Vessels

All across the country this time of year are yard displays with illuminated nativity scenes.  Baby Jesus in a manger, surrounded by Mary & Joseph, angels, wise men, and animals.  Have you ever stopped to think, what is it about this story that has caused the manger to remain such a centerpiece in our society for centuries?

I believe part of reason is the hope it offers.  It opens our eyes to the possibility of a better world.  A world we feel we are incapable of creating ourselves.  A world flooded with love, forgiveness, justice and grace.  Just a glimpse of current events in our world and you are keenly aware of our inability to imagine, much less create, the world as it should be.

In the Christmas story, Jesus comes not in the way we would expect.  He is not born in a palace and draped in velvet.  Few, if any, see the son of a king, they only see the son of a carpenter.  Jesus is born in the back alleys of Bethlehem under the cover of darkness. Born in a small corner of a massive global empire bent on abusing and oppressing anyone who stands in their way.

But the reality is we are very familiar with this story because we have all heard it before.  It is the story that echoes through the blood stained halls of history.  A constant and surreal reminder of the way our world works.

So when news of a new king, a new kingdom and a better world begins to spread, it births a deep yearning within our soul.  Questions, diluted with doubt, begin to surface.  Could there really be a different way? A better way?

It is the way of Jesus – the way of forgiveness.  Jesus comes revealing the heart of God the Father.  Ultimately, taking the worst sin could possibly do in this world and lovingly saying, “Father, forgive them.”  

Part of the beauty of this story is the way in which God comes into the world. Mary is told by God, His Son will dwell inside her and she will be the vessel through which His presence comes into the world. It is the same message God has spoken to you.  God’s Son will dwell inside you and you will be the vessel through which His presence comes into the world.  

The whole time we thought being a Christian was about not sinning so that we could get into heaven. To get out of this place and into a better place, that was our understanding. Yet the invitation has always been to create the world as it was meant to be by entering into its brokenness and transforming it from the inside out.  Create a world where the curse is broken.  Create a world where death does not get the last word.  

The good news is that this world does exists.  And the even better news is Jesus’ invitation is to take part in that world today.  Not just have a place within, but to actually contributing to this new world.  Partners with God in his reclamation project. 

So today, may you be the vessel through which Jesus’ presence enters this broken world, flooding it with love, forgiveness, justice and grace. The next time you see a nativity scene, may it be a reminder of the calling you share.

Grace & Peace!

I’m Holding On To Hope

I’m holding on to hope 
today brings life again.
I’m holding on to hope 
death sting has found its end.

I’m holding on to hope 
today God breaks the grip of sin.
I’m holding on to hope 
death will not settle in. 

I’m holding on to hope 
today  grace floods this world again.
I’m holding on to hope 
death will not be the end. 

I’m holding on to hope 
today Jesus will restore.
I’m holding on to hope 
death’s victory is no more.

I’m holding on to hope 
today is different than before.
I’m holding on to hope 
because Jesus said, 
today could be better than before! 

This Time Will Be Different


By Gary Albritton

I know there are times
Times you stop and take long looks inside
Times you are confronted by the ugliest inside
Times you fight to clean house 
and present a pristine front for all to see.
We know if we can just convince our mind we can change.
We can have a fresh start.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

We can leave the addiction, 
evade the anger, 
break the grip of greed, 
leave lust behind
But here we are again, 
back at the starting blocks, 
making the same promises, 
but this time with more resolve, 
more willpower, more earnestness.
Like hamsters on a wheel,
we seem to be going no where fast.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

We seek to systematize our sanctification.
We create sets of rules and regulations, 
hoops to jump through.
All well meaning but still insufficient 
We rely on our intellect, saying, 
God I want to understand you.
All the while our heartbeat 
has simply been to see His face, 
to know Him and fall head over heels in love with Him 
because He is beautiful.  
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

The rules and the knowledge are not bad,
But they will never change your heart,
but that was never their purpose in the first place.
They were only meant to shape your heart.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.


