The Danger of Experience

Experience is a good thing. We need experience in order to grow. But there is a downside of experience.

The more experience we get in using our God-given gifts/abilities, the more confidence we get in our abilities. (BTW, I believe I got this idea from a book by Bruce Wilkinson that I read several years ago, possibly in A Life God Rewards, but I couldn’t find the reference.)

Experience gives us confidence (in God and in God’s ability to use us), but at the same time, experience can cause us to trust ourselves (and our skills) rather than trust God. If we’re not careful and intentional, we can learn to rely on our abilities rather than God.

In the early days of my walk with God, especially as that walk led me to prepare for ministry leadership, it was easy to be dependent on God. I clearly knew that I desperately needed God to do what he was leading me to do.

The reality is that today, because I’ve done it long enough and have gained enough experience, that I could prepare a sermon, stand up in front of a group of people, deliver that sermon, and do it all without relying and depending on God.

Now that doesn’t mean it would be meaningful or that it would feed people’s souls or that it would lead to life transformation. I’m just saying that it would be doable!

That’s a sobering reminder to never lose sight of the fact that I desperately need God, not just when my gifts are untested and undeveloped, but even more so when have been under development for a while!

Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15.5). Well, we can do stuff without God, but we can do nothing of eternal value without God. Christ-followers must always be dependent on God. We must always see ourselves as the child with a few fish and loaves of bread that Christ used to feed thousands!

I love the song by Casting Crowns called “In Me,” which includes these lyrics (with emphasis added) …

If you ask me to leap
Out of my boat on the crashing waves
If You ask me to go
Preach to the lost world that Jesus saves

I’ll go, but I cannot go alone
Cause I know I’m nothing on my own
But the power of Christ in me makes me strong
Makes me strong

Are you still desperate for God? Or have you learned to rely on your own abilities apart from God?

I Dream of Fruit

I love what Jesus said about calling us to be fruitful. As a Christ-follower, I want to honor God with my life. I believe that means, in part, living a fruitful life. Jesus said …

You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last. (John 15.16)

The fruit that we should bear includes those listed by Paul …

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5.22-23).

The longer we serve God, the deeper our relationship with God becomes, the more fruit our lives should exhibit. Basically, our lives should more and more look like the life of Jesus!

I think fruitfulness also includes the fruit that comes from seeds that are planted in the hearts of those who do not yet know God. In other words, there should be fruit in our work as witnesses to God’s work in our lives.

Not only should our individual lives be fruitful, but our church should also be fruitful. At Centre Grove, our leaders are embarking on a study of Bishop Schnase’s book, The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (see all posts tagged Five Practices). We believe that out of this study, Centre Grove will become more fruitful as we focus on practices that produce fruit!

We’re beginning with the practice of radical hospitality and will spend our next Council meeting (in two weeks) discussing it, so check back later for a report. In the meantime (at some point over the next several days), I will blog some of my thoughts/reflections on radical hospitality.

Impatience vs. Urgency

Following up on my Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry post, I’ve been mulling over the difference between urgency and impatience for a while now. On the one hand, impatience is obviously a bad thing. But I believe that having a sense of urgency is a good thing. What’s the difference?

Impatience is defined as …

a dislike of anything that causes delay.

Urgency is defined as a …

pressing importance requiring speedy action.

I grew up in a Christian tradition where urgency was a core value, a character quality. It was part of the mix of who we were. Because there was a strong belief that Christ’s return was imminent, there was an urgency about evangelism.

The denomination was less than a century old at the time so it was still a passionate movement, for the most part. Over time, movements tend to institutionalize and lose their passion — their fire — in the process. In other words, they lose their sense of urgency.

Of course, urgency can turn into impatience, and when it does, it becomes a bad thing. Proverbs 19.2 (NCV) says …

Enthusiasm without knowledge is not good. If you act too quickly, you might make a mistake.

Similarly, Proverbs 21.5 (CEV) says …

If you plan and work hard, you will have plenty; if you get in a hurry, you will end up poor.

There have been times in my life that I’ve gotten an idea that I have wanted to implement right then and there. I’m growing, though, and I’m learning to not act as quickly, to let the idea simmer a while in my heart and mind, giving me time to process it before moving toward implementation.

