Lambchops

Back in my youth pastor days, we would put on a church-wide Passover service every Spring. One year, to better promote the service, I went to a local sheep farmer to see if I could borrow a lamb. My plan was to keep it in our backyard and bring him to church on Sundays. We lived in a parsonage on church property, so logistics once I got the lamb home would be simple. Or so I thought.

The farmer was accommodating, so I put the lamb in the back of my rusted-out Ford with David, one of my High School students, and drove to church.

But the lamb stunk.

The farmer didn’t raise his sheep by bringing them to different fields, he simply brought food in. The result in Lake Charles LA was that they ate whatever food was given, and whatever grew on the ground, down to the ground, and lived in mud. All his sheep were needing sheering, and this one was no exception. So, he (or she, I really don’t remember) had 7-inch-long wool full of mud and other stuff they were living in.

This lamb really stunk.

I had no idea how bad they could stink until we had him living in our backyard for a week or two. Mercy. And they aren’t like a dog that you can train. They just eat and poop and baa all night when you want to sleep.

Anyway, my friend David and I decided we needed to wash this sheep if we were going to bring it to church. Water alone would not cut it. David went and bought a bottle of Woolite, and we got out the hose, and a brush and started scrubbing. That poor lamb. Anyway, once he was kind of clean, we needed to get him dry. We couldn’t. The wool was too thick, and we were concerned about him getting sick overnight when it got cool. So, we hatched a plan.

David went home and got his dad’s lawn and leaf blower. We thought we could use it like a giant hairdryer.

It blew the lamb over.

So, I got on the wet side of the lamb to hold him up, and David blew all the dirty water off of the lamb and onto me.

OK, now to Psalm 23. It begins The LORD is my Shepherd. When God called us the sheep of his pasture, it wasn’t a compliment. He could have called us the ambassadors of His kingdom. Warriors in His army. Water boys of His team. Anything but sheep.

How fantastic it is that the unchanging all-powerful, self-existent Creator of the universe would care about us smelly sheep. How remarkable that He would send His Son.

John 10:7 (NIV) Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9  I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. 11  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

There are so many analogies. Like sheep, we aren’t too bright. In our sin, we smell. God becomes one of us so that our dirt can be taken by Him, blown on him as we become clean. And He pays the price for us.

I read two books on Psalms 23 during our vacation that were helpful. One was an old favorite of my dad’s, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller. It has sold over 2 million copies so far, so I guess my dad was in good company. The other book I read was Traveling Light by Max Lucado. If you want more information on the Psalm, they are both great devotionals.

OH – the is a picture of Lambchops, David, and me from back in the 80s. David is still a dear friend.

Dan

Needing a Miracle

If you could buy God one gift, what would it be?

I’d get Him a watch.

I want to get God on my time. I want Him to see things like I see them. Am I the only one who has wanted to shout, “God, can’t you see what is happening here? Help out already!” God on our time would be handy, no?

To illustrate, here is what happened to my mother, in France, in the ‘50s.

After WWII my parents went to France as missionaries with my oldest brother and sister. The picture is of my mother and older brother David and sister Janice. The country was still rebuilding from the war, and things were… difficult. My mother remembered two things in the French language. One was she could always quote John 3:16. The other was “Don’t poop in our yard!” Difficult times. While there my folks had two more daughters born in the American Hospital in Paris, but my parents lived in the smaller towns of Dijon, St. Michele sur Orge, and Arc-sur-Tille.

After some years of living in France, my dad developed a severe case of pneumonia. They had dad hanging almost upside-down to help with postural lung drainage. It got so bad that it looked like they were going to have to remove a lung, something the hospitals in France were ill-equipped to do. Their mission board sent plane tickets (they had gone over by ship) to fly the family back to the States so dad could have surgery. Dad was under care at the hospital in Paris, but my mom, brother, and three sisters were in Arc-sur-Tille. All four kids were under eight years old.

Thankfully, no one had thought about me yet.

My mom was stuck with having to pack up all their belongings and close the apartment. She got everything ready to go except for one thing she could not do.

They had no money to get to Paris. As in NO money.

