Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Daughter's Baptism and other Special Moments (Part Three)

A week has nearly gone by since the baptisms last Sunday, but there were still a few other moments that I'll remember for quite some time on top of my daughters baptism.

Moment # 1: It was wonderful to see a few families get baptized together.

Moment # 2: I think in all my years of pastoral ministry, the water during the second hour was the coldest I've ever felt it.

Moment # 3: It was really cool to get a great big hug from one the individuals baptized after the service as tears of joy rolled down his face.

Moment # 4: I was filled with joy to see around 20 kids from the Elevate Praise team make their way up to the auditorium to watch their praise leader get baptized.

Moment # 5: I was thrilled to hear the testimonies regarding the difference Small Groups was making in the life of a family.

Moment # 6: It was wonderful to hear an individual was taking the step of being baptized because they believe with all their heart this is the church God wants them in and they want to become a member here along with their spouse.

Moment # 7: I found out that as I shed my tears when baptizing my daughter caused other grown men to cry!!! I think that's the first time I can claim that. Thank you Lord that I wasn't the only one that day!!!

As I reflect upon the past week, it makes me thankful to have the opportunity to serve as a pastor here at Grace as moments like these carry joy and benefits past anything this world could ever offer. I love baptism Sundays!

Monday, February 23, 2009

My Daughter's Baptism and other Special Moments (Part Two)

Here are a few pictures that explain in more detail than my words ever could what a special day it was for this dad! Enjoy!

In my next post, I'll share a few other very special moments from the day!

My Daughther's Baptism and other Special Moments (Part One)

February 22 will be a day I will not soon forget. Yesterday at Grace Church we had baptisms and there were many special moments that will live with me forever.

I knew the day was going to be special about two weeks ago when our daughter (Emma - 9 years old) came to me and stated that she wanted to be baptized. My wife and I have talked about baptism with our kids over the years, but determined that we would never push them to do it as we wanted them to take that step of obedience when they were ready. Needless to say, I was both thrilled and scared at the same time when Emma said she was ready!

I was thrilled because there is nothing more I want as a parent than to see both my children grow up to love the Lord and spend a lifetime following after Him. I know there are no guarantees in life, so to see her taking this step of discipleship and obedience was a thrilling experience for me. Emma is my only daughter, so she has always be my little princess and holds a special place in this daddy's heart. I love baptism Sunday's in general, but this one would be special because I would be baptizing my little girl.

I was also thrilled for my wife. Over the years she has stood faithfully next to this pastor and has poured her life into our children on many long nights and weekends while I have been busy leading churches and meetings late into the evening. She has faithfully been a stable rock for our kids and has faithfully taught them the ways of Christ. It was Susan the shared the good news of Christ with Emma on the day she received Christ as her personal Savior. Yesterday meant a lot to Susan which meant a lot to me.

I was also scared to death. I know how this little girl melts my heart and I was scared that I wouldn't even be able to get the words out when she stepped into the baptismal pool. I had already resolved myself to the fact that I would cry, but would I be able to contain myself enough to get done what needed to be done. Thankfully I did and I'm thankful that as I looked out into the church family there were many other tears flowing as well. I wasn't the only sap in the room!

I also had a few moments of fear hit me as I began to think about how quickly life was passing by. My children are now 9 and 12 and I came to realize that their time under my roof was moving right along and that I needed to be firmly committed to teaching them the ways of Christ and praying for them intensely. I also had a huge moment of fear when I realized that someday that same little girl would want to get married. I'm not sure who the jerk (I mean young man) will be, but he better love the Lord and my little girl with all his heart if he has any hope of making it through the wedding day.

All in all, it was a great day because I got to baptize my daughter. But there were also a number of other things that happened that I'll share in part two of my blog. I'm also hoping to have pictures up real soon as well!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ruined Coffee Pot & Tim Hortons vs. Dunkin Donuts

What a day Thursday was!!! I ruined a coffee pot in the office. Now as a die hard coffee drinker, I took this very hard and felt the need to confess this to the rest of our church staff. I offered up my confession via email and then asked for ideas on how I might find coffee absolution in light of my coffee sin.

