20 Things I'm Thankful For - The Wrap-Up Edition...

In the days leading up to this past weekend and the Thanksgiving holiday, I've made a conscious effort to choose to be grateful each day. I want to be proactive in my thankfulness to God for all the blessings he's given me in life. And today, I'm concluding my Thankfulness Series of blog posts by expressing thanks for one of the people I'm most thankful for: my incredible wife.

My wife Johanna is absolutely amazing...and I don't say that just because she cooks the most incredible chocolate pie that man has ever tasted. When God brought Johanna into my life he blessed me with a phenomenal gift. She's encouraing and supportive in all I do. She is a great partner in ministry. She's a loving, caring wife. And she's a freakin' fantastic mother. On top of all that, she puts up with my messiness, my crazy, ADD-driven personality, and my constant joking with her. When I'm down, she knows just what to say to pick me up. When I'm unsure of myself, she knows just how to give me that extra boost of confidence. I really believe that when God created her and put her on this planet, he was thinking about exactly what I would need in a life-partner.

Johanna, I love you so very much. I want you to know that I thank God for the gift of you in my life every day. Thank you for loving and supporting me. I'm so happy that I get to spend forever with you.


20 Things I'm Thankful For - Day 17

For the last several days, I'm making the daily choice to be thankful. Leading up through this Thanksgiving Weekend I am blogging about 20 different things I'm thankful for.

Today, I'm grateful for Youth Pastors. I've spent my entire adult life working with students as a Student Pastor. It's what I've dedicated my life to up to this point. My best friends: Youth Pastors. Most of my college buddies: Youth Pastors. The people I love doing life with: Youth Pastors. I can spot a Youth Pastor from 100 yards away. I don't know if it's because we have a certain look about us (the goatee, cap, and faded jeans) or that there really is something deep inside of us that just recognizes the heart of a student minister in each other. But I do know this: Good, hard-working, Jesus-loving Youth Pastors represent what's best about Jesus and what's best about our world.

There is so much I love about youth pastors. They believe that teenagers can not only do something of value, but they can change the world. They believe that God doesn't make junk. They believe that students are worthy of unconditional love. They believe the church is still a place where you can have fun. They're some of the most creative people I know. They believe following Jesus shouldn't be boring and should be full of life and risk. I love youth pastors. And I am so very thankful for the men and women who have dedicated their lives and callings to serving students and allowing students to know that they are loved by God.

If you're a youth pastor, THANK YOU. I want you to know that what you do is not only important, but it is one of the MOST significant jobs on this planet. I believe in you...and more importantly, God believes in you - and in your ministry.


20 Things I'm Thankful For - Day 16...

Each day leading up to this weekend, I'm choosing to be grateful. Today, I thought I'd throw out a random list of several things that I'm thankful for. You could even call it a Thankfulness Blitz...
  • I'm thankful for political debate...because it means I live in a country where I have the freedom to speak my mind and be involved in the political process.
  • I'm thankful for my water bill...because it means I have clean water to drink. (That's not something everyone in the world has access to. In fact, almost 1 BILLION people in today's world don't have clean water to drink. You can find out more about this need and how you can make a difference here.)
  • I'm thankful that we've only had to buy 3 packages of diapers in almost 7 months for Hayden because of the generosity of others.
  • I'm thankful that the Texas Longhorns are undefeated and on their way to a National Championship. Hook 'Em!
  • While we're on the subject of sports, I'm thankful college basketball season is here so my UNC Tarheels can begin defending that National Championship.
  • I'm thankful I get to go to work everyday with people I love doing life with.
  • I'm thankful that I'll get to spend time with family this week.
  • I'm thankful that I get to preach at TCC this weekend!
  • I'm thankful that I have the most amazing wife and son in the world and that I get a couple days off this week to spend with them.
  • And I'm thankful that you spent a couple minutes reading this. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving and are reminded off EVERYTHING that you have to be thankful for.


20 Things I'm Thankful For - Day 12...

I'm in the middle of a blog series about choosing to be thankful. Each day leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, I'm acknowledging something I'm grateful for.

