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).

Uncertain…

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…

Recalibrate Your Life

Mike —  January 7, 2015 — 2 Comments

Do you ever feel like you just need to recalibrate? Like you’re going about your life and something is just a little off?

It’s easy to get so sidetracked by the business of living life as it is that we lose our bearing on life as He intended. Think back 10 years. Is the life you’re living today what you envisioned then? Maybe you need to recalibrate to get back on track. Sometimes, we encounter sudden corrections and unforeseeable detours that jar us from the path we were previously on.

“Surprise, we’re pregnant!”

“I’m sorry, the chemo doesn’t seem to be working as well as we’d hoped…”

“We’re moving you up in the company.”

“We’re moving.”

Big events like these can knock us off track, but they also can help us to shake off everything that’s not central to our identity and propel us forward with new resolve toward who we will be. But it doesn’t have to take a life altering event like a 3 day stint in the belly of a whale or the loss of a job to help us do that. We can consistently recalibrate and make sure we are keeping our lives oriented around the mission and glory of God in our lives. We can step out of our routines and examine them. What has crept in that doesn’t need to be a regular part of our day? What has distracted us from what we were hoping for (and stolen our hope in the process)?

Here are a few ways to recalibrate:

1. Read Scripture and develop an ongoing conversation with God. This doesn’t have to be a knee aching hour in a prayer closet (though it could be), but we desperately need to be going about our lives in conversation with the Author of Life. There’s no quicker way to become disoriented than to neglect (or hide from) this conversation. What is God hearing from you? What does He have to say today?

2. Quit something(s). There seems to be a popular reductionism going on where minimizing is all the rage. I’m not a very trendy guy, but this is a bandwagon with some merit. Our lives are too full of things that don’t matter. Our lives are cluttered with school activities, social functions, sports leagues, “must see tv…” These can be good, wholesome things, but seriously, if there’s something you just can’t miss, it’s probably screwing up your life more than you know. Let it go.

3. Try something new. Take a class or join a new group of some kind. Meet some new people who aren’t all engrossed in the same patterns you’re already in. Don’t just jam your schedule full of new stuff, and don’t plan on doing all of these things indefinitely (see # 2 above – you don’t want to just clutter things up again), but once you’ve made some room to breathe, give some of that time to a new, worthy endeavor. Maybe you’ll try some stuff that just doesn’t work. That’s ok. Move on to something else. Maybe you’ll find some great reminders of the hope filled life we are called to live.

4. Go outside. This one really sucks right now where I live. It’s been colder than a meat locker for weeks here and we’re buried in snow that doesn’t seem to be leaving soon. But we need to escape the cocoons (or catacombs) of our cubicles and office spaces from time to time and breathe air that’s not stale and still. We need to feel dirt move when we take a step once in a while (or even hear the snow crunch!). We need to see wildlife run around and do their thing, oblivious to our presence. Let Creation remind you that you’re not just scurrying around like that ~ God is with you. He’s crafted you for something. What is it?

Where could you go if you slowed down and let God lead?

Where could you go if you slowed down and let God recalibrate your headings?

Over at Live Curious, Todd Clark posted yesterday that “You are the most important and difficult person you will lead this New Year.” He makes the case that leadership in general starts with leading yourself, then points to four disciplines that are critical for self leadership:

  • Spending time with God.
  • Rest.
  • Exercise.
  • Obedience.

Go check out the post for yourself. Self-discipline is a big deal and these four areas are easy to neglect. It’s easy to make excuses for why we just don’t have time to read the Bible, or get enough rest, or… whatever. But the good news is that these 4 practices aren’t actually hard to do. I mean, how hard is it really to take a few minutes to do some pushups? Or read a passage of Scripture that you can think about over the course of the day? Or turn the TV off and go to bed? (that one is killing me right now, to be honest)

Glacier Seattle vacation 2014

I found beauty in a moment of rest.

Our problem isn’t that these things are hard, it’s just that we so easily give in to the inertia of the status quo. But that won’t get you where you want to go. Maybe I’m just talking to myself here… that won’t get me where I want to go. I don’t want to move from one day to the next with no forward progress. I’m sure to slip up or take a step backwards from time to time, but the trajectory I want for my life is forward, deeper into the heart of God. That’s not likely to happen without some discipline on my part.

These 4 areas of discipline are a great place to start as we set out on the journey of a new year. I intend to start here and generate some more forward momentum. I’d love to help you do the same in your own life

Imagine if we replaced all our excuses with the discipline it takes to keep moving forward?!

Christmas Confession

Mike —  December 17, 2014 — Leave a comment

I have a Christmas confession to make. I hope you won’t think less of me. I hope you won’t brand me a Christmas heretic after I tell you, and I hope we can still be friends if you disagree, but… I can’t sing the song “Silent Night.”

