Learning an Exercise to Control Stress

All of us experience stress.  The question is, “Who is in control?”  The stress or you?

I learned an exercise to help put the control in your hands.  It was taught to me by Prepare/Enrich, which is an organization committed to providing training and resources for premarital and marital counseling.  I accept no credit for the tool, it is completely the creation of Prepare/Enrich.

For the exercise to take effect, it’s essential to identify the top stressors in your life and/or relationship.  What do you stress out about the most?  Write them down.  Choose the top four.

Now, take a look at the exercise.  Draw if for yourself.

stress exerciseThis may be difficult to see.  So, here’s a closer look at each of the four boxes.

Top Left:  Box 1Stess Exercise Box 1

It says:  High Priority, Able to change, Box 1: Most Critical, What changes can be made?

Top Right:  Box 2Stress Exercise Box 2It says:  Difficult to change, Box 2, How do you plan to cope?

Lower Left:  Box 3Stress Exercise Box3It says:  Low Priority, Box 3, Are you spending too much time on low priority issues?

Lower Right:  Box 4Stress Exercise Box4It says:  Box 4: Least Critical, Can you accept or forget these issues?

Pull out your list of top four stressors (things you stress about most) and write one of them in one of the four boxes.  Don’t rush.

Study your answers for a few minutes and ask yourself, “Am I in control of the stressors?”  Or, “Are the stressors in control of me?”

If you’re like me, chances are you are spending time and energy on low priority issues that really can’t be changed.  And, it stresses you out.  The reality is, though, those things aren’t so important and rarely can be changed.  So, why not let those things go?

I’m learning the most effective way to control stress is for me to focus on the high priority issues that can be changed.  I can’t let the less important, less likely to be changed issues overshadow the most critical areas of my life.  I need to focus on what’s most important and what I can do something about.  Then, I need to do something about it.  Make the changes.

I don’t want stress to control me.  It is the source of most of my arguments.  It is what slows me down and holds me back.  Learning this exercise is one way to help me regain control.

How is the stress in your life?  Who is in control?




Learning the Best Way to Learn

Souffle RecipeBy doing.

At my job.  Playing sports.  Cooking a meal.  Preaching a sermon.  Building a house.  Parenting a child(ren).  Singing a song.  In my relationships.  As a follower of Christ.

The doing is done with my hands, my feet, my mouth, my nose, my voice, my words, my mind, my heart, my soul.  It includes smelling, tasting, feeling, touching, seeing, hearing.  And almost always, it brings failures before triumph.

Learning is more than knowledge.  It is doing something with your knowledge.  I suggest a change to the old adage, “knowledge is power.”  I would add a small caveat, “knowledge is power when the one holding it does something with it.”

I learned this first hand recently.  As part of my New Year’s resolution to learn to cook new food, I attempted our favorite dessert.  Chocolate Souffle.  I found the exact recipe from our favorite restaurant who prepares it.  I felt like a ray of sun had just pierced the clouds and was shining directly on me.  I found it.  I held the secret in my Google Drive.

I had the knowledge.  So, I did something with it.  We went to the store.  Bought the ingredients, which includes a $9 vanilla bean.  Followed the instructions.  Put it in the oven.  Opened the oven door at the sound of the timer.  And… Our souffle had no fluff.  It didn’t rise.

I did the only thing I knew to do.  I ate it anyway.

I’m not giving up, though.  I will do it again, and again, and again until I learn to make a good chocolate souffle.  The best way I will learn, is by doing.

It’s the way Jesus taught us to learn his ways.  He says:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  — John 15:12-14

Do you know a better way to learn?


Learning What a Single Mom Needs Most

weedeaterIt’s probably not you’re thinking.

It wasn’t what I was thinking.  But, it came straight from the source:  a single mom.

A part of our missional commitment for our Saturday Night Church is serving the needs of widows and single mothers.  It has taken many shapes over the last 2 years.  We’ve cleaned up yards.  We’ve wiped down walls.  We’ve treated German cockroach infestations.  We’ve thrown baby showers.  We’ve repaired a roof.  We’ve paid for rent and bought groceries.  We’ve done quite a bit, but there’s a need we’ve been missing.

I wasn’t expecting to discover the need with my first handshake.  It was her first time to Highland Park Saturday Night Church.  She enjoyed the experience enough to head to the hospitality room after the service to learn more.  As I walked in, she was sitting on the couch already engaged in a conversation with two others.

After handshakes and introductions, the conversation was open for questions.  She asked.  I did my best to answer.  Pause.  Then, she says, “You mentioned in the service how you reach out to single moms.  I think it’s great.  What you are doing sounds awesome.  But, I’m a single mom and I could tell you what I really need?”

