It is Thursday and my sermon is almost finished. Today will involve doing something I find incredibly difficult. I will have to fill in the holes to smooth out the good parts. I will also have to cut out all the unnecessary parts. For me, it is extremely difficult to cut ideas and points that I created.

I have thoughts that are true. They are important. They just do not fit what I am trying to accomplish this week. So with great reluctance I take my mouse and highlight that point and hit delete.

I have often thought that most of us need to take the time regularly to do a little editing in life. We are all involved in activities that are good and maybe seem important, but they are not helping us achieve our goals right now.

Andy Stanley tells the story of being into classic guitars and music. Then he found out that his wife was pregnant. He went and sold everything. He said there was not enough time in his life for God, a wife, children and music. So a choice was made to edit out that part of his life for now.

I frequently hear how busy people are nowadays. I get that. I have a wife and four teenagers of my own. But I think most people are not busy because they have children. Most people are too busy because they have not edited out of their life all the unnecessary parts.

How would your life be different if you committed yourself to one simple goal of being a follower of God in your life and family? Would there be some activities you would quit doing? Would you be able to say “NO” to the unnecessary things? Would you be less busy and stressed?

Maybe you are too busy because you haven’t taken the time to delete some of the things in your life that need removed?

Blame vs. Responsibility

Blame is easy. It was someone else’s fault. They should have told me. They should have done things differently. It is their fault that I am in this situation. It is their fault that my child ended up doing that. It is someone’s else’s fault and I have stories to prove it.

Responsibility is hard. I failed. It was wrong. I handled that situation poorly.

Blame makes us a victim. There is nothing I can do to change anything.

Responsibility puts us in charge. I need to do things differently.

Responsibility is hard. I will need to change the words I use. I will need to change my attitude. I will need to change my actions. I will need to change.

For many people I know the biggest journey they need to make is from blame to responsibility. It will not be easy but accepting responsibility gives us the keys to a better future.

The Evolution of An Idea

Four years ago I was going through a stack of boxes a woman had donated to the Church I was leading in Alaska. She had been a long time teacher of children in the Church in various settings and was now past her days of teaching. She had donated 15-20 boxes of material to the church and my wife and I were slowly going through them. I opened one of the folders in a box and there I saw a group of flannel graph figures like my teacher used when I was a child.

At that moment an idea flashed into my head about using these figures for a sermon series. I took the folder of figures and placed them on my desk. Next I opened my Evernote app and typed the idea into my digital sermon idea file. Then I took the folder and put it into a stack of other articles and ideas.

The idea remained in my digital file for over two years. During that time I moved from Alaska to Missouri. Nothing had really sparked with the idea during that time and so it remained in my idea bank until last year.

Last year while working on the sermon series plan for 2016 I went to my sermon idea file and there I saw the phrase, “sermon series using flannel board.” I took my idea and began to search the internet. I have learned that none of my ideas are completely original. Someone, somewhere has had a similar idea. Sure enough I found 4-5 preachers who had preached a similar series of sermons. One of them had a great graphic for a series they called “Flannelgraph Jesus.” And with that one discovery I now had a title for a series and a graphic.

Then I sat down with my Bible and said, “Now where do I want to take this?” After thinking, reading and praying I decided to stick to the book of Matthew and do a series leading up to Easter. After I had decided the timing and the topic for the series I focused in on individual sermons. Over a couple of weeks I read through most of the book of Matthew and decided on some big topics. It took another couple of weeks to come up with specific texts and titles.

At this point I was almost done. The final step was to find a flannel graph. I knew if I was not able to find one that Pinterest or something on google would help me build my own. Fortunately I found a company that made exactly what I was looking for and it would have even more material for other uses. The downside was that it was pretty expensive. So I continued to search the web to find cheaper options. Finally I nailed it down to two or three options that I had bookmarked. Then my computer crashed and it was back to square one. Another two weeks past and I finally decided to order the expensive one or I was going to run out of time.

The order was made and three days later it arrived. Failing to read the fine print I opened the box to find over 600 pieces needed to be cut out. Upon trial I found I had no scissors to cut felt. Off to the story and $30 later I had two pair of heavy-duty scissors. My mother was visiting and she jumped right in to help and I begged my boys to help me in the process too (more like bribed). Finally after two weeks of cutting the material it was now ready to use.

The final part of the story was to take the title, the text, the cut outs and come up with a sermon. Each one took a full week to develop before presentation. This is nothing new as every sermon takes a full week to prepare.

All total it took about 4 years and uncounted hours to take an idea from inception to completion.