I felt confident doing this with our staff as they definitely know how to LOL and I figured they would have great ideas. Boy... was I wrong about the LOL thing!!! I received a total of nine suggestions on how I could find rest for my soul in light of the ruined coffee pot. Here are my top three favorites.

Third Place: I think a staff field trip to the nearest Tim Hortons for a “Timmy’s Run” may do the trick! (This one I appreciated. I think before I took the staff though, I'd have to do a test run on my own!)

Second Place: I would think just dealing with all the annoying response emails to your initial plea for forgiveness would be punishment enough. If that does not satisfy your guilt, Roma pizza for the office should work. (Why did all the requests somehow involve me buying food and/or drink for the staff? Don't these people eat before they come to work?)

First Place: You cannot drink coffee during Lent (Ash Wednesday is next week). That’s what you’ll “sacrifice”… And you must purchase Dunkin Donuts (real coffee, not that Tim Hortons junk) for everyone one day. (OUCH… This one hurt enough that once I'm done crying someones going to get fired.)

All in all, we had a lot of fun around the office with this simple little thing. I must confess, I love serving at Grace and I love serving with this team at Grace. Amongst all the pressures of the day, it's great to share some laughs and sarcasm together! I do have an idea on what to get this team though since they all wanted something from me so bad!!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Afternoon in a 55 plus Apartment Complex!

This past Monday, I took the day out of the office to spend it with my family. The kids had off school for President's Day, so we took off Sunday night to spend some time together in Lewisburg at Country Cupboard. It was a fun night of watching the Daytona 500 on the big screens in Damon's and then swimming with the kids at the hotel. On Monday morning we got up and headed off to Altoona to spend the day with my in-laws.

Now I must confess that the city of Altoona does little to excite me, but I do look forward to visiting with family especially since my in-laws moved from their home into a new and beautiful 55 plus apartment complex. After we had some lunch together, I excused myself and headed down to the resident's library to spend an afternoon working while Susan visited with her parents and my kids hung out with their cousins. It was there in the library my adventure began...

Shortly after I settled in and realized I had no wireless and no cell phone reception I opened up some documents I had been working on to finish them up. As I began, I noticed an elderly gentleman (found out he was 81) eyeing me up around the corner. He had a huge look of mistrust written across his face as I was obviously much to young to be a resident and hanging out in their library. As our eyes connected, he asked me from across the room if I lived there and if not what was I doing there? Now I must confess that I was slightly irritated at this point as I've never thought of myself as someone who looked like an axe murderer. But, by the grace of God I answered very politely recognizing that I was a guest in his home. After some brief interaction we came to the conclusion that he had gone to school with my father-in-law which made a connection.

After making that connection, I recognized that I now had a friend who did not hesitate to come out from the hallway, pull up a seat and talk up a storm. I must admit that some of his stories were quite interesting regarding his time in the military and times at business school with my father-in-law. The really cool part was that he asked me about my Lititiz Christian School sweatshirt which lead into a discussion on what I do for a living which then lead into a great discussion on spiritual matters.

This conversation cost me an hour out of my afternoon, but I headed up to my in-laws apartment for dinner with a thankful heart that God granted me a chance to LOL on a Monday afternoon in a place where I least expected it!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentines Day could have sucked...

It's Valentine's Day and I've just had a few wonderful reminders of what my lovely wife (Susan) means to me.

The first reminder came yesterday morning when I flipped the news on and saw that a plane had crashed 5 miles outside of the Buffalo airport. This was somewhat sobering in that the airport I have used most in my life is the Buffalo airport and that flight pattern shown on TV was one I had done many times.

In fact, last year I returned from a conference to have my wife and kids pick me up at the Buffalo airport as they had spent some time with my family in Niagara Falls. I couldn't help but think of the heartache my family would feel if they were there waiting to pick me up and then the news about a flight down came in. Never must a day go by without telling my wonderful wife how much I love her as there are a number of spouses who lost their Valentine late Thursday night in Clarence NY.

