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7 Things I Took Away from Lakewood

Barbara and I visited Lakewood Church in Houston, TX on one of our recent trips. The church and its pastor, Joel Osteen, are controversial for many. I was much more aware of this than Barbara. I still wanted to visit. This is not a post to defend or condemn, so I would ask those comments get shared somewhere else. When traveling, sometimes I visit a church because I want to hear the pastor. Other times I go to check out their facility. Occasionally I just want to see how they do things and experience their service. We got a hotel just across the street from the church and Sunday morning we headed over.

When I visit a church I am always looking for new ideas and better ways to do things. I want to walk the entire complex and take pictures and make notes. I did all of that. Sometimes people wonder what things stick out. Usually, only my staff hears about these things and then still only a few. I just thought I would share publically a few of the notes I made while I visited.

Smiles Matter

I know an image just popped into your head. There are plenty of smiling Joel Osteen jokes. But every volunteer we came in contact with had a smile on their face. As a matter of fact, the young lady who was assigned as our host said that was what caused her to become a volunteer. Pastor Joel had mentioned that if you could smile they could use you and she signed up. I will explain the host situation later. Smiling makes people feel welcome and most often they will smile back. It can change the entire atmosphere of a room. Your smile matters at church, and everywhere else. 

Engagement Is Critical

Occasionally when I visit a church I will let them know ahead of time and they will go out of their way to make me feel welcome. This was a last minute trip so I had not done that. But everywhere we went to that church, a volunteer engaged us. They asked if it was our first time there. They offered to help with any information. One of the people who engaged us was the head of their host ministry. These people specifically engage new people. She went and found us a personal host and gave us each a devotional. They didn’t interact with us because I was a pastor. They interacted with us because they did that for everyone who walked through the door. One of their hosts went from row to row after you were seated to talk with you. Having lots of people was not an excuse. They engaged people and of course, it makes you want to come back.


From the first single note that was played, there was an enormous amount of energy. Every single person on that stage was fully engaged and giving everything they had. When the pastors walked out on the stage a few minutes in to greet and pray, they came with energy. For the first 40 minutes, there was not a single silent moment. It was geared to draw you in and get you engaged in the service. The songs were connected in a theme that just built the energy in the room. Add to that the presence of the Holy Spirit and you have a power packed moment.


In my entire life, I have only been to one other church that spent more time dedicated to prayer than Lakewood. There were pastoral prayers, corporate prayers, extended prayer time to pray for specific needs and a time for people to come to know Jesus at the end of service. The time to pray for specific needs was during the middle of the worship set. They had pastoral staff and prayer team members across the front and at every section in the building. They took time with each person. As long as was needed. This lasted 10-15 minutes. Enough time to sing at least three songs. Prayer is a significant part of their church.


I grew up with testimonies in church. Anyone who wanted to testify could. We even had testimony services. Some were inspiring. Some were embarrassing. Others were just too long. They scare me to death. But during the service, they brought a gentleman and a couple to tell what God had done in their lives. The gentleman was sober for 10 years after finding Christ at the church. The couple’s marriage had been restored and they had learned to handle money and get out of debt through classes at the church. Seeing what God was doing was powerful.

Pastor Was Engaged

There are over 50,000 people each week attending Lakewood. Clearly, he cannot know everyone, but Joel Osteen did his best to engage every single person he could. First service was at 8:30 AM. After that service, he went to the lobby where he did a baby dedication for a family in the church and then greeted anyone who wanted to talk to him until time for the next service. When the service started, he was on the front row worshipping. He hit the stage about two minutes in with energy. He prayed with people at the front during prayer time. He was in the service the entire time except just after prayer time when he went out to collect himself before the message. He was out one song. When service was over he was back in the lobby greeting people. I have been to a lot of megachurches. That is something you just don’t see. For about 6 straight hours there was no letup. I was impressed.

Stand To Acknowledge Christ

He asked them when he got up to preach to stay until the end because it was important. Leaving at the end of the sermon is the worst time to leave by the way. At the end of the sermon, he didn’t ask everyone to stand. He asked those who wanted to know Jesus as their Savior to stand. He was very clear that is was something they could not be ashamed of. That was a new one for me as well. People all over the room were standing. There was a man just to my left with tears flowing down his face. He was having an eternal moment and my heart was thrilled for him. We should not be ashamed to ask people to acknowledge Christ.

You can have the theology debate on another blog. You can learn something from everyone. I learned a few things. I was reminded of a few things. Most importantly I left encouraged. Be a lifelong learner. You will never regret it. 


