Learning the Effect of Your Story on Me

Luke13The effect of your story on methe obligatory nod and “how are you doing” is no longer sufficient.

Maybe you know what I’m talking about?

It used to be that I could walk by certain people while barely noticing them.  I might give a head nod.  Or offer a “what’s up?”  Or sometimes ask but not really want to know “how are you?”

I’m learning that the distance I keep between myself and you is difficult to maintain after hearing your story.  A shift a happens.  You are no longer a passerby to me.  You are someone I know.  I no longer see only your face.  I see a name and a story behind the face.

Two people I casually pass by on a regular basis at the gym told me their story this week.  Up to this point, our relationship has been strictly business.  If we said anything to each other it was, “Hey, anybody using this bench?”  Or “how many sets do you have left?”  Occasionally, we might even leave the gym with a “I’ll see you guys.”

Not any more.  I know their stories, now.

One is a story of growing up in foster care.  He’s never met his parents.  He lives with a man he calls his uncle.  He works full-time at a warehouse.  When I asked who he feels has his back in life, his answer was, “No one.”

The other is a story of being too late.  He served in the military and received a medal of honor for his bravery.  He is a successful entrepreneur in the music/entertainment industry.  He has traveled the world and earned an exceptional salary.  He’s a proud daddy of 6 year old son.  A couple months ago, his wife filed for divorce.  He told me, “I made some mistakes.  I moved our family here to make things better.  I was just too late.”

There’s something about hearing your story that changes our relationship.  I feel invested.  It’s not enough to say hi.  I experience a nudge to become a part of your story.  For the good.

As a human, I think Jesus experienced the same thing.  He passed by thousands of people.  It was the people whose stories he learned that changed his relationship to them.  He healed them.  He set them free.  He protected them.  He loved them.  For their good.

I wonder what would happen to our churches if we paid more attention to the stories of the people we sit next to each week?  I wonder what would happen to our community if our churches listened to the stories of others in our neighbhorhoods?



Learning to Live Into the Future & Not Out of the Past

BBQ RainbowLiving out of the past says, “it’s never been done before, it won’t work.  It will cost too much.”

Living into the future says, “it doesn’t need to be this way any longer.  Things can change.  It’s worth the risk.”

The past seeks to preserve itself.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.  It recruits every individual, group, religion, government, and culture.

God’s vision of the future leaves the bad and the ugly behind.  God stands ahead of us in time and calls forth a reality that breaks the oppressive and unjust limits of the past.

Jesus lived with this purpose.  Jesus set history in motion on a trajectory with a destination absent of today’s injustices.

Jesus lived into tomorrow.  He imagined what could be and lived like it existed NOW.

A few examples…

The past set limits on who can become a religious authority.  Jesus calls a group of fishermen to be his disciples (Luke 5:1-11).

The past set limits on touching a person who is sick.  Jesus stretches out his hand and touches a leper (Luke 5:12-16).

The past set limits on friendship with a sinner.  Jesus ate a meal at the house of a tax collector and his friends (Luke 5:27-32)

The past set limits on the days a person can be healed.  Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath in the presence of religious leaders (Luke 6:6-11)

The past set limits on a woman’s voice and value in society.  Jesus welcomes a “sinful” woman to kiss, wash, and anoint his feet.  Then he restores her status as a person of great faith (7:36-50).

Jesus didn’t live out of the past.  He lived into the future.

How is God leading the church today to live into the future?



Learning What Steps to Take to Overcome Problems in a Relationship

You must take steps toward the other person(s).  Let me explain.

Problems will arise in every relationship.  Whether it’s parent-child, girlfriend-boyfriend, student-teacher, boss-employee, co-workers, or husband-wife, problems will come.

Most of the time, the way we try to work it out looks like this:

Relationship Diagram#1

The problem stands between us.  I can’t see you.  You can’t see me.  All we see is the problem.  From each our own perspective, we stare at the problem.

If I try to push the problem away, it moves toward you.  If you do the same, it moves toward me.  An inevitable tug of war happens.  It feels like we’re both trying to push the problem off on the other.

What happens if we leave our current position, and take steps toward each other?

Relationship Diagram#2

Now, we stand next to each other and face the problem together.  Head on.  From a shared perspective.  If we try to push the problem away, where does it go?  Look at the diagram again.

It goes away.

