training manual, and proclaim finding our way in life the highest purpose of sacred writings.  When we inevitably lose our direction the fault lies with God and religion rather than ourselves.  A religious center in it’s own right, Apple has been criticized for pushing out a less than perfect maps app because of the problems people have had finding their way.

Churches are no different.  Leaders spend thousands of dollars travelling across the world to hear other leaders speak about what God is doing in their churches and in their lives.  We benchmark and read and compare and do case studies all in hope of finding the next step up for our ministries.

Did Jesus die on the cross just so he could get permission to put up road signs in our lives?  Did the Father sacrifice his only son so that we could feel better knowing where we are going now or in the future?  Better yet, have countless numbers of Christian believers over the centuries been martyred for the sake of a driver’s safety course?

Perhaps not.

What if how you find direction in life is more important than what direction you take?  What if who you travel with is more important than your destination?  What if God cares more about you than he cares about your direction in life?

I am as guilty as anyone else of chasing after direction rather than chasing after God.  Instead of drawing me nearer to God, sometimes advance planning and vision casting turn into daydreaming and organizational lust.

The human condition defaults us towards fulfilling personal dreams rather than dreaming the dreams of God.  Selfishness is a tricky fellow who has learned to hide in the nooks and crannies of our visioneering and direction seeking.

Every now and then we need a vision root canal, a time where we dig the selfishness and direction addiction out of our souls and re-orient towards the primary direction and director, Jesus Christ.  This root canal requires only three tools:

  • Time.  Set aside blocks of time with no distraction (including electronic devices) and bring only your Bible and a notebook and pencil.  Go to a private and reflective place where you can rest and sit in God’s presence.
  • Repentance.  Acknowledge where you have let your agenda, your selfishness, cloud over your vision.  Ask God to forgive you and give you a fresh start, then commit to doing what he tells you to do.
  • Openness.  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you an uncommonly open and sensitive heart to whatever God may want to reveal to you.

I remember taking a day away a number of years ago.  I walked into my room with a list of things I wanted God to answer, directional issues where I felt I needed a divine road sign.  As I spent time in silence, rest, reading and prayer, God somehow impressed upon me how insignificant my issues were in the grand scheme of his universe, and how much he just wanted me to be with him.

What he provided that day was so more worthwhile and effective than any answer I would have gotten to my list of questions.  Oddly enough, as I embraced the way he had spoken to me that day the easier my decisions became.  I got the direction I needed, but out of a relationship with the God of the universe and not through searching my Bible like a road atlas.

Where have you allowed direction seeking and vision casting to take priority over a deep, meaningful relationship with God?

Why Your Perspective Matters

In leading worship your perspective matters.  By perspective, I mean the way that you think about what you say and sing and how you lead.

Man with Glasses

For instance, if your perspective is that you are supposed to give something you have to people who do not have it, you will come across as an evangelist.

On the other hand, if you try to understand the perspectives of the people coming through the door in order to speak directly to them, you will come across as compassionate.

The next time you lead worship or speak, take a few minutes to think about the people walking through the door. What if that person is a widow? A teenager? A single mom or dad?  A downsized worker?  A newly divorced person?  Will it make a difference in how you speak or lead or not?

Can I suggest that choosing to ignore these details will make those people feel ignored?  We often simply think about what we are giving to people rather than about the people to whom we are giving it, and our message can sound aloof and pretentious.

I remember once as a young worship leader saying, “I don’t care if you’ve had a difficult week, this is the time to worship with all you’ve got.”  I am grimacing right now just admitting this.  Wow.  The height of arrogance.

Learn from my mistake.  Have a little humility and compassion when you prepare to lead.

How do you need to change your perspective in your preparation for leadership?

Why You Shouldn’t Read This Blog

I get tired of headlines that say, “How a One-Legged Man Won the 100 Meter Dash and So Can You,” and other such ridiculous stories.  Usually they end up trying to sell you something.  The title should be more like “Why You Should Let Me Sell You Something You Don’t Need.”

So in the interest of truth in advertising, I decided I would tell you why you shouldn’t read this blog.

  1. Because I have it all together.  Definitely not.  I am as broken as the next guy.
  2. Because you need a quick fix.  There is no such thing as a quick fix.  As one person from copyblogger said, “Shortcuts are always the longest.”
  3. Because I am the best at what I do.  No, you can probably find quite a few people who are better at this than I am.
  4. Because your mother told you to.  Um, yeah, this is not a good reason, unless your mother is a personal friend of mine.  In that case, maybe.

