An Orange Conference Survival Guide

heart-216311_640Tomorrow starts my favorite 3 days of ministry [well, minus our Baptism Sunday because that’s just the best ever].

If you’ve never been to Orange Conference and this is your first time I want you to know that you are not alone in the following feeling:

You’ll feel like you can run through a brick wall because you’re so encouraged and simultaneously overwhelmed from trying to drink from the Orange firehose of awesome things to implement when you come home.

Because of this, your goal is to not panic and think of all the things you haven’t done because guess what?  Me neither.  And neither has that cool chick sitting next to you in the breakout.  If we were all doing all of these things really ridiculously well we wouldn’t need an Orange Conference now would we?

I’ve been an Orange Leader for almost 10 years which is longer than I’ve been married to my adorable hubs or a mom to my wild man combined.  All of these years and the thing I’ve learned over the last 5, 6? Orange Conferences is this:

Come with an open mind and leave with “Only 5”.

This means you’ll need to leave a ton of really good ideas at the Gwinett Center so that you can intentionally focus on the best ones.  You’ll also have to resist the urge to buy every single book, resource, and CD at the Orange Store.  Because it is all SO good.  Like, really REALLY good.

I’ve adapted the “Only 5” to my own conference-ing these last few years and have been way more productive during the year because I didn’t curl up into the fetal position when I came back wondering where to start.  Instead, I left with a plan and a focus on what I wanted to tackle for the upcoming ministry year.

This is especially helpful if you’re the only Orange Leader on your team or at your church.  This also prevents you from running into your Senior Pastor’s office immediately upon return and “conference barfing” on him all of the things you want to do.  Right now.  Today.

Here are 3 things you can do after every main session or breakout to prevent the embarrassing “conference barf”:

  1.  Evaluate the Content
    What is the one “take away” from the breakout?  Did you hear Sue Miller say something about the importance of how you ask a volunteer to lead and you realized that if you simply tweak your approach you may find recruiting to be easier?  For each breakout you’re looking for a bottom line: a basic principle, truth, or thought that you can easily stick on a post it note on your bulletin board in your office.  Write that at the bottom of your notes even if it’s not going to find a place on your “Only 5” this year it’s still worth visually sticking somewhere in your office upon your return.
  2. Prioritize
    If you’re just beginning to think Orange for your ministry or you’re a new Orange Leader, it’s probably not likely that you’ll be able to start small groups, a family experience, a special needs ministry, a volunteer leadership training program, and a parenting ministry all by the time you come back next year (trust me on this one) so which one thing are you going to strategically and intentionally cultivate for the next year?  Do you want to move from Sunday School to Small Groups?  Or start a Family Experience?  Sometime during the course of your breakouts make a wish list and then prioritize them based on your churches culture, your resources, and your own leadership strengths.  If you’re in a breakout that covers that content, awesome.  If you’re not, soak up everything you can and move on to the next step.
  3. Categorize
    There’s a lot of great stuff that you’ll witness, experience, and learn.  You need a place for it even if you’re not going to tackle it next Monday.  For all that great stuff that you loved but are not ready to put into practice categorize it into 3 little places in your head (or notebooks, or Evernote files, or audio files):  Right Now, 6 Months, Sometime Later.  Then, when you get those wild hairs throughout the year that we all tend to get in ministry you can filter it against your list.  If it falls in the Sometime Later Category and you’re still knee deep in the Right Now you’ll have no problem putting that on hold.  In theory.

Once you’ve organized your brain space for your breakouts and main sessions, here’s the 5 things you need to leave with:

1 Major Dream (Small Groups Ministry, a church-school partnership, etc.)
1 Right Now Change (a better way to communicate to your team, an organizational tactic, a change in your recruitment strategy, etc.)
1 Outside Contact (a cool person you sat next to at a breakout, a face to put to the name of your Orange Specialist, etc.)
2 Resources (1 for you and 1 for someone on your team who couldn’t make it)

Obviously, this is not a hard and fast rule but in general, the years I do this I always have a better experience and I feel like I got the most out of the conference.  Find me on Twitter and we’ll meet up!  I’ll be blogging and tweeting quite a bit over the next few days.  Happy Orange-ing!

