Gravesite & Sun

In the early morning hours of November 25th, 2013 my father, Larry Woodbury, passed on from his life on this earth to a life of worshipping our Savior for ten thousand years and forever more.  That moment was preceded by a grueling and painful 5-month battle with lung cancer, concluding with a 13-day hospice stay that I still cannot fully fathom. So I am writing this post as a pause from my normal exploration of finance, entertainment and theology.  I am writing this because I HAVE to – not that I want to.  I have to get these thoughts out and move on.

So I duly warn all who continue that I will only be relating my experience with pain, grief and death.  Please do not draw any conclusions or comparisons with anyone else’s journey.  Each journey is subjective, personal, non-linear and irrational.  Each person’s battle with grief is as individual and unique as a snowflake or a fingerprint.  So this is my personal journey of what I learned watching death come:

  • I learned that my mother is even stronger and more courageous than I realized.
    • My father battled his cancer mostly in private and that was his wish.  My mother was the courageous one that had to deal with that on a daily, hourly and minute-by-minute basis. Showing God’s love, grace and strength during such circumstances is exactly what crowns in heaven are for.
  • I learned that there was no person more generous in this world than my father.
    • I could relate dozens of examples, but let me relate the last one.  The week before he was officially diagnosed with cancer, with his body already being ravaged with the cancer in at least three areas and while in extreme pain, he stopped by my house to see if I was free.  Why?  Because he wanted to add to my driveway a slab of cement so we could turn better into the driveway without destroying the grass by cutting the corner.  And why would he do this?  Because as he told me, he didn’t know when he would be able to do a project like this again.
  • I learned there is no manual or guidebook about this.
    • The Word of God provides me hope, don’t misunderstand me.  But at points you get overwhelmed.  How do I watch my father die?  How do I continue on when my 8-year son old sings his Christmas program song to his grandfather over the speakerphone and it ends in “sleep in heavenly peace”?  How do I watch my 6-year old daughter look through a window at her hero with chin folded on her arms?  How do I process her going up to her papa’s bed, blow him a kiss and say goodbye?  What do you say next when she prays, “We pray for papa; he has cancer.  Heal him.  We love him and don’t want him to leave but you in control.  Help meeting with doctor to go well so we can say goodbye.”  She showed more faith and Christian devotion in that little prayer than I ever have.  So in the end you have no choice – you run into your Savior’s arms and weep.
  • I learned that you have weird feelings that you truly don’t know how to process.
    • How do you process literally watching someone pass away?  Or watching my mother watch her husband of almost 50 years leave this earth?  Or watching my siblings watch their father grapple with death?  Or explaining this whole process to my three children?  It is simply brutal.
  • I learned that death is disgusting.
    • There is NOTHING good about it.  There is nothing to glamorize or romanticize.  It is gross and painful.  Emotionally and physically.  Watching a body waste away and shut down.  Learning how to grieve.  Watching others grieve.  Guiding young children through the sights, sounds, smells and situations.  The only thing that redeems it is because we have a Redeemer who loved us so much he sacrificed his Son.  The only thing that makes it hopeful is because he have been given a Hope and that hope is Christ.
  • I learned that I had forgotten that I was free.
    • Free to not care about the petty and the worthless and the meaningless.  The pop singer scandals, sport teams records, pseudo Christian controversies, political bickering, and work controversies.   If I live as long as my father did, I am over halfway complete with my journey as a sojourner on this earth. Time to regain focus on treasures in heaven.  Time to focus on the weak, the helpless, the defenseless, the confused.  Time to get to work.  Time to fight for, defend, and proclaim what true freedom looks like.  I am free because of Christ.  I am free in Christ.

And I close with what the last thing I told my father.  Not because it is anything profound or special but because when I leave this earth, I would like to hear this from my children, just before I hear from my Savior “Well done good and faithful servant”.  And when I leave, I want my children to tell me “You’ve done good dad.  We got this for a while.  Just rest.”

Having recently celebrated my 15th year of employment with a Fortune 500 company, I came to the stark realization that I had spent my entire career in the ubiquitous “corporate world”.  Large corporations with thousands of employees have their own distinctive environment, culture and atmosphere.  And after spending 15 years ofBuilding my life in just such an environment and culture, I have learned some unique lessons. Some the easy way.  Others in a more painful way.  So given this career milestone, I thought it fitting to record some of the lessons I have learned over the years.  These lessons are not universal across all employment situations.    But hopefully there is enough wisdom in these experiences to provide insight (and maybe warning) to those that find themselves in similar situations.

