Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merrry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Tonight we had a great Christmas Eve experiment - 2 Christmas Eve Services outside in the park in 2 different neighborhoods.

Although one neighborhood service was better attended than the other, we had about 70 or so people overall join us for carols, Scripture reading from Luke 2, a short message from me, and the cool Christmas vocal stylings of Kim Wells with her guitar. But no candles...high winds and dry weather caused a red flag burning ban! Definitely a great night, and we had many new people asking about Compass Church.

In other news, we were recently contacted by Birchwood Community Church, who is now one of our Sponsoring Church Partners! Very cool. I'm looking forward to an incredible 2006!

And now from me, my lovely wife Leona and the three M's: We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year!

Gotta rock. I have one more Santa role to play....

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Parents' Shopping Day Out" Photos

We've now posted a few photos on the Compass Church website from our recent "Parents' Shopping Day Out." The kids were great and had a lot of fun, and the parents were all very appreciative of the free time. This was an excellent event, and Brenda, Kim, Leona and Cassandra made it happen. Great job, ladies! Thanks also to Ricky, Dan, and my own Matthew and Melissa for being great helpers throughout the day!

Here I am leading the complicated and tricky game of "Simon (or in this case, Santa) Says."

See the rest of the gallery here: Shopping Day Out Gallery

On a side note, I can't believe how old my son Matthew (on the right) looks in this picture! And it was just yesterday that Melissa (on the left) looked like the little girl standing in front of me, here! It's not a cliche' it's just true - They grow up faster than you think, and time rocks on...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Santa Fun Links From Dave

Dave Trotter of Revolution Church has 3 funny "Santa" links on his blog, today. Take a break from the holiday stress and don't take any of these too seriously...

After donning the red suit twice this year, I especially liked the "pictures of kids who were scared of Santa" link!

Check out the links here: Christmas Fun

Saturday, December 17, 2005

One More Podcasting Idea (or so...)

Terry Storch & Brian Bailey are writing a book called, "Blogging Church: Sharing The Story of Your Church Through Blogs" and have a great blog and podast over at

I did a post back in September called, "Creative Podcasting Ideas" that Terry graciously linked to today. I originally only posted 19 ideas, but in honor of the mention, here's one more.

Idea #20 - Leave them with a "cliff hanger." (This is similar to a previous idea, but with a different twist) Give people a reason to want to catch your next podcast. It worked in the golden days of radio, why not the golden days of podcasting?

Example 1: "And then something completely unexpected happened...And I'll tell you all about it in the next podcast!"

Example 2: "So there are 4 ways to affair-proof your marriage. In the next podcast I'll tell you about the 5th one. It's incredibly powerful, and pulls the last four together. See you then."

Example 3: "In my next podcast, I'll be making a very special announcement that you don't want to miss. I'm very excited about it and can't wait to tell you about it. Spread the word!" (This is a version of the previously mentioned idea.)

Example 4: "Jake, you've had an amazing experience. I want to thank you for sharing that with us, today. But something happened later that changed everything for you, didn't it?"
"Yeah, it was unbelievable."
"In the next podcast, I'd like for you to tell us all about that and what it has to do with us."
"Cool. I'd love to do that."
"Thanks, Jake. Well, that's it for today, folks..."
Well there you have it. A nice round number. 20.

... Ok, that's just dull.

So here's one more:

Idea #21 - Have a Contest & Give Something Away. Just like on the radio, only make it "email number 5" wins an autographed copy of your new book or something. Announce the winner on your blog.

Rats. Now I've messed up the list. Does that mean I have to take it up to 30? Hey, maybe there's an ebook in the making here. Oh wait a minute. I guess you're reading it now, aren't you? So never mind. I guess I'll have to create an idea e-book for something else...

Check out the blogging church link here: Podcasting Ideas

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Santa Epilogue

What happened next and random final thoughts:
  • The following Saturday I was Santa again at my neighborhood's holiday event. Wasn't quite the same as the week before, but I was now an old hand at this stuff. :) By the way, Leona was actually "Mrs. Claus" at this event. I may have to post that photo later.
  • I realized this week that I'll be on hundreds of people's refrigerators this year. They just won't realize it's me.
  • When I was at the Rec Center today, well over a week later, somebody walked by me and said, "Hey, Santa!" I'm not sure, but I think it was one of the members of my "Christmas Posse." ' I didn't really recognize him, though, without the Gingerbread head.
  • It dawned on us that this past Easter, Leona was the Easter Bunny at a city event, and that this Christmas I was Santa Claus. Surely people are going to begin to talk...
  • Life is full of beautiful, adventurous and unexpected "God moments." Determine in your heart to not miss any of them.
  • Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Or day. Or whatever.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Surprised By Santa, (Part the 4th)

While waiting for my cue to start the festivities, I ran into the wife of another Church planter in the Roanoke area. As she gave me a friendly greeting, I felt a slight feeling of remorse at having hit her husband upside the head with a candy cane thrown from a Christmas Float at last year's parade. But the feeling passed quickly, and I went back to thinking it had been a good idea...:)

To get to where I needed to be to get things rolling, I had to walk into the crowd, through the lobby, up two flights of stairs, down the hall, and through a classroom to get to the balcony loft where the Christmas Tree was waiting.

