An Unusual Anniversary



It was a gorgeous day on Friday, October 17th, 1997. Our son was in school, but Anneli was off from kindergarten that day so I asked if she would like to fly to Lake Lawn Lodge for a father/daughter date. She was so excited!

We made the hour-long flight in a little two-seater Cessna, which cruised at all of 70 knots. After an uneventful flight and landing at the resort, we enjoyed a great lunch and then a picturesque stroll along Lake Geneva in southern Wisconsin.

Needing to be back home before Stephen’s school let out, we took off a little after 1 PM, climbed to altitude, and set a course for the Monroe Airport. Ten or twelve miles east of Janesville, our little plane went from purring to banging and clanking like a rock crusher. I had no idea what had happened, but the power was dropping, the temperature rising, and what had been an amazing day with my daughter became something potentially terrifying.

I prayed briefly, cut back the power, set up the glide speed, started looking for landing spots, and keyed the radio to Janesville control tower to declare an emergency. Though this response had been practiced and rehearsed countless times before in training, this time it was way too real. I thought we had enough altitude to make the airport, so the tower cleared us for a straight-in approach to land on the long east/west runway. We came in high and fast, since there would be no go around if we missed, crabbing into the wind to bleed off speed and altitude once we made the long runway. As we landed, my daughter glanced behind us and saw the HUGE crash vehicle following as we rolled to a stop. She grabbed my arm and exclaimed, “Look, Daddy! This is so cool!” She actually never knew that anything was wrong until they came and towed us to the hangars.

In flying, you pray for the best, prepare and plan for the worst. The engine failure 19 years ago this week proved to be a non-event because instructors had hammered into me the drills for a mid-flight emergency and engine failure. It is something most every profession insists on, especially first responders and medical personnel.

Churches need to do the same. Unlike flying, where you may never experience a real in-flight emergency, life always entails emergencies and disaster of varying degrees. Are you equipped to cope?

Who will you call and reach out to when disaster strikes? What plan is in place to care for those you love? Have you spent enough time in prayer to find confidence and comfort with God?

Although I disagree with Nietzsche about so many things, he was right about this: what does not kill you has the potential to make you stronger. Think back on your life and the tough lessons you have learned from the difficult experiences encountered and endured. Rethink those experiences and remember the steps taken as well as the results. What would you do differently? What would you do the same? And perhaps most relevant to those you know and love, how can you share that knowledge so as to benefit others before they experience a similar disaster?

Nineteen years after the engine failure, all that remains are the memories and an acrylic paperweight on my desk that holds a few broken parts from that Cessna 150 engine. Someday the paperweight will belong to my daughter, to help her remember a daddy who loved her enough to plan ahead to protect her. Who knows? It might just lend a measure of calm and confidence when her world feels like it may be spinning out of control.

Thinking back those 19 years, it occurs to me that the worst moment was after we were safely on the ground. It was then that I had to call my wife and tell her I couldn’t pick Stephen up after school because the plane had had an engine failure and I was stranded 45 minutes from home. Not a fun call. It was some time after that before she let me take either one of the kids flying.


Rethinking How We Do Methodism


Max DePree, of Fuller Seminary’s Center for Leadership, once suggested that the first responsibility of a leader is to define current reality for people. Our Missouri United Methodist Conference now has a new Bishop, Bob Farr, who is traveling around the state to listen to people as he articulates current reality for our United Methodist Church. The picture he needs to draw is shocking.

The number of UM churches in Missouri has now slipped to 775. Of those, only 175 average more than 100 people in worship; 300 churches now average 29 or fewer. Those who study the stats suggest that if past trends hold true, the Conference will see more than 200 churches close in the next 8 years, which isn’t surprising, given that we have so many churches with fewer than 30 people present in worship.

And yet we continue to do church as we always have, ignoring the specter of denominational demise.

So what needs to be done?

We must start by asking the hard question: Do you want the denomination you have loved to outlive you, or do you expect it to expire in the not too distant future? If we are committed to seeing the denomination survive, what are we, as United Methodists, willing to do to position our denomination for the future, rather than the past?

I believe our polity needs to change. The system was designed for a former reality that no longer exists. It is way past the expiration date; now is the time to rethink and redesign our denominational polity.

Allow me to explain . . .

I believe that we must shift our focus from small, dying churches, toward larger, healthy, growing congregations that are innovative and creative in reaching the next generations. We are expending way too many resources to “hospice” churches that deny they are dying and refuse to change.

I believe that we need to expand and enhance the launching of new churches, as new church starts have proven to be the most effective at reaching those who have never heard the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ. We may not like it, but people love to join a new enterprise. The two largest churches in our conference were started less than 25 years ago. Our church is the 3rd largest, and we are an anomaly, having been founded 149 years ago.

Speaking of our larger churches, I believe that we need to ask large, healthy churches to shepherd and tend small churches, turning them away from ineffective ministry toward best practices.

