Monday, December 29, 2008

reflection questions

well, it is that time of year...where I sit and reflect and take spiritual inventory at the end of yet another year. I'd say it's been good, but that answer is too easy and really doesn't mean anything. My soul yearns for deeper reflection and questioning (yours does too if you'll slow down enough to hear it).

Here are the questions I ask myself, maybe they'll help you. Did I grow in my faith this year? Did I pray more? Upon reflection; I really have gotten better at this. My prayer room attached to my office has truly become my refuge and I've found myself on my knees this year more - so that's good.

Did I give more? My Lord was a GIVER and so to be like him I must give. Well, in plain numbers, sara and gave more cash to God than ever before. But before I check that off as "well-done"; there is a deeper question that requires attention. Could I have given more? Was I just giving out of my abundance or sacrificially? I'll have to admit, as I close this year out, i have a lot of cool stuff, so I don't feel real sacrificial (not in biblical terms for sure) I'll keep growing here.

Did I overcome some sins? Well, here's the part where you'd like to know exactly what sins I'm overcoming (and frankly I don't know you well enough to do that) but I'll reserve those confessions for God and some close trusted brothers in Christ. Well, here's the deal as I reflect. I'm learning to dislike sin more and that's progress. My goal is to hate my earthly and fleshly ways as much as God do and embrace his spirit more.

Did I love and lead my wife well? Some old guy once told me the best way to judge a husband is to see how much the wife laughs. Well, Sara laughs a lot (mostly at me) so I must be doing o.k. Still I'm sure I need to give more to her as well, she continues to be my richest earthly blessing.

Did I live a life my boys could aspire to? Again, I am far short of where I want to be, but I'm having a lot more conversations where my oldest is asking for my advice (and bailouts - but even the government does that) and that's been cool. Of course, he has moved out and started his own tattoo business - I'm proud of him and pray God will show him how he should use this gift. My youngest is growing (literally taller) and it's fun watching how God is moving in him. He tells people I'm his hero (even though he hates it when I tell him to clean up his mess) so that's good.

Did I use my gifts for God's glory? Well, I've had more fun preaching this year than ever before and I will say I take this gift of preaching more serious than I've ever taken it (something about 2,300 adults coming every week to hear from God that makes me want to represent Him well).

If I died right now (I know it's morbid, but you have to ask it) would I be content with the life I've lived? Heavy stuff huh? Well, I'm sure God would have changed some actions, decisions, motivations, etc... I know this because I would too. But all in all, if today were my last day and I got to see God by grace and faith in Jesus; I'd be cool with that. And that's about the best conclusion I could come to.

Like i said earlier 2008 was a good year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

weather outside is frightful

Well, the weather has been frightful (as in high temperature of 7 on Sunday) but at least it's not windy (if you live in Normal you can feel the chill of that sarcasm). So, as people keep telling me we are experiencing global warming, we're experiencing ice on everything. Well, as the song goes, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful.

Sunday, Sara and I got home from church around 12:30 to find our electricity out. It had just gone off 15 minutes before (the church also lost power about this time - glad the sermon wasn't long). So we lit the gas stove and cooked lunch, then we dressed into some warm clothes, built a fire in the living room and lay on the couch and talked. I kept the fire going and it at least took some chill off the air. We both read some and napped some - awesome relaxation. Around 4:30, I checked the temp and it was around 59 in the house and getting wintry dark, so we lit a bunch of candles. Now it's time where Sara's kind of annoyed with the whole thing and I'm really starting to dig it! I just loved, the conversation, no interruptions, and the base survival kind of thinking (can we survive the night sleeping by the fire?). Well, it got so cold that I decided to even let the dog come in the house (and they say I have no heart for animals) to keep him from freezing.

After about an hour of candle light, we called our friends steph and al and headed out for some supper (and warmth) - the fellowship and food were great and by the time we got home the electricity was on. Honestly, i was kinda bummed - but the first thing I did was get the dog in the garage (with a space heater).

Then last night, after a long day at work (trying to do a whole week's work in three days isn't easy and that's why I'm blogging on Tuesday) we headed to our great friends J.K. and Sue Jones and their daughters Lyndsey and Chelsea (which i'm sure are probably spelled wrong) and Lyndsey's husband Matt. Anyway, the fellowship and laughter around the table and meal soon moved to the living room and a fire place. What a great time of closeness and sharing and warmth (and the fire was good too).

So I like it cold...because when it's cold and you're gathered around the fireplace with those you really is delightful.

Monday, December 15, 2008

weekend giving

You know what's inspiring? Giving. It inspires me to see other people give. You know why? Because it is in giving that I most see God. Remember God so loved the world that he GAVE! Remember Jesus GAVE his life. Remember the Spirit GIVES us direction and comfort. If God is the ultimate giver (and He is) then I saw glimpses of God through the giving of my church family this weekend.

For the last month i have seen people carry coats, food and toys into church on Sunday mornings (sometimes I watch from my office window as I prepare to preach) to give away. We estimate (always dangerous for pastors, but here it is) that there were somewhere between 50 and 70 thousand dollars spent on this project (3,000 toys, 2,000 coats, tons of food - yes tons).

