A Tale of Two Singing Groups

A couple of weeks ago we had a group that was on tour that sang at our church. For the first time there are not enough words in my vocabulary to describe how incredible they were. The blending of harmony, the songs they chose to sing. There was not a person in the worship center that was not touched. To be honest my taste in music runs a little more contemporary but this was at such a high level of professionalism that you could not help but be impressed. Remember I have been in the ministry for almost 30 years so I have seen my share of groups. This was by far the best I have ever seen. I walked away from that experience thinking to how really incredible music will transcend styles of music and even ages of the people. I could truly listen to these people all day. Admittedly I have a low tolerance for music that is halfway done. I have had to listen to it my whole life.

This past Sunday night was completely different. The crowd was small, different room in the church. The group was completely different. Our senior adult choir joined in with a group of Special Needs adults from a local mission. To see these individuals worship was an experience I will never forget. They sang a song we all knew from our childhood, “Jesus Loves Me”. There was no blending of voices, no harmony, no fancy movements. Just people singing straight from their heart. Yes, my snobby music heart melted. I found myself remembering a quote from C. S. Lewis:

 

“I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”

imagesI truly got a chance to worship. It was one of those services where God touched your heart and you will not forget it. We all have preferences when it comes to music, and I do not know how the Minister of Worship survives in most churches. However, we must never forget that worship is not for us. I often hear people comment how they did not get anything out of the service. It was not for you to get anything out of; it was for you to give something to. Our purpose in worship is to give God glory.

I still believe in excellence. God wants our very best. However, we cannot forget the heart. The problem was not that one group was more spiritual than the other. Trust me, they were both worshipful. The problem was my heart. The moment it is about me, my preferences, my disdain for weak music, is the moment I have lost the focus of what I am supposed to be doing. True worship know no boundaries. I am grateful that God still teaches and speaks to me.

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If God Is Good by Randy Alcorn

ggodMany people will find this book hard to get through. Not because of the level of writing, but at almost five hundred pages it is longer than most people in the modern world are used to reading. In this day and age most people want quick answers. My suggestion is that you may want to use this book as a reference book and read the sections where you have the most questions.

The author does a good job of explaining suffering in our world. He makes an interesting statement “If God allowed less evil in the world, there would also be less good.” You eventually understand what he is trying to say, but it this book does not necessarily give you instant comfort. You have to think about what he has written and process it. This is not a bad thing in my opinion, but again the modern audience may not want to spend that much time. It is impossible to fully explain the concept of suffering in the world. There is always an element of faith and belief in God’s sovereignty. I do think he does a great job with his research and quoting of other writers. This book will help those who are struggling with the problem of evil and suffering.

Full Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for free to review by Blogging For Books

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The Numbers Do Not Tell The Whole Story

I spent time this past month at the hospital with a man who was saying goodbye to his wife. The family had been called in and she had just a little while to live. As we stood there he said “the numbers do not tell the whole story. ” He began to walk me through the numbers on the blue box above her bed. In every category that showed on the box she was within a normal range. If you just went by the numbers you would think she was in good health, but there was something going on behind the scenes that those numbers did not show. Evidently there were numbers that mattered, but they were not on the blue box.

imagesAfter I had prayer with the family I left and thought about what he said. There was a lot of truth of what he said in the church today. I have seen churches that when you looked at the numbers they looked like they were healthy, but there was something going on and they were close to death. I have seen churches who were small in numbers and you would think by just looking at their numbers they must not be healthy, but lives were being changed, marriages healed, and people growing and reaching others.

Never confuse numbers with the hand of God or the lack there of. What we measure makes all the difference. Yes, total number of people attending on a Sunday morning, and offering are indicators, but we cannot stop there. Most churches stop there because they are easy to measure, and sometimes you can get a quick “win” in those areas. Drawing a crowd is not that hard. It depends on what you are willing to do. What about markers that are harder to measure?

When I was growing up in church we used to use an envelope system to check on people’s spiritual progress. You would get so many points each week for reading your Bible every day, studying your lesson, attending worship, etc,,,, There was some accountability built in. Many times I would read my Bible only because I knew my teacher would be asking me about it on Sunday morning.

UnknownThe culture has changed and in some ways we have not kept up. When it comes to lives being changed and transformed those numbers are harder to measure. What are some areas that need to be addressed?