1.  Continuously put yourself in a position to win

One of the biggest lies of the corporate world is that that you can make your own luck.  But that is not the case – you cannot control timing.  All you can do is prepare, prepare and prepare. And then, if and when a situation finally arrives for you to perform, you will be ready to excel.  Now let’s be clear – that time may never actually come.  There is no dishonor in that and that is not a reflection on your skills.  But if you fail to prepare and that time to perform time DOES come, you will fall flat.  That is what you want to avoid.  And trust me, don’t try to scenario-out and speculate if a situation is “the big one”.  On two separate occasions, the most innocent, throw-away projects that were assigned to me turned into the biggest wins.  Many times you just can’t tell, so prepare for all of them.

2.  Don’t burn bridges

“Take this job and shove it” is great for movies…and that’s where it should stay.  People have long memories and I have witnessed people leave for jobs and try to come back, but fail because of the relationships that were damaged.  I have seen people lose opportunities because of comments made after an interview when they thought no one was listening.  To this day, I have my mental list of people that have burned bridges with me and those memories are hard to forget.  So act professional at all times.  And if you still insist on burning brides, make sure you are comfortable risking never returning to that situation again.  Ever.

3.  There really are bad people who will try to hurt you and your career…

Immoral.  Unethical.  Even illegal.  I have seen it all.  In a fallen world, sin will occur because every business, government, group and situation is comprised of flawed people.  No one is immune.  Some people act in these ways and just hurt themselves.  Others will attempt to get you to join them.  And then there is the group that will truly try to destroy you.  Be prepared and plan for how you will response to all three.  Because in the heat of the situation, your initial response may surprise you.

4.  …but there are also a few good people that will try to help you

Do you best to find your circle of trust – this is your inner circle of advisers that will speak truth TO you.  If you surround yourself with sycophants who only tell you what you want to hear, they will turn out to be frauds and will fail you at some point guaranteed.  However, an inner circle that speaks truth is invaluable.  And if possible, find a worthy mentor.  A more-experienced, wiser (does NOT have to be necessarily older) person that is willing to answer questions and provide guidance.  But as you ask questions, have a limited, specific plan of action.  The more low maintenance the time commitment you make it, the better.  Always be time sensitive and always be specific.  And NEVER try to manipulate the situation – if you attempt that, see lesson #2.

5.  Always, always, always develop new skills and improve yourself

I have witnessed so many people fail at this for reasons that I still cannot comprehend.  If you are ever offered a training opportunity or are being encouraged to develop a new skill, take on a new project/task or pursue more education, always try to do it (if you are able).  It is the easiest two-pronged attack plan:  internally, it shows that you are engaged, interested in development and have initiative to grow.  And to the external world, it makes you more marketable and valuable.  It is one of the few win-win situations you will encounter in the corporate world.

6.  Ears open, eyes open, mouth shut

Confession #1 – stole this saying from a former major-league baseball player who was attending his 1st All-Star Game and asked about his experience.  But the wisdom is universal.  Listen, observe and repeat.  If necessary, talk.  You will learn more things than you can imagine and you will prevent yourself from looking foolish as well.  You will grow into “your voice” – just make sure the one you grow into has credibility.

7.  You will make mistakes, even MAJOR ones.  But the key is what you learn and how you respond

Yes, you should try to never make mistakes.  And yes, you should try to never make the same mistake twice.  But as you are building your career, what you learn from those mistakes and how you respond to those mistakes will make all the difference.  Humility will serve you better than anger.  Introspection will be a better guide than self-denial or blame-shifting.  It won’t minimize the pain and, at times, the embarrassment of a situation, but it will give a direct path toward your ultimate goal:  growth and maturity.

8.  Decide early how you want to respond to injustice

The hardest lesson to plan for is how you intend on responding to injustice.  That includes injustice against you and injustice against others.  It could be discrimination, harassment, bullying, an illegal activity, and ethical breach or dozens of other possible examples.  And this goes beyond just the formal steps that should be undertaken given your corporate code of conduct.  This involves the ultimate question:  what are you willing to sacrifice in your response to an injustice?  A relationship?  Your reputation?  That next raise or promotion?  Your entire employment and means of support for your family? A case study in an employment law class is one thing – being confronted with actual real-life choice with tangible consequences is another.  Prepare yourself so that you don’t respond in haste and set off a course of events contrary to what you intended.

