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I write this post a couple days after the tragic shooting in Las Vegas.  I don’t think all the details are out yet, nor do I know what is true and what is speculation at this point, but here’s something we know: more than 50 people are dead, and hundreds are injured, because of the actions of one person.  And the debate flares back up:

“We need stricter gun laws!”

“What about my Second Amendment rights?”

“It’s not a gun problem; it’s a heart problem.”

“You can’t stop people from hating.”

“If somebody has it in their heart to kill, then that’s what they are going to do.”

“9/11 happened because of box cutters.”

“Cars kill more people a day than guns.”

“The NRA has bought and paid for Congress; nothing is going to change.”

“Changing gun laws is not going to prevent criminals from doing bad things; it only prevents law-abiding citizens from being able to protect themselves.”

“It’s a mental health issue.”

And so on, and so on, and so on.  Wash, rinse, repeat when the next tragedy occurs.

Columbine. Sandy Hook. San Bernardino. Aurora. Orlando. Virginia Tech.  Mass shootings. People killed and injured. The debates restarted and put back down.

I’ve said before that I don’t really have a particular political leaning, so this isn’t coming from somebody with a conservative/liberal ax to grind.  But the simple truth of the matter, as far as I see it, is that something needs to be done. Clearly, the do-nothing approach hasn’t worked thus far.

Of course, there’s the typical responses: the Oklahoma City bombing happened with fertilizer; 9/11 happened with box cutters; people can use a car to do the same thing. But, do you know what those responses don’t tell you?

The fertilizer that was used in the OKC bombing is heavily regulated now.  In fact, there is the Ammonium Nitrate Security Program that will essentially have persons who buy/sell the chemical with a background check against the Terror Screening Database.

We did take some drastic security measures after 9/11.  Do you know why it takes so long to go through security at the airport now?  Because security screenings are being taken much more seriously than ever before.  Some idiot tried to sneak a bomb in his shoe, and now we all have to take our shoes off for these screenings.  Do you know how annoyed I get about having to take my shoes and belt off every time I go to the airport? And I don’t even go to the airport all that often!

And the car analogy? We actually do regulate who can drive cars – it’s call a driver’s license. I don’t even know what the process is now, but I know it’s a lot more extensive than when I got my license twenty years ago. We have people register their vehicles with the government already. Sure, you can buy one at a car show, but you still have to go get a title and register at the BMV. You can get a ticket and have your license taken away if you abuse your right/privilege to operate your vehicle in a responsible way.  Oh, yeah, and you have to buy insurance too if you want to operate your vehicle.  Do we regulate our guns as much as we regulate our cars?

So, yes, things have changed in response to tragedies.  And for all the talk of how it “wouldn’t do any good” to change the law, how would we know unless things changed?  For the people who were all in favor of the Second Amendment, do you want to tell me where they were when this shooting was taking place?  I mean, let’s face it, it was a country music festival. Stereotypes are going to dictate that there was somebody with a concealed carry permit. Of course, I’m not up on Nevada law, so maybe they can’t in Nevada.  But, let’s say there was somebody there with a handgun. Were they really going to be able to take out a shooter from that distance? Probably not.  This isn’t Call of Duty where you can miraculously throw your tomahawk across the map to take out the enemy (I know, dated reference, but it works in my head).

The truth of the matter is that it’s not a single-issue problem – and that’s the problem.  We want a simple, easy solution. We set up these false dichotomies about it being a “heart issue vs. a mental health issue vs. a gun issue” and we don’t do anything about any of these issues apart from argue with some acquaintances and engage in meme activism on Facebook for the next week or so.  Who knows… maybe that’s all I’m doing right now.  Writing to get something off my mind.

The fact of the matter is that this was a terrible, senseless act of violence.  Lives will be forever changed.  Loved ones gone. Safety and security forever in doubt. And not to mention the serious PTSD that people are going to have to deal with for the rest of their life. For what? Attending a concert?  But, hey, Second Amendment, right?  Let’s bring that up at the funeral for one of these people whose right to live was taken away from them that night in Las Vegas.

And, no, you can’t stop somebody who has his mind set on doing something like this, but you sure as heck can try.  You certainly can make it more difficult on him/her… let’s face it, it’s usually a him.

