Car-less on Christmas

As I left Gee and Sandy’s Post-Christmas Eve Service Drop in Party, I turned my car on to find the ‘Check Engine’ light still on. I had hoped that the indicator was a fluke that would go away after sitting for about 2 hours. But this time, along with the light was a pretty violent shaking. Something was definitely wrong with my pretty reliable vehicle. I drove straight to St. Joseph’s where I was meeting friends for Midnight Mass. My friend Rebecca and her mom had agreed to follow me afterwards (after 130am) to drop my car off at the mechanics and then take me home. 

christmasderrickanddogsFinally home after 3 Christmas Eve services, it dawned on me that I would spend most of Christmas Day at home with just the my dogs. Would it be depressing? boring? torturous?

Another friend, Taylor, picked me up mid-morning on December 25 for Christmas Mass at the Catholic Church in my neighborhood.

PAUSE: No, I am not converting to Catholicism, however, in the last year Catholic Mass has been an environment that brings me closer to Jesus in some profound and meaningful ways. It has actually made me more passionate about worship and ministry. If you wanna know more, hit me up for a coffee or something. UNPAUSE.

After mass, Taylor took me back home and the rest of the day would be spent, well, alone. I can honestly say that being car-less on Christmas began to feel like the sheer kindness of God. In many ways, it was a forced PAUSE in my busy, complicated and complex life. 

I filled my day with cleaning my kitchen and bathroom, making a pot of collard greens, playing with my dogs, reflecting on all the birth of Jesus means to us and dancing to the Housefires worship project. It was truly Christmas Sabbath. And I needed it. My soul needed a day that I could rest in the fact that my life, my family, and my ministry all started without me. My brain needed a day to be reminded that God is able to perfectly keep me and all the things that concern my life. My heart needed a day to remember that while I do take part in the ministry of God’s kingdom here in on earth, its advancement is not dependent on me.

It will be a surprise to many who know me, but this was NOT my first sabbath this year. It was not my 52nd either for that matter. But I am pretty sure I got about 20 truly Sabbath days of rest (not just days off of work) in during 2014. Yes, I am a work-a-holic. Yes, my life is fast-paced with many responsibilities and obligations. Yes, my ‘to do list’ is way too long and my ‘stop doing list’ doesn’t really exist. But one thing I know is that I cannot go too long without days where I deeply lean into the fact that in Jesus, God created the world and holds all things together; I can rest for 3 hours or a full day because God will never need my help with any of that. Sabbath exist to remind us that all we do in the name and for the sake of Jesus is simply grace and mercy

I once heard a seminary professor teaching on Jewish perspectives on the Sabbath say something like this: The six days of work lead into the seventh day of rest, and the seventh day of rest lead back into the next six days of work. In a sense, work and rest are both essential spiritual disciplines. One without the other leaves us unbalanced and missing the point of the other. Christmas Day reminded me of this.

As 2014 comes to a close, I am praying that those who are weary of work would find both rest and revelation in a Sabbath practice next year. Ideally, worship at local congregations on Sundays are great for this, but not always. Just remember, no matter how busy, obligated and/or responsible you feel, we all need a few minutes, if not hours (and probably a whole day) to open ourselves to Jesus. It is more than a day off and way different from a vacation. Sabbath practice not only gives rest to our beings, it also reminds of why our work in this life matters. Praying that many would see that this coming year.

To the One who holds all things together!