Bolt, Squeeze By, Submit

ass-214247_640For the last few weeks, I’ve been spending my time in Numbers. It’s an odd book, really. It reads partly like a history book and partly like an action movie script but if you take the time to digest it, there is some really beautiful, life-giving God stuff in there.

Margaret Feinberg calls it a “sacred echo” – that when it’s really important, God doesn’t just speak it once. He echoes it until you get it.

Sometimes my life is nothing but echoes, like last year when the only word that kept popping up in conversations with my people was the word risk. Which, is why you’re now reading this blog.

Then this year, there’s this sacred echo that I’m not ready to admit to yet but I know I can’t keep running away from it. Though, it would be much easier to just do that and go about my day and pretend like I’m just crazy.  But I’m not, and I know that.  There are just too many echoes.

It’s times like this when I feel like Balaam’s donkey in Numbers 22.

There’s a bit of inconclusiveness regarding whether Balaam was a follower of God or merely just a “mystic for hire” and I’ll tackle that later.  For today, it’s all about this donkey, the donkey that Balaam rode on his way to meet up with Balak in his quest to curse Israel.

Here’s the “Cliffs Notes” version:
God had already told Balaam not to go once, but he goes anyway with the understanding that he’ll only speak the words that God gives to him.  On his way back to Balak’s, an angel of the Lord (a scary, sword-wielding one) blocks the path.  The donkey sees, Balaam does not, and the donkey bolts off the path refusing to go any further.  Balaam beats the donkey back on to the path and they keep on.  Later down the road, the angel is back and this time the donkey tries to squeeze by the angel and crushes Balaam’s foot against the wall in the process.  Then a third time the angel appears completely blocking the path and the donkey simply submits and lays down in the road.  Balaam agains beats the donkey and then it gets weird: God gives the donkey the ability to speak:

‘What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?’ it asked Balaam. ‘You have made me look like a fool!’ Balaam shouted. ‘If i had a sword with me, I would kill you!’ (Numbers 22:28-29 NLT)

Ugh, I’m am SO that donkey sometimes [most of the time].  I don’t submit, I bolt.  I refuse, I make excuses, I run.

“Bolt” is a powerful word, the Bible doesn’t say “and the donkey casually meandered in another direction” or “it wandered off the path” — both of which would be typical responses of a stubborn donkey and would be of little note or significance.  Instead, the donkey’s immediate gut reaction reminds me that I better be paying attention when my first response is to bolt from whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing.  You can’t outrun God [I’m looking at you, Jonah] and you can’t use excuses to get out of it [like you, Moses], and maybe “you were made for such a time as this” [ahem, Esther].

Are you bolting from something today?

Maybe you’ve already bolted and gotten back on the path.  Now you’re in the “squeeze-by” phase of your echo.  In trying to keep both interests [Balaam’s destination and the donkey’s hide] protected, the donkey attempts to squeeze by the angel and crushes Balaam’s foot against the vineyard wall.

Oops.

This time, both parties are hurt and neither really wins.  It’s like an Old Testament ‘can’t have your cake and eat it too’ moment. Sometimes, you have to say no to one in order to fully realize the other.

What needs to be set to the side in order for you to really do as God has asked of you?

When the angel appears a third time completely blocking the path the donkey doesn’t know what else to do except submit.

This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam. (Numbers 22:27)

It is then that God gives the donkey the ability to speak, to give Balaam perspective, and ultimately for him to open his eyes to see the angel standing there.  The donkey’s actions revealed the power of the Lord, the submission it showed opened Balaam’s eyes — when we submit to God and allow him to speak through us we have no idea who will be changed as a result.

What would happen if you just submitted to whatever it is God has been echoing to you?

May we all be a little less donkey-ish in our faith today.

In the In-Between Times

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This originally appeared as a guest post here.

The thing that they didn’t believe could happen just happened, right in front of them.  Jesus, who broke bread with them and washed their feet just the night before is now lifeless on the cross.  Most of the disciples weren’t even there to witness it as they scattered as soon as Jesus was arrested.  Peter denied knowing him, Judas is no where to be found, and Jesus is dead.

All those years they’ve walked with him and witnessed the miracles and here he is, defeated.  Gone.

