Pardon the Interruption

“Don’t interrupt me!” That is what I wanted to say. I was busy. I was in my zone. I was finishing a sermon outline. Others needed me to get it done. I needed to get it done. Yet, here was this person standing in my office pleading for my attention.

We all have to deal with interruptions. They bring information forcing us into a decision. The first decision is the most important one: Is the information contained in the interruption worthy of my attention? If not, we blow off the interruption and get back to what we were doing. However, if the information grabs us our life is set on a new course.

Interruptions are one of God’s favorite tools. He uses them to give us a choice. Will we listen to Him or ignore Him? Will we shrug off the interruption or will it set us on a new course? Interruptions are a door to faith.

Christmas is an interruption. It just ended. Right now we are all getting back to what we normally do because the interruption of Christmas is over. But ever since the birth of Jesus, we have an annual interruption from God. He interrupts our lives to give us an opportunity to respond in faith to Him. This is not a new tactic. He did it first with the shepherds.

I am reminded of God’s ability to interrupt each time I see a Nativity scene. Joseph and Mary, the shepherds and a small cluster of farm animals all gazing at the infant Savior lying in a manger. Joseph and Mary knew the Savior was coming. They had insider information. The shepherds had no idea that Jesus was being born that night. Someone had to tell them. If you want to know how God uses interruptions, pay attention to what happened to the shepherds.

God gets their attention.

The shepherds were minding their own business that night. They had no idea something special was happening within walking distance of their routine lives. All of sudden God interrupted their comfortable existence. He sent them a messenger.

We don’t get to choose when or how God gets our attention. The shepherds’ calendars failed to point out their divine appointment. They had no idea God would rattle their cage and they certainly did not know the messenger would be an angel followed by a heavenly parade of angelic beings.

The angel announced the birth of Jesus. The announcement reminds us we don’t get to choose what God brings to our attention. We all have questions we would like God to answer, but God interrupts and speaks to us about what we need to know not what we would like to know.

God still interrupts our lives. We don’t get to choose when He does it. We don’t get to choose how He does it, and we don’t get to choose the content of the message. He interrupts our lives and tells us what we need to hear. Without these interruptions, we would never know faith is an option.

God’s interruption made them feel something.

We are told they felt “frightened.” It is an interesting word. It means fear, alarmed, uncertain. In others words, God’s interruption scared them. We would like to think God uses pleasant tactics when getting our attention, but that is not always the case. God doesn’t always give us a warm fuzzy. In fact, I would say God’s interruptions are going to make us feel unpleasant before we feel safe and for many of us that is the problem.

The shepherds felt fear not comfort. What would they do with that? Would it motivate them to listen and respond? Or would they be offended?

Because God interrupts us with what we need to know instead of what we want to know and since His interruption will create an unpleasant feeling instead of tingly goose bumps, it becomes easy for us to ignore the interruption or worse be offended by it. This is critical. If we ignore the interruption, we will miss out on what God wants to pull us into. If we are offended by it, we begin to think God is rude, inconsiderate and out of touch.

The shepherds had a choice: Would they obey their feelings or would they push against what they felt and listen to what they heard? We are presented with the same choice every time God interrupts our cozy existence.

They pushed against their fear.

After the angels left, we are told the shepherds decided to go see what the Lord had told them about. They pushed against their fears and responded to what they had been told. This is faith. Faith is not just believing information. Faith is believing and acting on information. The information from the angel gave them the option to move in faith. Before the interruption and before they felt unpleasant, faith was not an option.

Humans don’t get to choose when faith is an option. God creates that option when He interrupts our lives. That’s why the interruptions are so important. It is at His discretion when He calls to us. His interruption may feel rude or inconsiderate or simply not what we want to hear, but it is God. Give Him some space. He probably knows something we don’t know. If we can get past how it makes us feel, we will be swept off our feet into the wonder of God’s power and love. That is what happened to the shepherds and it can happen to us too. (Fact-check what I’m sharing. Please read Luke 2:1-20.)

Christmas is over. The nativity scenes will be put away this week. We won’t see the shepherd figurines for another 365 days. This year’s interruption has ended. How did you respond?

If you don’t think you did to well, don’t be discouraged. As long as you are breathing, God will be interrupting. He’s not being rude or inconsiderate. He just wants you to see what He is doing.

I Lost 14% of Me

The only reason I am sharing this is because I’ve had so many people ask. They did not start asking until about 6 weeks ago. Before then, no one seemed to notice; but over the last 6 weeks I think I’ve been frequently asked this question: “Have you lost some weight?” The observation is correct. I have lost 25 pounds.

The next question is “How did you do it?” Before I share the answer let me cover my legal obligations by stating that I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. I’ve had no training in the proper or healthy techniques of weight loss. By all means, if I share something that you think will help you, then please try it. However, if you have an existing medical condition or are taking medications, please contact your physician before trying these weight loss methods (see…I do pay attention to legal disclaimers).

1st: My doctor and a trusted friend humbled me.

It was last March. I went for my annual physical. The doctor weighed me, examined me, poked, prodded and then questioned me about my overall health. He then looked at me and said, “You are a healthy 40 something.” If his comments had stopped there I would have walked away with a smile, but he didn’t stop. He looked at me with no emotion and said, “You need to lose 30 lbs. I’ll see you next year.” He turned and walked out of the room. I think he said, “Call me if you need me” as he walked away. That was it. No explanation. No motivational speech.

My inner voice yelled, “If I’m healthy then why do I need to lose 30 lbs.?” I might have actually said something with my real voice, but he was gone as if he knew I would object. The next day I shared this encounter with a trusted partner at the church. This person is a friend. An advisor. A confidant. I thought he would tell me the doctor had lost his mind, but instead he looked at me said, “Yeah, you probably need to lose some weight.” I couldn’t believe it. I was looking for sympathy and found validation. It was on! I decided I was going to lose some weight.

2nd: I found an app

Being a product of the 21st Century, I did what any reasonable person would do. I searched “weight loss” in the App Store. If you like options this is the way to go. I found a weight loss app for every day of the month. Apparently my desire to lose weight was not an isolated situation. I did not let the options overwhelm me. I began to read through the descriptions and finally landed on MyFitnessPal.

MyFinessPal is a calorie counting app with a huge food calorie database, but it goes one step further. It also counts how many calories I burn each day by counting my steps each day. The app notifies me when I’m not reaching my goal. It is free app.