I believe prayer is one of those areas we need to develop ways to measure. I hardly ever meet a pastor, staff member, or church member who does not think prayer is important. Yet when you call for a time of prayer in most churches you will see the parking lot clear out. Maybe once a year you could survey your membership and see how they are doing. How many of the staff in your church have an extended time of prayer? How many fast on a regular basis? How many people are involved in our prayer ministry? How much training goes on each year for prayer such as conferences, special times of study, and sermon emphasis?

Discipleship is another area I believe we need better numbers. We can look at how many groups and people we have meeting each week. That is a good number, but a better number is how many of those groups are groups that reproduce and have gone to at least 3 generations? We always track those who attend our Sunday School and we should. However, more churches are moving to counting unique numbers. As our culture has changed more people need options than just the basic times we always offer. So they attend at other times during the week. Maybe it is a community group, or some other form of Bible study. This becomes important due to the fact of jobs, travel, and other priorities.

There are many other areas in which you can build measuring points such as marriage and family. You have to decide what is important for the health of your church; not the one down the street. Once you have decided what is important then you have to develop a system for measuring what is important to you. What will the numbers on your blue box be?

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Happy Grandparents Day

imagesToday is National Grandparents Day. I was blessed to live within two miles of my Mother’s parents. We were a small, but close family.

I think about my grandparents all the time, but especially on Sunday afternoons. I would go visit them, drink a cup of coffee, and just talk with them. Since I lived close to them they were a huge part of my life and they taught me many things. One of the greatest things they gave me was my spiritual heritage. They taught me the basics of how to live a Christian life, how to love family, give to others, and they were an example of what a Christian should be.

My Grandfather was a deacon and he spent many hours visiting the hospitals and leading people to the Lord. He was a machinist by trade, but he did more work for the Lord than most of us professionals do today. He taught me not only by the words he spoke, but the way he lived his life.

My Grandmother was a woman who knew her Bible! Very few people study like she did. She could discuss anything with you. Even in my years at seminary she still could engage me in what I was learning.

Perhaps most of what I remember is all of the laughter and love. I promise you there is not another family that laughs as much as ours. Attending family reunions was like attending Vaudeville. We taped it one year so my daughter would be able to see everyone in action when she got older. That tape is priceless now.

None of us was perfect, but you knew that no matter what happened in life you were loved. You cannot put a price on that. I thought everyone’s family was like that. However, when I got older I learned that what my family had was rare and special. As my daughter grows up and has her own family one day I hope that she can look back and see love, laughter, and a Godly example of how life is lived out.

So to all of the grandparents out there – Have a great day.

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“She Calls Me Daddy” by Robert Wolgemuth

daddyAs a father of a daughter I was eager to receive a copy of this book. I wish I had this book when my daughter was growing up. As a parent there are always things you wish you could do better. However, life does not come with do-overs. The author covers the basics in an easy to read format with a style that people enjoy reading. The book is not too long and the chapters are a good length so you can finish a section easily.

My wife and I teach a “Young Marrieds” Bible study class at church and I will be recommending this book to the fathers in the class. The author covers topics such as protecting your daughter, discipline, conversations, and faith. I liked the fact that his book was based on his experiences and not just a collection of articles he had read different places. Every child is unique and has to be related to in certain ways. This book gives you a great handle on the basics so that you can adapt the principles to your individual child.

 

This book was provided for free to me for an honest review by BLOG-NETWORK-BADGE

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Book Review: “A Caregiver? Me?” by Linda Bush

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** I was given a free copy of this book for an honest review. These are my thoughts.

This was a book written by someone who chronicled their journey in learning how to take care of their spouse who had cancer. Ms. Bush wanted to give an open and honest process of the journey. She admitted that they may have done some things that seemed different to others, but it was the way they chose to face the journey together.

I loved the way she wrote this book. There are many lessons on how to properly care for a spouse going through a journey with a chronic illness. This story is broader than one person’s journey with cancer. The couple grew up together and then drifted apart after college each having a family. Years later they began to correspond and rebuild the friendship. When she flew out to meet him was the day he found out he had cancer. She continued the relationship and loved him till the end.

