What Churches Can Learn From a 10K–Part Three

thIRUMLQ0UThis post is LONG overdue and I apologize for the wait. Here is my last post in a series about things I learned from the 2015 Peachtree Road Race.

Build Excitement

I mentioned in my previous posts about my positive and negative experiences with the race. Now I want to go in a different direction and talk about my overall feel for the race. As I mentioned before, the race had to be restarted due to lightning in the area. What I have not mentioned is the excitement of the crowd. In spite of a constant downpour, when my race stage restarted, the announcer asked the crowd of several thousand if we were excited to be running the race and there was a earth-shaking “YES!” that came from the runners. It was clear that everyone was still excited about running the race in spite of the bad conditions.

Now, think about your church. Would your people yell “YES!” if they were asked whether or not they were excited about church today? Or would they just shrug their shoulders and yawn? There is nothing–I mean NOTHING–more exciting on the planet than the local church! Church is where change takes place and where eternities are transformed from death to life. People come to your church every Sunday who have been broken by sin but can find hope and healing through the love and grace of Jesus Christ. There is no place else on earth where people can get a  brand-new start through Jesus than the local church so we should be excited about it.

Nothing else compares.  Runners will endure long delays and pouring rain to get the prize at the end of the race: a t-shirt. But the local church offers eternal life through Jesus–a much better prize. There is nothing more exciting than helping people find and follow Jesus!

Question: Is your church building excitement through its services every Sunday? If not how can you begin to build excitement?

I’d love to hear how your church is building excitement. Email me at joelcbruce@gmail.com or leave a comment below to let me know about it. Thanks!

Response to SC Flood

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Columbia, SC will always have a special place in my heart. I first came to Columbia in January 1987 to get my master’s degree at CIU and graduated with an M. Div. in May 1991. Even better, I met my wife in Columbia at a birthday party in April 1992 and we were married seven months later on November 14, 1992. And, right now, my son Andrew is an undergraduate student at CIU.

For these and other reasons, it breaks my heart to see Columbia devastated by the flood over this past weekend. I care about this city and the people living in it. And so my family and I are getting involved to help out.

Donate Food and Water

Last night my wife and kids dropped off water bottles and non-perishable food items at NewSpring Church in Anderson when they went in to help with a set design change for KidSpring. Tomorrow night we are all going to Fuse and will drop off some more supplies then.

Here’s how you can help:

Go to floodSCwithlove.com.

I highly recommend this site for anyone who wants to help flood victims in SC. It’s a great place to donate money, find out where to donate water bottles and non-perishable food items, and even how to volunteer. I hope you will get involved today!

What Churches Can Learn From a 10K–Part Two

Communicate Clearly

In my last post, I talked about how the Peachtree Road Race was prepared for the unexpected. Today, I’m going to talk about how their communication broke down.

From the outset it was apparent that this race was going to be different from any other Peachtree I had run. When I parked my car at the MARTA station at 6:30 am it was not raining hard but it didn’t seem to be letting up. I waited in my car for ten minutes while I ate a quick breakfast of Honey Nut Cheerios and hoped the weather would clear. Unfortunately it showed no signs of stopping.

thX75AE13DFast forward two hours later and I am in position to begin the race. However, as I approach the starting line I can see a flash of lightning several miles to the south. I didn’t realize it at the time but a major thunderstorm was nearing the race route (see picture at left) and we were heading right into it. Normally, when a wave  approaches the starting line the announcer celebrates the start of the wave but this time there was no announcer. Nothing but silence. As my wave hit the starting line several of us looked at each other in confusion. Somebody near me said, “Did we just start?” and I wondered the same thing. Right after the wave began I ran by an official talking on a walkie talkie who said that the race was going to be postponed for 30 minutes due to the weather. Apparently I was one of the only people who knew what happened because the runners around me continued to be confused. Sure enough less than a 1/2 mile later there were two people street level on bullhorns telling runners to exit the race and head toward the mall on the left. It was truly one of the most bizarre experiences I have ever faced as a runner.

The takeaway for churches is to communicate information clearly! When something effects the entire church–like changing the service times–everybody needs to know about it. Nobody likes to be in the dark about what is going on, especially when everybody is effected. Clear communication builds morale and reduces frustration.