After I plugged in my information, stated my weight loss goal and the rate at which I wanted to reach that goal, I simply started following the personal notifications (you do have to type in what you eat each day). After about 3 days of using the app I realized something needed to change. I could not burn enough calories just walking around the church and to the frig.

3rd: I started exercising…regularly

I have always exercised, but this app was notifying me every day with bright red letters that I was not exercising enough. I could eat less, but when I tried lowering my calorie intake enough to make the red letters go away, it would notify me that I was starving. I realized I had to start exercising and lower my calorie intake at the same time.

I started jogging. I have jogged on and off for years, but I’ve never really done it consistently. Here is the shocker: I don’t really like jogging. I do it because it is free. I jog 3 times a week…Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I have a love hate relationship with it. Listening to music and audio books is what keeps me sane.

One upside to this commitment of burning more calories is that I also started walking with Cherry. When the weather is nice, we walk. It is one my favorite things to do. Before the cold of winter showed up, it was not uncommon for me to walk and jog over 25 miles a week. During winter this will be hard to maintain. I will jog at the YMCA and walking will resume in the spring.

4th: I quit eating breakfast

Even though I became more active, I still needed to reduce my calorie intake. I cut out snacks, getting seconds and closely watched my portions, but it was still not enough. One morning while eating cardboard that I called cereal, I discovered how many calories I was consuming. It dawned on me the “healthy” cereal I was shoveling into my mouth was secretly thwarting my calorie goals. I decided I did not need breakfast.

I know everyone says breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but honestly I haven’t missed it. Instead of eating breakfast, I drink water; and to change it up, some days I go crazy and drink a diet green tea. By the time lunch rolls around, I am hungry, but I’m not famished. I realize this might not work for you, but it seems to work for me. On the days I have a breakfast appointment, I skip lunch and drink water.

Some Final Thoughts

I told you at the beginning. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist. And I was serious; if you’re thinking about trying what I’ve been doing and you take medications or have an ongoing medical condition, please speak to your doctor first.

I’ve been following this routine for 9 months and I’ve lost 25 pounds. Winter will be a challenge and the holidays will require some extra discipline. I’m going to keep going until I reach my goal of 30 pounds. Here are three things I learned:

1) It takes time to lose weight. I’ve been doing this for 9 months. With the app, I chose a moderately aggressive weight loss goal and it has still taken almost 40 weeks to lose 25 pounds.

2) No one actually said anything to me about my weight loss for 7 months. That means there were no outside voices of encouragement. Be prepared for that.

3) The first 3 months are the hardest. I practiced my new habits 3 months before I actually started feeling better and having more energy. Don’t give up too quickly when starting new habits.

Wisdom

I don’t remember when it happened. I don’t recall any out of the ordinary events. I do remember I was a teenager. I remember I was in my bedroom. Apart from that I don’t really recall anything else. I was reading my Bible. Again, I don’t really know why. I had spurts through my teenage years when I would read it. I guess this was one of those spurts.

I was reading about Solomon. His father, King David had died, and the throne of Israel was being passed to him. Soon after his coronation God came to Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask for whatever you want for me to give you.” Wow! I remember thinking: Really? God does that kind of thing? God was giving Solomon a blank check. He could ask for anything: a long life, personal wealth, military victories, or political success. Needless to say I was impressed and puzzled when he asked for the ability to make good choices. Yep…he took his blank check from God and cashed it in for wisdom. Check out 1 Kings 3:5-12 to fact check me.

God goes on to share with Solomon that He will give him everything he needs to be the greatest political leader in all of history. He does this because Solomon asked for wisdom instead of success. I was so intrigued by the story (and maybe hoping God would make me awesome too) that I decided at that moment to start asking God for wisdom.

What is Wisdom?

It is not as easy to define as one might think. Just Google the question and you’ll see there are over 59 million Internet answers. The most generally agreed upon definition includes one’s ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, insight and good judgment. Neither a college degree nor an AARP membership is required.

To complicate things there are two kinds of wisdom. The first and most common kind is what the Bible calls human wisdom. Human wisdom has one glaring weakness. It is human. We can’t see the future, the whole picture or even our own motivations when making decisions. We try to understand as much as we can, but we are just limited. Therefore, human wisdom can only be as wise as humans. It’s tricky because human wisdom cannot separate itself from human selfishness. That’s why the Bible describes human wisdom as earthly, unspiritual and in some cases even demonic.

The second kind of wisdom is called God’s wisdom or heavenly wisdom. It comes from God and is bound to His character. It is not of this world and it comes from One who can see the future, all the pieces of the past and even the desires of our hearts. We cannot generate this wisdom. We must receive it. It is not common, but it is easily accessible; that is, if you believe the Bible.

Getting God’s Wisdom

God’s wisdom is available to any person who asks for it. You would think something this precious would be hard to get, but it is not. The Bible is emphatically clear: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” All we have to do to receive God’s wisdom is to ask for it. But asking Him requires two things from us. First, we must believe that God exists and that He cares about our personal decisions. Second, we must humble ourselves and acknowledge that we need His wisdom for the decisions we have to make. If we can get over these two hurdles we are in a good position to ask.

Once we’ve got the asking part down, the Bible then informs us of what we must NOT do for the wisdom to be effective in our lives.

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.

The greatest tragedy that occurs when asking God for wisdom is when we doubt His answer. Imagine a patient asking a doctor for medical advice. The doctor prescribes a medicine and a plan to bring about health. The patient listens but immediately begins to doubt the advice and the intentions of the doctor. The prescription is expensive and comes with side effects. The plan requires a diet change, routine exercise and regular check-ups. The patient begins to think: Does this doctor really have my best interests in mind? What he is asking me to do is costly, time-consuming, uncomfortable and intrusive? THERE HAS GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY!!!! The doctor assures the patient the advice will work and bring health, but the patient has heard enough. He is committed to getting a second opinion.

Many times we are the above patient and God is the doctor. We ask Him for wisdom and He gives us an action plan, but it is not what we wanted to hear. Why?

God’s Wisdom is not Conventional

God’s wisdom is not like human wisdom. It is higher and purer. It loves peace and is way more considerate than human wisdom. God’s wisdom encourages humble choices, keeps the greater good in mind and will promote mercy over justice. It will cling to what is good and hate what is evil…every time. It has no hint of prejudice toward others. In essence, the thoughts and ideas we receive as a result of God’s wisdom will not be conventional. They will not be thoughts and ideas we would think on our own.