I have dozens of ideas that come and go. I suppose each one of us does. Don’t give up on them too quick. Today’s idea might be what God uses to touch someone’s life years from now.

My Split Personality

I heard something again yesterday that I have heard dozens of times throughout my ministry. A person said to me, “You are a different person after the worship.”

I am 100% clear about what they were saying. It is a criticism I have heard over and over through the years of ministry. It has come in a couple of different forms. Some people have said, “I am not friendly before Church.” Others say, “I always seem distracted.” I know it’s true.

Through the years I have desperately tried to do better. I have been to Churches where the preacher would walk around a talk to everyone before worship on Sunday morning as if nothing were going to happen. They could be casual about the upcoming event and so low-key. I have tried to do that over and over. Honestly, that is so not me.

For example, yesterday I came early and practiced my sermon like normal. Then I was continually repeating it in my head the rest of the morning. Also, I had to check my props on the stage and all of the objects I would be using during the sermon. Then I doubled checked with the person who runs the PowerPoint. I confirmed our special music and any changes in the worship. I was overly concerned about every part of the program. On top of that I was watching the chairs to see if we needed to set up more. I checked the communion to make sure we had enough. There were about 45 things in my head that I was concerned about while trying to remember my sermon.

Then when the program is done. It takes me about 5 minutes to quickly unwind. Personally, I like to stand quietly at the front and let my mind relax. When that is done, I feel like I can visit and talk to anyone. In fact, most Sundays I do not get home till about 1:00 pm since I have been talking. I often tell people that I am free and would love to visit with them anytime after worship.

The difficulty comes because most people are the exact opposite. They show up on Sunday morning with little to nothing to do and they want to visit. They are not worried about everything that is about to happen like I am. Then when the worship is over they are ready to get home. Lunch needs fixed, the ball game is coming on, there are commitments that need to be made and a dozen other things pull at people to get them away quickly after worship.

I tell you this for two reasons. One, I want you to know a little bit more about me. Every Sunday morning is a little piece of me on display for the Lord. I want it to be great and people to be blessed. The result is that I can be obsessive. The end result is that I can seem stand-offish. It is nothing personal.

Second, all human communication is affected by timing. Frequently difficulties in communications are really struggles with timing. The right word also needs to come at the right time.

I know that is true for me. If you do not believe me then spend time with me before and after worship on Sunday morning and see if you notice a difference.

A Week of Holy Observance

We are reaching the pinnacle of what some people call the Holy Week.

Last Sunday was considered Palm Sunday. That is the week before Easter that remembers Jesus triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem.

Monday through Wednesday are considered Holy days. Many people recognize and remember certain events of the week before Jesus goes to the cross.

Today is Maundy Thursday. This is traditionally the day the Church remembers Jesus having the last supper. Jesus was celebrating the Passover and he changes it to a communion service.

Tomorrow is Good Friday. It is the day the Church remembers Jesus dying on the cross.

Finally is Holy Saturday. This is the full day that Jesus is in the tomb between two partial days. Many people set aside this day for prayer and fasting. A day of quiet observance of the death of our Lord Jesus.

Technically that is the end of the Holy Week and Sunday is the first day of a new week. Because western culture has a two-day weekend we usually lump Resurrection Sunday into the mix of Holy Week. Sunday is the day we recognize Jesus rising from the dead. It is often called Easter but there appears to be a connection to that name and a German goddess of spring. Traditionally it is the day the Church sets aside to remember the resurrection of Jesus.

Honestly, there are two things you need to know. First, we do not know the exact date that Jesus died. In fact, some scholars argue about whether Jesus died on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. Second, the Bible never commands us to keep a Holy Week. This week was created by the Church to remember the greatest event in the history of faith. It is a best guess as to the time that the actual events happened.

While we are not required to keep this week it is a good opportunity to focus our attention on the great work of Jesus on the cross and the acceptance of that work by his resurrection. It is a great time to focus on the things of God for a few minutes and lay aside the things of this world.

I do not know what today or the rest of the week hold for you, but I pray you set aside a few minutes to quietly meditate on all God has done for you through Jesus, the cross and his resurrection.

How to Help this Easter

I was working on a blog post for today about all the ways people could help out this Easter. Simple ways people could have an impact for the gospel through the Church. Then I went to my blog reader and saw that Thom Rainer had already posted something similar to my thoughts over HERE So instead of writing my own original ideas I am just going to share his.

Nine Considerations for Church Members This Easter
by Thom Rainer

It will be one of the highest attended days of the year for your church. It may be the highest.

There will be some people you don’t know. Some of them are guests. Others are members who attend infrequently.