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (remember him?  Mr. “How Can I Be Born Again?” see John 3:1-21) took his body down and laid him in Joseph’s family tomb.  They performed all the Jewish rituals of anointing the body and wrapping him in cloth.

Because they believed that it was the end of the story, too.

The following day (Sabbath) the disciples are in hiding, afraid they will be captured and face the same fate as their beloved teacher.  I can’t even imagine their grief, confusion, emptiness, and maybe even their “now what?” questioning to each other.  They are not celebrating the fulfillment of the scriptures, or waiting with anticipation for Jesus to return to them.

Instead, they are drowning in the wait of the in-between.

Are you drowning in the wait of the in-between?  The space between your prayers and the answer?  The space between the lost and the found?  The space between the vision and the reality?  The space between the diagnosis and the clean bill of health?  The space between the unexpected death and the heavenly reunion?

I believe in a God of the “in-between” — the place where faith is tested, revealed, and strengthened.  The disciples found themselves hopeless as they hunkered down trying to plan their next move and just as Peter sank when he took his eyes off of Jesus, so we sink as well when we forget that the God we serve is most beautifully seen in the in-betweens.

There’s more to your story than just the beginning and the end.  There’s a God who desperately seeks you when you’re too far from the beginning to turn around and yet you can’t see the end.  The disciples knew the beginning of Jesus’ story but could not see the end—or, more likely, couldn’t believe that death was victorious, that evil had won.  But hadn’t it?  Was that not their Messiah lying in the tomb with the big stone in front of it?  It’s easy to judge these guys in reading the scriptures because they fled, they denied, they gave up until you get honest with yourself:

How often do you flee, deny, and give up?

Yeah, me too.

But rejoice in the news that Jesus stands in the gap for us, that he fights the unseen battles, that he stomps on the adversary who is desperate for your soul.  That’s the beautiful thing about Jesus: even when we lose track of him in our story, he’s still fighting for you.  God is still writing your most perfect story even when you don’t want to read it.

He is the author of the in-between.  Spend your in-between times seeking Him because that grave is empty, girl.  Focus on the Messiah, the one who even Death couldn’t defeat.

Focus on the one who died so that you could live.

Insignificant.

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Image courtesy of Paurian https://www.flickr.com/photos/paurian/

Confession:

Maundy Thursday has always kind of eluded me. Even as I sit to write this post I’m still trying to grapple with the significance of it all.

It is significant, of course.

But how?

Maybe it’s in the seemingly insignificant that we find our most precious moments with our Savior.

Passover, by the time Jesus celebrates it with his disciples, is already several generations old. This traditional meal is a reminder of the history of the Jewish [Israelite] people and a celebration of God’s provision and faithfulness in liberating the Jewish people from Egypt. It’s a retelling of a story that everyone knows and it’s as traditional and as expected as my having a turkey at Thanksgiving.

While all the gospels focus on The Last Supper, the one that I’ve been reading and re-reading this week is the account found in John.

He focuses on the last big conversation Jesus has with his disciples before he is betrayed by Judas and crucified.

They talked about things that were probably insignificant to them [the disciples] at the time. After all, they’ve celebrated Passover every year they’ve been alive. They’ve probably shared a Passover meal with Jesus before and maybe they’ve even already asked him all of these things.

Even reclining around the Passover table with Jesus on the eve of his betrayal, they missed it. The disciples still wondered, still questioned. Jesus’ time with the disciples is nearing the end and they’re still acting as if they need more proof.

  • Peter protests Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:8)
  • John gets “the look” from Peter when Jesus says he’ll be betrayed by someone at the table (John 13:22-25)
  • Judas leaves under some unknown pretenses but was assumed to be handling some sort of financial transaction (John 13:29)
  • Peter wants to know where he [Jesus] is going (John 13:36)
  • Thomas doesn’t know the way (John 14:5)
  • Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father (John 14:8)
  • Judas (not Iscariot) wonders why Jesus won’t just reveal himself to the whole world and be done with it (John 14:22)

Jesus patiently answers their questions, challenges their faithfulness, and then gives them their last final command: to love each other just has he has loved them.

That’s it. That’s all.

Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. (John 13:34-35 NLT)

I bet the disciples played back their last conversations and days with Jesus while they watched him hang on the cross the next night full of love for them [and you and me]. What felt like another normal night of leaning in to Jesus and his teaching became a call to action to share with others that the Messiah has come and he is exactly who he says he is because the Old Testament prophecy has been fulfilled.

What seemed insignificant and normal at first became suddenly, significantly weird a few days later. Every phrase carried a little more weight, every look, every touch, all the pieces came together. Jesus uses his last few hours with his disciples to give them their final instructions before his time on this earth was up.

I sit here and write all this as I stare at a fish tank that needs cleaning and a half-naked toddler racing his cars through the living room and I wonder

how significant are my insignificant moments?

The significance of the sacrifice of my Savior is found in the joy of my toddler’s laughter

and in the unwashed clothes left over from a trip to spend time with my family

and in the pile of books in the corner that I long to read

and in the sun that sets out my back window

and in the garden that’s full of weeds and waiting to be tended to this weekend.

My Savior broke bread with a rag tag bunch of guys and promised me that he’d be back soon. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep looking for him in the things that feel insignificant.

Because they matter.

Because He matters.

Because He’s about to go missing from that grave.

Stretch Marks, Flabby Arms, and a Whole Lot of Grace

photo by Sara Anscombe https://www.flickr.com/photos/50542505@N08/
photo by Sara Anscombe https://www.flickr.com/photos/50542505@N08/

The problem with perfection is that it doesn’t exist.

We need to get real with ourselves right now, ladies. Our daughters and our sons depend on it.

I’m still getting used to the fact that little ears are now listening (and repeating) what’s being said. A few months ago, I caught myself talking to my mom on the phone discussing my excitement that my gym membership now includes childcare.  I’m excited about the childcare because “I’m a fatty and need to go to the gym”.

Wait, what?

Stop right there. That conversation just got catalogued in my 2 year old’s brain about how women, especially women who he finds “verwy prwetty” view themselves. Is that the kind of filter I want my son to have when he thinks about beauty?

Heck to the no, sister.

But, I’m going to confess something right here and now: I do not like what childbirth (c-section) did to my body. It wreaked havoc on my hips which now pop when I walk; it caused unmeasurable scarring from an auto-immune disease I had while pregnant; it messed with my hormones so my face looks like that of a 15 year pubescent; it left me with a pocket of skin that will never stretch back; and nothing, nothing fits like it used to even though I’m back to my pre-baby weight.

Sound familiar?  Of course it does. You know why?

Because we all do it.  We whine and complain to our friends, our moms, our grandmas, our spouses, or boyfriends. We try (and fail) diets, we get intimidated by all those damn mirrors at the gym, and we subsequently compare ourselves to that forever skinny friend while she eats a dozen Krispy Kremes during our coffee date.  And since we’re confessing today: I both love and hate my forever skinny friends.  Such a sinner I am today!

Oh sure, the Bible mentions physically beautiful women — some of which used their infallible hotness to save their people or their lands — but it does not mention, at least from what I can tell, what makes them so beautiful.  I can almost guarantee that Old and New Testament women weren’t receiving copies of Ye Vougeth in their mailboxes torturing them daily as they looked at the “ideal body type.”

Check out one of my favorite woman in the Bible: our dear daughter the Virtuous Woman (Proverbs 31) — Maybe she had cellulite. Or maybe arms that waved back at her while she waved at her friends. Or maybe she looked like Barbie.  The good news is that it doesn’t matter because that wasn’t what made her so fabulous.  She is fabulous because she is “clothed in strength and dignity” (v. 25) and “opens her arms to the poor” (v. 20) and “sets about her work vigorously” (v. 17).  She lead her children, supported her husband, bought land, took care of others, and generally set about being awesome.

My son needs to see that kind of mom, not the self-depricating, body image-hating, grumpy-because-I-have-a-muffin-top-mommy. He needs to see me model what it looks like to be a “woman who fears the Lord” (v. 30) so he’ll look for that in a wife. Does that mean I just eat Cheetos all day long and give up?  I’d like to!  But in reality: no. It means that I have to love what I got, stretch marks and all.

When you’re leading out of a place of confidence of who you are in Christ, you will ultimately lead with the same grace for others that you’ve been able to give yourself.  Don’t disregard the power of grace for yourself as you walk this life serving others and serving Jesus.