Does the New Year Need a New You? 3 Things To Focus On in 2019


One of the things long associated with each new year is the traditional resolutions. I hate them. Always have. My feeling and experience has always been that needed changes need to be made when you need them...NOT waiting for a new year.

However, it seems that this year, changes in my own life have brought me to a place of needing to make changes at the start of a new year. That leaves me in a conundrum of sorts. But as these changes have come about around the first of the year, I suppose, if I am going to be consistent, I have to make those changes now. Besides, what am I waiting for? Next week?

1. Starting My Day.
 I’ve grown slack on this one and I mean it, too slack. It has been the little things too. I can (and have) written and talked about the journey of grief for me and “the valley of suck,” as I have called it. Each of us that is forced on this journey handles it differently and for some of it takes longer. Author and blogger, Megan Devine, notes how important the simple things like even taking a shower help a person survive.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t take showers (I do!) but some days the motivation is hard. I’ve taken to listening to at least one motivational video on YouTube each day. If you think that is hokey, well, get over it. It helps. But so does taking time do the 5 simple soul-healing habits I talk about in my book, Life Sucks Seek God. I still need these and at the start of my day, they make a world of difference.

2. Prioritizing and Organizing. 
 With that comes making things a priority. Taking time to look at the day makes a difference. Putting together a simple list is key and whether that is the night before, or at the start of a day, calendaring and prioritizing has help me keep the main things the main things. I tried my hand a digital planners and calendars for a time but I’m back to paper again and started a new one with the new year. I still find FranklinCovey Planners to be the best and their courses to be the most helpful for prioritizing. However, I really do like Kenneth Zeigler’s book, “Organizing for Success” to be the best book to get your head straight on the practical aspects of organizing.

3. Me
 Maybe that should be first (because the first two items are really about me too) but “me” has to do with my own soul and spirit. There are some things that I simply HAVE to do (WE have to do) to get by in the world. Our physical bodies demand we DO certain things. Stephen Covey even states we must “sharpen the saw.” But there are seasons in our lives we simply have to get by doing what HAS to be done. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs reminds us that we have needs that outweigh other needs.

The valley of suck has taught me new things and with that has come the results of both bad and good choices. There has been painful internal anxiety and stress. I have had to go deeper into spiritual matters of suffering that I didn’t expect to find and have had to look into a “new mirror” to see areas of myself and my soul that need to be rearranged and righted. I need to take care of me. AND I need to not take responsibility for actions I cannot control of others.

I have found a great reminder in St Teresa of Avila’s words, “The water is for the flowers.” Thomas Green explores this more intently and notes that what Teresa is describing is that our prayer life, our devotional practices, are not an end in themselves. Our prayers/devotions are the water and the flowers are what takes root in our lives, namely, the fruits of the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Sometimes that water is seen and overflows like when the rains come or we water the flowers of our gardens. Other times, the water comes underground and we don’t recognize it, yet, the flowers still grow. We think it isn’t there, we think God isn’t doing God’s part (or our pastor or our church), but are we looking at the results of what is blooming or what is not? Have we removed the flowers from the true source? It is far easier to do than we sometimes realize.

So does the new year need a new you? I know I need to be made new, I see it now in many, many ways. But more importantly, I see it in ways I can do something about it to enact change. I can see the things I can truly change and, finally, some of what I cannot.

What about you?


What Light Brings to Our Journey in the Valley

I am SOOOOOOO glad the winter solstice is here! I am thankful that the days will start getting longer once again. It has been somewhat obvious that I seem to be good at hibernating (ie; going to bed earlier than usual) as the days have grown shorter. Of course, I am getting older but I’m not THAT old yet!

Still, as Christmas day approaches I can’t help but recall the readings of the Advent season, namely the words from the Book of Isaiah:

The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them. (Isaiah 9:2)


They are the words the Church uses to describe the coming of Immanuel: God with us. But why? Because Immanuel, that is, Jesus says, this is precisely WHO he is:

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12)
And likewise, it is WHO we are to become:

nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.16“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:15-16)

The light symbolism of Jesus is a powerful one, one we so very much need in our lives and in the Church. As I write, I am sitting beside a row of house plants in our home. It has been a kind of puzzle trying to determine just where the best place is for the plants to be to grow best because each needs a certain amount of light. Just like water, light too brings life. Thomas Green, S.J., reminds us that light, “like any great symbol...is drawn from our ordinary experience…(28, “When the Well Runs Dry).”

