“Follow me, Daddy!”

Gear-article-main-pic-3Both of my children had recently outgrown their bicycles, so with the onset of spring and the beautiful weather that accompanies it, we got them each a new bicycle.  For my son, riding bikes is something that he could take or leave, really.  But for my daughter (8), riding a bicycle makes her feel alive. It’s truly a beautiful thing to watch:  hair blowing in the wind, little legs pumping the pedals as fast and hard as they can go, and a snaggle-toothed grin going from ear to ear beneath a couple of sun-kissed cheeks.  It gives me all the feels just thinking about it.

In addition to getting my kids a bike, I decided to get one for myself as well so that I could ride along with them (plus, getting a little exercise and shedding a pound or two couldn’t hurt me).  When I first began riding with my daughter, I would often hear her say “Wait for me, Daddy!” as she pedaled faster to try and keep pace with me  She wanted to make sure that everywhere I went she went, too, so as to not miss out on any of the pavement-pounding experience.  But the last time we rode together I heard her say something different. “Follow me, Daddy!” she exclaimed as she maneuvered her bike in front of mine with a giggle of excitement.  And you know what I did?  I followed her.  And she loved it.  Now she was in control.  If she turned right, I turned right.  If she hopped the curb, I hopped the curb.  Now it was me trying to keep up with her.

There’s something to be said for letting our kids take the lead sometimes–both as a parent AND a ministry leader.  When you let your kids take the lead, here’s what happens:

1. It instills their confidence. Start small.  Give your kids opportunities to take the lead on things you know they can accomplish.  Let them get a few notches of success in their belt.  This will set the stage for further leadership development.

2. It increases their capacity.  After your kids experience a few small-scale wins, they’ll want to challenge themselves by trying new things and taking on more difficult tasks.  Even if they happen to fail from time to time, their earlier successes will give them reason to continue to push forward and will give you a reference point from which to encourage them.

3. It impacts their character.  Once your kids begin to get comfortable in taking the lead, they will soon realize that others will begin to follow them.  As others begin to follow, the challenge for your child will then become being a person that is worth being followed.  And they won’t always get it right, but it will open the door for you to begin those conversations with them about what it means to be a leader worth following.

Here’s some simple ways to let your kids take the lead:

  • Let them pick the restaurant for dinner or choose their own outfit for the day
  • Let them pass out the take-home pages to other kids upon dismissal from kids church
  • Let them make their own breakfast (or better yet, let them make YOU breakfast)
  • Let them read the Bible passage during small group (or better yet, let them lead the small group)
  • Let them run sound/lights/media for kids church
  • Let them pray over the offering or pray over the meal
  • Let them lead worship in kids church (or even in “BIG” church)

The key to getting your kids to lead?  LET THEM.  By giving your kids opportunities to be involved and make decisions it will instill their confidence, increase their capacity and impact their character.

So how about you?  As a parent or ministry leader, what are some of the best ways you’ve discovered to let your kids take the lead?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: What I Learned from the Heffleys

diary-of-a-wimpy-kid-the-long-haul-movie-trailer-2017It was a rainy Tuesday evening in Saint Louis, and a local theater was offering $5 tickets including free popcorn, so my wife and I took the kids to see the latest installment of the DOAWK franchise. While I haven’t read any of the books, I definitely enjoyed the first three Diary movies, so I was certainly excited to see this newest film.

First off, seeing all different actors playing previously established characters was a bit odd, but once I got past that it was okay.  I prefer the original cast as a whole, but I won’t get nitpicky here–to each his own.  Secondly, I feel like I must warn you (if the previous movies don’t serve as a tip-off or if perhaps you are new to this story), there is a lot of what I would call “bathroom humor” present here.  So if farting and belching really isn’t your thing, you may want to steer clear of this movie.  I happen to think that sort of stuff is hilarious (because I’m a 5 year old trapped in an adult body), so I enjoyed the opportunity to laugh at the copious jokes of that ilk.  And boy did I.  Hard.

If you’re heading to see this movie, you probably know what you’re in for before you enter the theater.  That said, I won’t give away any specifics or spoil the plot for anyone other than to say this is the ultimate nightmare of a road trip.  If it could go wrong, it does, and the Heffley family finds themselves smack-dab in the midst of chaos at every turn. While the movie overall is pretty unrealistic in terms of some of the situations the Heffley’s find themselves in, I found myself not caring and just enjoying the ride (pun intended.)

