personal Posts

Living With Intentionality

Print

Recently I had the privilege of doing my friend Harold Penner’s memorial service. H.P. was a church planter, a pastor at heart, a businessman, and he was a founding advisor of The Well. We built a relationship when I was a college pastor, and I started talking about this church I really felt like I needed to start. I shared a lot of the vision with him, and he really became a Jethro figure to me – a mentor, a sage and a guy who just believed in me.

The week before the first service at The Well, I remember thinking, “Holy smokes. Next week is our first service. This is dumb. This is not a good idea.” My wife was pregnant with Peyton at the time, and Harold was the guy who believed in me and the vision for The Well. He kept admonishing me, “You can do this. God is with you. Go for it!”

Harold was a very unique man. He was godly, full of joy and wisdom, and he had a mischievous way about him. He was probably the finest man I’ve ever met. He loved life and people, and was serious about his relationship with Jesus. His capacity for people was beyond reach; he had such a crazy love for folks.

He was also very intentional about what he did. Most people live for the moment. They simply take what life gives them and then seize the day. H.P. was different. He not only had the capacity to choose joy in the moment but he could snap moments together with intentionality. He moved very strategically. He invested with intent. He planned with the next several steps in mind. And this intentionality shaped those he influenced. Whether it was his business, which he was wildly successful at, or his kids, his grandkids, or his wife, he was intentional.

Having the opportunity to do his memorial service was a highlight of my ministry. It was a powerful reminder of the results of a life lived on purpose. Scanning the crowd I saw the men and women he had influenced. They were there to pay their respects, but they were also a testimony of his influence.

It made me rethink my life. What am I doing to influence others? What steps am I taking today to help point someone toward Christ? Am I setting up strategic opportunities to invest in people and help them live out their calling – with intentionality?

I want to make sure I’m making strategic investments into my marriage. I want to set a plan for my kids and work with them, as they become solid women of God. I want to lead The Well on purpose, making strategic moves and taking intentional risks to better create a culture of influence.

It also made me consider the various seasons of life that are represented in our context and how we could all move toward a more intentional life:

  • Singles: What would it look like for you to develop a theology of relationship of the right type of person? What would be different if you strategically invested your time and energy into becoming that type of person yourself?
  • Marrieds: How could your marriage look different if you strategically invested in your most important relationship? How would your time look different? What rites of passage or marked moments could you capture with your spouse? How could you make intentional deposits into their life?
  • Parents: Children are a gift from the Lord. How could you intentionally steward that gift? What steps could you take to breathe life into your kids? How could you strategically help them grow and develop into men and women of God? What schedule changes could you make to free up your time to be present with them? What would it look like to put away the devices (phones, iPads, computers, TVs) and strategically invest in the lives of your children? We are responsible to steward their growth and development, and we cannot outsource their spiritual growth.

I think the takeaway from Harold’s life is to do life on purpose. Let’s be intentional and strategic, knowing that when we plan we must plan in pencil because God still has the authority to change whatever plans we’ve worked so diligently to create. But at least we’ve planned something. If you draw that bull’s eye on the wall, it gives you a target to move toward versus doing nothing and seeing what happens. Let’s not just accidentally do life. Let’s be intentional and steward well what God has given us.

The Girl in the Flannel Shirt

Flannel-Shirt

I fell in love with my wife over the smell of Pine Sol and a dirty mop.

We met August 9, 1995. I remember she was wearing a flannel shirt and jean overalls. How do I remember? Because that’s what she wore every single day. She saw me and thought I was a California pretty boy, and she passed on by. She was not impressed at all.

When I first started spending time with Jen, she was so hippie, no deodorant. And if you saw the girls I dated before Jen, you’d think, oh that’ll never work. And yet there was something about her.

We went on a mission trip and she was out there, literally dirt on her face, wearing that same flannel, just covered with dirt and sweating. I’m talking dirty. She didn’t even care. She just served. She’d be out there feeding the poor and with the kids, working. We’d do inner city ministry, and she’d knock on a door, and boom, she was in somebody’s apartment ministering to the kids, sharing the gospel.