I have grown weary of the stripping of the symbols from our modern churches. I have walked into so many auditoriums that have offered no help or encouragement to understanding God and the mysteries of this life nor the spiritual reality that pastors are trying to preach about.  Having continued to walk through the valley of suck (the life of a widower and caregiver), I have been looking, even longing for symbols to help me!  I can tell you, emotionalism has not been helpful - emotions are often a trainwreck.  Yet, it is interesting that we have grown dependent on images and memes to express faith now.  Look on Facebook and Instagram - symbols are being shared ALL...THE...TIME! Many, share great truths too…


I know for me, I have seen enough darkness and I long for more light. Our words express only so much of the mystery and majesty of God. As you look at the lights of the season, may you remember their origin is symbolic…” the LIGHT will shine!” Light brings hope and life to us and it SHOWS us God's role in our lives - God is here in the darkness! I pray we all see Immanuel this season, and throughout the coming year.




No Prep No Prop...Getting Heather's Voice and Gift Back to The Church

"No Prep No Prop Children’s Sermons is a book designed for pastors, laity, and church staff facing a time crunch. Perhaps a trusted volunteer calls in sick or a schedule change leaves the children’s sermon preparation to the last minute.  But it doesn't have to be an emergency, it can be for any given Sunday too."

That is what I wrote for the cover and Amazon post.  It is true but that isn't half of it.  No Prep No Prop is a book that is a sharing of the gifts of Heather Nall Hagler with the Church.  It will always be hard for me to imagine why the publishers she submitted the manuscript to refused to pick it up.  I have to wonder if any of them ever had to do Children's sermon at the last minute?

One of our good friends from Asbury Theological Seminary had this to say,

"I highly recommend this book to all churches and to anyone who interacts with children in any way. This book presents innovative and simple ways to explain the Message of Christ to kids as well as adults!  Heather and Ken weave in spot-on theological and insightful truth from Scripture in ways that children and all of us can put into practice in our daily lives.  Keep this book in a easy-to-find place in order to refer to it often as your life impacts children for God's glory."
Dr. Brent Van Hook
Lead Pastor
Wichita First Church of the Nazarene

Heather wanted more than anything to share her gift of story telling and love of Jesus with kids and churches.  She wanted to help anyone in ministry with kids to share the Gospel because Jesus meant more to her than anything.

This is my statement to the Valley of Suck and to death...you don't get the last word - God does.  I already know that there are some issues with Amazon and the launch plans BUT it won't matter.  The final word is The Word.

So, if you're interested, check out No Prep No Prop on Amazon.





Why the Valley of Suck Doesn't Have to Win

It has been a long journey, one you NEVER get over.  You go through it and you keep going.  The scars are there, the grief comes again and again.  You wish and pray it still was different years removed...but the Valley of Suck doesn't have to get the last word.

Why?

You get the final say, it doesn't.
You decide to take the next step.
You realize your loved one didn't leave, they died. It wasn't choice.
You make the decision how and when to honor them.
You decide the best way to honor their memory and plant the flag.
You let dreams die a horrible death or a slow death or a quiet death...but let them die.

And you honor their life and your love by doing what you did together: YOU LIVE.

For me, it is getting to this point: 

I got the first "Proof" copy of NO PREP NO PROP 52 Children's Sermons by Heather Nall Hagler! With the help of our kids, Logan and Jay (Jillian) who have both worked hard to help me honor their mom's ministry, this book is going into print so Heather's ministry can go on.  It is the last thing she left undone.

And it was the Valley of Suck pulling on me making me believe I couldn't get it done.  It was knowing I couldn't write, not really, as long as this was sitting there so as long as it sat there, I wouldn't keep going through.  I made it through sorting out pictures and "things."  I simplified my life and made tough decisions about stuff that didn't matter but this was the piece.

I am thankful for being able to do this, for the chance to honor Heather and the gift she was to me, her children, her family, and her world.  But I am thankful too, for the "sharpening" this has been for me and for the chance to look back and see how far I have come too.

There is hope in the Valley and there is life.  You don't have to lose your faith and if you seek, you'll find God was there all along.

And if you are interested in being on the launch team or getting the book, it will go on sale on Kindle November 26th, so stay tuned!




The Passing of Two Spiritual Icons Is A Call to the Narrow Road

This past week, two icons of Christian spiritual formation entered into the cloud of witnesses. First came the passing of Eugene Peterson, the man behind “The Message” and many significant books on prayer and Protestant spiritual formation. Second came the death of Father Thomas Keating, an icon of spiritual formation from the Roman Catholic tradition whose work on Centering Prayer, spiritual formation and dialogue across spiritual traditions, was tremendous and will be greatly missed.