Problems in a relationship can’t go away if we’re constantly pushing it on the other person.  Each time the problem is pushed closer to one of you, it looks uglier.  Our instinct, then, is to push back harder.

To overcome problems in any relationship, we must take steps toward each other and face it together.

Are you wiling to leave your current position?  Can you leave behind what you think is right and take steps toward what can make things right?





Learning 3 Resources for Finding Good Stories

booksEvery speech and sermon needs a good story.  The problem is finding one.

There are moments when I spend as much or more time searching for good story than I do writing a sermon.  It’s crazy, I know.  But, a sermon without a good story is like beans without cornbread.

Recently, I’ve relied on 3 resources to produce stories with impact:

  • Blogs.  I’m constantly searching for a  new blog filled with excellent content.  When I find it, I subscribe.  Every new blog post instantly shows up in my email inbox.  Right now, my go to is Faith and Leadership.
  • Books.  Fiction and non-fiction.  Christian and mainstream.
  • My Life.  This includes past and present.  The experiences of my past hold a treasure of good stories.  But, it’s easy to get stuck in the yester-years.  If I pay attention, stories that will teach and preach are happening in front of me right now.

I would add 3 additional thoughts.

  1. Finding good stories requires intentionality.  If I’m not looking for them on purpose, then I won’t find them.
  2. I know I’ve found a good story when I wish I could tell someone else about it, immediately.
  3. A good story may not work in my speech or sermon today, but it might tomorrow.  I bank every good story I find.

Whenever a sermon I’ve preached has a lasting impact on someone, they always remember the story I told.  The Bible is primary in every sermon I preach.  Stories are the glue that stick the truth of the scriptures in people’s minds and hearts.

Where do you find good stories?


Learning How to Find Balance in Life

The image that comes to mind for me isn’t balance on a scale.  In my experience, life is much more complex than finding equal weight on only two weighting platforms.

My life feels more like balancing plates on a stick.  Multiple plates all at once.  Some of the plates were spun in motion years ago.  Some of the plates have recently been set to spinning.  I’m sure I will need to add more in the future.

The plates I’m trying to keep from falling include:

Marriage.  Parenting. Work. Friendship.  Family.  House Maintenance.  Sleep.  Finances.  Church.  Education.  Faith.

I’m learning that if I’m not careful, I can easily focus energy in one area to the neglect of the others.  It’s tough, though.  Seasons come and seasons go in all areas.  There are moments where parenting requires more focus.  There are moments when work requires more of me.  And so it goes with each part of my life.

Giving more time and energy to keep certain plates spinning can make me feel tired and overwhelmed.  It sometimes sucks the vigor and motivation right out of me to balance the other plates.  The temptation is to give up on the others and focus on protecting this one.  But, I can’t.  Each plate in my life is too important.

As I’m learning to find balance, here’s what is helping me:

  • Plan and protect your time with each area of life.
  • Set goals for each area.
  • Set limits.
  • Give priority to an area when it is required, but transition back to normalcy when it is no longer required.
  • Be okay with spontaneity and expect serendipity.
  • Forgive yourself when a plate falls.  Pick it up and set it to motion again.
  • Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
  • Constantly seek God’s wisdom and direction.
  • Never give up.

All of us are grumpy from time to time.  It’s not always easy to put your finger on it.  If I had to guess, I would say it’s probably because the plates in one’s life is getting wobbly.  Don’t give up.  You can do it.  The sun will rise on a new day soon.

How do you find balance in life?



Learning Why I Can Walk into the Future Without Fear

Rev 1.4I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone say it more clearly or simply than Dr. Dan Boone.  I didn’t write it down and I haven’t found a recording of his words, yet.  It won’t be an exact quote.  His words were poignant enough, though, I think I can come close to re-capturing their essence.

I can walk into the future without fear because I know the one who is preparing it for me, loves me.

God stands before us in the future and beckons us to walk toward it without fear.  God loves us.  God prepares a future for us.  There’s no reason to be afraid.

Like a parent standing in front a child learning to take her first steps, God stands before us with arms open wide.

As Dr. Boone spoke eloquently to us, we learn that Jesus is with us in the present, in the past, and in the future.  God is with us, now.  In this present moment.  God was with us in the past.  God looks to the past with us and helps us make sense of it.  God stands before us in the future.  God is preparing our tomorrow, and calling us toward it without fear.