I’m thinking, “Uh, oh, are we totally getting it wrong?”

She says,

It’s great when a group of people come in and clean your house or help with a project.  That’s helpful in the moment.  But, the thing that has helped me the most is when someone shows me how to do something I have no idea how to do.  Like, using a gas weed-eater.  I am completely terrified I am going to cutoff my foot.  Or, jumper cables.  I’m deathly afraid of those things.  Someone taught me how to use them, recently, and I am so so excited.  Or even, if someone could tell me how I know when the oil needs changed in my car.  As a single mom, I need someone to show me how to do things on my own.

The only response I could come up with was, “Thank you for letting me know this.  I would love to have you help me create a list.”  I maybe didn’t say it as eloquently as I wanted, in hindsight.  I was really trying to express our need to learn from her what she needs.  And other single moms.

What a single mom needs most is empowerment.  More than our hands doing, she needs to know how to use her hands to do.

I’m sure we will continue to send a group people to serve the need of single moms.  We will add one more thing, though.  While some of us are doing, others of us will be teaching.  How to start a lawn mower.  How to change an air filter.  How to check the tire pressure.  When to service the car.

What comes to mind for you when you think of helping a single mom?



Learning a Countercultural View of “The Head of the Household”: Ephesians 5:22-23

weddingIt doesn’t literally say “head of the household” in Ephesians 5:23.  It’s written “the husband is the head of the wife.

Yet, it’s a verse that many emphasize to support an idea of marriage that puts the husband as the “head of the household.”  You might have heard the phrase at church or from a Christian friend.

In most cases, the idea of the husband as the “head of the household” implies a wife’s subordination.  She is subject to him.  Where the husband leads, the wife is expected to follow.  What the husband says, goes.  No questions.  No complaining.  Only compliance.

Ephesians 5:22-23 paints a different picture.

At the time Ephesians was written, the metaphor of the “head” was understood to represent superiority over the body.  It is to be protected at all costs.  All the other parts are expected to sacrifice themselves for its benefit.  It’s ludicrous to imagine the head putting itself in harms way for the sake of the body.  It is meant to be loved and adored, not the one offering the love.

At first glance, Ephesians 5:22 seems to support this idea:  “Wives, be subject to your husbands.”  Hah.  There it is, right.  Women must recognize the superiority of their husbands.  It’s their duty.  She is expected to sacrifice for her husband. The reason:  the husband is head of the wife just as Christ is head of the church.”

Leave it at that, and one might be right.  The problem is, Ephesians goes on.  It gives an explanation that pulls the rug from under everyone.  It throws a countercultural punch.

Here it is:  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  The cultural concept of the head is turned on its head.  All of a sudden the “head” no longer has greatest priority.  What is meant to be protected at all costs is now expected to sacrifice.  The head gives up its own security for the sake of his wife.

Being the “head” isn’t about superiority.  It’s about servanthood, self-emptying, and sacrifice.  Isn’t that the way Christ loved the Church?

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.   Philippians 2:3-8

Maybe it’s time to discard the phrase “head of the household?”  Or, if we can’t part ways, maybe it’s time to give it new meaning.  Replace superiority with humility.  Replace protection with sacrifice.  Replace being first with becoming last.

Does this describe the reality of marriage in our churches today? 


Learning 2 Reasons a Non-Religious Friend Came Back to Church

“Being from a relatively nonreligious family, I was intimidated by going to church.”

On Christmas my family goes to a traditional cathedral. I am always uncomfortable there and feel out of place.”

After the first service that I thoroughly enjoyed, I was hesitant still to return because it was something new. And new, might I add, is always scary.”

Her journey didn’t begin in church.  It happened on a college campus in the midst of an athletic team meeting.  Brooklyn was invited to share a few thoughts with the team about friendship and loyalty.  Not a devotional.  More like a pep talk.  It was enough to intrigue one student to want to hear more from Brooklyn.

At church.  She learned she could hear more from Brooklyn at church.  So, she went one Saturday Night.

Now, she comes every week.  As she says it, “I am blessed to have a place where I can continue my everlasting journey to know and love God.

I asked her why she came back after the first time.  This is what I learned:

  • The music.
  • She felt like she could just be herself. 

I’m grateful for an amazing worship leader and band who are committed to offering a relevant and meaningful worship experience every week.  Excellence doesn’t suffice to describe what we hear every Saturday Night and Sunday morning through Jessica Davis’ leading.

I’m grateful for a community of Christians who understand what it means to love.  I serve with a group of people who grasp what it means to welcome the stranger.  No pressure.  No judgment.  Simply giving others a space to be themselves and feel loved by God.