I was grilling some hot dogs a couple weeks ago.  I dropped one of them on the ground.  You know what I didn’t do?  I didn’t say, “Well, it’s a gravity thing, there’s nothing I can do about it.”  I didn’t just throw my hands in the air and walk away.  I took it upon myself to do a better job paying attention to and regulating how I got the rest of the hot dogs off the grill.  And you know what?  One of these days, I’m going to teach my kids how to use the grill.  There will be times that they mess up, and those times will be good teaching moments for them to learn how do go about it a better way.  I realize that’s a terrible analogy, but the point holds.  I did something about it.  I learned from the past, and adjusted how I did things moving forward. And I plan on teaching my kids the same thing.

No, I don’t think the government should put together raids to confiscate all the guns that private citizens own.  I just think that we ought to do at least a half decent job tracking what’s out there in the first place. Yes, there are people who drive without a license.  Yes, there are people who drive with expired/forged/stolen plates. No, we can’t end it entirely.  But we can try.  And as far as I’m concerned trying is a much better option than burying our head in the sand once again.

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Watch Your Step

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Psalm 1

[1] Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
[2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

[3] He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
[4] The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

[5] Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
[6] for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. (ESV)

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the psalms lately. A friend of mine mentioned a couple months back that one year he set a goal of writing out the psalms as a spiritual discipline, and for some reason, that stuck out to me. I’m not doing it on a daily basis, but the first thing I do when I get into my office is sit down and write out at least a part of a psalm. Sometimes, the psalm is long, so I spend a couple of days on it.

It’s been a good practice for me so far this year.  It helps bring some focus to my day as I start my work, and, more importantly, it gives me an opportunity to slow down and listen for God’s voice.

I recently started reading Working the Angles by Eugene Peterson.  I can’t seem to get enough of his writing, having read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction last year.  It’s deep.  It’s challenging.  It makes me stop and think about my role as a pastor, and my role as a follower of Christ.

In Working the Angles, Peterson makes the case that the psalms were the most important part of the Hebrew Scriptures, and that we have treated them more like an optional add-on. In the psalms we see worship. We see anger.  We see joy.  We see sorrow.  The psalms run the gamut of human emotions, and they show us that worship is not all about good feelings, happiness and joy.  It’s about being our true selves before the Lord, and allowing God to work in, and sometimes in spite of, us.  It is when we spend the time meditating in the psalms that we see this.

One of the most important roles that I have as a pastor is to be the one who is intentional about hearing from God on a regular basis.  Some people may say that it’s nice that I’m writing out these psalms, but I’m not getting any work done while doing it.  I would argue that I’m getting the most important work done.

Psalm 1 tells us that the blessed man is the one who is rooted in the law of the Lord. His righteousness comes from where he spends his time. His time is not spent walking, standing or sitting with those who have no interest in the Lord. He is firmly planted in the Word, and the Lord is with him.  Now this doesn’t mean that his life is going to be smooth sailing either.

Many of the, especially early, psalms have a similar theme of the wicked and the righteous.  And, often, it seems as though the wicked are doing quite well for themselves. But the psalmist reminds us again and again that the Lord is with the righteous.  And then we come across this in Psalm 37:

[23] The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
when he delights in his way;
[24] though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the LORD upholds his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24, ESV)

The language here is reminiscent of Psalm 1, but here is the part that stuck out to me the most: “though he fall…”  The righteous, whose ways are known by the Lord (Ps 1:6), will still fall along the way – even when his steps are established by the Lord.  Righteous does not mean perfect.  It means that the Lord is with them.

As a pastor who, at times, struggles with perfectionist tendencies that can lead to paralysis for fear of making the wrong decision or doing things the wrong way, these are freeing words.  It doesn’t mean that one has a license to fall, or that one shouldn’t be intentional about avoiding said fall, but that when the fall happens, it will not serve to destroy, and one will not be alone “for the Lord uphold his hand” (Ps 37:24)

Who establishes your steps?  With whom do you walk?  Do the important work of meditating on the Word of God, and allow him to establish your steps.

