It’s been a while… and a journey

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted… but what a journey it’s been!  I’m glad to be back.  A few highlights that I JUST KNOW will see some future posts:

  • A new design!  Blew the dust off Chrisbellonline and refreshed it a bit.  Going for simple and minimal.  What do you think?
  • Since I have last posted, I have continued down the road to simplicity and minimalism… in some pretty significant ways – including giving away almost half of my belongings and downsizing significantly!  I am very excited about this path of minimalism…
  • The Ridge has moved off of our campus, and started meeting in a coffee shop and a local school.  We are moving toward a model of debt-free ministry – I don’t know that I would ever want to sign a mortgage again!  Bankers, moving, and organizational flux!  Many more posts on this later…
  • Our family adopted a homeless 18 year old, took him in, helped him get on his feet and find a job, and are walking him through various legal issues.  More later…
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Big

How BIG is God in your life?  This society we live in tends to minimize everything… dreams, family, time, ethics.  You name it, and our culture seems to find a way to hem it in, diminish it, and restrict it.  Of course, we use labels like pragmatism, “doing business”, and realism.  But the result is the same: small living.

I have a discipline in my daily time with God that is there strictly to remind me that GOD NEVER DOES ANYTHING SMALL.  Look at the stories in the Bible.  Floods.  Creation.  Incarnation.  Life Change.  Healings.  I never see a time when a person dreams and God says… “Hold On!  Too Big!”.

What I do see is that we often try to put God in a box.  Compartmentalize.  Define.  Restrict.  God is easier to understand if he fits on my schedule on Sunday morning from 11:00-12:15.  But change the world?  Drop eggs from a helicopter?  Revitalize whole communities?  Bring hope to special needs families?  Never!  Get Real – we say.

I tell you this… when I die, I don’t want to look back and ask – “What was I waiting for?”.  Go Big.  Dream Big.  Blow the doors off.  Use your head, think things through, and plan to execute well… but don’t ever listen to the voice that says “That’s too much… or too big… or too unrealistic.”

When Satan accuses me in front of God the Father (see the book of  Job) I don’t want it to be because I played it too safe.  And now two special words:

Pastors – God called YOU to lead your church.  Not the people who might be criticizing you.  If they know how to do it so much better, then God will call them to lead.  You are not in the position you are in because of your personality, giftedness, or social network.  You are where you are because God called you, equipped you, and placed you. So – Hear from Him… and have the COURAGE to do what HE says.  And whatever it is… GO BIG!  Make an impact!  Your calling is too important not to try!

Men – Society tells us to hem it in.  Play it safe.  The church often comes across very feminized.  But guys, Jesus wasn’t a girly man.  He had moxie.. the courage to take a chance on a group of guys and ladies who would change the world.  The courage to lead.  The courage to tick off the religious leaders and challenge them to change.  You don’t have to shut up and sit up straight to be a follower of Jesus.  Get out there and try it!

Breaks

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Between Christmas and last Sunday I took a break.  A lot of people take vacations, but I take breaks.  I use this language because it reminds me that I need to take a break from work, from technology, and from my usual rhythms.  We didn’t go anywhere, which is  the bias I carry mentally with the word “vacation” (my dream vacation would be on horseback to the Big Horn mountain range by the Powder River above), but these breaks are still critical in my life for a few reasons:

  • Breaks remind me I am not as important as I might think I am.  As a pastor, I live in a very regular rhythm… becuase weekends seem to occur pretty regularly 🙂  And just like everyone, my week is a series of deadlines.  Taking a break from all that reminds me that those deadlines and rhythms are a TOOL in my life, not the MASTER of my life.  And it also helps me remember that life will go on – at the church, in the community, and most other places – if I am not there to keep up.
  • Breaks remind my family that THEY ARE as important as I say they are.  Breaks give me a chance to unplug and just be husband to my wife and dad to my sons.  We spent a lot of time this last break reading, wrestling with the kids, playing nerf dart guns, sitting around a fire, and laughing at funny movies.  I will never get these years of my boys’ childhood back – they need big blocks of time when I am not distracted with an iPhone, a Macbook, and the demands of ministry.  Jen needs the same thing in longer periods of time than bi-weekly date nights.  That is why the blog is neglected (what is more important – my readership levels, or my family?).  The email inbox backs up (which I have to be very disciplined not to touch as much as possible… I live with a zeroed inbox), and the phone goes to voicemail.  I love technology – I really do – but not as much as it loves me 🙂  I have to beat it back!
  • Breaks test my leadership.  Breaks are a great time to step back and see which systems at the church are really working, and which ones are just propped up by my continual attention.  I maintain the discipline of being reachable for emergencies (and I mean EMERGENCIES), but I resist the urge to step in when the thought hits “I wonder if person X will do this…” or “I wonder if “Y” will get done if I am not there to ensure”… etc.  Then when I do return, I can analyze which things worked well, which didn’t, and who is in need of additional coaching.  Breaks are a great “systems check” of your systems and leaders!  Nothing proves leadership like absence!
  • Breaks give me perspective.  I step back away from the work to remember its importance and significance in my life.  I journaled quite a bit this last break about the state of the church as I see it, my reasons and passions for still wanting to lead it, where I’ve been in the last years, and where God might be calling me to go.  Sometimes you have to stop hacking your way through the jungle, put down the machette, and climb a tree to take a look around.  Are you still on track?  Is this where you want to be?  I would hate to put my head down into ministry as a twenty something and then raise it again from ministry as a sixty something, only to discover that I was not satisfied with my life.  That would suck!
  • Breaks let me play.  I read seven novels – over 1500 pages – during this last break.  And they were ALL scholarly works – NOT!  Mikey Spillane’s “Mike Hammer” and Stephen Hunter’s “Bob the Nailer” filled my hours and I loved it!

I was told early on in my ministry by Ed Young – take a break from your ministry or your ministry will break you.  And I try to live by that.  I still struggle with the disciplines involved – I probably always will… but that is kinda what makes it fun!

Our Work In Creation

I read this quote from author Stephen Lawhead, from his book Merlin, that so poignantly reveals the responsibility of Christ followers to choose according to this Ancient Way of Jesus:

I have not lost my way – it is just that so many ways open before me that sometimes I hardly know which way to choose.  To decide for one is to decide against another.  I never imagined it would be this hard.  And now I know… The higher a person’s call and vision, the more choices are given them.  This is our work in creation: to decide.  And what we decide is woven into the thread of time and being for ever.  Choose wisely then, but you must choose.

In this way, a follower of Jesus partners with Father God in reforming, restoring, and redeeming creation.  In the choices we make about what to buy, what to say, what to give…etc.  we choose to advance the Kingdom.  Dang!

Weekend balance

I work weekends… as do all pastors, and a lot of you.  I work Saturday through Thursday – so my “weekend” is really Friday – when I turn off the technology (except maybe posting family pics on Twitter) and spend time with my family.  There is always a temptation for me to dive in to work – the phone keeps ringing, the message needs tweaking, etc.

But I can’t – and I don’t.  Because my family needs me even more.  So, I fight the battle of changing ryhtms in my spirit (do you sometimes feel uncomfortable, disconnected, or – yes – even guilty for totally relaxing like I do?) and focus on the people I love the most…

This last Friday?  My boys and I played soldiers in the woods, then cooked hotdogs and hamburgers over a firepit.  They loved it (and I hadn’t played soldier in a while!).  Then I took my wife out to dinner and to a movie for a date.  We went on the motorcycle – which I love because its a motorcycle, but also because it makes her hold on tight 🙂  It was a GREAT Sabbath/weekend, and I was then able to dive back into church work this morning (Saturday) feeling refreshed, and my family knowing that they are still top priority.

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(And in case you are wondering, NO – Charlie is not smoking a cigar… it is an Oscar Meyer Weiner, thank you! 🙂