I don’t mean it’s out of my range or I just get choked up so much I can’t make it through the song. I just can’t bring myself to sing it.

I know it’s one of those traditions favored by the masses. I know it’s been sung by great people for almost 200 years. I know it makes such a nice scene when we stand in a circle with candles to sing it, and it sounds so pretty when all the little voices stretch to reach the “sleep in heavenly peace” notes, then gently tumble their way down the stairs of those same words to end the verse.

It’s just that, well… I just can’t imagine the birth of Jesus as a nice, pretty event. I have a pretty good imagination, but let’s be real; I’ve seen births happen. Not silent. 9 months earlier, this baby was at God’s right hand, holding together all of the known universe. Then, on that night he made his messy way out of another human being in a small Middle Eastern village that was so crowded his first bed had to be a manger!

Do you know what a manger is? It’s not some first century version of a bed fit for a king. It’s a feed box for barnyard animals! That’s what Jesus slept in to begin His revolutionary sojourn here on planet earth. A feed box!

And I’m not so sure “tender and mild” are the right words for this “holy infant.” Oh, Jesus definitely showed Himself to be most tender toward the hurting and oppressed, but mild? I’m sure he was as cute and cuddly as the next newborn baby, but his entry into this world was a cataclysmic event that marked the beginning of the end for Death (and all his friends). This was no mild addition to humanity. This was WAR! How about “tinder and wild”? This baby lit a fire that’s still being stoked by His Spirit 2000 years later as He breathes through His church!

I’m afraid we tend to sanitize and “pretty up” Jesus’ story too much, and in doing so risk losing sight of the earth-shaking nature of what was actually going on. God became man. GOD became man! The Light of Life humbled Himself to become one of us so that each of us could find our way back to His Father ~ our Father.

I don’t think it was a silent night, but it sure is something to sing about! You can still sing Silent Night if you want to. No one’s going to hold it against you. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking of Jesus as the gerber baby of the first Century. He’s the King who came and will return. He’s the one who conquered death and offers real, lasting, vibrant life.

To you.

Merry Christmas!

Now, go make some noise.

What Will You Try?

Mike —  December 11, 2014 — Leave a comment

Talking about Jonathan’s daring attack on the Philistines in 1 Samuel 14, Erwin McManus (in Chasing Daylight) writes,

Jonathan had an unwavering confidence in God’s capacity. He had absolute trust in God’s character. He seemed resolute about whether God could be trusted. That was settled for him. Jonathan’s focus was not, What is God’s will for my life? but How can I give my life to fulfill God’s will?

(If you’re not familiar with that particular episode in Israel’s history, go read 1 Samuel 13:16 – 14:23 to see where this is coming from.)

Glacier Seattle vacation 2014 346

Not the cliffs at Mikmash! No Philistines were harmed in the climbing of this cliff.

Have you ever thought about the difference in these two questions? With the best of intentions, we often want to know What is God’s will for my life? And while there are some cases where God gave explicit directions to individuals in Scripture, more often than not, we don’t get a road map as much as we get a compass. This can be a maddening question to ask. I know… I’ve asked. What do You want me to do? Where do You want me to go?

The trouble comes when the still small voice isn’t very informative. What does it mean when I don’t see the burning bush? Am I missing something if I don’t hear the voice from Heaven telling me to go back to Egypt or to go west, young man? If the voice just keeps saying “I love you, son, now go love people my way so they’ll know I love them, too.” does that mean there’s something wrong with my ability to follow more specific instructions?

Maybe there is. It’s a real possibility that there is some pride or worry or other sin that is in the way of my hearing or yours. We need to be seeking God’s work to remove these obstacles in our lives. But maybe there’s another possibility…

Maybe the “for my life” part of the question needs to be dropped. Maybe we already know what God’s will is (it’s plastered all over the walls of Scripture in case you’ve missed it), and we need to work out how to give our lives to it. Jonathan knew that God was in the process of establishing Israel in order to reveal His blessing to the world, so he picked up his sword and went for a walk toward the enemy camp. Just so we’re clear, this was not a brilliant new strategic battle plan! Neither was it an act of obedience to a direct command from God. It was one small act of a man giving his life to fulfill God’s will. It was a match lit in accord with what God wanted that God fanned into a flame that He used to display His might. It was an attempt to try something that would open people’s eyes to what God could do.

Today, God is working to redeem the world around you. How can you give your life to that endeavor today? In your neighborhood? In your school or work? Sometimes, you just have to try something ~ to make an attempt. God’s capacity is still infinitely more than you can imagine. He’s still able to save “whether by many or by few.” What are you going to try?

I’d love to help.