But she packed up anyway, knowing they needed to be ready. It seemed impossible God would leave them without help. How my dad was supposed to get to the airport without help I don’t know. How mom was supposed to live in post-war France without dad I have no clue.

First, the good news. The day before mom was to leave for Paris, she checked the mail. Sure enough, God made sure the money was there. Her sister and brother-in-law, who had promised to support them while there, had, for some reason, not been doing it. Now they took three years of back financial support and sent it by one check. Had they been sending it all along, my parents probably would have spent it on immediate needs. Now it had been saved for them and it arrived at what seemed to be just the right time.

But it wasn’t the right time from my mother’s perspective.

The bad news is that when mom went to cash the check at their local bank, they told her they would have to put a hold on it. The check was from the United States after all. It would take weeks or months to clear, and they had no way of knowing if it was valid. She tried other banks with the same result. I still remember mom telling me how defeated she felt walking back to the packed-up apartment with four kids in tow.

I bet she wanted to give God a watch.

Had that check just come in a month earlier, how different she would have felt. And being human I bet mom was praying, “God, can’t you see what is happening here? Help out already!”

On the way back to the apartment she thought of the American Consulate in Paris. Was this a God idea? Would they back the check? They had no reason to back it, but still, it seemed worth a try. It was closing time at the bank, so she went back as fast as she could. The bank called; the American Consulate was still open. They backed the check, somehow, they got dad through the airport and to the plane in a wheelchair, and my parents and siblings flew home together.

A little side note, my sister Judy, the youngest at the time slept in a hammock in the plane made for infants. It would sway as the plane flew and rock them to sleep. Brilliant! Well, until you hit turbulence anyway. There might be a reason we don’t have them anymore.

And side note number two, when the plane landed in the states and everyone got off, they were spraying around it. I have no idea why. What I do know is that my brother David loudly said, “THEY MUST HAVE KNOWN WE HAVE FLEAS.” Mom was mortified.

Maybe they did know?

Still, I love that mom trusted God enough to pack up with no clear way forward.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”

I’m convinced that peace comes from trusting in the love (God wants what is best for us), wisdom (God knows what is best for us), and power (God can bring about what is best for us) of our giving God.

Life is hard.

God is amazing.

Humor, The Babylon Bee, and Snopes

mockup-08ba252e_1200x1200Why I love humor, the Babylon Bee, and Snopes

In our crazy world of extreme echo-chamber paranoia, the Babylon Bee is my online source of satire sanity. Check out these article titles (better if you go to their site to see the pictures).

  •  Nation Torn Between Watching Democratic Debates, Sticking Face In Blender.
  • Promising New Prospect Lebronna James Expected To Dominate WNBA
  • Trump Proves He’s Not A Racist By Showing His Rejection Letter From The KKK
  • Gideons Announce Daring Plan To Sneak Bibles Into Progressive Churches
  • Polar Bear Apologizes For Being White
  • Ginsburg: “I Am Mentally Fit Enough To Serve Through The End Of President Eisenhower’s Term.”

And it only gets better thanks to Snopes, the “definitive fact-checking site and reference source…”

I like Snopes, have used it a lot, and I don’t think they are part of some left-wing conspiracy to remove all source of humor and sanity from the interweb, but what do I know? This time they took themselves, and the Babylon Bee, too seriously. Snopes was a Facebook partner last year when they had Facebook slap Babylon Bee with a warning for posting this fake news article. See if you think this is fake news or satire. Ready?

Really? In addition, the warning threatened the Babylon Bee with limitations and demonetization. Later Facebook acknowledged the mistake saying the piece “should not have been rated false in our system.” Calling that article fake news rather than satire is itself fake news. This year they have been going after even more Babylon Bee articles. Things got ugly. How do you out-Snopes Snopes?

The Babylon Bee had an idea. The top of their home page now says,

Better yet, BuzzFeed just reported the top-performing article on Facebook related to the topic, “democratic debate” just before the last debate was an article by The The Babylon Bee.

The title?

