Good News | Culture | Leadership | Fun
My life is like yours: busy.
As a husband, dad to three wild boys, and pastor of a growing church in fast-paced Silicon Valley, I deal with the ever present temptation to not be fully present in the moment. The demands, stress, and surprises of each day tempt me to withhold my full presence and attention, to abandon focus.
This temptation is a lie. Abandoning focus and presence does not equate to a greater ability to handle everything that comes at you. Instead, failure to be fully present results in ineffective leadership, people not feeling cared for, and a loss of personal joy.
Many of us feel ever-present low grade stress and lack joy in large part because we’re rarely fully present. We try to be three places at once and do four things at once. This is dumb. I don’t want to live this way. We are not designed to live this way.
Obviously the first step in solving this problem is to refocus: to reassess the priorities we want to give our time and energy to. I take extended time both annually and quarterly to reassess my chief priorities and goals. Another critical and often over-looked need is to commit to being fully present with/fully focused upon the person or task we’re currently engaged with.
The happiest, most loving, and most effective leaders learn to be fully present. You can learn this to. Instead of each day feeling like an endless, grueling marathon, each day can feel like a series of varied, interesting, and challenging sprints where your focus and full presence shifts throughout the day to the project or person of the moment.
Here’s one example of how I practice being present: My days are often packed with meetings and projects. It’s common for me to leave behind an unfinished task, rush into a meeting at a coffee shop, and to have the person I’m meeting say to me, “You seem really busy. You have a lot going on.” My standard reply is to say, “Yes, I’m very busy. But for the next forty minutes you have my complete attention and focus. I’m here to listen and to help you in any way I can. Tell me, what’s going on?” The person then notices my full eye contact and attention, and begins to talk. I determine to be nowhere else but present in that coffee job, enjoying this unique moment in time that I will never get back. And, then, when the meeting is over, I turn my attention to my next project or meeting feeling refreshed and recharged, eager to give my full energy to what’s next.
The ambitious missionary, Jim Elliot, said it best: “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
You can do this. You were created to live and lead with full presence. Where are you? Wherever you are, be all there!
As I read the Gospels it seems that there are two secrets to the effectiveness of Jesus’ ministry that are often overlooked or forgotten:
1. Jesus spent a lot of time enjoying long meals and attending fun parties with people.
Maybe you should enjoy longer meals with friends and attend (or throw) more parties?
2. Jesus spent a lot of time going on long walks and wild adventures with his disciples.
Maybe your discipleship process ought to involve more long walks and unpredictable adventures?
I’ve been using Twitter for a few years. I like Twitter. This is a description of how I use it. Perhaps this will be helpful to you.
1. Follow people/accounts you can learn from.
Follow people who teach you, inspire you, challenge you, or encourage you. Some people follow hundreds or thousands of people on Twitter. I don’t. I never follow more than about 50 people because I want to try to keep up with a lot of what these people are saying. I often change some of the accounts I’m following in search of learning from new voices.
2. Tweet about two things: 1) Content you think will help other people 2) Whatever you’re excited about.
That’s it. That’s what I do.
Garden City Church is now 2.5 years old! Yesterday we celebrated Easter together as a church family. Here are a few photos and stories from the day.
Yesterday was our biggest Sunday yet at Garden City as people packed into both our 4pm and 5:30pm services to hear the good news of Jesus.
We celebrated 8 baptisms yesterday as a diverse group of people went public with their faith in Jesus. Their stories were moving and inspiring!
Among the baptisms, we had 2 husbands who baptized their wives and we had 2 sons who baptized a parent. In this picture Sameer is hugging his mom, Tarana, who he just baptized. Sameer became a follower of Jesus through Garden City and then helped lead his mom to become a follower of Jesus.
I preached about how The Real Jesus (click to listen) turns your life upside down. I also wore and introduced our new Garden City T-shirt (this is the first time we’ve made something like this). Everyone who registers and shows up to serve at our city service project this Saturday will get a free Garden City T-shirt.
Here you can see some of the Garden City kids sitting on the lawn. Yesterday 50 kids enjoyed an egg hunt on the lawn and were then taught about the resurrection of Jesus. Garden City kids are making (we think and hope) lifelong discoveries and friends in our church family.
Garden City is a friendly, growing family of people who are learning to follow Jesus together.
You are invited and welcome to join us. We’d love to have you become part of this family, and join us in our mission to impact our city. You can come to one of our 20 Neighborhood Groups this week and/or come to our 4pm or 5:30pm service this Sunday.
I wrote The Big Story in hopes that this would be the kind of book people would pass on to their friends and giveaway to others. I wrote this book to help people, both Christians and non-Christians, make better sense out of their life. I love what I see happening with the book: Churches are using the book as a gift to give to first time guests, people are sharing this book with their neighbors, and others are coming up with creative ideas on how to use the book.
Below is what some people are doing with the book/saying about it. You can get The Big Story on Amazon, or you can buy in bulk and get up to a 50% discount by buying directly from Moody Publishers.
