Category Archives: Family

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.

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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.


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.

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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 BEST DATE I NEVER WENT ON – SORT OF…

Today is my 8th anniversary.  Cami & I met for the first time in June of 2004.  We had a rather awkward first meal together with a family of six, and another single guy at a Chinese buffet.  I can at least say it was memorable.  She was planning on moving to Cleburne to work for a friend (the dad in the family of 6) and handle his accounting.

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I had been the Youth & Family Minister at Central for a little over a year and had yet to meet anyone in Cleburne I really connected with.  I was discouraged and thinking I needed to find a job at a bigger church with a singles program.  We walked away from lunch that day thinking we would never go out, friends sure, but dating never.  The next time I saw her was July 28th when she was beginning her new job, I remember the date because it was my birthday.

The next week her boss and his wife were heading out of town, she was going to house & baby sit while they were away.  Her boss gave her my number; she got board and gave me a call.  We talked a little and I even went over one evening to hang out with her and the kids.  Later that week we talked on the phone several times, one night for three hours.  The next week, she was getting settled into her house and I decided I wanted to go out on a date.

I had just bought a house and our secretary at the time gave me, as she called it, “a house wetting present.”  A 10 week old black lab puppy I named Kramer.  Knowing no girl in their right mind could resist a puppy, I used Kramer to my advantage.  I called Cami and asked if I could swing by and show her Kramer.  Also, the day before my sister had offered me 2 tickets to see the Rangers and Yankees, second row behind the Rangers dugout.

If you know me, you know I love baseball, especially Rangers baseball.  I said yes and I knew exactly who I was asking, Cami.  After all, I had always told my parents, I will know the girl for me when I ask her what she wants to do and she says, go watch baseball and eat a steak.  So I went to her house, armed with a 10 week old puppy and a pair of tickets to the Rangers game.  It was can’t miss!

So I show up, and trying to get up the nerve to ask her out, and just before I made my move, she says, “My brother-in-law is in town performing in an opera and I wanted to know if you wanted to go with me?”  I said sure and she tells me it is the same night as the game.  Oh man, I had to make a choice.  So that night I went home and called my sister to tell her I could not go to the game, I was going to the opera.  Haha  When we hung up the phone she called my dad and said, “I don’t know who he is going to the OPERA with but Gary is going to marry her.”

Now, I love baseball, but I could not tell you what happened between the Rangers and Yankees that night, but I can tell you I went on my first date with my future wife.  We did eat steak that night but no baseball, and I don’t regret it.  The past eight years have been amazing.

We have 3 amazing kids, Gracie who turns 6 this month, Ryan who is 4 and Caleb is 3 months.  We love life, love ministry (most of the time, haha), love our family and church family.  Best of all, I am married to my best friend, a beautiful woman and an amazing mother.  I love you so much Cami and I am so thankful for the past 8 years and look forward to many more to come.


LANCE, TE’O & THE REST OF US – REFLECTIONS FROM THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Over the past couple of weeks we have seen some truly, I would say… “interesting?” news.  Last week cycling “great” Lance Armstrong confessed he did in fact use performance enhancing drugs and blood doping in his cancer come back to win an unprecedented 7 Tour De France titles.

The confession came after years of adamantly denying the allegations from many former competitors and teammates.  Even going so far as to take his accusers to court and question their integrity.

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Then we saw a most bizarre story surface.  Manti Te’o, the stand out linebacker and Heisman Trophy finalist from Notre Dame came clean on the story of the death of his girlfriend.  If you are somehow unaware of the story, Te’o a senior and team captain allegedly lost both his grandmother and girlfriend during the early part of this season.

The result, a possessed Te’o played the remainder of the season in honor of his grandmother and girlfriend.  It turns out Te’o had never actually met his girlfriend because it was an online relationship.  The problem, he could never meet her because evidently she did not exist, ever.  Te’o apparently was on the losing end of a cruel hoax.

Fair enough, but he sure did not talk about her on national TV as if they had never had met.  The perception I got was one of a long time girlfriend.

In both cases these men, Armstrong more than Te’o misrepresented themselves.  They tried to portray themselves as something they were not.

Funny, we sit back in amazement wondering how they could live such a lie.  Honestly, it is the world we live in.  All of us in some way or another misrepresent ourselves from time to time.  Maybe not to this extent or in the public spotlight, but we do.

It is the reason people live in houses they can’t afford, drive cars they can’t afford and wear clothes they can’t afford.  It is the reason people act differently in different circles.  We want people to look at us favorably.  It is all about perception.  We create the perception we want people to have of us because we want to be seen (it might be helpful to read my first blog on this, Motives Matter).

Jesus warns these disciples gathered around him on a mountainside, BE CAREFUL.  Be careful not to do things to be seen by others.  Specifically, in chapter 6:1-18 be careful not to give, pray and fast to be seen.  When you do, you are portraying a relationship with God which does not exist.  Why does it not exist?  Because, you are more concerned about what others think of you than what God thinks.  Be careful!