Why I Choose To Say Happy Anniversary

Social media makes it easy to remember everyone’s birthday. Facebook sends you reminders for everyone on your list of friends who has a birthday. Now, this is beneficial for Facebook to know because it is one more piece of information for them to use for marketing. But it is also a great tool for you to remember the big day for your acquaintances. Snapchat and Twitter offer different reminders and chances for you to wish a happy birthday to someone you know as well.

For a few years, I did my very best to keep up with wishing everyone a happy birthday, but it became quite hectic with a full friend list. They make some apps that can help with that. In general, when people write a birthday message on my wall, I do my best to read it and at least acknowledge it by liking the post. Every single one of those means something to me and I believe they do to most of the people who receive them. I don’t discourage anyone from offering birthday wishes to people. It can lift the spirits of the people reading them. I still do occasionally myself.

What I have chosen to do every day is to make sure I wish every married couple that I can a happy anniversary. Facebook makes this easier because they have picked up on that so when people make an anniversary post, it almost always shows up in my news feed. It is not that birthdays are less important. You are alive and that is an accomplishment. But it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get older. My life experience has shown me that it takes a lot of effort to stay married.

I admire people who work at their marriage. Barbara and I know from personal experience the investment it takes to make a marriage successful. It requires individual growth as well as growth as a couple. This requires time and intentionality. Good marriages do not happen by accident.

So, if I miss your birthday, it is not that I do not like you. But I promise you I will do my best to wish you a happy anniversary. Because I know it took some work to get there, I want to cheer you on to have many more great years together.

Three Easy Traps

Have you ever looked back at a situation and asked yourself “How did that happen to me?”. I have found myself in more than one of these situations. Our path is filled with traps that we easily fall into if we are not careful. Some of them are unseen but most are avoidable. The problem is that we typically don’t realize we are in a trap until it has cost us something.

Some traps are set intentionally by other people. They work for their benefit. They want to sell you something or use your time. Even in those situations, we have a choice we can make. My experience is that when I find myself in one of these traps I was either not paying attention or I decided I could overcome the odds. There are several of these that I could talk about, but I want to talk about the three most common traps that I have seen.


Spend Too Much
An overwhelming majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Bankruptcies are high. Debt is at a staggering rate. All of these things point to the clear sign that we have fallen into the trap of spending too much. The unfortunate part is that many people are oblivious to this until they are in real trouble. Sometimes we excuse the problem with things we call “emergencies” or “seasons of life” believing that we will get out of it shortly only for the pattern to continue while we get deeper in a hole. We can even go as far as to believe we are “making an investment” when it is just going to break our back with debt that may never pan out the way we hoped. Spending too much can create stress which affects our body and puts tension in our relationships. We can get out of this trap but it can be painful and can often take years. Our best option is to stay aware of our financial situation.

Wait Too Long
The opportunity of a lifetime is only as good as the lifetime of the opportunity. Doors do not stay open forever. Waiting too long is rarely good. There will be the occasional situation when waiting longer provides us some benefit, but in general, it causes us to miss many opportunities. There are a couple of things that cause us to wait too long. Some people are simply procrastinators. They are going to put everything off until the last possible moment. It doesn’t matter if it is something insignificant or extremely important. Their default programming procrastinates. Eventually, this catches up with you and there is always a price to pay. Another thing that impacts waiting is fear. We are afraid. We can be afraid of a number of things. It might be a fear of failure. It could be fear of the unknown. We might even be afraid it will work out. Fear has the ability to paralyze us so that nothing can get done. If you are a procrastinator, it is something you need to work to overcome. If you constantly fight fear, find small ways to succeed until you gain the needed confidence. Don’t allow waiting to become a trap.

Going Too Fast
We live in a world that is enamored with speed. Everything is about how much faster and easier we can make something happen. Now more than ever we have to be aware of the speed with which things are moving. But it is also possible to just go too fast. At certain speeds, we depend on our memory functions. Impulse tends to take over and we do what we can see at the moment. When we are moving too fast we often do not take the time to get wise counsel about the things we are considering. There are only a limited number of things we can consider at high speeds. Sometimes important things get ignored that will cost us in the long run. I tend to lean more to speed than I do to waiting and may even think it is usually better. But know that speed can be a trap and may do more harm than good at times.

Maybe one or more of these have caused you problems. We may fall into a trap from time to time, but we can miss most of them if we are a little more self-aware. Wherever you struggle the most is a great place to start. It is always better to avoid a trap than to have to escape one.

