17 Days Toward the Fulfillment of Big Dreams

I finally did it today. It’s January 17th, and I finally did it. Before the end of last year I bought a really cool new calendar, called a “Seize the Year” calendar from neuyear.net. It’s described as being “stylish and innovative calendar” designed to “help you plan your year & punch 2013 in the throat.” Just seventeen days on the way to the fulfillment of big dreams.

Neu Year Calendar

I finally put it up today. 17 days into the year.

It was on the floor being flattened out because it came rolled up in a tube. I walked by it every day as I came in and out of my office. It sat there on the floor for more than seventeen days, and I just couldn’t bring myself to put it up.

I finally did it today. I forced myself to pick it up, peel the backing off the stickers that hold it to the wall, measured it up so that it was straight, and put hung it on the wall.

As I hung it up there I realized why it took my seventeen days to hang the thing on the wall:

  • I was scared
  • I was nervous
  • I knew that putting it up would mean that I would be holding myself accountable

There are some big plans and goals that I’m going to put on the calendar. As I think about them, I’m afraid of failure. I’m nervous I won’t follow through. Accountability is a scary thing because it means work, persistence, perseverance, tenacity, resolve, and diligence. It means time well ordered and well spent.

Now it’s on the wall and it’s time to overcome fear, nervousness, and lack of accountability. Sometimes a simple, “stylish and innovative” piece of paper is all it takes to light a fire that ignites the engines and gets a project started. Three or four big projects are going to be mapped out on that calendar, and I can’t wait to see the progress by the end of the year.

Seth Godin says the best time to start was yesterday. If you didn’t start yesterday, the second best time to start is today.

Maybe I’m 17 days too late. I didn’t start yesterday…or the day before. But I’m doing the second best thing.

And now there’s a simple piece of paper that holds me accountable. 

Planning great things is the first step toward doing great things.

What tools do you use to hold yourself accountable to pursue your big dreams?

I am Jean Valjean (and So Are You)

I am Jean Valjean, and so are you.

On Christmas Day our whole family went to see Les Mis. For me, the most powerful and striking scene (amongst many) was toward the beginning after Jean Valjean is released from prison. He had been serving years of hard time for stealing a loaf of bread. He can’t get anyone to take him in or give him a job. Finally, a priest takes him in. Valjean looks awful. He’s dirty, unkempt, tired, and so hungry that he eats his food like an animal. The nuns watch in horror. At just about that time the priest calls him an “honored guest.”

Grace 2

At that moment I realized that I am Jean Valjean. I saw myself dirty, unkempt, tired, and hungry…completely needy. In the eyes of the Master that is what I am. And not just me, but every human being. None of us deserve to be taken in.

I am Jean Valjean hanging my head in shame knowing that I do not even deserve to eat the crumbs from my Master’s table. But when I sit at the table I gorge myself like there will be no next meal. I need the food that He provides. I need it so badly that when I sit at the table I cannot get enough.

And then, like Valjean, I take for granted what my Master gives and try to steal more. As if He hadn’t already given me everything I need and more I abscond with what I don’t deserve.

Then, like the priest in Les Mis, my Master gives me everything I don’t deserve…and even more. 

I am Jean Valjean, a sinner of my own making, in need of a gracious Master. He has found me. Rescued me. Fed me. Forgiven me. And given me a purpose for living.

I am Jean Valjean. 

And so are you.

Come to my Master’s Table. He will welcome you.

Without question. Without cost. Completely undeserved.

With full grace and forgiveness.

I will always be His honored guest. 

And so will you.


What literary or movie character reminds you most of God’s great grace?

How to Make a Difference Where It’s Really Needed

We hear too much of it lately. Last week in our suburban Orlando community, a man went into a beauty salon with a gun, killed his girlfriend and two others, then went home and turned the gun on himself. In light of these kinds of events a community feels helpless.

Within a day or two, one of the local pastors contacted me asking if we might want to get other clergy together and have a prayer vigil. So we did some quick planning, inviting, and writing. We brought members of our churches. First responders attended. The mayor of our city was there. Media covered the event as well.

We did the only thing that could be done in such a seemingly helpless and hopeless situation. We prayed.

After the vigil, everything honestly seemed the same. People milled around. The family’s of the victims were still missing their loved ones. Reporters did some more interviewing. The fire truck and ambulance pulled away. A few people left remembrances at the front of the beauty salon.

Everything was actually now different. Faithful people prayed. The Lord listened. And He will answer those prayers. He promises to do so.

