Thoughts From Pastor Tim – Week of August 12-18

Note: The following is a copy of the weekly email that hits the inboxes of everyone who attends Compass Church and who don’t mind reading my bunkum.

The theme of this “thoughts” installment is: Deadlines – A love-hate relationship. After lots of thinking, typing, rethinking and retyping, today I hit the “send” button on the first draft of our “Reach 101” class that will kick off our Life360 initiative. Life360 is our Spiritual Development Pathway – our intentional effort of making disciples (you know, turning atheists into missionaries, agnostics into apologists, and skeptics into martyrs!).

Well, I can tell you this: without the deadline it wouldn’t be done… some other priority would have gotten in the way. I’ll admit, there were times that I thought, “This is an artificial deadline… arbitrarily set by our staff. Who cares? What are they going to do, fire me?”

But we all know it’s so-called “little things” that matter. In fact, it really comes down to credibility, which, as these guys put it, can be defined as: DWYSYD – Do What You Say You Will Do.

Credibility is a powerful trait – I like to think of it as integrity in action. When you do what you say you will do, you bring peace to the soul of everyone you encounter. How’s that? Well, because they know that at the end of the day you’re going to show up. You’re not gonna flake, you’re won’t bail, be late, make excuses, “forget,” or do anything else but exactly what you promised, for better or worse. That brings substance to your word and stability to your life and the lives of those who depend on you.

In Proverbs we’re told, “A person who promises a gift but doesn’t give it is like clouds and wind that bring no rain.” (Prov. 25:14). Our word is a gift promised, and we should be careful before offering it.

So this is where deadlines come in and where morality can tend to get fuzzy – at least for me. You see, in a real sense, credibility is service to those in our lives, and in an indirect way it is love. It’s fighting our own laziness, distraction, and complacency so that someone else can enjoy the benefit of our word, rather than experience the disappointment of us not living up to it.

In saying this I run the risk of sounding self-congratulatory. After all, the whole idea came up because I met a deadline and I made no bones about reminding everyone that I am awesome. But the truth is, sadly, I think I surprised myself; and the feeling of satisfaction that I got from not only being done but, really, honoring my word, was enough to make me want to write about it.

So who’s counting on you this week? Is there an opportunity to surprise them (as I may have undoubtedly surprised some of our staff today) by delivering, exactly the way you said you would? Can punctuality and follow-through be free gifts to those who are relying on you.

So you’ll be at Compass this Sunday, right? Good. I believe you.

Blessings,

Pastor Tim

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A Little Back-to-School Kick in the Rear

It’s that time of year again for millions of children nationwide: the dreaded “school” night, followed by waking up late, chasing the bus, downing mystery meat in the cafeteria, and plowing through homework.

So if you’re a kid, a parent, or just a plain old adult, now would be a fine time to kick in a little motivation! Thus, a few pearls to inspire you to git-r-done:

1) No more excuses! I like Proverbs 22:13 – “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!'” We can always find reasons to avoid doing what we should. This guy is saying, “Hey, I don’t want to go out, I could get killed by a lion!” But lions need to be tamed. What is the “lion” that’s keeping you inside? What is your excuse? It could be fear, laziness, pride, lack of money, time, or just a little imagination. We’ve got too many things to keep us distracted “inside” all day long… get rid of those excuses and go out and make it happen!

2) Don’t “take it easy.” When I was in a residency at Dallas Theological Seminary, working on my doctorate, I roomed with a guy named Ed Choy. Ed and I hit it off right away, which meant we were already making fun of each other just hours after meeting. One morning I was facing an entire day in the library doing nothing but research. While leaving the dorm, I said, “Take it easy, Ed.” He responded with, “Okay, work hard Tim.”

I had never heard a reply like that before. I mean, honestly, when has “work hard” been acceptable way of saying goodbye?  But Ed’s reasoning was pretty good: “Everyone always says ‘take it easy,’ as if that’s some great value. Why should I encourage you to be a slacker?”

Made sense to me. So don’t take it easy today! Bust your hide, seize every moment, attack that to-do list until you become an unstoppable force of kinetic energy!!

3) If you’re overwhelmed, you’re likely on the verge of something great. Most things worth doing, in my experience, usually follow a pattern:

  1. Initial Excitement
  2. Progress
  3. Frustration
  4. Standstill
  5. Total overwhelm-ment (is that a word?)
  6. Breakthrough
  7. Completion

Here’s what I’ve learned: Steps 1-4 take about 20% of my energy, while steps 5-7 take the remaining 80%! The fact is, its easy to start something; it’s the finishing that’ll kill ya. Seth Godin refers to it as “shipping.” At some point you’ve got to have that project done so its ready to ship (turn in, present, sell, hang on the wall, etc.). The secret is that just when you think you’re never going to make it, that’s when you’re right at the verge of breakthrough. Unfortunately, that’s also the stage that requires the most concentration, willpower, and perseverance. If you can hang in there when its all about to hit the fan, that’s when the tide is likely to turn and you’re closer than you think to victory.

4) Discipline not desire determines destiny. Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I must credit my friend Ed once again for introducing me to this aphorism. Your aspirations are meaningless without action; they’ve gotta move to the present tense. I recently heard novelist Brad Thor interviewed on the Hugh Hewitt radio program. When Hugh asked him how he became such a prolific author, he mentioned that on his honeymoon his new bride challenged him to spend two hours a day writing his first novel. So here’s the question: Is your dream in your calendar? Have you scheduled an appointment with what you know you should be doing?