The lie of the garden still rumbles deep within our soul.  
God is holding out on us.
There is knowledge, 
there is goodness, 
there is blessing,
God is keeping from us.
To find it, we will have to look else where.
There! 
That tree, that road, 
that way, let’s try that one!
We try, only to encounter another dead in road, 
Yes! Death lies at the end of that road too.  
Surprised?
Absolutely!
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

We knew for sure this tree, 
this road, this way, would be different.
This tree would fulfill, 
this road would lead to something better,
this way would give me purpose.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

He must be holding out!
Fight! 
Fight to work your self into His favor.
You can never be good enough, 
but you can get close.
Close enough that He can get you the rest of the way.  
That’s the message you got.
But it is an exercise in futility.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

We quote and memorize the 23rd Psalm
We know it by heart but we never actually take it to heart
We never truly here the words
Surely, mercy and love will follow you 
all of the days of your life.
We needlessly assume it’s a gift 
that only accompanies death, 
but the problem is it was promised in life.  
This life, not just the one to come.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

Mercy and love have not left you,
They are not out pacing you 
so that you must run faster to catch them. 
No, surely they are there,
following you, pursuing you, running after you,
they have never left your side.
You need no longer to give chase,
Stop running after them 
because they have been running after you the whole time.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different, 
it is our battle cry!

Stop, turn and they will run into you.
You strive to be good enough but you never will, 
but then again that is why Jesus came.
He came not to make you morally perfect, 
but to look into the face of moral imperfection 
and say, Father forgive them!
He came to give you a new name, 
a new birth, a fresh start.
But still we cry, 
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

He came to save you from yourself.
From the lies you believe,
God is holding out on you,
God could never be pleased with you,
God needs you to get it right, 
so you can be right with Him.
Lies!  
All lies, straight from the pits of Hell.
The deceiver, the accuser, the Satan, 
has never stopped spouting these malicious accusations.
At first it was no big deal, 
but over time you started listening to them.
You are a liar, you are a thief, you are an adulterer.
And over time you started believing them,
It must be who you are!
As their shouts became louder 
it drowned out the whisper over your shoulder,
You are loved, you are a child of God and He is pleased with you.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
‘this time will be different.

You think you have to have it all together
You try to be what everyone else wants you to be.
Still you fall short. 
You see in the mirror every morning, a self, 
a you, that is scared and scarred, 
bruised and hurting, 
yet somehow still clinging to the hope 
that today might actually be different. 
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

You have convinced yourself 
that no would could truly love you as you are.
You see only insufficiency, inadequacy, imperfection.
You see garbage but I see the beautiful face of Jesus shining on you.
Calling you,
Loving you,
Never letting you go.
He is your light!
He is your salvation!
Whom shall you fear? 
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

Please hear me,
It is a mirage, an illusion, a fantasy, a lie
Stop listening to it, 
stop running after it, 
I promise, this time won’t be different!
Just more of the same.
Stop running and chasing after 
what has been right there the entire time.
Stopping assuming there is still so much to do 
to be worthy of God’s grace.
You belong,
You are loved,
You are a child of the King!
No need to try harder, to run faster, to keep going…
If you will stop running I can make you only one promise,
This time will be different!

A Modern Day Parable

She grew up not far from the botanical garden. She would walk by almost everyday, peering through the wrought iron fence supported by beautiful brick columns. She would think to herself, one day I would love to work there.

29949_closeup_of_lily_flower

As she grew older she fell in love with art. She would spend hours sketching, drawing and painting in the botanical garden. Each season brought new beauty and new color. It was as if every changing of the seasons unveiled a new and glorious world never before seen. Still, she longed for the day she could work there.