Making my way through that crowd was no small task. Halfway through the lobby I felt a tug and a weight on my right side, and turned to discover a little kid who was happily hugging my leg. My first reaction was to do a W.C. Fields' impression: "Go away, kid, ya' bother me..." Instead I gave her a gentle hug in return and then, just as gently, pried her little claws off of my Santa pants. Those baggy red trousers were loose enough already, and one more tug would create a show of hilarity and slapstick of a totally different sort.

When I finally made it to the balcony, the spotlight moment had arrived. "Tree lighting remote control" in one hand, I used my other to put the bullhorn to my fuzzy fake beard. With my best, deep, barrel-throated Santa voice I shouted, "Welcome to the brand new Roanoke Recreation Centerrrr!!"

I expected a thunderous applause, but instead got two crickets playing patty cake.

So I moved quickly into my act. I did a little of the "Have you all been good this year?" stuff, and it didn't get much of a reaction either. So I shifted to the countdown.

"Are you ready? Let's count it down! 3-2-1!"

And amazingly, I hit the button at the right time and at the right angle and the tree lit up like a... well, like a Christmas Tree. That's when finally the place erupted in applause. And what an incredible sound of relief that was to me.

When I walked into the gym where the "photos with Santa" were to be made, again the crowd applauded and cheered. That's when I noticed the Compass Church Team to my right, busily serving hot chocolate and cookies while signing people up for the Parents' Shopping Day Out. No one was applauding their efforts, but I couldn't help thinking how proud I was of them. I knew I didn't have to worry about whether or not they would do a great job with this serving thing - it's in their DNA (and the DNA of our church).

A servant's heart is not optional for spiritual maturity; it's an indicator of spiritual maturity.

The next hour was spent with various and asundry people sitting on my knee for photos, which believe it or not, was actually kind of fun.

There were kids who completely freaked out, kids who were overjoyed and ready to tell me what they wanted for Christmas, and kids who hadn't quite decided if they were too old for this stuff or not. There were teenagers just goofing around, a giggly lady from Germany (Vaht are you going to bdring to me, Zhanta?) and even all of the members of my "Christmas Posse." The Reindeer had apparently decided to forgive me for stepping on her foot earlier in the night. One of my favorite photos taken was with the spunky little old lady who told me, "Honey, I was rescued off of a roof during Katrina, and I want my picture taken with Santa!"

But one of my favorite moments during that segment was when the dudes from the Rec Center, Robert and Eric, brought me a glass of water at the request of my lovely wife, Leona. They handed me the cup and then stood guard, blocking me from view while I lifted my "beard" to take a drink! All those guys needed were shades and their fingers to their ears to finish out the scene. Santa Security. I sure wish I had a picture of that.

After a very, very long time, it was over. The crowds were gone and I could now get out of the Santa suit, which by this time was in need of some serious dry cleaning. The shirt I was wearing underneath the hot suit was definitely in need of a trip to the wash. Fortunately for me, the Rec Center Staff gave me a cool new Roanoke Recreation Center Golf Shirt as a lovely parting gift. I think that they were originally going to give me a T-Shirt, but then someone suggested that "We need to give Santa a golf shirt!" And voila' - I got the upgrade.

The night drew to a close with me and my family getting a ride together in the horse drawn carriage, and having a great conversation with the driver who led us in a stirring rendition of "Jingle Bells" while we rode along. I kid you not.

And then to completely top off the night, the city gave our church a special award. It is the first award we've received as "Compass Church." I didn't see that one coming, so it was a very nice and unexpected moment.

So I was surprised by Santa. I was surprised by the city. I was surprised by myself. And I was surprised by God. And you would have seen the look of surprise on my face, if it hadn't been covered by that nasty beard. It was no surprise that I was happy to get rid of that.

And when my head finally hit the pillow later that evening, there were no visions of dancing sugarplums to be had by me - only deep, peaceful, and (for the first time in a long while) ...surprisingly restful sleep.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Surprised by Santa (Part 3)

As the Christmas Posse (see the last post) and I got on the train, I started doing the first of my "Santa Schtick." Pulling out of the parking lot, I started shouting to those on the sidewalk, "Hey, hey, hey!" like Fat Albert. Then I quickly changed it back to "ho, ho, ho!"