God’s wisdom will encourage you to forgive when human wisdom will push you to hold a grudge. God’s wisdom may nudge you to slow down and respond to someone else’s pain when human wisdom is screaming you don’t have time. God’s wisdom will direct you to do the good thing when human wisdom tells you it’s reasonable to be selfish. God’s wisdom will admonish you to shut up and listen when every fiber in you wants to lash out. Don’t doubt God’s wisdom because it is unconventional. Don’t doubt God’s wisdom because it feels out-of-place. It is it’s unusual quality of being abnormal that makes it not of this world.

The danger of doubting God’s wisdom is that we are left with nothing. We have no rudder for the storms of life. No GPS for the turns ahead. No compass pointing true. We end up just getting tossed around by the latest fads, morning talk shows or pop psychology. All generated by human wisdom.

It is simple. Ask God for wisdom and He will give it. But hang on, the ideas you will have as a result of His wisdom will not look like your normal way of reasoning. I try to remember this when I pray for wisdom so I can resist the temptation to doubt His answer.

Start with the biggest question in your life right now. Does God care? Will He help if you ask? If you don’t believe He will then your search for God’s wisdom is over. Your only option is human wisdom. However, if you believe He cares and will answer your request for wisdom, ask Him for it…right now.

Now…wait. Listen. Relax. His wisdom will come. Help is on the way.

Thanksgiving Changes

The week of Thanksgiving…what a great week! Football, food, family (not in that order)—all good things. I have celebrated over 40 (getting close to 50) Thanksgivings in my life. I can’t remember a bad one. Even though all of my memories are good, I must admit Thanksgiving has changed through the years. The holiday looks different as an adult than it did as a kid or teen. Let me explain.

Thanksgiving as a Child

My family would load up and go to my grandparent’s house in what was then the rural town of Albertville, AL. My grandparents (on my dad’s side) lived on a farm that had cows, a couple of horses, a cornfield and a 40-acre Pecan orchard. There was plenty of open space to roam, play football or have a dirt clod battle in the barn (some of those dirt clods smelled suspicious). At these gatherings I remember seeing more food than could possibly be eaten, having days I wish would not end and sometimes laughing so hard that my face and stomach hurt.

Both of my parents are from this town so my aunts, uncles and cousins from both sides of the family would be there. My mom’s family was smaller than my dad’s so most of the time they would join us on the farm. My grandmother (on my mom’s side) was a sweet, quiet lady who constantly smiled. Thanksgiving for her was different than it was for the rest of us. She had lost her husband to heart disease many years earlier, outlived some of her children and experienced many disappointments in life. Thanksgiving to her was a reminder of who was not there. Even though she laughed and celebrated with all of us, I can still remember seeing sadness in her eyes. I saw in her that it is possible to be thankful even when life has been hard.

Thanksgiving as a Husband

When I got married, my family grew. I could no longer just go to Albertville and celebrate. My wife’s parents became a part of my family. They live in Clearwater, FL. Cherry’s parents are lovely people, but they are unique. They march to their own drum and rarely change the beat for anyone else. We love them and enjoy being with them, but it is not always easy. In spite of this, we wanted to spend the holiday with them.

For the first several years of our marriage, the years prior to kids, Thanksgiving turned into a road trip to Clearwater. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for those trips. Even though I missed my family in Albertville, I was having a blast with Cherry and her family. I learned as life changes we gain more people to be thankful for even when those people are different than us. That became abundantly clear when we had kids; and Thanksgiving changed again. With kids, road trips became more challenging and expensive. Thanksgiving began turning into grandparents coming to us.

Thanksgiving away from Family

In 2007, Cherry and I shared with our parents that God had opened a door for us to move to California. We were excited about the opportunity and even though our parents were very supportive, they were also sad. It was our first Thanksgiving in CA when their sadness caught up to me. It would be the first time we would not be with any extended family. We would be alone. I’ll never forget Cherry crying in bed on Thanksgiving morning. I’ll always remember telling the boys that we were not going to AL or FL and that no one was coming to us. I can still see their blank stares that silently screamed, “What are we going to do?”

That first year was rough, but it got better. God gave us new friends and even though they were not family, the friends became like family. For a couple of years one family in particular, the Hernandez clan always invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them. One year we spent the holiday at one of the prettiest places on the planet: Lake Tahoe. Cherry had a co-worker who let us use her cabin. To this day that Thanksgiving weekend has been one of my favorites.

We now live in Ohio. Our kids are teenagers. It is next to impossible to go to AL or FL for a holiday weekend. Grandparents come to us some years, but we never see any extended family. We have now made our own traditions, invited others to join us in our celebration and learned that God’s faithfulness endures no matter where we are, whom we are with or who is missing.

The holiday season is a happy and sad time at the Duckett home. We are happy because God has been so good, given us so much and been faithful to us in ways we cannot fully describe. We are sad because in spite of what we do have, what we don’t have is the large family gathering of the past. To follow the Lord we have made sacrifices and endured separations. We would do it again, but to follow Him costs something. The cost is small when we filter it through the eyes of eternity. I believe whatever sacrifice we make or separation we endure for Christ will be richly rewarded on earth and in Heaven, but while on earth we will always feel the scar of the cost.

Thanksgiving as an Adoptive Parent

Thanksgiving changed again in 2015. In fact, Cherry and I were not even in the country. We were in Colombia. We had gone there to bring home two brothers we were in the process of adopting. We desperately tried to jump through all the necessary hoops to have them home for Thanksgiving. It just was not meant to be.

On that day we ate our Thanksgiving meal at a food court at a mall in Bogotá with our adoptive sons. As happy as we were, the moment was awkward. Neither one of them could speak English, turkey and stuffing was on no menu and our biological sons, who we missed terribly, were back in the States waiting for us to all return. To make the moment even more awkward, Colombia does not observe Thanksgiving. No one knew what Cherry and I were celebrating, and no one would understand us if we tried to explain it. It truly was a wonderful, awkward day.

Much has changed in two years. The boys are speaking English now (sometimes too much) and they are growing in their understanding of the holiday. They have discovered what green bean casserole and pecan pie is, but they don’t care for either of them. Some things have not changed; we are still experiencing some awkward family moments. One thing no one tells you when you adopt is that your family will never again be what it was. That one fact is both wonderful and sad at the same time. I can’t explain it. I just know that’s how it is. I do know I am thankful for my family. I love them all; the ones I’m with and the ones that are miles away. As the years unfold Thanksgiving will continue to change. I accept this and I look forward to it because my God, like a master chef, knows how to mix the ingredients of life to make something wonderful and tasty.