36 and 25

We went to a birthday party on Saturday for one of Hannah’s NICU friends, Theo. At one point, Theo’s dad (Kyle) asked me how different 36 was from 25. Having just turned 36 at the end of last month, I said something along the lines of feeling sore and tired all the time, but it’s not that much different. A couple hours later – as we were headed home – his question came back into my mind, and I realized something. He wasn’t asking about me being 36, he was asking about the difference between a 36-weeker (Henry) and a 25-weeker (Hannah).
 
So, first off, sorry, Kyle, I’m an idiot.
 
Secondly, maybe my response was a decent answer after all. With everything that we went through for Hannah, it was constant stress and worry for the first several weeks. There came a point when the alarms weren’t alarming because we knew what they meant. But for a while, we didn’t know if we would be bring our little girl home. That’s a difficult thing to live with day in, day out. But we did. We managed. We coped. And, eventually, we were able to bring our amazing girl home.
 
Once Henry started breathing (which, admittedly, took longer than it should have), I was never really worried about him. Something inside me knew that he was going to be just fine. Even when he went back to the hospital with RSV, I felt like he was going to get through it. The level of worry that I had with Henry doesn’t even show up on the radar compared to what we had with Hannah.
 
Yes, Henry was early and spent some time in the NICU, but for some reason, it was different. Maybe it’s because we knew the staff at Community North. Maybe it’s because he was in a lot better shape from the beginning. Maybe we just learned a lot more than we thought the first time around.
 
The difference between 36 and 25? It’s massive. Those 11 weeks are so important. To be honest, I don’t think of Henry as a preemie. He’s just a little guy that had a bit of a rough start, but who is thriving now. Both of them are, in fact. If you didn’t know that Hannah was a 25-weeker, you wouldn’t know. She is a spitfire whose going to cause us some headaches, but she is also the most amazing little girl we’ve ever met. I have a feeling that she’s going to have a lot of influence on her little brother as well, so we better get prepared for it!

Random Post-Election Thoughts

I’ve been stewing on this for a while now.  Obviously…  The election was almost two weekss ago.  As the results slowly came in, and the “experts” started getting more and more befuddled, it became clear: the next President of the United States was going to be Donald Trump – like it or not.  In the aftermath, a lot of thoughts have come to my mind…

  • I could write a “Dear Donald” open letter, and say, “Hey, don’t screw up.  You won the election, but the reality show is over.  Get serious.  Get to work.  And stop with the vitriol if you really want to make America great again – whatever you think that means.”
  • I could write a similarly themed “Dear Hillary” letter, and say, “Hey, you screwed up.  You referred to people as ‘deplorable’.  You ignored what was going on.  Failed to address concerns for some people that were very serious.  And took it all for granted.”
  • I could talk about what went right, what went wrong, why this was one of the nastiest campaign seasons that I can remember.  I mean… wow.
  • I could talk about my experience as a person who really followed the political process for the very first time – talking about my journey from deciding to vote, registering, voting in the primary, and voting in the general election.  It was interesting, and nauseating.
  • I could talk about the aftermath of the election: protests, voting number, favorability, factors that I think affected the way things went down

I could talk about all of these things, but I don’t think I could do it in a coherent way.  I don’t think a series of posts really fits how I’ve gone about blogging to this point either – especially since I, at best, write once a week (though I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus the last several weeks).

So, instead, I thought, I could just say a little about a lot of things that have been going through my head as we zoom past the election and into the holiday season.  So, here goes…