NEXT TIME: How to build excitement in your church. It should be fun!

What Churches Can Learn From a 10K–Part One

thUUKYGQHEToday I start a four-part series of blog posts on my experience running a 10K. Last Saturday I ran the Peachtree Road Race for the 8th time! During eight separate years I started my 4th of July by running 6.2 miles through the heat and humidity of Atlanta, GA. This race is my favorite by far probably because I grew up in Atlanta and often drove many of the roads we run on during the race. It might seem a crazy way to spend part of the 4th but I love it!

Prepare For the Unexpected

There are a lot of things I experienced during my seven previous trips down Peachtree Street but nothing could compare with what happened last Saturday.  Every year 60,000 people run the race and runners are all separated into “waves” following the alphabet. This year I was in the “N wave” meaning I started more than halfway back in the pack. Like previous races we walked in a group of several thousand as we made our way to the start line. But then something happened that surprised everyone.

thKN64KREDThe weather had been a problem all morning. When I made it to the Chamblee MARTA rail station around 6:30 am it was slightly raining. The forecast that morning didn’t look good but it appeared that by the time my wave started at 8:25 am things might be clearing up. Unfortunately it didn’t. It rained all morning during the race and afterward until I started to leave and head to the Midtown MARTA station around 10:30 am.

With the rain falling, and my wave approaching the start line, the unexpected happened: a lightning strike. Now with 60K runners on the street thousands of people were in immediate danger. But the Peachtree Road Race officials were prepared. First they asked the M and N waves to leave the course and restart at a later time. Second they had a procedure in place that if there is a lightning strike at any time during the race the runners are delayed 30 minutes from starting the race. With the rain falling and thousands of people searching for shelter it made for an awkward situation. But the officials put the safety of runners first and they should get a round of applause for that.

They also taught a lesson to churches: be prepared for the unexpected. Nobody knows what will happen on any given Sunday. You might run out of bulletins or the mic might go out during the message. And that is exactly why we need to be prepared. Because we don’t know what will happen we need to prepare for what could happen and have a plan in place to deal with it. We can’t prepare for everything but the more prepared we are the better for everyone.

NEXT WEEK: What happens when thousands of people are confused.

You’re Not a Mistake

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You are not a mistake.

Many people feel like a mistake because they were born into some bad circumstances, like:

  • Your mom and dad were living together at the time so you think of yourself as illegitimate.
  • Your parents were not expecting another child so they thought of you as an “oops” baby.
  • Your mother was a victim of abuse or rape.
  • Your mom, dad, or both were really hoping for a boy (or girl) because they already had 2 or 3 boys (or girls) but you came instead.

In all of these situations–and more–a person can grow up feeling like a mistake. And, if that describes you, let me tell you something: you aren’t. God doesn’t make mistakes. The circumstances of your birth might not have been ideal but what matters is that you are here and you matter.

Here are three reasons why you are not a mistake:

First, God created you. Look at the detail God went to in designing your existence, described in Psalm 139:13-16:

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

Everything about you–including your body and your personality–were custom-designed by a loving Creator God. He made you just the way He wanted you to be. And because God made you that means you are incredibly valuable.

Second, God cares about you individually. In Matthew 18:10-14, Jesus shared a story about the shepherd and the hundred sheep. He had ninety-nine within sight but he left them all behind to go after the one. Jesus told this parable to show how our God wants everyone to come to faith in Jesus. But it also shows how much God cares about you as a person. There are over seven billion people in the world but your Father in heaven cares about you individually. He cares about the struggles you face in life, the obstacles you have to overcome, and what you are going through right now. He cares about everything in your life because you matter to Him.

Third, God created you on purpose for a purpose. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The word “workmanship” refers to your incredible worth. Your Father made you as a masterpiece, a perfect work of art. However, you are a workmanship that works. Verse ten also says that you were made “for good works.” God created you on purpose because He had work specifically that He wanted you to do. You aren’t a mistake because He made you to discover your passion and accomplish great things for Him.

There are no mistakes. You are a wonderful creation that God cares about and made to do wonderful things.

It’s About People. Period.

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A few days ago Andrew came home from college for the summer. He just finished his first year at CIU and had a blast. But I am glad I have the next three months to spend with my oldest child.