The Difference Between Relief and Help

In a devotion I was reading recently I read a quote that really struck me. It said, “Many of us pray and pray hard but very few of us actually submit”. There are many things that I pray about on a daily basis. Currently, there are a few things that I am praying about diligently. They are things that are really important to me. As a matter of fact, when I read that quote, one of those things immediately came to my mind. I began to ask myself if I was really submitting to God about that issue. Did I want help or just relief?

I have been pondering this question now for a few days. There is a significant difference between the two. I know for myself that I am often looking for relief but I am not very open to the help. As a pastor, I encounter people on a regular basis who have that same struggle. I would even say that the majority of people are looking for relief and not help. Debt relief. Marriage relief. Pain relief. Work relief. Most often we are not looking for help. You may be asking, ”What is the difference?”. This is my summary of the difference between help and relief.

Very few people are interested in changing their actions. What they really want is the removal of the consequences of their actions. When we get relief, we are usually not solving a problem but only temporarily removing the symptoms of the problem. The debt consolidation loan gives us temporary relief but when our actions do not change we end up in a worse position than where we were before. We get pain relief without discovering what is actually causing the pain, or if we know, we choose not to make the changes to ease the pain permanently. Sometimes pain relief can mask something that is causing us great harm. Even the method of relief can be harmful to us. I prefer not to take a lot of medicine but if I get a headache I have no problem taking an Excedrin. But these pain relievers over time can do our body harm and cause other problems. There are certain things that I know to do to help avoid headaches, but sometimes I choose the relief over the help. Even when we have relief at work unless we quit we still have to go back. Our relief is temporary. There may be things that you can do on your job that requires help instead of relief and you may enjoy it more.

The most difficult part of getting help is coming to the realization that we do not have all of the answers and we cannot do it alone. Getting help requires us to acknowledge that someone may have a better perspective, idea or that we are just not superhuman. The other thing about help is that sometimes the results are not immediate. We can take a pill and get almost immediate relief. Sometimes with help, we do not see any improvement immediately. A few years back I went to the chiropractor for an issue with my back and it took several visits before I saw any improvement at all. Most help requires a certain amount of discipline. If we are getting financial advice, it requires us to be disciplined to follow a plan to get the results that we want. If we are getting marriage counseling, we have to put into practice the things that we are seeing and understanding. Help allows other people and information into our lives to make it better over a long period of time.

We may not get the immediate relief we desire when we seek help, but the long term health of just about anything is better when we accept the help we need and stop masking the symptoms with relief. Sometimes relief might be necessary and even acceptable, but help is what most of us need. Be willing to accept it.

3 Times I Wish I Had Listened Better

Some people listen better than others, but everyone has moments when they just do not listen well. There are many reasons why we miss things we should have heard. Sometimes we are distracted, or we think we already know the information so we “zone out”, or we think we know better than the person speaking so we ignore them. There are even moments when we do not think what is being said is important or relevant and we just pay no attention to the information being dispensed. In most cases we do not intentionally ignore, our brain takes over and we just shut them out.

One of the reasons this happens is because to listen intently requires a lot of focus and energy. It requires us to be intentional to take in the things that are being said. One of the reasons that the staff hiring process is so exhausting for me is because of the early phone interviews with the candidates. I may do 40-50 calls in short period of time and most of them cover the same information. I ask the same questions over and over again. When done, I am usually wiped out because I have had to intentionally focus on each conversation to make sure I had the information I needed. Listening rarely happens by accident.

Looking back over my life, there are some specific places where I wish I had listened better. Had I been more intentional, it would have solved some problems for me both then and now. Instead, there were things I missed that created problems and issues that at times were painful. Recently I have been thinking about this some and recognized three areas I wish I had listened better.

Not just any relationship. Every relationship. There is not a single relationship I have ever had that listening better would not have eliminated certain pain and problems. Marriage would be better. I would have been a better parent. My friendships would have been different. One of the greatest challenges of any relationship is communication and half of communication is listening. I have missed hints from my wife, important stories from my children and concerns of my friends. Every single relationship in my life would have been better had I been more intentional about listening.

I did pretty well in school. I certainly had my moments when there were struggles but my grades we decent. One of my biggest hindrances in listening while in school was I didn’t think I needed it. Not that I did not need to learn, but usually I comprehended things fairly quickly and so my brain moved on to other things. During those times when things were being repeated and rehearsed, I missed important information. Some of the things I missed during those moments had nothing to do with the subject at hand. Sometimes it was the teacher offering some nugget of wisdom or watching people interact who were struggling in an area I was not. These things just passed right by me and I missed something that may not have benefitted me immediately, but certainly would have been a guide later.

