Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

Why do bad things happen? This is one of those questions we all struggle with. When I first got my cancer diagnosis I was devastated. I had spent the previous few years getting healthier, managing my finances, and investing my life in things that matter than ever before.

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to share my learnings on this tough topic. If you would like to hear the message here is the link:

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

My forthcoming book, Dying to Go on Vacation deals with this and some other tough lessons I've learned. I am currently scheduling speaking engagements for the fall to coincide with my book. Contact me if you would like me to come speak to your church or organization. I remain:

Consumed by the Call,

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

While You Were on Vacation...

When I arrived at the North Carolina Conference office of The United Methodist Church I was told that July was generally a "slow month." Most people took vacation and things were generally very quiet. While that might normally be true, it has been very busy for me. In addition to celebrating my 2nd Cancerversary on July 10, a lot of projects I've been working on suddenly seemed to come together and I've been struggling to keep up. Here is what's been going on:

In addition to my personal writing, I create a lot of content for The United Methodist Church. Part of my ongoing research is how to engage the missing generation of young adults in serious spiritual conversation. I am excited to be part of a new ebook produced by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership as part of the Wesley Theological Seminary. If you would like a copy of the ebook, Leading Idea to Reach Young Adults, get it here.

If you don't follow the blog, My Invisible Life, you may want to consider it. It is the compilation of stories about everyday people who are dealing with some extraordinary things that are seemingly "invisible" to everyone else. I am excited, after following for a while, to be accepted as one of their story tellers. Here is my latest contribution.

Finally, Dying to Go on Vacation is getting close to publication. Here is the Amazon preview that went live this week as I prepare to launch the book. Read the sample chapter and rate it here.

Here is the secret, for my blog readers only. When Dying to Go on Vacation premiers the Kindle ebook will be a free download for just a couple of days. Make sure you follow me here, on Twitter and Facebook so that you will be able to grab it for FREE. Of course print copies will be available if you want a hard copy. After the initial offering it will sell for $4.99, still quite a deal. There are even some bonus chapters from the other books I am working on. I will keep you posted as we get closer to a launch date! Until then I remain:

Consumed by the Call,

Friday, July 10, 2015

Happy Cancerversary! Two Year Down and Counting...

Happy Cancerversary!
The London Eye from March 2014

Two years ago I got news that changed my life. I was told that I had terminal, neuroendocrine cancer with at least 17 centimeters of metastases around my liver and pancreas. Sitting in the hospital that day with Danelle in Erie, Pennsylvania we knew everything would be different. Some quick research revealed that between 70-80% of patients with my level of metastasis die within five years. Suddenly I was well aware of my mortality.

During the past two years I have learned some incredible life lessons. Later this month or early August my book, Dying to Go On Vacation, will come out. The book journals the first few critical weeks following my diagnosis and what God taught me during that critical time. Since then I have continued to live in a kind of medical limbo. Some periods were very dark, like after I received radio-chemotherapy in Houston, Texas and had some serious side effects. Other times were awesome, like our trip to England on the Wesley study tour with Alpha Tours (and the evening pub tour sneaking out each evening to visit local public houses with a few of my traveling companions). As I round out two years, here are the latest lessons God is teaching me:

Put your house in order. In a world of procrastination, be one of “those people” who actually make the hard decisions and prepare for the worst. In the past few months Danelle and I have planned for her retirement, paid off a car, and seriously discussed making final funeral plans for both of us. While the plans for Pastor Marty’s Master Party (the name I’ve given my funeral) are not complete, they are started. What are you waiting for? Take that Financial Peace course at your church, pay off your debt, and get your will and advanced directives done. This is what I’ve learned; our unwillingness to make difficult decisions is really selfishness. We are essentially dumping those decisions on the people we love most who will have to make them at one of the toughest times of their lives, when we die. So pull up your Ninja Turtle underoos and just do it. Yes it is hard. Life is hard, and death is hard on those we leave behind. Don’t make it any harder than it has to be.

Universal Studios, Dec. 2013
Invest in experiences not stuff. Look around your house, none of that stuff really matters. None of it is going with you. When I was really sick from cancer treatment I didn’t care what kind of car I drove or computer I had. I did, however, enjoy looking at the pictures from our previous beach vacation and trip to Universal Studios. Memories matter. I have an assignment for you, when you go home tonight sit down with your family and make a list of all the places you want to visit, experiences you want to have, and things you want to do. Then make a plan to check one off before the end of the

Earlier this year Danelle and I were having a real tough time living in limbo. Having a chronic and terminal illness means you are always waiting on “the other shoe to drop.” It became such a distraction to our ability to live every day that we started seeing a counselor together to develop some strategies for how to cope with the impending inevitability of another cancer attack. The counselor told us to go home and plan a vacation! Huh? Really? That is the best you’ve got?  She went on to explain that we always needed to have something on the calendar to pull us forward otherwise we would spend way too much time looking back. Sure, purchase “vacation insurance” if you need to, but plan something to look forward to. And then, on that vacation, plan your next one. Invest in experiences, not more stuff!