Finally the day came. She put in her application and because she had spent so much time there, the director knew who she was. Just by listening to her talk he knew she loved this place. He knew she would be committed to keeping it beautiful. So he felt very confident, that even though she had never had a job, she would work very hard to keep the place she loved beautiful. Her face lit up when he peered over his desk and said, you begin tomorrow. I will see you at 6 am. The next morning she awoke to the alarm on her phone at 4:30. No way would she be late for her first day; Her first new day at the place she loved.

She got ready, ate breakfast and packed her lunch. She headed out the door to simply go and do what she loved. As she got out of her car a sense of satisfaction came over her. This was the very thing she was made for. She walked along the dark grey, crushed, gravel path leading to the maintenance shed to meet her coworkers, and get her instructions for the day. She was so glad to be a part of this team. To be a part of something bigger than herself. To be able to make a difference in the world. To bring beauty and enjoyment to people, especially little girls who like her had a deep sense of wonder for this place. The flowers, majestic. The grass, perfectly cut. The animals, at peace in nature. All she could see was the beauty of the place she loved.

Her supervisor said, I would like you to pick up trash. Keeping the park clean and litter free was one of the most important jobs she felt she could do. She hurried out with her thick, black, plastic trash bag and long spiked pole. So the day began picking up trash. The day was amazing. She got to work in the place she loved and keep the park beautiful and clean just as others had always done for her. Her favorite part of every day was dawn. The very moment, the sun would peek over the edge of the horizon and sunlight would glimmer over the fresh morning dew. So everyday she came to work surrounded by beauty and fully believing this was the reason she existed.

So years went by and the love never seemed to fade. Then one day, she got to work and stepped out of the car as she had done for years. But today was different. Oh, she didn’t know it was different, but it was. As she shut her car door, she saw a candy wrapper right at the edge of the dark grey, crushed, gravel path. The same path she had walked for years. Then she saw an empty bottle and an event flyer ushered in by the wind. What was so different about today? After all, picking up trash and keeping the park clean had been the most significant part of her job. Today was different though because today, for the first time, she failed to see the beauty she was surrounded by because trash had become her focus. The litter she had worked so hard to keep clean was now the only thing she could see.

Friends, today is a new day, a precious gift. A day of resurrection. A day new life is bursting forth all around you. Today, don’t become so focused on all that is wrong with world that you fail to see the beauty of this day. Life is a miracle, each and every breath you take. Each and every moment you have with the people you love. Don’t miss today, you don’t get it back.
HE IS RISEN!

Life Lived in Focus

The new year is fast approaching. Somehow it seems like I blinked and it is 2015. In February Cami and I will celebrate our 10th anniversary. WOW! Just 2 months ago we welcomed our 4th child, Kaylee Albritton. Even more WOW! We are now a family of 6. Life is busy to say the least. I am sure the same is true of your life as well. Whether you are single, a single parent, newly weds, a growing family, or empty nesters, I am quite sure you find plenty of ways to keep yourself busy.

With so much going on, our brains primary goal is to simply, to take our everyday tasks and send them into auto pilot. This is why as you drive to work everyday or pick up the kids from school, there are times you cannot remember a certain stretch of the road. You know the feeling, when you are waiting to go through the light and turn in and think, I don’t remember passing ________. And it kind of scares you. You think, did I fall asleep? No, your brain was just on auto pilot simplifying our everyday processes.

Elemental_focus

In his book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg talks about an experiment where rats were placed in a maze and their brain activity was measured as they made their way through. The first time or two, their brains were running at near maximum capacity. All of their senses were clicking, but the more they ran the maze, the more their brains and senses disengaged from the process.

Our brains ability and capacity to transition tasks to routines, allows us to do more. So while routines are good, stay in a routine long enough and it becomes a rut. And ruts can be difficult to get out of. Especially in ministry. If you have gone to church any length of time you know exactly what I am talking about.

As a leader it is important to avoid getting stuck in ruts. People don’t want to follow some one who is stuck and going no where. One of the ways I try to avoid getting too bogged down in routine is by developing new focus areas as I move into the new year. These areas could use a little more attention both in my personal life and my leadership roles. So here is what I do. You don’t have to do it exactly like this but find a method that works for you.

