Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm sure I'm not the first pastor that's thought about this, but it's Saturday morning and I'm watching College GameDay on ESPN and it occurs to me again - how do our college football teams inspire the passion, loyalty, energy and time commitment we give them; and why can't churches do the same?

Think about it - we go crazy for our college football teams. We set aside an entire day every Saturday (not just an hour) to travel (often more than an hour or two), tailgate, watch the game and hopefully celebrate our victory. And even if we're not traveling to our team's game, we're camped in front of our televisions with friends and family and lots of good food, wearing our colors and screaming as if the coaches and players can hear us from our living rooms. I know lots of homes where entire rooms are decorated in their team colors year round (and, come on, Clemson fans: purple and orange are not in anyone's design guides as good choices - you do it purely for the love of your team).

Now, I'm not criticizing. I get up on Saturday's and put on my Richmond gear, Auburn gear or Duke gear depending on who has the biggest game. Our dog's name is Auburn (my childhood dog was Duke), I've been known to jump on top of the ottoman at critical moments and I do in fact own a cake pan in the shape of a football field.

But why is it that we're willing to spend tons of money on the football experience, spend hours in conversation with friends and even strangers talking up our team, and do everything we can to make it obvious to the world which team we support, but we won't do the same for Jesus?

I don't know about you, but my team never died for me. My team doesn't give me life forever. My team makes me happy (and mad and anxious and...), but my team doesn't give me joy in all circumstances.

I love college football. I love the atmosphere, I love my teams and I love the time spent with family and friends enjoying it together. But, I want to love Jesus more. I want to be so pumped about what Jesus has done and continues to do that I can't stop talking about it. I want to "wave my flag" proudly that I belong to Jesus. I want to give my time, my money and my energy to the One who died for me. Don't you?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How's everyone enjoying tv premiere week? Come on, be honest, ya'll have watched a lot of television this week, checking out the new shows and dvr-ing all of the 2-hour premieres of your favorites. I'm a little embarrassed to admit how much tv I've watched in the last few days - everything from House to Biggest Loser, The Office, NCIS and hours of college football. I know ya'll thought I spend all my free time in prayer (haha).

I didn't think it was possible anymore, but I have to admit that I have been shocked at what I've seen this week. Just by watching previews of shows, I'm thinking there weren't any shows on where an inappropriate sexual encounter did not take place. That's to say nothing of the language and substance abuse. It seems that we're no longer content to simply condone immoral behavior, we're now in the business of promoting it and making it seem normal and even justified. For example, it seems that between Cougar Town, Mercy and Accidentally On Purpose (just to name three that I didn't even watch), we're telling women that if you're a single or divorced woman of a certain age you're entitled to certain happiness that makes sleeping around and playing with other people's lives and emotions acceptable. In other words, you deserve "happiness" no matter the cost.

Now, I know, you're all thinking, "uh-oh, is this one of those posts where prudish-Jenn takes center stage and gets on her high horse about spending our time in better ways...reading the Bible, listening to Andy Stanley, blah, blah, blah." Well, maybe it is, but hang in there with me for a few moments...

I want to be happy as much as anyone else. I want to enjoy life and I want to do things and be part of things that lead to that end. But if happiness becomes my sole focus, priority and aim, I'm pretty sure I've gotten off track and I'm equally certain that I'll end up lots of places other than the land of eternal happiness. Let me try explaining this with an example:

I've worked hard today. I've accomplished many of the things on my to-do list. I've even gone to a meeting I really didn't want to go to, but I went, I even smiled and made the best of it. I "deserve" to take it easy tonight. I "deserve" time to put my feet up and relax. I "deserve" to be happy. Well, it would make me happy to spend the rest of my day watching tv, eating ice cream, reading a novel and getting a massage. However, if I do that - how will my laundry get done? who will feed my child his dinner? how loved and appreciated will my husband feel if I ignore him when he gets home from work and neglect to ask about his day? I "deserve" to be happy and I could do the things that would make me immediately happy, but I have a feeling I'd end up with a hungry, fussy child, a barking dog, an annoyed husband, no groceries and no clean underwear for the rest of the week - not a happy scenario.