Greatest Possession

What is your greatest possession? Take your time. Think a little bit about this before rushing to the next paragraph. I would guess your answer is probably influenced by the season of life you are going through. For instance, a child might say their greatest possession is a $5 toy. A teenager might grab their smart phone. For a young adult, it might be their car. A family man might say it is his paycheck. A person recovering from cancer might be more philosophical and say it is their health. A happily married person might claim it is their relationship and the person approaching retirement is certain it is their 401(k). It’s funny how things gain and lose value as we journey through life.

What if there was something we could possess that never lost its value or its usefulness? A possession that remained important and relevant through every season of life. I think I have discovered this item. I think it may be my greatest possession. It’s odd, but I have not always thought so highly of this item. At times I have ignored it, even abhorred it. On some days I have seen it as a distraction I wished would go away and at other times I have found it to be exactly what I needed. There have been times I’ve used this item thinking, “It is outdated, not relevant, not helpful.” And yet, because I keep going back to it, I have had some defining moments with it. It has given me inspiration, guidance and even hope. Honestly, I have experienced both love and estrangement with this item. It is the Bible.

Before you tune me out, please give me a chance to explain. I’ve always felt the Bible contains important information, but just because something is important doesn’t mean it will be useful in everyday life. I at times have viewed the information in the Bible like I viewed the Pythagorean Theorem. It was useful. I needed it to graduate from high school (so did you…even if you don’t remember what it is), but really? How often do I use the Pythagorean Theorem? How relevant is that bit of mathematical information to me today in this season of life?

As I continue to make my way through life, I am discovering the words in the Bible is not like other information. Other information may be useful for a season, but it loses its relevance as time passes. What is it about the Bible that makes it useful and relevant for every season of life?

It speaks only truth.

As the world continues its moral slide, God’s Word just keeps speaking truth. Society values what is commonly known as relative truth (meaning truth changes to adapt to a situation). However, the Bible speaks absolute truth. It is constant and can be applied to whatever situation we find ourselves experiencing.

Speaking truth makes the Bible both precious and disdained at the same time. It is precious because truth is rare in our world. What organization or person do you know that only speaks truth? Congress? The media? Educational systems? Neighbors? Spouses? Children? Heck, we even lie to ourselves. Hopefully the people closest to you lie the least to you, but God’s Word never lies. It only speaks truth and that is precious when everyone else has the capacity to speak lies. Unfortunately, the Bible is disdained for the same reason it is precious. Because it only speaks truth, it can be abrasive. It will not speak what we want to hear even if all of humanity claims its information is wrong or backwards or exclusive. For this reason, people claim the Bible is no longer relevant. Or, they twist it’s words to make them more palatable. Often people have reduced the Scriptures to an archaic suggestion that less intelligent people hold as truth.

The Bible is a “faith” book more than a “logic” book. Because of this, its truth will not always seem or feel normal. Our human nature will push back. If we don’t use faith when reading the Bible we will never accept that it only speaks truth. One of the greatest dangers people make with God’s Word is to treat it like one of those huge buffet restaurants. At a buffet we choose the food we think or know will taste good. We leave behind what we think or know tastes bad. The Bible cannot be treated this way. It is an all or nothing acceptance. If we treat it like a buffet then we are assuming we have the wisdom to know what is true and what is not. Obviously, that is above humanity’s pay grade. Truth can leave a bad taste in our mouth (especially if someone is misusing it for personal gain), but just because something tastes bad doesn’t mean it’s not good for us.

I don’t know what you think of the Bible, but I can tell you it helps me weekly and sometimes even daily. It helps me be a better husband, father and leader. It has become my most valuable possession. If you approach it with faith and humility (like letting someone give you something from the buffet you wouldn’t choose) and trust that it only speaks truth, it may become your greatest possession too.

God has breathed life into all of Scripture. It is useful for teaching us what is true. It is useful for correcting our mistakes. It is useful for making our lives whole again. It is useful for training us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:16

Half-Baked People

“I love Pastor Stephen!” Those were the first words I heard when I got in the car with my son. We had just finished helping Stephen and his family move into their new home. You know how it is…moving is not the most fun thing in the world to do. It had been a long day. We started packing (and then unpacking) the truck at 4pm. It was now a little after 9. I thought my son might be a little grumpy. He had spent his afternoon and most of the evening lifting and pushing and carrying; but that was not the case.

With a rapid fire of words he began to explain this outburst about Stephen. “He is easy to talk to…he is funny…he listens to me…he is just a good guy to be around.” I can’t tell you how much I appreciated what my son was saying. I am thrilled that Pastor Stephen is having a positive influence in his life.

As I listened to him, I was reminded of the relationships I had when I was a teenager at church. I am fortunate. My mind is filled with positive memories from that part of my past. During my teenage years the church I attended had two different youth pastors; and while I had a positive relationship with both men, it was the relationships I developed with other adults and peers that impacted me the most. While growing into a young man it was the adult leaders (Bible study leaders, chaperones and my friend’s parents) and my peers at church that taught me and challenged me to hear and follow God’s voice. I had coaches. I had teachers. I had other adults that taught me many important life skills, but it was only at church that I was challenged to be a Godly person.

It saddens me to think how many teens today do not have the exposure to God’s people I had while growing up. I realize the times are different. I understand that social surveys and cultural shifts all point to people (including teenagers) spending less time at church. I know there are many successful and educated individuals that are challenging the next generation to be kind, good and responsible citizens. Boatloads of resources are available to prepare teenagers for a career. Teachers, counselors, mentors and coaches stand ready to share the wisdom needed for a stable life. Millions of dollars are being used to develop educational tools, social awareness curriculums and community programs to help the next generation be better people. But, I have one question: Who is challenging them to love, follow and share Jesus?

One reason I want my boys to be exposed to the influences of a church is because of the people they will meet and the friendships they will develop. The activities at a church teach us things about the bible and God, but that knowledge is left wanting without the influence of the people who are there putting into practice what is being taught. My boys need the voices of men, women and peers who are actively trying to pursue God (honestly, I need those voices to). It brings clarity to all the other voices they are hearing.

When I was growing up the forces of culture and my own selfish nature constantly pulled at me. They were vying to shape my worldview and establish my values. The pursuit of integrity, the value of human life, my self-worth, the importance of hard work, my respect for others, and my stance on drugs, sexuality and social justice where all being formed. Only at church, among imperfect people, was I being challenged to view the world as God sees it. I think the same holds true for my boys today.