On the other hand, here are some reasons why I would hope you and others would read this blog.

  1. You need encouragement.  We live in a very negative world.  The media always seems to be looking for the next shooting or scandal.  I want to be a place where you can find something positive to chew on.
  2. You want to become a better worship leader and musician.  I want you to avoid pitfalls that I have conveniently found for you.  I am also passionate about worship, worship leadership, and music, and I will give you everything I’ve got in the hopes of helping you get a step ahead.
  3. You are a new leader.  This blog is definitely for you.  I remember stepping into my first full time worship leadership job and discovering over time how green I was.  I needed some place to go to get my questions answered.  Fortunately God provided a friend or two on staff to support me.  If I don’t have the answer I will find it, because I want you to have the support I would have wanted.
  4. You need to be reminded that God is faithful.  He is.  I can promise you that, and I will continue to remind you.  I know this by experience.
  5. You need to know that good things can come out of failure.  As Seth Godin says, failure and being a failure are two different things.  God uses our failures and mistakes to help us grow.  I know.  Going through a divorce was the most difficult thing in my life, but it probably has been the best growth experience I have ever had.

So now you know.

And I hope you stick around and invite your friends to read this blog for all the right reasons.

Four Great Times NOT to Make a Decision

One of the most important skills we can learn is when and when not to make critical decisions in our lives.  By important, I do not mean what shoes to wear (ladies) or what sports game to watch (men). I am talking about decisions that have the potential to set or wreck the direction of your life.

In 2009 I went through a divorce, and the emotional rollercoaster since then has been enormous.  Soaring moments of success have been followed by abysmal depths of despair, both personally and professionally.

I went from being the leader of a large worship ministry to a part-time music director.  After having worked back up to a full time music pastor position, I needed to move out of state.

After moving I was not doing what I really loved; instead of leading worship and music I was laying stone.  Then I transitioned to a part time position playing organ and conducting choir, while continuing to do masonry part time.

In addition to masonry and my role as organist and choir conductor, now I also do copywriting, arranging, and mentoring.

In another post I will talk about how God has used every one of these life changes to radically transform and grow me emotionally and spiritually. 

That transformation, however, was accompanied by wild swings in my emotions and in my walk with God.

In the middle of this chaos I have often returned to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) guideline.

Using the acronym “HALT,” AA teaches men and women to make decisions at appropriate times and to avoid the temptation to return to alcohol.  I have found this tool enormously helpful when I have been trying to manage life in difficult times.

Here are four great times not to make a decision.

When I am Hungry.  When I am hungry I lose the ability to think creatively, problem solve, and focus.  I know that I need a lot of protein to give my mind staying power, so I keep a few relatively healthy snacks on hand like beef sticks (I said relatively), protein bars, and almonds.

Know what your body needs to function properly and keep things on hand to take care of yourself.

When I am Angry.  When I am emotionally overwhelmed, worried, angry, or experiencing anxiety, I lose my ability to clearly distinguish how I really feel about an issue.  I am learning in confrontational situations to keep my mouth shut and simply say, “I don’t know what to think right now.  Can I get back to you on that?”  That way the person knows that I heard them, but also that I need time to process what I have heard in order to give them a good and honest answer.

Learn what situations and issues set you off emotionally and decide ahead of time how you are going to respond.  When you are in the middle of an emotional situation is not the time to be thinking about how you should respond.

When I am Lonely.  Of these four situations loneliness is my biggest trigger.  God wired us to be in close loving relationship with him and with others, and when we do not have those relationships we look for something or someone else to fill the void.  That “filler” can be alcohol, drugs, porn, ice cream, self-pity, or any number of things.

Loneliness is particularly an issue for those who are single or single again, or who are in an emotionally estranged relationship.  Don’t be naïve.  Learn your preferred “filler” and decide ahead of time how you are going to deal with it. 

When I am Tired.  If I am tired mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically, I am not at my best.  Tired people do stupid things.  After 10 pm my mind can go to mush in the simplest discussions.

Know how much sleep you need at night and get it.  Take a 20 minute nap at lunch.  Take a walk to rest your mind.

By recognizing when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired and by responding wisely you can avoid making costly mistakes and decisions.

