In an earlier post, someone suggested that I print quotes from the book on this blog. After thinking about it, I thought you might want a taste of what the book is really about...Here is chapter 1
Chapter 1: I’m Pretty Much Like You
I’ll go ahead and admit it: my greatest weakness, my greatest sin is driving too fast-way too fast. At least this is the only sin I’m willing to admit to you. We don’t know each other that well. Maybe a little later, when we know each other better, I’ll tell you some of my darker weaknesses. They’re secret and I don’t share them with just anyone-we’ll have to become better acquainted. But I do love to drive fast. I heard a guy say the other day that when he gets pulled over by the Cops, he just says, “Give me the ticket or the lecture. I’m in a hurry.” I bet he usually gets the ticket. Not me-I’ll let him scream his head off at me all day long. Just don’t give me the ticket. I’ve learned to be very respectful of Cops. In a weird way, sometimes I think they may have too much power. But even so, I still drive fast.
I don’t really think I’m all that different from you. Maybe your greatest sin
isn’t driving too fast. Maybe it’s drinking too much, or secretly looking at pornography, or looking at other women way too much, (I guess if you’re married, your wife would say any looking is way too much) or maybe it’s men, or maybe you’ve got some other hidden secret you’re not willing to tell anybody about. I think pretty much all people have some secret weakness they’re not willing to show to the world. We like looking good and you can’t look good if your stuff is hanging out there for the world to see. We go speeding down the road of life hoping we don’t get pulled over. Even if we do, just give us the lecture or the ticket. But whatever you do, don’t make us look deep inside and say why we were driving too fast.
Other than the stuff I’m not willing to tell you about, as I say, I bet we’re not all that different. I’m just an average guy. I went to public high school. I worked at the Sky-Vue Drive-In. Eventually I went off to school and got married. Maybe we can talk more about all of that later. But there’s really nothing all that special about me. There is nothing dramatic or flamboyant about me. I’m not well known outside of my own little circle of friends-certainly not outside my own home town. I haven’t written a bunch of books.
Sometimes I envy all the pretty people who have lots of fame, or have to avoid the big crowds that follow them, or people with lots of money, or people that seem to live so much better than I do.
I’m pretty much just your average guy. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to fill the void in my life. I’ve always wanted to believe that there is something out there for me to do that is bigger than I can imagine. I’ve tried a lot of stuff but I’m never completely satisfied with my life. I’m always thinking there is something more.
When I was a teenager, I used to watch my older sister. She always seemed so much more satisfied with her life than I was with mine. She married a great guy and they seemed to live life with purpose and meaning. They always seemed to have such a keen sense of direction for their lives, even if they didn’t always have a lot of money or a nice car or a beautiful new home. Unlike them, I lived life with this hole in my soul. It was like a vacuum that sucked the good feelings right out of me. Feelings of wholeness and contentment and worthiness, or the feeling that I knew where my life was headed. I didn’t have a clue, so I threw everything I could think of into the hole: everything from alcohol to money and everything in between. It all just got sucked into that black hole. Eventually I figured out that the black hole was a God-shaped void, the only thing that would fill it up was God. That was my first conscious awareness of the possibility that there might just be something out there bigger than me. There might be something bigger than anything I could imagine. I discovered a Higher Power. Call Him whatever you want. I call him Jesus Christ. I discovered a God that wanted to know me, personally, through his son.
For me, it really wasn’t about religion. It was about a Relationship-a divine relationship-with the God who created me. I had tried religion and I tried several different kinds of churches but nothing ever made quite as much sense as this personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe. It was hard for me to imagine that He wanted to know me. I thought He just wanted me to go to church. I really had re-interpreted something Jesus said one time. He said that real worshippers didn’t worship in coat and tie, or with stain glass windows, or in expensive buildings, but simply in spirit and in truth. I had not realized that. (John 4:21-24) But when I figured it out, I discovered there was more to life than working at the Sky-Vue Drive-In. God actually wanted me to live fully, abundantly. (John 10:10)
That seems obvious looking back but at the time it was revelational. Life’s that way, isn’t it? In fact, as it turns out, that was a pretty pointless time of life for me. The most that came out of it was that I let a lot of my friends into the Sky-Vue for free- and allowed a lot of trunks full of kids to come in when they didn’t know we knew. Later in life, I found out that a lot of friends I thought were friends weren’t so much friends at all. Later, I learned that they, too, had discovered God for themselves. I bet they discovered the Sky-Vue was pretty pointless too. We all agreed that life is now way better than life was then.
Fast forward many years and I discovered that lots and lots of people want to believe there is more to life than they are experiencing: getting up, eating breakfast, going to a relatively thankless job, coming home, eating dinner in front of the TV, and going to bed. The only real variation on that theme is the moms who do all of that but add a few kids to the equation. They feeling like they’ve lived a lifetime picking up dirty socks, doing laundry, cooking a meal that nobody seems all that thankful for no matter what they say in their prayer, doing somebody else’s homework, maybe finding a few minutes of intimacy with her husband and then the cycle starts all over again.
