I don’t like these “year in reviews”….

This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series 2011: A look back A look forward

…but I do see the value in them – so I’ll add my own to the mix!  What is the value?

  • Gain appreciation and cultivate gratitude for the great stuff that happened to you in the past year.
  • Reflect on what you can learn from the past year.
  • Plant seeds of motivation for what’s possible in the coming year.

When I started writing out my year in review post for 2010 it began turning into a book.  Not good.  Too much editing.  But then I realized, it’s a review of a whole year, of course it’s going to be longer than my typical post.  So I broke it into a series of posts.

Why would you want to read this? That’s a good question.  I will confess that I’m writing this year in review and look ahead mostly for my own benefit (see points above) but I also believe there will be some value for my readers.  For one thing, it will give you some insight into the mind of a developing leader (and entrepreneur) and more of the things that matter to me.  At the very least it could get you thinking about what matters to you.  So without any more banter, let’s get started shall we.

a look back…

Since I wrote a “look forward” post around this time last year – I thought it would be great to resurrect it in pieces and see if what I wrote about actually happened.  So we’ll start there.

I said: My wife and I really want to work on paying down a lot of our debt.  It’s been an ongoing big deal for us but we’re determined to kiss our debt good bye.  As a result there’s going to be some difficult choices made as we cut out some of the expenses in our lives.  One of the tools I think will help us is this.

What happened: We still have debt but we did makes some adjustments and have managed to pay off close to $5k of our debt so far.  We’ve also established an emergency fund that has helped us out of a couple jams already.  The coolest thing for me though is we haven’t added ANY more debt to our Credit Cards.  We’ve paid CASH for all of our purchases this year – that’s HUGE.  Combined with the debt we paid off we have a VERY healthy financial start to 2011 and are on track to getting our debt eliminated.  I highly recommend Financial Peace University to anyone looking to get their finances under control!

What I learned: It’s very easy to get into debt – it’s very HARD to get out of it and even HARDER to start the process when you’re used to a certain way of living.  No matter how many ways you look at it – paying down the money you owe requires a change of thinking and perseverance.  Another thing I learned: there’s a HUGE sense of satisfaction when you start controlling your money instead of it controlling you.  My wife and I also had a lot less money fights this year because we got on the same page with our finances.

Where are you in your money situation?   Do you have lingering debts sapping your energy and ability to do the things you really want to do?  Have you been successful in becoming or remaining debt free – if so, what are you doing to stay there?

Stay tuned tomorrow for the next post in the series

Merry Christmas 2010

Hey everyone, I hope your day is going well so far!  I love enjoying this time with my family and friends.  To all my readers, have a blessed Christmas and a very HAPPY New Year!

I’ve included for your reading the text of what I shared last night to my church family (modified a bit for the context here).  Enjoy!

We all know about Christmas. We all know that it’s commercial thing with a frenzy of gift buying and gift wanting, and “stuff” being exchanged. We all know that it’s a nostalgia thing, with the Christmas plays, the nativity scene, Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, tinsel, decorations, lights and carols, and movies we’ve seen every year. We know that Christmas is a food thing, the chocolates, the turkeys, the stuffing, the oranges, the baked goodies. Oh, the baked goodies.

There are many things we know Christmas for and many things we’ve become familiar with. Familiar. There’s danger in that. The danger of Christmas, the season, the event, is that we get so familiar we lose the wonder of what Christmas really represents. The wonder of the INCARNATION. It’s really not a word you hear too much. But it is a word that captures the wonder of what happened. God coming in flesh on this planet. Tonight, for just a few minutes, I hope to remind you of this wonder. To have you pause in awe at the majesty and significance of what can be robbed by the familiar.

Do you remember the last time you were filled with wonder – marveling at something you witnessed or experienced that captured your attention? What caused this wonder? More likely, it was something out of the ordinary, something that broke through the usual, something that made some sort of emotional connection with you.

