This Changes Everything

Mike —  October 8, 2015 — Leave a comment

Our church has been going through The Story together and the last line of last week’s chapter keeps resonating in my heart and in my head. “Is the Lord among us or not?”

The Hebrews had just been rescued from Egypt and delivered from a life of slavery by events that unmistakably pointed to God’s presence and intervention in their circumstances. Yet in the time it takes to get hungry in the wilderness, it seems they forgot how they got there. The plagues that convinced Pharaoh to let them go… The pillar of fire and cloud that led them forward and kept the Egyptians at bay… The sea path that dried up for them to cross, then refilled fast enough to obliterate the oncoming army…

“Is the Lord among us or not?”

The answer seems obvious, but before we get on their case too much we may want to step back and examine our own lives. Are we living lives that look like we know that He is among us? In Acts 4, Peter and John surprised the Jewish council with a passionate response to their attempts to quiet the disciples’ talk of Jesus and to stifle any display of the power of His name. They shouldn’t be able to defend themselves so eloquently. They’re unschooled… These are just ordinary guys from the lake… But they had been with Jesus!

And that changed everything.

The presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives gave them courage to live lives that didn’t make any sense. He enabled them to do things that they could not possibly have done without Him there. What is going on in our churches and in our lives that doesn’t make sense apart from the intervention of God? What is happening in our relationships that gives unmistakable evidence that the Lord is indeed among us? Jesus early disciples rocked the Roman empire in the wake of His resurrection by adopting orphans and abandoned kids, caring for sick people left to die alone, and valuing human life in ways that no other culture did.

We need the same Spirit of courage today. We’ve too often forgotten how we got here, and we’ve become afraid. Instead of living as a life giving culture within every dark corner of our world, we cower and cling to our rights. We’re afraid they’ll take our guns and indoctrinate our children so we rail about the 2nd Amendment and pull the young salt and light from places that are desperately in need of their influence. We’re afraid the world is coming to an end so we squirrel away every golden nut we trust to keep us going in the dark days ahead. We’re afraid the government is out to get us all, so we re-post every conspiracy theory and sensational headline we find that lends credence to our fears. We’re afraid we’re just not good enough to deserve the love of God, so we re-post the ridiculously viral Facebook attempts to curry Jesus’ favor. I have nothing against responsibly owning guns and educating our own kids, or planning ahead and not counting on politicians to have our best interest at heart – but don’t be motivated toward those things by fear.

Is the Lord among us or not? Could we just stop? Stop being afraid, church. They’ve already killed the one who laid down every right He had. They pulled His body off the cross, wrapped it up, and put Him in a grave. And He already defeated the enemy! We have nothing left to fear!

God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.

-Paul, in a great reminder to his spiritual son, Timothy

“Is the Lord among us or not?”

May the lives we live reveal that we know with every breath we take that He is.

The Key to Having Enough Energy

Mike —  September 2, 2015 — 1 Comment

The idea of rest seems greatly out of place in a world where meals are done in minutes and taken on the go so we can make it to the next thing… whatever that next thing may be. We bounce from one event or activity to the next in what seems like an attempt to squeeze everything possible into days that are just not long enough. Or maybe we’re trying to keep up with the neighbors and friends that seem to float through everything with ease. (They don’t, by the way, they’ve just figured out how to look like they do – for now.)

But rest is critical and we know it. We feel it. We flat out run out of steam and need to rejuvenate somehow. So we crank up the coffee and slam another energy drink in an attempt to churn our way through another 5 hours… but then what? We hype energy-shake-for-breakfast lifestyle home businesses and tell all our friends how much better we feel, until, ironically, we run out of steam (or friends to tell)… And we still feel worn out.

So the voices of wisdom advise us to take some time off. Refresh. Get away from it all.

Or maybe they tell us that we’re just doing too many things that drain us and we need to stop. Get rid of the energy vampires in our lives. Replace them with activities that energize!

But what if there’s more to it than the amount and type of activity we do? Then no amount of rearranging schedules and clearing itineraries will really work.