I think a key difference between impatience and urgency is a sense of trust in God’s timing in the whole process. If I trust God’s timing and leadership, I will be less likely to rush the process. But when I lose sight of God’s leadership and timing, I get out of sync with God’s timing and may move too quickly.

We need to have a sense of urgency, but we also need to understand that urgent doesn’t always mean acting on an idea right now. The time of waiting between the inspiration and implementation is a time of preparation. Preparation is an important part of the process!

Listening to a sermon podcast by Ed Young recently, I heard him say …

God is preparing you for what he has prepared for you!

He talked about how God led the Israelites through the wilderness. At one point in the story, we’re told that God led them “around” a particular town/area. Ed noted that the Hebrew word indicates that God actually led the Israelites in circles, apparently because they were not prepared for the battle that was sure to occur. Sometimes we may know where we’re headed, but we’re not yet ready to be there. We need time to prepare!

We need to live with a sense of urgency, yes, but we also need to live with a sense of patient trust in God’s timing and leadership. Do you have a sense of urgency or are you driven by impatience? Do you sense how God is preparing you for what he has prepared for you?

Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry

The phrase, “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry,” has been nagging me from time to time ever since I read it several years ago (John Ortberg wrote about it in 2002 in an article at christianitytoday.com; the follow-up article is worth reading, too). BTW, I briefly mentioned this phrase and the article it comes from in a post from my Life Realignment series last September, specifically the one on Rest.

As Ortberg tells the story, he called a wise friend to ask for advice on staying spiritually healthy after moving to the Chicago area to be on staff at Willow Creek (he’s now senior pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church). After a long pause, John’s friend replied …

You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

After another pause, John finally says, “Okay, I’ve written that one down. That’s a good one. Now what else is there?” John’s friend said …

There is nothing else. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

Eliminating hurry is not easy to do today, especially with all of the “modern conveniences.” These modern conveniences were supposed to make things easier, to free up some of our time, to give us more leisure time. Instead, we use the extra time to do more stuff!

There are particular challenges for us as pastors. We’re both Type-A people. We’re both mission-driven. As Christ-following leaders, we’re driven to be faithful to God, to honor God by being fruitful in ministry. One of the reasons I’m interested in systems and methods (as I’ve blogged about in the past) is that I want to make the most of my time, to get the most bang for the buck.

Having one pastor in the house would be crazy enough, but we have two, doubling (or multiplying!) the craziness. Our schedules are anything but ordinary or routine. If we wanted to, we could work from the time we get up early in the morning until after we put Ethan to bed at night (and sometimes we do) and we could do that six or seven days a week.

The nature of our work is that our days don’t easily follow a standard routine. We’re constantly juggling our schedule (including our time with Ethan) to work around an ever-changing schedule (i.e., every week looks different).

We share online (Google) calendars to coordinate the activities in our lives and ministries. It’s not uncommon for one or both of us to have meetings 2 or 3 (we try to avoid more than that) nights a week, but we try to keep those from being on the same night (at the moment, we have one meeting each month that falls on the same night).

And now, we have a young child in the house, adding a new layer to the craziness. Read one pastor’s take on Raising Your Kids in the Fishbowl.

From the beginning, we’ve tried to prioritize family. A week after returning from Korea, during our parental leaves, we reflected on a book called Choosing to Cheat (see Choosing to Cheat 1.0 and Choosing to Cheat 2.0). The basic idea is that none of us can do everything we think we should be doing or that others think we should be doing; therefore, we have to make choices about what’s most important to us. IOW, we have to draw a line somewhere. Too often, it’s the family that gets cheated in the process. But all of us must guard against cheating our families!

Even though we’ve tried to be intentional, it’s still very, very hard work (and certainly there’s room for improvement!). But we are doing, and will continue to do, our best to prioritize our family!

Is hurry a problem in your life/home? What are you doing to eliminate hurry from your life? According to John Ortberg’s friend, your (and our) spiritual health depends on it!

Racking Up HealthMiles

As of January 1, 2009, our conference has a new health insurance plan (HealthFlex) through the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (of the United Methodist Church). The plan offers a new incentives program, Virgin HealthMiles, designed to get participants active and fit.