Clever, ay? Too bad I didn't have a drummer who could do a rim shot. People cracked up, anyway, lame as it was.

As we rode in the little train from the Rec Center to the front of the parade line, I reflected on how we had created our own float last Christmas and threw out candy canes with info about our church to the crowd. I also thought about how incredibly ineffective that really was. In hindsight, it may have had something to do with people getting hit in the face with a card about a church when they were expecting something fun and festive. Hmm... I could really run with that right now, applying it to churches in general, but it's kind of a tangent and I'm starting to digress...

Hopping off the train, I found Robert from the rec staff waiting to escort me to the float of honor. It was kind of fun having my own security detail everywhere I went, but he was walking kind of fast. I had to almost run to keep up with him and was a bit paranoid that I was going to be mobbed by the crowd as I went! Isn't that a lovely sentiment? Santa Claus, beloved by all, running for his life to keep from being mauled by all...!

But I wasn't mauled or mobbed, and let me just say that it is really surreal to be a struggling church planting pastor one minute and an "instant celebrity" the next! Cheers, people waving, and excited shouts of "Hey, there he is!" coming from over my shoulder gave me one of the first of many surprises:

It's hard to be depressed when you're playing Santa Claus.

Strange how even "superficial" encouragement is such a powerful thing. To hear nothing but positive things being shouted at and around a person can do a lot for someone who's discouraged. I actually wish every pastor could have the opportunity to receive the encouragement and welcome that I, as Santa, received on that night.

I didn't realize how much I really needed it until I received a huge dose of it. And I found myself soaking it up like a sponge; not in a "seeking praise of man," arrogant kind of way, but in a humble, thirsty kind of way.

Encouragement is one of those nebulous things that everyone acts as though they can make it without, but is actually a vital need that we all have. It's one of those needs that goes deeper than we usually realize and one that we rarely (if ever) admit that we even have.

It's no wonder that God's Word stresses it so emphatically:

"So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing." - 1 Thessalonians 5:11 [NLT]

My guess is that you are "under encouraged." Most people are. And Pastors most definitely are. So here's a quick note to self and to you: Start encouraging people more. - a lot more. It's incredible the difference it can make.

Robert led me along to my "Parade ride," which turned out to be a horse drawn carriage, and to my "Parade riding partner," who turned out to be the Mayor of the city of Roanoke!

"Would you mind escorting Santa the rest of the way?" Robert asked.
"Well, that depends on who he is!" the Mayor responded in a good natured way.
"Hi, there, how're you doin'?" I said, as if we were old friends.

The mayor greeted me warmly, and we made our way to the carriage. For the next 30 minutes or so, I was the official Santa Claus in the Roanoke Christmas parade. I was "ho, ho, ho-ing" and "Merry Christmas-ing" and "Hello, boys and girls-ing" like a pro, all the while chatting with the Mayor here and there, and generally cracking him up as we went along.

And there was plenty to be cracking up about. Not the least of which was the fact that it was about 80 degrees outside. But never fear, by the time the whole evening wrapped up, it was down to about 40. ...Welcome to Texas.

As the parade progressed, it was amazing to see faces brighten and smiles appear when I simply made eye contact, shouted greetings to people and actually acknowledged them in the process. Everyone really responded to being singled out and greeted by this "character of Christmas joy." Noticing this was when I was hit with surprise number two, and it wasn't that I got to hang out with the Mayor.

I was surprised that all of this reminded me how much I care about people. Why I'm in Roanoke, in the first place. Why I'm planting a church.

It's because God cares about people. And He wants people to also care about Him; to understand that He's the answer to their problems. It's not that God needs us, however. He isn't pitiful. But He cares because that's just who He is. He loves and cares about people. He's holy and righteous, to be sure, but He's also the God who is moved with compassion over people who wander around like sheep without a shepherd.

I found myself joyfully trying to connect with these people and communicate hope through the silly guise of Santa Claus. Of course as "Santa" that fell short, but it was my heart none the less.

Recently, I had prayed that God would make my heart overflow with compassion for the people of this area. He surprised me by doing just that in an unexpected time and in an unexpected way - while I was waving at people as "Santa Claus" in a Christmas Parade. I actually felt my heart softening, my concern deepening and my compassion growing as the parade marched on.

All along the way, the Mayor sitting next to me had no clue who I was. But when the parade wrapped up, he was immediately asking anyone who might know.

"Who is that guy in the Santa suit?"

I was now beginning to wonder that a little, myself as I made my way from the carriage to the Rec Center. My evening of the "St. Nick Schtick" was apparently just getting started. There was a big crowd gathering, and it was "Santa time"...