9.  Prioritize your worry/caring

Confession #2 – stole this one directly from one of my bosses over the years.  And at first, it sounds a bit mean-spirited.  But once you break it down, it actually makes sense.  This doesn’t mean that you don’t worry about your job or performance or care about people.  It’s just the acknowledgement of the fact that you will have the option to worry or care about a LOT of things – the key is focus on the important ones and ignore the silly stuff.  It’s all about priorities.  Remember that inner circle of trusted friends…that’s a good place to start.  And remember the intangibles like integrity, faith, reputation – the ones that are almost impossible to repair if allowed to be damaged.

So after 15 years, that’s my list.  But let me be perfectly clear about two items.  First, the only reason I have a list is that I have failed many, many times and it has been through my own errors and trials that I have been able to finally see how I should have acted.  To this day, I have regrets regarding situations where I should have been a better employee, a better friend, a more positive influence to my colleagues.  And secondly, I am still learning.  Each day brings a new opportunity to apply lessons from the past or establish new lessons for the future.  I am grateful for the experiences God has given me to provide for my family and provide value to my employer.  Onward to the next 15…or so.

This has been one of the hardest posts I’ve had to write.  It has been so difficult in fact that I almost abandoned the entire missive twice. But I couldn’t NOT write this.  I am angry.  I am confused.  I am emotional.  I admit that upfront, so continue at your own peril.  Over the past few days a perfect storm of three news events have jolted some unpleasant memories for me and have bothered me greatly:

The common thread in all three stories is bullying.  And by bullying I am referring to the demeaning, ridiculing, intimidating and abuse of children and young adults.  This post isn’t about impotent political agendas or useless social labels or warmed-over right versus left rhetoric.  What I hope this conversation does accomplish is to cause the Christian community to stop, think and reflect for a moment about where we may have lost our way in our treatment of others.

The three incidents mentioned above each had their own specialized perspective on the bullying issue.  The Youth Conference had dual accusations of bullying going on between the organizers of the conference and local Christian leaders regarding the content and purpose of the conference in relation to children.  Former Iowa coach Steve Alford, a professed believer, had to address his past role in possible bullying tactics during a sexual assault investigation regarding one of his players during his tenure at Iowa.  And Mike Rice lost his job today due to “shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players and using gay slurs during practice”. In the latter two cases especially, we see actions exhibited by hired employees of educational institutions, and supposed leaders of men, that range from naïve to reprehensible.  And my Pavlovian response whenever I hear about bullying incidents is to immediately upload all my long lost memories of high school.

Let me be clear – I did not have it THAT bad in high school.  I know for a fact that there were certain peers of mine that had it much, much worse than I.  What I was forced to endure was minor compared to the hell they had to suffer through.  But even that small amount of bullying I did experience was enough to make me never want to go to a reunion and has resulted in me keeping many of my high school friends at arm’s length over the years, even the people I was close to then and who are great people now.  Why?  Not because of them but because I never want to go back to that place in my life.  I do not want to be reminded of that time and those memories.  And over the years I have heard all the comebacks to my emotional response to bullying.  “Everyone has to suffer through it”.  “It toughens you up”.  “You’ll turn our better for it.”  Maybe…maybe not.  But that’s irrelevant.  The point is this:  when did Christians determine that trying to prevent the demeaning, ridiculing or intimidating of the kids was not worth the effort or not worth the political risk?  Where in the word of God am I ever commanded to demean, humiliate, intimidate or harass someone or silently allow that to occur?  Has our fear of certain political agendas blinded us to the how we are supposed to be to our “neighbors”?  Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.  And let me be clear – I am not focusing on the “God is love” mantra that has been frequently used and misused in recent years.  That’s a different topic for a different time.  Have we allowed our fear of any person’s, group’s, or party’s agenda to dominate our daily call and duty as Christians, especially in relation to others? All of those agendas combined cannot overpower my role and responsibility as a husband, father, friend, co-worker and Christ-follower. Nor does it provide me with an excuse for failing, neglecting or ignoring any of those roles.