While there was little to no “spiritual enrichment” taking place in this movie, it ultimately had a positive message.  This movie is built on the premise that enjoying the journey is often more important than reaching the destination.  It also pointed out that both kids and parents need to work harder to understand each other’s point of view and do their best to meet in the middle on common ground–something both I (and my kids) needed to be reminded of.  At the end of the day, family is all you have. And if you’re anything like me, it would be easy to squander the time you get with them.  While I certainly hope to never have a road trip “adventure” anywhere close to that of the Heffley family in The Long Haul,  I do hope to create memorable experiences for my kids where we can enjoy each other’s company.  Because, like it or not, those opportunities will too quickly be gone.  And who knows…maybe we’ll just get a pet pig.  Or not.

What about you–what is the worst thing that has ever happened to you on a family road trip?  For those of you that have seen the movie, what did you think?

Sushi and Sharing the Gospel

maxresdefaultMy family and I recently went to dinner at one of our new favorite sushi restaurants here in the St. Louis area.  While we were waiting on our food to arrive to the table, I observed an interaction between the restaurant host and a man wanting to place a to-go order.  It went something like this:

Host: Welcome to [restaurant name], how can I help you?

Man: I’d like to place an order for carryout, please. (Takes a menu, thumbs through it awkwardly). Young man, I seem to have left my glasses at home and am having trouble finding what I’m looking for.  Could you please help me?

Host: Of course! What exactly were you looking for?

Man: I’m interested in getting some ahi tuna and a spicy shrimp roll, but I can’t seem to find them on the menu.

Host: I’d be happy to help you with that.  (Awkwardly fumbles through the menu for 2-3 minutes as an increasingly perplexed look creeps across his face) I’m sorry, I can’t seem to find those things on our menu, either.

Man:  (Obviously frustrated at this point, mutters something under his breath) Well, thanks anyway. I guess I’ll try some other place. (Walks out of restaurant)

I’ll be honest, I was dumbfounded.  I could not believe that the host let that man walk out of the restaurant.  I also couldn’t believe that the host had no clue what was on the menu at the restaurant, either.  After all, he is the first person you come in contact with upon walking in the door–and he doesn’t know what’s on the menu?

His title said he represented the restaurant. His position said he represented the restaurant.  Even the logo on his shirt said he represented the restaurant.  But his knowledge claimed otherwise.  He had no clue, and he ended up representing the restaurant poorly and, ultimately, failed at his job.

What if we represented Jesus the same way that this host represented his restaurant?  There are going to be people who are spiritually blind to what they are truly looking for, and if we aren’t prepared to help them they will simply move on to the next place looking for answers.  You and I have to be ready to minister to others whenever we are given the opportunity, and we cannot afford to fail.  Here’s a few ways we can do that:

  1. Know what’s on the menu.  We have to stay in tune with God and his Word.   This requires that we spend time reading/studying the Bible everyday, spending regular time in prayer, and prioritizing both personal and corporate worship.
  2. Be ready to act.  You never know when God may open the door for you to minister.  Whenever that happens, take advantage and make the most of it.  This could be something as simple as being a listening ear for someone, buying a meal or a tank of gas, or helping a neighbor move some furniture.  Whatever the task, jump in, get involved and sow a seed of the gospel into someone’s life.
  3. Admit when you don’t know something, but don’t let it stop there.  It’s okay to admit that you don’t know something, but find someone who does know.  Don’t just leave someone else hanging–if at all possible, find a someone who can help answer their question or meet their need.

What would you add to the list?  Is there anything you can think of that will help prepare us to minister to others when given the opportunity?

What I Learned from the 2017 Masters

170410020744-sergio-garcia-ballesteros-exlarge-169Seventy-three.  That’s the number of times Sergio Garcia had entered the field in a PGA major and failed to win.

Five.  That’s the number of feet that stretched out between Sergio’s ball and the cup on the eighteenth green at Augusta National.

One.  That’s how many strokes Sergio would win the tournament by if he could sink the birdie putt.

Two.  That’s the number of putts it took Sergio to sink his ball on the eighteenth green, forcing a sudden-death playoff with fellow tour member, Justin Rose.

It was at this moment on Sunday afternoon the Twittersphere roared to life with memes and .gifs all related to choking in some form or fashion, many alluding to Sergio’s statements from only 5 years prior in which he said, “I’m not good enough … I don’t have the thing I need to have. In 13 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second- or third-place.” 

Do you ever feel like that?  I know I have.  Sometimes we face things in life that seem insurmountable, and no matter what we do we just cannot seem to rise above it and claim our victory.  But as I sat glued to my television set on Sunday evening, watching a bunch of men take metal sticks and hit little white balls into holes cut into the grass I was reminded of something life-altering: failure isn’t final.