We live in a city where a lot of unbelievers visit our church. We have been looking for a book we can put in their hands that communicates the gospel in a clear and compelling way. A book that talks about the big story, but also very directly about our need for Jesus. And, most importantly, a book that makes sense to people that know nothing about Christianity. The Big Story is the only book we have found that does all of that. We are excited to be able to give them out as a part of welcoming new people to our church on Sundays. -Toby Kurth, Lead Pastor, Christ Church San Francisco
We love giving books away as resources to guests, both Christian and non-Christian alike. But admittedly, it has been a challenge to find the right one. Some books have great content, but the language can be a bit daunting for those unfamiliar with theological ideas and the Christian faith. Other books might be easily accessible to the every day person, but it has very little substance and one can imagine such a book in a box in the garage. Justin Buzzard’s book, The Big Story, accomplishes the difficult task of making a book accessible to anyone and everyone without diluting the message of the redemptive story of God. This is why we give away Justin’s book, alongside a copy of the Bible to all of our guests who are interested in a conversation on Jesus and the gospel. -Sam Shin, Lead Pastor, Wellspring Church
I have been challenged to make ministry simply a part of my everyday life, rather than something extra I do. Exercising is a big part of my day. I love it. So, I combined my love of fitness with my love for Christ with a weekly community group called Mind Body Spirit. We work out for a period of time and then learn more about the Gospel. I had read The Big Story and I knew it would be a great place for our group to start. Our group is made up of believers and non-believers, young and old. The Big Story provides a framework for discussing God’s plan for our lives that is relevant to everyone who comes. Every week we get further into the story and truths about the Gospel are re-imagined or understood for the first time.
My favorite week was when I group of high school girls came for the first time. We had read the chapter about Creation and how God called Adam and Eve good before they even did anything. We repeated those words over and over, imagining God speak it himself over us. I could sense God’s spirit ministering to the mind and hearts of these girls who battle every day with the world about insecurities with their looks, school, and friends. God’s love was shown to them that day through our discussion of The Big Story. It is an enjoyable read for all ages that provides a depth of understanding about God’s plan for us, in an easy to read format. -Nate Piturachsatit, Teacher, Grand Coulee, Washington
Stories tell us who we are and how to live. Our Creator knew this when He decided to tell the story of the universe with Jesus at the center. Many visitors to our local church have never encountered the good news of Jesus, and that’s why we are excited to give The Big Story as a welcome gift to all our first-time guests. It paints a captivating picture of the God of the Bible that’s accessible to all. And it helps us communicate to newcomers who we are as a church: broken people pursued by a relentless God, caught up in the story of His amazing grace. -Jeff Locke, Lead Pastor, Grace Church of Alameda
As the Connections Director at Fox Valley Church I have the privilege of interacting consistently with guests who visit our church. Every Sunday people walk through our doors from every stage of spiritual growth. About half the guests that visit are fully devoted or growing Christians who know the Gospel well. But the other half is either spiritual seekers or new believers to the faith. These seekers and new believers visit us not knowing much of anything about the Bible, what is means to be a Christian, or who Jesus is. Their worldview is often is a mix of spirituality, deism, and humanism.
This led us to look for a resource that would begin with the very basics of a Christian worldview. We needed a resource that would be rich with truth, point people to Jesus, and explain the Gospel. But, we also knew it had to be easy to read and engage with and not get people lost with theological terminology or Christianize. The first book I picked up was The Big Story and I knew that I needed to look no further.
Justin Buzzard tells The Big Story of redemption in a way that is captivating, easy to understand, and that addresses difficult questions that our world is asking. The Big Story is rooted in scripture and illustrated with stories and examples that keep the reader wanting to know more. When reading it I knew it was exactly what we needed to help spiritual seekers and new believers understand the Gospel and how we fit in God’s story. -Stephen Drew, Ministry Coordinator, Fox Valley Church.
In this weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, Charles Murray penned some “Rules for a Happy Life.” His first rule articulates the potentially different dynamics between marrying young and marrying at an older age.
The age of marriage for college graduates has been increasing for decades, and this cultural shift has been a good thing. Many 22-year-olds are saved from bad marriages because they go into relationships at that age assuming that marriage is still out of the question.
But should you assume that marriage is still out of the question when you’re 25? Twenty-seven? I’m not suggesting that you decide ahead of time that you will get married in your 20s. You’ve got to wait until the right person comes along. I’m just pointing out that you shouldn’t exclude the possibility. If you wait until your 30s, your marriage is likely to be a merger. If you get married in your 20s, it is likely to be a startup.
Merger marriages are what you tend to see on the weddings pages of the Sunday New York Times: highly educated couples in their 30s, both people well on their way to success. Lots of things can be said in favor of merger marriages. The bride and groom may be more mature, less likely to outgrow each other or to feel impelled, 10 years into the marriage, to make up for their lost youth.
But let me put in a word for startup marriages, in which the success of the partners isn’t yet assured. The groom with his new architecture degree is still designing stairwells, and the bride is starting her third year of medical school. Their income doesn’t leave them impoverished, but they have to watch every penny.
