When I was a kid, I loved summers. No school. I loved summers all the way until my college graduation.  And then, all of a sudden, the fun summers ended.  The real world hit me in the face in an abrupt and head-spinning way telling me I would now work most of the summer and along the way there would be two weeks of vacation. Two weeks?  

Now in my 36th year with Crossings, I’ve earned a few more weeks of vacation time. The 24/7 nature of leading a church can take its toll. And not just on me, but on every staff member at the church. There are seasons where the schedule is “normal,” which is a hard word to define. And there are seasons where the schedule is excruciatingly demanding. I always get concerned about the summer schedules of our staff. Summer doesn’t slow down for us--it speeds up.  

Add to all this the deadlines and preparation involved in getting ready for a dynamic fall season of ministry. Growing up in Ohio, it was not uncommon for the automotive plants to shut down assembly lines in the summer in order to get ready for production of new models. Ohio summers often found me at work in a couple of those plants. Being a college student meant finding a summer job. 

I’ll never forget Paul Kuck. He was a commercial contractor in the southwest Ohio area. He had a powerful encounter with Christ thanks to a milkman who delivered milk to the farming community where Paul and his family lived.  He found his way to the church where my dad was pastor and then became the General Contractor for the new campus built for the fast-growing congregation.

But he did something even greater for me, my brother, and a few other high school kids in the church: he put us to work. We spent the summer on construction sites including churches, schools, warehouses, and the Chrysler plant.  

I’ll never forget the week I learned how to run a jackhammer.  On one hand, it was fun to get to destroy something!  A concrete pad had to be busted out so a newer, bigger one could be poured.  But the fun lasted about 30 minutes.  Running a jackhammer seemed to jar every bone in my body. My arms hurt, my head hurt, my hands were numb. But it was work, and Mr. Kuck paid us extremely well.  

When there was no work for us on a construction site, he would send us to his farm where he had hundreds of acres of crops and fields.  We went through the fields picking up rocks.  I’m fairly certain he did not really need that done, but he wanted to keep us busy so we’d get a paycheck. 

My summers now find me in deep study and thought as I prepare weekend messages for the fall ministry season. I’m usually out five Sundays and out of the office three or four weeks.  During this time I do a study break, typically in Colorado, where God seems to speak more clearly about things. At various times of the day I will read, do some research, write some thoughts down, and start pursuing topics that are resonating with me.  

Once this information is back into the hands of our team at Crossings, it’s off for a family vacation, this year at the beach.  Kim grew up going to the mountains. I grew up going to the beach. I could live on a beach.  She could live on a mountain.  But since we’re married, we find it best to live in Oklahoma and visit the mountains and the beach in the summers. By the way, while in Colorado, we did take time out for a great dinner celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary.

The summer season always ends on a high note for me.  First, the Willow Creek Leadership Summit takes place the first week. We’ve been hosting this great conference for over 15 years. It is my firm belief that we are better people and a better church by hosting this conference on our church campus every year.  

And after the Summit, I get to do something I look forward to all year: I head to the beautiful hills of northwest Pennsylvania where I join over a thousand people attending their annual convention. Their gathering is called the National Association of The Church of God. This association provides support and leadership to over four hundred African American churches and pastors, many of whom have been a part of my life almost all of my life. They have given me the great honor of speaking at one of their services.  

So, that’s what I call summer.  And even though I hate to leave the beach in the rear view mirror, I’m always eager to get back to that crazy version of “normal” that my family and my church family have come to anticipate every August. And August has arrived!

I’m looking forward to starting a new series on August 20 called “First Things First.” It seems as if God is calling us to consider what really matters. Life can move so fast we easily lose sight of what really matters. I sometimes wonder: what are we striving for?  Why do we pack the schedule full of everything that hinders the most important things?

I believe it is time for our church and everyone who attends Crossings to give serious thought to what God has in mind and make a fearless, courageous decision to focus on what really matters.

The day will come that I may find myself sitting on this beach at an age that earns me the title of “senior citizen.” I don’t want to sit on this beach and wish--wish I had made the right decisions or the hard decisions instead of choosing the easy or typical paths so many choose without any thought. I don’t want to find myself wishing I had spent more time around people I care for. So, I’ve got much to say about putting “First Things First.”  

For now, I’m headed back to the beach to make some more memories with people I really, really love.