Archive for November, 2013


Back in 1977, Johnny Paycheck (interesting name, huh?) came up with a hit song, “Take This Job and Shove It.” Four years later this inspired the movie of the same name. But more than a song and a movie, the idea that we are all entitled to the “dream job” permeated into the very fabric of our culture. Most, if not all, of us have struggled with our job fulfillment, the people we work with (or work for), and the pay (particularly, the lack of it).

Yet, there’s a line that gets crossed way too often. That’s the point where, in our frustrations toward our job situation, we become disgruntled and start to complain – either inwardly or outwardly. That’s when we lose sight of the bigger picture: that God has been our Provider through the jobs we have.

We in the 21st Century are not the only ones who struggled with God’s provision. The children of Israel were notorious for “grumbling,” in spite of God’s graciousness. He provided water from the rock, manna from the heavens, and quail from the skies. He made it possible for the Israelites to last 40 years in the wilderness with clothes and sandals that never wore out. But they complained, moaned, and whined incessantly.

It’s easy to criticize the Israelites until we realize that when we complain about stuff, we have the same issue that they had.

As we look at how we can become more thank-full, it requires us to look at things that we might not feel a lot of thanksgiving for, including our jobs. I’m not advocating a Pollyannish denial of hardship (like “take this job and LOVE it – no matter what”). Some of us have really hard job situations: like abusive bosses, expectations that are totally overwhelming, or not being able to meet basic needs with our wages. But I am challenging us to look at our jobs differently and to allow God’s perspective and power transform our attitude into one of gratitude. Here are a few thoughts:

1. God has you there for a reason. Nothing in life is an “accident.” Even when we think we’ve gotten ourselves into our bad situations (like a poor or rash decision), as Christ-followers we believe that there is a Sovereign God who allowed this to happen for a reason. Maybe there are people there that God wanted you to touch, to bless, to encourage. Maybe there’s a deep lesson God wants to show you. Maybe your being in this job is the only way God could bring the transformation you need.

2. Give thanks for every way God provides. If you get paid for a job – no matter how menial or meager – God is providing for you. So give thanks.  You could be unemployed (and some of our readers might be in that situation right now). You could be unable to work. You could be a lot worse; most people in the world make far less and have much less than you do. Plus, as you give thanks for what you have, you are opening your heart and soul up wider to God. And when our hearts and souls grow in gratitude and love, that is when our God is known to do something amazing – because we are more ready.

Several years ago when I was planting a church, I had to take on a job as a Junior High music teacher (Band and Choir) for one year. I was a very successful HS music teacher for many years, so I thought this would be a “piece of cake.” Rather, it was the “job from Hell” (I hope I didn’t offend anyone with that! But it really was bad). I could not deal with the hormonal imbalance of 12-13 year olds. The 7th grade Girl’s Choir drove me crazy (they actually made me cry a couple of times). I threw a chair across the room during Intermediate Band. I had a calendar where I was literally crossing off the weeks till the end of the school year – and this was in November!

Then one day God convicted me of this attitude. He revealed how it was shrinking my life and putting me on the defensive. So I made it a point to thank God for my job. I thanked Him for the provision of income for my family (it actually paid pretty well). I thanked Him for the opportunity to influence young lives. And I thanked Him for the opportunity to grow in ways I could have never grown before. I also prayed like crazy for His help, so that I could look at this job in a different light.

Years later, one of those 7th grade choir girls became my Tech Director at church. Our relationship picked up and I had a chance to be her spiritual mentor. Another one of those choir members became a worship leader and shared that my being her choir director in Junior High profoundly influenced her direction in life. I ran into parents of one of my band students. They told me that I was their son’s favorite teacher and that he went on to play in the HS band and was now a successful business man.

My being there, in a job that I hated and complained about, somehow made a difference in these kids’ lives. It sure changed me, in ways I never dreamt possible.

So let’s not be so quick to “take this job and shove it.” Thank God for where He has you for now. It may be hard. It may be overwhelming. But know that the God you are thanking is the same one for Whom “nothing is impossible.” Thank Him for His provision. But also thank Him for the opportunity for Him to transform you and transform through you.

Take this job … and thank Him for it!


