Thursday, February 28, 2008


Every once in a while I get an opportunity to truly shine… or at least, it seems that way at the time. In my mind’s eye, I see the plan unfolding flawlessly. I anticipate a need, meet it perfectly, and in the process, I earn the respect and admiration of all who are involved.

It’s a good feeling.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually happen that way!

No matter how simple or fool-proof it might seem, these things have a funny way of backfiring on me.

Last year around this time I had just joined Church At The Bay. I was still getting to know people and looking for opportunities to get “plugged in.” So when I heard that a group would be getting together to stuff eggs for the Easter Egg hunt, I signed up & even volunteered to bring some of the supplies!

I love Easter Egg hunts! I love stuffing the eggs – I even love picking out the candy and toys and other special touches. I love hiding the eggs. Most of all, I love watching the kids find the eggs.

So I went shopping. I picked out some cute little toys, and my cart was overflowing with candy. I even managed to squeeze in a couple of small boxes with 250 eggs inside. Unlike the large bags of plastic eggs that you normally see, these eggs were taken apart and neatly stacked. What an ingenious idea! What a space-saver! I imagined myself cracking jokes about bringing “egg-stra.”

That night about a half a dozen of us showed up to stuff the eggs. All of the other eggs were in those large bags of 48, and we went through them all in no time. In less than 40 minutes, we had stuffed over 1200 of them! Everyone was in a great mood.

Then we broke out one of my boxes. The first egg that I grabbed just didn’t want to snap together. Well, that was odd… but it must have been a dud. But one after the other, NONE of the eggs would close easily. It seems that having the halves stacked on top of eachother like that made the inside lip “stretch” just enough so that it wouldn’t fit easily into the other half anymore.

After 5 minutes I had managed to wrestle ONE egg closed. No one else on our egg-stuffing team was having any better luck. All of a sudden, my brilliant space-saving idea didn’t seem quite so brilliant. In the next half an hour, we managed to get maybe half of those eggs stuffed. It was discouraging! Instead of feeling like an egg-celent church member, I began to wonder if this incident would lead to my egg-scommunication instead. How embarrassing!

My ego (or should I say, my “egg-o”) was bruised.

Someone took a few of the really bad ones into the church office the next day and let the rest of the staff try to put them together. That weekend, those pastors showed me the results of their efforts – shattered egg halves, some deformed, some duct-taped together…

It wasn’t the outcome that I had desired, but now… my “bad eggs” are almost part of the church “folklore.” None of the folks who were involved will ever forget that night… and they probably won’t forget me either. It was embarrassing, but if everything had gone according to plan and there had been no "bad eggs", it wouldn't have been such a memorable evening. So even though it didn’t work out as planned, in the end… it did work out OK. And that’s no yolk!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

For such a time as THIS?

I finished the Mark Batterson book In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day today. It's a really good book, and it has given me a lot to think about. As it "sinks in" I'm sure I'll be posting more here. I already have a number of quotes marked for this very purpose :)

If you haven't read the book, here's the basic premise: Benaiah gets mentioned in 2 Sam 23:20-21. It's one of those obscure passages that usually gets skipped over, but Batterson focuses on one little part: the part where it says he killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day. It was not a "normal" thing to do. It was a situation where most folks would have run the other way. But Benaiah saw it as an opportunity rather than a problem. Batterson suggests that we miss out on our greatest divine appointments when we try to "play it safe."

He ends the book by re-asserting something that he said at the beginning... but of all the things he says, this is probably the one that makes me the most uncomfortable. Here's the quote:

"God is in the business of strategically positioning us in the right place at the right time. A sense of destiny is our birthright as followers of Christ. God is awfully good at getting us where He wants us to go. But here's the catch: The right place often seems like the wrong place, and the right time often seems like the wrong time."

I think I gave up on having a "destiny" when I was in my mid twenties. The dream was very much alive when I was younger, but the dream I was chasing wound up being an empty one. In many ways, I made it further and faster than I had ever dreamed possible... but I was running in the wrong direction.

Batterson believes that God will get us where He wants us to go... but I don't really feel any sense of "destiny" about being in Florida. I don't believe that God called me here. I called myself here. I made a judgment call based on the openings that were available to me. I could have just as easily wound up somewhere else. I can't even say that I came here chasing a dream. I came here because I was running from a nightmare.