  1. No-Win Situation. I made no secret that I was not a fan of Donald Trump from the beginning.  Even early in the primaries, I didn’t think he had a shot and that it was all just to get his name, his “brand” out there in front of people.  I’ve often said that he had the biggest ego on television, and I used to sit in the room while Katie watched America’s Next Top Model with Tyra Banks.  I haven’t like him since about the second season of The Apprentice.  That being said, I wasn’t a big fan of Hillary either.  When there’s that must dust kicking up around a person, you know they’ve been playing in the dirt.  She must be a capable person because she has worked at high levels in the government.  I realized that one of them was going to win.  I didn’t really like the prospect of it.  And I also made it no secret that I was voting third party… and that I was voting for the first time.  I stayed true to my word, and I voted for Johnson – even though I knew he had no chance, especially once he was denied the ability to participate in the debates.  Regardless, I voted, and I didn’t feel like I need to take a shower afterwards to get the icky feeling off of me.
  2. Unfavorable.  In polls (which apparently can’t be trusted too much), neither candidate was really looked upon too favorably.  Trump had an unfavorability rating anywhere between 52-60%, depending on the source.  Clinton was 51-57%.  In other words, a majority of the people didn’t like either candidate.  I don’t know if that has ever happened before.  What does it mean?  It tells me that there were a lot of people that didn’t like who they were voting for, but did it anyway to keep the other one from winning.  Even people that voted for Trump don’t really like him; they just really, really didn’t like Hillary.
  3. Blaming White Evangelical Christians. In the post-election daze (see what I did there?), I have seen some people who are very angry with “white evangelical Christians” for putting the votes in favor of our new President-elect.  It’s been a while, but I feel like I remember seeing that 80% of white evangelicals punched the Trump ticket.  But, here’s the thought that has been going through my head: if white evangelicals really have such an influence, why is it that on any given Sunday 80% of America is anywhere but church?  I written about this before, but America is not a “Christian” nation, as much as people like to think that it is.  I wish the Church had the influence that people seem to think it does.  But I can tell you, being somebody what works pretty closely with the Church, it doesn’t have the influence that has been attributed to it in the last couple of weeks.
  4. Insurance Rate Hikes.  Do you know what I think led to more people shying away from Hillary on election day?  The news that was coming out about insurance rates going through the roof for some people.  My opinion: that was more damaging to the Democrats than anything else during this entire election season.  People were seeing astronomical hikes in their insurance rates, and the immediate blame was placed on “Obamacare”.  Guess what – there’s a guy running who has said he will repeal it as soon as he can.  People vote according to what they think is best for them.  If they see their expenses going up because of something that one party has enacted, they are going to vote against that party.  Keep that in mind in four years if something similar happens.
  5. Protests. Why?  I understand that there are a lot of people who don’t like the election results.  I understand that there are people who have legitimate concerns about a Trump presidency, especially given his rhetoric on the campaign trail.  But destroying property, fighting with the police, disrupting traffic – none of that is going to change the past.  The results of the election are what they are.  We can get upset about it, but we can’t change it.  And let me say this: people had a chance to reject Trump as president already – it’s called voting.  They didn’t do it.  And – as a side note – anybody who didn’t vote has no business being involved in the protests either.  Do you know what is more effective than a protest?  Involvement.  If you don’t like it, get involved.
  6. Participation Trophies.  I’ve seen people, in talking about the protesters, make comments like – “This is what happens when you give out participation trophies,” and “Millenials just want everything handed to them.”  No.  Stop it.  You know who wanted participation trophies?  The trophy companies.  Their sales went up when they realized they could make participation trophies because the majority of the kids playing weren’t going to win the championship.  You know who else wanted participation trophies?  The adults running the leagues that bought the stupid things in the first place and were handing them out to the kids that didn’t ask for them.  I played on some pretty bad Little League teams.  I got participation trophies.  You know what I wanted?  I wanted the first-place trophy.  Kids who got participation trophies weren’t asking for them; the trophies were handed to them.  Several years ago, I went through my old trophies.  Do you know which ones I didn’t keep?  The participation ones.
  7. Meme Activists.  Can we stop with the memes containing clearly biased, and mostly inaccurate, “facts” – also known as opinions?  You know how I said that the protests weren’t going to do anything?  Your Facebook memes are going to do less.  Can we stop sharing those stupid things so people’s timelines get flooded with so much crap that they can’t see the pictures I’m posting of my adorable daughter?

Phew!  Okay, that’s a lot of really random things.

Look, I’m not saying I’m an authority on the subject.  I’m even willing to say that I might be wrong on some of this.  But, this is where I am right now.  The most important thing that we need to be able to do in this post-election hangover that we are facing is remember to be people who care about other people – regardless of their political ideology.  There was once a time when people came together to accomplish things because they believed in something greater than themselves.  I hope we haven’t lost sight of those times.

 

 

Just Five More Minutes

There is a species of the mayfly, the Dolania americana, that has the shortest lifespan of any creature.  The female will deposit her eggs and die within five minutes of emergence.  It is believed to be the shortest adult lifespan of any insect.  Five minutes is not a lot of time.  It has taken me longer than five minutes just to write this paragraph.  (In fairness, my daughter is in the office today, so… anything is going to take longer than five minutes this morning.)