For our friend, church is no longer intimidating.  It is place to be herself and discover what God has planned for her life.

What brings you back to church?

Learning to Ask an Important Question on MLK Day

MLKIs the Church the same today as it was in 1963?

In 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. experienced disappointment in the Church.  Despite the success of the Civil Rights Movement, he faced dismay in the Church.  He says:

“I have come to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. . . But again I have been disappointed.”  -Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait

From his perspective in 1963, the Church was losing its authenticity as a sacrificial people, and becoming an

irrelevant social club with no meaning.”  Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait

So, the question is, What would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. say about the Church today?  Is the church the same as it was in 1963?

The hopeful side of me wants to say, “No.”  It is not the same.  It has significance in our culture and society today.  It’s willing to suffer in order to bring an end to injustice, especially with issues of inequality.  The Church is different, now.  A good different.

The prophetic side of me wants to say, “Some things are.”  There are moments when the Church maintains the status quo rather than seek justice and reconciliation.  Sometimes she chooses to remain quiet and safe when circumstances call for self-emptying and sacrifice.  This is true for many forms of injustice, particularly racism.  The  Church needs to change.

So, here are 3 insights for how change can happen (taken from MLK’s book, Why We Can’t Wait):

  • Don’t rely on the government to make things right.  Government isn’t God’s chosen people.  Followers of Christ are.  God’s Holy Spirit uses the Church to bring justice, mercy, peace, and love into this world.  The Church can’t wait for government to do what God is calling the Church to do.
  • Silence must be broken.  Quietly enduring justice rarely brings one to freedom.  There comes a moment when sufferers must speak-up for their rights.  The Church must break the silence with those who suffer injustice.  In solidarity, we break the silence with one voice.
  • Individuality and Self-Centeredness perpetuates the problem.  It has never been God’s purpose for the primary value of God’s people to be looking out for its own protection and pleasure.  God’s story presents an alternative way of being.  It is a story of emptying one’s self for others.  All power is given up for the sake of becoming servants.  The first becomes last.  The rich become poor.  Me is replaced with you and we.  In living this alternative way, problems of injustice are undone.

I hope to be part of the Church that moves further and further away from what it was in 1963.  I pray we regain our authenticity as a sacrificial people.  I pray someday that Sunday morning would no longer be the most segregated hour of the week.  I pray we have more Martin Luther King Jr.’s in our lifetime.

What have you learned from Martin Luther King Jr.?

Learning 5 Books I Recommend to Start 2014

books2Not sure what you’re reading, or if you are reading.  If you are and would like a few suggestions for 2014, here are 5 books I would recommend:

  1. Love Does.  Bob Goff writes this New York Times Bestseller about his whimsical experience of faith.  It’s perfect for someone looking for inspiration to take new risks and seek new adventures in your life as a follower of Christ.
  2. Bread & Wine.  Shauna Niequist writes about her love of good food and friendship as it relates to her journey of faith.  In one moment she inspires you to sit around the table with friends, and in the next she brings you face to face with some of our shared struggles.  Warning:  You will feel like cooking food while reading this book.
  3. To All Nations from All Nations.  Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi and Justo L. Gonzalez write a history of the Christian missionary movement.  It’s not your typical history of missions book, though.  They bring a new look into the past.  Their history focuses on the overlooked parts of the growth of Christianity, bringing to light a much needed perspective.  There is not another history of missions like this one.
  4. A Technique for Producing Ideas.  James Young writes a simple book about creativity.  He presents what he believes is a sure-proof method for producing new ideas.  If you are interested in creativity and what goes into, this is a must read.
  5. The Poisonwood Bible.  Barbara Kingsolver writes this fictional tale of a missionary family to the continent of Africa.  It draws you to question your own commitment to God’s calling on your life, while at the same time invoking frustration at some of our flawed methods.  When reading this, I guarantee you will ask the question, “How far is too far?”

What books do you recommend for 2014?

Learning the Power of Working Together

WorkTogetherAt our jobs, we work together, yet we don’t always work together. 

When we work together, I’m learning our work is more powerful.  At least, that’s what I experienced this weekend.

I’m a pastor, so my context is the church.  I work together with multiple worship leaders, children’s pastors, youth pastors, a discipleship pastor, an executive pastor, ministry directors, administrative assistants, and team of maintenance staff.  We’re all human, as you might expect.  Like others, we have our moments of struggle with working together.

Not this weekend.  Our worship service came together with intense collaboration and synergy.  Each person understood their role and how it contributed to the final outcome as a whole.  We shared an excitement for the parts our colleagues were playing.  Support and encouragement from everyone was tangible.