Many people will challenge what I am saying with the horror stories of people at church behaving badly. It’s true. The church has had and will continue to have a handful of people in it who are bad, wrong, mean and maybe even evil. I wish this were not true, but I can tell you those individuals are the exception and not the norm. Parents who hold flawed individuals up as their reason for not involving their families in a local church have missed the point of the Church. The purpose of the Church (this includes all people who follow Jesus in various local churches) is not to create perfect individuals. The Church exists to help people pursue, love and follow God in a world that does whatever is right in its own eyes. A few people in our local churches will miss this mark badly, but that does not mean the Church is a waste of time or lost its relevance. It just means the Church is imperfect people learning how to pursue a loving God who transforms us as we pursue Him. No one would call a half-baked cake horrible. Instead, they would point out that it is only half-baked and needs to finish baking before it can be properly judged. People who are pursuing Jesus in the local church are all half-baked individuals. God is not through with them yet. Don’t judge them too quickly.

My heart was encouraged when my son told me a Godly man (not a perfect man) is having a positive influence in his life. It is one of the reasons I encourage all of my boys to go to church. I want my sons to have people in their lives who love the Lord. People who will help them pursue a Godly life.

Identity Theft

It is hard to have your identity stolen if you don’t know who you are. Obviously, I’m not talking about credit card or social security numbers. A real threat in our society is the criminal act of identity theft, but one of the greatest losses in life is to never have known who you were in the first place.

What is identity? Where does it come from? How do we find it? These are all excellent questions. It is commonly thought that our identity is tied to our government ID, our careers, the titles we hold or the accomplishments we have achieved. Many attempt to create their identity through what they do (their career, parenting, or some cause they passionately support). Others seek to discover who they are by pointing to major events in life (a parent’s death, a divorce, a change in career, etc.)  or researching their ethnic background (hence the popularity with ancestry.com). I propose that a person’s identity is not tied to what they do, what happened to them or their ancestry. All of those things are important, but they only explain a person. They do not define a person. A person’s identity defines who they are to themselves and to the people around them.

Identity can only be found by accepting we are created beings created for a purpose. Therefore, to find our identity we must speak with our Creator. Fortunately, this is possible. I don’t mean to sound mystical or hokey, but God is approachable and He likes to communicate with His creation. He said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) The best way to start asking, seeking and knocking is to start talking to God, start looking for Him in life and start trying a spiritual activity like going to church or reading the Bible. It is important to remember that when we search for God He is not hiding from us. He is hiding for us.

Once we start communicating with our Creator, the obvious question to ask is, “Why did you create me?” Guess what? He will answer that question. He will show each one who asks why He created them, why He made them they way He did and why He has them in their particular set of circumstances. None of the details of our lives are random. They each have a purpose and they all speak to who we are…our identity. The relationship we have with our Creator begins to reveal our identity to us.

I wish I could tell you that I had all of this figured out, but the truth is that our understanding of our identity morphs as we grow in our understanding of our Creator. I can tell you this…our identity is more about who we are (character) that what we do (activity). Also, our identity is tied closely to what He did for us through Jesus Christ than any other thing our planet has to offer.

I truly hope you never have to go through the headache of identity theft. Be vigilant with all those important numbers. But more importantly, discover who you really are. Don’t let your identity remain a mystery.

 

Should I Follow My Passions?

I saw someone the other day win an achievement award. In their acceptance speech they said words that have become sort of a mantra: “Follow your passion at all cost. Don’t give up. Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do something.” I can appreciate the spirit of his words. I certainly appreciate his success at his craft. But I have to be honest; I think the advice to “follow your passion at all cost” may be the worst advice floating around.

Passion has two definitions. It can be a “strong and barely controllable emotion” or an “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.” I think the man who won the award was speaking of this second definition. And, although I understand the sentiment of his statement, I think passion by itself can be a horrible guide for life choices. Here are 3 reasons why passion can lead us down the wrong path.

1) Following passion could be a colossal waste of time.

Did you ever watch American Idol? Many times the show would introduce a contestant with a short video. The video would communicate the person’s passion to sing; then their audition with the judges would take place. It was not uncommon to discover the individual had no talent and no tone. Their shock and disappointment when the judges told them they would not be moving on in the competition revealed their passion was more dream than skill. Years (and I think for some of them only weeks) had been wasted. Their passion to be a great singer was dealt a blow of reality.

Just because we have a passion doesn’t mean we have a talent. Some poor soul hears “follow your passion” and they begin to think passion is all that is needed to succeed. Unfortunately, it can take months or years for someone to discover their passion is pipe dream. Passion can point us in the wrong direction and that can be waste of time.

2) Passion can bring success, but it rarely develops character.

It is possible to be passionate and successful. However, many people become so passionate about being successful at their craft that they are willing to overlook the development of their character. Passion may drive a person to succeed, but it rarely drives someone to be humble. Unfortunately, proud people usually have major character flaws. The current revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct among Hollywood’s elite, along with the long list of dishonest CEO’s and politicians, provide many examples of successful, wealthy people with passion but no character. When success at our passion means we have to step on the less fortunate, take advantage of a vulnerable person, or be dishonest to reach our goal, then our passion becomes our demise. We trade character for success.

3) Following a  passion can be a distraction from real opportunities.

When I was in high school my passion was being a football player…all 140-pounds of me. I dreamed of playing football. I spent hours each week lifting weights, running, going to practice and watching film. I just knew that “growth spurt” was coming, and when it did, I would play football in the college ranks. Only one problem, the growth spurt never happened. I do think I was the best 140-pound football player at my high school, but that is as far as my passion could take me.

All that time I spent on football, and it was over when I graduated from high school. I often think: What opportunities did I miss while I was chasing my passion? How much better could I be at what I do today if I had started pursuing then the skills I use now? My passion distracted me from opportunities that might have been more beneficial.

If we can’t follow passion, then what options do we have? Are we doomed to a life that is characterized as ordinary? Are we forced into a career of mundane routine? To answer these questions let me share two promises God has given to people who love the truth of Jesus Christ.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Reflect on these promises and notice two things:

1) God has a plan for your life.

One of the greatest fears we have is that we will not like God’s plan. We fear God will ask us to do something we will hate. Yet, He makes it clear that if we seek Him, pray to Him, let our first passion be Him…then He will show us His plan and we will experience fulfillment, hope and a good future. We don’t ignore our passion when we seek God. We bring it with us and let Him direct it to the plan He already has in place.