(to be concluded...)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Surprised by Santa (Part 2)

I arrived early to the Recreation Center. I wanted to make sure I had a chance to look at the "Santa suit" and discover where I was supposed to be and when. It was kind of weird to hear the Recreation Staff greet me with, "Santa's here! Hey, Santa!" even though I wasn't yet wearing the suit. I kept looking behind me and side to side thinking, "Dude! you're giving away my secret identity!"

I greeted everyone and then touched base with my team from Compass, to make sure that everything on our side of things was set. They were ready to go - Compass Church Lanyards for team members, Hot Chocolate ready to be prepared and served, sign up sheets and flyers for our Parents' Shopping Day Out ready to be distributed (more on this later).

With my mind set at ease by thoughts of my team nestled snuggly in their posts, visions of sugarplums started dancing in my head as I started to make the transition into the right jolly old elf.

Mike, the Director of the Recreation Center, shared with me my "duties." He handed me a remote control for lighting the giant Christmas Tree, and began telling me what I was supposed to say. "Say?" I thought, "You mean I have to talk?" I had thought that I would just be riding on the back of a firetruck and waving at the crowd...

Basically, following the parade, I was to get everyone's attention with a bullhorn, welcome them to the Roanoke Recreation Center, do a little "Now have you all been good this year?" stand-up routine, and start the count down to the lighting of the Christmas tree, using the remote to turn on the lights at the magic moment.

The visions of sugarplums started dancing again, but this time with a few extra kicks to my stomach. That's when the sugarplums turned into Galadriel speaking very seriously to little "Frodo Santa Me" with the words, "This task has been given to you...and if you do not find a one will."

If you've never worn a real Santa suit, it's quite an experience. Belts, fake boot tops, big red pants, abominable snowman wig and a fake beard that is impossible to keep out of your mouth. I felt like I was kissing a stuffed animal all night.

The time came for the parade to begin, and I had to be escorted to the little train that was going to take me and my "posse" to our places in line. I hadn't had a chance to really meet the posse beforehand, but they were a reindeer, a snowman, a big gingerbread man, and a walking Christmas Tree.

On our way out the door, the staff said, "Wait, let's get you all together for a photo by the Christmas Tree before you head out." We posed like for pictures at Grandma's, and they put me in the middle. After the photo was taken, the Reindeer turned to me in an anguished voice and said, "You're standing on my foot!"

I apologized profusely on our way to the little train and thought, "Oh no, now the Reindeer hates me and doesn't have my back..."

And so it began.

(to be continued...)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Surprised by Santa

Last Saturday night was one of those surreal and special evenings that I'm sure I will remember for a long time. It was also a pivotal night for Compass Church, with lots of laughter, great conversations with many new people, and the stirrings of some serious buzz.

Here's what happened.

Several days ago, the Roanoke Parks & Rec Staff was discussing the final plans for the Roanoke Christmas Parade, when someone asked, "So who do we have lined up to be Santa?" That is when they realized that they had lined up no one to be Santa. Then, amazingly, my name came up. The next thing I know, I'm on the phone agreeing to don the red super suit, although generally, I'm only mild mannered Johnny Leckie...

Now the Roanoke Christmas Parade is a one of a kind event around here. There are certainly other "holiday" parades in several other cities around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, but this is the only one that I know of that takes place at night. Our church has served with the city at this event before, serving hot chocolates and cookies afterward, and last year we even had a float in the parade - but this is the first time the Newly Built Roanoke Recreation Center was in the mix.

It was also the first time I've ever played "Santa Claus" in such a public setting.

Let me pause to say that if you fall into the: "you know, if you rearrange the letters of of the word 'Santa' you get 'Satan!'" camp, and/or can't imagine a pastor actually portraying the jolly fellow during this or any other time of year, here's my gentle advice to you:
  • Realize that you could probably relax a little.
  • Consider that it very well may be time for a new laxative.
  • For heaven's sake, please don't take that last line too seriously.
  • To avoid any righteous indignation on your part, please skip the next couple of posts.
Otherwise, grab some hot chocolate or hot apple cider, and allow me to share with you about the night I was surprised by Santa...

And he was me.

(to be continued...)

A Prayer From Ephesians 3:16-21 (NLT)

- From my time alone with God this morning -

I pray:

• That from God’s glorious, unlimited resources He will give me mighty inner strength through His Holy Spirit. (16)

• That Christ will be more and more at home in my heart as I trust Him. (17a)

• That my roots will go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. (17b)

• That I may have power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love really is, (18)

• That I may experience the love of Christ, though it is so great I will never fully understand it. (19a)

• That as a result of that (above), I will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (19b)

• That I would continually say from experience: Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, He is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. (20)

• That He would be given glory in me & the church I pastor, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever through endless ages. Amen! (21)

And I pray the same for you.

[Ephesians 3:16-21]