This past year has been a major wake up call for me. It’s hard to believe that I only have a few years before all three of my children will be off to college and then pursuing their dreams after they graduate. I already get sad just thinking about not having them at home. But I look forward to what God is going to do in their lives as they become adults.

Andrew going to college was also a reminder about what matters: people. Life is short. We only get a few years on the Earth and they fly by so fast. We all need to focus on what is really important and I am convinced it is the people in our lives.

I am thankful for the great family I have. I am thankful for a great wife and kids that still want to spend time with me, even when I can be really annoying! I am thankful for the close friends I have who I get to share life with.

Somebody told me many years ago that there are only two things in life that are eternal: God’s Word and people. I value every relationship I have and thank God for every one.

My Battle With Depression

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Monday April 4, 2011 was a huge day in the world of NCAA Men’s Basketball but it was a bigger day for me. That night, when millions of people were watching the UConn vs. Butler game to see who would be national champs (UConn won 53-41), I was sitting in the ER, strapped to an EKG machine, and thinking I was having a heart attack.

What happened

Earlier that day I realized something was not right with me. I was feeling very anxious and uncomfortable. I had a sinus headache that afternoon but I didn’t think I needed to go to the doctor. Then, about 5:00 pm something hit me like a ton of bricks: I had a massive panic attack. My heart was racing and I couldn’t calm down. I tried to breath deep and relax but I couldn’t. I literally thought I was going to die because my heart was racing so fast I couldn’t get it to slow down. Then, Lorrie stopped making supper and drove me to the hospital.

I stayed in the ER until after 1:00 am. They ran several tests on me to make sure my heart was functioning normally. I was given an EKG, nitroglycerin pills, and had a chest x-ray done. But everything came back normal. It was clear there was nothing wrong with my heart so my problem must be coming from another source. The next morning, I went to my primary care doctor and was told that I was depressed.

What is depression?

According to Web,md, “Most people feel sad or low at some point in their lives. But clinical depression is marked by a depressed mood most of the day, particularly in the morning, and a loss of interest in normal activities and relationships–symptoms that are present every day for at least 2 weeks, a major mental health issue that affects millions of Americans.” There are several types of depression but I have a condition called Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD. What I found out later is that the same part of the brain that controls depression also controls anxiety. For whatever reason, my body was not putting out the right amount of chemicals that helped me control anxiety. I tried as hard as I could to fight it but my body just wouldn’t allow me to overcome it. So, starting Tuesday April 5, 2011 I have been taking an anti-depressant. Every night before I go to bed I take a tablet that helps me control anxiety. And it has revolutionized my life.

Getting help

For years I knew there was something wrong with me but I didn’t know how to deal with it. I prayed to overcome my feelings of anxiety but I couldn’t defeat them. I quoted Philippians 4:6-7 over and over again and knew that I would one day get the victory over anxiety but I didn’t. I was convinced that I wasn’t trying hard enough spiritually, that I didn’t have enough faith, and that if I kept praying and claiming Scripture that I would overcome it. What I didn’t realize, though, is that I didn’t have a spiritual problem but a physical problem. I could quote Scripture all I wanted but it didn’t change the fact that my body was not putting out the right amount of chemicals in my brain to control anxiety.

If you feel that you are depressed or suffering from anxiety disorder, please get help. You can do a quick self-assessment on Web.md that will tell you whether or not you have the symptoms of depression. I am in the best place I have been in years–spiritually and emotionally–and things started to turn around when I asked for help.

Depression is something millions of people suffer from. But I am living proof that you can overcome it when you ask for help.

The Hope of Easter

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This weekend billions of people around the world will celebrate Easter. And we have a lot to celebrate because our Savior has risen!

On this Good Friday, as we start the Easter weekend, I want to focus on four reasons we can have hope this Easter:

The Hope that Anyone Can Be Saved

1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” We live in a world without hope. Many people feel that they have made so many mistakes they can never start over. They think they’ve made a mess of their families and broken relationships that can never be restored. But Jesus Christ gives us hope that we can start over! The empty tomb proves that no matter how bad our past has been we can have a brand-new start in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Only Jesus can forgive us and give us a new life in Him!

