Wednesday, August 29, 2007

An inspirational practice

I'm loving this coaching gig, it's almost as great as pastoring (but not quite). I love working with the kids that may not have a lot of natural ability but have a great work ethic. One kid I've really been paying attention to is Jake.
Jake missed a few practices, so he had to run beasts. One beast is running sideline to sideline twice. For every day of missed practice, players have to run two beasts.
Last Friday, Jake was struggling running his beasts. He was walking some, almost crying and almost throwing up. I ran alongside him, encouraging him and not letting him stop. I'm learning that some players need a lot of encouragement while some need to be yelled at. Jake needed the encouragement and he needed to know that I wasn't going to let him quit. He finished his running on Friday and had to run two more days this week. He got better each day. Before practice today he told me, thanks, coach for making me run those beasts, I'm feeling a lot stronger now. That really made my day. It was also great to see Jake holding his own during a tackling/blocking drill.

But what really inspired me this afternoon was during the conditioning at the end of practice. The kids (and I've learned 7th graders have a low tolerance for pain) had to sprint the length of the field, bear crawl across the field, sprint back to the other end zone and bear crawl across the field back to the starting point. Even the tougher kids were really hurting.
Two overweight kids were really struggling during the home stretch of the last sprint and I knew they were going to have trouble in the final bear crawl. They were starting their bear crawl after everyone else was finished. So when they dropped down to crawl, I yelled at their teammates to come over and encourage them (although some already were). All the kids surrounded these two and cheered them on all the way to the end. And when these two kids crossed the sideline, the whole team broke out in a huge cheer. It almost made me cry, seriously!

What a beautiful picture of what church is to be all about. Encouraging each other toward God's best even when things are tough and we don't think we can make it.

Love Wins - Night 2

Last Friday night was our second night out with our Love Wins ministry; a ministry to the ladies that work at the two local gentlemen's clubs. It was an incredible night! The fact that we've been able to connect with the ladies and we're being trusted by the club managers demonstrates how this whole ministry originated with God. It's really amazing!

God has been taking me on such an incredible journey the last 9 months, busting my paradigm of what church is all about. I've blogged on this before, but I'd always been taught that doing church is about marketing and slick ministries that get people to come to your church. Although we are committed to helping new families join our mission and connect with God, I'm learning that church is about going out to those who may never enter your worship space.

I wonder how I would've reacted if someone 3 years ago had shown me a picture of myself sitting outside a strip club, staring at the front door, praying for and wondering how my wife was getting along inside the club. God is taking Erin and me to places we've never been before (I mean that in a literal and figurative way).

Here are some thoughts from the two ladies who went into the clubs; my wife Erin and Jaymie Beal.

Our second evening of delivering gift bags was a bit unexpected. We knew that we had to deliver the bags quickly because Jaymie needed to leave for work soon. When we arrived at the first club, a new door man was at the door. I was ready to explain our desire to bring gifts to the girls and let him know all of the fun, girly stuff that we had in the bags. After getting about two sentences out, he turned around to the manager in the window behind him, and the next thing Jaymie and I knew, we were being waved into the next door.
As soon as we walked in, we handed bags to all the girls that we could find. Then, I overheard one of the girls tell some others in an excited tone, "Hey, I got one of these bags last time. It had all kinds of stuff in it: a movie ticket, popcorn, and candy!" At that moment, I knew that we had brought JOY to someone and that we would continue to have the opportunity to repeat it. At that first club, we personally gave a gift to 20 ladies. Hopefully, they were able to see Jesus in a different way that night.

It was such an amazing experience and such a blessed night for each of us. God once again showed himself faithful. He promises to be with us and to shed light on our paths each step of the way if we will just be obedient to his calling. Once again, I was not certain if we were going to go due to the lack of numbers, but my-oh-my, had we not gone what a blessing we would have missed out on!!! The bouncers were happy to see us and in the first club we actually were able to go in and hand the bags-out ourselves to the ladies. No, we weren’t expecting to be able to do that, but the girls were happy to see us and we were able to cross yet another bridge. The girls were able to see us and hopefully were able to see the gentle Spirit of our Father. I do not know what God has planned for this ministry, that is why it is called faith, but I know that He is working and by His grace, is allowing me to be apart of His work. God doesn’t need me to do His work, but by His love and grace, He blesses me in order for me to be a blessing to others and show His glory.

