Category Archives: Preaching

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.

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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.


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.

Lance_manti

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.


The Lines We Walk


MOTIVES MATTER – REFLECTIONS FROM THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Growing up baseball was a huge part of my life.  I began playing at the age of 4.  I played in High School and even had the opportunity to play in college.  In High School and College the biggest desire, other than winning, is to be seen.  In high school you want to be seen by a college or pro scout.  Once in college you want to be seen by a pro scout.  Deep inside of most athletes is the desire to be able to perform at the next level.  So when someone notices your ability it is amazing.  Personally, for me, one of the most exciting days was when Coach Fullerton passed along a letter to me from a Chicago White Sox scout.

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It was the first one I received and there was an incredible moment when I realized, someone was watching me.  I began to carry myself differently.  My mindset changed instantly.  I had so much more confidence.

We all have within us a desire to be noticed, to stand out, to be seen.  It is why we spend so much time changing clothes, asking how we look, trying to cover up our imperfections.  We want to be noticed for our looks, our clothes, our athletic ability, our intelligence, our music ability, our leadership, our planning ability, our preaching.  We all want to be noticed.  Even those who are behind the scenes, who would never want to be out front, I believe, want people to take notice of how well they do what they do.  And now with the reach of the internet, through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instangram, ect. our world revolves around the ability to let people see what we want them to see about us.  Have you seen the new State Farm Commercial?

We have the ability to control other people’s perception of us.  And honestly we love it that way.  Jesus talks about a new righteousness in chapter 5 of Matthew and leads into chapter 6 with a warning.  Be careful not to do acts of righteousness for the purpose of standing out, of being seen, because if you do the only reward you will get will be from the people who praise you for your piety.

Jesus knows us so well.  He understands our nature will be to seek praise for what we do.  If we give, there will be a tendency for us to want people to see how generous we are, or at least how generous we want them to think we are.  If we pray, we will want people to be impressed by the depth of our relationship with Christ.  If we fast, for all to know we are fasting, so they can be impressed by our devotion.  So Jesus says, BE CAREFUL!  This is a dangerous trap.

Jesus tells the first followers, be careful because Your MOTIVES MATTER!  You can say it like this…

WHY you do, WHAT you do, is just as important as what you are doing.  

But why?

The focus of these and other disciplines is to grow closer to Christ.  Period!  If you are doing it to be seen you are merely pretending.  Interestingly enough the word Jesus uses throughout this section, “hypocrite” was not a word that was made up just for the Bible; as in someone who says one thing but really does another.  Hypocrite was actually a secular Greek word that was used in the theater.  In theater a hypocrite was an actor who wears a mask.  So anyone on stage wearing a mask was a hypocrite.  So Jesus uses this word to describe a person who gives, prays or fasts for the purpose of being seen.  He says, if you are just giving so others see how spiritual you are, you are an actor, wearing a mask pretending to be someone else.  There is a danger in fooling others but there is an immense danger that you would fool yourself, that you would deceive yourself and think you are something you are not.

This deception causes two problems.  Some might see you and feel they could never be as close to God as you are, when in fact you’re not that close.  Secondly, it creates a false sense of security.  It becomes easy to look at others and say things like…

Luke 18:11-12 NIV
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

Jesus is merely reminding his followers, you are not saved because of what you gave, how you prayed or how often you fasted.  You are saved by grace.  Stop deceiving others and yourself, making them think you are saved by your own works.  Life in Christ is not about being perfect, it is about realizing you are not perfect and are desperately in need of a savior!