You see, I'm convinced that happiness is not meant to be an end goal, but rather a by-product of faithful living that centers on Jesus Christ. And even then, we're not promised to always be happy, we're promised to be filled with joy, which is a peace of mind not dependent on circumstances. The idea of getting what we deserve is a selfish mentality fed by a culture that says "it's all about you, you, you."

Scripture says we deserve death, but Jesus gives us life. I'm thinking I'd rather not get what I deserve. Instead, my time would be well spent pursuing the One who has given me life and all that I have and being thankful for the opportunities each day to live, love and serve.

It's okay to watch tv. It's okay to take time-off (pretty sure God commanded it). But don't buy into the world's attitude that we deserve happiness no matter what the cost and who gets hurt. Life's not about you. It's not about me. "It's all because of Jesus we're alive!"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yesterday started out great. I had time to hang out with Jacob in the morning before leaving the house. I ran for 35 minutes, which is something I haven't done since before I got pregnant with Jacob. Jamin and I had a productive staff meeting with some solid prayer time together for Ashley Ridge. I put together a group of young, ministry leaders at Bethany and ARC who are going to start meeting weekly to go deeper in our faith and also spend time praying for each other and for our ministries (totally pumped about this, we're going to the next level and it's going to revolutionize everything we're doing!). And, of course, I went to Moe's (it was Tuesday, hello).

But then, my day crashed. What happened doesn't really matter, what matters is that I got hurt, really hurt, which led to being mad, which led to being so furious I wanted to spit or throw up or beat a punching bag to a pulp, or maybe all of the above.

It's okay to get angry, especially when our anger and hurt is justified, but how we deal with our anger can make or break us and it says a lot about our relationship with God. The old Jenn (you know, a year or so ago, or maybe last week), would have gotten angry, stayed angry for days and maybe weeks, let her anger cause frustration in the day to day and ultimately break down with stress. Let's just say it always ended in tears, profound exhaustion and taking it out on my family who had nothing to do with it. Fortunately, God has put some incredible mentors in my life who have helped me find a better way to deal with these things.

My high school track coach was one such mentor. On meet days, if something went wrong in one of our events, she would give us about 10 minutes to pout and be furious and then we had to move on and get ready for the next race. Triple jump was my biggest event senior year. I rarely lost and I came dangerously close to setting a new school record, but then I got to the district meet and I crashed and burned. I actually foot faulted on all three attempts. I was furious - furious at myself, furious at the line for moving, furious at the unfairness of life. Because it was an all-day meet and I had more time between events, my coach told me I had 30 minutes to get away from everyone else and be mad, but then I had to move on and get ready for the 4x800. Not only did my coach put a limit to my anger, but she also sent me off alone to deal with it so I didn't bring anyone else down with me. Smart, really smart.

How often do we get so angry that we're determined to make everyone around us angry as well? We want them to feel as rotten as we do and hurt as much as we do, but the truth is that never helps anyone because not only does it fuel our anger longer, but then there's the "I'm sorry" clean-up work when it all blows over.

Long story short...I was really upset yesterday, and I think rightfully so. I vented to a few confidants who know me well enough to love me through my rants (a.k.a. my husband and parents). Then, I took some time alone to pray and ask God to put things back in perspective. I gave myself the rest of the night to feel the hurt and anger and promised myself I would put it all behind me when I went to bed.

This morning God woke me up with a new song in my heart. I went to Bible study and we talked about Moses dealing with the complaining Israelites with unbelievable patience and compassion because he was so intimately connected to God. I went to cardio chisel and left feeling very sore, but also energized and healthy. I had lunch with some friends who make me laugh - both at the world around us and at myself, which is always a good thing. I have a lot of work to do this afternoon, but I'm excited about what I'm doing and what God is using me to do. And tonight, I get time with Jacob.