Why did I decide to write this today?  Because even at 38, bullying incidents still occur.  And I sit up and night wavering between anger and tears as I think about my 10-year old and how I’m going to train him up.  I wonder about his tender heart and love for others and wonder if he will have the right body type or be good enough in sports or read clearly enough or a million of the other little things that make us wonderfully different.  And I wonder about when he’s 16 and what trait, characteristic or difference at that time will be THE thing that’s being singled out for harassment.  And I wonder which side he’ll be on.  And I wonder if his tender heart and love for others will be snuffed out because I didn’t do enough to stop bullying when I could have.  But I have to realize that although he may have to suffer under such bullying and persecution as a believer, may he never treat others in such a manner, for any reason.  May he always treat others as Christ treated us.  For the cross is quite the model of how this whole truth, love and sacrifice thing is supposed to work.  In fact, it’s perfect.

Last November, good friend and cultural/missional guru, Julie Masson, blogged over at Family Matters her rationale for taking a break from social media for the month of December (“Why I’m Saying NO! to Social Media in December”).  I asked her to share her thoughts on what it is like to be without social media.  Here is her observations midway through the social media sabbatical:

 Into the Abyss . . . of Social Media Withdrawal

As I begin to write this post, I feel like I’m climbing out of a cave from below the earth, pushing open an old rickety door to feel the sunshine on my face. I’ve forgotten about the world out there! The world that I’m talking about is the wonderful world of social media.  Social Media

Last month I posted about how I was taking a break from social media from Thanksgiving to Christmas. You can read more about my reasons for doing so here. (link) I thought it would be fun to give you all a quick update on how my social media fast is going, despite the fact that I can’t even “share” this post with people.

I’ve had lots of family and friends ask me how I’m doing being away from Facebook (though I’m taking a break from Twitter and Pinterest too) and I surprised myself when I told them, “Great actually! I don’t even miss it!” When I decided to do this thing, way back in April, I thought it would be a real struggle. But I’ve found myself with zero longings for Facebook status updates and cute pictures of my friends’ kids. The weird part is that I kind of feel like I’m living in one country, while all of my friends live in another. If you’ve ever lived overseas, you know that it can feel surreal to think that all of your friends back home are carrying on with their normal lives while you live out a completely different existence in your new country. For me, my new country is free of social media and all of my friends and family are living in Facebook land. You can be sure there are times where I wonder, “I wonder what so and so is doing for Christmas this year.” And then I realize I better snap out of it before my baby throws more food on the floor.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that some of the thoughts from my head that may have turned into status updates or Tweets, have become more personal texts to actual, real life friends. I’ve found myself interacting more with people who are actually in my life. Sometimes it’s a phone call to my mom or my husband, and sometimes it’s a text to a good friend. I know that I’m naturally hard wired to be social in real life, and interact with as many people as possible, so without social media, I’ve found other ways to interact.

In the wake of last week’s horrible school shootings, I found myself feeling tempted to get back on Facebook and say a public thank you to all of the men and women who are teachers, policemen and other public servants. Those people saw some horrible images that day when they walked into the school after the shootings. Instead of logging onto Facebook (which I can’t do since my husband changed my password) I wrote a personal text to my brother who works in law enforcement and told HIM thank you for all that he does. How often do any of us take time to tell the people in our lives that we value them or appreciate them? For me, I think I could be much better at this.

Basically, I can report that it’s been a good month without social media. I’ve been able to really enjoy this season. We have been able to celebrate Christmas in a way that is enjoyable for our family, without the extra input from well meaning Christian bloggers and friends that share how they celebrate Christmas. If you are thinking about taking a break, do it! You may find that you really enjoy the way life used to be! Merry Christmas!