But even more, I can't say that I really believe in that sort of "destiny" anymore. In Pentecostal churches, we often talked about being "in the center of God's will" or His "perfect will" for our lives. That's a very romantic notion when you're young and have your life ahead of you... but as time goes on, you can't help but feel as though there are no more golden opportunities waiting in the wings for you. Once you're out of that "perfect will," everything else is somewhat less than perfect. So if you don't do everything perfect, you blew it... God had to find someone else.

I don't believe that sort of thing anymore. We make choices--some of them good, some of them bad--but God doesn't give up on us. There are consequences, but there is also grace!

If I look at my circumstances, there are certianly many things that I can say were God-ordained. For example, everything that fell into place at just the right time for me to grasp the concept of God's grace for the first time... a lot of things had to line up just right for that to happen. It started with a short memory verse that was actually a little discouraging... that set me up to read a short book that challenged what I believed about grace... and that set me up to have a life-changing conversation.

I'm extremely grateful that things worked out the way that they did... but I can't say that it absolutely had to happen in here Florida. If I had chosen to run to another city, I believe that God would have set up an alternate set of circumstances to bring me to the same realization about grace... I just probably wouldn't have gotten baptized outside in December if I was living in Colorado :P

So am I in the right place at the right time? I don't know. If the right place seems like the wrong place... how would you ever know for sure anyhow?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Key Differentiators

In my "work life," I've been looking into a number of software packages (CRM/ERP for those who are curious). There are many to choose from, but these vendors are in a rather peculiar position. In order to succeed, their software must be easy to use. To accomplish this, most have chosen to mimic the universally familiar layout of Microsoft Outlook. At the same time, they must distinguish themselves from their competitors... who are also mimicking MS Outlook. So how do you stand out in a crowd of look-alikes?

These software demos nearly always start and end with "Key Differentiators:" the software vendor's answer to the question, "What sets this product apart?" They don't waste time laying the foundation of why CRM/ERP is important... they assume that by the time you're looking at a demo, you're already convinced of its value. Each vendor is convinced that his/her product serves one particular market better than any other. Their job is not to show you that you need software, but to convince you that their version of the software is better.

I've been thinking about this in relation to evangelism and church marketing. It's probably safe to say that most churches promote their key differentiators (the nonessential things that make them unique) rather than their core functionality (the message of the Gospel). And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as the Gospel message isn't hidden under all that nonessential stuff & there is a clear presentation of it during the services. We can't assume that everyone who comes to check out a church understands the Gospel message.

But things start to get weird when a group sees some of its key differentiators as absolute essentials. A new Oneness Pentecostal association formed recently. One of their "key differentiators" is a very strict set of holiness standards. The founders left the UPC because they felt the UPC was too liberal in that area. Issues of outward appearance and behavior are extremely important to them--important enough to form a splinter group--and probably important enough to be a life-or-death salvation issue in their eyes.

Then there's "caste" Christianity, where the key differentiators aren't absolute essentials... but embracing them makes you a higher class of Christian. For example, most Word of Faith folks don't believe that speaking in tongues is essential for salvation, but if you don't speak in tongues, you don't have the "full Gospel." You're a second-class Christian. Because you don't embrace what they teach, you can't possibly understand the deep things of God...

Thankfully, all churches aren't that way... and I really appreciate that about my church. It isn't a "traditional church" the way most people would imagine it -- no stained glass, no smells-n-bells, no pews -- so our promotional stuff (mailers, touch cards, etc) isn't "churchy." It isn't a Gospel tract either. But if someone sees one of our mailers and comes to a service (or even listens to one on our website), they will hear about Jesus and have an opportunity to begin a relationship with Him.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


This month, I started reading In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day by Mark Batterson. There are a lot of good quotes in there that have stuck with me. If I ever have time to stop and write, I'm sure this book could generate quite a few posts!

Here's one where he talks about unlearning:

"Half of learning is learning. The other half of learning is unlearning. Unfortunately, unlearning is twice as hard as learning. It's like missing your exit on the freeway. You have to drive to the next exit and then double back. Every mile you go in the wrong direction is really a two-mile error. Unlearning is twice as hard, and it often takes twice as long. It is harder to get old thoughts
out of your mind than it is to get new thoughts into your mind."

I get frustrated sometimes because I'm not "unlearning" as quickly as I'd hoped. I feel like I'm playing a game of mental whack-a-mole: just when I think I've banished an old thought pattern from my mind, it pops up again...

Batterson also says: "Faith is unlearning the senseless worries and misguided beliefs that keep us captive. It is far more complex than simply modifying behavior... Faith is rewiring the human brain."

Rewiring the brain... that's what I need. And I guess the idea isn't too far fetched: the Bible does talk about "renewing our minds..."