As a Christ follower I will also say that just following “HALT” is not enough.  I have found that I am much more peaceful and clear-headed when I begin the day by reading Scripture and speaking with God. 

When life is complex, God remains simple.  He loves me, and that is enough.

How have you avoided making mistakes and bad decisions when you have been Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?

How to Make Your Quiet Time Creative

I love quiet time with God, but often I find it helpful to do something creative with my time.  I am a creative person, after all, so why shouldn’t I?

Innovation

The basics of time with God:

  1. Scheduled – If it’s not on the calendar it won’t happen.
  2. Time – It has to be more than a passing prayer or thought.
  3. Alone – Remove distractions.
  4. Bible – God speaks most often through his Word.
  5. Prayer – Speaking with and listening for God.
  6. Journal – Often it helps to write down your thoughts.

In reality I could simply read the Bible, speak to and listen for God, and journal every day and probably have a good relationship with God.  Ultimately exclusive time with him and a heart inclined to him are all that are needed.

But if I am honest I sometimes can slip into routine and take God for granted.

Here is where creativity comes in.

Creativity can:

  1. Refresh your interest by breaking routine.
  2. Reframe old truths in new light.
  3. Reveal new truths because your mind is working differently.

Recently I decided I wanted to do something different, something creative.  The verse of the day on my YouVersion app was 1 John 4:18-19 (CEV):

A real love for others will chase those worries away.  The thought of being punished is what makes us afraid.  It shows that we have not really learned to love.  We love because God loved us first.

This verse really struck a chord with me, so I decided to dive into it a bit more.  Here is what I did:

  1. I read the verses in several translations to get a full picture of the verse’s meaning.  I usually read the Amplified Version (AMP), the New International Version (NIV), the Contemporary English Version (CEV, and the English Standard Version (ESV).  Sometimes I also read The Message (MSG) translation.
  2. I wrote out how the verses impacted me in light of what I was experiencing in my life.
  3. I wrote out my conversation, or prayer, with God.  I have found that writing out my prayers can be very illuminating.
  4. I wrote a song based on those verses.  So far I have only two verses and a chorus (it needs a Bridge), but I felt like I was able to put into song form the encouragement I needed that day.

Here are the lyrics:

When I am afraid
I will trust in You
When life is hard
I will trust in You
When feelings fade
I will trust in You
When friends betray
I will trust in You

Your love is deeper
Your love is fuller
Your love has overcome my every fear
All of my worries
All of my trouble
Your love has overcome my every fear

When I am alone
I will trust in You
When I am wrong
I will trust in You
When my words fail
I will trust in You
When hope is gone
I will trust in You 

Your love is deeper
Your love is fuller
Your love has overcome my every fear
All of my worries
All of my trouble
Your love has overcome my every fear

What creative things have you done during your quiet time?

Give Me Patience, But Hurry

Every one of us has felt this way. Today I was visiting a friend and her late husband had placed this plaque on the wall:

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Good things come to those who wait, but usually our waiting has a schedule, which really is not waiting at all.

This past Sunday pastor Verne at Abundant Life Church said we need to give God time to finish the process he is working. If we do not wait we do not allow him to finish what he is doing.

Where in your life do you need to wait patiently and let God finish what he has started?

The Truth about God

God is not confusing.

Huh?

That’s right.

But aren’t all of those seemingly contradictory things about God (perfect love and justice, loves all people but convicts the guilty, present everywhere but individually involved, the Trinity, etc.) extremely complex and confusing?

God is definitely complex and hard to understand sometimes, but he is never confusing. God is very clear in Scriptures that Satan is the author of confusion.

So when you and I face a difficult situation and we feel extremely confused, we can be certain that God is not the one confusing us.

We are, or Satan is.

We are flawed human beings corrupted by evil, and consequently we have a hard time seeing clearly. Satan, on the other hand, has no interest in allowing us to see clearly.

So when you or I feel confused, here are some steps to clarity.

1. Press into God. if God is the source of clarity, it only makes sense to pursue him more. Entering into the confusion only leads to more confusion.

2. Get objective feedback. Solomon tells us that there is wisdom in seeking the counsel of many wise people. Don’t isolate. Seek out one or two trusted people to be your advisors.

3. Deal with it. Don’t ignore the situation. Wade in and wrestle it out. Peace waits on the other side.

Where are you struggling with confusion?