Author Background:  Julie Masson no longer spends her days living life on a seminary campus. But she is striving daily, along with her husband to thrive, not just survive, in this graduate school life phase. It’s no easy task with three small children. However, God continues to mold her and provide ample opportunities to put Grace Based Parenting into action. Julie is passionate about helping others see the people of the world through eyes of Grace and she does this by working part time at The Upstream Collective – a group that helps churches think and act as a missionary. You can follow her on Twitter at @TheSeminaryWife

It is finished! One of my major goals for 2012 is now complete.  It was incredible.  It was eye-opening.  It was humbling.  And it was not always comfortable.  However, I would recommend it to anyone and everyone in a heartbeat.  Back in February I publicly revealed one of my major goals for this year – my intent to read through the entire Word of God (ESV).  On December 18th, I successfully finished my last chapter of 2 Chronicles, thus compBoy Reading the holy bibleleting the M’Cheyne reading plan (13 days early, but who’s counting).  This reading plan (and there are many good ones out there) was created by the 19th century Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne (who I know nothing about) and takes a reader through the New Testament and Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once in a calendar year.  My original rationale for setting this goal was two-fold:  for the sake of my own discipline and for the reduction of my own hypocrisy (please refer back to my February post for further explanation).  If the lessons I learned were only contained to those two areas, it would have been a resounding success.  But in fact, I learned so much, much more:

  • Discovering my life chapter – Listening to people’s life verses has always intrigued me.  I enjoy trying to see the connections (if any) between the person I know and the verse they have chosen as their guide.  I fully realize the entire canon is profitable to us (thank you 2 Timothy 3:16).  But I also see value in focusing on a specific section or verse that the Holy Spirit uses to speak to use at a certain place or time in our lives.  As for me, Psalm 37 is it.  I have always had an affinity for Psalm 37:5 (“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.”) but as I examined the entire chapter, I desperately wanted to hear the music that would accompany this psalm.  Justice and evil.  Righteousness and envy.  Trust and fear.  Patience and anger.  Our enemies.  Our Lord.  It is a mini-master course on the Christian walk and bursts with meaning at every turn.   It will take me a while to unpack everything that is there.  As I go forth, I will memorize it and study it more (say hello 2013 goal candidate)…and enjoy every step.
  •  Some books are VERY hard – Isaiah is a challenge.  Ecclesiastics can be difficult.  Leviticus is a beast.  Romans is complex.  The Gospels can stretch you to your limits if you happen to struggle with word pictures.  And don’t get me started on the minor prophets!  But it’s God’s word to us.  It is ALL important.  It is ALL there for a purpose.  It is ALL there for a reason.  And God WANTS us to know it.  It’s funny how we never question reading passages from Crime and Punishment or Gone with the Wind more than once (and yes, of course I chose two classics as example that I have actually read.  Moby Dick…haven’t gotten there yet).  I look forward to continued study of all these difficult sections or those areas that specifically spoke to me but that I need to flesh out more.  It will be well worth it. (If you’re curious, so of the additional sections I noted were Psalms 112; Colossians and love; 2 Kings 23; James 1; the Luke 3 genealogy; Israel and Judah; why Moses was almost killed by God very early in his mission; the whole sacrificial system; etc)
  •  It is an emotional and uplifting experience – Amazing.  Awe-inspiring.  Vast.  Stunning.  The consistency.  The connectedness.  There were times when I would just shake my head with a huge smile.  There were times I would immediately go to prayer in praise and awe of Almighty God.  And there were times I would scratch my head and try again.  But through it all, I thank the Holy Spirit for guiding the entire process.
  • Time constraints?  Dedicating the time was not a problem in the slightest.  Usually about 15-20 minutes a day.  If you have time or are in a groove, do a little more.  Things get crazy or the day gets away from you?  Do a little less.  Adjust it to your schedule – fit it in whenever you have a moment.  The most I ever got behind I believe was two full days (or about 8 chapters). The most I got ahead?  Well that was 13 days when I finished.  This is where choosing the reading plan that fits you is very important.  The pacing and divisions for the M’Cheyne plan were perfect for me and my schedule.
  • I have script ideas for a lifetime!  I once read that all good stories can be boiled down to the three main concepts found in the Bible:  creation, fall, redemption.  Although I agree with that summary on many levels, from a writer’s standpoint, the Bible is a living, breathing case study in script creation.  The genres, the authors, the settings, the characters, the structure.  Wow!  So very valuable.  Seriously – how can you read Isaiah 37 or 2 Samuel 2 and not want to start outlining a spec script immediately?!?!  Wonder if I have to include those “Based on a true story” title slides?!?!