Both of these men represent a strain of our Christian faith that is at once, given the nod of approval but is then cast off as not relevant to the Church of our modern era. They weren’t mega-church pastors and they didn’t tout themselves as “all that and a bag of chips.” They didn’t have a staff and surely didn’t obsess over social media.

They sought to know God. Period. And from this place they were sought out and so they taught.

In their respective tribes of the Protestant Church and Roman Catholic Church, they were known by many. They were shown disdain by some. And to some of us, who have sought after God, believing in a holy universal Church, their experiences and teachings provided guidance on the narrow path as we listen to the still small voice.

I wish I could have known them but I suspect, having read both of their works, they would have reminded me it isn’t about us, it is about God. Knowing God and loving God and showing that same love by loving humanity, this is what matters. Though they didn’t pastor churches in the sense we understand it, both also remained part of that holy universal Church that is the Body of Christ. They didn’t separate themselves from the Church declaring there was a better way. It was The Way, the path of the Christ they walked.

Does their passing leave a void in the Church? Of course it does. But if each of us continue to listen to the still small voice and follow along that narrow path, we all have the potential, by God’s grace, to fill in such voids of teaching and guiding others. The question is, will you follow the hard path, even with fellow believers casting stones? Will you faithfully listen to the voice of God’s Spirit and the witnesses of the Faith? Their passing a renewal of the call to walk the narrow road of Jesus.





I Am Not The Droid You Are Looking For - Let People Be Themselves


It is one of the many iconic phrases from the Star Wars saga. In Episode IV, as stormtroopers attempt to find two escaped droids with the plans for the Death Star battlestation, they fall under a little bit of mind control powers from old Obi Wan Kenobi. While they question him about the two droids he has, using the Force, Obi Wan suggests to them, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

This little phrase hit me the other day as I have struggled with so many of the pulls I have experienced to conform to certain ways of doing things. This has included social media and blogging but also it has been something that has been thrown about in churches and among Christians. It is a nagging issue which needs to come to an end.

I am not the droid you are looking for.

Don’t come to me with a list of what you think a pastor ought to be doing when you don’t even know what it is we pastors do...and the jokes of working 1 day a week are just too old, so stop. What other vocation do you degrade like that? But it is so much more than that. God didn’t make us into droids. We are different and unique and our life experiences shape that even more. Through study and research about the Christian faith, I have come to some conclusions. Don’t confuse your Google searches with my degrees and ordination process. They are not like another denomination or pastor...which is why I’m not a pastor in another church! And if you want to make a bet that your pastor agrees with all your ideas and convictions, then you need to stay hanging out with that droid. You found the one you were looking for.

I am not the droid you are looking for.

Stop telling me I need to post on social media more often and share more. I did before in my life. I won’t do it now. It isn’t good for me. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to be social or on media, it just means I need to do it at my own pace. I have a family and friends and things I like to do and they aren’t for public consumption. I need boundaries. They are healthy and they are important to a fulfilling life.

I am not the droid you are looking for.

Can we stop with how all Christians and people of faith should be part of one political party? That includes other countries too. I find it hideous that the Russian Orthodox Church is talked about as though they only served the will of the Communist party. I grew up being told there were no Christians except the underground church in the USSR. Having met Russian Orthodox Christians of deep profound faith in Jesus Christ opened my eyes to a bigger view of the Kingdom of God. So how about we stop with that in the USA or any other country and let people express their faith as they best understand it and how the Holy Spirit is leading them? God’s Kingdom is huge and thankfully, God has given us all different things to be passionate about and support. I’d love to hear about what God has put on your heart but don’t belittle what God has put on mine and others. Republicans can be Christians. Democrats can be Christians. Libertarians can be Christians. And on and on…

I am not the droid you are looking for.

And as a Star Wars fan...I like R2D2 and BB8. They are NOT the same droids. They are unique and have their own gifts and abilities. Hopefully, one of them will be the droid you are looking for but then again maybe not. What I can tell you is that I am not a droid, a robot or a clone of anyone, anywhere.

Jesus didn’t call the fishermen, the tax collectors, the women, the prostitutes, the Pharisees or Romans oo anyone else to be robots either. He told them to leave their lives of sin and come and follow after a Kingdom which was bigger than any of our biases and convictions. Jesus reminded us that God’s house was to be a place of prayer for all people too, not just a select group. We are told in that Kingdom, wealth and influence and titles don’t get you a better seat.