I come from a perspective of faith. Obviously part of what I do is pastor a church. So if you stop reading here that is your choice, but this might be something you need to listen to. Some of the moments I have most missed it in my life was when I ignored the Holy Spirit speaking. Sometimes it was conviction about something I needed to change. This blog may very well be one of those times the Holy Spirit was speaking conviction to me. Sometimes it was a change I needed to make or a truth I needed to accept. Other times it was guidance and direction that I was ignoring. In each of those times, there was some cost extracted for ignoring the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Some of my most joyous and refreshing moments came because I listened. Some of my most painful experiences came because I did not. I would encourage you to do the work to listen. You cannot go back and “re-hear” what you missed. But you can start today with intentional listening. It will change almost every part of your life.

When You Think You Suck!

Recently I preached a sermon and was completely frustrated with it. We have two services so I got another opportunity, but I hate to feel like I completely missed it. There were things that happened that morning that I could blame, but those things happen on a regular basis and it doesn’t have the same effect. When my wife came into my office between services I said that it was a terrible sermon. I later sent the staff a message of a humorous picture that made me feel better because I was sure that sermon was in the top 10 worst I had ever preached. That was probably not completely true. I preached some pretty bad sermons when I first started out. But when things do not go the way you intend you often think the worst.

My perspective changed a little as the day went along. I was able to process the sermon, the day and the situation. A little perspective goes a long way. I thought I would share a few things that helped me get my mind right and look at the day a little differently. Maybe they will help you when you have a similar situation.

You Have Those Days

The greatest baseball players in the world go hitless from time to time. As a matter of fact, a great baseball player will only get a hit 3 out of 10 times. Similar statistics could be given across most other sports and professions. Every single person has times when they are not at their best and everything does not go exactly right. Don’t beat yourself up. The best in the world have days when they are not performing very well either.


You Are Not Quitting

The fact that you are there doing something is a sign of progress. You are not quitting. We all know the quotes about quitting. There is something to be said for showing up and doing the job. You doing the work is more than many other people are doing today. You have an opportunity and you are attempting to take advantage of it, even if it is not as great as you would like it to be. Don’t let a single bad day cause you to quit and rob you of the good days that you will have. Good days do not last forever, but bad days do not either.


Good Is Still Happening

This is the best perspective-changer I know. In my job as a pastor, I have to trust God to do most of the work anyways. The Apostle Paul would write that he plants and Apollos waters, but it was God who increases things. I received a message from someone later on Sunday afternoon saying that the message was right on time in their life. God was taking my failing efforts and working it in someone’s life exactly as they needed. Even in places where you do not consider it to be overly spiritual while doing your job, good is happening even if you cannot see the effects immediately.

We all have days when we feel like we suck. A little perspective will help you get over it quicker. Don’t get too sad when you fail or too happy when you succeed. If you do, life will feel like a roller coaster. Understand that both things happen in everyone’s life. Neither lasts forever.

Spring Break

My local school system schedules their annual Spring Break for the week following Easter. This year Easter happened to fall about as late on the calendar as possible so for some it felt like the break would never arrive. I heard one teacher describe it as a rumble; she said the entire school was rumbling. Everyone was ready for Spring Break to arrive – at least most everyone. Some kids love being with their friends and will miss them during the break. Some parents are busy and their schedules coupled with limited help to care for the kids require them to rely on the school to help with the daily care of their children. These exceptions aside, the overwhelming majority of people are ready for Spring Break.

The question is why is Spring Break needed? Summer break is just a few weeks away. Why not just push through? It is not just on the calendar so teachers can get a break or stretch the school year. There are several reasons why it is important. Some of these reasons can be applied to any situation where breaks are needed. Maybe one of these will give you some better understanding.

Your Kids Need a Break

I know you cannot imagine that your kids need a break. I hear parents tell their children “wait until you get in the real world and don’t get summers off”. The truth is some professions do get the summers off. Some even longer periods than that. The reason is that everyone needs a break. The constant routine of doing the same thing over again can cause us to stop growing and learning. This is true for adults and children. Taking regular breaks refreshes our bodies and our minds to receive things that we may otherwise overlook. It is not always about rest. Usually, it is more about routine. I know how much more aware I am when my routine is changed and how many other problems I can solve in my regular environment after I have been taken away from it. The children need those same kinds of breaks so school continues to be about growth and does not become a rut.