We prayed for healing, peace, for our first responders, and for hope. I, for one, believe that the Lord is the One who gives all of those gifts:

  • Those who hurt are healed by His grace, sometimes using the instrument of modern medicine or psychological therapy, sometimes using miraculous means.
  • Those who need peace will receive it from the only source of true peace.
  • First responders are themselves a gift from God. He uses them to protect us and to bring us help when we need it.
  • Those who need hope, even in desperate situations will receive it from the promise of eternal life through Jesus who gave His life to secure certain and lasting hope.

In the end, we didn’t make a difference. A difference was made because God was and is present through His Word which brings healing, peace, protection, and hope.

Where do you see the need for a difference to be made?

Lean Forward and Learn

I have lately noticed myself leaning forward a great deal. I find myself on the edge of my seat. I’m falling forward across desks and tables. I don’t want to miss a thing.

As I begin ministry in a new place, I want to notice all the little things. It is important to take in the details of people’s faces, the nuance of their inflection, and even their body language sending signals about who they are, what they need, and state of this church that I now serve. It’s almost subconscious, but I can’t help but lean forward in my chair.

It strikes me that we all ought to be doing significant leaning forward in our lives. There is so much to be gleaned, learned, and studied in life. Every day information explodes exponentially. So we need to be paying attention to the things that are right there in front of us.

There is more right there in front of you than you may ever dream. There are all kinds of signals, all kinds of particulars, so many facts, and so many wonderful things to hear, see, touch, taste, and smell. Take it in. Enjoy. Revel.

Lean forward.

As you lean forward right now, what do you notice?

How to Do Much with Little: “A Musical Miracle”

Stories that show how underdogs defy all odds inspire me beyond measure. 60 Minutes did a story on a symphony and chorus in the Congo that started with nothing and is now producing beautiful music. I was so moved by the story, I thought you should see it, too. Have a look, and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Enhancing Collaboration with the S.T.O.P. Method

Apparently stop signs are optional in our neighborhood. I have had an increasing number of close calls with drivers who, at worst, refuse to comply to a stop sign, or, at best, simply tap the break.

Another favorite driving method of people in our neighborhood is the famous “alley honk.” One drives down an alley at a high rate of speed, approaches the sidewalk at the end, and, instead of slowing down, honks so that any potential pedestrians can fend for their lives by diving out of the way.

They think they own the road!

It got me to thinking that I am too often like those drivers. As I drive down the road of life, I sometimes charge forward, without slowing down, and without consideration for the thoughts, needs, or desires of those around me. Plato is supposed to have said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It doesn’t take much for me to make someone’s battle even more difficult by charging ahead without slowing down and being sensitive.

I think I own the road. But I share the road of life with all kinds of other travelers. Some go flying by me like they’re on the autobahn. Others pull in front of me and slow me down in the middle of my busy day. Still others are in the left-hand lane with their right turn signal on, happily oblivious to it all.

One of the keys to both creativity and effective ministry is collaboration. It’s difficult to move forward without others giving direction and providing protection. Consider the “stop” method of slowing down and avoiding the “alley honk”:

  1. S = Stop. Each morning stop and consider the people with whom you will interact throughout the day. Think about the challenges, struggles, and difficulties they may be going through. It will prepare you for the interactions you may be having. You can approach each encounter in a unique and caring way.
  2. T = Talk. Instead of a texting or email exchange, talk face to face as much as possible. Try to avoid the “alley honk,” where you just shout your position and keep on moving. Listen carefully to other thoughts and ideas. Come to agreement and move forward knowing that each member of the team is protecting the other.
  3. O = Observe. Instead of just plowing through the day, or a meeting, or an activity, take some time to observe body language of those with whom you are working, creating, or planning. Body language speaks volumes and may help you understand the climate of the room before moving ahead into work. Observe body language and move ahead accordingly.
  4. P = Proceed. Once you have stopped, talked, and observed, it’s time to move forward. Caution has been observed in the previous three steps. Now it’s time to take action. Work with your team, family, or colleagues to reach common goals and objectives. As long as you have consensus, move boldly.

It’s always a good thing to observe stop signs and proceed with caution. It’s just as important in life as it is on the road. Stop, Talk, Observe, and then Proceed. When done collaboratively these steps will result in creative and excellent work.

What steps would you add to the “S.T.O.P.” list?

Life Is There, and I Have to Live

Two women. One story. Two continents. One tragedy.  Two broken hearts. One hope.

Andrea Garbarini lost her husband, a firefighter, in the 9/11 attacks. She coped by creating a documentary called “From the Ground Up.” She also visited and interviewed widows in Rwanda, whose husbands had been murdered in the nation’s genocide. She wanted to see how they made it through the most horrific tragedy anyone could ever imagine.