5) Set short-term goals. I learned this from Bill Hybels in his book, Axiom. He calls it “Six by Six Execution.” Basically, he sets six goals to be accomplished over a six week period. Setting yearly goals is great, but let’s be honest, where is the urgency? Six weeks forces you to get moving now. It might be hard to get something significant done in two weeks, but six weeks can really get the imagination going.

This also allows us to put the pedal to the metal for a while and then recuperate. If I can be a dissenting voice, by the way, sometimes living life in “balance” doesn’t get anything done. You gotta get a little nutty and extreme once in a while in order to make a breakthrough.

There you have it. All of this is based, of course, on the notion that as beings created in the image of God we have tremendous capacity that far exceeds our ability to catch up on whatever we DVR’d over the last few weeks. So tap into all that God’s made you and run like a mad (wo)man until you’re out of breath, and see what happens along the way!

The Art of Preaching

My job rocks. Every Sunday the challenge is to produce a 40 minute presentation of fresh, engaging material based on any passage in the Bible to hundreds of people who are hoping to catch something that will convince them that waking up before noon on a Sunday wasn’t a waste of time.

Preaching gets a bad rap and understandably so. The most common perception people have of “sermons” is that they are long, boring, irrelevant lectures droned out by marginally well-meaning but hopelessly out of touch individuals who had the unfortunate curse of being born in the wrong century.

But preaching is supposed to be an amazing and unique art form, primarily because the goal is not merely information but transformation. You don’t want people to leave saying, “I learned something I didn’t know.” You want them to leave saying, “I must change, and change now.”

There’s also a deeply spiritual dynamic inherent in preaching. The preacher, if he’s worth anything, believes, that because his sermon begins and ends with Scripture, it’s not merely his words, but the words of God coming out of his mouth. He is merely the interpreter, the translator, in a conversation between God and every single person listening. God is guiding the preacher’s words, using them to talk to each person, and connecting his truth to each unique need and circumstance. At its core preaching should be supernatural.

That’s not to say that whatever a preacher says is infallible. Preachers make mistakes all the time, and they can often be downright dangerous. But the goal of the preacher should be to communicate what God wants the people to hear, how God wants them to change, rather than just spouting off his own ideas.

Effective preaching is ultimately a result of the power of God. However, there are a bunch of practical skills preachers must have if they hope to truly engage their audiences. Here are a few I’ve learned:

1) Credibility is everything. What’s important is not that your hearers believe everything you’re saying. What’s important is that they believe that you believe everything you’re saying! Bottom line: If you don’t believe what you’re saying, get off the stage and give it to someone who does. Sadly, there are preachers in America who admit they don’t really believe what they’re preaching, but I guess they can’t find anything else to do at the moment. Nice.

2) Even the President needs… Passion!! I remember hearing Bill Hybels relay a conversation he had with Bono, where Bono told him that there’s one thing his fans expect when U2 hits the stage: energy. I’ve always remembered that. To have life oozing out of you is essential if people are to connect with you. Even if you’re a little nuts once in a while… at least you’re not boring!

3) Be clear. To clarify, be really, really clear. General Colin Powell described his approach to speaking like this: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. But in order to do that, you gotta know what you’re going to tell them. Dr. Howard Hendricks is famous for saying, “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.” The reason so many sermons fail so miserably is because no one can follow what the preacher is trying to say. He might crack a few jokes and have a magnetic personality, but that jig will be up really fast if know one, including himself, knows what in the world he’s talking about!

4) Crack a joke, the earlier the better. Laughter is the universal language of connection. Two people don’t even need to speak the same language, but if they can laugh together, a greater bond is possible than through hours of conversation. Don’t make those poor people sit there and listen to you for 30 or 40 minutes (or longer) without saying or doing something funny. They got up and got their kids ready because they trust you have something to say to them – the least you can do is crack them place up once or twice, lighten the mood, and help them engage with you even more.

5) Cut one major point entirely rather than hollowing out two or three major points. I learned this axiom from Dr. Don Sunukjian, my brilliant preaching professor. The idea is this: if you have to cut something due to time, don’t cut sub-point “c” out of points 1 and 2. Just cut all of point 3. If you cut your sub-points, you don’t get the opportunity to drive home your main points, leaving your message shallow. You know what you had to cut, but no one else does, so who don’t worry about it being incomplete. Most people will remember once salient sentence or story more than they’ll be able to recite all three or five of your main points anyway.

6) Use descriptive language instead of generalities. What’s more interesting? To say, “My brother has an old car with a big engine that’s a lot of fun,” or “My brother Matt has got a fire engine red 1967 Mustang with a .302 liter engine that literally sends a chill down your spine when you hit the gas.” It easy to be lazy with language.

7) Use slides sparingly. You’re not giving a lecture on the intricacies of grey matter in the human brain. You’re communicating for transformation, which is hard if you’ve got 85 Power Point slides to get through. Every time you transition a slide the eyes of the audience move off of you and on to your whatever is you’ve written. I want everyone’s eyes on me as much as possible. I limit my “slides” to main points (usually two or three), key verses of Scripture (for those who didn’t bring a Bible), an occasional significant quote, and sometimes a picture.

I love and believe in effective preaching and I think it is still the primary method which serves to transform the hearts of men and women who desperately need the touch of God.  Romans 10:14 says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

We who preach just need to get better at it. Thoughts?