The incarnation should be like that for us. The incarnation must be like that for us. Something out of the ordinary, something that broke through the usual, something that makes an emotional connection with where we are RIGHT NOW in our everyday lives.

Think of the vastness of our universe made up of thousands of galaxies, each containing stars too numerous to count. In a universe that’s limits have never been observed even by the most powerful scientific instruments today. In the midst of this universe, there is a galaxy that has been named the Milky Way, our galaxy. In this galaxy is a star, our sun, a yellow star and surrounding this star is our solar system.

A space ship probe named Voyager I, was launched on September 5, 1977 to study the outer Solar System and eventually beyond. As of December 13 of this year, this spacecraft, travelling currently at a speed of nearly one million miles per day, has still not made interstellar space but is at a distance of 17.3 billion km from the Sun. Radio signals from Voyager I, traveling at the speed of light, take more than 16 hours to make it to earth. Voyager I is not heading towards any particular star but if it was travelling towards the closest star to our galaxy, it would take it 73,600 light years at its current speed. That’s the closest star to our galaxy, out of the thousands of stars in our galaxy, out of the trillions of stars in our universe.

And on a single planet in this solar system. Unique, in it’s position and ability to support life. Divinely designed. The creator of this universe carried out his plan for a visit that would transform our history.

A visit not announced by an earthquake or a world shattering sound. A visit not landing in the halls of worldly power. A visit in the form of a baby. In a manger, in a stable, to a young newly married couple. Announced to a few shepherds, the outcasts of society. This should invoke some sort of curiosity in the casual observer, some sort of wonder at how an all powerful God, would be incarnate in such a humble way.

A wonder that invokes HOPE. Hope that there really is a God who understands and knows our poor and desperate circumstances at times. A hope, that there really is a God who makes it possible for us to KNOW Him, even though in the fullness of his glory, majesty and power He is unknowable.

A wonder that invokes BELONGING. The reality that in the spoken announcement to the shepherds, God speaks the good news to every single one of us. He came for me. He came for you. He wants ALL of us to belong to HIS kingdom. A kingdom, not bought by privilege, or power, or ability. A kingdom bought by HIS. OWN, WORK. Something, as God, He didn’t have to do. But something He did, compelled by His love for you and for me.

A wonder that produces DREAMS. Dreams in what God wants to do through YOU! What is possible because Jesus makes it possible? Think of what it was like for the shepherds when they realized in the midst of their wonder, that God chose to announce the birth of Jesus to them. That they were SIGNIFICANT enough to entrust this GOOD NEWS to? They began to dream of what it would be like when everyone knew the Saviour had come and the Bible records that they shared the good news with everyone they saw.

Why is recapturing the wonder of the Incarnation so important? Because it keeps our attention on the one who matters, it cultivates gratitude for His blessing, and it produces a life of generosity in response to the one who was so generous to us.

I want to close with a few words from a letter that a man named Detriech Bonhoeffer wrote to his fiancé in December 1943. He penned it while in prison in Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer had lost good friends to the war, he was separated from those he loved, evil was all around him, yet these were the words he wrote:

“I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious..The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.”

And that my friends is the most wondrous things of all. Not only did the God of the Universe know he could make a home on earth. But He did it, so He could make a home in YOU.

Paul writes,

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him…  Ephesians 3: 14:17 (NLT)

As you think of the incarnation today, be filled. With wonder.

which has the greater impact?

A while ago I read an interesting article by Miles McPherson on the Catalyst Blog that begins with a great question,

If your church closed down tomorrow, would anyone notice? Would there be a negative impact on your community?

I think every church has a desire to have an impact in their community.  Even the church I work at, has this desire written into our purpose statement.  But it is important to evaluate what kind of impact we are really having. A good start is Mile’s question.

Then, in the article Miles goes on to say the following:

Imagine if people in your congregation were initiating contact with community agencies, building positive relationships, and securing partnerships for the ministry.

He describes how his church has intentionally encouraged their people to volunteer in various community organizations in their city, outside the church walls.  He describes the impact they are making as a result.

