Monday, January 17, 2011

Next Right Steps

The first time I heard the term “next right steps” I was in church. It was both liberating and challenging at the same time. I was learning that I didn’t have to be like everyone else, or follow someone else’s path for life or growing spiritually. It meant I just had to look at what was in front of me and take ONE next step, the next RIGHT step for ME in the direction of loving God and loving people.

This year we have had front row seats watching our baby take her next right steps. Every week and every month she is growing and changing and impressing us with all she knows and does. The first time she rolled over from her back to her tummy, and back again. The first time I found her sitting up in her crib in the morning. The first time she pulled herself up by the coffee table to stand. The first time she pushed a toy across the room to walk. The first time she fed herself finger foods. The first time she gave me something I asked for, or used the baby-sign for “please” when she wanted something. The first time she smiled at the camera when we said, “CHEESE!”

Claire says "CHEESE!" from Tony Peterson on Vimeo.

With each first (or 2nd or 3rd or 100th) we find ourselves looking at each other with huge proud smiles and saying, “Did you see that?! Can you believe it? She is so smart! She is so incredible! She is the best baby EVER!” … yes, even when all she did was drink from a sippy cup for the first time. We just can't help ourselves!

With Claire, I don’t think she is contemplating for very long before she goes from one “next step” to another. She is simply growing physically and developmentally and these changes and achievements are natural. We beam with pride, but the reality is that if she got to this point of being nearly a year old and never made any progress from the day she was born, we would be more than a little concerned. It would be unnatural. Something would be wrong. We would be concerned and so would our friends, family, and doctor. Her growing and maturing is a natural part of life, it is expected.

And yet, at some point we go from being babies to children to adults and the expectation that we would continue to grow and change sometimes falls by the wayside. We become content with who we are, or disappointed, but either way we fail to see that there are still next right steps in front of us. The Bible tells us that when we fail to act on what we know and purposefully grow, we are like babies...

You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.
– Hebrews 5:12-14

While nobody wants to be a "baby" for very long, none of us have arrived. We are all in process, unfinished works of art that God would like to take into His hand to continue to mold and refine until we reflect the image he originally intended.

Of course, not everyone stays stagnant. I was with a friend last night and she shared with me that she wanted to make some New Year’s resolutions, but unlike years past, she didn’t want to make it about some new weight or fitness goal. Instead, she shared that for 2011 she wanted to get straight A’s in her college classes, she wants to stop wasting food, and she wants to be a better wife. I thought it was incredible! She shared some of the things she is pursuing to accomplish what’s on her list, some of the practical next steps she is taking. They were small, simple, and doable and it’s clear that if she continues to think of these steps and does them, she will be the woman she intends to be.

The daydreamer that I am, I often look far out into the future. I spend a lot of time in “someday” and not enough time in right now. The simple things are easy to avoid, and I felt challenged by my friend to stop and take a look at what is right in front of me. I mean, often we already know the next thing we need to do. We don’t need more advice, or to listen to another message, or to read another book.
We know we should spend less.
We know we should forgive.
We know we should make that phone call.
We know we should eat less pizza and more green beans.
What if we obeyed what we already know we should do? What if we avoided the things we know we shouldn’t do? Would we grow? These next right steps are going to be different for each one of us. I have a feeling I know what some of mine are, and you might be thinking of some of yours right now.

This Sunday at Great Lakes Church we will begin a new five week series called Relationship Rehab.

Relationship Rehab Bumper from Tony Peterson on Vimeo.

We will also have a brand new Growth Group Catalog.

Don't you love Tony's work on this stuff? I do!

But, attending these services or browsing the catalog will not automatically cause any of us to grow. The challenge will be to take what we hear and what we learn in this series and do something about it. The challenge will be to choose a group that pertains to where we want to be in life, sign up for it and commit to attending.