And finally, I believe we must reclaim and renew our Wesleyan heritage of making disciples to make disciples who will make disciples.

It seems simple, but such change never comes easily and always entails significant costs. The question that remains: Do we love our church enough today to make changes now that will make survival possible later?




I’m not really clear on how inspiration works, as in the Bible it seems subtly different for everyone. Burning bushes, blinding light, being struck mute in the presence of God’s messenger – all of that sounds really cool, though none of it has ever happened to me. What I have definitely experienced is hearing the still, small voice that is almost lost in the raging wind.

Listening to poets, song writers, dreamers, and visionaries leads me to suspect that God often plants the seeds of ideas deep in our hearts or minds so that they spring to life in His good time. In my experience, His time is often at the oddest moments . . . In the shower, on a bike ride, driving, or even when I’m not able to sleep, an idea suddenly comes to my mind that is too good, too true, too insightful to have come from me. Those moments are so easy to ignore, and I am ashamed to admit that I have.

The other day I was driving when a friend came to mind. A week or so prior he had alluded to challenges in his life via a brief text message. Having prayed for him, I found myself thinking about him. I felt a palpable impulse to call him. Thank God for Siri, because I was able to blurt out my wishes and Apple’s virtual assistant made it happen with no help from me. After 5 minutes of him saying that everything was fine, he let down the facade and shared what was really happening and how it was breaking his heart.

We chatted in a way we never have; we chatted in a way we never would have if not for the inspiration, the prompting to call him.

He texted me today to say that my call came at the lowest point in his life, when he was feeling “defeated and deflated.” He went on to say that our chat put the fight back in his heart and soul.

Rereading his text, it occurred to me how fleeting inspiration can be. It is heard, or felt, and then it is gone. The quicker you act on the inspiration the more inspiration you seem to get; the more often you ignore or postpone it, the less it happens.

Next time you are driving, or mowing the lawn, or making dinner, or showering and an idea hits you out of nowhere, do something! The results may astound you, and reveal God to you, as well as to someone else.


Generosity: Being More than Willing


There was a news item out of Chicago recently that told the story of a stunned bartender named Nicole who received two tips equaling more than 1,000% of the bill. The same person left both tips – $500 the first time, $1,000 the second time. At first Nicole was reluctant to accept the money, but then discovered that her benefactor was the boss of a close friend. The friend had shared the fact that Nicole was working full time as a teacher, as well as picking up extra shifts at a restaurant to cover bills. The boss simply wanted to help. Such generosity is so rare it makes national news.

Now stop and ask yourself: Haven’t there been times when you have wanted to do something extraordinary for another person? Perhaps they were struggling with unexpected hospital bills, or exorbitant repair bills; maybe they were taking care of a parent or a child. You heard the details and thought to yourself, “Wow! I wish I could do something to help.”

If you can and do, believe me, it feels great! Test that out by leaving an extra-large tip for a struggling college student, a young mother, or some guy just struggling for a break. The joy is incredible!

But remember, you can never help another unless you live beneath your income and create the space in your life for generosity. If you are stretched beyond the breaking point with bills, you never have the wherewithal to actually help someone else. You are left only wishing you could do something.

So, start budgeting today for a generosity fund, so that tomorrow you can be faithful to God and find the incredible joy of generosity!


Marriage Advice from Divorce Lawyers


There was a piece in the Huffington Post recently which quoted a survey of Divorce Lawyers suggesting that social media is becoming toxic to marriage. The article caught my attention because of the unexpected source of marriage advice, but then it occurred to me that they probably know more about this than I do.

According to the article, the divorce lawyers offered the following advice to couples who wanted to avoid using their professional services. The quotes below are all from the attorneys surveyed:

  1. Screen time interferes with face time.

“Instead of getting into bed and discussing how each other’s day was, couples opt to be on social media … [They] engaged with friends, acquaintances, or even followers during times that they would otherwise be growing and improving their marital relationship … Put down your device, ask your spouse how their day was and listen.”

  1. Reconnecting with old flames leads to affairs that kill marriages.

“Your former partners bring you back to a time when life was less complicated and your greatest challenge was a term paper. Some get so caught up in the romance that they move from posts, to emails, texts, calls, and then secret rendezvous. Even if things don’t work out with the old fling, the temporary checking out from your marriage can cause irreparable harm.”

  1. On social media, everyone else’s marriage APPEARS to be perfect.

“As you scroll your news feed and see so many seemingly perfect marriages, there is a tendency to compare your own relationship to the perceived perfection of another’s. The weaknesses in your own marriage may become more obvious.”

  1. On Facebook, the single life APPEARS to look more attractive and appealing.

“The social media posts of your single ‘friends’ look … so much better than your own life because many people’s posts are [staged] to portray their own lives in the most positive light. There is a reason the selfie stick was one of the most popular holiday gifts last year.”