This was a refreshing account of the good and the bad. Ms. Bush held nothing back. This book is a great reference for those just starting the journey or words of encouragement for those who are further down the road. My only complaint about this book is that it is only offered in an e-book format. There is a market for those who are older that need this book and may not be able to download it to read. Not all senior adults can make this step. That is a same, because everyone should have a copy of this book.

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Conversations – Where Have They Gone?

I have been thinking a lot lately about conversations and communication with others lately. It started off simply enough by going to our local Farmer’s Market to pick up some squash. I grew up going to the Farmers Market on Scott Street in Memphis every year, but I had not been to one in several years and was surprised at the change. There was an older couple dancing to some live music as I walked up and it was nice to see them enjoying themselves. The booths were there with fresh produce, but there was a difference. Most of the produce I saw was for sale in one or two serving packages and was more expensive than I thought it would have been. I am guessing the packaging was for the dare I say “Yuppie Lifestyle”. It seemed expensive to me due to the fact it was much higher than the grocery stores. Before you lambast me I am not against farmers. This was just different from what I was expecting.

When I was growing up we went to the Farmer’s Market because we did not have a lot of money and it was a great way to put up produce for the winter. We bought several different large mesh bags of peas, beans, corn,and other produce. We finished off by going down watermelon row and getting a watermelon to take home. Afterwards we would start the shelling process. We shelled at our house and then went to my grandparents and helped them shell their produce as well. This went on for at least a week or more. Your fingers would turn different colors and would be sore. But something more important was happening. This is where we would sit and talk. We told stories and laughed. I learned things and heard stories about my relatives; some of which I can never print. We also talked about life and God. I did not think much of it at the time, but we had lots of these kind of events in our family. Looking back these conversations were an important part of my life.

This past week my family went to see the “Wizard of Oz” at the Orpheum Theater. This was my first time to see the movie. I had seen bits and pieces and knew the story line, but my girls decided I needed to see the whole thing. We went for a supper before the movies and got there early so we could get a good seat. We had about 45 minutes to sit and talk. We laughed and just hung out. However, I noticed something as we sat there. All over the theater there were families sitting together, but almost all of them were on their phones. One guy below me was there with his wife and son. He was surfing the internet looking at Facebook, ESPN and other things. He was wasting time when he could have been interacting with his family. One mother beside me texted through the whole movie.

Unknown-1Before you think I am some kind of prehistoric animal let me assure you that I love my technology and I enjoy using it. However, there is a time and place for everything and sometimes we need to shut it off. Have you ever been out with friends and they continue to have major text conversations the whole time? I want to say “ just call me when you have time for me”. Where are the times in our lives when we are having conversations? As I am dealing with young people I am starting to realize that they are having a hard time really communicating to each other. Marriages are starting off with two people who talk like they are texting – short and shallow. There is a great post about this on Desiring God: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/six-ways-your-phone-is-changing-you

I know we cannot go back to the way things were, but we do have to build in times when we can talk and listen. Our spouses deserve this and our children need this in their lives. Counselors will tell you that parents are one of the top influencers in their children’s lives. The question becomes “ How can all of us do a better job?”

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A WOW Experience !

I have read several business books on creating a “wow” experience. I even try to create some experiences at my job. A “wow” experience is something that catches you off guard; an experience that you were not expecting and it goes beyond your expectations. To be honest I am not sure I had ever had a “wow” experience. Last week that changed for me.

For the last five weeks my daughter had been traveling with a study abroad program. She made all of her own flight and travel arrangements. She had a long layover coming back in Houston so I suggested she stay at the hotel attached to the airport. She made her reservations and went on her trip. While she was gone I noticed the hotel had already charged my credit card. I asked her to send me her confirmation number so I could check her reservation. She was staying at the Marriott Houston Airport, so I called the desk there and asked about her reservation. They could not find anything on file. As we talked I told them how they had already charged my card and she had not gotten there yet. The lady came back on the phone and said that the reservation was made for June 4th and not July 4th. I told her my priority was getting a room on July 4th. She made a new reservation and told me that she would turn it over to customer service and I would hear from them in four to five business days. In my mind I thought I know how this is going to end, but mistakes happen.