Here are just a few of the groups I’m excited about:
Deuces Wild – A group for men to play some poker and discuss the book Wild at Heart.
Financial Restart – A group designed to help people manage debt and learn the Biblical principles of giving, saving, and spending.
Cocktails and Catan – A group for 21+ to get together and play the strategy game, Settlers of Catan, and maybe enjoy an adult beverage.
Believing God – A group for women that want to learn to, not just to believe in God, but to take him at his word.
New York Mission Trip – A group traveling to Brooklyn to serve kids in the inner city.
Breakfast of Heroes – Dads taking their kids out to breakfast at McDonalds on Saturday mornings!
Next Steps – A group for people who want to take Sunday’s message and talk through it with others who are trying to go from receiving information to practicing application – doing something about what they know.

And, as Tony and I think about our next right steps, we are watching our little girl continue to grow and change. She turns a whole year old on Saturday and we are looking back fondly at how quickly time has already passed.

This week we’ve been watching Claire take her first actual steps!

Little Walker from Tony Peterson on Vimeo.

What is YOUR next right step? Will you take it?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Do It Afraid!

Of all of the many phobias out there, they say public speaking is one of the most common fears people have. Ok, I don’t know who “they” are, and I’m too lazy to look up a reference, but let’s just agree that “they” are pretty smart. Public speaking is terrifying! Some people are great at it, gifted even, and are energized when they get a chance to share in front of a large group. I am not one of those people.

Fortunately, most jobs do not require people to speak in front of large audiences. But, a few times a year, my job overseeing Growth Groups at Great Lakes Church requires that I do. I share for about 60 long seconds at the end of our 101 (Membership) Class. I also speak for about 45 minutes at our Growth Group Training class. Knowing I’ll have an audience of about 30, I always get a little nervous. But before our most recent training this week, I was overwhelmed with greater levels of insecurity and anxiousness than I’ve experienced in a long time! I was having vivid nightmares for a week leading up to the class.

In each dream I was late to the training. People were laughing at me. The training books were missing pages and had a ton of typos. Then people would get up and leave right in the middle of the class, completely mocking me. By the end of the class, not one person went on to lead or host a group and it was all my fault! Maybe your nightmares are scarier with “real danger” of people chasing you with guns or something, but I could not shake the way these dreams were making me feel. I talked to Tony about them and he laughed with/at me, but also assured me that Growth Group Training would be just fine. He had every confidence in me, I just had no confidence in myself.

I reached out to a couple of friends and asked them to pray for me. My biggest fear at this point was that I would have those dreams so stuck in my head that I would make them a reality. I would say the wrong thing. I would be boring and confusing. I would be unprepared and it would be obvious! Dreadful! One of my friends, while praying for me and encouraging me, shared with me this little gem:

“Even when you’re afraid, do it afraid!”

I’d never heard it put quite like that before. You mean, it is possible to still do something while being afraid? I don’t have to conquer the fear first? It sounded so simple, but it meant everything to me. Do it afraid!

I went on to read and re-read my notes, prayed and tried to relax, and finally I showed up to the training. We had more people attend this training class than ever before, which did not help my nerves. I originally asked our hosts to open their home for a group of about 30, and 58 showed up!

I was about to speak to 58 people and share with them my passion for groups. I was going to do my best to equip them with what they needed to know to successfully run their own groups. I needed to get their attention and hold it long enough that they would actually walk away with something new. How was I going to do all of that while still being me, afraid and insecure?

In the end, people squeezed into this house, nobody openly mocked me or walked out in the middle of training. I did stumble over my words a few times and even said the wrong name of the church which got a unanimous and loud “OOOHHHHHH”... And, in fact, one person was missing pages out of their book.

Still, people were gracious and understanding when we ran out of chairs. They played along with my silly games, engaged in conversation with one another, and by the time the night was over dozens of people shared with me their excitement in taking this next step to lead or host their own groups.

Going into this new season of Growth Groups, these 58 people are likely doing something they’ve never done before. I know it is very possible that they are nervous and maybe even feeling inadequate. Many others are leading groups they’ve never led like mission groups and study groups. There is always risk involved in moving into new territory like this. So, I’ll pass on to all of you the best advice I was given all week.

Even when you’re afraid, do it afraid.

Let us Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand

– Isaiah 41:10

God is with us and will continue to be with us as we stretch ourselves to be used by him for the sake of others. We can’t let that fear take over and rob us from these adventurous days!