Be open to God’s voice. God is always speaking. In my book coming out later this year, Welcome to a Life That Matters, I spend a lot of time helping you discern God’s will for your life. Let me give you the short version: LISTEN.  When I coach people on how to discern God’s calling for their lives I remind them that God will call you and affirm your calling in three places. First, the inner call, where you feel God’s leading in your very soul. Second, the outer call, where others spontaneously affirm what God is doing in your life. Lastly, is the beside you call, where those closest to you who know and love you the best see God’s work within you and call it out of you. Yet, still, we often don’t hear God’s call because we aren’t listening.

Spend some quiet time every day just listening for God’s voice. If you don’t know how, look back at this blog a week or so ago and see where I explained how to spend thirty quality minutes with God every day. This pattern will allow you intentional space in your life to listen.

So what are you waiting for? Do something today to get your house in order. Start planning your next vacation or bucket list experience. Spend some intentional time with God. Put down your phone and look around. Life is happening! Let’s go make some memories!

Keep me in your prayers! I remain:

Consumed by the Call,

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Missing Millennials: Listening to those who see the church as pointless.

The worship engagement of Missing Millennials in existing worshipping communities continues to hover around 4%, 5% on a good day.  As I have begun engaging those who stayed (remained somewhat active and engaged in a local church) with those who strayed (left the church), and those who never played (never made church part of their lives) I have found some interesting categories among the “strayers” and the “never players.” They seem to fall into one of three categories: the anti-spiritual, who believe spirituality and church are essentially a waste of time; the pseudo-spiritual, who in some way create their own personalized faith system that may only make sense to them; and the spiritually apathetic, who really just don’t care one way or the other.

Almost a decade ago Jesse Ventura made the headlines when he said, “Christianity is for wimps.” People of faith, offended and defensive, quickly paraded Christian athletes, weightlifters, and bikers to prove that “real men love Jesus.” Regardless of what you think of Mr. Ventura, he was expressing a sentiment that I have found underneath the surface for many young adults, that is that spirituality, of any kind, is a waste of time. They don’t really care if you believe as long as you don’t expect them to adhere to any religious tenets or fundamentalist belief system. Though probably not all the way over to an atheist mindset, these neo-agnostics assume that God may have wound up the clock and set it free or, if there is a God (or gods), god is too busy for the likes of us. Why bother wasting time with the intangible when the real world is hard enough to understand?

The pseudo-spiritual cobbles together a belief system with components and elements from all sorts of faith traditions. Some forgiveness from Jesus, some self-awareness from Buddha, maybe some Hindu dietary practices, with a side order of meditation to round out their spiritual life. They don’t feel the need to create any form of systemic belief system or establish any rules of practice, they just adopt what they like, and jettison the rest. Spirituality is about creating inner peace and feeling good about yourself, anyway, isn’t it?

Spiritually Apathetic
The spiritually apathetic seem to be an interesting hybrid between the anti-spiritual and the pseudo-spiritual. My conversations with these young people reveal that they were probably active at some time in their life but when they became less active, and eventually completely disengaged, they really didn’t miss it. They don’t really mind attending Christmas Eve worship with their parents or showing up at Easter to keep grandma happy, but in actuality they just spiritually don’t care. The most troublesome part of this group is that at one time in their life they cared very much about their faith journey but as they matured they realized that the complexities of life were not answered by the simplistic Sunday School religion they were taught. The world did not fit into simple categories so they simply grew apathetic assuming that if they ever needed a church it would be there but essentially not caring if it was there or not.

Until we realize that these young adults aren’t coming back just because they get a little older and then decide to engage them in authentic, agenda-free relationships, we will continue to struggle with why they are missing from our pews and our lives. I want to challenge you to build a relationship, a friendship, with some one who is anti-spiritual, pseudo-spiritual, or spiritually apathetic, not to get them into the church, but to let them into your life so that their voice can resonate in your heart and perhaps, together, we can discover how to communicate with the missing millennials.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sample Daily Discipline for 28 Days

Covenant Commitment

  • To spend a dedicated half hour each day with God in prayer and guided Bible study. 
  • To honestly seek God’s guidance in my daily decisions by asking these two questions: “What is God saying to me?” and “What am I going to do about it?”
  • To share with at least one other person (preferably two) what I am discovering (both successes and failures) so that he or she can join me in prayer and hold me accountable. 
  • To participate each week in the life of my faith community.

Materials to Have on Hand

  • Copy of Welcome to a Life That Matters
  • Bible (preferably an CEB, NIV, TNIV, NRSV, NASV, NLT or NKJV version, with both Old and New Testaments)
  • A Journal (nothing fancy—a spiral notebook will do!) to capture observations and action plans.
  • Pen and highlighter to mark the book or the Bible and to take notes. 