We worked together for three years, and I noticed she’d be the first one there at a party to help set up, and when everyone said thanks and bailed, leaving the house in a mess, she’d stay and clean. She wasn’t scared to get on her hands and knees and scrub a floor. I realized this woman would do anything. She’ll go anywhere. She’ll clean a toilet no problem. She’ll scrub, dig, fix, polish. You name it, she’ll do it. I remember watching that as a single guy, and going, that is really attractive.

I had seen girls who were on the opposite end in terms of the princess spectrum, working out every day with all the fitness stuff, Lululemon whatever. And they were physically attractive. But the more I looked, they were also spiritually shallow. I thought to myself, I don’t think that’s what I want, because as I grow closer to the Lord, I’m going to grow further from that woman. I want a woman that as I grow closer to the Lord, I’m going to grow closer to her.

For three years I watched Jen lead girls to Christ. I watched her disciple gals. And I started to look at her very differently and thought, I want to date her. This girl’s amazing.

Where Is God?

Where Is God?

I’ll never forget the phone call. It was late one night and I was getting ready for bed. The phone rang, which was strange at this hour, but I answered. On the other end was my friend in tears. He said that his son was at Children’s Hospital and wasn’t doing well. He asked if I would pray for his son, and then hung up. Not only did I pray, but I got dressed and headed to the hospital to check in on my friend and his son. As I walked through the doors of the emergency room I saw a group of medical professionals performing chest compressions on my friend’s son. Apparently the little guy had had a heart issue that was now putting his life into jeopardy.

That next morning I drove my friend and his wife to Stanford Hospital. We found out he needed a heart transplant to survive. We spent nearly 40 days together at the hospital, waiting, hoping and praying. I remember spending time in the hospital chapel with my friend who prayed repeatedly for the Lord to spare the life of his son. He even offered to give his own life for his son, if the Lord would be so pleased to grant life back to this 5 year old boy. The Lord didn’t. After a 40 day fight, Trevin went to be with the Lord.

Where was God!?

His mother and father have served the Lord faithfully for many years. They have had a profound ministry to many and even played a key role in me coming to know Christ. Yet the Lord took Trevin home. This doesn’t make sense!

Several years later I was in a staff meeting with a few of our pastors. We were passionately discussing something when the phone rang. Jerrod sent the call to voicemail. We continued our discussion when it rang again. Typically an immediate callback means something important, so he took the call. His face went pale as he listened to the voice of his wife on the other end of the call. He hung up the phone and urgently headed for the door. When we asked what was wrong he replied, “Tyler’s dead.” Our executive pastor jumped in the car with him and I reached for my keys and began to pray. As I followed them to the hospital I couldn’t help but ask God, why!? This family has served the Lord and been faithful to Him in so many ways. As we walked into the hospital room his wife was there in tears. I watched them embrace and searched for words and understanding.

Where is God!?

Years later a friend of mine got a call from the hospital. “Was your husband working out tonight?” the caller inquired. “What was he wearing?” They pressed further. “Why do you ask?” the wife inquired. “We’ve got an unresponsive patient and we need to see if you can come and identity him for us.” So she calls her brother to meet her there and heads to the hospital, not sure what they’ll find, but with a heavy heart, fearing the worst. As she approaches the hospital, her brother greets her. She enters a room and they inform her that they have a “John Doe” and need her to identify him. They lead her into another room and show her the body of her husband. “That’s no John Doe,” she replies. “That’s my husband! That’s Peter Hagenzieker.” Peter had been a teacher and influencer at Kastner Jr. High for years. He took point for the school’s FCA club and was a faithful man. He had served the Lord faithfully.

Where is God!?

What do you say? How should you respond? What words of comfort, if any, can be offered in this type of pain?