So what advice are these divorce attorneys really offering?

Invest yourself in your marriage. Make the time for serious face time, romance, and love language. Avoid old flames as if they had the plague, because nostalgia messes with your mind and perceptions. Don’t be deluded into thinking everyone else is in a perfect marriage. And never forget that the happiest people in the world are the ones who have figured out how to make marriage great!


Making a Sabbath


One of the journals I read regularly is the Harvard Business Review. Clearly skewed toward for profit enterprises, there is always something in HBR that is relevant to the non-profit world. For instance, an article recently described a study that revealed that managers could not tell the difference in work output between employees who worked 80 hours a week and those who pretended to work 80 hours a week.

That caught my attention, and started the wheels turning.

In life, there is always more work than can be accomplished in the hours allocated. Since we often work on behalf of those we love, the needs and the demands can be overwhelming. Consequently, it is always easy to justify longer hours, shorter vacations, and the stretching of work to fill every margin of life. Sitting with co-workers can lead to a subtle boasting of how many hours, evening and weekends that are devoted to work. The problem is that none of that is biblical.

Here is what is amazing – God created the ENTIRE universe in 6 days, and then rested! Why? Not because he needed the rest (He’s God), but because we do. The Almighty modeled behavior that He intends us to emulate. In fact, God made it an imperative: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.”

Why do we need a Sabbath? To keep us sane and close to God. We need a break from work, even the Lord’s work, in order to be creative, tenacious, innovative and effective.

So what does that mean for you?

Perhaps you work 55 hours at the office, plus the time spent commuting each day. At the end of the day you swing by the store on the way home to grab something someone else prepared so you can serve yourself or your family. In the evening you tackle all the responsibilities that your life requires of you – an aging parent, young children, a return to college or grad school, sports, the list is endless. Then you drop off to bed, sleep fitfully, wake up tired and do it all again.

Weekends roll around and are almost worse, crammed with all the stuff you can’t do during the week. Compounding the problem, you feel like you need to be everywhere and do everything or you will have wasted the weekend!


Take a deep breath and then pray, “Lord, help me make a Sabbath that honors you and blesses me, and especially those I love. Amen.”

Then set some specific goals –

Start with a Sabbath hour. I know, I know – that’s not exactly biblical, but it is a start. Take an hour of deliberate rest to focus on your life and ask the questions God is longing to answer: Where am I going? Why am I going THERE?? Who am I sharing the journey with? Is any of this leading to you, Lord?

As you progress, stretch that hour to a day; make a Sabbath Day set aside for refreshment of your soul. Go to church, but do so with margins before and after so you don’t feel harried and rushed. Allow time to connect with folks and chat with them before and/or after worship. Then take the remainder of the day to do something that will be a blessing for you and those you love. There is nothing rigid in any of this, so allow the Spirit to move through your day.

A word of caution that has perhaps already dawned on you: if you are really going to make a Sabbath, you need to plan and prepare for it so the other stuff is already done – or you will worry about it and it will stress you during the very time you need for rest and relaxation.

Finally, in order for it to be a true Sabbath, you might need to be a Techno Sabbath. Yep, that’s exactly what I mean – no digital devices and distractions. And yes, you can survive such a digital detox once a week.

Realizing that all this may seem overwhelming – put it to a test. Take a month and make a Sabbath each week. At the end of the week ask if anything has changed at work, at home, at heart.

#SummitChurchStories – Jan Higdon

When you think of church, what is the first thing that comes to mind? A building?
But what if church is not actually a building?
What if church is actually the very people in the building?
People like you and me.
And with people, come stories… all different kind of stories.

Meet Jan, one of the people who makes up this great church we call The Summit.


There’s more to the elementary school that sits across the street from our downtown campus that many may not know about. It can be seen every weekend on your way into worship but what people may not know is the partnership The Summit Church has with Lee’s Summit Elementary.

Jan Higdon, a Summit Church member, is an active volunteer and The Summit’s main contact with LSE. “Throughout the past years, we have had many active volunteers who are helping during the year providing different services to help where there is a need. Whether that’s small group or one-on-one tutoring, reading, teaching sight-words or any subject area a student may need help in,” Jan expressed, “We try to instill a love for learning which will hopefully stay with the children their whole lives. From my experience as a teacher (now retired), I know how busy a teacher’s day is and there is never enough time to devote to the needs of some students. As volunteers, we can help fulfill those needs.”


Jan continued to share the other big ways the church is involved.

“We also provide lunch for the entire staff at the beginning and end of each school year. In the spring, the school has an activity called, Breakfast with Books, in which we get volunteers to read one or two books to each classroom of students. We have also provided volunteers for their Field Day at the end of the school year. Our church also provides money for a CARES Fund from a portion of the proceeds from Feed The Need. The CARES Fund provides emergency needs to the families that have no food, no shelter or bed, the child that needs glasses to read, the child whose feet hurt because they don’t have the right shoes, the child with no coat when it’s 20 degrees out… the list goes on and on.”