The second reminder came just a few short moments ago when I received a call from my wife in tears. Calls like this always worry me as I wonder what news is about to follow. She proceeded to tell me that her and the kids got caught in the middle of a police chase on the way to K-Mart. As she sat ready to turn, a speeding car with three patrol cars in pursuit came out of no where with the speeding car missing our mini-van by a hair. She honestly thought the speeding car was coming right through her driver door. WOW... none of us know what a day holds.

These reminders have me very thankful for yet another day to enjoy my wife and marriage. Every day I get to spend with my Valentine is truly a gift from God that I far too often take for granted. This year, no card can express what I'm feeling right now as I can't wait to leave my office, go home and give my wife a big hug and tell her I love her.

One final thought: Losing the love of my life on Valentines day would really suck! Maybe I'll put that in a Hallmark Card some day...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Great Blog Post: HUNGRY

Yesterday, I received a copy of a blog post by Steven Furtick from another staff member. I try to keep my stuff somewhat original on this blog, but this one really struck me yesterday. This staff member and I have been talking through the Grace Staff Culture and the importance of the "C's" to our staff and overall ministry. This blog post was also very timely in that I had just returned from a meeting and was feeling rather frustrated with the lack of direction and cultural insight amongst our district of Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. There was a lot of discussion and theory thrown around, but no hunger (as described below) which left me feeling high and dry in respects to our Fellowship as the majority present seemed to believe that the status quo is an acceptable norm.

I believe this blog post speaks well to what I desire for myself, the Grace Church staff and the Grace Church leadership. Enjoy!

February 10th, 2009
When selecting people to join your team, one of the primary characteristics you should look for is hunger. More specifically: a hunger to see God do the extraordinary as demonstrated by humility, sacrifice, and perseverance.

None of our original core team members had the experience to do what I was asking them to do. But man, they were hungry. And sometimes an ounce of hunger is better than a pound of experience because a truly hungry leader will hunt for wisdom and experience until they find it. And they’ll learn it by living it out rather than philosophizing and theorizing about it.

On the flip side, I’ve found that experience minus hunger equals arrogance and cynicism. Statements like: “But we’ve always…”, “But we’ve never…” and “Why should we bother to…”are a sure sign that the hunger isn’t there anymore.You can’t stay hungry when you’re full of yourself.

Jesus seemed to exemplify this in his senior management team selection process. Peter wasn’t diplomatic…but he was hungry. (A little too hungry?) Matthew’s profession wasn’t popular with the people, but he was hungry to make a difference. Thomas wasn’t always sure…but he was hungry to search for truth.

Check the references. Value the experience. Probe for aptitude. And certainly validate the character. But don’t forget about the secret ingredient called hunger. It covers a multitude of incompetency.

Monday, February 9, 2009

CAR Blessings and Thoughts...

It's Monday morning and I've just finished reading the latest update from our team in CAR from Pastor Scott's blog. I also took some time to watch the video they sent back to us as well. All I can say is WOW... what a blessing to see and hear how God is at work in our team and half way around the world. Here are some of the things I am struck with this Monday AM from the reports thus far...

What joy the people of the CAR seem to have in the simple things of life that I take for granted. I was brushing my teeth this morning with a fairly new tooth brush and began thinking about how I just go out and buy new one when I need one. Yet, the orphans in Africa had never seen a toothbrush until our team went over. I gave thanks for my toothbrush this morning and I not sure that I have ever done that before in my life.

I reflected upon the thought of 300 people gathering in a mud building to worship the same God we worshipped back here in Lititz yesterday. So often we get so wrapped up in ourselves and our preferences on a Sunday morning that we forget how big our God really is and that millions of people all around this globe cry out to Him every single day and He hears and sees it all. How petty we can get when our preferences aren't met!

I reflected upon those orphans all lining up to receive their one simple meal in a tin cup on a daily basis. I could not help but think about the meals (that's right... plural) I enjoyed yesterday. There was variety and so much that I couldn't clean my plate. God help me next time I find myself complaining about what I have to eat.

These are just a few of the thoughts rumbling through my head at the moment. I acknowledge that my awareness to these things gets heightened when teams travel around the world like this, but I am asking God to continue humbling my heart and making me a truly grateful person for all the blessings I enjoy on a daily basis.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Grace Staff Culture (Part 5)

The final "C" we look for in our staff at Grace is COURAGE. Webster's defines courage as "the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty." Now I recognize that many may think that working in the church is rather benign and static. But, allow me a moment to outline why I believe courage is essential within every team member at Grace.