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Thanks for the memories

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Today my mom and sister called with some hard news: my Grandma (my Mom’s mom) had a stroke and she will most likely not be alive a week from now. She is 95 and is in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s. Her quality of life these past few years have not been good. She’s ready to go home to Jesus.

But as you can imagine, I am so very, very sad. I’m sad because I really, really love my Grandma. And even though I’ve been preparing for this day, I’m still not ready. It’s like when the “it” person in hide ‘n seek yells out, “Ready or not, here I come!” and I’m still looking for a place to hide. I’m not ready for this!

I was very tempted to re-blog something for today. I really didn’t feel up to writing. But as I prayed for my grandma, something (actually, Someone) reminded me about the nature of thanksgiving: it’s not just for the good times; it’s also for the hard times. We are to give thanks in every situation.

What makes my Grandma’s impending passing hard is also what makes giving thanks in this situation possible: the great memories we had together. We’ve had five decades of wonderful, beautiful, amazing life together.

And so I just want to take a brief stroll down memory lane. This will be one of those blogs that is more for me than it is for you, dear Reader. But here is where the power of fellowship can be felt through the Internet: your presence in reading this with me helps me to get through this hard passage of life. And maybe it will bless you, too, with some sort of insight, practice or inspiration. God is amazing in how He works, isn’t He?

I just want to share three little snippets from my life with Grandma, three memories that I’m really thankful for:

1. My grandma always made my favorite dessert for my birthday every year: strawberry cheesecake. That’s like almost 50 cheesecakes! Grandma’s cheesecake was the best; heads above anything that the Cheesecake Factory could produce. She made it with such skill. She was an amazing baker (she made something different for each of us 5 grandkids for our birthdays). Her strawberry topping was made from homemade strawberry jam. That strawberry cheesecake was her way of saying to me, “I love you, Dougie.” (only Grandma can call me that!)

2. My Grandma made me an afghan when I was twelve years old. At the time I was a big UCLA basketball fan because of John Wooden’s teams (it was the ONLY time I was a UCLA fan!) So the color of the afghan was: Blue and Gold (hopefully Rob Acker is not reading this – it will give him more leverage over our school rivalry). It’s still on my bed – right next to Letty’s afghan that Grandma made for her as a wedding present 32 years ago. The afghans remind us of God’s “covering” over us as we sleep each night: “Guard us as we sleep … that we might rest in Your peace.”

3. My Dad had a heart attack during the summer of my fourth grade year. My Dad’s dad (Papa) had just died from a heart attack a year earlier. I was so fearful. But my Dad survived. While he convalesced, Grandma and Grandpa took us four kids on a mini-vacation, because nothing can give you a relapse faster than four little kids screaming around the house. We went all over California. We fished for red snapper off the Carpenteria pier. We went clamming at Pismo Beach. We climbed up Morro Rock in Sequoia National Park. We explored the Crystal Caves in Kings Canyon National Park. We saw the oldest tree in the world. We had a blast! Grandpa told us his stories. Grandma would cook our favorites (Prime Rib, baby!). They just loved on us … and it healed us from our sense of loss, fear, and uncertainty.

I learned through that time what “Grandparenting” means. Little did I know how that memory – as well as the rest – would guide and prepare me in my own relationship with my grandsons. Grandma, as well as Grandpa, set the “gold” standard for us. And I hope we are doing them proud.

So I say, “Thank you, Grandma, for all the ways you loved us and shared your life with us. You shaped my life in ways that have made me a better person, a good-hearted person, a God-pursuing person. And I say, “Thank you, God, for my Grandma. I see Your love through her. Please guide her safely into Your arms.”

Thank you, dear Reader, for walking with me down this path. Your presence gives me comfort.

Thanks for the memories.

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Thankful for what we have


I was waiting for a red light the other day and I could not think of one thing to be thankful for. As you know, I’ve adopted a new practice of giving thanks whenever I get stuck at a red light as a way to help me slow down and put God at the forefront of my mind.

But at that one signal I had a total brain freeze.

Then I noticed something obvious: I am breathing air into my lungs.