Participants who sign up for the program can earn HealthMiles (i.e. reward points) which can generate HealthCash (up to $300/year per participant). HealthMiles is currently only available to organizations, but is going to be made available to individuals in the future, according to the site.

From the perspective of the health insurance companies, active/fit people tend to have fewer health issues and therefore cost less to insure so it’s a win-win for both participants and health insurance companies.

This comes at a good time for us. As I’ve written before (this post and this post) exercise is an area where we’ve needed to find the rhythm in our new life as parents. I also need to lower and contain my (bad) cholesterol, which has always been a nagging problem (for mostly non-dietary reasons).

I think that because I’m a competitive person, simply having the system of tracking activity would be good for me, even without the financial incentive. Of course, adding HealthCash to the mix makes it even better! 🙂

The HealthMiles program involves wearing a pedometer, which automatically counts (most) steps (we each received a free pedometer with the program), and then periodically uploading steps to the computer (via USB cable). The website offers a central location to track activity, results, and rewards.

Participants earn HealthMiles by taking steps (i.e., walking, running, even biking) or other kinds of (cardiovascular) workouts using a heart rate monitor, participating at the website (visiting the site, logging entries in an activity journal), and by showing improved health (body mass index, body fat percentage, and blood pressure). There are special incentives along the way as well. For example, last week, there was an opportunity to earn extra HealthMiles simply for logging at least 7,000 steps each of the five days leading up to Valentine’s Day (we just started on Valentine’s Day, unfortunately).

It took us a little while to sign-up and to get our pedometers registered/activated. We’re also waiting for a Mac version of the software (used to upload steps from pedometer to computer) which is slated for a late March release (in the meantime, we’re using a PC that we have access to).

Even though I’ve just gotten started, I’m finding it a real incentive to keep moving and to be more active. For example, I’ve always parked toward the back of parking lots and I usually take the stairs instead of elevators, but this program has already increased my commitment to that! (In the early days of our relationship, I use to tell Joleen she’ll thank me when she’s 90. 😆 ).

So, how many steps should you take each day? According to one of the FAQs at the Virgin HealthMiles website …

We recommend 30 minutes of accumulated, moderate physical activity at least 5 days a week. This equals about 7,000 steps a day, including the steps you take just going about your daily life. Opt for the stairs instead of the elevator, take the dog for a jog on the beach, start a lunchtime walking group at work, consider a walking tour instead of a bus tour on your next vacation. It all adds up.

It’s amazing how quickly the steps add up. I tend to do a lot of walking, anyway, while I think, pray, and (sometimes) eat (some might call it pacing 😉 ).

There are five reward levels. Level 2 earns $25 (with 6,000 HealthMiles) and Level 5 tops out at $300 (with 36,000 HealthMiles). At the outset, I’m thinking Level 4 is doable, and while reaching Level 5 will be somewhat intense, I think it’s also doable, especially if there are some extra incentives along the way.

So what have you found to be a good incentive for you in staying active and fit? Also, if you participate in the Virgin HealthMiles program, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Gotcha Day in Pittsburgh

We had the opportunity to spend Thursday and Friday in Pittsburgh to celebrate Gotcha Day. We got together with my best friend and roomie from college, Trish. We hadn’t seen each other in a number of years, so we stayed up late catching up and reminiscing and, of course, laughing hysterically at times (even after Randy and Ethan went to sleep).

Friday, the four of us went to the Pitt campus to see The Nationality Rooms. Trish was the perfect tour guide, as she now teaches at Pitt. We also visited Phipps Conservatory, where Ethan enjoyed the goldfish, the model trains, and running free in the children’s outdoor exploratory area.

Gotcha Day

There are special days in our lives, given to us to remember forever. This is one of those days. One year ago today, Ethan was placed in our arms. Already birthed in our hearts the first time we saw his picture in September (It’s a Boy!), on February 12, 2008 we were united physically. Randy and I already felt a strong loving bond toward this child of ours. He, however, was thrust into a state of transition (First Hours with Ethan).

Ethan has been a great adapter. Coming into our lives, to the United States, to our home and a few months later moving to a new home, new community, new churches. And he’s had lots of loving arms to help make each transition as smooth as possible.