We think of five minutes as almost a throw-away time.  You need to waste five minutes? No problem.  Just check Twitter or Facebook, and that will eat up five minutes in a heartbeat.  Yet, for the Dolania americana, five minutes is a lifetime.  It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

The life expectancy for a person in the United States is 78.74 (at least, that’s what Google told me).  How many different five minute segments do we have in life?  Well, according to… math… that over 8 million five minute segments that one person can expect.  Again, for us, five minutes isn’t that big of a deal… or is it?  Ask anybody that has lost a loved one – five more minutes would make a difference.  For some, five more minutes is all they would ask for.

Five minutes seems like a small, insignificant period of time… until it’s not.

What are you doing with your five minutes?

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What are you afraid of?  People are afraid of many different things; some seem to be afraid of nothing, others… of everything.  In no particular order, some of the more common fears that people have: public speaking, crowds, spiders/snakes, clowns, heights.

For me in particular, I have a few years as well.  I know, I know, that may come as a shock to most people who think I’m completely fearless.  In a rare moment of self-revelation, what I want to do right now is share a couple of my fears with you, how they have affected me as a pastor, and what I’m doing about it.

I used to be a major perfectionist.  I would work and work and work to make sure that everything was perfect.  I was unhappy with myself for missing a few questions on a quiz or test.  I once pulled an all-nighter in college to finish a rough draft, and then, when I got a copy back from the professor, I saw that he would give me an A- if that was the final draft of the paper.  I went to his office and argued with him that it was a terribly incomplete paper and there was a lot more left to do on it.  He said, “So do it.”

Now, being a perfectionist is not always a bad thing.  It can cause me to be more intentional about thinking through the details of projects.  I can be very thorough, or, surprisingly, it can cause the complete opposite to happen.  I can become so overwhelmed by trying to get all the details in place that I never get around to actually doing the thing that needs to be done.  It’s called paralysis by analysis, and it’s a very real thing.

You see, being a recovering perfectionist has given me a fear of failure.  I don’t like failing.  I went 0-4 in softball last night and was really mad at myself.  It a rec league softball game.  It’s sole purpose is for me to have fun, get to know some people better and get some exercise.  At the end of the year, whatever happens in this league will not affect my life whatsoever, and yet, I focus on the “failure” of going 0-4.

As a pastor, failure is a very real and ever-present reality… depending on what you define as a failure.  I think part of the struggles that I have had in ministry is that I think not being able to implement something or having something not work would be a failure in my own eyes.  And I don’t want to fail.  So, I get caught up in the details and experience the dreaded analysis paralysis.

But, lately, I’ve been thinking about an even bigger fear – irrelevance.  Here’s what I mean by that – not that I need to the be the cool, hip pastor in town (let’s face it, that’s not going to happen), but that, when I look back at the end of my days, I don’t want to think that I have just wasted my life, pursuing meaningless things.  It’s really easy to get caught up in the weekly tasks and lose sight of the bigger picture.  It’s also easy to get so caught up in the big picture that you never notice the little things that you’ve accomplished along the way.  I don’t want to look back with regret, saying, “I wish I had…”  I want to make a difference in people’s lives for the glory of God.

In the last month, I’ve started being more intentional about my development as a leader.  I’ve always been interested in reading and listening on leadership, but putting it into action has been a whole different enchilada.  So, I’m seeing a counselor to remove some of the mental roadblocks that I’ve put up through the years.  I’m meeting with a coach to help me with specific things relating to ministry.  And I’m trying to be more intentional about getting together with ministry peers to talk about ministry on a level that you just can’t with anybody else.

And I’m reminded of the words in Joshua 1.  Joshua was selected to lead the Israelites after the death of Moses.  How do you follow Moses?!?  I imagine it was a daunting task.  And then he hears these words:

[5] No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. [6] Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. [7] Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. [8] This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. [9] Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5-9 ESV)

Be strong and courageous.  Three times, God says this to Joshua.  And there is a promise, that as long as they stay focused on God, they will be successful.  God is with them wherever they go, just stay focused on the Word of the Lord.  And the Israelites prove God’s word to be true.  As long as they rely on Him, things go well.  It’s when they don’t that things start going down the drain.

And so, let those words encourage you today as well.  Be strong and courageous for God is with us.