Today, I'm thankful for friends and community - specifically for my Connection Group. I believe very strongly that God created each and every one us for relationships and community. We're not meant to be alone and we all want some place where we belong. That's why I love my Connection Group! In group, we have friends who accept us right where we are, celebrate life's joys with us, and help us through the tougher times in life that come our way.

If you attend The Connection Church and aren't plugged in to a Connection Group, you're missing out on a place where you can connect with other people who care and can walk through life with you. If you'd like more info on becoming part of one of our groups, email me at nic[at]theconnectionchurch[dot]org.


20 Things I'm Thankful For - Day 10...

This month I'm doing my best to choose to be grateful. Each day leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, I'm expressing thanks for someone or something in my life.

Today, I'm thankful for my electric bill. I know that may sound odd or strange, but I really am. The fact that I get an electric bill in the mail each month means several things. It means on cold mornings, like today, I have electricity to heat my home. It means I have light to turn on when it's dark. I have power to run a refrigerator to store the food I'm able to purchase. When I get a bill in the mail, it also means that I've had the money to pay my bills so far and my electricity hasn't been shut off!

There are millions of people in the world who would love to have the blessing of electricity and the resources and means to pay an electricity bill. The fact that I get a bill each month means I'm blessed. And I'm thankful today for that blessing.


20 Things I'm Thankful For - Day 9...

Each day leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, I'm choosing to be grateful. Today I'm choosing to be thankful for our Family Ministries team here at The Connection Church. Our student minister, Bryan Moore, our children's minister, Trey Williams, and our preschool minister, Jennifer Martinez all serve within our family ministries area here at TCC helping people connect with God, connect with others, and connect others with God. They are committed to the vision and passionate about reaching kids and students with the love of God.

I'm so thankful for Bryan's enthusiam and energy. It is unmatched and it oozes out of him, just like his love for students. And it amazes me that someone who works the night shift still has as much energy to be involved in all the student activities he's leading at TCC.

I'm so thankful for Trey's commitment to excellence and growth. He just recently took over the leadership position within our kids ministries and I am so excited about what the future holds. Trey wants our kids ministries to be top tier and he's growing a great team to reach that goal.

I'm so thankful for Jennifer's positive attitude and spirit. No matter how bad a situation is, Jennifer can always find the positive in it. She always sees the glass as half-full and convinces others to see it that way too because she's so positive!

Bryan, Trey, and Jennifer - You guys rock! And I'm so thankful you're on the team!


20 Things I'm Thankful for - Day 5...

For the 20 days leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, I'm choosing gratitude. Each day I'm sharing something I'm thankful for - sometimes serious, sometimes lighthearted.

Today (Friday, Nov. 13th), I'm choosing to be thankful for football. This weekend marks the beginning of the state high school football playoffs and I'll be the first to admit that I'm not just a fan of football...I'm a fanatic. I love the game. I loved playing the game. I love watching high school football on Friday nights and college football on Saturdays. (But to be honest, I could go without the pro game for the most part. It's more about the money than the game in my opinion.)

Growing up, I learned so many life lessons from the game of football. I learned that you're only as good as you practice. I learned about hard work and determination. I learned that success means sacrifice. I learned that the TEAM is more important than the one. So much about life I learned from a game. And I'm thankful for that game...and for all the life-lessons it's taught me!

20 Things I'm Thankful For - Day 4...

Each day leading up to Thanksgiving I'm choosing to be grateful. I've challenged myself to blog about something I'm thankful for each day leading up to Thanksgiving weekend.

And if you've been keeping track, you realized I skipped the end of the week. Well, I've got a good reason. On Thursday, I was planning to write this blog about something goofy I was thankful for...You know - keep it lighthearted. And I planned to write that blog that evening. The only problem - my sister-in-law had an unexpected c-section to deliver my new niece into the world and we had to spend the evening at the hospital in Austin.

As you can imagine, that also changed what I'm thankful for. So on day four of my 20 Days of Thankfulness, I'm thankful for Luralie Kate Albright and for her parents Clay & Jackie Albright who welcomed this 7 lb. 8 oz. 2o.5 inch lovely baby girl into the world. Luralie, we're so thankful you are here! Jackie & Clay, we are so happy for you both!


20 Things I'm Thankful For - Day 3...

Each day leading up to Thanksgiving weekend I'm choosing to be grateful. I'm sharing one thing each day that I'm thankful for.