There’s no reason to be afraid.  The one who stands before us, loves us.

How are you walking into your future?



Learning that Being a Christian isn’t something you do, it’s a person you become

Reducing what it means to be a Christian to what I do is a security blanket for most of us.

It just feels more safe to know exactly what I need to to do.  No ambiguity.  No blurred lines.  No uncertainties.  Just tell me what I need to do so I can do it.

I think others (non-followers of Christ) prefer to keep their definition of a Christian to a list of do’s, as well.  It’s easier to know the difference.  It’s much simpler to lump all Christians into one group according to particular actions or do’s.  For example, Christians hate gays.  Or Christians vote Republican.  Right?

Not true.  Being a Christian can’t be reduced to what I (you) do.  We shouldn’t inflict this definition on ourselves.  Nor should others impose this myopic view on us.

Hebrews 10 sees it a different way.  Being a Christian is something you become.

15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord:

I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”    Hebrews 10:15-16

God promises to move the law (what we do) from an external requirement to an internal reality (who you are).  God takes what you should do and makes it who you are.  God will put “my laws in their (your) hearts, and I will write them on their (your) mind.”

Being a Christian isn’t about what you do, it’s about what you become.  A Christian can’t be reduced to a list of actions.  When you allow God to influence who you are and what you become, then what you do won’t be called into question.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by a list of rules or things Christians should do?


Learning 5 Reasons Mis-Communication Happens

Reason #1:  Cell Phones

Reason #2:  Email

Reason #3:  Facebook

Reason #4:  Twitter

Reason #5:  Face to Face Conversation

Auxiliary Reasons:  Home phone, Blogging, Linkedin, Instagram, Snail Mail.  I’m sure you could add a few more to the list.

As I try to balance all of these ways of giving and receiving information, I realize it’s easy for me to miss communication.

I’m learning there are two major reasons why:

  1. Your primary form of communication may not the same as mine.  Some of us may prefer texting.  Some may prefer email.  Others may prefer voice to voice phone calls.  It’s up to each person.  Whatever method you prefer is and will be the primary way you choose to communicate.  The problem is, not everyone shares the same preference.  So, communication is missed.  Based on your primary form of communication, you may be trying to reach me in a way that receives less attention from me.  And vice versa.  You’re waiting for me to reply to a Facebook message.  I’m waiting to receive a phone call from you.  Miscommunicaiton happens.
  2. A convenient time for you to communicate may not be a convenient time for me.  The part of the day or week that is slow for you, may be a time that is busy and inconvenient for me.  Some of us are morning people.  Some of us are evening people.  Some of us have days off on Saturday and Sunday.  Some of us have days off in the middle of the week.  You may need a response from me Friday but I won’t be back in my office until Monday.  To make matters worse, the issue of time is compounded by the different ways of communicating.

Here’s what I’m learning can help me reduce miscommunication:

  • Clearly express my primary method of communication.  Let others know how I prefer to communicate.  Don’t keep it a secret.  Ask everyone to communicate with me using the same method.
  • Return a message as soon as possible after reading or hearing it.  Reading and hearing a message is different than receiving one.  I can receive a message on my phone without reading or listening to it.  I can choose to leave it unheard or unread until a more convenient time.  Once I open it, it’s best if I respond to it right away.  If I don’t, I forget or it gets lost.
  • Define the best time for others to communicate with me.  Put it out there.  It’s not possible to be available to everyone all the time using all forms of communicating.  Let others know the best time to reach you.  Let them know when you will be out of reach.  If you need to set an “out of office” message on your email before every weekend, then do it.  If you need to change your voice message to let others know when you are available, then do it.  

When it comes to communication, I’m not getting it right 100% of the time.  I miss communication sometimes.  But, I’m learning how to work on it.

How do you manage your communication?





Learning to Jump 3 Hurdles for a First Time Event

BBQ Throwdown LogoTwo days ago, our church hosted a large BBQ event.  The purpose was to raise money for a local organization, called kidsPACK.  It’s a non-profit that bridges the hunger gap for students from Friday evening to Monday morning.  Last year, nearly 2,400 students were identified by local schools as food insecure.  This means the only food they can count on is the food they eat at school.

Of the 2,400 students in need, the funds available can only account for 1,000.  Not even half.