First, it is imperative to understand that the Body of Christ is currently at war. Daily, we as Christ followers are called to engage in spiritual battle with our enemy. (Ephesians 6:10-20) I can assure you that there are days and seasons we as either individuals or a team sense the reality of this ongoing battle. Please don't misunderstand my thoughts here as I know and believe with all my heart that the battle has been won in Christ Jesus, but every warrior must have courage in the face of an enemy who doesn't just want to wound but destroy.

Secondly, team members must be ready to disappoint people. In a ministry our size with the number of opinions and ideas on how to do things, there will come a day when every single team member upsets and disappoints someone because of the direction they are looking to take their ministry area. Sadly, the response of those who are disappointed can at times be harsh and critical which can cause team members to question decisions and direction. Courage is needed to move forward in what they believe God has called them to in spite of the critics.

Finally, it takes courage to pursue change. We as people like predictability and grow comfortable in what it is we are most familiar with. The problem is that the church cannot remain static in an ever changing culture. It is imperative that we as a ministry are always willing to investigate and pursue opportunities that will increase our effectiveness for Christ. This at times means pursuing changes in the "way we've always done something". Some see that as bad, but I see it as something that is necessary to create a culture and organization that is willing to take a risk for God when He opens the door. As well organized as we try to be, there is the element of walking by faith we must never forget and walking by faith requires courage to venture into what one cannot see when one believes God is in it.

There is no room for cowards or those content with the status quo. The Lord Jesus has called us to battle and we press on with tremendous courage in Him so as to accomplish great things for Him. The Grace team members must have courage!

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Grace Staff Culture (Part 4)

The next "C" we look for when hiring new staff (and evaluating current) is CHEMISTRY. Now I never did great with chemistry classes but I do know not to mix certain elements together. That makes for bad chemistry with bad results.

I would suggest that this is very true for a staff as well. Every staff member brings a unique element to our team. This is good in that we need diversity in personalities and gifts in order to accomplish all God would have us accomplish. But at the end of the day, all these different elements must mix well or the results can be disastrous. In order to avoid disastrous results, here is how I am planning on moving forward when addressing the issue of chemistry on our team.

First, I am looking to provide every single staff member with the opportunity to complete the DiSC profile. This is just one of many personality profiles out there, but the value of this tool and others like it lies in its ability to help us better understand ourselves and those we serve with daily. Every single day we face decisions and situations that can hit all sorts of emotional fronts. Understanding how each team member will respond to various scenarios in life and ministry is huge in having chemistry amongst us as a team as we interact with one another in the day to day situations.

Secondly, as I look to initiate bi-annual reviews here at Grace, it will be important to evaluate how well each team member interacts with the team. To borrow an old saying "there is no I in team." I believe this with all my heart and I'm always listening and evaluating how well the individual members of the team are functioning with each other. Now this isn't to say that we'll all have our days where we grind on each other's nerves, but I'm looking for patterns whereby individuals are consistently showing forth behavior that is detrimental to the team rather than positive. We won't always agree on everything as a team, but we move forward with a firm belief that each team member has the best interests of their fellow team members in mind at all times.

Finally, as I look to hire and evaluate current team members, I ask myself "Are these people that I trust and will enjoy doing ministry and life with every single day?" Honestly, being a pastor and serving in a church setting is not always as glamorous as some might think. It calls for very long and wacky hours and the pressures can be very intense at times for the spiritual battle is real. That's why it is so important to be able to laugh, cry and do life together as a team. Nothing brings my heart greater joy than to hear a number of team members enjoying a good laugh together around a desk or in the hallway. Now we're not all going to be best buddies, but it sure is important to know that the people who work on our team love being here every day and doing ministry together.

The chemistry amongst a team must be there. One wrong element and the whole experiment can blow up in your face. That's why I take so seriously the need for every team member to be "a fit" in order to create and maintain the synergy and momentum needed to successfully meet and move as Grace Church moves forward for the cause of Christ. I'll give the final "C" in my next blog!