2) God has already prepared works for you to do.

Don’t follow passion. Follow opportunity. If God has already prepared works for us to do then we don’t have to beat ourselves up trying to make our passions a reality. All we have to do is walk through the doors of opportunity He has already placed on our path. Through those doors we will find our passion.

Healthy Husband Habits

I’ve been married for 23 years. I am not a perfect husband. Truthfully, I would not even call myself a great husband. Almost every week I read about, hear of or see a man do a wonderful thing for his wife and think, “Gee, I wish I had thought of that!” Even though I might think I’m the best husband around, I do think I have learned some good husband habits. I have much more to learn, but hopefully some of this might be useful to you.

1) Learn your love language…and use it.

Several years ago Dr. Gary Chapman wrote The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to the Love that Lasts. I encourage all husbands to read the book (or watch the videos) to discover their love language and the love language of their wife. I know it sounds mushy and emotional, but it is a good read. There is even a quick online quiz available to help get someone started. The information contained in the book, if put into practice, will change the way you give and receive love. Ultimately, it will help your marriage be more fun.

2) Go to bed when your wife goes to bed.

At first glance this may seem silly. You might think, “What difference does it make when I go to bed?” Honestly, it makes a big difference. If a husband falls into the practice of staying up late while his wife slips into bed, he runs the risk of two things.

a) A bored man late at night will encounter the temptation to watch TV shows, movies or websites that he simply would not watch if his wife were in the room with him. I am not saying that every time a husband stays up late by himself that his goal is to watch porn. I am simply warning that if it becomes a regular habit, the temptation will be greatly enhanced. How do I know this? Well…I am a man. Plus, I’ve had countless couples sit in my office and walk through the pain and shame porn has brought to their marriage. Almost 100% of the time, the husband watches porn while the wife is asleep.

b) Going to bed with your wife can be ho-hum or WOW! The problem is we don’t always know which one it will be. The Bible calls marriage a mystery…and that is putting it nicely. I get that most nights may be routine, but not all wow moments have to be sexual. Lying in bed with your wife at the end of a long day is a unifying moment. It is the two of you…together. It may be the first uninterrupted conversation you’ve had all day. The two of you may talk or you may simply listen to each other fall asleep, but either way you are together. The two of you may solve a problem or choose to sleep on options, but either way you are together. You may have a warm moment of holding each other and chuckling about silly things or you may keep to your sides of the bed, but either way you are together. If the husband habitually stays up late while the wife goes to bed, all of those unifying moments are lost.

3) Do some household chores.

Every couple has to decide who is going to do what for the household to work. My wife has worked out of the home for most of our marriage. Therefore, I have learned that I just need to “own” a few chores. To own it means I do not have to be asked to do it. For brownie points, choose a chore that uniquely helps her.

Let me give you an example. My wife has always prepared the food in our house. Up until a few months ago, she has also always gone to the grocery store. She never really enjoyed this activity, but since she was preparing the food I assumed it was best for her to go buy it. One day she was complaining to me about another trip to the store…something about rude people, heavy bags and not enough time. All of a sudden it dawned on me, I could go to the grocery store. I asked her if she would like for me to do the shopping. She ERUPTED with joy…like a kid getting their number one wish on Christmas morning! Honestly, I felt a little embarrassed that I had not offered this earlier. I now own this chore. Each week I head off to store armed with the list she has made. (HINT: I would strongly encourage owning more than one chore.)

4) Say “Yes” or find “Yes” at all costs.

I have to say no to people frequently. I don’t like doing it, but because of my position I simply cannot agree to every request or idea that comes my way. However, when it comes to my wife I want to say yes as often as I can. Don’t misunderstand me. My wife does not need my blessing to be herself, but one of the challenges of marriage is coming to grips with the fact that the husband and wife are no longer separate individuals. The Bible teaches when a man and woman marry they become one. They share life physically, emotionally and spiritually…as one (remember, marriage is a mystery).

When she approaches me with her ideas, dreams, plans or requests; she is not seeking my permission. She is seeking oneness. Out of her desire to be one with me, she comes to me. And, out of my desire to be one with her, I go to her with my thoughts. But when she comes to me, my goal is to agree as often as I can. When I (or she) says no it means we have to work through it until we find yes. As the husband I must always be willing to do this work. No matter how difficult or unpleasant it might be, I must find the place of yes. If I just reject her thoughts, and then don’t work with her to find the place we can both say yes, I am pulling at the seams what God put together. I have discovered that saying yes to my wife comes more easily when I say no to myself. It is called sacrificial love and Jesus is the One who teaches husbands how to do this. I’m still learning.

 

Faith, Family & Sports

When I was kid, organized youth leagues were intended to be an activity that exposed young children to the world of sports. The intent was to teach kids the rules of a sport, learn basic skills, be part of a team, practice sportsmanship and maybe discover something a kid could enjoy playing. When my oldest reached the age of playing sports, I quickly discovered the environment had changed. For the last 10 years all of my boys have been engaged in playing sports. Organized sports, and everything that goes with it, will continue to be a part of our family routine for at least the next 7 years. I have seen first hand (and continue to see) that youth sports programs and high school sports can create challenges that frustrate the family instead of help it.

Don’t misunderstand me, team and individual sports has the potential to teach children, teens and adults many valuable life lessons; but I believe the potential is rarely utilized. I could give you a laundry list of reasons why, but that would make this blog a bit of a downer. I could also attempt to encourage parents to avoid these challenges and just keep their kids at home, but I think that approach is unrealistic and not helpful. Youth and high school sports (along with other extra-curricular activities) are valuable, but we need to be realistic about their limitations and the unhealthy distractions they can create. Instead of shouting how bad things are, let me try to share with you how Cherry and I have navigated the harmful side of sports.

1) Use sports to teach your kids how to live for God.

Life on a sports team is not fair. There are always going to be players who get special treatment, more playing time and all the accolades. Likewise, there will be players who seem to be expendable, overlooked and undervalued. When parents see this happen, it feels ugly…especially if it is your kid being ignored. When this happens parents have a unique choice, they can begin to complain about coaches (which creates entitlement issues), pressure their kid to do better (which makes the child feel like a disappointment) or encourage their young athlete to do their best and enjoy the experience (which teaches the valuable lesson of being accepted for who they are and not what they can do). As a parent I’ve done all three and I can tell you the first two options never end well.