Give everyone a chance to be themselves, to be amazing and to be beautiful. Let people surprise you as they change and grow and find the need to change and start fresh, once, twice, three times or maybe seven or maybe seventy-seven times (Jesus said that ought to be something we do too).

Go seek the the Kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33). You’ll never know what you’ll discover then. Maybe it will be the droids you are looking for but I doubt. Those stormtroopers never did either.




It Sucks To Get Laid Aside. The Hard Lesson Christians Don't Care About






Have you been laid aside? Have you basically been made to feel like you are not needed...truly? That who you are is of no use? I don’t mean that your sensibilities were hurt or wounded but I mean, YOU were not of use in a such a way you were no longer able to define your very self?

There is a spiritual practice known as “detachment” and it is rooted in Jesus’ teaching to “deny ourselves” found in the Gospels (see Mark 8:35). As a part of spiritual practices it is often glossed over in my estimation because we don’t really understand it nor do we want to, not really. It hurts our pride and sensibilities and maybe even our feelings of self-worth. God calls us to deny ourselves? I may need a safe-space to cope. And, we just might.

Why?

Because it is HARD, damn it!

Why don’t we just name it and quit playing games?!

I confess I have felt it for too long. I have had clergy point it out in me...both friends and those I’d call “enemies.” And they were right. But the more I “failed” at the work of being a pastor, the more and more I grew detached. And when my primary “job description” went from being “pastor” to the caregiver for my wife, yeah, I became detached. And when Heather died? I lost even that piece of identity.

Since then, I have tried to rebuild my “self” only to have it torn down again. I had to detach from pastoring so I could parent. I had to then detach from how I was parenting because I had only ever parented as part of a two-parent home. Now I was an only parent. I was truly forced into moving and returning to pastoring too soon...not by the Church but the institution of the church and learned to detach from my ideals. I joined the “working poor” and worked two jobs to try (and fail) to really provide for my family. I had “friends” disappear and had to detach. I have had “friends” take advantage of my grief and so detach.

But things are changing. I have had new friends appear and I’ve redefined and taken up this cross. I have had to change my parenting and let my kids fly the nest and take up the cross of being an “only parent” and learn to parent adult children...and MAKE them be adults. I have learned to pastor in new ways and abide in my wounds. I have learned to love again and discover new parts of me.

Learning to deny ourselves...learning the way of the cross, is like what Leonard Boase describes, it is “the clog that effectively hinders our putting God first [it] is our clinging to ourselves” (94, “Prayer of Faith”). Without having two ladies at home now, I don’t have to clean hair out of drains anymore but “UGH!” what a job sometimes...disgusting even! And so who wants to do that in our souls?

The Church has offered us numerous options in confession in Roman Catholicism, meditation forms, Ignatius’ “Examen,” the Bands of the early Methodists, accountability partners in modern Christianity. But they are not a one-time thing...our souls are often being “clogged” because we want stuff for ourselves...period. End of story.

But we are not invited by Jesus to get our way. You can choose to make that YOUR WAY in the Church but why bother? Just go do it outside the Church...it is a whole lot easier AND you can call it “Christianity” or “Spirituality” or whatever moniker you want....but it clearly ain’t the way of Jesus.

Jesus got the cross. Jesus got the DEATH PENALTY. Jesus got suffering and pain and denial. If I remember the Bible right, Peter wanted a vote all that and turn following Jesus into a “democratic process” (Matthew 16: 21-23) and Jesus would have none of it. Jesus took it as part of the deal, it seems, that even those who followed him would struggle with this issue of denying self and detachment.

It doesn’t come overnight. It does not seem, in my experience, in my study, in my time as a pastor and a spiritual director and in the valley of suck, we magically or miraculously come to deny ourselves. We can’t dictate how it will be for another either for we get there in our own way...if we choose to go there at all.

However, if you’re going to say you are a follower of Jesus and you’re ignoring
the image of Jesus on the cross - the crucifix - then I suspect you are like me and need to check out the clog. You can’t hide behind your ordination, certification, or nominations. This is why the road is narrow and valley sucks sometimes.


May I Ask? 
What is the thing usually clogging your faith journey up? When
was the last time you even looked? 





Want more insight?  Get Ken's book, "Life Sucks Seek God," on Amazon Kindle or in paperback at www.tinyurl.com/lifesucksseekGod 

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