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One of the great joys of having a little one is spending time at the sink washing bottles.  Has anybody come up with a sarcasm font yet?  I feel like it should be comic sans.  Yes, comic sans for sarcasm!  Anyhoo…

I still wash Hannah’s bottles by hand.  We put them in the dishwasher once, but didn’t really like how they came out, and so, we’ve been washing them by hand ever since.  Maybe that says more about my psyche than I should let on, but it is what it is.

As I was washing them the other night, something struck me – call it inspiration, boredom because I was standing at the sink washing bottles, whatever.  The bottles that were rinsed after they were used were a LOT easier to clean than those that weren’t.  I know, no-brainer, right?  Anybody that has “found” a bottle or sippy cup of milk after a couple of days could tell you the same thing.  But, then, I made the logical leap –

PREPARATION IS MORE BENEFICIAL THAN PERSPIRATION

Sure, I can work extra hard in the moment to wash the bottles OR I can do a little work ahead of time and ease the stress (and smell) of the need for a deeper cleaning.  It’s like that with so many things, isn’t it?

  • We can avoid cleaning the house until people are coming over OR we can spend 20 minutes doing a little every day.
  • We can wait until the last day to start working on our annual reports OR we can keep good records over the course of the year.
  • We can write a 20,000 word paper by pulling an all-nighter OR we can write 1,000 words each day for three weeks.

You see where I’m going with this, right?  Preparation is so important, but it is often at the bottom of our list.  So, how can we prepare better?

  1. Monthly, weekly, daily planning – Do you have a calendar?  Of course you do.  Everybody has a calendar.  Whether it is paper and small enough to carry with you or the one that came on your smartphone, we all have access to a calendar.  Having a calendar is not the issue.  Using it is.  So, do you want to prepare better? USE YOUR CALENDAR!  Calendars are awesome because they can give you a quick glance at your schedule, whether it is for the day, week, month, or even year.  Using the calendar helps get things off our minds (ever had the nagging feeling that you forgot what you forgot, but know that you did forget something?), helps us block out our time (it’s hard to double book when you already know that you have something going on – not impossible, but more difficult) and helps, you guessed it, prepare us for upcoming events.
  2. Write it down – On thing that has helped me immensely is having a To Do list.  It helps me get things done because it keeps the things that need getting done right in front of me.  Right now, I am using Wunderlist.  It took a little bit of time, but I have set up a recurring weekly To Do list.  Some weeks, I don’t need to do something on the list – that’s fine, I just check it off like it is already done.  There are many sounds much sweeter than the *ding* that comes alongside checking off an item in Wunderlist, but it’s a pretty sweet sound itself; the sound of victory!
  3. Set big goals, as well as small ones – Here is where I struggle the most.  But, by setting big goals, and then backing it into segments of little goals, we can better prepare ourselves to succeeding in the bigger things.

Here’s the thing: all of these suggestions (and I’m sure there are more you could add to the list) take some time.  Preparation always takes time on the front end.  There’s no way around it.  Actually, the way around it is to not prepare, and constantly be dealing with the stress of being unprepared – that doesn’t seem like a viable alternative to me.

Several coaches are credited with saying something along these lines (Bear Bryant and Vince Lombardi among them), but in Indiana, you have to go with Bobby Knight:

The key is not the will to win… everybody has that.  It is the will to prepare to win that is important.

Games are not won on the floor, in the field, on the diamond.  Games are won in the meeting room, in the gym, on the practice field.  You practice how you play.  Some athletes may disagree with me here.  Great ones, even the good ones, and their coaches, will not.  Ultimately, they do have to go out on the floor, field or diamond to win the game, but if they go out there with the confidence that comes from solid preparation, they already have the upper hand.

Washing bottles may be a chore, but rinsing them beforehand makes it less so.

The Good Tired

As I sit in bed working on this post that I’ll probably put up in a few days, I’m tired.  I’m worn out.  I’m exhausted.  And it feels great.  It’s a good tired.

One of the things that gets emphasized a lot for pastors is the importance of self-care.  Take your days off.  Take your vacation.  Being in ministry is one of those jobs that people expect you to be available 24/7.  Because a family crisis, a medical emergency, an untimely death – these things don’t tend to happen in the 9 to 5.  Because pastors work with people who often have full time jobs during the week, evening activities are a regular part of the schedule.  So, it’s important to relax, unplug, get away.  And, I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t always do a good job of it.