You have an opportunity to make a gospel impression on these people with a few simple acts. Indeed, you have an opportunity to make an eternal difference. Here are nine servant actions for you to consider.

1. Pray as you enter the property. Pray for the guests. Pray for the services. Pray for the pastor and the sermon.

2. Park at the most distant spot available. Save the closer parking places for guests.

3. Greet people. They may be guests. They may be members. It’s okay to introduce yourself to either.

4. Look for people to help. You know the place well. Many others will not. Be a guide. Help someone who looks like he or she needs help.

5. Sit as close as possible to the front of the worship center. Save the back rows for guests and late entrants, so they don’t have to walk past so many people.

6. Sit in the middle. Don’t claim that aisle seat where people have to walk over you or past you.

7. Sit closely. Your worship center may be packed. If so, be willing to sit cheek to cheek.

8. Volunteer to serve. As the number of attendees increase, so does the need for volunteers. The parking team, kids ministry, and church greeter ministry are a few of the areas that will need more volunteers to help serve and minister to members and guests.

9. Pray as you leave. The Holy Spirit is likely working in many persons who attended. Pray for His continual work of conviction and comfort.

These are simple acts. They are acts of service. And if you survive doing these acts of kindness and service on Easter, you just might be able to do them on other days of worship as well.

Connections Over Crowd

I recently read an article that made sense to me as a church leader. The author of the article is a Church consultant who helps Churches make moves toward growth and outreach. He stated that one problem many Churches can have on Easter is to celebrate the crowd and ignore the connections.

This Sunday will be one of the 2 or 3 largest attendance Sundays of the year. Currently a Christmas program, especially with children, will surpass Easter. For our Church we have our closing program for Vacation Bible School which surpasses every other Sunday in total attendance. With that said, Easter Sunday is still one of the biggest days of the year for the Church in its celebration but also in the number of people attending.

It is an exciting time for the Church as we see old friends and so many new faces. As a result the first question I am asked by our regular Church attendees is, “How many people did we have?” We want to celebrate the fact the we had so many at Church this one day.

The sad thing for most Church leaders is that we know what is coming the next Sunday. Attendance will drop back to the average and sometimes it will actually drop even lower. The large group will disappear and few people will return.

This author suggested that maybe Churches are focused on the wrong thing. We get excited about all these new people being there that one Sunday instead of focusing on getting connected to these new people.

Which is better? 100 new people who boost the Church to its highest Sunday attendance ever but only 5 return in the next month. 50 new people in attendance and we set no records but 25 people return the next month.

Clearly I would think the second is better in the long run. How about you?

If this is true, how about we spend more time this Sunday talking to strangers instead of about them? How about we invite people into our lives and maybe for a meal instead of running out with family and forgetting our guests at the door? How about we invite people to come back instead of just thanking them for attending? How about we make a connection with someone instead of celebrating the crowd?

This Sunday let’s celebrate every connection we make far above how many people are in attendance. I think the Church will have a greater impact when we focus on individuals instead of the group.

Uncounted Blessings

The song is actually titled “When Upon Life’s Billows,” but you probably know it by the common name of “Count Your Blessings.” The song is a simple encouragement to count the good things in your life when everything feels like a difficult sea of emotions. When pain and struggle hits someone it is a good time to think about all the blessings you have received to counter our negative thoughts. Counting blessings is always good advice.

Recently while driving down the road the Service Engine Soon light came on in my vehicle. My old Pathfinder has just shy of 180,000 miles and it still runs well. In fact, this is the first time the service engine light has ever come on for me. I can’t really tell you why it keeps running. You could say that it was well-built or well maintained. You might even say that I am lucky. What if it was just a simple blessing from God?

There are so many things in my life I have come to take for granted. Lately I have been thinking of them as “uncounted blessings.” The way I see it, God has given me all of these daily blessings that I often overlook because they seem so ordinary. Maybe there is some simple logical explanation of why these things happen but maybe it goes just a little beyond logic into the realm of the supernatural. Maybe God stands behind all of these daily blessings.

So today I am trying to me more thankful for all God has given me. To open my eyes to the thousands of blessings I have in my life. It might be a vehicle that keeps running. It might be a refrigerator full of food. It might be a TV that allows me to watch the game. It might be that I found a good deal on that item and then it exceeded my expectations. It might be a friend who just happened to stop by for a visit. It might be a day off when many people are working. I could go on and on and on.

Your life may be full of a thousand little blessings that you have never noticed before. How would your perspective on life be different if you took the time to count the blessings you usually take for granted?