Car-less on Christmas

CCW, Free Meals, and a Bold Ask

“Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God.” – Mark Batterson

dinner2fallretreatIt is amazing what can happen over a meal — especially when the meal was FREE. I have had the most honest of conversations with college students over the last 12 years of college/young adult ministry because we served these young adults a free home-cooked meal with no strings attached. A plate of food turns into a means of grace and the potential for deeper connections. I have seen the power of what can happen over a meal, and that is why I am writing this particular blog post.
CCW (the campus ministry I lead with a great team) is spending the next 2 weeks on an effort to raise $12,000 by Giving Tuesday (December 2). Giving Tuesday is the International Day of giving back. It falls on the Tuesday after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This year, CCW is using this special day to believe big for our ministry to college students at University of North Florida, Jacksonville University and Flagler College. The 12K is the budgeted amount that covers the cost of all the free meals we offer at our gatherings and events to college students for the entire 2015 calendar year. If we are able to raise this amount, we can then put more money into scholarships for mission trips and leadership development for our students. It is a big goal, and our students are more than worth the effort.
The CCW Staff (5 young adults all under the age of 35) has already committed to give a total of $614 (related to our key verse, Isaiah 61:4) to get the campaign started. We have also challenged our leadership team of 34 student leaders and young adult volunteers to match the staff’s commitment. All in all, we already have over $1200 pledged. Not a bad start for a bunch of young adults. Our hope is that through word of mouth, support letters and social media, our friends, parents, pastors and others would be moved to join us. It is the boldest step CCW has ever taken, but we believe this is a worthy cause.
givingtuesda1So friends, would you consider joining our effort? I have encouraged many of my friends to consider matching one or more of our student leaders’ pledge ($20/leader). Such a gift will motivate our students to invest in their own ministry. I have asked others to consider donating $220 which is about the cost of a week’s worth of meals at all of our gatherings. There may be some who would consider matching the CCW Staff’s combined gift of $614. Or maybe you could simply give $5. Every gift helps us towards our goal. If you are interested in donating, you can check out http://campustocity.org/givingtuesday.
Thanks for considering this opportunity. Every meal counts because every student counts. A goal of $12,000 over the next few days is a huge one, but completely worth the effort when compared to chance we have to make a positive, Jesus-honoring impact on the lives of college students.
With much love,
Derrick
CCW, Free Meals, and a Bold Ask

What a Panic Attack Taught Me

My heart was beating so hard I thought it was going to fall out of my chest.

I had just left a doctor’s appointment one particular day in March 2012. My doctor and I discussed some emerging health concerns that I was having. We weren’t sure if it was diet, genetics, age, sleep habits or something else that was causing these concerns. That day we started working on diagnosing my minor issues so that we could begin working on a solution. And as soon as I got home, I laid down to take a nap but I could not fall asleep. All of a sudden, I had to force myself to breathe. And then my heart started pounding…and pounding hard. I thought I was having a heart attack. So like any normal American male, I got in my car, headed to a work meeting and hoped I wouldn’t die on the way.

Thankfully, I didn’t die. I made it through the meeting. I went home, had dinner and decided to rest for the evening. Around 11pm, it happened again…shortness of breath, heart pounding, fear rising. I realized that I was not having a heart attack, but a panic attack. I had another around 2am that night. I woke up the next morning and canceled all of my meetings for three days. I figured I just needed to rest and I would be okay. Besides, I wanted to check out this new show called Downton Abbey that my UK friends had raved about. Between the DA episodes and nothing else but sleep were three or four panic attacks each day. I was frightened for my life and wasn’t completely sure what to do.

So many things went through my head over the course of those few days. There was one particular event that was extremely unexpected. Staying in my room watching Netflix all day eventually made me restless. So I decided to do something I would not normally do: go for a short run. I know, I know…why would I do that in the midst of multiple panic attacks in so few days. I have no idea, but I did it anyways. And please understand me, I hate running more than anyone really knows. Somehow, in the state I was in, it seemed like the best idea at the time.

It was a short run — like 10 minutes. About three minutes in, something completely unexpected happened. My heart was beating fast, and it felt right. In fact, my heart felt better during those 10 minutes of running than it had for the last two days. I was so shocked and relieved by this that I decided to go for another 10 minute run the next day as another panic attack was starting. Those runs gave me hope that I was going to be okay. What followed was an immediate call to my doctor that Monday morning. Two years later, through prayer and strong friendships along with doctor-monitored treatment, counseling, regular exercise and more sleep, I can honestly say that I have never felt better about my life than I do today. Those few days of multiple panic attacks were some of the scariest I had ever experienced. That weekend also set in motion a journey that taught me more lessons that I have time to tell.