"I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me!" ~Psalm 13:6

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I need to start this post by saying that I can't take any credit for what I'm about to share. I just had lunch w/ a group of pastors and one of them (also a church planter) had some great thoughts on managing people. And while I don't consider myself replete with wisdom, I hope I am wise enough to pass on good insights when I hear them. So, thank you Joe Cate for your thoughts and here they are:

It's important when you work with people (and everyone does) to be able to manage your expectations. There is a difference between judging and managing expectations. The first implies a value judgment, the second implies a recognition that people are different and therefore we should expect different things from them. As a means of helping to understand people and therefore manage expectations, Joe places everyone he meets into one of four categories:

Friendly Dog - you know that dog who is super excited to see you and up in your face and licking all over you and then he sees a squirrel out of the corner of his eye and takes off in the opposite direction? The friendly dog is the person who is excited and supportive and right beside you as long as you can keep their attention. (Joe mentioned the dog in the movie "Up" as a good illustration)

Quiet Dog
- the quiet dog is equally excited and eager to be your friend, but will want some time alone to rest.

Friendly Cat
- cats tend to enjoy things more on their own terms. The friendly cat will want you to meet them at a point, but if you can do that they're on board and eager to sit with you in the place they've selected.

Quiet Cat
- the quiet cat is the person you don't typically notice in the room. If you approach them calmly, they may eventually join in, but if you let the friendly dog go after them they're going to hide forever and maybe even disappear.

If you can recognize which of these someone is, it's easier to put them in the right position and expect the appropriate things from them. If you have the same expectations of everyone with no allowance for temperament, you are destined for constant annoyance and frustration.

Which animal are you?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I don't remember if it was my political theory class or English lit, but I do remember being forced to read Rousseau's "Social Contract". And while I've pushed most of my education out of my brain to make room for quotes from "The Office" and "Gilmore Girls" (just kidding...sort of), I recall Rousseau arguing that the basis for a civilized society is the realization that we need one another for survival and as such, we make rules to keep us from killing each other. And so, for cavemen that meant putting the clubs down in order to share a cave. Today, that means thousands of years worth of rules, acknowledged and unacknowledged, that societies agree on to create an environment of civility that is supposed to enhance survival and decrease violence.

Now, let's be honest, some of the rules for a civilized society we've adopted are ridiculous. I mean, who decided it's tacky and offensive for me to wear my white pants now that Labor Day has come and gone? And, who decided that we need to track down the first, middle and last names of every known relative in order to send invitations and get married?

On the flip side, some of the rules are greatly appreciated. "No shoes, no shirt, no service" seems highly appropriate in public establishments where food is being served. I also appreciate that there are rules in place so that when someone in my neighborhood decides to shoot fireworks in the middle of May on a Tuesday night at 10pm, leading my dog to bark and my baby to cry, the police come at the request of the 20 phone calls they receive from others in the neighborhood to put an end to it (talking hypothetically, of course).

Rules of civility encourage us to be better than our selfish mindsets often push us to be. Rules of civility create expectations for how we treat each other and how we can rightfully expect to be treated.

So, what is happening all around us as these rules are seemingly breaking down in the most unlikely places - i.e. center court at the U.S. Open, on stage in million dollar outfits for music awards and the halls of the U.S. Congress (okay, maybe Congress isn't such an unlikely place). Now, I'm not going to add to the multitudes discussing these specific events - all were unbelievable and all parties have apologized, but I am wondering if it was just a bizarre week or has the contract been dropped? Have we decided it's no longer worth the effort or in our best interest to have rules demanding unselfish behavior?

Now, I would be the last person to argue for larger law books and more extensive litigation, but I am with my girl Aretha when she says R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I'm also with Jesus when he says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself." Come to think of it, Jesus also said, "There is no greater love than this, that He lay down his life for his friends."

Every instinct in our being says self-preservation, but God created this world (and all the important rules) and Jesus basically says the best way to self-preservation is to give up ourselves, put Him first and others next. So, maybe a little decency is selfish after all, but I'm for that brand.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In the words of Bob (as in the movie "What About Bob?"), "Gimme, gimme, gimme, I need, I need!"