It was a great night but if we're going to continue this ministry, we need help. We need a lot of items for our gift bags. We'll be going to the clubs the last Friday of each month and we take 40 bags each night, so we need a lot of gifts. Erin has some ideas for the themes of upcoming months and is getting everything together. Please email her at

Thanks Trinity Family, for helping us become an "others-centered" church! I'm so proud of this church.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Banana Chunks

It was a little after 1:00, the rest of the set-up crew had left (besides Brian Roberts) and as I walked by the front door, I noticed some chunks of bananas on the floor, right in front of where our welcome table had been set-up. I realize we're paying a custodian to be there, but I'm so grateful to them for letting us meet in their school that I knew I should help him out and clean up the chunks of bananas. So I did it.

Cleaning up banana chunks is service. I don't believe someone can plant or lead a church without a commitment to cleaning up banana chunks. Service is a part of the calling, it's a necessity.

But leadership is instilling that same sense of ownership in others. A sense of ownership that won't let them walk by the mess, but will stop and clean it up because they value TFC as much as I do. Leadership isn't delegating that task to someone else so you won't have to do it, it's inspiring others to make the same level of commitment as the pastor. For me, service comes easier than leadership.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My Cousin's Funeral

It's amazing how something as tragic as a funeral leads to the good of bringing family together. It was good to see family members, even under such terrible circumstances.

After the visitation on Tuesday night, I was able to spend a couple hours with my cousin Travis' family. Travis and I have always been really close, even when we don't talk for years, we're still able to reconnect easily. Travis and I are very similar in our temperaments and personalities, which my wife was pointing out as we were talking. But as Travis' wife pointed out, "yet, they're so different." I'm convinced that had Travis and I switched upbringings, he'd be the pastor and I'd probably be the one skeptical of Christians. But I love the guy and I've got a new commitment to keep praying for his family.

I didn't actually get the opportunity to preach, although I'd spent hours working on my message. My aunt decided it would be too hard for the rest of the family to have any family members speaking, which was a very wise decision. First of all, my cousin wasn't very close to my family because of the divorce between his dad and my aunt about a decade ago. Also, the pastor who did speak did an incredible job, he was very pastoral while tying it all to Christ and the resurrection. But I was able to make copies of my sermon and hand it out to some family members. I had really poured my heart into that message, I actually think it's one of the best sermons I've ever written, so I'm glad I was able to serve my family by getting it to them. But the sermon was written for family and there were a lot of non-family members there. Hearing my cousin's friends tell stories about him gave me a perspective in him I'd never had before. To be honest, I was surprised to see so many friends there as I didn't know he has so many relationships.

My cousin Travis didn't come to the funeral and was only at the visitation for a few minutes. He later told me he couldn't handle it because he was so mad at Tad for killing himself. I sensed some anger among my family. We do know that Tad was fighting demons that we don't understand, but it still hurts that he took himself away from those who loved him. When I went by the casket, I didn't know whether I should kick it or hug it. But I did start crying pretty hard, it was the only time I felt much emotion. I can't understand why he'd do this to his friends and family, but again, I don't know the pain he was feeling. Tad's life certainly wasn't wasted, but ending it this way sure did trash his potential.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A tough week coming

I feel like I've really been running myself ragged the past couple of weeks and I was really looking forward to catching my breath this week, but it doesn't look like that will be happening. I'm leaving Tuesday evening for Des Moines for my cousin's funeral which will be on Wednesday morning. My cousin, Tad, hung himself on Saturday.
When major stuff happens, my emotions tend to go into shock for awhile and I think that's happening to me now.
I also found out I'll be preaching at the funeral. I've never even done a funeral period, let alone one like this. I found out during Sunday morning's set-up and when I shared with the crew that I'd be doing the funeral for my cousin who committed suicide, one guy responded, "oh, those are the easy ones!" I almost fell over laughing, the comic relief helped soothe the tension I was feeling.
But I know that preaching is a gift God has given me and as much as I'm not looking forward to seeing the pain on everyone's faces, I am glad to be able to serve my family in this way.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I've got a new title - COACH

Yep, last night was my first night helping with Wheatridge Middle School's football practice. I'm PUMPED about this opportunity. I'd forgotten how much I missed football until I was helping 7th graders understand defensive alignment last night. I'm really going to enjoy this season.