Unfortunately these stories are not unique. They come in various forms and to varying degrees of severity, but they come nonetheless. They are common, far too common! A spot on an x-ray, a bad report from the blood work, chest pain that indicates a heart issue, a pink slip at work, a down economy that leads to losing a home, an unexpected car accident, the sting of divorce, the loneliness that follows the death of a loved one, and on and on and on!

So we turn to the Scriptures for answers. We turn page after tear stained page, looking for hope and understanding. And yet answers are elusive.

In these moments, questions fill our minds as we try to understand. Where is God?

I’m thankful these are not new questions. In fact, they have been asked for centuries. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Psalm 13, where King David deals with this exact question. These words were written by a man who understood sorrow and grief. He felt the sting of moral failure, experienced the loss of a child, the rape of a daughter, the murder of a son, the rebellion of another son, the rejection of his kingdom and the eviction from his home.

In the midst of it all, he writes these words:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
– Psalm 13 (ESV)

How honest. How authentic. How candid. How true! Where is God?

If you notice in the passage, he never gets alleviation of circumstances. The wound is never lanced and the pain is never remedied, yet his tone changes. Not because of a change of circumstances, but because of a gained perspective.

Notice verse 5: “But I have trusted in your loving steadfast love.” His change of perspective didn’t come form a greater understanding of circumstances; that would be an answer to the “why” question. Instead he gets a greater understanding of the nature and position of God. This perspective helps him see that, even in pain, God is sovereign. God is in control. It allows David and all of those like ourselves who would also suffer loss after him, to cry out “Your’e Still God.” David recognizes that God has a past track record of faithfulness. He is not asleep or unaware. He is not distant or callous. Quite the contrary, He is sovereign! He cares! And He is aware! He has a perspective that David will never truly understand. He won’t get why God allows what He does, nor will he truly comprehend the reason that tragedy strikes, but he can trust in the enduring and unchanging nature of God.

When David pauses long enough to look beyond his own pain to see God at work, he can’t help but trust in the faithfulness of an Almighty God. It is his trust in the continued faithfulness of God that allows David to sing to the Lord and to praise Him for who He is, and for what He is doing in David’s life.

So, where is God?

In my distress I called upon the LORD;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.
– Psalm 18:6 (ESV)

Aware and present when we call.

So, where is God?

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
– Psalm 56:8 (ESV)

Intimately involved in our pain.

I’m not sure what circumstances surround you at this point. But I know that tragedy often strikes unannounced and uninvited. When it does interrupt your life, I pray that you will eventually gain perspective. Instead of asking God “why?” try asking God “what?” I admit this shift is perspective is not an easy one. In fact, it is often the result of many anxious nights and honest conversations with God. However, healing comes when we can see our circumstances with a fresh perspective.

If you find yourself in the ashes of tragedy, here are a few suggestions:

  1. This world is a crazy place. Our bodies fail, sickness intrudes our life uninvited, and because of sin, people do crazy things that cause lifelong trauma. In the midst of the insanity of life, would you entrust your life to Jesus Christ? This world is not as it should be, nor as it will be when He returns. In the meantime, life without Christ is a life without hope. Only through the person and work of Jesus Christ can there be hope in a fallen world.
  2. Realize that you are not alone. God is aware and listening for your cry for help. Call to Him and He will grant comfort. This process may be messy and there may be some candid and raw emotions that fly when you cry out in pain. God is a big boy, He can handle it. Cry out anyway. As your read in Psalm 13, God has heard good, honest prayer before. In fact, this honest dialogue with the Lord may be a key part to the beginning of a healing process.
  3. Find others around you that you can share life with. Your pain is yours, but you don’t have to be alone in it. There are others who have experienced their own share of heartache. Maybe God can use those He has already comforted in their own affliction to be a comfort to you in yours.

Thank you to the Dilfer, Rumley and Hagenzieker families for permission to share a bit of their stories and help point people to hope in Christ!

 

Originally posted on thewellcommunity.org.

Why I’m One of the Unlikely

5 books that have changed my life

As I look back, I don’t remember the things that I loved as much as the things I wished loved me.