And the article is even better:

Snopes Issues Pre-Approval Of All Statements Made During Tonight’s Democratic DebateU.S.—With the Democratic primary debates in full swing, many fact-checking websites are preparing to review candidates’ statements for accuracy. Thankfully, Snopes, the most unbiased fact-checking website ever, has found a way to expedite their evaluation process.

 Since their original founding in 1957 by the KGB, Snopes has gained a reputation for objectively reporting what someone’s secret motivations probably were, and what they probably really meant when they said something. More recently, they have perfected the art of determining whether a satirical article is hilarious, left-leaning comedy or divisive, conservative-leaning fake news.

 As part of their ongoing goal of being able to rush to judgment as quickly as possible, Snopes published a pre-approval of all future statements made by candidates during the Democratic debates. 

 “While we understand there may be some disagreements among progressive candidates on certain issues, we know that nobody who shares our worldview would ever say anything factually untrue,” Snopes explains in their article.

 Snopes also clarified that in the event a candidate does say anything that sounds untrue/conservative, they will automatically conclude that the individual had pure intentions and meant something completely different. As a very last resort, they may change a particular rating to “mixed,” assuming some context was missing.

 At publishing, Snopes had also released a fact-check for all future statements by President Trump, rating them all as “False.”

 Don’t mess with the Bee.

 

 

Stud Studebaker for Christmas

Before 3/4 ton pickups with Cummings diesel engines, there were Studebakers. They had no AC, broke down more often, came with no cup holders, and had limited ground clearance – but a man with a Studebaker was a man who could go anywhere and do most anything.

At least he thought he could.

It may be good that I have no memories of this vacation. Here is another picture of our studly Stude, this one hauling down a Christmas Tree from the mountains around Tucson. I’m sure all five of us kids were crammed in there with Mom and Dad. It’s amazing how many people a station wagon could hold before seat belts, shoulder straps, car seats, and air bags. I believe the average lifespan back in the 60s was 12.

studebaker christmas tree

My favorite Studebaker pic comes at the end of  the blog. First I am pasting in our Christmas letter for those who missed it. Scroll past the letter if you have already read it.

Yeah, it’s late. You can’t rush perfection. Here is the mostly true update on the Cooley’s.

JoLynn is working full time for a few months or a few years for Presbyterian Hospital. She’s piloting a Patient

Advocate program at a new hospital. The job is assisting patients in pain and their families in crisis who are attempting to work through a maze of medical misunderstandings while hoping and praying for healing.

It really is a great ministry where Jo gets to help many people on some of their most difficult days.

She can have it. It’s easier to write Christmas letters.

Megan, Jon, and mighty Memphis live here in Albuquerque, and as of October 11 have Indigo Rose to keep them up at night. We appreciate their kindness in giving us our first granddaughter. Memphis is my cookie-making buddy. Indigo is my nap buddy – who often naps when I get to hold her. Lucky Indi even has a daily naptime! I’m jealous.

Amanda, Jake, Oliver, Emerson, and Harrison (or Oli, Emmy, and Harry as we call them), live in Marble Falls TX. Amanda runs Camp Peniel’s weekend camping program, and Jake works for Overhead Door in Austin. After 7 summers and hundreds of weekends there, I always thought I’d work for Peniel, but the opportunity got passed down to Amanda. Not that I’m jealous. They were able to come in for Christmas, and we had enough snow to take the boys sledding in the back yard – my Christmas highlight.

Yes, that means we have a new back yard. We moved last January to a smaller one-story house on a half-acre with an amazing view and a perfect little sled hill in back. It’s beautiful. JoLynn is a sledding goddess, so that was the real reason for the move. Our new address is: 2112 San Pablo Rd NE, Rio Rancho NM 87144.

Micah has been with Air Guard Intelligence for over six years, and went full-time with them a couple months ago. They paid him well to go back full time, so he is the one with the nice new red Miata. Not that I’m jealous. We’re not sure how his English degree helps him to blow things up. I guess you wouldn’t want to miscommunicate. He comes to church with Starbucks for his sister – it’s great to have even half the family with us for worship.