(For those of you that are golf fans, you know how this story ends, but please humor me for those that aren’t.)

Many had given up on Sergio, expecting him to choke this one away like he had so many times before.  But when Justin Rose hit his tee shot into the pine straw beyond the rough off the right-hand side of the fairway, that opened the door just a crack for Sergio who striped his drive right down the center cut.  With a terrible lie and tree limbs in the way, Rose was forced to punch out of the pine straw, laying two nearly side by side where Sergio’s tee shot rested.  As cool as the underside of the pillow, Sergio hit a magnificent approach shot landing the ball mere feet from the cup, flinging the door wide open and ultimately giving himself an opportunity to two-putt for the outright win of the 2017 Master’s and his first-ever major championship.  But it would only take one, as he holed-out for birdie, quieting his nay-sayers–including himself–and finally laying his demons to rest.

His failure wasn’t final.

Consider Peter, a committed follower of Christ and one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. If there’s a common thread woven into the narrative of Peter’s life it was that of failure.  In Matthew 14 we see Peter, though having the courage to step out of the boat and onto the sea in an attempt to walk on the water, sinking in the waves and crying out to Jesus for help. FAILURE. In Matthew 16:23 we find Jesus reprimanding Peter by saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.” FAILURE. In Matthew 18 Peter is reprimanded by Christ once more for cutting off the ear of a Roman centurion. FAILURE. In Matthew 26 we read how Peter denied his association with Jesus three times on the night of Christ’s arrest. FAILURE.

But despite all of this failure we read Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18 where he says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Peter’s failure wasn’t final.

And your failure doesn’t have to be final, either, but the choice is yours.  You can throw in the towel and give up, considering your cause hopeless.  Or, you can keep plugging away, failing forward, pressing on until you achieve your victory. Your past doesn’t matter, nor does it preclude you from being used of the Lord.  The only thing that matters is how you choose to live from this day forward.

Will it be easy?  Nope.  And I think both Peter and Sergio would agree.  But I also believe that they’d both agree that even though it won’t be easy, it will be worth it.  So be encouraged, and keep on keepin’ on.  Your failure isn’t final.

 

 

 

Boss Baby: Some Family Talking Points

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Peyton and Eli Manning. Chris and Liam Hemsworth. Fred and Ben Savage. Joe, Nick and Kevin Jonas. Alec and those other Baldwins. Those blonde kids that sang “MMMMM Bop”.  What do they have in common?  All famous brothers.  Enter Tim Templeton and the Boss Baby–the next dashing duo to join the aforementioned club.

I’ll be honest: I just wanted to be a good dad and surprise my kids with a trip to the theater, put my brain in “neutral” and enjoy some hot, buttered popcorn.  I wasn’t expecting much from Boss Baby, but I left the theater having thoroughly enjoyed it.  And, boy, did I laugh. Hard.

While I will not giveaway any of the major details or plot of the movie, I will say that it’s not quite what I expected from having seen the previews.  That said, if your crew isn’t offended by the occasional bare baby bottom and can’t help but giggle when someone poots/farts/toots/breaks wind, then this is a movie I’d highly recommend. Couple that with some pop-culture references and throwbacks that mom and dad will love (Voltron, Lord of the Rings and MouseTrap to name a few) and throw in a popular Beatles’ tune for good measure and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a seriously fun hour-and-a-half for the whole family.

There’s also a great message to discuss with your kids, which actually ends up being the theme of the movie: there’s plenty of love to go around. And yes, the movie ends just exactly how you’d expect it to, and how I found myself wanting it to, which led to these thoughts that I hope will add value to your family’s moviegoing experience.

  1. If you have a child that is transitioning into puberty (like I do), and you are navigating the “where do babies come from?” talk with them, this movie contains some material that could serve as a launching point for that conversation.  While it doesn’t present things in the traditional “stork delivery” manner, it does take some rather creative (and cute) liberties in that regard to explain child birth outside the realm of standard physical biology.
  2. I mentioned famous brothers earlier, and this movie definitely opens the door to discuss sibling relationships as well as the importance of love, trust and forgiveness within the family dynamic.  One could easily couple this idea along with stories from the Bible such as Cain & Abel, Jacob and Esau, or even Joseph and his brothers, etc… to jumpstart a conversation regarding healthy family/sibling relationships.
  3. With the above said, my main takeaway from the film was the concept that there is enough love to go around.  It reminded me of Romans 8:38-39:

Yes, I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NCV)

Isn’t that how you feel about your kids; that no matter what they do you’d never stop loving them?  What if you told them that? And if that’s the case for us as parents, then how much bigger than that is God’s love for his children? Have you or your kids ever actually thought about this?  And if God loves us with that kind of love, then how should we respond to this command from 1 John 4:7-11, 21:

Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God’s child and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love to us: He sent his one and only Son into the world so that we could have life through him. This is what real love is: It is not our love for God; it is God’s love for us. He sent his Son to die in our place to take away our sins…Dear friends, if God loved us that much we also should love each other. And God gave us this command: Those who love God must also love their brothers and sisters. (NCV)

What does this kind of love look like within our family dynamic? What if we let this idea change the way we parent our children? What would that look like?  What if our kids put this into practice with how they treat their siblings and friends? What would the result be?  How could God use our family as an example to show his love to the world around us?   What kind of impact do you think that would have on the lost in our community?

What if we truly lived as if we believed that there’s plenty of love to go around?

If you’re taking your kids to the theater this weekend, feel free to use these ideas as discussion starters for your family during dinner time, drive time or bed time.  For those that have seen the movie, what were your takeaways?  What discussion points would you add? Have fun, and enjoy the movie!

 

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

au_rich_large_beautyandthebeast_payoff_4bfd4fa0My family and I are on vacation this week and decided to take in a movie. Disney’s new live-action Beauty and the Beast was the consensus flick of choice, and after reading several reviews online including Plugged In and Common Sense Media due to the significant controversy surrounding the film, we decided to ignore the extreme caution of the conservative, Evangelical right and venture to the local theater excited to take in this reimagining of a favorite family classic.

This live-action version of the film is significantly longer than the original animated version.  There are several new songs added in to the already beloved tunes from 1991.  The sets and costuming were exquisite, and the special effects were on point as well.  Though the storyline contains a few small differences from its previous counterpart, mostly to embellish some of the dramatic elements and enhance the plot development, it remains true to the original and ultimately culminates with a closely similar ending.   But enough about that…

What I was most curious about was the handling of the much-debated “exclusively gay moment” alluded to by director Bill Condon prior to the film’s release.  In case you’ve been living under a rock the past few weeks, this “moment” involves Gaston’s hopelessly devoted sidekick, LeFou, played by Josh Gad of Disney’s Frozen fame (Olaf).  Granted, Gad’s  portrayal of LeFou displays some stereotypical, albeit subtle, homosexual tendencies, but in my opinion one has to read between the lines and want that to be a significant part of the storyline when, in fact, it really isn’t.  Furthermore, the aforementioned “moment” occurs very near the film’s end in a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it fashion.  Quite honestly, had there never been a big issue made of the situation before the movie’s release, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it or even been looking for it in the first place.  I guess what they say is true: there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

And in light of the many “Christians” that have weighed in and proclaimed a boycott against the film–and even Disney itself–a few ideas come to mind:

  • Disney isn’t a “Christian” company, nor have they ever claimed to be.  So why would we expect them to hold to Biblical values within the entertainment in which they produce?  As Pastor Robert Morris often says, “Golfers golf. Hunters hunt. Sinners sin. It’s what they do.”
  • While many scoff at the idea of an “exclusively gay moment” in a “family film”, I don’t hear many scoffing at the womanizing and self-absorbed persona of Gaston, nor the countless women throwing themselves at him as the story progresses.
  • We’ll even turn a deaf ear to various innuendo and “bathroom humor” contained within countless other films marketed toward children and families in addition to BATB.
  • Few seem to be focusing on the overwhelmingly positive message of the film that beauty is more than skin-deep and that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.  You know, the whole “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” concept.
  • The film also perpetuates the idea that we should show love and acceptance to those different from us, which was a value held by Jesus himself.

Consider these words from 1 John 4:7-8:

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

And also Jesus’ words to His disciples from John 13:35:

“All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other.”

Don’t get me wrong–I don’t like that an “exclusively gay moment”, though subtle and fleeting, was included in the film, nor do I enjoy the homosexual ideals that seem to be present in quite a bit of modern entertainment.  And it would be easy for me to react by boycotting the film–and even Disney itself (until I remember that Disney owns ESPN).

But then I remember that I have been called to be in the world and not of it.  I can’t choose someone’s eternity–heaven or hell–for them; that’s a choice they must make for themselves.  I can’t in my own power make anyone right with Jesus.  The only thing that I can do in situations like this is to love.  Loving doesn’t condone a lifestyle, neither does it compromise one’s values and beliefs.  It simply treats others with respect, despite their differences.