With four boys playing sports, my family has seen different levels of success on the field. I have had the blessing of seeing my boys be the star and riding the bench. I noticed when they were succeeding; I was happy and giving a high-five. When they played little or not at all, I would leave the game full of angst complaining about coaches or negatively pressuring my son to do better. When those conversations ended, no one was happy.

I don’t remember when it happened exactly, but somewhere along the way God began to give me a different perspective. It came full circle one day after one of my boys didn’t get to play much in a game. As he approached me I could see the worry in his eyes…Is dad going to complain or get on to me? I could tell he was disappointed. He didn’t need the same old response from me. In that moment God gave me some new words and by His grace I used them. I looked at him and said, “I am proud of you. I want you to do two things when playing this sport. First, please God with your attitude and actions. Second, do what you need to do to help your team succeed.” A weight was lifted, the air cleared and we both began to enjoy the moment and each other.

If we can use sports to teach our kids to live for God and help others succeed, then the potential for sports to teach valuable life lessons is being reached. I realize how backward this sounds, but that is the point. The dangerous side of organized sports is striving to be the best for the sake of being recognized and rewarded…to stroke the ego. The good side of sports is found when we remember to play for something bigger than ourselves. Life works the same way.

2) Don’t continuously sacrifice church activities for sports.

The demands of youth sports have changed. When I played, coaches created practice and game schedules that were church friendly. That day is over and it is not coming back. Parents who are committed to passing their faith on to their children must learn to adapt.

When church activities conflict with sports, the trend is to skip the church activity. Faithful families often make this choice and I understand the reasons why (team commitment, punishment from coaches, money poured into the sport, etc.). With four boys playing sports, this has been and will be an ongoing challenge (and I pastor a church). The problem with letting sports regularly (or seasonally) take priority over church activities is that we are inadvertently teaching our kids that faith is a hobby and the sport is the priority. They begin to see and accept that practicing faith at church with others is what we do when there is nothing else going on. We set them up to minimize or walk away from the faith.

The solution to facing this challenge is to sometimes say no to the sport. Or, work harder as a parent to get our kids to church activities. I realize both of these options are painful. Saying no to the sport may mean missing a practice, a game, or maybe even a tournament for the sake of serving or worshipping God. Working harder means parents spend the extra energy, time and money needed to make sure their child attends that service project, bible study or weekend retreat when the calendar is already full. Trust me, I understand the pain of these sacrifices. But when we do it, when we prioritize the importance of practicing our faith; it teaches our kids that life is never too busy to worship God. Also, for God to be first in our lives we have to sacrifice something for Him to get there (and remain there). The sacrifice will always sting and cost something. Kids do not naturally know how to make a sacrifice for the Lord; parents have to teach them.

Here is one goal Cherry and I have strived to follow: we seek to have the whole family together at one church event at least once a week. Only a few times in a decade have we not been able to do this. And surprisingly, only a handful of times have we had to sacrifice a sporting event to practice our faith together.

3) The value of sports has limitations.

According to CBS News, only about 2% of all high school athletes will receive a full-ride athletic scholarship. Yet, if you talk to parents at the ballpark, football field or soccer game, one could walk away thinking 98% of the players are on their way to a free college education. Parents are talking about the latest greatest sports camp and the personal trainer that “has never seen an 8 year old with so much ability.” Instead of the sport being an opportunity to play, it becomes an expensive lottery ticket or early college education payment plan. When something is given that much priority, pressure is placed on performance and the joy of getting to play, be on a team and enjoy neighbors is lost in the shuffle. Truthfully, 98% of all high school athletes pay for college some other way.

Imagine a kid being told for a decade they have talent and “a good shot” at a scholarship only to discover when they graduate that no college came calling. Now what are they suppose to do? They followed their passion and all they have to show for it are participation trophies. For a decade they have chased a sport and missed other opportunities that might have helped them to discover their real talents. They enter college or the work force not really having any direction. Here is the point: a sport, by itself, cannot help a teen discover their purpose. Purpose is discovered through talking to the Creator and spending time with people who know the Creator. Many times opportunities to discover purpose are lost because the sport became the god. All sport gods make promises they can’t deliver. Kids are often not mature enough to see this, but parents should know better.

Cherry and I want our boys to have the opportunity play sports; but ultimately, we want them to know God, hear His voice and follow His plan for their lives. Our job is to point them towards that goal no matter what activities they pursue. We are not perfect at doing this, but we are intentional about reaching that goal.

The Art of Good Choices

John Maxwell said, “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” Daily I make decisions, but I don’t get to choose what happens after I make a choice. For instance, I choose to run a stop sign. I don’t get to choose if I get caught. I don’t get to choose my fine. I don’t get to choose how it impacts my insurance premium. I think you get the point.

The same holds true when I make a good decision. I choose to help my neighbor clean up storm debris in his yard. I don’t get to choose the way he shows gratitude. I don’t get to choose when and how he returns the favor. I don’t get to choose how he views me as his neighbor moving forward. Each decision sets in motion events I have no control over.

The decisions we make are like studs in a wall. We don’t see the studs. We only see the décor studs make possible. I don’t know anyone who wants to make bad decisions. However, a desire to make good choices in life is not enough. Humanity has too many limitations. Selfishness gets in the way. Pride trips us up. Anger is unreasonable. Our ability to see into the future is non-existent…and the list goes on and on. So how do we do it? How do we develop the craft of making good choices? Fortunately, the Bible can help us. Here are 4 things the Bible teaches to help us make good choices.

1) Choose right over wrong…consistently.

The choice of right over wrong should not need much explanation, but if it were easy to do everyone would be doing it. We live in a world that disagrees on what is morally right and morally wrong. The disagreement is intensifying and is enough to confuse even the most sincere person. Nailing down which attitudes and actions are right and wrong is truly an important decision. The Bible is my source for moral guidance. It states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

One of the most important choices we make in life is choosing if we are going to follow Biblical morality. If we do, it becomes our moral GPS. If we don’t, then something else becomes the voice that tells us right from wrong.

2) Pursue wisdom not moral perfection.

Making good choices is not just about choosing right over wrong or good over bad (although that is REALLY important). Good choices also require wisdom. Wisdom is needed for two reasons. First, sometimes a choice is not between good and bad. It is between two morally acceptable options, but only wisdom can help us make the best choice. The second reason we need wisdom is because our choices impact other people. Each choice we make will please some individuals and create chaos for others. Wisdom allows us to keep that in mind and view the impact of our choices on others. In the long run, that helps us make good choices.