  1. Define FOCUS AREAS. I would recommend keeping this list pretty short. such as 2 to 3 areas at a time. They can be simple or complex. However, the more complex, the fewer you should tackle at once. In the past, I have focused on prayer, on developing a specific ministry program, church structure, spiritual disciplines, intentional time with family etc. If you struggle with finding them, ask the question, “what are the routines I have turned into ruts?”
  2. Determine a SPECIFIC LENGTH OF TIME. This does not have to be a year long process. Maybe there are four things you want to focus on building and you need 3 months for each. Be specific and write it down. Maybe it is getting out of debt and you know it will be a 3 or 4 year process. You are not tied down to a calendar.
  3. Clarify the WHY. Why are you doing this? Why this focus? Why now? Bring clarity to the process. Have a reason you are choosing to focus on this area of your life.
  4. Define the WIN. Begin with the end in mind. At the end of this specific time period, what will it look like if you have accomplished your goal? This should be short, with one sentence defining what it will look like.
  5. Determine your ACTION STEPS. You have to move. There has to be some muscle behind the mind. Ideas, thoughts and concepts need to be surrounded with action or they are going to ever happen. So what are 2 or 3 action steps you need to take to start moving? Write them down. As you get moving you will add more to the list but just get started. Make them simple. Something you can do right away. Just get started.

All of this is for the purpose of bringing clarity and purpose to our life and leadership. So often we have big ideas, dreams and goals that are never realized. Why? Many times this is simply because we never take the time to clarify what it is we want to do or how we are going to do it. So saturate this process in prayer. Evaluate, Define, Dream, Focus. May God bless your life, family and ministry as we move into 2015 and beyond!

This is a series of blogs for Shiloh Road Leaders (staff, shepherds, deacons, and ministry leaders) to help you prepare and plan your ministry as we move forward into the new year and beyond. If you lead a team, get together as a team to work through these exercises. If you are over several ministries, encourage those ministries you oversee to make this a priority.

The Ever So Popular Brain Vomit…

So here is how my typical week goes. Sunday I preach so Monday I am brain dead. On Mondays I typically stick to meetings and administration. Tasks I need to get done, but don’t require a lot of critical thinking. Tuesday, my brain turns back on, somewhat anyway. So I typically spend a large portion of Tuesday locked away in my office studying, praying, meditating and listening.

Elemental_dream

So when I go home on a Tuesday my head is so full of information, ideas and stories, and just like a good steak, the ideas need some time to marinate. On Wednesday, I usually start my day with prayer, a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Then I vomit…

Now, I do not actually vomit every Wednesday morning. It’s a metaphor. Okay, so I know its not the prettiest picture in the world, but I think it communicates a point. I call it a brain vomit (other people do too). My head is full of ideas, illustrations, thoughts, stories, commentaries and I need to get all the important stuff out there.

So how does a brain vomit work. Like I said, I sit down at my desk, with my door shut. I take a blank sheet of paper, I turn on the timer of my iPhone for 15 minutes and I go. I write down every single thought that comes to my mind, every story, phrase, verse, etc. that comes to my mind. There is NO filter, I just write it down, even if it doesn’t make sense.

So why is this so important? Far too often our ideas never make it out of the realm of imagination. We have a thought, it escapes us and we really aren’t sure if we can get it back. For me this exercise helps me get everything floating around in my head out on paper. Sometimes thoughts form little streams, other times they never develop, other times they don’t come out in the sermon but in other areas.

Not only do I do this basically on a weekly basis writing sermons, I also do it sporadically with my ministry. So after spending some time looking back at ministry in 2014 and defining your ministry as we move forward, now its time to dream.

Take out a sheet of paper. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Answer this question… Remember, no filter, don’t let money, resources, space stop you. Just write it all down. Think in terms of ministry structure, impact, reach, needs, etc. Write it all down! Ready, set, GO!