I decided to post this reflection for a number of reasons. Maybe you have had a panic attack at some point — know that you are not alone. Maybe you are processing news that is causing anxiety or added stress in your life — you are not alone either. Or maybe you just need to get an extra hour of sleep and spend a couple of days a week in the gym — you are not alone. If you are struggling, reach out. There is no need for you to struggle alone.

There is one more thing: sometimes (and I do mean some of the time, not all of time), the answer to the issues of our hearts (physically and spiritually) is not necessarily to pull back. Some times the answer is to push forward. We have more than enough things in our lives that put negative demands on our hearts. So few people find good, right and healthy reasons that make their hearts beat faster. I wonder if the aches and pains of the heart, that often shut us off from people, are actually deep calls from within to get out of the house and out into the world. For some of us, it might be time to put a good spiritual demand on our hearts. Who knows, you may find that your heart never felt better.

Friends, take care of yourself — you matter in this world and to the plan of God. And by all means, find the space that makes your heart beat faster in all the right ways for all the right reasons.

What a Panic Attack Taught Me

Why They Do Not Go to Church

‘You didn’t go to church on Sunday?’

When I was younger (like 6 years old), I assumed that everyone went to church on Sunday — all of Sunday. I also assumed that everyone enjoyed going church. It was one of the first shocks of my life to find that some of my school mates and their families stayed home on Sunday mornings. The reasons why someone was no longer going to come to church confused me. It took me a while to understand that some folks could go a year, a decade or more without attending a worship service. Eventually, an implicit judgment settled into my psyche about people who did not attend weekly worship: something must be wrong with them.

For the last 34 years of my life, the vast majority of my Sunday mornings have been spent with the people of God. No complaints here — it continues to be the greatest privilege to worship with and serve those who are on the journey of trusting Jesus with their lives. As I have gotten older, met more people and listened to their stories, my assumptions have changed. Now, I tend to assume that most people in the US and Europe do not attend a worship gathering on any regular basis.  I have many pre-judgments that I am actively trying to discard. If I am honest, the judgment around what I think about people who do not attend church regularly has been a tough one. It has only been in the last 5 years that I have come to the place that I can say confidently: I do not know why people do not attend church.

This is not a ‘hands in the air — I give up’ confession. It is a confession simply because I assume I know why people do not go to church. I assume I know why they left this church and started attending that church. I assume that the little bits of information (or better, gossip) that I have is enough evidence to draw a final conclusion on their reasons for no longer attending church or even considering it an option. But the truth is — the truth that every church-going person must face at some time is simply this: more than likely, the reasons why people stop attending church or never give it a try are possibly more substantial than we think. The following quote from Eugene Peterson’s Reversed Thunder speaks to this:

“The more a person is aware of the many-dimensioned catastrophes (moral, ecological, nuclear, etc) that threaten human existence, the more the act of worship is called into question. The people who quit worshipping are not, for the most part, people who do not care about the world, but precisely those who do. It is not for lack of moral energy that worship is slighted by many, but exactly because of it. They desert the place of worship with the best of motives, in order to do something about the world’s condition. The people with whom they have been worshipping [with] all these years — some of them not too bright, many of them nice enough as neighbors, most of them sleepily unaware of the gravity of our condition — all at once seem unpromising allies, and they leave them in search of moral intensity and intellectual rigor.”

I do not think Pastor Peterson is giving non-attendees too much credit. His assertion forces pre-judging people like me to take a step back and ask ourselves: do we really know why they do not come to church? Have we asked them? Are we willing to listen to their real answers? Could it be that there reasons are valid?

Today, multitudes across the planet stepped into spaces for worship, prayer and teaching with other believers. What also happened today was that close to the same amount, more or less did not do that. Maybe something is wrong with them. Maybe they do not know what they are missing. Or maybe they are waiting to see something worth waking up for.

We do not really know why they did not come today — but tomorrow is a great opportunity to ask them.

Why They Do Not Go to Church

God likes dust — A LOT!