The Hope of Eternal Life

Probably the most often quoted verse related to the resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15:19. It says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If there is no resurrection, we are wasting our lives living for hope in eternity. But the resurrection DID happen! Jesus broke free from the grave and He gives eternal life freely to everyone who hopes in Him!

The Hope of A Bright Future

Jeremiah 29:11 declares, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” No matter where you are in your relationship with Christ, you have “a future and a hope.” We have hope for a better marriage. We have hope that we can start over in our career. Our hope is not based on our circumstances but on the certainty of Jesus’ power to change lives!

The Hope of Heaven

In Christ, we have hope that we will live forever with Him in heaven. Titus 2:13 says, “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Our “blessed hope” is that Jesus will come back to earth and take us with Him to heaven. We believe that our life on earth is not all there is, that there is hope beyond the grave. And we have that hope because Jesus is alive.

In closing, Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Jesus’ coming back to life fulfilled prophecies dating back hundreds of years. And the hope we have today is based on God’s faithfulness to us. He keeps every promise!

Happy Easter to you and your family!

The Pursuit of Perfection

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Next weekend, something incredible could happen. For the first time in almost forty years, an NCAA men’s basketball team could go undefeated. Today the Kentucky Wildcats are 38-0 and are just two wins shy of a perfect season. If they do it, they will be only the ninth team to remain unbeaten for the entire season since tournament play started in 1938. The last perfect season happened in 1976 when the Indiana Hoosiers went 32-0.

But next weekend something else will be celebrated that has already happened. On Sunday, we can celebrate our own “perfect season” through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our perfection didn’t happen because of our performance but because of the Person of Jesus! Right now, if you are in Christ, then you are perfect not just for a season of time but for eternity. Hebrews 10:14 ESV says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” On the cross, He paid for our sins and He rose again to prove that His perfect sacrifice was enough.

So next weekend I hope you will join me and millions of other people who watch to see if Kentucky achieves their pursuit of perfection. But, even more importantly, I encourage you to celebrate the perfection you already have in Jesus. You are perfect in Him!

It’s Been A Long Time…

I have not blogged in over a month and so much has happened since then that I would like to share with you.

Before I get started I want to apologize for staying away from my blog so long. I have really missed blogging and sharing what Jesus is doing in my life!

Vacation at the Beach

We spend Christmas at home then two days later travelled almost 700 miles to spend a few days with Lorrie’s dad. He is doing well even though he lives alone after Lorrie’s mom passed away last May. He is in good spirits and is able to get along by himself–amazing since he is 87 years old!

When we left him, we went to Myrtle Beach and spent the most relaxing five days I can ever remember. We slept in every day except Sunday so we could make the 10:00 am service at the Florence Campus of NewSpring Church. Other than that, we had no agenda besides walking on the beach, swimming in the pool, going down the water slides, floating on the lazy river, and watching a ton of college football. It was so much fun!

Pastor Seminar

During that time at the beach I also had a lot of time to think. I have been sharing on this blog and with some friends for the past several months that I have a passion to help pastors reach their potential in life and ministry. I have felt the next step in helping pastors is to offer a 3-hour seminar specifically designed for pastors currently in ministry.

Before we left on vacation, I met Chris Rivers in the hallway at NewSpring in Anderson and he shared some great advice to help me get started in my new ministry. Chris recently started his own ministry called CultureBus that helps churches transfer vision to their team and one of things he mentioned to me was branding.

When I was walking on the beach, I couldn’t stop thinking about his comment on branding a ministry. I started to think about what that would look like and how branding could help me get the message out about my ministry. When I got back from vacation, I emailed Chris and mentioned that I wanted to follow up on our conversation and get his advice on branding. He connected me with a branding specialist who created the brand for CultureBus and I am super excited about how it can help me minister to more pastors.

Another thing I realized at the beach is that I want this ministry to have the greatest impact possible, but that takes time. I have been chomping at the bit to minister to pastors since I wrote my new book, What Every Pastor Needs, in October. But, on vacation, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to get off to the best start possible with these seminars and that I was rushing things. When I met with my branding consultant a few weeks ago he said it would take three months to complete the branding. And, while I would love to launch my new pastor seminar today, this is another lesson God is teaching me in waiting.

I am so excited to share with you my new pastor seminar as soon as it is available later this Spring. But, for now, I want you to know that there is always a purpose in waiting, and the best really is yet to come!