Included in the article is a marketing pitch for a resource they are releasing,  but the question Miles asked is the same question I’ve often grappled with.  Is our impact more measurable by the things we do outside the walls of the church or inside the church?  Certainly, we need volunteers to implement all the activities in the church:

  • musicians, singers, sound tech, media operators etc. for worship services
  • ushers, greeters.
  • children’s workers
  • class teachers

I don’t discount their value.  But I wonder, would it be worthwhile to keep things in the church as simple as possible so we can encourage people to have more impact outside the church in the time they have available to give?

Let’s flip this around a bit.  How often does the church berate or complain about people not attending and showing their commitment to church activity and programming when some of those same people are volunteering in the midst of the community we’re called to reach by:

  • serving as coaches, helpers, fundraisers in their sports organizations
  • volunteering at their local schools
  • participating in organizations like, Heart and Stroke foundation, Red Cross etc.
  • participating in a neighborhood association…
  • involved in organizations like the Rotary Club, or other clubs like it…
  • helping out with soup kitchens, homeless shelters

What do you think? How do you see the church of Christ making the biggest impact? How do we get there?

a perspective on the church

About a month ago I read a great post by my friend John Pellowe touching on the whole subject of competition between Christian Ministries.  You should go read it then come back here.  It prompted a comment from me as follows:

I love the position you outline here about competition among ministries and it’s a great suggestion that leaders take the time and make the effort to align their own thoughts on competition.

I echo your thoughts on this. From a church perspective I’ve always thought of things from concentric ‘circles of participation’ perspective using the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.

In other words (much better via diagram!):

The first circle: the believers in a local church all each have individual “parts” to play as a part of their local church body.

The second circle: the local churches in a community are all called to their community and have unique role as a part of the Christian church body within that community.

The third circle: The denominations at the national level each have unique roles within the body of the national church of Jesus Christ.

The fourth circle: The national church’s each have unique roles and callings as a part of the worldwide Christian church.

Bottom line: It’s about advancing Kingdom of God business, not a “I’m better than you” mentality.

Ministries, and churches, and Christian charities should always be working to discover, “What is the unique role or calling that God has given us as a part of His body and how can we do the best we can at that WHILE contributing to the work of His kingdom at large in the world?”

As I was writing this comment, I actually had an image of my mind that I was trying to describe.  Recently I came across a great tool that helps communicate that image.  And here it is:

Have you ever given thought to “competition” among Christian churches/ministries? Have you formulated a position about it? Please, share your thoughts as well!

Evolution of Organize Series

Well folks, if you are a user of the Organize Series WordPress plugin you know the cats out of the bag.  Organize Series 2.2 has finally been released.  This release marks some HUGE changes with Organize Series and I wanted to use this post to highlight some of the major ones.

  1. OrganizeSeries.com -> YES!  Organize Series now has its very own website.  One of the reasons this release has been such a long time coming is because of the development work I’ve been doing on the new home for Organize Series.  Going forward.  Everything organize series related will be found on its own website.
  2. Neurotic Forums shutdown:  With the switch over to the new website I’m shutting down the support forums here and moving everything organize series related over to the new website.  For a few weeks yet I’m going to leave some things up and point them to the new website so people coming her on searches and whatnot will be able to find their way there.
  3. Paid Support:  The core Organize Series will continue to be free and that will not change anytime in the forseeable future.  However, because my time has become such a valuable commodity I can no longer offer free support.  I’m excited about the potential this creates though because with the new Basic Support package users will get access to a growing library of support docs and the brand new Private Support Forums (accessible only to those with a Basic Support status).  If you have any bug reports feel free to post them on the WordPress Support forums or you can use the contact form to get in touch with me.
  4. ADDONS!  One of the things I’ve regretted not being able to do is spend time on adding new features to Organize Series that users have requested.  With the changes I’ve started to develop premium addons for Organize Series that will provide some of the extra capabilities that people have been asking for.  On OrganizeSeries.com you can pay for these addons individually or take advantage of the “All-Addons” package or “Lifetime” package for access to all the addons that get released.  Currently, there are two addons that have been released.
    • Organize Series Publisher: This was originally bundled with earlier versions of Organize Series but has been unbundled as an addon.  It is still free and available either on OrganizeSeries.com or WordPress extend
    • Organize Series Grouping:  This is the first premium addon to be released that provides the ability to group series together.
    • There are still 3 more premium addons waiting in the wings for release.  I’m just finishing polishing them up and you’ll probably see them start to appear in the next couple of weeks.