Caleb is three semesters short of graduating from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He spent the summer taking European Reformation classes in … Europe. Not that I’m jealous. He too was home for Christmas, so we had the entire clan here. It was great fun. A line by the bathroom door is such a good memory of old times.

Dan – Our new house is 20 years old, so it has plenty of fun projects to keep me out of trouble. I still enjoy a week or two in Haiti in the summer, and the church is rolling right along – the merger was a great move, the staff is terrific. The New City Catechism is our current study – great stuff. My sister Janice and I wrote a small stocking stuffer book, Bizarre Christmas Bible Stories, to hit store shelves in September 2019.

Mostly I’m just jealous of Indigo’s naps and Amanda’s camp and Micah’s Miata and Caleb’s summer and not at all of JoLynn’s job. God really has been gracious to us, and we are most grateful. My favorite verse for 2018 came from Ecclesiastes 12:13 in the Message.

Fear God. Do what he tells you. That’s it.

Happy 2019,

Dan for all

And my favorite for last. My dad the stud working on his Studebaker. Notice the lush Arizona grass. I believe the license plate says 64. I you have a spare Studebaker you want to sell, let me know. I’d love to surprise JoLynn with one for Valentines.

car repair

 

 

 

Never Use an Ax Unless You Are Relaxed

axThat great advice comes from Bruce Kugler, Ph.D. Clinical Psychology, The Wright Institute.

Confession of an idiot pastor #135: I should have listened to his advice before speaking last Sunday.

So, last week I’m telling l the church we will be going to two services on October 7. Churches max out at about 70% of their seating capacity here in America, due to lousy hygiene and inadequate deodorant application I suppose. Haiti can cram three people in a chair and believe there is still plenty of room.

But then all of Port-au-Prince has a bit of an odor, so who’s to know?

Anyway, we’ve been at 70% and above for a couple years now at AnchorPoint, and are way more full than that in our children’s classes, thus, the decision and the announcement.

So, I’m giving the talk, and I said 170% instead of 70%. And I did it again. And again. I was totally consistent in my perplexing presentation. An interesting side-note, when I was told about my mistake after church, there were two opposite responses.

The “Type A” people were confused. They just couldn’t do the math.

The “Type Z” people like myself had no problem with it. “I figured you must have meant 70%, or just that we were really full. I got it.” They said.

Type Z is so much more Godly, don’t you think? But to the main question – why did I do it?

I assume I kept making the mistake because I was stressed about not making a mistake. I hate it when I do that – wish I knew how to stop it. Had I been relaxed and trusted God, I’d have been OK. I need to remember that great advice.

Never use an ax unless you are relaxed.

scientific

Playing Pastor: Canada vs the USA

Attach3600_20180702_131531 (1)Culture Matters. I grew up and went to college in the Southwest USA, got married in Dallas, and later moved to Winnipeg Canada with four kids and stayed for seven winters. Things were different there.

Winnipeg is a tad cooler than Tucson. Actually, Tucson may have hellish heat, but January in Winnipeg makes a Tucson summer seem like heaven. The politicians in the US take turns when they debate, in Canada they rudely interrupt, making it way more fun to watch. In the Southwest, we speak two languages but claim only English. In Winnipeg we claimed two languages but spoke only English. The countries have different movie rating systems – but we were shocked as to what offends and doesn’t in Canada. One night we rented the equivalent to a PG movie in Winnipeg, and suddenly saw WAY more than we bargained for. Seeing more skin doesn’t seem to offend much north of the 49th parallel. However kill a few people and an “adult” rating is imminent. One culture is squeamish about skin, the other about blood.

But nothing is as different between Canada and the USA as playing pastor.

When I was new in Winnipeg I used the illustration of a friend of mine, who was trying out for the police department in Tucson, who took me target shooting. After using that illustration I was met at the door after church by a young man, who said, “I think I will have to leave this church. I just don’t think I can follow a pastor who would shoot a handgun.”

We now live in New Mexico, and I was reminded of what happened in Winnipeg today. A friend from church took me out to show me what he does at work – in defense of our country. He let me pull the trigger on stuff way more fun than a handgun.

What fun!

Attach3601_20180702_131531Southwest American fun, not Canadian fun. That would have been mauling people in a hockey rink.