And finally, what about my two original goals?  Was the discipline worth it?  Did I reduce my own hypocrisy?  On the discipline front, it was absolutely worth it.  Doing something for almost a year straight is valuable and helpful.  Not only because of the result, but because of the process.  This is one of the hardest lessons I continue to struggle with in my life.  There is always value in the process.  Realizing my personal blind spot regarding the value of the journey (as my sole focus was always on results) has greatly changed my life. And what about that whole hypocrisy thing?  Did I reduce it?  That may need its own blog post at some point because I did…and I didn’t.  I know immeasurably more about the word of God now than I did one year ago.  I am more confident talking about some aspects of it.  BUT…I also know that I have immeasurably more yet to learn.  So discipline, value in the process and more yet to learn…hmm…does that sound like a situation where seminary would be profitable to anyone?  It does to me.  I start January 7th.

For the duration of my life on this Earth thus far (37 years), I have been involved with only two churches.  For the first 18 years of my existence, I was involved with the church of my parents in Waterloo, IA.  The church where I was born, raised, put my faith in Christ’s loving sacrifice as payment for my sins, was baptized by immersion…and then I headed off to college.  While in college, I joined a fellowship of believers in Ames, IA that had been part of my siblings’ lives, and enjoyed 19 years of ministry there, dedicated my life to Christ, found a wife, started a family, became a leader, saved a marriage and learned a thousand different things (likely a blog post for another time).  However, in each church situation, I had never truly been a visitor – I had pre-existing relationships that drew me to those churches.  Over the past 24 months as the Lord called me and my family to minister closer to our Ankeny community, we had a unique opportunity to visit six churches over a ten-week period as visitors for the first time.  It was eye-opening, a little intimidating and completely enjoyable.  Here are some of my observations as our family of five navigated this new adventure…some serious, others less so:

Never forget – I am a visitor…and I am clueless!

  • Seriously, I am clueless.  I may also be nervous, intimidated, scared, worried and anxious, so you cannot overtly treat me like I’m clueless.  I may or may not ask for help.  I may or may not notice the obvious.  I may flee back to my car or to the bathroom at a moment’s notice.  This, therefore, puts your church in kind of a bind.
  • So here are a couple key rules of thumb to remember:
    • Rule of thumb #1:  Maps, signs, volunteers, more signs, name tags, more signs, handouts, pamphlets, billboards, posters and big, bright, flashing signs = VERY GOOD!
    • Rule of thumb #2:  Assuming I know where the kids go, where I’m supposed to go, where the bathrooms are, where the exits are, what goes on next in the service, where I’m supposed to go after the service, what I’m supposed to do during fellowship, how much the “free” donuts cost or assuming anything of a geographical, logistical or ceremonial nature = VERY BAD.  Never assume I know anything.  And I thank you in advance.

 Have you seen the cross of Christ?

  • In what has to be considered one of the bigger upsets of the whole “church visitor” process, it became strikingly clear, that the cross of Christ was missing.  Not from the sanctuary, the church bulletin, the kids’ worksheets or from people’s necks….but from the sermons!  Seriously – it was a 25% hit rate (2 out of 6) for explicit mentions of the cross of Christ, Christ’s death on the cross or salvation by grace through faith.  That was quite shocking to me.  I by no means think or demand that sermons have to follow a certain order, topic, cadence or ritual (other than be focused on Truth).  But when one is called by the Holy Spirit to speak on our ultimate hope, maybe it would be good to mention a bit more explicitly the source of that hope.  When you are reminding me that I’m a lazy, selfish sluggard that can learn from an ant, maybe remind me how I can have victory over the natural man.

 Coffee confounds me

  • I know it’s me – I know I’m the oddball.  No matter how many times I’ve tried it, tested it, sipped it or been tricked into it…I just don’t like coffee.  It is like drinking brewed dirt.  But within the Christian community, there is no single commodity that is more popular or more important.  I mention this not as a value judgment but out of sheer and utter amazement.  Price of corn?  Irrelevant.  Soybeans?  Not important.  Cattle, hogs, wheat, sugar…who cares.  Where is the coffee and how much is it.  If the Christian community were to ever boycott coffee, for whatever reason, I truly believe Starbucks, Caribou, Seattle’s Best and all the rest will lose market share like there’s been an outbreak of the plague.  And I freely admit – it’s just the jealousy speaking.  I wish I liked it.  I wish I was one of you.  But the Lord forever made me to love my venti, non-fat, no-whip hot chocolate…and it is my loss.