Overview of A Personal Worship Process

  1. Center down, deliberately placing yourself in the presence of God. For one minute just be quiet and experience God’s presence in the silence. A great way to center your focus is to light a single candle and focus on the flame and thinking of nothing else but God’s love for you in Christ.
  2. Be quiet before the Word. Select the passage of the day. Read it slowly, giving it your full attention and listen for God’s Word to you.
  3. Be passively open. Don’t try to figure things out, but be open to the leading and suggestion of the Holy Spirit. Don’t try to impose logic or rationalization upon the Scripture at this point.
  4. Focus your mind on the Scripture.
  5. Apply to your life.  Ask yourself, “What is God saying to me?”  Ask yourself, “What am I going to do about it?”

30 Minutes a Day to Discover A Life that Matters
There is power in the practice of daily discipline. Here is a daily guide on how to spend 30 minutes with God.

5 minutes: Praise and Thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4)

  • Praise God for being God! For creation, for the sending Jesus to be Lord of your life.
  • Thank God for whatever blessings He has brought into your life, no matter how small.

5 minutes: Confession and Repentance

  • Admit to God how you have fallen short of what His ways are for your life (be as specific as possible, God won’t tell anyone else).
  • Ask for forgiveness. A simple breath prayer like, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” may help in centering your time. 
  • Receive God’s forgiveness and strive to continue on “God-ward.”

13 minutes: Read the passage for the day within the book or additional readings.

  • Pray for insight as you read and meditate on the passage.
  • Write out in a few words what the main point of the passage is.
  • Ask God to help you apply the passage to your life. Write down those areas.
  • Spend time praying for the areas of your life that God has “nudged” you about through this and other passages you are studying.
  • Open your heart to God’s leading and direction.
  • Ask yourself: “What is God saying to me?” and “What am I going to do about it?” Write those responses in the book or journal to reference and remind yourself later.

5 minutes: Pray for the needs of others.

  • Make a list in your journal of prayer requests, concerns, and places where you need God’s guidance.
  • Leave room to record how God answers those prayers. 

2 minutes: Commit your day to the Lord—all of it. 

Give this a try for 28 days. I have found that anything I do consistently for a month or more, becomes a habit. My prayer is that at the end of the month, you too will be:

Consumed by the Call,

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Personal Worship Process

For My Breakaway Friends!
I was privileged to spend a week with nearly 300 young adults from across the North Carolina Conference at their spiritual formation event, Summer Breakaway. As part of that week I challenged them to incorporate a daily devotion into their lives. Here are the key components of a daily time with God.

Find some space in your life. 
Reclaim the power of silence, reflection and meditation. You will be tempted to try to speed through the process, do all twenty-eight days at once. Don’t do it. Part of the process is to dedicate some focused attention over time to discovering your divine calling. Discernment is slow cooked, not microwaved. If at all possible set aside the same time every day. There is power in consistency. This kind of consistency is called a “spiritual discipline.” Like all “discipline” it’s more easily taught than practiced. If you are reading this you probably have always wanted to read the scripture every day and spend focused time in prayer and then, well, life happens. You set your alarm a few minutes early, and then hit the snooze alarm or forget to turn it on. You decide you are going to dedicate you lunch hour to personal growth and then the boss gives you an unrealistic deadline forcing you to work through lunch. You decide right before bed is your time, and then you fall asleep while praying (I do this all the time, I just say “amen” when I wake up). Discovering your divine calling is one of the keys to really living the life that God has designed for you to live. So find some space, even if it’s just fifteen to thirty minutes a day, and guard it carefully.

Find some friends to share it with.
I often use this book for my daily time with God. 
Share your journey to help stay on the path. Find the kind of friends who will actually ask how it’s going and mean it. The ones who will be excited to hear what God is doing in your life. Find those friends and let them know what you are going to be doing for the next 28 days. The best way to discover your divine calling is to do it within the context of a community of people also seeking to gain a better understanding of God’s will for their lives. While this resource could be used as a “small group study,” it is best utilized as a focused resource for two or three people who trust and respect each other enough to tell each other the truth. Sometimes we have dreams that do not align with our natural giftedness; your good friends will tell you. Even if you decide to go it alone, make sure you share with at least one other person that you are on the journey to discover your divine calling and talk to them about it weekly for the next few weeks to help you process what you are hearing from God.

Find some courage to dare to listen to God. 
I believe that many people decide not to listen to God because they are afraid God will ask something really big from them. The good news, where God calls you, God carries you. The bad news, God is going to ask something really big from you. Would you really want it any other way? Do you really want to settle for average when God has eternal in mind for you?

May God bless your daily time with God. I remain:

Consumed by the Call,

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Millennials In Today's Workforce - The Diane Rehm Show

The Church isn't the only place having difficulty understanding Millennials. Almost everyone employer and business owner I know are having issues of generational misunderstandings. Here is a great podcast that helps clear up things for those of us who supervise and lead the most misunderstood generation:

Millennials In Today's Workforce - The Diane Rehm Show