You’d think that’s a lot of serving opportunity but there’s more! Not only do we have volunteers and support funds that help LSE, but there’s also a project known as Family Adoptions. If you’ve been to The Summit around Christmas time, it’s talked about every year and has been for the past ten years.

“Another major support project we do as a church is the Family Adoptions to provide Christmas to the neediest of families at LSE. Ten years ago, our church adopted 15 families from the school. And then this past year? We were able to adopt 80 families from the school! Many people at church have made this a yearly project involving their family, Growth Group or Sunday School members with the buying of gifts. Many of the LSE families that have received the gifts are brought to tears when they see what’s provided and have said they wouldn’t be able to provide their children with Christmas if it wasn’t for The Summit’s generosity.”


That’s life altering. That’s impacting the Kingdom.

“Everyday I walk into the school to volunteer,” Jan shared, “I feel humbled and privileged to be able to help these children. My passion has always been to work with children. From starting my teaching career as a high school teacher, I feel like I have come full circle to be able to help the little ones in the elementary school become successful learners. I feel rewarded and blessed with the opportunity to serve the Lord in this way.”






Slow-Motion Miracle


Today I drove by the West campus with my daughter. Even though the project has been under consideration for a decade, every time I drive by I am astounded. It is like seeing a slow-motion miracle, for none of this could’ve happened without God’s intervention.

Each and every time I see the new structure, it is obvious that progress is being made. As is true with so many things, progress seemed painfully slow to start. So much work needed to be done on the infrastructure: clearing the land, moving the pond, preparing the site… all of that literally took months. And then when the foundation started we couldn’t even see what was happening from a distance until the walls were poured and tipped up into place. Then it seemed absolutely miraculous! And it is! An overnight sensation that took 10 years!

It is amazing how God works in His time to accomplish His will. This entire endeavor has taken so long that I’m not absolutely certain I would’ve agreed to the journey if told in advance how long and arduous it would be. Perhaps that is why God lifts the veil on the future very slowly, drawing us very intentionally toward His vision and will.

When I drive by the land and see the progress, I always pray three things: a prayer of gratitude to God, for the miracle that happened in human hearts and is being brought to fruition through cement and steel; a prayer of protection for those who labor to build this house of God; and a prayer of profound thanks for people like you who have captured the vision and made the sacrifices necessary for God’s miracle to happen.

Just think about the celebration we will have in about nine months!


Is More Always Better?


We live in a culture which teaches us that we are what we have, therefore having more is always preferred. And yet, sometimes it just means having more, and that may not be a good thing at all.

We sold our house this summer and moved into an apartment that is approximately 1000 square feet. To draw you a word picture, that means I can plug the vacuum into the socket in the middle room and not need to move it as I vacuum the entire apartment. We have a one-car attached garage, which is pure luxury in the land of rentals, as well as a tiny storage compartment.

When our house sold, we moved stuff into a storage facility, but prior to doing so we sorted through it all, which was such a pain! I’m embarrassed to admit that we had boxes from our move to Missouri 14 years ago which had never been opened. Believe me, having more isn’t always better; sometimes it’s just crazy. The stuff gets in the way, it requires maintenance and upkeep, and costs money to store. So we refused to move stuff we had not used for more than a decade. We gave it all away. While we were in the mood, we gave away a ton of stuff that we had used, but didn’t really need. It felt wonderful! Freeing, actually.

Construction is now underway on the first, last, and only home we will ever build, God willing. And we have already decided that it will have minimal storage space, because it is never the stuff that you hold in your hands that matters, but rather the experiences of life and love that stuff your heart with joy!

Perhaps that is the reason Jesus, when he commissioned the disciples, cautioned them to travel light. More stuff is definitely not better – it just weighs you down. More life is definitely better – it lifts you up!


It’s Been a While!


Please forgive me… It’s been a while since I’ve written.

That may be a strange way to begin a blog post, but it is absolutely accurate and completely sincere.

Perhaps I should begin by confessing that writing is somewhat of a love/hate endeavor for me; always has been, probably always will be.  The engagement with ideas and the challenge of effectively crafting prose has always appealed, but at times becomes far more of a burden than blessing. When it’s ceases to be the delight of wordsmithing insights, it rapidly devolves to one more deadline to meet, one more responsibility to crank out as the schedule demands.

So, I took most of the summer off from writing blog posts, which felt freeing for a time, and good for my soul. I knew the time was ripe to return to writing when I started to jot notes about things that caught my attention, or my heart, and I felt again the impulse to write something to you.

Thanks for your patience with me!

It’s good to be back and I’m eager to reconnect with you!