 Why I want to be a church visitor FOREVER

  • The #1 reason why I want to continue being a church visitor and never settle on a church home is actually very simple.  It was clear at the beginning of the process and it was just as clear at the end of the process.  I wish that reason was noble, worthy and valuable…it is none of those.  It is the visitor parking!!!!  It is the best!  It is close and right up-front and convenient and special.  And as a father who either rushed my wife and three children out the door or was the cause of my wife and three children being late…I am eternally grateful.

 I ❤ Technology

  • The technology and the talented people involved with the technology are mind-blowing.  The apps, the bar scans, Twitter, Facebook, downloadable sermon notes, the cameras, the videos, everything…top-notch.  But the area where I valued technology the most – my kids.  Not the video games or the computers or any of that.  Not even close.  It was the security.  The Check-ins and locators, unique parent pick-up codes and automated instructions…all seemless.  I cannot put into words how comforting and helpful it is to know that your church puts my children’s safety as a priority.  Kudos.

 Music is Non-Negotiable

  • See, you thought I was going to wade hip-deep into the whole contemporary versus traditional, type of instruments that are acceptable brouhaha.  Nope.  That’s for a whole different post.  My point is this – there is one aspect I witnessed regarding music that is non-negotiable – you must have skilled artists who pursue excellence in their craft and in their performance.  It’s really a binary decision.  You either do or you don’t.  And you don’t have to do a lot of things.  You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.  But whatever you do decide to put out there, it has to be skilled, is has to be excellent and your people must own it.  That is what everyone is expecting as a given.
  • One free bonus observation from the worship experience – there are some of you that REALLY enjoy worshiping on Sundays.  In addition, there are some of you that REALLY look like you don’t want to be there.  Lord help me to model the former and not the latter.  Because I know which one encourage me the most as a visitor.

 And finally…there is a LOT of people currently doing a LOT of activities that bring glory to God and further His kingdom!

  • Thousands of people.  Think about that for a second.  THOUSANDS of people within a 20 mile area!  People who love the Gospel, who love our Savior and who are seeking to pursue righteousness and holiness.  Never forget that!  When the days seem darkest, the enemy seems strongest, when you feel isolated, alone and on an island all by yourself, remember this.  You have many, many brothers and sisters in Christ ministering RIGHT NOW.  You have many, many brothers and sisters in Christ that are bringing glory to God RIGHT NOW. And most of all, you have a loving Father ready to give you true comfort and peace and hope.  CELEBRATE that.  REJOICE in that.

This entire process of visiting others churches has been invaluable.  It has opened my eyes.  It has encouraged me.  It has humbled me.  I look forward with great joy to the next church family we will be ministering alongside and anxiously await our next opportunity to serve side-by-side with fellow Christians as we bring glory to God and further His kingdom.

  • Must read #1:  “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs” by Greg Smith.  Ego of the writer aside (as well as the fact that he made so much money from Goldman that he can say these things and never work in the industry again), much of what is stated here is spot-on regarding the investments industry.  And it will never change because no laws or regulation can prevent this – only losses and failure.
  • Heard this recently from Francis Chan – if you were promised heaven, with no pain, no sickness, no crying and no sorrow; where all your friends and family would be and where all your needs were perfectly provided for eternity but the catch was Christ was not present…would you want heaven?  How you answer that question explains everything and breaks our soul and true desires wide open.
  • UNC-Ashville had a striped deck stacked against them.  Unfortunate.
  • Must NOT watch:  The HBO Movie “Game Change” – not because of how it portrays anyone but because I learned absolutely nothing new about Sarah Palin (she was overwhelmed; over her head; not fit for the presidency; had strong desire for the celebrity life) that I did not already know.  However, I did learn a ton about John McCain, Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace that crystallizes why the McCain/Palin ticket lost in 2008 – and that was too painful to watch and recommend to anyone.  Being a “maverick” is feast or famine and unfortunately has severe consequences at times.  And from what I’ve heard, as always, the book was better.
  • Must read #2:  “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis
  • The QB to WR combos in my NFC North as of right now:  Rodgers to Jennings; Cutler to Marshall; Stafford to C. Johnson; Ponder to Jenkins…which one doesn’t sound right…
  • I grew up around dog tracks and I have thoroughly enjoyed the Milch/Mann series “Luck”.  From all accounts, it was an honest take on the track and its people.  Quite disappointed in its cancellation.  But listening to the Milch/Mann confrontations leak out now is fascinating.