We decided to do what we do best.  Host a BBQ Throwdown.  The event included 40 Professional BBQ teams, 15 non-BBQ vendors, a Kidzone with inflatables, a petting zoo and pony rides.

Our goal was to attract 8,000-10,000 BBQ-loving visitors from the community to raise as much money as possible.  We came close.  Our actual attendance came in somewhere between 6,000-7,000 people.

A few hurdles stood in our way.  Here are 3 of them:

  • The Weather.  It is Florida, so hot weather can be expected.  Our event took place in one of the hottest months of the year.  Not to mention, it’s prime hurricane season.  We didn’t experience a major storm, but we did battle a heavy down-pour the night before the event.  When you mix torrential downpour with big trucks and soft-soil, the impending result is muddy ruts.  It’s impossible to control the weather, but we can choose a less-temperamental season next year.
  • Advertising.  We did advertise.  It was on the local radio station every day for a couple weeks.  10,000 elementary students in the community received an invitation to take home to their parents.  About 1,800 people at our church heard about 4 weeks in a row.  But, we could have done more.  We didn’t pass out flyers or posters in the community.  It wasn’t plastered on billboards or signs.  We could have done better creating visible signs on our own church property.  Next year, we can and will do better.
  • Layout.  Each area was separated nicely.  The kidZONE had its own little area.  The non-BBQ vendors had their lane to pass through.  The BBQ vendors had their own village of tents and storefronts.  The non-vending BBQ teams were off to the side on their own.  But, the layout for each could have been better.  The BBQ vendors would have been more visible closer to the main road.  The kidZONE might have been more appealing had it not been directly behind the Port-o-Potties.  The pony rides probably would have attracted more attention without a few trucks blocking their visibility.  Things to change for next year.

Overall, the event was a big success.  We will do it again next year.  And next year, we plan to be better prepared to leap over some of the hurdles we came across our first go around.

If you experienced the kidsPACK Polk Project BBQ Throwdown with us, we would love to hear from you.  The first 30 people to leave a comment will receive an official kidsPACK BBQ Throwdown T-shirt.

What was your take on the event?  What do you think we did well?  What do you think we could do better for next year?





Learning My Limits as a Parent

MyaSwimPicI can’t be all things for my daughters.  I wish could, but I can’t.  Or, so I am learning.

As a parent, I have limits.

This realization came to me as a result of a breakthrough for our youngest daughter, Mya.  Our little girl (3 yrs old) learned to swim.

Since we live in Florida where every other house has a pool and a lake is around every corner (our city is rightly named Lakeland), we decided it was time.  We tried.  We were struggling.  With our help, it just wasn’t clicking for her.

One day we were decided to give it a try at a public pool.  More than a public swimming pool, it is a popular Disney Resort watering hole.  Happy families from states around the U.S. are enjoying the vacation of their life.  And then there’s us.  Locals.  Taking up the same space as a swim training facility for our three year old.

It was more an accident than on purpose.  Her floaties failed.  They wouldn’t hold air.  It was either hold her all day or teach her to swim.  With her consent, we chose the second option.

Our attempt was failing.  One lady swims over to us and says, “I’m a lifeguard and used to helping young ones learn to swim.  It might be easier if you laid her on her back with her head on your shoulder.  Then, slowly move your hands away without her knowing.”  Can you say, awkward?

She didn’t learn to swim that day.

Enter Carlee.

Carlee is a fourth year member of Florida Southern College’s swim team.  Her summer job is teaching young kids how to swim.  She is also becoming a great friend to Brooklyn.

Carlee offered to help Mya learn to swim.  A couple weeks later, we meet her at the YMCA pool at 5:15pm.  Carlee and Mya get into the water at 5:20.  By 5:25, Mya is swimming around the pool like a fish.  What?!

In this moment, I realize I have limits as a parent.  There are and will be some things that I can’t do for my daughters.  It’s tough to admit.  But, it’s true.

As a parent, I need others.  I need to surround my daughters with a church family and loving friends who can pickup where my limits begin.  We need people who care enough about our daughters to take them to places that are beyond where we can go.

Without them, I’m placing my own limits onto my children.

I pray for the wisdom to the know who those people who make-up for my limits and the humility to seek their help.

Mya Swimming

Do you know your limits as a parent?  Do you have people in your life who can take your child(ren) beyond those limits?