Now, I know not everybody lives that way. But far more of us live that way than we’re ready to admit. We’re driving a hundred miles an hour through life just like I do, hoping not to get pulled over. Give us the lecture or the ticket; just don’t get into our business. Don’t ask us why we’re driving like there’s no tomorrow. We don’t want to be found out because in the midst of all our busyness, there are these secrets we hope nobody will discover.
We’re really not all that happy with our marriage. Deep down inside, we wonder if our kids will ever be as smart as the kids next door, or as pretty, or as skilled on a basketball court. We’re wishing our little girl were a cheerleader. We’re wishing our son were the captain of the football team or the starting center for his high school basketball team or first string pitcher on his high school baseball team, destined for the pros. Maybe deep down inside, where nobody can see, there’s this black hole that we’re throwing stuff into as fast as we can earn it: new cars, more money, bigger houses, memberships at clubs, new women (or men), or more sexual adventure. Deep down where no one can see we want more power and more prestige. We know we could do our boss’s job better than our boss can. If I just made a little more money I could take care of so many problems that keep the pressure on my marriage. Deep down we’re ready for change: a new direction in life, a new venue, a new spouse, a new city, a new ‘look’…something…anything…to fill the void. But it’s a God-shaped vacuum that only He can fill.
What in the world am I here for? I mean really?
Back in 1988 I started all over. For me it was like a new career. Although I had been a pastor for 10 years (I’m reluctant to tell you that just yet because I don’t want you to put the book down. Stay with me here…) I was ready to believe there was more to life than I was experiencing, so I started a church. Now remember, I’m a pretty average guy. Back then, not a whole lot of people knew much about planting churches. I sure didn’t. So I went to a conference, read a few books, and started out. Even though there was a mother church that paid my salary for awhile, I gave up about the most secure job a guy could have to do something that fails eight out of ten times. I can’t prove it but like new businesses, I think eight out of ten new churches fail every time. It’s as risky as crab fishing in Alaska. Maybe not as dangerous. It usually doesn’t kill you to fail but it sure can ruin your life. I’ve watched a bunch of guys fail at church planting who end up in a new career. And so I was scared…well, I was scared to death. I used to get up in the middle of the night and pace the floor, asking myself, “What were you thinking? You uprooted your family, moved across town, sold your house, to do something most people fail at 8 out of 10 times. Not to belabor a point, but “What were you thinking?”
I really wanted to believe there was more to life than what I had been experiencing, so I talked some friends into helping. We borrowed the basement of the mother church, and called thirty-five thousand random people to ask two questions: “Are you an active member of a local church? And, if not, “Would you like to come to ours?” You see, I figured there were already enough churches for churchgoing people, but for whatever reason, there were still a hundred and fifty-thousand people in our community who weren’t going to any church. That’s the group we targeted; people who had given up on church; people who said, “I don’t like church. I quit going to church. For me, church is irrelevant.” These were not necessarily people who had given up on God, but for sure, they were people who had given up on church. And so from the seed of a dream that began with two other couples, my wife Lee and I started a little core group of about twenty-five people. We held our first services in the back room of a local restaurant. Our nursery was in the bar and we rented a daycare center down the street for older kids while teenagers met in the little office suite we rented near the restaurant. On a good day there might have been a hundred and fifty of us…not counting the babies in the bar. The back room smelled like stale beer and at 11:30, right about the time I stood up to preach, the cooks started banging the pots and pans. After about a year we rented the hall of a local high school and we rented their facilities for about six years. That little group of a hundred and fifty slowly grew to about three hundred. It took seven years. I saw guys in other parts of the country with huge, fast growing churches they had started and I couldn’t understand why that wasn’t happening for me? I guess that’s when I first admitted to myself that I was really just an average guy. I admitted that I’m really not that different from you. In fact, I pretty much gave up on anything happening on a grand scale in my life. After all, I went to public school and graduated from graduate school in the dead middle of my class, at best.
It was around that time that this little group of people inspired me to believe that maybe there was something going on in our lives that was greater than ourselves…if we were just willing to believe it. We bought some land for a new church which was about five times as much land as most new churches bought. This was the first sign that we actually were willing to believe God might do something great in our lives. We built the first little building, again scared to death that no one would come that we’d be stuck with this huge note we couldn’t afford to pay, and that the bank would come after us individually. That’s when God did something big…scary big. Eight hundred people came to the first service and they kept coming back. And this new church we called Hope became one of the fastest growing churches in the country. That’s when it hit me: God is about something much bigger than me.