Do you have a list of "gimme, I need's" in your world? I do. I want a few more bookshelves, an endless list of books to put on the shelves (after reading them, of course), new kitchen countertops, a cleaning lady, an iPhone, more hours in a day, a live website, an obedient dog...I could go on and on. And, for all of my wants I could make a convincing argument for why they're needs, but that's only because I'm terribly good at argumentation (not something to brag about).

So why do we have these endless lists of "needs"? Why are we never satisfied? For starters, we live in an advertising world that spends billions of dollars to tell us several times a minute that there are things we need. But, let's not blame the world - it's too easy. After all, advertising wouldn't be so prolific if it weren't effective and easy. In other words, we're weak and pliable and easily convinced that everyone else's life must be easier than our own and if we just had one more, or two more, or three more, or four more things our life would be easy too.

News flash --- nobody's life is easy. Everyone has a story and a challenge. Others challenges may seem easier than our own, but that's only because they're not ours. People with kids look at people without kids and think, "Gosh, what I could do if I had their time." People without kids look at people with kids and think, "Wouldn't it be great to have more hands in the house to get things done?" People without money look at people with money and think, "Wow, that must be great." People with money look at people without money and think, "Wasn't life so much easier when it was simpler?"

The grass is greener, the joneses, blah, blah, blah. We've heard it all before. But still, wouldn't it be nice to have our gimme list?

I don't have anything profound, but I do have a suggestion...if we put Jesus first on our gimme list and desire Him with as much passion as we often desire the other things on our gimme list, I think things will not only work themselves out, but we'll receive more than we ever imagined.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dig Deep

I went to my first spin class today at the Y. Turns out it was an advanced class and today's course was a strength workout of hills, hills and more hills. At about the 30-minute mark when I didn't think I could go any longer and the Life cereal I had eaten an hour earlier rose dangerously close to the surface, I began to think this was all a big mistake and physical fitness was way overrated (the expression "fat and happy" came from somewhere, right?).

Right then, the instructor began telling us to "Persevere," "Dig deep." I decided she was on a personal mission to destroy me and then I had a flashback to my college years when I would do advanced Tae Bo with a group of friends and Billy Blanks would tell us to "dig deep" and we would get so angry at Billy we would begin throwing towels, mats, water bottles, you name it, at the television. But, before we knew it, our rage against Billy pulled us through to the end of the workout and we felt immensely proud of ourselves, running the rest of the day on that "work-out high."

I gritted my teeth, focused straight ahead and determined to make it through.

We have a bad habit of thinking that God is our one-stop shop for an easier life, when the truth is that more often God is the training instructor, putting us on the right path, asking us to dig deep through the rough patches and encouraging us the whole way knowing that making it through is the very best thing for us (even if our limited perspective greatly disagrees along the way).

Life isn't always easy. God never said it would be. Dig deep, God is with you and He will pull you through.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

My apologies for the dearth of blog postings recently - you could say that life got away from me a bit. I've been reminded once again that all the planning and scheduling in the world doesn't put us in the driver seat. Life happens and God is in control. Planning is good, but most of the time we're simply along for the ride.

So, I thought I might get back on board today by sharing some of the recent scenery I'm thankful for...

- I'm thankful for my husband and the prayers he prays for me everyday. I'm thankful that God uses him to encourage me when I need it and humble me when I need it (which is a lot!)
- I'm thankful for Jacob whose smile lights up my world and puts everything back in perspective
- I'm thankful for Jamin, our new worship leader, who has a heart for God, a passion for God's people, and sweeeet music skills!
- I'm thankful for all of the volunteers who helped our first worship service happen on Sunday - seriously, blown away by all of the support!
- I'm thankful for the opportunity to spend my time doing things I love and being surrounded by incredible people who challenge me and love me despite all of my imperfections
- I'm thankful for friends who call me out on my weaknesses, but always do so while rooting for me to succeed
- most of all, I'm thankful for Jesus Christ because He gives me life and calls me precious and invites me to be part of the most exciting journey anyone could ever be on!!!!!

What are you thankful for? Tonight, don't focus on all of the things that make you anxious and add stress to your life. Give thanks that God is in the driver's seat of your life and take a minute to enjoy the view.