I want to take the time to express appreciation to all the existing users of Organize Series.  Your kind comments (and awesome implementations) contribute to keeping Organize Series alive.  I hope you enjoy all the new stuff!

Seth’s Blog: The lesson from two lemonade stands

Some time ago I read this article by Seth Godin,  “ The lesson from two lemonade stands“.  Go read it, then come back here.

For the church – what lemonade stand are we?

  • Are we passing out tracts and telling people the “bridge” story or are we loving people and walking with them to the bridge.?
  • Is it more important to us that people attend or that people encounter?
  • Are people an audience or are they participators?
  • Does tradition trump God’s leading?
  • Does playing it safe to protect what we have trump taking a risk in faith to go where God is?
  • Are we known more for what we take than what we give?
  • Or put another, way – for what we are against than what we are for?

I’ve purposely left the “in between” unfilled in this post.  Hopefully these questions get you thinking as much as they have me and I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments!  So, what lemonade stand is the church?

Something I’ve been struggling with

Is there ever a good time to lie?  If you ever want to spark an interesting conversation, this is the question to ask.  If I’m honest with you, it’s a question I struggle with and if you’re honest, I think its something you struggle with too.

I always thought the 10 commandments had a “Do not lie” somewhere in there and it does BUT it only says something about not bearing false witness against your neighbor.  In other words, “Don’t lie about something you witnessed your neighbor doing or not doing”.  Kind of narrowing the context in which you must not lie.  But then, lying is listed as one of the six things God HATES in Proverbs 6:16-18. If you lie, you are putting yourself in opposition to God. Ouch.

So I struggle.  I struggle because there are some times where its really easy to be a truth teller. There are other times where its not that difficult to recognize the temptation to lie and resist it.  But then there are the the times…

  • when my wife has come through a grueling day of looking after the kids, doing laundry, cleaning the house AND has supper ready when I come home.  It tastes awful.  She asks me, “Do you like it?” I’m tempted to say, “Delicious”
  • Someone asks me how I’m doing and although I feel cruddy and overextended I’m tempted to say “I’m fine”
  • Or how about all the “polite” things we’ve been trained to say, things like “I’ll/We’ll miss you” when in reality we can’t wait for them to go;  or “Sorry, I’m busy right now” when in reality you’ve got all the time in the world but just don’t want that person to know because you don’t want to help that person; or “I’m looking forward to meeting you” when the truth is you couldn’t care less if you meet them or not.
  • What about answering the question, “so what’s new?”, “uhh, nothing”
  • Oh and what about the message we leave on our answering machines, “Sorry I missed your call…”  Really?

Are there any other lies that you think could be added to that list?  If you were to count how many times you succumb to the temptation of one of these situations, how many times a day would you say you lie?  I’m afraid to count.

But then, acknowledging this is a struggle helps me realize that it’s something that matters to me.  It matters to me that I strive for honesty.  It matters to me, that I recognize the temptation to be less than honest.  It matters to me, that there are times where it would almost seem justifiable to tell one. little. white. lie.

It matters to me, because God matters to me.

And honesty matters to Him.

That’s why I’m grateful for His grace.

