Category Archives: Faith

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.

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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!

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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.


FINDING HOPE IN THE MIDST OF DESPAIR

This has been a really difficult week.  A CHS student made the decision to end his life.  Knowing a young man chose to end his life is excruciating.  Even worse, is that I knew him.  So it has been a very difficult week.  Talking with students who have so many questions and ministry opportunities that have opened.  Tonight was one of those.  In fact it was a first in my ten years of ministry.

hope

I have never had a group of students, with no connection to our church and not invited by a friend, who just showed up.  Four guys, just randomly picked our church, walked up and said, “is it okay if we start going to church here?”  They had no background in any church.  As I got to talk to the guys one of them was good friends with the student who ended his life.  He was searching for something.  For me that is cool but not the amazing part.

All week I have been debating over whether or not to scrap everything for tonight, message and all and focus on suicide.  Monday, I was going to focus on it.  On Tuesday, I decided to go ahead with the original plan and work suicide into the discussion.  Wednesday, I was thinking the same thing.  One of our parents asked how I was going to handle it tonight?  I told her the plan, but as the day went on I felt I really needed to address it.  So I texted her back and she agreed.  I did not know why, I just felt God wanted me to talked about it.  So at 3:00 I decided to make the change.  I had nothing planned, nothing ready but really felt this is what I needed to do.

When the four guys showed up, I was overwhelmed.  I got to spend some time with the guys but at the end of the night one came up to me and said he was so glad he was here.  He felt like God was speaking to him tonight.  He had to have been, because I could not tell you what I said.

It amazes me how God shows up and works through our life when we simply allow him to be present in our life.  It amazes me how he can take something so unspeakable and use it focus peoples attention on him.

God is at work in our life and the lives of people we come in contact with everyday.  The true question, are we going to have our eyes opened to see him at work?


IRONMAN 70.3 FOCUSING ALONG THE JOURNEY

Do you ever have a tendency to lose focus?  I do.  It started to become more and more evident during my Ironman training.  One afternoon, I was running by myself, a seven my mile run, very hilly loop in the country.  The first two and half miles include about 350 vertical feet of climbing.  I started out great around an 8:30 pace.  For me it is great and I managed to keep it sub 9-minute miles through the first half of the run.

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The run flattens out nicely for the middle part and finishes off with more climbing.  What was fascinating, was as I was running on the flatter portion of the run, I looked down at my watch and found my pace had gone to around 10:30 a mile for the middle part of the run.  I was not breathing hard.  My heart rate was in the mid 130’s.  I was fine and so I picked my pace back to finish out my run.

So why does it matter?  Do it too often and you aren’t getting better, your just going through the motions to do them.

Is it possible this happens to us from time to time in our walk with Jesus?  We simply lose focus.  Things get easier; we “get the hang of it.”  We start doing things not push our self and grow but simply to do them because we are “suppose to.”

We have to learn to become nearsighted and farsighted at the same time.  I know that makes no sense, but it is important whether you are an athlete, a leader or a follower of Jesus.  I was far sighted.  My mind was set on April 7th.  All I knew was I would step up, well actually swim up, to the starting line of a 70-mile race and if I were not prepared, I would not make it.  A date had become my focus.  The problem was I began just doing all the things needed to get ready for the date, rather than focusing on all of the steps in the journey and getting better along the way.

Toward the end of my training, about 3 weeks away from the race, another swimmer at the pool I train at name Chris put it in perspective for me.  Chris is a great athlete; he is in his mid 50’s probably and has done some amazing endurance events including super marathons and full Ironman’s.  I asked Chris one day what his next big event was going to be.  He looked at me and said, “well I am going to swim the best I can to the other end of the pool and then I am going to swim back.”  I was expecting to hear, I am doing a marathon or an Ironman but his entire focus was on swimming the next 50 yards in the pool.

It occurred to me maybe I had missed the point of my training.  It was not to just do it; it was to get better.  Maybe we do the same in our walk with Jesus.  Focusing so much on the big picture and how the journey ends that we miss out on growing through all the little steps along the way.  The reason we read scripture is not to know the Bible better but to know Christ better.  To understand his will.  To spend time with him simply because you are hungering and thirsting for Him.

God feared this would happen to the Israelites, he feared they would lose focus.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

It is amazing how easily we can lose focus as the terrain becomes easier.  It is in the difficult times we cling to the Father, we focus on Him and thirst for Him.   But when things are easier we tend to lose the nearsightedness required to walk with Christ.  It is in the difficult times we focus more on one step at a time.

In the last few weeks we have seen the Boston Marathon bombings, a Fretilizer Plant explosion in West, TX, have good friends who lost a child and others trying to understand the magnitude of a young father suffering with cancer.  It hurts me to see so many others in pain and I rush to say, “God where are you.”  Maybe his response would be the same as it was for Israel.  I am their leading you through this vast dessert.  Notice, God did not take Israel out of the dessert He led them through it.  And there is a huge difference.  He provided for them in the midst of their struggles, but he did not take their struggles away.