Seriously, that’s the thought that came to my head. So I thanked the Lord for air and for my lungs. I then thought about the car I was driving. So I thanked God for my car – and it has been a very, very good car for me (2008 Hyundai Sonata – in case you were wondering). Then I thought about other things that God has given me: food to eat, grocery stores to get food, a kitchen to cook food, restaurants to eat when I don’t feel like cooking, money to pay for food and restaurants, a job that pays me, skills that allow me to do my job, having a job that I absolutely love, and on and on it went.

Until someone behind me honked their horn. The light had turned green as I was lost in my prayers of thanksgiving. This is becoming a dangerous practice!

Maybe the guy behind me needs to lighten up and give thanks for what he has. LOL!

It sounds so elementary and maybe it feels a little trite at times, but it is so good to give thanks for what we have – especially in our culture. We SO take things for granted: hot running water, toilets, chairs, pens, computers, coffee makers, phones, electricity, paved streets, shelter, clothes, etc. If you go into many foreign countries, they don’t have some of these things. (Which is a good reason to go on a short term mission trip to a Third World country – it’s eye opening)

I also believe that “entitlement” is the besetting sin of Americans of the 21st Century. And, sadly, many of us in the church don’t realize how entitlement has possessed our souls – it is such an insidious attitude. It is so easy to not just take things for granted, but to think that we actually deserve or are entitled to these things. So much so that we cry “foul!” when some of our things are threatened or taken from us.

If you don’t believe me, just notice your first reaction when someone cuts in front of you while you are waiting in line or driving in traffic. Or notice how you feel when it takes more than five minutes for the clerk at McDonald’s to get your Egg McMuffin or the barista at Starbuck’s to prepare your Venti Decaf Caramel Macchiato with half-soy, half non-fat, light on the whipped cream. Or notice the pulsing in your neck when you see a big scratch on your new Honda that it received while you were shopping in the store.

One of the powerful antidotes to our severe entitlement and attachment is to give thanks to God for what He has given us.

We don’t deserve anything and yet He has blessed us with “so much.” So much that we can’t begin to recount it while waiting for a light to change at an intersection. So much that we get overwhelmed the immensity of undeserved blessing when we actually have time to think about it.

And it helps us to understand that while God has given us so much in the things we have, there is so much MORE and BETTER blessings He has given us beyond the material: spiritual, emotional, relational (as we talked about yesterday), intellectual, etc.

But sometimes it helps to start with the tangible and the physical – what’s right in front of us; beginning with the very air we breathe.

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Of the first things that come to my mind when I am giving thanks to God are my “loved ones.” These are family and friends who make life worth living, those people who have loved us and whom we have had the honor and privilege to love. Whenever I pause to give thanks, the very first person I am thankful for is my wife, Letty. Then I think about my sons, my grandsons, my daughter-in-law, my parents, brothers and sisters, in-laws, and the many friends God has blessed me with. Thanks to social networking, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (they do have redeeming qualities) I’m also in touch with loved ones throughout my past, and it gives me more reason to give thanks to God.

Indeed, we experience the blessings of God through those who have loved on us. And there is even more blessing we receive when we love on them. It’s truly an amazing thing.

It’s easy to give thanks for those who love you. I can easily say “thank you” to God for special people in my life. But I have recently challenged myself to go deeper in giving thanks for them. There are great riches we uncover when we explore the depths of our empowering relationships. The sense of gratitude wells up inside of us as we begin to perceive the extent of how these people have touched our lives and encouraged our souls. That is when the power of thanksgiving becomes transforming to me.

Here are a few ways that have helped me to go deeper in giving thanks for my loved ones:

1. Shoot up a quick thank you to God when these people come to mind. This is part of worshiping God in our everyday ordinary. Instead of allowing thoughts of people to flit and float in and out of our minds, notice them and capture them. Then give thanks for them, right then and there.

2. Send a quick email, text message to them. Let them know that God brought them to your mind and express your thanks for them. Who knows where that will lead? It could open things up to greater things, greater blessings, and greater opportunities for ministry.

3. If God brings someone to mind more than once in a short season, stay with it for a couple of minutes. Here’s where we can go deeper. Ponder on how that person blessed your life. Relive some of the highlights. Think about how your life was impacted and changed because of that person. Reflect on the Christ-like qualities they exhibited and how you can emulate them to bless others as you have been blessed.