I wanted to be loved. I wanted a mom who would love me. I wanted acceptance. I wanted to fit in.

I can remember standing in junior high at Kastner and listening to my friends talk, and they’re all dressed cool, and they’re all really funny. I remember thinking man, I’ve got generic brand clothes on, and I just wish I could say something that would be relatively funny. And I just never could.

I just remember feeling so odd, so left out, and so other than.

I was longing to be loved. And what ended up happening – because of that longing – it began to come out in the way I treated people. So the dating scene, or the dating mess, became more of a desire to feel loved than to give love. I was so wounded that there was no health to give. There was just an insatiable need to get love.

I was a taker for years and years and years.

It was very common to have a girlfriend but be talking to another girl on the side. Maybe not cheating on a girlfriend, but just making sure I always had some options, always had a fall back plan. There was always an exit strategy. Always.

I remember walking into parties and wondering, who am I going to connect with tonight? What’s that going to look like? And it wasn’t sexual. It wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about one-night stands. It was all about the conquest. Can I get her number? Can I get her to call me? Can I get her friend to like me too? And then maybe, nothing. Maybe I never call her because it really didn’t matter. It was just about the adventure of pursuit.

I always found myself replaying the tapes. Why did you say that? You shouldn’t have said that. You had an opportunity. You missed it. And then, I wonder what they’re thinking about me now? Did I make a good impression? Are they talking about me now?

It was really narcissistic. Very narcissistic. Very self-focused. And then the continual insecurity. That’s why I drank. I was not an alcoholic by any means, but I drank to take the edge off. I drank because then I didn’t feel like a junior high kid. I was funnier than when I was sober. And I can dance better than I did sober.

I’d go down to Jim’s place in Clovis, a big honky-tonk country bar with a bunch of boot-wearing dudes driving big trucks. My buddy Al and I would walk in with penny loafers on and pleated pants and tucked-in shirts, and we could out-dance any cowboy in the room. We really enjoyed that. We beat them at their own game.

We tend to deal with our brokenness differently. Some people turn to substances. Relationships. Counseling. For me, it was a combination. But the primary avenue in dealing with the hurt in my life was athletics. Competition.

Off the field I was a very nice guy. Teachers in high school loved me. Administrators loved me. I was kind, respectful. It was, “Yes, Sir. Yes, Ma’am.”

But in competition, I’d kill a guy. I pinned a kid from Fresno High in four seconds. I don’t even think that’s possible. I stood up and blew a kiss to my mom – it’s the one wrestling match she ever went to – and I was rebuked by my coach for showing off; he thought I was just saluting the crowd.

I took a kid from Clovis High in the finals of the Doc Buchanan Tournament, one of the most prestigious tournaments in the Valley, if not the state. The winner gets a cowboy hat. They put one mat in the center of the gym and lower the light down over it.

“And in the green corner…” And out from the corner, this guy comes out jumping around, and they go through his record.

“And in the red corner…” I remember coming out and I’m thinking, I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill him. I’m going to embarrass him in front of his family and friends. I got out there and I swear I threw the kid into the bleachers. Threw him into the bleachers, ran back into the center, and said, “Come on.” And in those moments, I was a totally different guy. And I look at that and go, that was really creepy.

I was able to take all of the hurt and all of the rage and all of the anger, all of it, and in those moments, just turn it loose. And then when it was over, the smile came back on, and it was, “Yes, Sir. Yes, Ma’am.” That was my outlet. That was my therapy. So every day I got to go to counseling – either on a wrestling mat or strapping on a helmet. And then I would go crazy. And after, it was good again.

And that’s where acceptance came.

I realized early on that when I played, people would tell me good job. So maybe I should keep playing well. I had success in this, where other guys were trying, but not having the same kind of success. Maybe I should keep doing this.

We tend to put forth on the outside this façade that doesn’t match what we are really feeling on the inside. So on the outside, I was witty and clever and romantic and had it together. And on the inside, I was dying.