All this to say, culture matters. I quit using gun illustrations in Winnipeg, and the young man stayed and became a good friend. Our family learned about Parliament, a 5-party political system, and became dual citizens. I went from helping to bring in DC Talk and Newsboys for concerts in Tucson to learning to appreciate a pipe organ, stained glass, and a church with 100-year history in Winnipeg. I got rid of my gun before moving North, and got a 100-lb possessed dog to take it’s place. He was way more scary anyway.

But one thing about me didn’t change and never would no matter how long I had lived in Winnipeg.  I’d still be squeamish about skin.

Cover-Art-Comp_2

Bizarre Christmas – coming out this Fall, 2018!

 

Christian Bourbon?

81rsS8+B3XL._SL1500_This week I got a 100-word email after my sermon that had an 8-word line in it I’d like to memorize. Our sermon topic was Awkward Church, which got this individual thinking. I hope you like his email as much as I did.

When I was about 11, we stayed with my grandparents for about a month when we were between homes. My father liked a glass of bourbon before dinner. Although he never drank himself, my grandfather kept a bottle of bourbon in a cabinet in his living room and invited my dad to have a drink each evening.

 A couple of years later, I asked my grandfather why he did this, believing as he did in abstinence from alcohol. His answer was short and concise: “Abstinence is a choice, hospitality is a commandment.”

It’s important for us to make sure we don’t treat our preferences like commandments.

God bless …

 

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Did God Move Us to Haiti?

20180510_195817We moved. Is God laughing?

  • We downsized, but not having enough room for kids to move back in with us wasn’t the main reason for moving.
  • I’m now walking distance to work (1.1mi), but I’m still so lazy I drive.
  • The new place has more land. I’m not sure why. How much sand without an ocean does one need anyway?

We moved for the view. The picture is from our backyard. Some days in February, we saw colorful sunrises over snow covered mountains. Yesterday we watched a monsoon come through the valley, and drop our temperature from 85 to 55 when it hit us.

I have to wonder though. What does God think about our view?

I think He’s laughing. We moved for the view. He moved us for the Haitian memories. I love spending time in Haiti – but there are reasons we don’t live there.

Before moving, we spent months looking at houses, yards, and views. We compared low prices vs expected repairs, wells vs city water, propane vs natural gas, pitched roofs vs flat.

We choose the worse of each due to wanting the view regardless of what was on the lot. We got a well, propane gas, mucho repairs needed – and a flat roof. Just like Haiti.

When we had the well inspected, the house filter was white. When we moved in it was brown. I put a new one in it, and when I turned the water on, it came out… brown. It was full of sand, just like Haiti.

Inside, the faucets kept plugging up with sand. So we lived on bottled water. Just like Haiti.

One toilet rocked. Late on Saturday night, got the bright idea to fix it. There was no bolt on one side to tighten, so I removed the toilet to install a bolt. The flange was broken. When I attempted to remove the flange to replace it, I found the complete assembly had been cemented in. Just like Haiti.

So I rigged it. Just like….

Two days ago, the power went out in our area of town for a few hours. I’ve no idea what happened – a cat fried in a transformer – one can only hope. Anyway, when I went to turn on the kitchen faucet, I realized that on a well, your water only works when there is electricity. Just like Haiti.

Only we have no generator.

Thus, we temporarily had no flushing toilets, showers, or drinking water. And, we had company. Just like…

I’d say we were to blame for the move, but according to this verse, is it God’s fault? Acts 17:26-27 From one man he [God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (NIV2011)

Actually, we love the place. The well is now fixed, the electricity is back on, the toilet is glued down with 10lbs of silicone, the roof isn’t leaking for now, and we still have a great view. Just like Haiti.

The verse is a reminder that we may move to downsize, get a deal, or for a school district, or the view, but God moves us so we will seek Him, and help others do the same. It’s all about Him, even our moves. He moved us for the people and His glory, not the glory of the view. But, we’ll take that too.

And the Haitian reminders.

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Pastoral Envy

lucado

I had this published four years ago in Christianity Today – Leadership Journal. I think it’s been long enough they are good with me putting it on my blog.

