A Value-Added Life

WP_20150302_003A few years ago, when visiting my parents, I noticed a couple chairs discarded at the end of a neighbor’s driveway. I thought they had, as we say, ‘potential.’

Much to my family’s chagrin, I loaded them in the car for the long trip home (900 miles). I cleaned, sanded, and whitewashed them. And for the record, we are still using them today.

In all honesty, they looked pretty bad when I scooped them up. They were old and worn, battered and bruised.

But what if I had seen these same chairs at an auction, being sold for a ridiculous price because, maybe, someone important had sat in them.

Maybe the signers of the Treaty of Versailles sat in them. Or maybe they were built by Ethan Allen himself. Or possibly they were planed from a tree planted by George Washington. And then chopped down by his son.

A simple chair could be thrown to the sidewalk. The same chair could be worth millions, depending on the value added by others. Who built it. Who owned it. Who sat on it.

In Peter’s letter to the scattered church, he writes, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God…” (1 Peter 2:9).

Because we have been called out of our darkness into His marvelous light, we have been transformed from the cast-off chair into the high-dollar auction chair. We can now live the value-added life.

Christ has transformed us into His people, what Peter calls “God’s special possession.”

God has cleaned, sanded and whitewashed you by His love. And he wants to use you today.


*First posted May 16, 2014*

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The Big Why

I can be a little obsessive regarding this whole WHY thing. It’s like the little kid in that commercial who follows the man around and questions, “Why?” to everything he says or does. Finally, the man says something like, “I don’t know, kid, why don’t you go ask your father!”

I want to know why. I think we have an inherent desire to know why. Nothing ultimately makes sense unless we can ask (and answer) the big WHY questions in our lives.

Philosophy has long been interested in the WHY questions. Plato questioned the ultimate why; Heidegger is credited with formulating the famous question, “Why is there anything at all rather than nothing whatsoever?”

Operating within the Judeo-Christian worldview, I would turn to the Genesis narrative of the Bible to answer that one. That’s a gigantic leap for many, and I get that. More on that to come…

Whether or not we operate within the Christian worldview, further WHY questions remain: why are we here, why is there a here at all, why is there suffering, why is there death, why bother…

I recently had the opportunity to again read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, his memoir of concentration camp survival and formulation of his logotherapy.

In this slim volume, Frankl quotes Nietzsche: “He who has a WHY to live for can bear with any HOW.” To be sure, Nietzsche was not a Christian, but he was exactly right.

In our productivity apps-driven world, we are obsessed with WHAT we are doing. And man, we do a lot of WHAT! Our calendars are crammed with WHAT stuff. It’s tiresome, isn’t it?

Without a WHY, all the WHAT becomes overwhelming. And stressful. And unsatisfying. And unproductive.

Simon Sinek wrote a great little book titled Start with Why. Just go buy it. It’s kind of self-explanatory.

(Watch Sinek’s Start With Why TED Talk below. It will be time well spent)

I asked the congregation to imagine a little conversation they might have with someone who asked the following: “Tell me what your church is like.”

I said that 99/100 (I made that up, but it’s probably pretty close) of us would answer the question by explaining WHAT the church was doing (we have Sunday School at 9:45-ish…we’re involved in XYZ ministries…we have programs for all ages…etc.). Our default mode is in the realm of WHAT.

How many of us would begin by explaining WHY our church is here?

Which of course begs the question: do we know WHY the church, our church, is here? Why are YOU in church?

Just this morning (!), Seth Godin posted this on his blog:

“We want employees who know the why, not just the details of the how. We want customer service people and partners and vendors who understand.”

Putting this in the church framework, we could paraphrase Godin as saying, “We want members and attenders who know the why, not just the how, or the what. We want our members, attenders, and everyone we come in contact with, to understand why our church is here.”

Hi, my name is Greg, and I am addicted to the WHY.

Let me know what you think about all this stuff; I love the conversation. I’m excited to see what God is going to do in our midst as TOGETHER we clarify the WHY.

When we are clear on the WHY, the WHAT and HOW will pour forth like a raging stream.

God bless, and Peace.

*First Posted on May 12, 2015*

(read Godin’s entire post here: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/…/dont-do-what-i-said-do-what-… )

Simon Sinek discusses the principal behind every successful person and business. A simple but powerful model for how leaders inspire action, starting with a …
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The Object of our Faith

“It is naive to discuss the theological questions as theological questions until one has considered what truth means to the one who is making the theological statements” ~ Francis Schaeffer, in 1968.

Have you ever had a ‘religious’ discussion with a post-modern, post-Christian, new age seeker and, as a result, out of frustration just wanted to beat your head into a brick wall?

Me, too.

Stop doing that. Especially if you’re actually doing the brick wall thing.

It is likely the case that you and your sparring partner are not comparing apples to apples. Our pre-suppositions are from different planets. More often than not, we are not defining faith in the same way.

Here’s some helpful thoughts from Schaeffer, in The God Who Is There:

“Modern man cannot talk about the object of his faith, only about the faith itself. So he can discuss the existence of his faith and its ‘size’ as it exists against all reason, but that is all. Modern man’s faith turns inward.