What if we feel all used up, because we’re missing the reason behind our frenetic pace? What if we could re-engage in a life of productivity by re-examing the purpose behind it all?

One of my students recently drew my attention to Jesus’ invitation to the weary in Matthew 11.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

It’s incredible that immediately after offering rest, Jesus instructs the weary to link up with Him in a harness meant to get work done. Kingdom work. Heavy work. Make no mistake, there is rest for our souls. But it’s not found in the right activities or the absence of the wrong ones. It’s not found in a proper amount of down time or just checking out for a while.

It’s found when we join ourselves with Jesus in His work to advance the Kingdom of His Father and to put His love on full display. I have a suspicion that when we put ourselves to work fully for His purpose, His Spirit will fill us with all the rest and energy we’ll ever need.

[*This is a post from 2011 that I’ve reworked today, when hail damage was the good news of the day!]

What do you do when everything sucks?

What do you do when everything sucks?

Just thought I’d follow up on a previous post sparked by the struggles of my favorite football team. What Do You Do When Everything Sucks? I offer a few suggestions:

1. Walk around with a tragic look, so people can tell that everything sucks. Black turtlenecks can help with this, but not those cool Steve Jobs kind – keep ’em sloppy and a size or two too big. Be sure not to offer any real clue when people ask what’s wrong, though. They might just do something helpful and mess up the whole suffering vibe you’ve got going. Just embrace the suckiness and let life take shots at you like a fish flopping around the bottom of a dry barrel.

2. Frequently let out heavy, audible sighs. These are kind of wasted when you’re alone, but try a few for practice anyway. See how long you can keep the exhale going and experiment with a little bit of vocals thrown in for good measure. If you work in a cubicle, you can learn to bounce these off the ceiling into some neighboring boxes, while not alerting some others to your plight. This way, you can ensure a little sympathy from that nice looking hamster in the next wheel over and avoid any awkwardness with that guinea pig, Stan, on the other side. Be really careful with the vocalizing though, too much and you’re just going to start laughing at how ridiculous you sound and the levity of the moment may make you forget that everything sucks.

3. Lie around and don’t do anything productive. Being productive may actually change something about your circumstances, then what would you have to feel crappy about?

4. Turn off the lights and walk around in semi darkness – in your sloppy dark turtleneck, of course. When anyone asks why the lights are off, just shrug your drooping shoulders and tell them you didn’t notice… must be because of all the darkness you feel surrounding your soul these days.

5.Write a blog post that will remind yourself what a moron you’re being as you go around as if everything sucks, when in fact, every thing does not suck. Actually, while it is true that some things do suck, there are many things not sucking at all. For example, our wife is awesome and your kids are genetically gifted because you’re not so bad yourself. Your friends think you’re great and love to hang out any chance you give them. So, once you’ve acknowledged that there are some things that don’t suck, turn the freakin’ lights on, ditch the “sackcloth and ashes,” grab hold of just how deeply you are loved by the one who made you, and get back to living the life He dreams for you.

(Also, throw that stupid turtleneck away and get some clothes that fit.)

Check out this other post for some practical ways you can Recalibrate, today, and move on from the suckitude.

She’s Playing My Song

Mike —  May 20, 2015 — Leave a comment

I’ve written a few songs over the years. A love song written to a girl I hoped wouldn’t laugh too much… A goofy song to present a Bible story to a bunch of kids that I hoped would at least laugh a little… Some dumb jingles just to make myself laugh… And a few songs I hoped would draw my students together in worship. One song that I’ve done on piano (it’s really just a running bass line and some melodic chords strung together) has caught my oldest daughter by the ear and she’s decided to figure it out. The other day as I sat in the living room, I found myself humming along to a familiar tune that was playing in the background. Then I realized – she’s playing my song!