Then on Friday night, hundreds gathered in our auditorium for a meeting on how to serve. We were out by 9:15 and under-resourced people were lining up at the door by 10:00 p.m. for the doors to open at 7:00 a.m. Hundreds (yeah, someone counted) spent the night at our church doors. By 6:15 over 700 Eastview volunteers showed up to serve - and that's what they did for over 5 hours. They loaded groceries, prayed, served food and coffee and hot chocolate (lot's of hot chocolate), played with kids, did crafts, translated, encouraged, registered, took care of all those who had shown up with needs. When the day was over, more than 600 families were served representing over 2,000 people! I was moved to tears many times.

So, that's it right?! Nope, on Sunday we had our special offering for the finish of Turn the Page (our capital campaign that is almost over). Our goal was $500K and many were skeptical that we'd get a fraction of that. I was moved to watch people walk forward during our worship on Sunday and put their gifts in the offering. You want to know the total we received? Over $300K and counting. This was on top of our general giving and it was a blessing from God! I'm so inspired by that. And giving continues. We still have 16 days in this month and checks are still rolling in. I'm not sure where it will stop, but we'll celebrate it on our special worship service the 28th. It's going to be amazing. God has given so much and he has used you and I to do continue to give for His purpose.

Monday, December 8, 2008

christmas songs

one of my favorite things about Christmas is the music. I'm one of those people who likes Christmas music all year round, but obnoxiously so during Christmas. In fact, if you are a guest at my house, I want Christmas music in the background always (even if it means I may miss some of the conversation - because I'm really singing the song in my head anyway). From about a week before Thanksgiving my radio has been set to that station in town that plays only Christmas music during this month. I love it! I never listen to the station any other time of the year (for all I know the play middle-eastern folk polka), but right now, it's nothing else.

Speaking of great Christmas music, I hope you all heard the cool pops concert our music, choir and tech staff did last weekend. What a talented and servant oriented bunch of people. I especially loved the drum stuff at the beginning - very cool (good job drummer boys). Well, since we're talking about Christmas music, I suppose I should give my top ten favorite all time Christmas songs (in reverse order - David Letterman style):
10. "I want a hippotamus for Christmas" - yes that obnoxious one they play on that station - I guess I like the child-like request for a gift (my wife hates this song).
9. "Baby it's cold outside" - this of course is not a great christian song, but i like the tune and the whole romantic notion.
8. "Hallelujah" - This is an old song by the Imperials (if you dont know, dont' ask) and is best heard on a scatchy LP (if you don't know, don't ask)
7. "Joy to the world" - One of my earliest memories is in church at Christmas singing this song (while I was playing with the candle I was holding).
6. "Gloria" because it sounds like an angel song.
5. "Away in a manger"
4. "Frosty the snow man" - I like the idea of kids pretending and a snowman coming to life - plus I grew up on the cartoon.
3. "We three kings" - I've always been intrigued by these mystery scholars who came to see the king of kings.
2. "Let it Snow" - this shouldn't surprise anyone. I love snow (White Christmas could sneak on this list too."
1. "Silent Night" - any version will do -Christmas Eve acapella is nice, but I like Frank Sinatra near the end of his life, with not so great voice control version the best!

Monday, December 1, 2008

13 years

Today is my 13th anniversary at this place called Eastview and I have to say, that fact is yet another in a long line of "God's ways are higher than mine". I came to Eastview in 1995 with an ear ring and bleached hair and jeans and van tennis shoes to preach at this teen church they had going on. I told the elders in the interview that I'd probably stay here three years or so and then probably move on and become the preacher at a church.

We were on the Towanda Ave. location back then. Caleb was a preschooler in the church's pre-school (this would later become Cornerstone Christian Academy). Mikey (still call him Mikey) was in 7. Gary York had just celebrated 20 years and I was amazed that someone could stay at a church that long.

Well, a lot has changed in 13 years - mostly my kids have grown up here and I have grown up too. How? Well, I'm still inclined to bleach my hair (and I still wear an earring from time to time), but here's how I've grown (maybe this will be helpful in your spiritual journey):
1. I'm more patient now. I don't have to rush spiritual growth or results. I hope to be here many more years, so I'm cool with God changing us and me over time.

2. I know less. The strange thing is that back then I knew everything about running a church (you could just ask me - how embarrassing!), but the more responsibility I have now, the more I understand how little I know about leading in God's kingdom and how much I depend on Him.

3. I pray more (see above. When you know less you pray more. If you know everything, you won't talk to God much, 'cause frankly you don't need his advice)

4. I love preaching at home more than preaching on the road. When I came, I preached at least once a month in some other state (mostly youth events and conventions) and I loved the adventure of that. But now, I love being at Eastview on a Sunday morning and preaching to people who are walking with me in this journey. Preaching to strangers is easy, cause they don't know you; but preaching to your people is more honest - you know I'm not perfect!

5. My family has changed. Most nights my mom and wife are at home and my sons are around some (used to come home to play ball, wrestle and play video games until they went to bed). I'm happy to have one or two meals together each week with both boys present.

Well, I could go on, but I'll stop there. In some ways, these years have gone by so fast and in other ways, it seems like we've been here forever. I may not be a bears fan yet (or even Illinois or Avantis), but I like the Redbirds and the constitution trail and you who call Eastview home. Normal is my home and there is nothing normal about it.