DEAR GOD, GIVE ME A MEGA-MINISTRY WHEN I BURN OUT

It isn’t fair.

Bill Hybels burnt out. He wrote, “The rate at which I was doing the work of God, was destroying the work of God in myself.” (my paraphrase) Bill realized this was unhealthy, sought help, reorganized his life, sold a few million books, and achieved, what looked to me, like Pastoral Nirvana. LUCKEEE.

Rob Bell had around 10,000 people coming to his church when he hit bottom. He wrote,

“In the middle of all this growth and chaos was me, superpastor. . . . It’s one thing to be an intern with dreams about how the church should be. It’s another thing to be the thirty-year-old pastor of a massive church. . .  People were asking me to write articles and books on how to grow a progressive young church, and I wasn’t even sure I was a Christian anymore. . .  It was in that abyss that I broke and got help. (Velvet Elvis, PP. 103-105.)

There we go again – same song, second verse. Rob burnt-out, got help, reorganized his life, wrote a book about an Elvis painting, and his church rocked.

Joshua Harris was in demand as a speaker, writer, and pastor. He too wrote about hitting bottom, reorganizing his life, and attaining redemption. Kyle Idelman of Not a Fan fame shares how he had to re-examine ministry in the midst of exponential growth. In the winter issue of Leadership Journal Bob Merritt talks about adding staff, and being courted for speaking engagements outside the church, while at the same time leading the preaching department at Bethel Theological Seminary before his meltdown.

It sounded like a plan to me.

So, after an average first pastorate, we moved from Canada to a church plant of 120 people in New Mexico. I was ready to become a workaholic, see our church grow, have a melt-down, repent of my selfishness, lead a seminary department, and write a best-seller entitled Dogs Playing Poker. Actually, I’ve never wanted a mega-ministry, but a growing, healthy ministry would be awesome.

I worked like crazy and burned out six years later. So far, so good – except we were still running 120 people and I wasn’t retiring on book sales. When the economy crashed, so did our budget. At the same time a home Bible study got sideways with the church and sucked out both people and energy. Every family that chose to leave caused me personal anguish. Every breakdown, from a video projector to a coffee pot, was a budget breaker. I tried harder.

I read more about marketing, went to leadership conferences, and debated getting the cool glasses/tattoo combination to look hip. I silently wondered if we could keep the church open, if I could continue to pay my mortgage. Worse yet, Hybels asked Bono to speak at his Leadership conference for a second time, without asking me once. Not that I’m bitter.

I suppose it’s foolish to be jealous of these guys. Hybels is stuck in a time-warp of 1950 flip-charts, Rob needs to use a Topical Bible next time he publically updates his theology, and Harris is so insecure he covered his face with his hat on the cover of his first book.

But I was jealous, frustrated, and scared. Nothing seemed to be working. These guys had something to show for their burnout.  “Please God, let me crash in style. At least then I can write about it. Crashing without something to show for it is humiliating.”

Bad Timing

It should have been a grand time. My wife JoLynn and I were on an Alaskan cruise for our 30th anniversary. I learned a grand lesson, but I didn’t have a grand time learning it.

There were 1200 people on the cruise, 400+ who chose this cruise to hear mega-church pastor/author Max Lucado speak. He had sold over 80 million books. I’ve sold 10k. Why is it when I meet “big name” people I make an idiot out of myself?

Before the cruise I was hoping – praying for a chance to meet Max. I’d love to write more. So some counsel, a bit of help, an endorsement was in my dreams.  I got close.

After white water rafting in Juneau, we had some time left to blow money in town. I bought a hat. We then headed to a chocolate shop where I ordered a month’s worth of dark chocolate to last us through the afternoon. When I turned around, there was my wife, JoLynn, talking to Max and his wife as if they had known each other for decades. JoLynn is from Texas. Texans can do that. But there was a problem.

I’m not Texan.

I stood by stupidly with water dripping off my new made-in-China “ALASKA!” cap listening to the conversation. My mind was a 1970s computer trying to run Windows 8. My screen was blue – my cursor frozen. JoLynn had this “Don’t-destroy-the-moment” look in her eyes. I did.