I don’t know why this struck me this time in particular, she’s been playing it for a few weeks now, but it did. Then in a significant moment, a quiet whisper wondered, “What else would she play?” Of course she was playing the song I’ve been playing for her for years. Of course the melodies she’s heard flowing from my life would find their way into her own. How could they not? Of course the patterns I’ve held out to her and demonstrated as beautiful would be reached for and held onto, as if she were once again reaching for my fingers as she stumbled into her first steps.

Wait… we are still talking about music, right?

No, not really.

The girl who didn’t laugh too much at my first song still holds my hand on walks, but my daughter doesn’t need to cling to my fingers when she walks anymore. And she doesn’t ONLY play my songs. She’s making music of her own. Our kids make lives of their own. This shouldn’t be a big revelation to anyone who has children. They begin to assert their own will on life right away. But they do so within the frameworks and patterns they see in our own lives.


This way, Dad?

As a dad, I want to make sure the life I’m living is worth emulating. If they grow up to be “just like me” – I want to make sure that’s a good thing! There are a few things I’m doing to make sure that it is: (Do your next generation a favor and try them, too…)

  • Imitate Christ. As long as I’m living a life that looks like Jesus, there is no shame in saying “Do what I do.” The call of the disciple is to learn the way the Master lives – then teach that way to others. That starts in our own homes.
  • Don’t feel like you have to hide all the sour notes. It’s nice when our kids think we’re perfect, but then their eyesight clears up and they start to see the truth. Sometimes, we make mistakes. We need grace to be forgiven and strengthened. It’s better for our kids to see us being re-shaped by His grace than pretending we don’t need it. Because they need it to.
  • Keep making new music! Sometimes, I forget that my life today is not what it will be tomorrow. I get tuned in to the rhythms of the choices I’ve made and forget to keep experimenting and tinkering with new chords and lines and instruments. Our kids need to see us continuing to set out on new steps of faith that require us to trust God to lead.
  • Sometimes, let them lead. You’ll be amazed at what your kids have learned without you noticing. Let them take you somewhere unexpected!

Are We Missing Something?

Mike —  April 15, 2015 — 1 Comment

Jesus’ heart for the next generation is evident. He told the disciples to stay out of the way of some kids who were trying to get to Him. He gives a strict warning to anyone who would hinder the young from coming to Him. (And offers death by drowning as a preferable alternative!) He even holds up the faith of a child as an example that the adults he was talking to should follow!

For generations, the faithful church has reflected His heart for the young (as well as His heart in every other matter). But sometimes, our attempts to do so have come with unfortunate side effects. Over the last 60 years or so, as youth culture has increasingly developed its own distinctions from the larger culture, I’m afraid the job of ushering the next generation into the presence and Life of Jesus has been misplaced – it’s been left up to ‘the experts’.

Youth speakers, pastors of student ministry, youth ministers… With good intentions, churches have designated people like me as the ones to make disciples of the next generation. But the unfortunate side effect in this case is that most of the rest of the church begins to shirk its responsibility because “we hired someone to work with the kids.” The truth is, the youth minister cannot do the whole work that is necessary for the church to reach the next generation. It takes (in the case where I serve) a nurse and an entomologist and a lab tech and a paint guy and a painter and moms and dads and grandparents and a social security worker and a veteran and the cable guy… We need teachers and coaches and sales associates and railroaders and office workers and clerks and secretaries and managers and… Hey, what’s your profession? We need those, too.

See, the responsibility for reaching and equipping the next generation to make disciples isn’t just mine. It’s ours. They need all of us to collectively reach out as the Body of Christ and invite them into the adventure of discipleship in every walk of life.

This isn’t really just a youth ministry issue though, is it? Aside from “Love God and love your neighbor.” there may be no other command of Jesus as clear as “Go make disciples.” He said a lot of things that were sort of hard to understand that we’re not quite sure what to do with, but “Go make disciples.” isn’t one of them. And yet… aren’t there a lot of people who show up in church services regularly who aren’t making disciples? How have we misplaced one of the most basic functions of who we are? Is the painter who never paints anything really a painter?