I played football at MNU with the head coach, Brian Essex, which is how I got this position. And although I didn't make much of an impact on MNU's program, I learned a lot that I can already tell will be valuable in coaching these kids. Although their defensive system isn't as complicated as MNU's, it is more complicated than my high school's, so my college experience will come in handy. Brian said I'll be working with receivers and d-backs, two positions I know little about, but Brian promised I'll know more than the kids. At first I didn't believe him, but after watching a few drills, I realized I will have something to offer these kids in teaching them proper technique.

As a fan of the underdog, I've already got a few favorites, the tiniest and fattest kids on the team. The tiny kid knows how to hustle and how to lay a lick on someone, the really overweight kid hustles, too. I saw him pushing all the way through during sprints and relished the chance to encourage him afterwards. The overly-athletic kids will always get the attention, I'm going to take an interest in the kids who might get overlooked by others.

My point in coaching is to find another way to serve the community and to meet unchurched families. I have no idea where these new relational connections will lead, but I'm excited about building some deeper connections into this town Erin and I have been called to serve!

Super Servant - David Brush

I know it's been awhile since I've posted a "super-servant", so this one has been a long time in the making. We've started each Sunday this summer with a powerful reading of Revelation along with some incredible images. David worked his tail off putting this together, shooting the live footage or searching for the images and each week he puts in a lot of work to edit that Sunday's passage. Revelation was meant to be read aloud in public worship and it's imagery would've shocked the original audience. David's work has helped us experience the book with an awe close to what would've been experienced by Pastor John's original audience.

Thank you, David for helping us worship God in a new way this summer!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

I'm on fire - really!

It is so hot today! When I rolled one of our carts through the loading dock outside to load it on the trailer, the heat smashed into me, it was like walking into a furnace. Standing outside for 2 minutes is all it takes to be drenched with sweat. Although I am thankful it was pretty cool this morning, so I didn't sweat too much before church.

I also think I'm on fire as a preacher, too. I started noticing it a couple weeks ago. The Spirit has been filling me with a fire and passion when I'm preaching. I'm not sure what's happening, but God's doing something through me.
As people were leaving today, a guy that's from out of town but has been with us for several sermons on Revelation told me, "You may feel small, but I can tell God's going to be doing great things through your church!" He's always had questions for me after my message and he also told me "I've loved listening to this series, you're on fire!" Yeah, I really feel like God has lit me up. My hero, John Wesley, once told a young preacher "if you set yourself on fire, people will come from miles around to watch you burn." God is doing something through me and I think it's spreading.

Today's message was on Revelation 17-19:10, the Fall of Babylon. Rome (Babylon) committed three sins Unholy patriotism, Economic oppression and Widespread violence. I think I "brought it" today in a way I've never "brought it" before. It was almost comical how my mic screw ups made me stop for a second, but I was able to get right back on track.

Here's how we live above those temptations.
Unholy patriotism - by making sure our allegiance to the flag never takes precedence over our allegiance to the cross.
Economic oppression - Rather than working hard to protect the American way of life, we become generous by using the privileges of our nation to bless the poor of the world.
Widespread violence - By calling our nation to a higher standard, whether it's protecting the life of the unborn or the civilian in an enemy nation.
And check out this quote from Colin Powell “The US cannot win the war on terrorism unless we confront the social and political roots of poverty. It’s very hard to be angry with someone who just fed you, it’s very hard to want to drop a bomb on someone who just built you a village. No nation, no matter how powerful it is, will ever be safe until it has dealt with ‘economic desperation.’”