All I could think about was what I needed. What I wanted. I wanted him to like me, to ask about me, to be able to tell my story. So I broke into a story about our son.

“We have this boy Caleb,” I blurted out, “he is 16, our youngest. All of our kids, we have four of them you see, well all four and the husband of our oldest, that makes five, well we were all plus JoLynn and I, that makes seven I guess, well we were sitting around the table one night and .. . Ugh.” AWKWARD.

Not knowing what to say next I stammered around for a bit, smiled too big, tried to make small talk, felt like an idiot, saw the confused shocked look on JoLynn’s face, tried again, did worse, felt worse, smiled bigger, dug in deeper, and pretty much died in mid-sentence. I’d give more details, but pathetic reliving is painful.

JoLynn dove back in, elegantly asked about how they were doing on the cruise, and said we needed to go. I said nothing.

We walked for a long time. JoLynn broke the silence talking about something else. I said to myself, “Self,” I said, “maybe it didn’t go as bad as I’d imagined.” It was 24 hours before she told me it did.

“So, why do you think you get so intimidated by certain people?” JoLynn asked.

“What do you mean?”

“You know, like yesterday…”

I had really, really hoped she hadn’t noticed. More than that, I had prayed it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. She noticed. It was.

“It’s just me. I’m just that way. Sorry.” I thought she would get off my case, that it wasn’t something I could do anything about. I was wrong on both accounts.

She told me to “Lean into it.” And to “Figure out why you’re that way.” Ugh. It still amazes me how well I married, and yet how I still hate it when she is right.

Whispers

The next day I got up early to be alone and pray. I’m an extremely non-charismatic kind of guy. When people say “God told me…” it makes me nervous. I want to ask, “Was His voice high or low? Does He still speak in Hebrew?”

But at this point I knew I needed to hear something specific from God. I threw my narrow view of how God had to work overboard, and asked God to speak to me. Then I read and prayed and prayed and read and mostly listened. Silence. Thinking I couldn’t change, and that God wouldn’t speak, I wasn’t too concerned. I should have been.

Through a combination of His Word and my silence, I believe the Spirit spoke to me. One word kept coming back to me over and over again.

Others

I would have preferred a paragraph. Job got three chapters. But there I go again, Job Envy.

Others. I couldn’t let it go. It took about 24 hours before I was convinced God was speaking to me, and I understood what He was trying to say. The two great commandments – love God and love others. Loving God? I can do that. But Others? It’s hard to admit as a pastor, but I just don’t think about others much.

The reason JoLynn could talk to the Lucado’s and I couldn’t – was because she cared about them. She was asking them about their kids and grandkids, about their anniversary (they have the same 30th anniversary date as we do). I tried to talk about me. She asked about them. She understood the cruise wasn’t a vacation for them – it couldn’t be when you are speaking twice a day, signing books over lunch and having to listen to weird ALASKA-cap-wearing pastors in the chocolate shop.

I wondered about my motivation for ministry. Why was I envious of successful pastors? Why did I want our church to grow? Why did I want to see people come to Christ – for their freedom or so I could have a baptism service? Why did I want to write – to help others or to say I’d published? Why was the church not growing – because of a weak marketing strategy, or because I wasn’t doing my job of loving others and making disciples? Sometimes the truth you need to hear to deal with your depression is depressing.

A few days later the cruise was about over and Max was signing books. JoLynn wanted to go. I didn’t embarrass her this time, and Max was gracious enough to pretend the chocolate shop never happened. Sometimes being invisible is the best you can hope for. Max even did the obligatory picture with us, which we now have plastered on our church website with the subtitle, When Out of the Pulpit, Max Lucado Worships HERE. Marketing Genius.

The Change (or sidebar)

The core problem with our Church wasn’t marketing or tattoos or flip-charts. It was me. As a result I made some simple, maybe even corny changes – but for me they made a difference.