Today the choice is simple. Today, I'm thankful for our veterans. The character, strength, integrity, and dedication of our servicemen and women, both past and present, simply amazes me. I grew up with a great respect and awe of those who served in the military. My Papa, who passed away earlier this year, was my hero. He was a career military man, serving in multiple wars and being stationed all over the US and abroad. (You can read about my Papa in this post from last year's Veteran's day by clicking here.) So from an early age I understood the sacrifice and dedication our military personnel show in serving our country.

To all of you who have, and are currently, faithfully and bravely serving our country, preserving our freedom and ensuring me and my family the privileges of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I say THANK YOU. You truly know that freedom is not free. And I am grateful that you were willing to pay the price for my freedom. Happy Veteran's Day.


20 Things I'm Thankful For - Day 2...

For the twenty days leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, I'm choosing to be grateful. Each day I'm sharing something that I'm thankful for. You can read about the idea behind this blog series by clicking here.

Today is day two of things I'm thankful for and today I am expressing thanks for The Barnes' Kids. Joe & Melanie Barnes are two of the great people on the team here at The Connection Church. They do a ton to serve here at TCC and make a difference and impact on the lives of people in our church and community. And they have two incredibly awesome kids!

I'm thankful for Joe & Melanie's children, Britney & Aaron and here's why: Because of how much love and generosity they show my son Hayden. Outside of our family, there may not be anybody who loves our son more than Britney and Aaron. Everytime we go over to the Barnes' home they want to hold him and play with him, without ever getting tired of it. They've given him the sweetest gifts ever too. Britney is learning to sew and she made Hayden a little blankie. Aaron has given Hayden one of his own teddy bears. Britney just recently won a game at our Trunk or Treat event where she got to pick out any stuffed animal she wanted. She came up to me and told me about how she won the game and then said this: "I wanted to win so bad so that I could pick out something for Hayden. So win I won I tried to think to myself, which one of those things would Hayden like?" Is that not awesome?!?! She then gave Hayden a little Winnie The Pooh bear that also had baby rattles attached to it.

Over the past few months God has been teaching me a lot about generosity. He's been working in my heart to make me more generous. And he's been using people to do it. Two of the people God has used most just happen to still be in elementary school! Britney and Aaron, if you read this I hope you know that Johanna, Hayden, and myself are very thankful for both of you and so grateful for all the love you show to Hayden.

Today...and every day...I'm thankful that God uses little kids, just like Britney & Aaron, to make me more of who He wants me to be.

What about you? Who are you thankful for today? Feel free to comment away.


20 Things I'm Thankful For - Day 1...

I'm starting a new series of blog posts today that will continue through Thanksgiving weekend. Each day I'm choosing thankfulness and will be posting something or someone I'm thankful for. You can check out the thoughts behind the idea here.

Today to kick things off I'm choosing to be thankful for a healthy baby boy. My son, Hayden Russell Burleson, turned 6 months old last week. He has forever changed my life. He makes me want to be a better man, a better pastor, a better husband, and a better friend...all because I know he's watching every single move I make.

Several years ago I was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor and underwent surgery to remove the tumor. The damage done to my pituitary gland has several affects on my body. When my wife and I talked to my doctor about having a child and the affects of what that tumor did to my body, my doctor literally laughed at the idea that we even thought it was a possibility.

Fast forward less than a year and Johanna is pregnant with Hayden. Within 16 months of that doctor's laughter, we welcomed a healthy, strong, incredible baby boy into our lives. And after 6 months, we haven't done anything to screw him up yet! At his 6 month appointment last week we were told we have a strong, healthy, growing son. And I thank God EVERY DAY for the blessing of His gift to us.

What are you thankful for today? Being thankful can change your entire outlook on life!

20 Things Im Thankful For...

Today I'll be starting a series of blog posts that will run for the next twenty days - through Thanksgiving weekend. Each day I'll be giving thanks for someone or something...Some days will be deep and introspective. Some days will be random and light. But each day I will choose to be thankful.

In our "it's-all-about-me and I've-gotta-have-more" society, gratitude is a dying virtue. We live in a world where we feel entitled to everything and owed anything we could ever want or wish for. It's a sickness. And so often that sickness results in diminishing thankfulness.