The last few days that we spent in St. Louis were the first time that I’ve been able to get away for more than a day in nearly two years.  I had a vacation scheduled last April, but, unfortunately, two people connected to my congregation passed away and the trip was cancelled.  Turns out it was a good thing.  A week later, Katie was put on hospitalized bed rest.  Who knows what would have happened while she was attending this conference in Atlanta, which was the reason for us going out of town in the first place.

Last summer was rough.  After Hannah was born, we spent the next 117 days going up to the NICU (60 miles each day) before we got to bring her home.  The stress of the NICU was described as a type of PTSD by the counselor that worked the floor, and Hannah actually did very well during her time there.  Adjusting to life with a newborn was an adventure, but after a few months of averaging about 5.5 hours of interrupted sleep, it became about survival more than anything else.

When the new year hit, and Hannah was more consistently sleeping through the night, I finally felt like I was starting to catch up on sleep.  I was still tired… a lot… but I felt like a fog was being lifted.  I was starting to get some energy back, but I still didn’t really take any time off.  We were blessed to be able to go down to Brown County for a couple of days at the beginning of June, but two of the four days were my regular days off anyway.  So, as nice as it was (not to mention the renewal for my enjoyment of fishing!), it wasn’t as refreshing as I hoped it would be.

But, finally, last week, I took some real time off.  We went to St. Louis on Wednesday, including Star Wars Night at Busch Stadium.  Hannah got to see her first live MLB game in the stadium.  She did great, but it was hot and humid!  The Cardinals came away with a victory in Game 2 of a doubleheader.  We crammed ourselves into a tram and went up the Arch.  But, mostly, we just spent time together as a family with no pressures, no work, no need to rush any where.

We got home on Friday, and I was able to play softball (going 3-3 in a 13-3 victory, I think I finally snapped out of my slump!)  Afterwards, we were invited to pizza with some great people.  When we finally got home I realized something.  I was tired.  But I felt good.  I was tired, but rested.  I was tired, but it was a good tired.

Rocky Road

One of the things I enjoy doing, but don’t do nearly enough, is hiking.  There’s just something about going for a walk in the woods.  It’s peaceful.  It can be quite a workout.  It’s just fun to do.  Twenty years and 100 pounds ago, I would look for the trails on the map that were marked “very rugged” and challenge myself to take them.  It was exhausting, but it was always a good time.

I remember one time I went to Turkey Run State Park with some friends.  We went after the “very rugged” trail that goes through a place called “Boulder Canyon”.  It is not misnamed.  That section of the park is basically a collection of big rocks.  Coming out of the canyon can be pretty tricky.  As you can imagine – because it’s a canyon – you basically have to climb out of the canyon.  And this particular canyon is made up of – you guessed it – large rocks.  There is no clearly defined trail on the way up and out – at least there wasn’t back then, things may have changed since.  At one point, on our way out, we began to wonder if we were even on the trail at all.

Life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is a lot like that at times.  There are times when the trail is difficult.  You are trying your best to follow Jesus, but you aren’t even sure if you are going the right way.  It can be exhausting, physically demanding, draining.  There may be times when you consider that it might just be easier to go back the way you came.  It may not be much better terrain, but at least you know you could do it.

And that’s the choice you have – go forward or go back.

When we went hiking, we had a map with us.  It helped instill at least a little bit of confidence that we were moving in the right direction, even though we couldn’t necessarily see the trail that we were on.  But, we trusted in the map, and kept moving forward.  You know what?  We eventually made it out of Boulder Canyon, and back to our car, and back home.  We didn’t give up.  We didn’t sit still.  We kept moving.

So, let me encourage you today.  When it comes to your spiritual life, keep moving.  Even when the road ahead looks scary.  Even when you aren’t really sure.  Keeping following Jesus.  Trust your guide to take you where you need to be.

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Well, that’s an awful title…

Maybe I should entitle this: Why Your Wedding Doesn’t Matter As Much, or Why Your Wedding Doesn’t Matter As Much As You Think.  Meh, too late, I’ll just stick with that title.  It got you this far, didn’t it?