In Christianity the value of faith depends upon the object towards which the faith is directed. So it looks outward to the God who is there, and to the Christ who in history died upon the cross once for all, finished the work of atonement, and on the third day rose again in space and in time. This makes Christian faith open to discussion and verification.”

Whoa. In a nutshell, when someone tells you they have ‘faith,’ ask them, with love and compassion, “In what? In whom?”

Modern man is eager to talk about faith. He just falls short of talking about the object of his faith. We are, by all accounts, a generation obsessed with spirituality. If the object of one’s faith does not fall outside their own being, however, it will one day implode in recognition of despair.

Modern man finds himself in a circular room with no doors. Alas, there is no escaping from this purely rational (or purely mystical) religious undertaking.

The ‘leap of faith’ required to exist in this circular room leads, ultimately, to faith in one’s self. Enter despair.

Look outward to the God who is there. He is our only hope.

*First posted April 2, 2014*

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The Beginning of Knowledge

One of my children (I won’t tell you her name, but her initials are Kirsten) is notorious for putting things together without using the enclosed directions.

This rarely ends well.

‘How hard could it be?’ we say.

‘I can do this.’

‘I don’t need any help.’


We do the same thing in life, don’t we? Even though we have millions of people who have gone before us who have encountered the same problems and challenges we are now facing, we say, ‘I don’t need any help.’

We are fools. Prideful ones, too.

Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (ESV).

I love the ESV Study Bible’s commentary on this verse:

“Knowledge and wisdom are closely tied together in Proverbs: knowledge tends to focus on correct understanding of the world and oneself as creatures of the magnificent and loving God, while wisdom is the acquired skill of applying that knowledge rightly. The reason that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom is that the moral life begins with reverence and humility before the Maker and Redeemer.”

Reverence and what?


(There’s that pride thing again.)

Have you ever prayed for wisdom?

‘Lord, give me the wisdom to make the right decision…’

But according to the words above, wisdom is the application of knowledge. So we are making the assumption that we have the necessary knowledge (instructions?) when we pray for wisdom.

Do we have the necessary knowledge? Have we spent time in the study of God’s Word? Have we talked to those who have already hacked through the jungles we’re now facing?

Or are we of the ‘I can do this’ mentality?

Let us all, in deep humility, acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, we don’t have it all figured out. That maybe, just maybe, we’re tired of having parts left over when we finish our projects. That maybe, just maybe, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

Life is short, and life is hard.

Let’s not be foolish.

p.s. Kirsten, I love you. Call me when you go to IKEA. I’ll meet you at your house with my tools.

*First written March 21, 2014*

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Addressing Red Flags

It is sad to hear the reports coming out of Indiana re: Colts owner Jim Irsay. A man who had seemingly beaten down his demons years ago, only to have them win this latest battle.

What really struck me in the reporting was the comment, “To those around him, this was not a great surprise.”


ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that his friends and inner circle had become increasingly concerned in recent months about Irsay’s behavior (Schefter even mentioned the escalating ‘weirdness’ of Irsay’s late-night tweets).

I have no idea if Irsay’s friends confronted him about his behavior, expressing their concern for his well-being. They very well may have, many times even. I don’t know.

What this whole episode brings to light is something we talked about this past Sunday…

If we don’t address the red flags we see in people’s lives, be prepared to see them raise the white flag of surrender.

If they don’t get the help they need, in a timely manner, they will give up. They’ll quit. They’ll surrender to their demons.

Again, Irsay’s friends, family and confidants may very well have been reaching out to him. I pray they were.

But how many people are out there waving a red flag of dire warning, and we ignore them?

Don’t be shocked when the white flag goes up.

We claim to be saddened. Heartbroken.

But are we heartbroken enough to ensure it doesn’t happen to the next person?

Or will we shake our heads dismissively next time and mutter, “I knew something like this was going to happen.”

We can be better than that. There is hope for everyone.

And please pray for Jim Irsay and his family.

*First written March 18, 2014.*

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Counting Heads in Church

For the record, I don’t count heads in church.

Someone does it for me.

For the record (part 2), I did not ask them to count heads.

But they let me know, anyway.

And then we collectively ask, “Where are all the heads?”


Carey Nieuwhof, pastor of Canadian church Connexus, wrote a great blog post about the disappearing heads in church (even among the ‘committed Christians’). I encourage you to read this before you continue. Please do so. Now.

I was particularly struck by this:

People always make time for the things they value most.  If they’re not making time for church, that tells you something.


What are we missing?

A church member passed this along to church leadership; you’ll just have to check it out.

The Church universal has been arguing discussing the issue of ‘relevance’ for decades now.

One side says, “How can we be more relevant?”

The other side says, “But in our attempts to be relevant, aren’t we leaving the message behind?”

For the record (part 3), I’m a both/and kind of guy. Why can’t we do both? Why does it always have to be either/or?

Why can’t we be relevant (a word I am not entirely comfortable with) AND on message?

Why can’t we just do whatever it takes to be the light in the world that we are called to be?