I think about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s beautiful, classic poem, “How Do I Love Thee?” In the first few lines she pens:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight 

Browning uses the Biblical analogy of love right from Ephesians 3:18 (not sure if she took it from there, but the dimensional aspect of love was certainly Paul’s original idea). Surely, God reveals the depth and breadth and height of His love in many ways. But one of the greatest ways He reveals His manifold dimensioned love is through the special people He brought into our lives. As He incarnated His love to the world through His Son, God continues to incarnate His love to us personally through the love of others; especially through those who intentionally represent Christ on earth.

One last thought: we tend to take our loved ones for granted. Regularly offering up thanksgiving for them keeps us from falling into those dangerous places of “ignorance” and “entitlement.” Our loved ones are the most precious personal gifts to us from God. Therefore, Satan works overtime to keep us oblivious to what is most precious to us. Satan knows that he can trap us in a prison of bitterness, guilt and regret when we take our loved ones for granted when we lose or destroy those relationships.

So let’s give thanks for our loved ones. We realize we are so much more blessed than we thought when we do.

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In the movie, “A League of Their Own,” Coach Jimmy Dugan explains to Dottie Hinson about the hardness of playing baseball. He says, “If baseball were easy, everyone would be doing it.”

The same is true with thanksgiving. If giving thanks were easy, a lot more people would be doing it. We’d have more joyful people in the world, more positive people in the world, and more helping people in the world, if it were easy to give thanks. But it’s not easy; in fact, it is VERY hard.

Just try it right now: give thanks for 15 things. After about the first 5 or 6, it starts getting hard. We run out of things to think about. Our minds are simply not geared to give thanks beyond a very surfacy level. And even if we can come up with 15 things to be thankful for, it is hard for our heart to go deep with it. As a result, our souls have difficulty getting to the place where we can operate out of a truly thankful state being.

Thankfully, our Lord knows the difficulty we have in giving thanks. And He always meets us right where we are. So a good place to start in engaging in thanksgiving is admitting to God how difficult it is and asking for His help. You might want to start with Psalm 40:13 where it says:

God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.

Or you might start with the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner.” And then ask for his gracious help in giving thanks to God.

Then be quiet for a moment. Still your heart, your soul and your mind. You will then find that the Lord will bring things to your mind: a memory, a thought, or maybe something totally random. But as you think about those things, there will be something that you are thankful for.

It may be trite or common, it might be deep or profound. But start with that thought. Give thanks to God for whatever it might be.

Then ask the Lord why He brought that particular thought to mind. There might be a certain aspect of that memory or thought that you hadn’t thought of before.

For example, the other day I was driving and I got stuck at a red light (if you remember my blog from 10/08/13, “A Signal to Give Thanks,” I’ve started a habit to give thanks for three things whenever I catch a red light – as a way to not be frustrated with traffic). I saw a Chili’s restaurant at the corner. So I gave thanks for Chili’s. It sounded silly at the time, and so I asked God to expound on that. What came to mind were all the wonderful times I spent at Chili’s with good friends, like Tom Nicoles (my worship leader colleague for over 20 years; we always meet at Chili’s). I also thought about how my wife and I did pre-marital counseling at Chili’s with Lorinda and Jerry. Chili’s was always a great spot to meet people. Plus, I love their food!

I was so caught up in giving thanks that the light already turned green and I was holding up traffic!

What’s so great about this way of praying is that we are asking for the Lord’s help in it. We do not know how to pray or give thanks as we ought and the Holy Spirit loves to teach us how. It takes the onus from our own mind and memory and places it on the Lord, who knows us better than we know ourselves. This is part of the “light and easy yoke” that Jesus teaches us in Matt 11:28-30.

God knows we need help in giving thanks. It’s not easy or natural. But with His help we can get into the flow of becoming “thank-full.” And that opens us up to living life from a Whole Life Worship perspective.

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Exercising Thankfulness

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It’s time for me to get back to the gym. After 3 weeks of “taking a vacation” from the elliptical and ab bench (not to mention some not so healthy eating), I’m starting to feel it: not only around my gut, but in feeling tired more often, getting more irritable than normal, and having difficulty to keep my focus. Healthy habits and rhythms like exercise and diet help us to function better physically.