After all, I won’t be known as a follower of Christ based on my judgment of others.  I won’t be recognized as a child of God for showing hatred.  So I will choose to use this as an opportunity to teach my children, and anyone else who will listen, that love is the answer, and here’s why:

“God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him.”               ~John 3:16-17

For those of you that have seen the movie, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  For those of you steering clear, what are the reasons for you making that decision?  Feel free to leave a comment below and join the conversation.

3 Steps to Increase Your Productivity

2774fcef50b84434854a7524c3a236c4I just walked through one of the busiest seasons of my entire life. 5 months ago, my wife and I sold our house in Georgia and moved to St. Louis, MO where I took a position as Children’s Pastor at a local church. On top of all the craziness associated with uprooting one’s family and moving halfway across the country, we stepped in to one of the most intense seasons of the church calendar–the holidays.

In addition to the week in and week out routine of a church, the holidays bring about an added dimension that, in all honesty, can be difficult to navigate. And this is even after you’ve been at a place long enough to find your feet and get established a bit. Special events, increased outreach, parties and gatherings…the list could go on and on. And I, along with my family, found myself in the throes of transition from our move all the while attempting to learn a new rhythm at a new church and a new job with a different set of volunteers all during the holiday season–you get the idea.

I knew something had to change in order for me to make it. Sure, it would have been easy for me to work 14 hour days and burn out from the get go and establish an unhealthy pattern for life and ministry–and as crazy as it sounds, that was a temptation. But I chose a different path. I made a few subtle changes, and that has truly changed my approach to my weekly routine and the productivity I am getting out of it. And I believe that, were you to make similar changes in your approach, your productivity can increase as well, and you can establish and maintain healthy patterns for your future. So here’s what I did:

1. I let myself off the hook. In ministry, there’s always more to be done. There’s always another message to write or lesson to prepare. There’s always another volunteer to contact or meeting to schedule. There’s always another event to plan for. And no matter how hard you try, you’ll never get it all done. So I started drawing the line. I realized that the stuff I don’t get done today will always be there tomorrow, and I can worry about it then. And then I set a time, and when that time comes each day, I leave and go home to my family. After all, I want to give my wife and kids the best of me, not the rest of me.

2. I started to focus on completing the important things first. In your job there are many things that are non-negotiable. These things have to happen in order for you to get your job done. But there are some things that are luxuries. These are things that would be nice if they happened, but they aren’t integral to the current success of your job. I realized that by focusing on checking off all the non-negotiables on my list, I got more done in less time, and I can take what time I have left over and put that toward some of my luxury items. I’m currently taking this a step further by figuring out how to utilize volunteers to complete some of the non-negotiables (or even luxury items for that matter) on my list so that I can have even more time to focus on the things in my job that only I can do.

3. I created a weekly workflow calendar. I made a list of all the things I currently need to accomplish each week and combined/compartmentalized each of them as much as possible. Then I outlined the time in my schedule each week when meetings regularly took place, allotted time for lunch, etc… After that I built in time blocks in 30 minute increments in which I tackle all the weekly tasks and to-do’s from the list I made previously. Some things I have scheduled to last 30 minutes, while other time blocks may be for 2 hours. But I’ve planned my work and I work my plan. I inserted everything into a spreadsheet, color coded the time blocks, printed it out and hung it on the wall in my office so it’s always right there in front of me. When an email comes in, I don’t immediately answer it–I have time built in at the beginning, middle and end of each day for that sort of thing. If I need to call a volunteer, I have time scheduled for that. And I even have some flex time built in here and there to tie up the loose ends of projects that may not get completed or to compensate for those impromptu “meetings” when somebody stops by to discuss last night’s basketball game or to bounce an idea off of me.

Is this system perfect? By no means. In fact, I’m discovering that some of the things on my weekly schedule need to be given more/less time. Some things need to be shuffled from Thursday to Wednesday. As I continue to grow and develop my team, some things will be able to be removed altogether opening up space for other things. And I’m evaluating and tweaking all of that going forward. But what I do know is that those who fail to plan plan to fail–so I’ve decided to make a plan and it’s increased my productivity tremendously. And sometimes, you just have one of those days and nothing works out the way you’d hoped. And that’s ok. But this way, I have a plan in place to help me recover, and as I work on that plan, I find I’m better because of it–both on the job and in my home.

What are some things you’ve done that have helped increase your productivity?