I have deep appreciation for Ash Wednesday. A day when the faithful remember that we are dust and to dust we will return. It is a day to remember our mortality and our deep need of Jesus — that without him our lives our fleeting. It is also a day of repentance and the beginning of Lent — a season of self-reflection, consecration and Easter preparation. On this day, men and women of varying degrees of faith will show the world their respect for this church tradition (and possibly the deeper meaning behind it). This year, I hope that the services I lead and the ashes I administer will be more than a symbol and contain a little more than the traditional meaning.

As I reflected on the ashes, I remember that while yes, we are dust, it was the Creator who valued that dust and formed us. It was our Creator that named us, knew us, called us, and consecrated us before we were more than dust. What looks like a pile of dirt to others, has become the apple of the Father’s eye. Furthermore, because of what God has done in Jesus, those who are seeking Him and following Him have the chance to be His very hands and feet. What was formed out of the dust, and then distorted by sin, has been redeemed and restored by the One who loves us. Yes, we are dust. And God has always been in the business of taking that which is deemed worthless, breathing on it and creating the most beautiful treasure. What a thought!

So if/when you receive the ashes on Wednesday and you hear the pastor say to you, ‘Remember you are dust…’, do not discount the great mystery and privilege of that truth. Your Creator believes in you exponentially more than you could ever believe in Him. God sees your potential and the great things you could do in this world because of His power at work inside of you. And the great thing about it is…we are ALL dust. Every single one of us. So no one has to be left out.

So friends…tomorrow and throughout this great season of Lent, remember that you are dust and God likes dust — A LOT!

Here’s a bonus: Michael Gungor’s ‘I Am Mountain’. It will be my theme song this Ash Wednesday!

God likes dust — A LOT!

Three Things Leader-types tend to forget

Leadership is tough. Much is expected of those who move to the front. That first step of courage is often the loneliest. I am grateful for the people, past and present, who have been leaders for me on this journey. Some of them have seen me at my worst and still believed in my potential. Now that I have led college/campus ministry for 10 years, I have seen both sides of this conversation. I have been the leader who was praised and the leader who was avoided. I have opened doors for some who did not know their own potential, and I have run over some who needed my support and encouragement. I have made many mistakes as a leader, but I am always determined to learn from them. As I think about my journey of leadership, I have found three things in particular that leader-types tend to forget about those who are following them. I hope these points are helpful for those of you in leadership positions. I also hope that these points offer some comfort to followers who have been burned by leadership.

1. We leaders tend to forget that our followers listen to us more than we realize. I used to think that those under my direction needed me to say things over and over. I used to think that those who were working with me tended to ignore me when I would cast vision or make decisions. And in some other contexts, this maybe the case. But in my experience, I found that the people following were listening…ALWAYS. And when I refused to acknowledge this fact, it created distance — distance that made communication difficult and held back progress. This was especially true when I would say to someone, ‘you clearly haven’t heard anything I have said!” The crazy truth was that they had listened; my words were echoing in their heads. They were trying to figure out how we would practically work out what I was seeing for our work together. They were busy trying to think through all the implications of this leader’s BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). And when I acted as if that ‘behind the scenes’ work was not happening, it took the wind out of their sales. The lesson was I was so busy trying to open the ears of my followers that I never heard anything they were saying to me.

2. We leaders tend to forget that people really want to follow us. I kept forgetting that my employees and our volunteers had a choice about where they would invest their time, resources, talent and lives. I forgot that people are always looking for doers, thinkers, strategists and communicators; and these precious people chose to bring their best to the cause I was given the honor of leading. In my forgetfulness, I would make decisions and respond to conflict assuming that they were looking for a way out. Often, the tension between me and those who were following me was simply my inability to gratefully acknowledge that they really wanted to join me in pursuing a God-inspired dream. All of their disagreements, their better ideas (ALWAYS BETTER); even the impromptu meetings in the parking lot (that I was not invited to) were the result of me assuming that they weren’t on board. They were more on board than I even knew, and my blindness to that reality caused more pain than I care to admit.