It saddens me to think of how many believers have basically ignored this plain instruction and could not name a single disciple they’re “making”. It saddens me even more to think of how many young disciples-to-be may never know the potential they have in His service because the church hired someone else to take care of the students and stopped making disciples of the kids in their own communities. Would you do a check and make sure that doesn’t describe you? Connect with the kids around you. Invite them into your life and share the journey of discipleship with them. Start now.

Is there something you’re missing that you need in order to make disciples? Can I help you with the nuts and bolts of making disciples? (Use the contact page above or send me a message to get in touch.)

If you’re a church leader, take some time to evaluate how you do things. Are the people you lead making disciples? Are you the all-star quarterback of the disciple making duties of your ministry or the coach, pulling a team together and maximizing every team member’s unique contribution to the disciple making mission?

What About Monday?

Mike —  April 6, 2015 — Leave a comment

On Friday, Death sneered and mocked Life while God calmly answered, “I’m going to count to Three.”

On Saturday, the snickering in Hades acquired an air of nervousness while God raised His head and counted on… “Two.”

On Sunday, Jesus shook Death by the throat and threw the carcass aside. “One. What now? Where is your sting?”

But on Monday…

What about Monday?

“What now?” indeed.

What happens the day after the day death is defeated?

There’s not a chance that the friends of Jesus could have just gone on as if everything He said had ended with Him there on the cross. But what would they do? Who were they to carry His legacy? How were they supposed to continue on without Him?

So they huddled together. Maybe for comfort… maybe out of fear… maybe in hiding… And then…

Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.

With a mission. There was a reason Jesus stepped from His throne into a womb and onto a cross.

Not without strength. God placed all authority in His hands.

Not alone. The Father was always with Jesus.

Receive the Holy Spirit.

It’s Monday now, and we have been sent to bring hope to those who are without hope – To share light in the darkness. But we don’t have to manufacture this hope. The Life that is the Light of men has already instigated and instilled His hope in all who would share in His resurrection.

We are not alone.

He lives still to complete the mission His Father gave Him.

In us.

It’s Monday. What will you do now?

My younger son recently joined a Boy Scout troop. Since it’s been 30 years since my last scouting event, we really didn’t know what to expect as we got started. We had a time and place for the first Cub Scout Pack meeting, so we showed up not really knowing what to expect. As we walked into an unfamiliar church building and found a seat among a handful of strangers, I couldn’t help but think that this is how so many people feel when they attend a church service somewhere new (like many will this weekend for Easter).


Out of place…

Needing a friend who can translate all the unfamiliar stuff happening…

When do I stand or sit? Why is that group standing in the back like they’re waiting for something? When will this actually start? Did I miss a signal somewhere? Am I supposed to salute or something?

A thousand questions assail the mind of the uninitiated. Hopefully, the guests at your church will have a better experience than our awkward first moments with the Pack. Actually, you can do some simple things to make sure they do:

  • Say hello. No one should manage to find their way onto your parking lot, through your front doors, and into the auditorium to hunt for a seat without a few people saying hi and helping them get where need to be. When someone unfamiliar sits down nearby, smile and say hi. Don’t just relegate that to the greeters and ushers.
  • Smile. Seriously, it’s that simple. You’re hanging out with people who love you to celebrate the Life that will never be defeated. Jesus knocked the teeth out of death so that you could live with Him and His Dad forever. Even if your life isn’t going great right now, that’s something to be happy about.
  • Know why you’re doing what you’re doing with absolute clarity. This is especially important for those who will be on the stage for any reason. Why are you asking people to do what you’re asking them to do? They don’t know, so please explain. If there’s a silent span of time, explain why so that it can be a meaningful moment full of the opportunity to connect with God instead of just an awkward moment of wondering who missed their cue and what’s supposed to be happening.
  • Love each other, but don’t ignore the ‘others’. Jesus told the disciples to love each other – and added that it would be an identifying mark of His followers (loving each other). But it’s easy to get so caught up with the people we love that we ignore people we don’t know. Look around the room and notice the new faces. Who’s loving them as they sit there alone feeling like they showed up to a family reunion wearing the wrong last name? Would you help them feel welcome to hang out with the family.
  • Invite them to take another step. Discipleship is a journey that requires friends to walk along with. Help your Easter visitors know what could be next for them. What events are coming up that would help them connect? What new groups might be getting started that they could jump into? Give them a reason to come back.