Biblical parameters? Yes. Focused firmly on the Gospel? Yes. Are organs and hymns necessary? No. Are drums and guitars necessary? No.

What is OUR church going to be in OUR community in OUR time?

The church I pastor came into being in 1884. Are we positioning ourselves to be here in 2084? Will we still be on this corner, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable on Sunday mornings?

Will we be spending Sunday nights joined together over beer, baseball and Barth?


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An e-VALUE-ation, or Addition by Subtraction

Hey, it’s a Monday, so I thought it would be a good idea to blow up everything and start over.

A good time to evaluate the stuff in my life. You know, all the stuff.

So this is the question I’ve been asking:

Does (whatever) add value to my life?

That’s it. The only requirement.

I define adding value as increased joy, pleasure, intellect, health, love, peace, hope (all framed within my Judeo/Christian tradition).

Simple enough.


So I started looking at my daily routine, things I spend my time/money/talents on, through the lens of added value. Keep doing, quit doing, add, subtract…? Here’s some of what I came up with:

Exercise: Yes, and more of it! I have a treadmill in my home office, so I really have no excuse in this area. I walk each morning, but want to add a walk later in the day.

Water: Yes, and more of it! Which means no! to Diet Sundrop. This has been a continual battle for me, but one I’m committed to winning. No more soda.

Prayer/Meditation: Yes, and more of it! I practice Centering Prayer, which keeps me focused and…well, centered. If you’re not familiar with the practice, more info here. As I try to make clear to everyone who asks, CP is not a substitute for any other prayer practice you use (petitionary, confessional, thankful, etc.). It is in addition to, not in place of, other prayer times in your life. It works for me on so many levels.

Social Media: Hmmm…this was a tough one. But remember the qualification: does it add value to my life?

Facebook? No. Facebook has morphed from a wonderful communication tool to a platform for game requests and shared recipes. Neither of which I am adept at nor interested in. So goodbye to Facebook. I will continue to monitor and post to our church FB page, which is a great tool, and IMHO, what Facebook was designed to be.

Twitter? Yes, and more of it! I find great value in the people I follow (I only follow people who add value, so I control that aspect), and enjoy the level of communication in quick, manageable pieces.

Google+? Still working on this, but again, I only communicate with folks that add value to my life, either personally or professionally. I control the input.

The bottom line with social media (or any media for that matter) is this: why would I follow/listen to anyone who speaks negativity into my life? Life is too short, and there’s too much at stake, to listen to people who bring me down or wear me down. No thanks.

Note: I turned off all notifications to my phone from social media and email. I check these sites only when I have time or the desire. Feeling obligated to check my phone constantly was a time-killer, and socially rude.

Reading/Study: Yes, and more of it! I have re-committed to reading only what brings value to me personally or professionally. Which for me means more spiritually and theologically-based books. Classics. More C.S. Lewis, Barth, Kung, Calvin, Edwards, etc. And more recent authors: Len Sweet, Frank Viola, Kevin DeYoung, Carson, Stott, Scot McKnight, etc.

I have begun to read more slowly, carefully, and reflectively. In addition, I have begun micro-journaling. I don’t spend hours with Dear Diary, but I keep a Moleskine  planner/journal with thoughts, quotes, pics, ideas, sermon seeds, etc. on a daily basis. Kind of my positive creative power source.

Disclaimer: I still leave room for reading humor and whimsy, to make sure I don’t get too stodgy. A little Tom Robbins, David Sedaris, and Winnie-the-Pooh keeps me balanced.

Email/Voicemail: I have chosen not to respond to hateful emails or voicemails. This happens rarely, but often enough to mention it. I forward these to that round file in the sky. Again, don’t have time for the haters!

As a pastor, challenging people and situations come with the territory. Tough issues must be dealt with. Leadership is not always pick-and-choose. Some things are just not in our control. And by God’s grace, we are able to handle these speed bumps and move on. But…

…regarding the things I can control, I will no longer allow these things (or people) to kill my time, my vision, or my relationships.

People: I don’t have too many ‘Debbie Downers’ in my life; they rarely gain an audience, if I can help it. I choose to surround myself with people who add value (sometimes that means speaking the truth in love, but that is adding value!). Think about the people in your life who demand so much of your time. Go ahead, think about it. Apart from those who legitimately need counseling/compassion/a good swift kick in the rear, what are they adding to your life? And on the flip side, are you demanding the attention of others, and dragging them down? Stop doing that.

Availability: There are times during the week that I make myself unavailable; meal times with my family, for example. My day off (Tuesday). It’s important to keep things in perspective, and to keep them prioritized.

Men and women in ministry tend to feel that they have to be everything to everybody, all the time. No, no, and no. We can’t fix everything, we can’t help everybody, and we can’t neglect our own health and sanity to do it. I’m really trying to do better in this area.

You get the idea. There’s plenty more. I’m sure you have a bunch you could add. 

So ask the simple question, and ask it regularly:

Does (whatever) add value to my life?

If not, JUST. SAY. NO.

Your body, mind, and soul will thank you. As will your loved ones.

Photo: FeeBeeDee/Flickr/CC

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