We live in the modern version of John's Rome. We have a privilege and a responsibility.
If you missed it, you've gotta hear this message. Click on our website and then listen to the sermon "Revelation 17-19, the Fall of Babylon.

Cringe Moments

Those who like talk a lot about doing worship with excellence will talk about eliminating cringe moments. Cringe moments are things like microphones squealing, wrong words on the screen, lighting stuff on with candles and things falling over with a loud crash during worship (both of those happened during our first year).
I used to be so uptight about cringe moments and wanted everything to go perfectly but I've learned a couple things about perfection (and I'm OCD, so perfection taunts me). And other leaders would put a serious fear into me by saying "if an unchurched person finally shows up on a Sunday and you screw something up, they'll say 'why should I care if the people leading worship don't care' and they won't come back." Now this really freaked me out because I want to reach unchurched people so badly. Any missed note by the band could send someone to hell! Crazy, huh?

First of all - it's not about putting on a show. I'm learning this as we go along. I had been taught you've gotta do things perfectly. Have good enough music, cool images on the screen, good lighting and funny movie clips and people will show up in droves. I wanted to impress people. I'm about to give up on that. Now, we still do creative stuff during worship sometimes and we'll play some songs from the radio, but my reason for doing this has changed. It's not about impressing people, but communicating the gospel. Which helps me relax and go with the flow more. Creative elements help, but people who don't yet know Jesus come to church to know they're loved, not to be impressed.

Secondly, when we do have cringe moments people relax when I acknowledge it and crack a joke about it. Today was a great example. We couldn't find the clip for the lapel mic. I called the guy that ran sound last Sunday (he was gone this week) and he didn't know where it was. So, I wrapped the cord around my shirt button and hoped it would hold. Well, it didn't. 3/4 of the way through my message (just when I was reaching a fevered pitch) the mic started sliding down. It happened a couple times until I finally pulled it out of my shirt and just held it. That was when our lead singer remembered where he'd packed away that clip, but by then it was too late. I cracked a few jokes about "I was just getting going" and people stayed with me. Someone yelled out "just talk loud" and I responded, "we need this recorded so it can be used against me later."

We'll never do everything perfectly, we'll always have some unforeseen cringe moments, but I'm learning most people don't demand perfection and they appreciate a leader's humor and humanity.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Remember Your Ordination

I was ordained a year ago, so tonight was the first night I've had the experience of laying hands on new ordinands. I actually found myself in the front, so I was laying hands directly on the men and women being ordained. That also put me on the big screen, which Marsha Kelvington said made her boys go crazy, "Pastor Donnie!"

But I kept getting tears in my eyes as I prayed for these pastors being ordained. I can remember my GS laying hands on me and my DS praying for Erin and me as we were ordained last year. It's a moment I'll remember the rest of my life.

After they had been ordained, the president of MNU, Ed Robinson, gave the ordinands the same statue I was given last year. It's a picture of Jesus' calling of Peter in the synoptic gospels. Jesus' words were simple, "follow me." Ed shared that following Jesus is what it's all about. We go through exciting times, we'll go through dark times, but it's ultimately about following Jesus.

I also had the privilege of talking with Larry McKain of New Church Specialties, a guy that knows a thing or two about planting churches. He told me that the most important thing I can do as pastor is to develop the right habits. To develop the habits that will grow me as a person and leader over the next few decades. There is such a tempation to want to accomplish everything right away, but if I've learned the right habits my ministry will grow in effectiveness through the decades.

Then Dave Hazel, who is planting Village Community in the Village West area, joined our conversation and asked Larry about G12. This is a long-term discipleship approach based upon John Wesley's methods of the Wesleyan revival. I don't know much about this yet, but Dave and I are going to start studying this method.

It hurts my heart

This morning during district assembly, one of our general superintendents, Paul Cunningham, talked about the God of the impossible. He asked those who needed God to work what seems like an impossible miracle to pray at College Church's altars/ kneelers, a place where thousands upon thousands of people have prayed to the God of the impossible. I didn't really know how to pray, but I asked God to let Erin and I become parents.