What a great opportunity we have to share hope with people looking for hope this Easter. Let’s make the most of it.



Families Matter (All of Them)

Mike —  February 17, 2015 — Leave a comment

Sunday, I preached about our need to focus on Jesus and let nothing distract us or discourage us from engaging in His mission. Then I packed a bag, tied up a few tasks that needed finished, and headed out across Nebraska for this week’s edition of the NC Institute. If you’re anywhere near the Omaha area (or not that near!) block out a few Mondays and check out the development opportunities offered by the Institute. (That plug was absolutely unsolicited and any subsequent favors I receive from Andy & Dave should not be seen as compensatory in any way. But I really like Chick-fil-A guys, so next time I drive 450 miles to see you…)

This week featured Rich Birch of Liquid Church and unSeminary talking about sociological trends that will affect ministry over the next 5 years or so. The very first trend he mentioned was the shift in families, and I’m still rolling this around in my mind. How are we to respond when kids show up to youth group talking about their dad and their other dad? Where do single moms fit into our ministry models? How can we serve and support families searching for wholeness? What does “family ministry” mean in our context? If family is the basic building block of society as is traditionally declared, then the shift that has been happening in the very concept of family has huge implications for the church. We cannot afford to get this wrong.

Unfortunately, this is an area where we in the church can be guilty of being reactive instead of taking initiative and leading well. We certainly need to ask how we are to respond as society increasingly redefines family, but I wonder if the mission of Christ could be better served if we asked “How can we shape this shift?” This isn’t the first time the idea of family has shifted in the history of civilization. Even today, some cultures have very different concepts of family than others. How can the church be at the front of helping people develop family systems that  in turn develop strong communities in every culture?

One of the keys that Rich touched on is the tension between Acceptance and Approval. We can learn to accept people who live in sin affected family systems (whose isn’t?) without approving of the sin that so distorts God’s intention for family. Here are a few things I know I need to try…

  • Remember my own need for grace. I’ve screwed up and need Jesus to make right what I know I never can. It helps me extend grace to other people who sin in different ways than I have, when I remember the grace extended to me.
  • Lead with love. When a gay couple shows up (or more likely, checks out your church from a safe distance) is the first thing they hear “You are loved.” or “You are wrong.” My guess is that if they hear the second message first and loudest, they’re far less likely to hear the first message at all.
  • Preach and teach knowing that not everyone is the same. When we talk about family issues and hold different types of family programs, do we consider these from the perspective of the single moms and dads in our communities? Are there special support systems we could put in place for foster and adoptive families that might look a little different than a nuclear family type of event? Does this message make any sense to a kid who’s never even met his dad?
  • Don’t make the traditional family an idol. Just ask Abel how long it takes for the ideal family to get off track. A family model is not what will redeem our brokenness. Jesus is. I want to make sure I emphasize that consistently.
  • Live such a hope filled life that people get the crazy idea that there just might be hope for them, too. Then help them find Him!

How To Learn To Fail

Mike —  January 28, 2015 — 2 Comments

If it’s necessary to learn to fail so we can really live, then just how do we learn to fail well?