UnknownHere is where the story starts getting good. Amanda Carson,Senior Rooms Operations Manager, emailed back in two days not five and adjusted the charge to my card. I emailed the Amanda back and thanked her for doing that. The mistake was on our end and not theirs. They had every right to charge me. I explained to her that my daughter was in China for five weeks doing a study abroad program and she had just accidentally clicked the wrong button when she made her reservation. That was a nice thing for her to do. Marriott had my attention at this point.

The “wow” came next. Amanda emailed back and said she knew my daughter would be tired when she arrived. Could I give her the flight information and she would have a snack basket waiting for her in her room. When my daughter arrived at her room there was a snack basket waiting on her. The basket had a “welcome back” note on it with her name. This was above and beyond. Not only had they adjusted my charge when they did not have to; they also showed concern for my daughter and made sure she had a great welcome when she arrived. At this point as a father they had my loyalty. I am not sure what their cost was on the basket, but it is paying dividends. Granted I do not get a chance to travel very much, but when I do I will check on Marriott first. Also; how many people do you think I have told about this? Several in person, this Blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. I know they are a business and they have to make a profit, but in this day and age it was nice to see a business with a personal touch.

Having the right people in customer service is key for any business. Marriott at Houston Airport has a great team. My daughter talked about how every person at that hotel went above and beyond to make sure she had everything she needed. They even helped her with her flight the next morning. It was great to have a “wow” experience.

The question now becomes “ how can I give others a wow experience?” We never know what will make an impact on someone.

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What Is The Trade Off?

Have you met anyone lately who had nothing to do and lots of free time? When I talk with adults who have retired their number one comment is that they may have to go back to work just to get some rest. Everyone I know is super busy. I was talking with someone this week and we were discussing how you never hear anyone say they are bored anymore. With our technology with us all the time we can always pull up a website, or play a game.

imagesJobs have been combined and people are doing way more than they may have in the past. Everyone tries to squeeze in just one more thing. In the past we may have asked what is the cost of all of this, but I think that question is too far gone. Everything is going to cost something in this day and time. Perhaps the better question is “ What is the trade off?”. There are no margins in our day to day life anymore so we are at the point of having to make trades.

Do we add one more project to an over crowded workday? Do we trade doing twenty things adequately for 10 things that are better? Does this effect our family life when we are more stressed and taking extra time away? We all know the answer to these questions and in some work environments we may not have a choice. However, I think we can say “no” more often then we realize. I have managed staff at different times. As a supervisor I knew how much we needed to get done, but I also realize that sometimes I forgot how much they were already doing.

There are costs and trades that will always have to be made. I believe one of the biggest costs in all of this is the time to think and reflect. As Christians we schedule our quiet times to make sure we get the 15, 20, 30 minutes we need. What if God wanted to speak to us beyond that allotted time? How can we work that in? Even in our work place we tend to react more than we think and plan. Some of the greatest theories and inventions have come when people were just thinking in an extended block of time. Bill Gates takes two weeks off a year to do nothing but think and read. Steve Jobs spent time away as well. Jesus often went away to spend time in prayer.

I think the trade off we are making will have an impact in the future. Time like this does not have an immediate effect, but it will in the future. What will the next generation do to overcome this process? There is not an app for that.

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Beyond the Walls – Backyard Kids Clubs

Two-and-half years ago our Children’s Minister and I began to think about making a change from the traditional Vacation Bible School that most churches do to Backyard Kids Clubs. He developed the idea, and did a super job in making it happen. We always had a great VBS. We had big numbers, events, and unbelievable worship. However, most of the children who attended our VBS had already been to other VBS’s and often times knew the music better than we did. However, we saw very few real results and no one ever really joined our church. We wanted a way to reach into the community and meet people we had never met.

bkc1This year was incredible! We held the clubs at night. This was intentional so we could meet more parents since they were off work. We had 21 clubs through out the community and we were at three different parks. We had more workers than we have ever had. Many of our seasoned workers continued to help us and we also were able to get workers who normally had to work during the day. One of the best things is that we also had men teaching at every club. In this day and age when men are sometimes missing in families the children were able to see men leading. Our numbers were good as well. We had 20 decisions and the numbers are still growing. This is more than we have ever had. There was a fresh excitement in all of the clubs. We had hosts introducing neighbors to each other and communities began to start forming.

This may not be a ministry for every church, but this is a great change for us. The days are gone when we can sit in our buildings and wait for the people to come to us – we need to go to them.

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