So for the next 20 days, beginning with the first post later this afternoon, I'm choosing to be thankful - for God's provisions, for His blessings, and for things and relationships I don't deserve.

So what is it that you're thankful for? Comment away.


Habits of Great Group Leaders...

At The Connection Church we believe that our Connection Groups are the best place for people to experience authentic life-change, build healthy, biblical relationships, and find a place where they belong and can be cared for. That means that our Connection Group Leaders play a vital role in the health and growth of our church. So what makes a great Group Leader? I'm glad you asked.

8 Habits of Great Group Leaders:

  1. A great group leader prays daily for their group and for the individual group members.

  2. A great group leader is always looking for new people to invite to check out the group.

  3. A great group leader makes sure that group members are contacted regularly and kept informed of group happenings, schedules, and needs within the group.

  4. A great group leader spends time preparing for the group meeting so that it is the best it can possibly be.

  5. A great group leader is always in the process of raising up new leadership by mentoring a person as a co-leader.

  6. A great group leader plans activties to build community and connections within the group outside of the normal group meeting time.

  7. A great group leader is committed to their own personal spiritual growth, understanding that you cannot lead people farther than you've been.

  8. A great group leader consistently pushes the vision of seeing every person at the church connected in a group, which leads to adding healthy, growing groups each semester.


Developing Low-Bar Leaders...

Back in my middle school & high school days, I played football...and loved it. But what I didn't love were the off-season workouts that went along with playing football. One drill in particular that I hated were the hurdle drills. With the goal in mind of developing our movement and agility, our coaches would make us jump, flat footed, over track hurdles set at different heights. Now don't get me wrong: There were days when this was easy. When the hurdles were set to the lowest height, this drill was a piece of cake. Everyone on the team could do it and we could jump those things all day long. But when the bar was raised, that was another story. With the hurdles set on high, it was a lot more work, it was sometimes painful, and there was a bigger risk of failure. And it definitely wasn't something everyone could do with ease.

As I think about those days of jumping hurdles, it makes me ponder where we set the leadership bar in our churches today. I think far too many times, as pastors and leaders, we're guilty of lowering the bar. We think that this will give us more leaders, erase the roadblocks to becoming a leader, and somehow eventually result in maturity, growth, and positive change. Unfortunately, that just isn't the case. So how do we know if we've set the bar too low? Check this out below:

How To Develop Low Bar Leaders
  1. Steer clear of accountability. If you want low bar leaders, then be sure you never hold people accountable. Make sure you don't have any standards that leaders are held to and, by all means, don't step in when there are problems with a leader's character or actions.
  2. Refuse to develop clearly communicated requirements and standards. If it is one thing that low bar leaders hate, it is being held to a standard that is clearly expressed throughout your organization. In order to keep low bar leaders happy, be sure to water down your requirements for leadership and be unclear in your communication of these requirements.
  3. Give everyone in your church or organization an equal amount of time. In ministry, more is caught than taught. It's a simple principle. Great leaders spend more time with less people, in order to invest in their leaders. If you want low bar leaders, be sure to spread your time evenly among everyone, never giving any extra attention to those who have the potential to make a major impact within your church.
  4. Avoid dealing with people who knowingly and willfully fall short of the bar. Let's face it: When we set the bar low, it makes it a lot easier for everyone to jump over with very little commitment, effort, or dedication. When we set the leadership bar high in our organization or church, it means that we will have to confront those who continually fall short of the bar and that means dealing with conflict. And no one likes that, right? So let's keep the bar low. It's more comfortable that way.
  5. Never ask people to step up or to take the next step. Churches and organizations that produce high level leaders are consistently challenging people to grow by taking the next step in their faith, in their leadership, and in their commitment to the cause. If we want to keep low bar leaders, then we need to keep ourselves from making the "big ask" and challenging people to step up to the next level. Let people get comfortable and complacent where they're at and they'll be content at the low bar level for life.

In our churches, when we set the leadership bar low, everyone clears the bar...but no one wins - especially the people we're trying to reach with the love and hope of Jesus Christ. Raising the bar may mean more hard work, the possibility of dealing with some pain, and a bigger risk of failure...but in the end, it produces change that the low bar never will.