Likewise, spiritual habits and rhythms are vital to the functioning of our souls. I’d like to devote the couple of weeks pressing into the spiritual exercise of thankfulness. Hopefully, this will give us some momentum going into the holiday of Thanksgiving and jump start us on the special season of Advent.

I’ve written a lot about thankfulness and I don’t want to repeat stuff that you can read on past blogs. But just a quick review: thankfulness is not just an emotion of gratitude, and it’s not something that we do “reactively” (like when we feel thankful after someone has done something good for us). The Bible commands us to be thankful (Ps 136, 1 Thess 5:18). As God’s people, thankfulness is not simply an act we do, it is to reflect who we are. That is why and how we give thanks always, in every circumstance. So there are two things I want to share about thankfulness:

1. It is rooted in God’s constant goodness to us. The reason we can give thanks always and in every circumstance is because God is constantly good to us. This is an eternal truth. We so underestimate how much God loves us and how He constantly reveals that love to us in every breath we take … and beyond. Acts of kindness from others are prompted by God’s movement in human hearts. Circumstantial blessings are not “chance” happenings, but directly from the sovereign hand of the God who is madly in love with you. Even the trials, traumas, and tribulations we face in this life serve to transform us for the good (Rom 8:28). But they only can if we hold on to the belief that God is good … all the time. And all the time … (let’s say it together) GOD IS GOOD!

2. Thankfulness must be exercised. Giving thanks is neither automatic or easy. There is tremendous dark resistance to giving thanks; resistance that has existed since the Fall of humanity when it whispered doubt of God’s goodness into the ears of the first human beings. So it goes against the grain, within and without, to give thanks to God and to others. Even to those who have received God’s redemption through Christ, thankfulness must be exercised. And like a good workout on the elliptical, proactively giving thanks – regardless of how you think or feel at the time – postures your soul upward. When we exercise thankfulness our souls are refreshed with a new focus on Kingdom reality. We can then move forward on our calling and mission to love others to Christ, as we become more Christ-like. The journey through seasons of hardness and trial are overcome with a soul that is full of thanksgiving.

So I’m going to be your “Thankfulness” Drill Sargeant over the next couple of weeks (“Okay, you wimps, off your duffs. No thanksgiving sissies here! And no crying to mama!” in my Lou Gossett, jr. impersonation). We’ll be exploring how we can go deeper into thanksgiving and leverage it’s transforming power for life.

But right now, hit the floor and give me ten … thanksgivings!

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Sunday, November 10 is my birthday. I will be 56 years old. It’s safe to say that I’m beyond midlife, not quite to twilight, but at that place where I’m seriously “numbering my days” (Psalm 90:12). It’s been a good life thus far; I’ve been quite blessed, way beyond what any person deserves. And while I have no regrets if God called me home right now, I still think that there are greater contributions yet to be made for my family, my church, and the Kingdom of God on earth. What I am very grateful for, in this moment, are the people who have invested in my life over the years: my mentors. Where would I be without them?

Last week I shared my top ten “saints” who are now in the heavenly realm. Today, I just want to say thank you to ten people (or couples) – still alive – who have poured into my life; some of them over many years, some for just that strategic moment. It’s risky to just stop at ten because there have been many more than that. And I’m not going to count family or my close friends, whose impact on my life would be difficult to recollect because of the myriad of ways we’ve experienced life together. And I’m not going to include my music mentors or teachers because that’s a whole ‘nother universe to look at.

These are mentors in my spiritual and ministry life. Some of them are pretty big names in some circles and some are obscure – probably known only to a small group of people. But all of them have big hearts and have been examples of godliness and humility to me. They are in chronological order from my distant past (which is increasingly becoming more “distant”) to most current:

1. Orvil and Eloa Kroeker – actually, I’m not sure if they are still alive on earth or if they are in the Lord’s presence. These were my neighbors who lived across the street from my house where I grew up as a kid and teenager. They constantly invited me to VBS, Pioneer Boys, and their church. They taught me a lot about Jesus and God. But even more important, I saw Jesus in them. I seriously wonder if I would have become a Christ-follower without them.