Early Adopter Disease

Here’s some symptoms of early adopter’s disease…

  • you subscribe to multiple tech blog feeds.  Even worse, you follow all their twitter feeds.  Even worse than that, you are a fan of their facebook page. Oh and  by “multiple”, I mean so many that you have 100 new posts an hour coming into your feed reader.
  • All non essential activity stops and you drool when watching an announcement on the latest gadget.  Essential activity is breathing.
  • When a new gadget is released you read every article that get’s written on it.  Anything else is old news.  What oil spill?
  • You know of gadgets that no one else you know has heard of.
  • You begin a lot of conversations with, “Hey did you hear about this? ___________”  and proceed to describe in glorious detail the incredible features of the gadget that will save the world.  Well, at least make the world a better place to live.  Well, at least make YOUR world a better place to live….
  • Things aren’t cool, they are magical.
  • You don’t understand why people get frustrated when something doesn’t work.  Your patience level is god-like when working with new stuff.  Which is probably why….
  • …waiting in lines is your favorite sport.
  • You sign up for all the beta stuff.  Even worse you sign up for alpha stuff.
  • You know what that means.
  • Every outlet in your house is taken up by the power bricks of your stuff.
  • When you are without internet access, you’re paralyzed and cannot do anything.  (This is actually a symptom for a few other diseases too – like internet occuporitus syndrome)
  • You see nothing wrong with people who buy tickets for this (and would be one of the first ones to do it if it wasn’t for all the money you spend on other stuff, like new gadgets and things…)

Do you have the disease?  Is there anything else you would add to the list?

How is Mobile Technology Changing the church and the Non-Profit Sector?

The title of this post is taken from a question posed over at ChurchDrop a while ago (along with an iPhone giveaway – great way of generating comments on the subject!) and I left a comment there so good I thought I’d repost it here [tongue in cheek] and add to it.  Actually, there’s a lot of great comments over at the original post, feel free to add to the conversation there, or here!  So here’s what I wrote:

Mobile technology is changing the church and non-profit sector in the following ways:

1. Real-time communication

People react quicker to what they are experiencing. (especially applicable to multi-site discussions -> see tony morgan’s observations) This also applies to the reporting of people on the field (i.e. missionaries, short term missions trips etc). It can be easier to communicate via mobile than any other technology from a user standpoint and this means that the message gets out and is widely distributed in a matter of seconds rather than minutes or days.  Sometimes whether we want it to or not.

Therefore, the real-time nature of mobile communication means that there must be an even greater awareness on the part of the church or non-profit to what message they are communicating in everything they say and do (even the unintended messages must be considered).  It has become (or will become depending on your context) increasingly difficult to change your message or modify it before it goes “public” because mobile makes everything public.

2. HOW things get communicated.

With the increasing penetration of mobile devices consideration needs to be given to how churches and non-profits communicate in ways that fully capitalize on the way people use those devices. In my opinion,  any church/non-profit that DOESN’T take this into consideration is at risk of losing a valuable avenue of communication for their constituency (granted this does depend on the particular penetration of mobile technology in the reach of the organization).  For much of the non-western world mobile IS the way to communicate.  North America is starting to catch up and the advent of smartphones means that more and more people are connected to the online grid 24/7.  Which brings me to the next point…

3. Social Media use.

In my eyes you can’t talk about mobile technology without including social media in the discussion (I think the rise of social media and mobile are connected).  It is really social media that has made mobile go from a tool used to connect with a few trusted friends and family to being a portal to online community.  The question then is what is the church or non-profit doing to connect and engage with this online-community?

4. Giving

This has only in the past year started to gain traction but the Haiti earthquake has a lot to teach on the ability of mobile technology to facilitate a quick and legitimate way of raising funds.  Check out a few articles on this:

The day is already here where churches can make it possible for congregation members to give via mobile during the service.  There are already companies offering that ability to churches (unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any that offer this service in Canada – we always seem to be a bit behind here up North).  I suspect that this will be one of the major ways in which mobile technology affects the church an non-profit sector.

So what do you think?  Are there any other ways you think we will see the church and non-profits affected by this tech?  Feel free to post your thoughts below.