When I was driving home late tonight, I saw a dad walking with his 3 year old son in front of Gardner's town hall. It hurt my heart, I wondered (even cried out to God) "will that ever be me?"

I heard it live

I was driving home from our district assembly, listening to the Royals post game, when ESPN radio broke in because Barry Bonds was coming to bat. I thought, "no way this will be the time Bonds breaks the record." But after barely fouling off the first 3-2 pitch, I heard Jon Miller (the voice of baseball) call the record-breaking home run. It gave me goosebumps to hear history.

I've now become the biggest A-Rod fan. Come on, break Bond's record!

Monday, August 6, 2007

What a Sunday!

I think it just might be possible that a year from now or so, we may look back on Sunday as one of the best days in our church’s history. Second straight Sunday where our worship time has really connected with people. Maybe we’re entering a great season of worship in our community. We cashed the $5,000 check a family gave to help the Thomas family. We introduced Pastor Andy (by him interrupting me during announcements) and he’s already connecting with kids. We had two new families here as a result of a personal invitation. We had two families return for their third Sunday. And I was able to tell the church we had two people give their lives to Christ this week. We’ve been praying every Sunday for the names in “the box,” those who have yet to give their lives to Jesus. Two people whose names are in that box gave their lives to Christ this week. With a few tears in my eyes, I was able to tell the church that their prayers are making an eternal impact. Our church’s prayers are pointing people toward Christ’s throne.
I’m more excited and energized than maybe I’ve ever been, maybe even more excited than right before launch. I “get” the vision God’s given me for our church. Something has just clicked in my brain and I now understand the power of the 5. We can (we are) transform our little corner of the world by living in the pattern of our 5 disciplines. Our church is helping the kingdom break out all over Gardner!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

"Invited By"

There's an "Invited By" line in the first time guest section of our friendship registries. I get so pumped to see the name of one of our regular families in the "Invited By" line. That lets me know that a family in our community has caught the mission and vision of our church.
The new family that came today got to know a TF family at the park. Later, when walking through their neighborhood, this new family realized the TF family lived on their street. This new relationship lead to this new family worshipping with us this morning. And then the new family got invited to lunch by other families in our church.

I know it seems so simple and obvious, but that's exactly how it's done! This new family told me they had trouble finding our website, wasn't able to find it through MSN search and couldn't find it on Gardner's main website. But they came because they were invited. It's not about signs or websites (not that those don't help) but it's about personal invitations! Way to go TF!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

I got a visit from a good friend today

I had the privilege of spending time with one of my best friends today, Michael DeBoef. Boef and I met at the Iowa District CON teen camp in 1994 and have been good friends ever since. We went through college and seminary together, too. Boef and I were both called into full-time ministry at that camp in '94, but Boef fought it for a few more months before surrendering to God. I think God knew what he was doing in calling Michael to the ministry because he's an incredible youth pastor in Visalia, CA. I keep trying to talk Michael into planting a church, but he thinks that sounds crazy. Of course, I think leading a teen group sounds crazy.

The DeBoefs stopped by on their way from visiting Sarah's family in Wichita to visiting Michael's family in Oskaloosa, IA. I only get to see Michael a couple times a year, so it was good to catch up. Michael's the type of friend I could hang out with about every day and still get along or not talk for months but pick right back up where we left off. He's also the friend I usually call when something big (good or bad) happens in my life. The type of friend you thank God for.

Hangin' with the Kelvington Boys

Something I certainly don't do enough is just hang out with people. So when Marsha Kelvington called up and asked if we'd like to go with her and the boys to the T-Bones (KC's Northern League team), I jumped at the opportunity. T-Bones games are just cheap enough that you can buy some popcorn, cotton candy and drinks for a somewhat reasonable price and the tickets are cheap enough that you don't feel too guilty if the boys play on the playground for half the game. You're also close enough to really watch the game and even yell at the players (not that I'd ever do that). It was a good time.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

An incredible week

Wow, I can't believe the amazing miracles God has performed this week. First of all, many of you know we've been helping out a homeless family, Patrick and Zena Thomas and their seven kids. Many of you have stepped up to provide clothes, diapers and money for this family. Andy Phelps and Ben and Irene Delong have gone above and beyond the call for serving this family. They've been contacting food pantries, driving Patrick to job interviews and transporting the family (no small task for such a large family) to the various places they've stayed. Patrick has already been offered one job and had an interview today for an even better paying job!