  1. Try hard things. This part’s actually kind of a no brainer. If you’re not failing, you’re probably not attempting anything difficult. It’s easy to succeed every time when you limit yourself to whatever’s easy. I can beat my 8 year old at chess EVERY TIME… but it’s not very gratifying and I don’t learn anything from the experience. Maybe you’re ok with a life like that, but I doubt it. (You probably wouldn’t read these posts very often if you were!)
  2. Try new things. You may be doing some hard things, but they’re all inside the realm of what you already know. Try to accomplish something new and you’ll probably fail a few times along the way. Congratulations. You just gave yourself an opportunity to learn.
  3. Don’t stay afraid. Failure scares us. Sometimes it scares us so much that we don’t take any action when we’re unsure of the outcome. We know it might not work out, so we cower in familiar shadows and pretend we’re not curious about what’s out there beyond our fear. What if you let your curiosity and faith overwhelm your fear? You’re not a cat, let your curiosity run around once in a while. Being afraid is normal. Just don’t stay that way.
  4. Forget who’s watching. We sometimes think failing diminishes who we are or something, and we don’t want to be diminished so we don’t risk anything that might end in failure. But does failing really make you less? Do you think less of Thomas Edison because he failed to create a usable lightbulb so many times? Seriously, has anyone failed to make a good light bulb more than Edison? But his failures fade in comparison to his advancements. So, maybe some people thought he was crazy to keep banging his head on the same filamental wall so many times. (Yes I know filamental is not a word, but it would be a cool one if it was!) Who cares what they think? Who are they anyway? (Beside the ones watching life from the sidelines. Don’t join them.) Truth be told… most people aren’t paying attention anyway and won’t notice your failure at all. So go ahead and pretend no one’s watching. Chances are, they aren’t.
  5. Learn from other people’s failures, too. Good news! You don’t have to make all the mistakes yourself. Just observe the world around you and you’re sure to notice somebody else failing, too. What can you learn from their mistakes?

Now that we know how to learn to fail, the next trick is to figure out how to actually learn from our failures…

When my older son learned to walk, he pretty much taught himself when we weren’t looking. He’d make his way around furniture, but we could never get him to let go. If we tried the old “hold my hand until I pull it away” trick, he’d just sit down as soon as we let go. But every once in a while, we’d walk in to a room and find him standing in the middle, not holding on to anything. (Which always resulted in him sitting back down as soon as he realized someone could see him.) When he learned to ride a bike, he’d step off and let his bike fall every time he started to tip over. As soon as he sensed that he was going to crash, he’d bail out so we couldn’t see him fall.

This weekend, he had a chance to learn something new that I knew was going to necessitate a lot of falling. He got to snowboard for the first time. It didn’t go well. I tried to brace him for the falling. I knew what was coming. I remember learning to snowboard a few years ago. I don’t like people to see me fall either, so it was as embarrassing as it was painful. Despite my warnings that this wasn’t going to be easy, he was caught off-guard at just how tricky it is to slide down a mountain of ice with your feet strapped down to a waxed slab of fiberglass. (Who thinks of this stuff, anyway!?) After about an hour and a half of getting more and more frustrated, we took a break for lunch. He was tired of falling and I was tired of picking him up and trying to convince him that he’d get it.

During lunch, I realized I needed to make a choice: enjoy the rest of the day on the slopes with my group of students or fight with my son until he got the hang of snowboarding. (Sometimes being a youth minister and dad at the same time is really tricky.) Feeling defeated, I told him he could switch to skis (which he naturally took to and enjoyed immediately). In the long run, snowboarding isn’t a life skill I’m willing to fight about. What I am willing to fight about, however, is failure.

We hate it.

We avoid it at almost any cost.

Truth be told, we fear it.

But we can also learn from failing more than we learn from proficiency. If I’m naturally good at something, it’s easy to slip into coasting without even realizing it. But learning something new can be a struggle that involves the risk of failing. We have to take the risk. The growth we need requires the faith to take the risk. The caterpillar has to struggle to get out of the cocoon in order to become the butterfly he always could be. My son needs to learn how to grow through the struggle and the falling and the failing. So does his dad. Which is what makes me so grateful that I never have to fall alone.

Neither do you, so keep trying. Keep getting up and falling again toward the dreams God’s planted in you. Keep stretching yourself and try stepping into the unfamiliar more often. It’s certainly a risk. But living a safe and sedentary life in the shallow waters of familiarity carries it’s own risks. Don’t settle for what’s easy. Learn to fail.

But how? Good question for another post…