 

 

The One Word I Want to Define My Life

The One Word

I had been coming home a little on edge. I was not necessarily fun to be around, from my wife’s perspective. And I was missing my kids’ soccer practices since I was so busy. So they weren’t happy with me. I was cranking, working hard, giving a lot, and under a ton of stress. I was handling things outside of my comfort zone, so I didn’t feel competent, making decisions that have huge implications on people’s lives, and I didn’t feel with certainty it was the right call. And I had to teach, and honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was teach. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die.

I prepped. And I studied. And I taught. And it felt like flesh. It felt like me. It felt like the message was a giant run-on sentence, one ginormous blah, blah, blah, blah. I finished the message, went home, and of course, I couldn’t sleep, beating myself up: You shouldn’t have said that, you should have said that, you missed that, you misquoted that, you said um 150 times. What the heck is wrong with you?

Some assume it happens over decades. I love Jesus, then not as much the next year, and then not as much the next year, and the next year not as much. But it can happen in a moment. Literally, overnight.

I go to bed and realize I have to get back with the Lord. He hasn’t gone anywhere. The problem is not the Lord; the problem is me. I’m trying to do this in my own strength, I’m trying to wrestle my life to the ground on my own – and it’s too much.

I began to look at my spiritual life. What does my time in the word look like? What does my time in prayer look like? And I realize it’s scarce, if not non-existent. So I spend good time with the Lord, and good time in prayer and good time in my Bible – and the funny thing is, my wife likes me more, and it’s fascinating how my kids want to snuggle with me now, and I actually have the time. When my life gets crazy, I get very selfish. I need this. I need that. When my life is about other people, that’s where I find joy.

I walked into OSH, and I saw this guy with his wife sitting on patio furniture. I was feeling full, so I said, “Oh dude, you have got to have it.”

“Yeah, it’s like three grand,” he said.

“Well, happy wife, happy life.”

“If I buy this, you have to come party with us later.”

“If you need a truck, let me know.” And I walked away.

Five minutes later, this guy walked up and asks, “Were you serious?”

“That’s why I bought a truck, so I could help people. Do you need it?”

“I do.”

I loaded his furniture into my truck – and while he didn’t live right down the street, but way down the street, I left with joy. And that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I love. If I’m in myself, if I’m in the flesh, if I’m being selfish, I’m not going to offer that guy anything. I don’t have time for that guy.

Don’t forget your first love. Recognize from where you have fallen, repent, and do the deeds that you did at first (see Revelation 2:4-5). 

The challenge is to check our hearts day by day, moment by moment, and process what it means to stay connected to Him.

If there is stress, frustration, fruitlessness, then you are not abiding. You are not being filled by Him and His strength.

If there’s a word that I would like to define my life, it’s abide. Because when I abide in Him and He abides in me – and literally, abide means to sink deeply into, to remain in – when I remain in Him, and He remains in me, and when I sink deeply into Him, and He sinks deeply into me, I bear much fruit. But apart from Him, I can do nothing. Not that I can’t do some things or I’m not as effective. No. You can’t do jack without Him (see John 15:5).

Bullet Points:

  • Slow down
  • Pray
  • Go for a walk
  • Enjoy the breeze
  • Read your Bible – not for the mind, for the heart
  • And make sure what you’re doing, you’re doing out of an abiding, connective relationship with Him

The Hardest Thing I’ve Had To Do as a Leader: Part I

hardest leader

Without hesitation, fire my worship director.

I was in Little Rock, Arkansas at a Song of Solomon conference, and he was our worship leader. It was five years in at The Well, and I remember thinking, this guy is fantastic, and wondered while I was teaching, is there any chance I can get him to move to Fresno? So after the event was over, I awkwardly hung around like a groupie waiting to ask him out.

“Hey, you want to go out for pizza?”

He said, “Yes.”

So we were eating pizza at a place called Damn Good Pie (and it really was), I knew immediately he was the guy.

He was our first full-time worship guy. Up until that point we had a crew of volunteers that carried the worship load. He was amazing. He was one of my best friends. We hung out. We BBQ’d together. We laughed. Our wives hung out. Ministry-wise he was phenomenal and together, we had great chemistry.