Your Kids Need You

Don’t allow Spring Break to turn into a week of frustration with what you are going to do with your children while they are out of school. Some parents will even complain out loud about how they feel it is a burden to have the children out of school. Some parents are intentional to take a vacation during this week and go away with their children. Some parents are just not able to do that. You should not feel bad if you cannot make those arrangements, but you should be even more intentional about spending the time you do have with your children. You have the ability to make the greatest impact on your child’s life. Don’t allow the normal post-school routine to continue during that week. Change it up a little bit and spend as much quality time with them as you can. You may not see the immediate results, but I can assure you that you are having a lasting impact.


Someone Else Needs A Break

When you go on vacation it is not just you that is getting a break, it includes all the other people who have to deal with you on a daily basis as well. I say that with as much gentleness as I can, knowing that we all want to feel needed. But the truth is our relationships at work are better because we took a break and they had a break from us. At Spring Break, it is not only the teachers who are getting a reprieve. I am sure the teachers come back rejuvenated and with a fresh perspective for their students. But sometimes the students need a break from the teacher and from one another. These are not the only people involved in a school though. The custodians, secretaries, administrators, bus drivers, and others all need some time away as well. Having a break gives them renewed focus and patience to do their jobs well. When their jobs are done well, your child has a much better environment in which to learn and grow. Don’t be selfish and believe that a break is just for you. There are many other people who benefit and those benefits spread.


So if you are in the middle of your Spring Break with children, make sure you appreciate the time and work to be intentional about it. If yours has already passed, take these words to heart for the summer. A life lived intentionally will benefit everyone around you.

The Truths We Ignore

We believe what we choose to believe. No one can force us into believing anything. We are not always convinced by facts either. Believing something is a choice. For people of faith, believing in God is a choice. For those who do not believe in God, that is also a choice. There are times we choose to believe or not believe and the consequences are minimal. There are other times, however, when we choose to ignore things that can cause us great harm.

Why do we choose to ignore important things that eventually extract great costs in our lives? All of us have been guilty at some point of ignoring something that we would later come to realize even though everyone else could see it but us. We thought we were the exception to the rule or that the person who was trying to convince us otherwise was just wrong. There are many reasons why we ignore certain truths. Here are three that I think are the most common.

Some Things Are Painful

There are some things we believe will cause us great pain if we admit that they are true. I see this most often in relationships. A person falls in love with another person but that person is not healthy for them. They may be abusive or they may influence them to do things they would not normally do. Parents and close friends will often point out some of those misgivings but love has blinded that person from being able to believe the truth. Eventually, that relationship progresses and it becomes more clear that this was a bad choice but their fear of the pain of losing the relationship causes them to continue. They deal with the pain they have in order to keep from dealing with the unknown pain of a breakup. Choosing to believe the wrong thing always brings pain. Sometimes we prefer a pain we know over a pain we don’t.

Things We Want To Do

There are things we want to do and we do not care that it is a bad choice. Since I previously talked about relationships, this certainly applies to those as well. I recall some personal relationships that I just wanted and it did not matter the consequences. There are times we know that something is going to be harmful to us but we choose to do it anyway. We want that car so we go into debt even though there is plenty of evidence that it is a bad idea given our current situation. We may have even had terrible experiences with debt previously and have experienced the Proverb that tells us that the debtor is a slave to the lender. But our wants override our reason and we go headfirst anyway. The thing we want to do overcomes the truth we need to believe.

Things We Believe Will Cost Us

There are times we have placed a high cost on belief. Over my life, this has been a popular excuse for people who did not want to follow Christ. They felt like following Christ would cost them too much. To be honest, there were times the church puts unnecessary costs on becoming a disciple of Jesus. They expected things that Jesus would never have expected and people just do not want to give up certain things. Following Christ does have a cost. Sometimes people feel that the cost is too high. There are things they prefer not to change. Things they do not want to give up. Lifestyles they are so accustomed to that they cannot imagine it being any other way. When we think the cost is too high, we just avoid believing, when even in the long run it may cost us everything for not believing. There is a price to pay for believing or not believing. Do not fool yourself into thinking that only one side has a cost.

So what truth are you ignoring today? Have you avoided certain choices or ignored things because of one of these reasons? There are consequences when we ignore the truth. I do not know what they will be for you. But usually believing the right thing is not as difficult as you have made yourself believe.

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About Me

I currently serve as Lead Pastor at Open Door Church and I am a certified trainer & coach with the John Maxwell Team. I am also an Associate Trainer with EQUIP training leaders around the world. I currently own two businesses related to the foodservice equipment industry. I am a certified speaker, teacher and coach with the John Maxwell Team. I can offer you workshops, seminars, keynote speaking, and coaching, aiding your personal and professional growth through study and practical application of John’s proven leadership methods. Working together, I will move you and/or your team or organization in the desired direction to reach your goals.