Wisdom is not easy to find, but fortunately we have someone who will give it us. The Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5) Whew! God will give us wisdom for all the choices, but that leads us to next step in making good choices.

3) Don’t doubt the wisdom God gives.

Because God is GOD, He is going to see things differently than we see them. Therefore, the wisdom He provides will not be what we would think of on our own. Sometimes His wisdom will defy our logic. His wisdom may direct us to choose something we would not naturally choose. His wisdom may call us to do what is best for others even though in the moment it may not be best for us. His wisdom may point us to listen to someone who may not tell us what we want to hear, but it is the advice we need to follow. This should not surprise us. After all, He knows things we don’t know.

His all-knowing and our limitations do not always play well together. Therefore, we have a tendency to doubt the wisdom He gives. When we do this, we shoot ourselves in the foot. The Bible says it this way, “But when you ask [for wisdom], 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.” (James 1:6-8)

4) Don’t lean on your own understanding

If we start doubting the wisdom God gives, we are backed into a corner and forced to start leaning on our own wisdom. As I’ve already mentioned…if making good choices were easy everyone would be doing it. We have to many issues, weakness and faults to consistently make good choices. If you can’t admit this then another problem exists…and it’s called pride. Pride, the belief that we don’t need help and can do it on our own, is the downfall of many people. Fortunately, we don’t have to be arrogant. We can choose to be humble (another important choice). The Bible says, “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.”

God sets us up to succeed. He gives us everything we need to do what He created us to do, but He will not make us choose right over wrong. He will not force us to ask for His wisdom or to follow it. He certainly does not make us be humble. All of these things are choices we have to make…studs in the wall. No matter what choice we make with these options, once we decide; things are set in motion. We don’t get to choose what happens next.

But guess what? God in His mercy gives us second chances. He gives us the opportunity to make a new choice. If you are breathing, you have a choice. What will you do?

Where Sermons Come From

A couple of weeks ago I was asked, “Where do your sermons come from?” I was caught off guard because the person asking the question had just sat through a sermon. I couldn’t tell if it was a loaded question, a backhanded compliment or a sincere effort to understand the process. With a half-smile I responded, “From the Bible.” The lady smiled and said, “No, really. Where do your sermons come from? Do you write them yourself or do you have a resource you use?” I said, “Really. They come from the Bible.” By this time I could tell she was being sincere. She really wanted to know how I developed a sermon.

Writing sermons is a process and through the years my process has changed. Believe it or not…I used to wake up on Monday and pray Okay Lord, what’s next? That is tough way to develop sermons. I know there are people who might believe I just open the Bible and the Holy Spirit takes over; and even though the Spirit of God plays a significant role, I am not exempt from planning, preparation and study. Fortunately, God works through my personality, life experiences and study habits to empower me to preach/teach His Word. There is no standard formula for me (or other pastors) to follow. Here is how I develop sermons:

1) It starts with a personal retreat.

Each year I take a few days to plan a sermon schedule for the next 12 months. Several weeks prior to this personal retreat, I ask the elders to pray and give me their ideas for topics or passages they discern need to be covered. On the retreat, I pray and plan using my own ideas and their suggestions to come up with a 52-week schedule. I don’t write all 52 sermons on the retreat. I just brainstorm and come up with 52 passages that will be covered. Therefore, when you hear a sermon at Grace, the planning for it began months ago.

When people discover I create a 52-week schedule many times they want to know if I will deviate from it. The answer is “yes.” When following (or adjusting) the 52-week schedule I lean heavily on this promise: You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail. (Proverbs 19:21)

2) Next comes the Creative Team meeting.

I take my schedule and divide it into sermon series. A sermon series can either be topical (like a series on forgiveness) or exegetical (like going through the book of Philippians verse by verse) and will have between 4-10 separate messages. I break the passages into manageable segments and share them with the creative team.

The Creative Team meeting is the most fun part of developing sermons. It is here that a group of people read God’s Word, brainstorm ideas and come up with relevant themes and titles for each sermon within a series. There is laughter, “Ah-ha” moments and even critical debate in these meetings. When the meeting is over, I know the theme for the series, the image that will used to promote it and the title of each sermon. The Creative Team usually meets 6-8 weeks before the sermon series goes public.

3) Last is wrestling with the passage.

Up until this point, almost all of the sermon preparation has involved the ideas of others for creativity and implementation; but no one can study the passage for me. It is here that sermon development becomes personal and lonely. I say lonely, but I don’t mean alone. God’s Spirit is active when I’m studying a passage and writing a sermon. It is hard to explain, but it is like a conversation (although I don’t hear any voices…if I did that would be creepy and cause for concern).

I ask the Lord to show me what His Word means and how I should share it with His people. I desire to share it in relevant ways that are easy to understand, and therefore, I ask Him to show me how to do this. He answers with a combination of ideas that come from the inductive study of the passage, reading commentaries, watching world/social events and doing life with my family. The conversation with Him about a sermon is not confined to my desk. His ideas/promptings can come when I wake up, while I’m watching ESPN or at the football or soccer field watching one of the boys play. It can even happen while doing laundry (yes people…I do laundry). Really, His answers to my search in sermon development can take place at any moment because His Word is relevant to life in today’s world.

Using His Word, I will develop an outline incorporating what God has taught me personally (inductive study), what He has taught me through others (commentaries/resources), and what He has taught me from life. I strive to get the outline into manageable points that can be shared and explained in 30-40 minutes (I can see your smirk and hear you saying, “Yeah, sure.”) Once the sermon outline is complete, I must get it to proper office personnel one week prior to the scheduled time to share it. They take the outline and use it to prepare all paper and digital publications.

4) I am lifted up in prayer.

The process of sermon development starts with prayer (myself and elders praying for direction). It is bathed in prayer with the Creative Team. It ends with prayer before I go public with it. Every Sunday morning a group of people pray for the needs of our church. During that prayer time my name is called out. People pray for the Spirit of God to speak through me while I am sharing the sermon. I firmly believe the success of a sermon comes through the prayers of those individuals. Within minutes of their prayers, I am delivering the sermon.

That’s it. That is how I develop and deliver a sermon. Maybe the process surprises you? Did you know I’m not the only one who comes up with ideas for the sermons? Did you think all the creativity comes just from me? I am humbled each time I hear someone say, “God spoke to me through that sermon.” I’m humbled because I know I did not make that happen. I know I cannot make that happen. There really is no “I” in sermon.

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