But he started spending time with his assistant. A lot of time. And it became a little bit concerning. I would walk in and see them sitting together on the couch laughing and talking. I said, hey, are you okay? Is this relationship on the up and up? He said, yeah, yeah we’re good. We’re good. She and my wife are friends. It’s cool. Then one day they were singing Phil Wickham’s “Divine Romance,” and I remember watching the chemistry on stage, and thinking, oh no, something is not right. I don’t know what it is but something is not right.

It was early morning. 7 a.m. He busts in and says, “I’ve go to talk to you.”

“What’s going on?”

“I blew it. We crossed boundaries we shouldn’t have.”

He goes on to tell me what happened and I bring her in with another gal on staff and said, “Tell me what happened?”

“What did he tell you?” she asked.

“I don’t care what he told me, I want to know what you have to say.”

“I want to know what he said.”

“He said enough.”

She tells me what went down and it starts the chain reaction, which begins with him asking, “What do I do now?”

“You go tell your wife.”

“She’s going to kill me.”

“Then take it like a man. You have got to go tell your wife.”

He had crossed moral boundaries that any of us can cross if we’re not careful. My hope was to be able to restore him. I’ve never seen anyone restored after moral failure. So I really wanted to see if there was a way that we could work through this, but I was too close to think objectively. I was too emotionally connected. All I wanted to do was find a way to keep him – keep him in my life, in my church, on my team. But once I began to distance myself emotionally, I knew as a leader I had to think objectively, not as a friend.

I remember sitting and listening to his wife, with him by her side, tell me the rest of the story. You know – the real darkness lurking beneath the water that comes out over time  – and the more I listened, the more I realized this was a disqualifier. I have to fire him now. There’s no restoration here. Not into the same position of ministry. It wasn’t just his job, it was his position as a spiritual influence in our congregation. He was a leader, a pastor, and a huge platform presence in our church. He was on stage as an example to the multitudes. He represented Christ and his position on the team eliminated the margin of error.

We were sitting on my back patio—the same patio that had been witness to ministry carnage, job transitions, marital confessions, and everything in between. I told him, I’ve got to let you go. But I want to walk with you, I love you, I care for you. This is still your church and when you decide you want to worship with us, I want to know so I can greet you at the door.

It was extremely difficult for me to let him go. He was my friend and I was deeply grieved by the weight of the decision. We shared a great conversation through tears. He was not surprised. In fact, I think he knew the inevitable outcome from the start. But we walked down that dark road together.

A week later, he and his wife came. And I greeted him, literally at the parking lot, and proudly walked him in. Crying together, I walked my friend into church. He sat down in the back left, right by the pillar and I sat with him hugging until it was time to walk on stage.

This church is a home for the broken. We want to restore the broken. Not back to their job – that’s not what it’s about – but back to health in their marriage, in their spiritual life, and in their community. And we tried.

It’s been years since I’ve seen my friend.

They came for a short while and I think the wounds were too deep for his wife. She wanted to get a fresh start, so they moved. For many years, he was driving a delivery truck.

He would stash black crows around as a reminder of his sin—as a reminder of the temptations of sin that surrounded us as men. They served as symbols of the sin that could so easily entangle if we are not vigilant. He would put them in places to remind himself: Be careful. They were everywhere. He put one in the chandelier at the North Campus and I keep it I keep it as a reminder of my friend and of the carnage that immorality can bring to us all.

The irony is I get accused of not caring about people, and that’s not true. As a leader, I care deeply about our staff. All of them. Here’s a guy who was close to me, a friend, a guy with incredible musical talent and pastoral chops, who fell and I saw it coming.

I’ll never let it go again. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Never again. There’s too much at stake. In some ways, I felt like I could have stopped it…  if I would have pressed more, but sin is deceptive, and I’m not sure that’s a healthy thought. But I saw it coming. I saw it coming from a mile away.