It all started with a willingness to try something new.  I had the opportunity to fill in as the guest preacher for all of our weekend worship services.  An idea came to me for the sermon early in the week.  I asked each worship leader (we have 3) to learn and play a new song.  A non-church song by the band A Great Big WorldWithout hesitancy, they said yes.

It wasn’t their idea.  It wasn’t their dream.  But, they were willing to dream it with me.  And, they did.  The result was one of the most powerful worship experiences I’ve been a part of as the main speaker in a worship service.

Here’s how it played out in two services:  10am & 10:45

The power of working together is working with more power.

Thank you @brettblondell @jessicaerin6 & @jonathantrees

How well do you work with others?  How well do others work with you?

Learning to Communicate with (Pop) Culture

stageI’ve always felt caught between two cultures:  “church” culture and pop culture.

It isn’t a feeling of being trapped by one or the other.  It’s more a sense of belonging to both at the same time.

I love movies.  I can’t tell you how many times I watched the original Star Wars Trilogy over and over again as a kid.  The Goonies goes on the list of never-gets-old for me, as well.

I can’t say that I’m as passionate about music. But, I’ve never felt offended or out of place with popular music.  The memory of dancing to the “Tootsie Roll” after a football game will forever bring a smile to my face.  And, if a sound track is created for my life, it will include many songs that are seldom played on Sunday mornings.

I also love the Church.  The church camps.  The potluck dinners.  Hymns.  Chorus books.  Testimonies.  The revivals.  The youth ministry.  The conferences.

Together, church culture and pop culture have shaped me.  My life is a marriage of both.

And, my sermons are beginning to sound like it.

By accident, I’m learning to communicate (preach) with pop culture.  I’m not talking syncretism.  It’s more of a dialogue.

Here’s how it happens for me:

  •  Hear what culture is saying, without judgment.  Most movies and songs have a message.  It may be critical, or hopeful, or depressing, or patriotic, or uplifting.  Whatever it is, culture is making a statement it feels needs to be heard.  My goal is to hear it, without judging it good or bad.  I just need to hear it.  Simply listen and understand.
  • Put the Bible into dialogue with what culture is saying.  The Bible becomes a conversation partner, not an arbiter.  I’m not asking the Bible for a principle to prove the immorality of culture’s message.  I read the Scriptures with the purpose of understanding how God would respond to it.  How does the Bible offer hope?  What is a loving, gracious, redeeming response?
  • Interpret culture’s message from the perspective of the Bible.   This might mean stating culture’s message directly at face value.  Or, it might mean re-interpreting the message from a new angle.  If the latter, I take the liberty to re-state the message in a way that’s veers from the norm.
  • Incorporate pop culture’s message into sermon.  Most people will identify with the messages in pop culture.  That’s why they are popular.  So, it’s an instant connection to the majority of the audience.  I attempt do this by showing a movie clip or asking the worship band to cover a song.
  • Communicate the Bible’s response to cutlure’s message.  The sermon communicates the dialogue that has taken place between the Bible and culture’s message.  The goal is to offer the hope of God’s love to a familiar cultural message.  Sometimes it takes the shape of affirming culture’s message.  Other times, it offers an alternative message.

Here’s a recent sermon as a example:  Say Something

How do you communicate with and to the culture?



Learning 3 Overlooked Points in Early Christian Missions

MapSome parts of history go unnoticed.  Our view doesn’t include all that is there to be seen.  Unfortunately, important points do not receive sufficient study by historians.

Church history is no different.  Things remain to be seen.

Justo L. Gonzalez and Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi, in their book To All Nations from All Nations, excavate 3 overlooked points from early Christian missions:

  1.  The role of women in the expansion of Christianity.   The early church had more women than men.  Christian teachings calling for respect of women was a key reason why women converted to Christianity at a higher rate.  Women were more likely to influence their family to believe.  The daily chores of women also created a network through which the message of Jesus spread.
  2. The way Christians responded to epidemics.  A series of epidemics swept through the land in the second century.  The population was decimated.  Christians took care of other believers.  This led to a greater rate of survival among Christians than the rest of the population.  Not only did Christians take care of their own sick, but they cared for many others.  When the rest of society fled to the countryside to care for their own health, Christians remained to care for all.  Several people discovered their first attraction to Christianity in the act of chartiable believers who risked their own lives.
  3. The demographic growth due to an opposition to abortion and infanticide.  For the rest of society, both were common and acceptable.  Though general population growth during this period of history is recorded as negative, Christian demographics were indexed as positive.

Do you think these factors are still operative in Christian missions today?