The flu has swept through our family, beginning with Ethan last Thursday evening. As much as I have hated seeing him sick, I must admit I have kind of enjoyed his less active days. I’ve gotten to just sit and hold him close and remember and be thankful. Thank you God for the precious gift of a forever family.

“The Meeting” One Year Later

One year ago today, we met Ethan for the first time in his foster family’s home where we spent an hour together, getting acquainted — well, technically it was February 11, 2008 (10:00 am) in Seoul, Korea, but it was February 10, 2008 (8:00 pm) in the Eastern Time Zone, which is the time zone recorded for the posts we wrote in Korea.

This blog now has nearly 600 posts and 1,000 Words, where we simply posted the photo (above), is one of my favorites. We came back later and shared some details after we had a chance to process the experience of the morning.

In that post (see The Meeting), Joleen wrote …

At first, he wondered who these strange people were.

Several months later, I reflected on that first moment of seeing and meeting Ethan. It was an interesting experience, one that’s hard to communicate well. When we saw Ethan, we saw an 8-month-old baby boy that we had come to know through photos and reports by the social worker, but at the same time, it was clear that he did not know us!

Ethan got to know us a little and when we showed up the next day at the Social Welfare Society Hospital to bring him into our lives, he smiled at us (a smile that would later be replaced by panicked screaming, though!).

Wow. Lots of memories. All good. Except for the panicked screaming.

“Leadership and Self-Deception”

One of the books I read for two of my D.Min. classes was Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute. It’s a must-read for leaders.

In the preface, the authors assert that while “leadership is about making matters better,” “self-deception” is “central to leadership” because it tends to “make matters worse” (viii). The authors use the concept of being “in the box” to describe self-deception.

The book is a fictional account of the interaction primarily between Bud Jefferson, vice president of Zagrum Company and a new hire, Tom Callum. Bud aims to help Tom discover the importance of getting out of the box in his relationships with others. The success of the company depends on it, we’re told.

Bud tells Tom, “you have a problem” (5). It’s a problem everyone has. People tend to view others in ways that keep them “in the box” in their relationships with others. Bud confesses his own struggle with self-deception and admits …

The bigger problem was that I couldn’t see that I had a problem (14).

A danger for leaders is to become isolated, to allow oneself to be put a pedestal, and therefore, not be able to see yourself correctly. Leaders can have problems and not be aware of it. To guard against this, leaders need to live in community with others and be as honest, transparent, and vulnerable with others as possible.

Bud confesses further …

I saw others as somehow less than they were—as objects with needs and desires somehow secondary and less legitimate than mine (34).

Sometimes, leaders can see others simply as pawns to help them accomplish their own personal agendas. In this case, these leaders are “in the box.”

By being in the box, I provoke others to be in the box (93).

One of the real dangers of being in the box is that it causes others to be in the box, too. But if I am out of the box toward others, they will also be more likely to be out of the box, as well.

Being in the box is such an unhealthy way to live. It’s a downward spiral. It distorts our view of others and it causes us to need others to prove our distorted thinking toward them. Bud says …

When I’m in the box, I need people to cause trouble for me—I need problems (99). … Once in the box, we give each other reason to stay in the box (102).

The distortion that results from self-deception is destructive to relationships. When one person’s view of the other person in the relationship becomes distorted it is easy for the other person react in kind. This, too, becomes a downward spiral where both parties are in the box toward each other until someone breaks the cycle.

Leaders are encouraged to see the need …

to institute a process … where we help people to see how they’re in the box and are therefore not focusing on results. Second … we need to institute a system of focusing on results that keep us out of the box much more than we have been (161).

In the church, in particular, leaders can accomplish this by being people-focused rather than program-focused. Programs (or methods or systems) can, but when leaders become enamored with a program, it’s easy to lose sight of the real reason we’re using the program in the first place. Leaders must keep their hearts in the right place.

Well, because self-deception is such a part of the human condition, this book is a helpful resource for leaders.

Reliving the 30-Hour Adventure

One year ago today, we embarked on a memorable 30-hour adventure (from State College, PA to Seoul, Korea) to welcome Ethan into our lives (a few days later).

When we finally arrived in our room at the guest house we blogged the experience in a post called 30 Hours.

We invite you to relive the adventure with us! 😎