So why the warning?  Maybe it is simple, if you misrepresent who you are, it will eventually catch up with you.  Eventually, it will all come out, ask Manti, ask Lance.  When you misrepresent yourself, you deceive people.  However the bigger problem, when you misrepresent yourself spiritually, you ultimately deceive yourself.  You fool yourself into thinking you have a right relationship with God and eventually it will catch up to you.  Jesus, goes on in Matthew 7 to remind us of this several times.

In chapter 6 Jesus tells us the “hypocrites” love to do these righteous acts in the synagogue and on the street corners to be seen by people.  Is it possible Social Media is the street corner we all stand on today?  With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other outlets we have complete control of how we want people to see us.  It is easy to misrepresent our self and deceive others into thinking we are something we are not.  Be careful Jesus would say, because you may just deceive yourself.

Think how much time and energy and money in our society is put into worrying about what others think.  Jesus was confronting a Pharisaical system which was overly concerned with other perception.  Maybe not much has changed.  Maybe it is why we struggle so greatly with confession.  We don’t want people to know who we really are because we are terrified of what they might think.  What if they found out about our struggles with anger?  With alcohol?  With pornography?  With cheating?  With lying?

The righteousness Jesus describes in chapter 5 is not rooted in “look how good I am,” but in a humbled spirit “I know who I am,” and it is far from righteous.  Maybe deep down, to hunger and thirsting for righteousness is a passionate plea to seek Him rather than others opinions.  Simply put, love God, love others because you can control that,  Don’t spend countless hours worried about what others think because you can’t control that, so stop trying to control it by convincing everyone you are something you are not.


DEALING WITH DISCOURAGMENT IN MINISTRY

One thing I have learned in ten years of ministry is there will be lots of disappointments.  Especially, for those of us in Student Ministry, discouragement will be abundant.  Students, parents, leaders, members will all let you down and the flip side, you will most certainly let them down as well.  So I am writing this to let all of my friends in ministry know how to fix the problem…..

Ready for it…

Get rid of all the people!

There you go.  If you eliminate all the people in your church, the problem of disappointment will be gone… unless you are a numbers guy.  Now of course I am joking but from time to time we all feel that way.  The problem is people, but this is what God planned.  Think about it, God decided to use broken and messed up people to help broken and messed up people.

So, if discouragement in ministry is inevitable, where is the hope in ministry?  Because, in the illustrious words of the late Charles Siburt, “there is no possible way to contort the human voice to make whining appealing to the human ear.”   So how do you deal with discouragement?

1. Focus on YOUR NEED for the Gospel.  One of the biggest traps I fall into in ministry is focusing on how much everyone around me needs to hear the message of Jesus, because they are broken and messed up people.  When we do we begin to see our self as a practitioner rather than a patient.  Unfortunately, the church has lost sight of this truth, expecting for those in ministry to not struggle as everyone else does. We find great joy in the appearance we present to people.  In doing this it is “self” that is glorified and not Christ.  Paul makes a point to point out his weakness…

 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16

People will follow the example we set.  If we are unwilling to admit our brokenness, it is pretty ridiculous to expect those we are leading to admit their brokenness.

2. Surround yourself with a close group of people you can share things with, who can help to encourage and pray for you.  For me there are several different circles.  One circle consists of people in our church, who know me and my ministry very well.  They know where I want this ministry to go.  They offer an open ear and loving voice.  They know my heart and genuinely care for me, not just what our ministry is doing.  These are the people I go to with leadership problems, thoughts, dreams.  I also have a close circle of 5 or 6 friends in ministry, who are in the trenches, we share ideas and dreams. We seek advice and counsel from each other drawing on the experiences of each other.  The most important circle though is my family.  This is also my first and most important ministry.  I have to focus on taking care of this relationship, because the health of this relationship, with my wife and children greatly affects my mindset in the rest of my ministry.

3. Our job in ministry is not to fill people up, it is to empty yourself.  Somewhere along the way someone convinced me it was my responsibility to fill people up to send them out.  They were wrong!  You have absolutely no control in ministry of how people with respond to the message of Christ.  Jesus told us, there would be people who hear this message and want absolutely no part of it.  There would be people who say they are a part of His Kingdom and would continue to choose other things.  So it floors me, that I get so discouraged when people chose other things over Christ.  And just maybe they are following their leader, if we are completely honest.  No matter how badly you want someone to know Christ; they might want nothing to do with Him.

Jesus has called us to build His Kingdom here on earth, not our own.  It is amazing how easily we confuse the two.  Discouragement is something we will always deal with in ministry.  Jesus did, Paul did, the apostles did, and the early church did.  Get use to it, but by all means do not give up on what God has called you to do and more importantly WHO he has called you to BE!

These are just a few examples of what I rely on, and of course there are many other principles out there.  So how do you deal with discouragement in ministry?