Now, I’m going to tell you it’s real easy to get prideful. Arrogance is way up there at the top of the list of things I’m not yet willing to tell you about but when you start something, and it begins to grow and grow and grow, it’s really easy to start thinking that it’s all about you. You start thinking that maybe you are the cause of the growth. It’s your great leadership. It’s your great public-speaking ability. It’s your terrific personality. Maybe just maybe you are one of the chosen ones. Maybe you are destined to be rich and famous, or at least famous and certainly rich by the world’s standards and by anyone’s standards, successful. In fact, most of the guys I went to school with would give their right arms to pastor one of the fastest growing churches in the country.
But suddenly right in the middle of my self-imposed journey to greatness, Lee was diagnosed with cancer. Just about the time I began to feel like I had done something great (we all tend to take credit when things go great and blame God when things don’t. Would you not agree?) life as we knew it, suddenly changed. Our world was turned upside down. With three kids in high school, suddenly the care-giver became the care-receiver. We sat down at the dining-room table one afternoon and I said, “All of these years, Mom has taken care of us. Now it’s time for us to take care of her. We can’t take her cancer away but we sure can take care of her while she battles it. The only way we’ll get through this is as a team.” And so our oldest, Emily, did the laundry, made dinner, cleaned house, and generally took over as Mom. And Taylor and Tucker, the twins, fed the dogs! Don’t laugh! That was a big responsibility for them in those days. Today they both work in Global Missions-in Ecuador, Iraq, and Mexico. Maybe soon their borders will extend to Honduras, Argentina and further. Now they feed everybody’s dogs.
It was a year to remember. For us as a family, it was a benchmark year. Emily remembers what she calls a Hallmark moment. I was mad at her for not helping out when we needed her most and she said, “You can accuse me of a lot of things, but don’t accuse me of not loving my family!”
It was a fork in the road. I could continue to fight with her or I could stop. I said, “Emily, I didn’t mean to accuse you of not loving your family.” I gave her a big hug and she gave me a bigger hug back. That’s when the daughter became the caregiver for the father. She said, “Daddy, don’t worry. Mom is going to be okay. Whatever happens, she’s in God’s hands.” And she was right.
I quit going to work every day that year. I moved my office home so I could be close to Lee. The leadership of the church was so understanding. I preached on the weekends and took care of Lee during the week. I never missed a doctor’s appointment. I learned to wash her hair and change her bandages and empty the little plastic drainage bags attached to her body. I learned what it meant to receive love from others.
And I learned what it meant to give love to Lee. It might have been the first time I began to realize on a personal level the power of servant-leadership. I thought I was just fulfilling a vow I made when we got married. “…For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, as long as we both shall live…”
When we came home from the hospital there were five meals in the kitchen. There was so much food that year, we still had meals in the freezer two years later. Every morning someone would leave freshly baked bread and breakfast pastries at our kitchen door. We’d just open the door and there they would be. Lee still cherishes a box of notes that she keeps on a closet shelf that were given by well wishers. Many of them are notes from people she doesn’t even know. And those notes, in their own way, taught us what it means to serve others.
We learned to talk about the really important things in life. I can still remember a particular place we would drive by on the way to chemotherapy where Lee would open up and talk about the profound desires of her heart. She wanted to see a daughter walk down the aisle at her wedding, watch her boys graduate from high school, and hold a newborn grandchild.
Lee got well and once more I realized that there was something bigger in life than I could imagine. I also realized that the most important thing to me wasn’t being the pastor of a big church. The most important thing to me was being a good husband to Lee and a good dad to Emily and Taylor and Tucker and today a good grandfather to Scottie and West.
There is so much more to life than I ever imagined. Jesus Christ once said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b NIV) When I finally decided to start trusting God with the details of life I discovered some of the good living, the abundant life the scriptures talk about. Not all of it felt so good but it sure was fulfilling. It was greater than anything I could have imagined-even the bad. It really wasn’t all that dramatic or flamboyant at the time but I began to realize back then at some point what in the world I was here for.
§ How about you? Have you slowed the drive down long enough to realize life is more than your daily routine?
§ Have you settled for the lecture or the ticket? It doesn’t really matter if you don’t stop and look deeply at your life.
§ Have you figured out that there is more to life than you could ever have imagined?
§ Have you discovered that you were put on Earth for something more than just to take up space?
§ Have you figured out what in the world you are here for?
Okay, Let’s Review:
What’s your secret sin?
What voids are you trying to fill in your life? How?
If you could contribute one thing right now to the world, what would it be?
Describe what the perfect community of faith would look like to you. Now Google it and plan a trip there.
How does pride keep you from accepting others who are different than you? How can you change that?
How has your worst nightmare made you become a better person?
Is there somebody in trouble you know right now? What action could you take today or tomorrow that would make them feel loved?
Don’t wait. Just do it.