A fire requires three ingredients, often called the “fire triangle”: oxygen, heat, and fuel. The fire triangle provides a helpful way to think about your church. Many years ago Leonard Ravenhill wrote:
“You never have to advertise a fire. Everyone comes running when there’s a fire. Likewise, if your church is on fire, you will not have to advertise it. The community will already know it.”
For the church, the fire triangle works like this:
OXYGEN = The living God. The living God loves to breathe on his people and blow fresh life into us.
HEAT = The love of God. The heat source of the church is the undeserved, unconditional love of God.
FUEL = Us. People increasingly alive and awake to the living, loving God are the fuel of this fire.
So, as fuel, what is our job? Well, think about the last campfire you were part of. What did the wood have to do to make the fire happen? All the wood had to do was be available. The wood didn’t do anything except be available to receive the heat and oxygen.
We are fuel. We are wood. Our job as followers of Jesus is to simply be available, asking our God to breathe fresh wind and bring fresh heat into our lives and churches. God does great things in his church when we recognize our complete dependance upon him.
I articulate this further at the end of my sermon from yesterday on Acts 14, The Living God.
The second most important thing in the world is what you think about God. Do you have true thoughts and conclusions (theology) about who the livingGod is? Whatever you think about God will dramatically impact your life.
But there is one thing more important than this. The most important thing in the world is what God thinks about you.
What does God think about you? If you’ve run from God, if you’re building your life around a false god, if you’re resisting God’s pursuit of you, if you’ve refused the love of Jesus, then God regards you as a sinner deserving his eternal wrath. BUT, if you’ve simply taken responsibility for your sin and mess (if you’ve been honest), if you’ve open your heart to the grace (undeserved love) of God and how badly you need it, if you’ve experienced the most important event anyone could ever experience (an experience Jesus called “being born again”), then God delightfully, eternally, and unconditionally regards you as his beloved, forgiven, and perfectly righteous child.
“For God so loved the world [and you!], that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16
Below is Jack Welch’s three-paragraph description of being a CEO. Though several of the items below certainly don’t apply (the pay, the golf, etc.), I think this is also a good description of the life of a church planter:
Being a CEO is the nuts! A whole jumble of thoughts come to mind: Over the top. Wild. Fun. Outrageous. Crazy. Passion. Perpetual motion. The give-and-take. Meetings into the night. Incredible friendships. Fine wine. Celebrations. Great golf courses. Big decisions in the real game. Crises and pressure. Lots of swings. A few home runs. The thrill of winning. The pain of losing.
It’s as good as it gets! You get paid a lot, but the real payoff is in the fun.
Like any job, though, it has its pluses and minuses–but the good sure overwhelms the bad. The schedule is packed, with many hours blocked out a year in advance, yet every day manages to bring new crises that butcher your calendar. The days are crazy long, yet the hours race by because you’re always fighting for more time. The job never leaves you no matter what you’re doing–what’s on your mind is always so absorbing.
Jack Welch, Jack, p. 377
I grew up hearing my mom tell me the story below. This event significantly shaped my mom’s young faith. Just three weeks before her death my mom wrote this story down in an email so that it could be shared at her funeral (which it was). I hope this story can encourage you, reminding you that God hears you, cares for you, acts for your good, and is able to do anything.
When I was 17 God taught me a huge, life changing lesson about faith through an incident with my contact lens. In high school because of the ministry of Young Life, I heard the gospel and began my relationship with Jesus. I was in Switzerland on a Young Life European tour and realized, to my surprise, that many of the people on this so called “Christian” trip didn’t even believe in Jesus. I had just been discussing with one of the leaders of the trip whether Jesus was real or not (he was mocking my young faith) when we exited a mountain tram on to a gravel road back to our chalet. This road was about 1/2 mile long and was shared by people in hiking boots, cattle, and cars. Suddenly the rain and wind caused my contact lens, which had come out, to fly away…….somewhere on this road. We could not find it anywhere and the trip leader I had been speaking to 10 minutes before said, “Where is your God for you now? Will your faith in him get you your contact lens back?” It was an impossible situation. I couldn’t see out of one eye. Later back in my room I wrote about this experience in my journal, which I still have.
The next day I was walking back to the tram area on this gravel and dirt road while talking with God. I had read in my Bible that if we have faith as tiny as a mustard seed, mountains can be moved. Here I was in the beautiful Swiss Alps and I told God I didn’t know how to have that kind of faith. It wasn’t an audible voice, but I heard him suggest in my mind, “Joany, it’s not that you must have faith in what my WILL to do is, it’s that you have faith that I am ABLE to do anything.” I answered back in my heart that of course I believed God could help me find my contact, that he was able and I’d really love that, but I didn’t know his will. Immediately I felt a very strong sense to bend down and as I looked into a puddled tire track I saw my contact lens! Unbelievable! It was unscratched, perfect, and I was able to see for the rest of the trip. When I told Steve, the trip leader who questioned my faith in Jesus, he was speechless. Months later he called me from his college back east to let me know he had begun his own relationship with Jesus and was greatly influenced by that experience in Switzerland.
So during my cancer journey I’ve always believed in God’s ability to heal me……never questioned it……but his will I don’t know of course. His will is perfect and I trust him and HIS timing of when I’m supposed to go home to Heaven.