In my post below, I talked about the power of a group of Christians committed to living out our 5 disciplines. Andy, Ben and Irene are great examples of people committed to serving others. I've also just witnessed the power of sacrificial giving. A family in our church has just donated $5,000 to help this family! Yes, I meant to type those three zeroes, $5,000. $5,000, $5,000. I just like typing that figure. Wow, we're going to be able to pay rent and buy groceries for the Thomas family while they get back on their fee. Thank you!

But the good news keeps on coming. This week, two guys who are connected with TFC, two (another great number) have made commitments to follow Christ! I'm not going to give many details, I want them to be able to share their story (or at least let me share it when I have permission) but believe me, the details are miraculous! After talking about what it means to turn from sin and to be reconciled to God, one guy told me "I'd never had it explained to me why Jesus died on the cross." And when I read 1 John 1:9, he was almost in awe of God's forgiveness.

I've been praying for the other guy for months. We've even been reading John's gospel together. He kept telling me "I'm getting closer, I've come so far the past year but I'm not sure if I'm quite ready yet." On Tuesday, we were discussing John 6 and he made the awesome connection between Jesus feeding the 5,000 and our need for the real food that only Jesus can give. We even talked about the virgin birth, it's so amazing to see those new to the faith grasp the miracles of the faith. But at the end of our conversation, he said "I'm still taking small steps, but I can certainly be considered a Christ-follower now." I was so excited I wanted to jump in the air and start pumping my fists, but I restrained myself. But with tears in both of our eyes, we prayed to God, thanking him for his miracles and asking for some more.

Wow! Wow! Wow!

The Journey has begun!

Erin and I have been making some big decisions the last couple of weeks. We found out we needed a new transmission for the Camry. We seriously kicked around the idea of selling the Camry for whatever we could get out of it and getting a decent used Honda for around $12,000 - $14,000. We discipline ourselves to live on basically just one of our incomes, so we'd be able to pay it off fairly soon but I kept having an uneasy feeling about getting a new car. As we were driving to a dealership to test drive a car, I realized just the taxes on a new car would cost half as much as fixing the transmission in the Camry. And I'd also been trying to prioritize our money. What's more important, a newer car or a big pile of money in the bank (for reasons I'll explain in a bit). While the prospect of a new car was exciting, it came in too far down on the list of priorities. And as we were driving home from the dealership, we were listening to Dave Ramsey go off on car payments. Basically, if we'd drive older cars, bought with cash and invest our money instead, we'd be millionaires by the time we retire. I also felt a bit convicted by taking out a car loan when I'm committed to helping TFC understand the spiritual bondage that comes with debt.

So our new goal is to save the $15,000 or so that it's going to take to adopt. A new car would be nice, but it takes a back seat (pun intended) to adoption. Yes, we've decided to adopt. We're still in the mourning process of not being able to have our own biological kids (read my initial thoughts here) but we're so excited to be starting this journey. The first step is building up cash, the second will be deciding the agency; and these steps will obviously overlap a bit.

We've received some information from a couple of adoption agencies so far. I've been most impressed so far with abcadoption. In fact, when I was looking through their brochure yesterday, I started crying. Now, it is very difficult for me to admit to this reaction, but the pictures of parents with their adopted kids made me loose it. I realized, "these people are at the other end of the long journey we're about to begin." I knew that the parents in the pictures had gone through the same hurt we've felt when we realized we can't have kids, went through the emotional ups and downs of the adoption process (which we're yet to experience) but now have kids of their own! I saw Erin and me in those pictures and it made me cry. I cried from the pain of our loss, from fear of the unknown future and for the hope that we could someday truly be parents.

Wow, can't believe I just admitted all of that. Please be praying for us!