This song from Laura Story is such a great reminder of a God who walks with us through the trials…

Blessings

Maybe it is not until God has led us through the pain and heartache of the dessert that we are able to look back and see his finger prints all over canvas of our life.


THE IRONMAN EXPERIENCE – PART 1

So lots of people have asked me about my experiences from the past weekend at Ironman 70.3 in Galveston.  So I thought I would write a series of blog post about the weekend, the training leading up to the weekend and the things I learned on the journey.

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The part that impacted me the most was the ending.  9 months of training, hours upon hours.  In the pool, in the lake, on the road.  In rain, in cold, in wind and some days all three at once.  Pain, injuries, tweaked muscles.  You seem to experience a little of everything when training for something like this.

The weekend was amazing.  If you have never been to an Ironman event I highly recommend the experience, even if just a spectator.  Race day starts early.  4:30 AM breakfast and in the transition area for body marking at 5:30 AM.  Over 2,300 athletes over 2000 volunteers and literally thousands of supports lining the run course, cheering for you and encouraging you to keep moving.

But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced at mile 13 of the run.  At the mile 13 marker you enter the finish chute to run the last .1 miles to the finish line.  The excitement is unbelievable.  I had tried during my training to visualize the finish, to imagine my name being announced but nothing I dreamed of could have compared to the experience.

At the moment I enter the chute all of the pain seemed to vanish.  It had been a very difficult day, 70.3 miles.  1.2 mile swim.  56 mile bike ride along a very windy coast.  A very hot 13.1 mile half marathon to finish out the day.  Struggles with swimming straight.  A small bike wreck.  Really bad muscle cramps and spasms in the first mile of the run.  But then there was mile 13 and everything I had been through that day to get to that point vanished as thousands of people screamed and yelled for me crossing the finish line.  They place a medal around my neck and give me a finisher hat, which is great, but in know way compares to the experience of crossing the line.

I want to experience it again.  I am hooked to the feeling of crossing the finish line.  It made everything else I experienced on the journey worth it.  So my plan right now is a few months off to do P90X2 to really work on my core and overall strength and then get ready for Ironman 70.3 in Austin, Texas in October.

There are lots of take aways from the finish line experience but the one which stands out the most is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27

We live for a singular purpose, the purpose of building His kingdom here on earth so that when we cross the finish line the prize is eternal.  In some ways I think it will be much like my mile 13 experience.  I always talk to people who are trying to imagine what it will be like.  I don’t think you can, because I believe the experience will be something so far beyond what we can imagine.  In the race, the finish line was not my focus, it was too far ahead of me most of the time to be my focus.  My focus was simply taking one more stroke in the water.  One more rotation of the pedals on the bike.  One more step on the run.  So if the finish is not the focus, what is our focus then?  Let’s borrow for the Apostle Paul once again.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2

Make Jesus the focus.  Make being more like him the next step of your journey, because at times the finish line can seem so far off.  Our promise though, is that He is never far away.  Focus on Jesus, He is more than enough to sustain you!


THE HOPE EASTER BRINGS

Easter, it comes around every year, where believers around the world celebrate an empty tomb.  But his year I needed Easter.  There are times in ministry where it seems like everything is flowing smoothly and ministry is going great.  There are other times that tend to be more difficult.  Times there are more questions than answers.  Times of uncertainty.

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For me, the last several months fall into the more difficult category.  Not that ministry has been bad, it is just changing.  New students stepping up and needing to step up into new leadership roles.  More families struggling and going through difficult times.  More kids struggling.

In these seasons it is easy to lose focus.  It is easy to get discouraged.  Questions begin to arise in your mind…  Is my ministry making an impact?  Am I making an impact in peoples lives?  Are student’s lives really being transformed?

Can you think about what it would have been like for these early disciples.  They had literally given up everything to follow Jesus and now He is gone.  Worse of all, he did not even put up a fight.  The one disciple who really tried to fight for him in the garden, Peter, is reprimanded for doing so.  He invited them to join him on this mission to reclaim a lost humanity.  Now the leader is gone and they are left wondering what to do next.  I am sure questions flooded their minds.  What now?  Was He really who He claimed to be?  Were the last three years a waste?  All hope seems to be lost.

But can you imagine the hope that might have begun to slowly seep into their minds as they heard news of an empty tomb?  I am sure the over whelming thoughts were, no way.  It’s a hoax.  But I have to imagine, in the back of their minds were the questions, “what if.”  But then, to see him, to touch him, to hear him.  Hope was not lost because He lives!

While the resurrection is something we remember throughout the year, this year I needed the reminder more than in the pass.  I needed the reminder because in the midst of families falling apart, students struggling with decisions, in spite of what seems like hopelessness there is hope because the tomb is empty.  Because He lives!

I love the words to this hymn,

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know, I know He holds tomorrow.
And life is worth the living, just because He lives.

Such powerful and true words.  Words of hope in the midst of despair.  We find hope in an empty tomb and a risen savior.

He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:
Luke 24:6