2. Larry Liggett – was my youth group leader in High School. I think he was from Oklahoma because he has a twang wider than a Mack truck. But, man, did he teach me so much about Jesus and how to live for Him! I met him as a brand new believer at 16. By the time I left for college I was on fire for the Lord! Jesus was the “match,” and Larry was the “kerosene.”

3. Rich and Ed Hong – Rich was the InterVarsity staff worker at USC during my undergrad years. Ed was his younger brother (a year older than me). We were roommates for a couple of those years. Rich taught me inductive Bible Study, Quiet Time, and ministry leadership. Ed showed me how to experience God personally through prayer, reflection, and journaling. They both exposed me to great authors of the faith: Lewis, Tolkien, Bonhoeffer, J.I. Packer (actually got to meet him), and John Stott.

4. Bob Logan – was my first pastor after college. I can’t say enough about Bob, who is still my mentor to this day (30 years later). I think to summarize, Bob taught me to “practically” take God at His Word, what the Bible calls “faith.” Through Bob, I experienced traction in transformation: in my finances, my time, and in my character. Bob also infused in me a “mentoring/coaching” mindset, as well as a multiplication orientation to the expansion of the Kingdom. Bob continues to equip leaders, churches, and denominations worldwide through “Logan Leadership.”

5. Byron Spradlin – mentored me in worship leading. As the Pastor of Worship at CBC, he gave me opportunities to grow as a worship leader. He was the first to teach me that worship was more than just the music or the service. He also modeled to me how to lead a ministry with integrity, vision, and love for the people who serve with me. Byron now leads a worldwide missions/arts network, “Artists in Christian Testimony.”

6. Clyde Hodson and Ed Carey – we were all associates together on staff at CBC. Clyde taught me how to become an intercessor in prayer. We must have prayed a thousand hours together in our six-year partnership. And we saw God do amazing things during that time. Ed taught me “reality in ministry:” how to deal with needy people, how to navigate church politics, how to bring change and vision. Clyde and Ed showed me the two sides of the same “Kingdom of God” coin.

7. Richard Foster – OK, I’m not name dropping (maybe a little … LOL!), but one of the most powerful times of my life was around the 2 year period (1993-94) that I was around Richard. I took his two week intensive at Azusa Pacific and I actually led worship for him at a Renovare Conference. But he opened my eyes to spiritual formation and to the varied approaches and practices of Christian spirituality throughout history. God began to go deep into my life, thanks to Richard.

9. Neil Cole – when I left CBC to plant a church, God connected me (thanks to Bob Logan) to Neil. What started as a new church incubator became the Organic Church Greenhouse. Neil coached me as I started The Fountain Chapels (we started about 20 organic house churches within a six year period). Neil radically changed my view of the Church, the power of the Gospel, and how the Kingdom of God operates. Neil is also global, having catalyzed a world-wide organic church multiplication movement.

10. Ruth Haley Barton – I’ve only known Ruth personally for less than a year, but her impact on my life has been nothing less than remarkable. When I first read, “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership,” the resonance was profound. Her integration of spiritual formation to life is the most “spot-on” assessment I’ve ever encountered. And now, through being in her Transforming Community, I am reading her mentors (Richard Rohr, David Benner, Robert Mulholland). I am encountering God in ways I never thought possible; and I’m finding my soul, as well.

11. Rob Acker – OK, so I can’t count to ten! But I have to include Rob (whose birthday is tomorrow, Nov. 9th) because he has been the biggest sponsor in my life. He has given me numerous opportunities to lead, teach, preach, and start ministries. We have a great partnership in ministry at CBC, which over 25 years has grown through the crucible of various trials and misunderstandings resulting in powerful reconciliation and alliance. As Senior Pastor, I’ve learned to trust his leadership and his decisions. As his worship pastor, he seriously listens to my perspective – as crazy as I can be sometimes. It’s a beautiful dance, even if we step on each other’s toes every now and then.

Well, this has gone longer than most of my blogs. Thanks for letting me reminisce. It helps me to give thanks to God for all the amazing people he’s brought into my life. Hopefully, this will jog your memory to give thanks for the people God’s brought into your life. He’s so good!

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