  1. I started wearing a wristband to remind me to continually ask about what is going on in the lives of others. It became a bit of a game (is that bad?) to see if I could get through an entire Starbucks conversation without ever talking about my life. I now know, care, and pray for others more consistently.
  2. Every Monday I email or call people about requests that came in on Sunday – then if appropriate we pray over them at Staff on Tuesday. Now we are all thinking about others more.
  3. On the top of my sermon notes I put little clues of what people are going through; to remind me to connect with them if possible before the day is over. This has helped me keep others needs on my front burner every time I read my sermon notes.
  4. We’ve added an extra monthly elder, staff, and spouse training, with rotating leadership. This extra meeting has all of us learning, praying, and having fun together.
  5. I asked a few younger guys if they would be willing to meet with me weekly for discipleship. All were thrilled to have been asked, and two have now been baptized. Now their lives are impacting mine.
  6. The elders and staff are now following my lead. They are expected to be discipling at least one person – a decision that has encouraged and changed the lives of the elders and staff as much as those they are meeting with – and encouraging me even more.
  7. Listening made me realize we need to offer a way to help people get into their Bibles on their own. Our first Bible Study Methods class had over twenty meeting weekly, ages 16 to over 60, with seminary style homework. They had been waiting for something like this for years, without my picking up on it.
  8. I got convicted about my own lack of evangelism, and started an 8-week “for non-Christians only” seekers and doubters study after Easter. That was the highlight of my year. For me, pagans can be easier to talk to then mega-pastors. We cared for each other and became friends, regardless of our views.
  9. Most importantly, I realized there are just two things I need to do. Make disciples and pay the mortgage. If you can pull off the tattoos and cool glasses, that’s grace.

The Mortgage

The church is now growing, but still small. I took a pay cut to keep the church healthy that was restored a couple years later. Hybels hasn’t called, Josh Harris hasn’t asked me for hat selection advice, and no one really cares what I think about Love Wins. But I’ve met with God, reorganized my life, and felt redemption.

I don’t envy those with mega-ministries anymore. I’ve not the business-savvy gifts of administration, leadership, and thick skin to pull off a mega-ministry. That doesn’t leave me bummed-out. Instead I’ve found that working in the area of my giftedness has me given me new energy. We’ve grown enough to pay the bills – but more importantly our leaders are growing, baptisms are up, and we have a plan of discipleship. This is so energizing.

I can now thank God for those who do show up on Sunday rather than stressing about who don’t. I’m not reading about church marketing (I’ll wait for God to send us someone with that vision) or freaked out when a projector breaks. I’m trusting if I love God and others by making disciples; He will take care of His church and the mortgage. We’re growing. We’re healthy. Awesome.

In the picture above: Am I wrong, or is Max grimacing?

Dan is pastor of Cottonwood Church (Rio Rancho New Mexico) and author of BIZARRE Bible Stories, and BIZARRE Bible Stories 2, coming out April, 2014.  You can reach him at DanielCooley.com.

 

Help Me Walk the Walk

smyrna-church-persecuted-2-8-11“If you remain faithful when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.” Jesus, Rev 2:10

“Help me walk the walk.” Steve

I’ve missed the application of Rev 2:10 – it’s not just faith in persecution – something bigger is going on here.

In context the church in Smyrna is facing persecution, and in the future people will be thrown into prison. Some may die. So God is telling them to  get ready now, to be faithful even to death, if that is what is coming for them.

But I believe it also applies to Macen, and Steve, and my parents – people who were faithful to God when facing death. Not persecution death, but cancer or Alzheimer’s or yet-another-stroke death. When Steve was diagnosed I asked him how I could pray for him. He asked me to “pray that I would walk the walk God has for me.” He was concerned he would get mad at God, and be a poor example for his boys still living at home. He didn’t want to die a poser, a man who could follow God in the good times, but dumped God in the hard times.

More recently I watched 17-year-old Macen walk the walk. I watched my parents do the same. It’s not just faith in the face of persecution that is going on here. It’s faith in God when God seems unfaithful. It’s knowing God is good all the time when the circumstances, which God could change, are not good. It’s walking the walk when the walk sucks, in faith that God’s walk is better than the walk we would rather be on.

Lord, help me to walk the walk You have for me.