Question:  As your ministry moves forward into the future, what would you like to see happen in your ministry in 2015 and beyond.

This is a series of blogs for Shiloh Road Leaders (staff, shepherds, deacons, and ministry leaders) to help you prepare and plan your ministry as we move forward into the new year and beyond. If you lead a team, get together as a team to work through these exercises. If you are over several ministries, encourage those ministries you oversee to make this a priority.

Defining the Direction

Earlier on in my marriage I had gotten a new phone. It was one of the first smart phones with GPS built in. My wife and I were going out to eat in Dallas for our anniversary, so I put in the name of the restaurant and headed for Dallas. Going from Cleburne, it is easiest to jump on HWY 67 which basically drops you off on the outskirts of downtown.

leadership

As we approached 35W, the GPS began telling me to head north on 35W. I am driving and thinking to myself, “this GPS has no clue what it is talking about.” So, I keep on going thinking it will realize the “correct” way to get there, but it does not. It begins says, Recalculating… make a U-Turn. After the second and third Recalculating, I begin talking to the GPS (as if it could hear me) “No, I will not make a U-Turn!” Finally, after realizing the errors of its ways and my superior intellect, it remaps our trip the way I want to go. We are flying and everything is going good I was right and the GSP was wrong.

About 10 miles from Dallas a warning appears in the middle of the screen, “Warning Construction Ahead, expect delays.” Now, my own phone was mocking me, as if the bright red stream of taillights illuminating the night sky was not enough, my phone needed to rub it in. So we wait, and wait, and wait. Eventually we made it to the restaurant, and yes, the GPS would have gotten me there much faster.

It knew a better way to get there and had a much more complete picture. The problem was it did’t show me the bigger picture. If it had taken the time to say, “Gary, if you go this way you will get there, but you are going to get stuck in Dallas Construction Traffic, so go this way, trust me,” I would have done exactly what it told me to the first time.

As a leader, you have to try to paint a clear picture for people of where you are going and how you plan on getting there. People want to follow someone who has a plan. People want to follow someone who knows where they are going. So if as a leader, you are not real sure of where you are going, or how you are going to get there, or what it is suppose to look like, then you will always have a hard time convincing people to follow you.

Many times the problem leaders in the church face stem from not really knowing where we are going. Leading when you don’t have clear direction as to where you are going is next to impossible. So, as leaders it is really important that we work to define three things. One, where we are heading. Two, how we plan to get there. Three, what will “there” actually look like.

As you are defining the ministry, begin with the end in mind. You are not just building with what you currently have, but what you hope to have. So, below are several questions to help you as you define the ministry that you are leading. It is also very important to revisit these questions on a regular basis, clarifying and redefining as you are growing and learning.

Where are you going?
Who is this ministry trying to impact?
What is the purpose of this ministry?
How does this ministry play into the over mission of Shiloh Road, to KNOW God and make Him KNOWN?

How do we get there?
What resources do we need for this ministry to be successful?
What are the challenges you anticipate along the way?
Draw an organizational chart for the teams and positions you need in place for this ministry to function at its fullest potential?


What does “there” look like?
We will consider this ministry to be successful if…
What will be the first indication that this ministry is no longer effective in fulfilling its purpose?

A few reminders as you engage in this process. 1. Priority of prayer throughout the process. 2. Invite other people into the discussion who are passionate about this ministry. 3. Begin with the end in mind. 4. Think big. We serve a God who is more than enough, who exceeds our expectations. 5. If you want to go deeper into this process, here is a strategy-worksheet_srcc we have adapted for Shiloh Road. It will go much more in-depth into this process of defining ministry.

This is a series of blogs for Shiloh Road Leaders (staff, shepherds, deacons, and ministry leaders) to help you prepare and plan your ministry as we move forward into the new year and beyond. If you lead a team, get together as a team to work through these exercises. If you are over several ministries, encourage those ministries you oversee to make this a priority.