In her interviews, Andrea says the women helped her more than she could have ever helped them. She wanted to know how the women could see any light at all. She thought it might help her cope with her own tragic loss.

One Rwandan woman said, “I realized life is there, and I have to live.”

Life is there, and I have to live. She could have given up, ended it all, simply stopped living.

But she chose to move on, overcome, live. Death and Death’s allies thought they had scored victory. They were all sadly mistaken. The fortitude of one brave woman spoke hope.

Life is in front of her and she can do nothing but live it. Andrea Garbarini said that the Rwandan women helped her more than she could have ever helped them.

Don’t let tragedy strike before you say, “Life is there, and I have to live it.” God’s gift of life is not to be taken for granted. It is there. It is to be lived. It is to be loved. Even in the midst of tragedy it is filled with hope.

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

How are you living life to the full today?

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,100 times in 2010. That’s about 12 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 44 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 50 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 10mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was March 17th with 87 views. The most popular post that day was The Three C’s of Urban Ministry.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, twitter.com, mtcalvary-mke.org, digg.com, and mail.yahoo.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for garbage man, happy 5th birthday again, happy fifth birthday commercial, happy fifth birthday again, and happy 5th birthday commercial.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


The Three C’s of Urban Ministry March 2010


Happy Fifth Birthday Again! April 2010


Garbage Man Guilt July 2010


Salute the Admiral March 2010


About Me March 2010

When Did THAT Happen?

This morning I was filling out a registration form for something online. One of the questions hit me with a start: “Do you have any children under the age of 18 living in your household?” I had to check the box that said, “No.” I thought to myself, “When did that happen?”

It’s been a year-and-a-half now since either of our kids have permanently been living in our house. I, of course, knew that. But life moves so fast, things transition so quickly, and the calendar pages get torn off and thrown away almost without notice. Sometimes we are jarred into the reality of time moving on.

This time of year, more than any other, seems to do that to people. I think it’s because the holiday season is a time of year filled with tradition and traditions. When traditions are carried out year after year we begin to realize that time moves on. We look back to past years and realize that even our traditions just aren’t quite what they used to be. Some of the decorations seem a bit dated. We notice that there are people who were once part of our traditions that are no longer.  Just like that we’re sharing our tradition and traditions with our adult children whom we once carried to our traditional events. When did that happen?

The hymn writer said, “Time, like an ever-rolling stream soon bears us all away.” Not exactly the joyful hymn lyrics you’d expect at this time of year. In fact, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” is usually a hymn used a little later on in the season, traditionally on New Year’s Eve. But the words are incredibly appropriate right now as they go on to remind us that our God has been a “help in ages past,” and will be “our hope for years to come.” More than that, He is “our guard while troubles last last and our eternal home.”

There’s something deeply joyful about that. Nothing ever stays the same. But that doesn’t mean that we have to live in the traditions of the past. What a joy it is now to no longer “have children under the age of 18 living in our home.”

Don’t get me wrong. I miss having our kids in the house, and I miss the joys (and challenges!) of raising children. But “no longer having children under the age of 18 living in our home” means that we get to watch the exciting things that come about when adult lives develop. It means that we have a deep relationship like no other relationship on earth — the relationship between a parent and a child — which brings the joy of middle-of-the-day phone calls, watching them strike out into the world on their own, sensing pride in their accomplishments, sharing theological and political conversations, and the anticipation of seeing one another face-to-face whenever that next time will be.

Time certainly is an “ever-rolling” stream. But there’s something deeply profound and wonderful about that. Things change. But “change” doesn’t always mean things are worse. Often “time” and “change” make things much, much better.

From the bottom of my heart I believe that time marches on toward one Great Day and one Great Purpose. As a Christian, I know that time will never cease. I know that though passing time sometimes makes me melancholy in this life, there will come a day when life (eternal!) will no longer move so quickly, things will no longer transition or deteriorate, and no one will pay any attention to calendar pages. At that time, “time” will be a non-factor, and that will bring me joy.

I, for one, can’t wait to be jarred into that reality…the reality that N.T. Wright calls “life after life after death.” That’s exactly why, at this time of year, through all of our tradition and traditions, we celebrate the new birth of a King who entered into human time so that time for us will never end.

When did that happen? It happened 2000 years ago, and it happens in our hearts and lives in this great season, and through all the changes, challenges, and chances of life. It happens by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

What are your thoughts on the transitionary nature of time?