Being grateful is a habit. Every morning I wake up seeking to be thankful. When I encounter negative thoughts, I turn to thankful thoughts. Being thankful is easy and difficult all at once. But choose it. Chase it. Turn to it when it doesn't feel good. Thankfulness leads to worship. Hebrews 12:28 says, "Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe. . ." Worship springs forth from thankfulness. Five minutes of thinking about that kingdom, his promises and the goodness he has poured into your life and you'll be worshiping and praising God.
Years ago I heard a well-known leader ask a powerful question of a group of leaders--"Is your pace sustainable?" At that moment in time my pace was frenetic and life draining. It was beyond crazy and into "soul killing." That question became part of a list of questions I asked myself weekly for several years. My list still exists, but I ask myself less frequently. However, this question about my pace is something I've been asking myself naturally since I heard it. Almost every day the question in some form enters my mind. Some days are unique. We all need to sprint in certain times. But I've found that sprinting for more than a week or so quickly becomes a lifestyle that I must deliberately down shift from.
I know the warning sings: I drink more coffee, I talk and walk more quickly, I listen less, I am overly task focused and the "RPMs" of my heart are extremely high. I just can't sustain such a pace over the long haul, but it happens quickly. In my new season of increased leadership responsibilities, this question has become of greatest importance.
What about you, is your pace sustainable?
I serve as a campus pastor on the East Side of Milwaukee. Recently our church added “Personal Retreat Days” for all full-time staff. Each staff member is required to set aside one full day each month for head, heart or hand issues. This means that a full day is dedicated to learning, praying, resting, thinking, reading, researching, serving, or being active in some way. We are encouraged to use the day purposefully and in a way that will revitalize us personally and advance some aspect of our ministry responsibility.
Having served at various churches, I have seen several churches that encourage or require such days. I think this type of policy represents the best kind of spiritual leadership. Ministry is hard and vacation is often used for family purposes. Often these days are special times to focus on things that sometimes feel like luxuries. Extended prayer should never be viewed as a luxury, and days like these encourage many of these activities to transfer to normal work days as well. Some of the most helpful ways I have found to spend such days:
Ministry (like any profession) can easily become a tyranny of the urgent. Forward planning is one of the most helpful things to guide daily efforts. I make sure to spend one of may days at the end of each year carefully planning my vacation, ministry, family and conference schedule. Simply having this overarching calendar in place helps me make decisions, see patterns, build yearly habits and stay ahead of what’s next.
Early in my ministry life the idea of praying for hours on end sounded crazy. Now I can’t wait until days of extended prayer. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle with concentriaon. But I love prayer walking my neighborhood or the area around the church. Sometimes I am praying over projects and planning all at once. Soemtiems it is a mix of prayer and contacting. I spend time praying for a family and then reach out to them through email or a handwritten note to encourage them and let them know they were prayed for. Sometimes I read scripture or other material with extended prayer breaks. These breaks and the subject will blend together and I end up inviting God into the planning or learning process.
Active Resting in Nature
I guess this is my code word for hiking or sitting by Lake Michigan. Some of my most sould refreshing times occur in God’s wonderful creation. Psalm 19 doesn’t lie, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Time in nature always translates into greater clarity, peace, patience and increased awareness of God’s activity in my life and ministry.
If you’re considering adding days like these for your pastoral staff, do it! If your church offers you something like this, don’t waste it. Give it some thought and make them count. It doesn’t matter if you call them study days, study breaks, prayer days, personal retreats, prayer retreats, planning days, or even prayer and planning days. I like personal retreat days, but make it happen.
Over the years I have prayed with dozens of parents as they seek God's hand of involvement in their wayward child's life. This article has some great thoughts on that journey.
This one year for April's Fools day I told my soon to be wife, Rebecca, that I was going to spend a year abroad. No, I do not recommend this joke to others. And yes I have sworn off April Fools day jokes since then.
Humor is fun, right? But most humor comes at someone's expense. I used to love practical jokes, sarcasm and "just ribbing" other people. I've eliminated most of that from my life because it backfires. Am I ever sarcastic? Of course, but I try not to let it become the main way I communicate. Man, I sound old. . . but it works for me. A few years ago I began to notice that sincerity was a theme the bible kept repeating. I'm still seeing that as I read scripture and I still see it as an area of growth in my life.
So if you hear me use sarcasm to get a laugh, please encourage me to be sincere. Yes, seriously.
Every week on Thursdays the preaching pastor here at epikos stands in front of a small group of men and women and preaches their sermon. Now, given that it is Thursday it isn't always in finished form, but what the preacher has is shared. Then that team prayerfully provides input, ideas, critique, evaluation and encouragement into the message.
This is unique. I have never seen this process before and I have never spoken with anyone that works at a church that does this. When I taught the weekend message every week I was far too proud to submit it to a group of people for critique before its delivery. Sermon evaluation is what we call it, but humility and teachability is what it is. This should happen more often.
Every time I am able to be part of a baptism service I walk away amazed. There is nothing like the moment of public ceremony which represents an intense experience. Graduation strikes me in a similar way. Here is someone walking across a stage in a funny hat and black gown, but the work, struggle and turmoil to get there was intense.
Baptism is not the graduation, it is actually the beginning. But it represents a process of soul that is intense and dramatic. When one is baptized there is an admission that life is ending and Jesus is being resurrected in our place. So it is a funeral. A moment we all clap as someone dies. But then we see Jesus raised to life again, inside of this man or woman. We see the flash of God's kingdom ring out in a fresh way. I often see a glimpse of how God will be using this person to shape the world around them for the glory of God. Wow!
Nothing actually happens at baptism. There is no grace imparted or spiritual change that happens in the moment we are immersed. But it does symbolize an immense journey of faith that is being proclaimed to the world in a bold way. "I AM DEAD. JESUS IS ALIVE."
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In my new role as East Side Campus Pastor at epikos Church, I don't often deliver the Sunday sermon. But for Easter, each campus will be receiving live teaching from the campus pastor at all services. So that means I am preparing a message to share with those who will attend Easter morning. It seems strangely peaceful to me. The world right now is chaotic. We have a presidential election that seems more like a circus. The recent terror attacks in Brussels have created an unsettled feeling among most observers. And Milwaukee is currently getting blasted with a wintery mix of ice and rain.
But as I focus on the resurrection of Christ I am finding peace. That isn't the point of my sermon, but an observation that I couldn't help sharing. What I focus on matters. When I focus on the negative news, impeding doom, economic issues or the difficult circumstances around me I tend to be negative. By simply focusing on Jesus and the resurrection my entire point of view changes. Yours can, too.
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