3. We leaders tend to forget that we prove our love for our followers when they can no longer follow us. We all know that seasons change. There comes a day when new doors open, promotions are offered, opportunities in other cities present themselves and dreams can no longer wait. There also comes the day when doors close because resources have shrunk, demotions are called for because we’ve missed the mark too many times or our dreams do not align with the opportunities available to us. This is a part of life. I learned, however, that the best thing I can do when the seasons change is to love those who are leaving with compassion and genuine support. I often forgot that even though she was no longer my employee or he was no longer volunteering for our events, they were all still looking to me for leadership. Maybe a different kind of leadership, but leadership nonetheless. Calls, emails, FB posts, and text messages now carried a different significance. When I neglected these things, it made those who once made sacrifices under my leadership feel abandoned, forgotten, and even manipulated. I did not even realize the impact of not speaking when I saw them at Starbucks. To me, that’s just the way things go. To them, what the? (There are people reading this post who have felt this way in my regard. And to you, I deeply apologize…I can be the most awful leader at times). The lesson: leadership is relational more than it is seasonal, and the responsibility is on me.

I am still learning how to be a leader worth following. I want to honor those who have served with me in the past and those who are serving with me today by becoming a better leader. If you are a leader in any capacity, I urge you to use the above points and ask your followers if they have felt this way. Don’t comment. Don’t offer explanations or excuses. Don’t argue. Just ask the questions, listen, and thank them for their perspective. You will be all the better for those conversations. As Andy Stanley says, “Leadership is a stewardship, it is temporary, and you are accountable.”

Three Things Leader-types tend to forget

The Scariest and Most Hopeful Fact about 2014

Of many things that will happen to most of us this new year, there is one fact that is both scary and extremely hopeful — and it all bowls down to one word: CHANGE. Many things will take place in your life over the next 12 months, but change is one of those things that we can pretty much count on. By this time next year, we will all be able to look back and point to relationships, situations, perspectives and conditions that are not as they were on 01/01/14. Like it or not, expect it or not, change is coming for all of us.

Change can be scary, especially when it comes without prior notice. It is one thing to make a new year’s resolution and intentionally pursue something new. But often, change is thrust upon us without our permission. In fact, many of us put a ton of work and energy into making sure things do not change. So when the transition comes, we sometimes ignore it, other times deny it, and even wish (or better pray) the change away. Change is probably the scariest fact of 2014 for many of us. I feel your pain.

But…change can also be the most hopeful fact of 2014, particularly for people who trust Jesus with their lives. I remember hearing the late Dallas Willard say something like this: “your life is much more in front of you than it is behind you.” I also remember hearing Bobbie Houston translate Proverbs 31:25b like this: “she smiles at the future”. And there is the ever inspiring text in Hebrews 12 where Jesus endured the suffering and shame of the cross because of the joy set before him. Change is usually the precondition for renewal, revival and restoration. Change ushers in fresh options. Yes, change is scary, but it reminds of that there is potential for more. 

Change comes to prune, because there is more fruit that can be produced. Change forces us to let go of certain things so that we have room to receive the new things. Change comes to discipline and challenge us so that we have the stamina needed for tomorrow’s opportunities. Change is a part of nature and what it means to be alive. Change is the primary way God matures us spiritually and emotionally. 

I have to tell you — avoiding change can be dangerous. Why? Without change, you will never know what you are made of and made for. If you ignore the coming changes, you risk missing out on answers to prayers. Denying that change is coming places you in an imaginary world and life can move on without  you even knowing it. Wishing change away wastes energy because change will happen whether you want it to or not. 

At the end of 2014, I want to say before God, my family, friends, colleagues and community that I greeted the future and all the changes that were coming. I want to say that, in faith, I trusted that Jesus was going to work all things out for my good as things changed around me. I want to say that I did not waste energy trying to hold on to the way things are instead of smiling at the way things were growing, evolving and transforming around me. This is my prayer for 2014.

And it is my prayer for you as well. May we all smile at the change that 2014 will bring us — knowing that despite the changes, nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The Scariest and Most Hopeful Fact about 2014