One of the great joys that I have as a pastor is being able to walk with a couple for one of the most important events in their lives.  To date, I have had the privilege and honor of officiating 11 weddings, with three more on the calendar over the next year and a half or so.

Weddings have become big business in today’s American society.  The wedding industry generates an estimated $40 BILLION in revenues every year, and some believe that number will only go up with the legalization of gay marriage in the United States.  The average wedding costs around $28,000.  That’s insane, right?

At the same time we live in a society where it is not uncommon to hear about a divorce rate hovering around 50%.  There seems to be some indication that the 50% is a gross over-generalization, and that the divorce rate is actually on it’s way down over previous decades.  This is good news.

I think some of what we have seen in a society with a booming wedding industry, and the proliferation of Pinterest-inspired insanity, is that for some, the focus is so much on the wedding that the marriage is put on the back burner.  And here’s where I come back to the title of this post, and this is something that I want to emphasis to the couples that I walk with during this time in their lives, your wedding is a great occasion.  It is a beautiful day.  It will be memorable, and it will be a ton of fun.  But… it’s only one day.  It’s an important day.  But it’s only the start to your marriage.  The wedding is not the endgame; it’s the beginning of something more.  In the grand scheme of life, your wedding doesn’t matter… nearly as much as your marriage.

As I work with couples and we plan the ceremony, one thing I tell them is that something will probably go wrong.  You may stutter when you speak.  You may feel like you are shaking from the nerves.  You may say the wrong words, or forget what you were supposed to say.  The reception hall may burn down (or, as happened last summer, a giant tree may fall down on the outside of the reception hall).  But…

At the end of the day, no matter what goes wrong, when everybody goes home, or stumbles to their hotel room, when all the decorations are down, when all the food and drink are consumed, no matter what went wrong, at the end of the day, the couple will still be married.  Husband and wife, embarking together on one of life’s greatest adventures.  And that’s what is really important.

When I meet with couples about their wedding, we only spend a couple of hours planning the ceremony itself.  We spend a lot of time talking about their history, handling conflicts, managing finances, hopes and dreams for the future because those are the important things.  Those are the details that make or break a marriage.

When it comes time for the dress rehearsal, I have three rules for the wedding party:

  1. Anybody that is under the influence of anything – drugs or alcohol – may not take part in the ceremony.  They do, however, get to tell the bride why they thought the drugs or alcohol were more important than her on her wedding day.  If somebody can’t hold off on drinking for a few hours before the wedding, then they have a problem that needs to be addressed.  Also, if it’s the bride or groom, there’s no wedding.  I can’t legally marry a couple when one or both are under the influence.
  2. If anybody besides the bride or groom have an idea of how the ceremony can be better, they should write it down and come talk to me about it on the following Monday in my office.  You may be surprised to hear that I haven’t had a lot of well-meaning, meddling people disrupt the flow of a ceremony that has already been planned with the bride and groom.
  3. From this point forward, what the bride and groom need more than anything is support from their family and friends.  Marriage is hard enough as it is.  There need not be any outside forces making the relationship more difficult.  If you have a problem with their relationship, keep it to yourself.  Nobody cares what you think.

That third rule is really the most important one.  The wedding is one day.  The marriage is for the rest of their life.

What if we paid as much attention to detail in our marriages as we did on the wedding plans?  What would the landscape of marriage in the United States look like?  What if we emphasized the relationship more than the event?  Because at the end of the day, one is far more important than the other.

It could be, when we focus on the relationship and not the event, some people would discover they only wanted the big party, and not the work that comes with the relationship.  That’s fine.  Throw a big, expensive party.  Don’t get married.

It could be, when they really think about it, that marriage isn’t the right next step in the relationship.  And that’s okay as well.  Don’t marry somebody because you feel stuck in a relationship, or because you are too scared to go out on your own once again, or because you think that’s what you should do.  Some relationships go as far as they can, and it becomes clear that marriage isn’t necessarily the next right thing to do.  If that’s the case, don’t get married.

In order to make a wedding work, people will pour hours and hours into the details of the wedding over a certain period of time.  In order to make a marriage work, people need to put that same kind of focus and attention to detail into everyday life with their spouse.

Your wedding doesn’t matter as much as your marriage.  So put the time, effort and resources into what really matters.