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.

I used to run.

A lot.

I tried cross country in Jr. High, but decided it wasn’t for me. In high school, I found I could run fast. I discovered the existence of a whole new gear that kicked in when I had a soccer ball at my feet. In college, I’d run from my apartment to class and from one class to the next if I was going outside. Not because I was late, but just because… something said run, so I did. Why walk when you can run? I liked it.

Later, I began to run far. Something said run, so I did. I thought it would be a good experience to run a marathon… so I signed up, began to train (sort of), and ran one. (I use the term “run” loosely in this case, since real marathoners may describe my last several marathon miles as something quite different from running!) The idea of ultra-marathons is fascinating to me, but so far, the fascination hasn’t been strong enough to overcome the knowledge my body has about what it would have to go through!

Sometimes, you just have to run!

Sometimes, you just have to run! (This is my son, in whom I am well pleased…)

I used to run.

Then I stopped.

I never decided I didn’t want to run anymore. I didn’t consciously come to the conclusion that I was too old to run. I didn’t knowingly phase running out of my life, and there was no injury that kept me from running. I just ran one day, then the next I didn’t.

But, there was often something inside that kept saying, “Run.” Sometimes, my wife even suggested “Why don’t you go for a run or something?” Often, I wanted to run, I just couldn’t or didn’t muster up the strength to shake off the depression that kept me from doing it. For a couple years, I’ve always had some kind of resistance that kept me from running. Too busy… too cold… I don’t feel good…

But today, I ran.

It was just a little over a mile. Not much. But it’s something. I didn’t run fast, and I didn’t run far, but I ran.

Life is like this sometimes… God can gnaw at your inner hearing, sometimes gently prodding, sometimes pushing with great force toward your next step. He is the voice inside that urges us to “run” a great life. Don’t just sleepwalk through the dreams God has for you. Answer His call to run. And don’t stop until you find yourself both exhausted and invigorated at the finish, in the company of all those who’ve run ahead.

Revealing Hope for Christmas

Mike —  December 4, 2014 — Leave a comment

Last night, I began a series with my students on the book of Revelation. I have to admit, it was the most fun I’ve had in a while. From time to time, I ask my students what topics or passages they’d like to learn about, and Revelation is always on the list. So, this year, as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s arrival in Bethlehem, we’re going to spend a few weeks looking into what pastor John had to say to his flock in the first century after Jesus’ birth! This may seem like an odd choice… What does Christmas have to do with the last book of the Bible? Isn’t the famous Christmas story in Luke? What am I doing mixing Christmas and Revelation? Well… let’s just say this is not a Charlie Brown Christmas! Check out chapter 12, then go add a dragon to your nativity set…

I’m really excited to dig deeper into the book of Revelation for our Christmas series this year. We’re going to fly through the book in 3 weeks, then take a few weeks to begin 2015 looking more deeply at the 7 letters near the beginning of the book.

Avalanche Creek at Glacier National Park

Avalanche Creek at Glacier National Park

One of the things that made last night so fun was I felt like I was really engaging the students with something they need AND want. Most of the students had never actually read the whole book and many of those who had expressed that they got lost in all the imagery and didn’t really feel confident in their understanding. There is so much that we assume about the book that causes more confusion than it should. When we get into too much speculation, we are often not reading the book honestly and end up with a really murky picture of what John was communicating. I want to help our kids see what’s really there.

Revelation is not a book to scare us to sleep at night or frighten us into submission before it’s too late. It’s a letter full of hope for the people of God.

If you know a middle school or high school student here in the Scottsbluff area who has questions about the end of the world, the second coming, Revelation, tribulation, etc. I hope you’ll encourage them to come join us at WestWay on the next couple Wed. nights as we try to clear up a few things about the book. I’ll be challenging some of their assumptions about the book as I don’t believe Revelation should scare us. I know with certainty that wasn’t John’s intent as he shared graphic depictions of the awe inducing things he was shown. John wanted to give his flock hope through the words that he wrote. Through the visions He showed John, Jesus was offering comfort and encouragement in the midst of terrible affliction.

As a book full of hope, Revelation shouldn’t scare us. It should motivate us to worship an incomparable King by living as His emissaries to a world desperately in need of redemption.

I have a shortage of shelf space. I never seem to have enough bookshelves. Some might say the real problem is too many books, but I’m sticking with my ‘not enough shelves’ angle. Some time ago, the normal vertical-only orientation had to be abandoned and I began stacking horizontal piles in the space on top of most rows. I have my books organized in sections by topic mostly, but this stacks-on-top-of-rows arrangement has forced me to change that up a bit, mostly based on when I read something. New books just get set on the top of a stack.

BookStack

Who Is This Man who calls us to Jump into the Necessary Endings of A Long Obedience as one of his Multipliers?

As I recently placed a finished book on the top of a stack, I thought the column told an interesting story of its own.

  • Jump is Efrem Smith’s look at faithful obedience to Christ, even when the outcome is uncertain. You may not see where you’re landing, but don’t let the small fences of life keep you from following Jesus.
  • In Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud describes how to create the endings needed to be able to move forward in life. Sometimes there are patterns or jobs or even people that we have to leave behind. That’s often difficult, so we get stuck in avoidance behaviors that keep us mired in unhealthy situations. Endings, as Cloud says, aren’t necessarily negative failures or tragedies to be avoided at all costs… Sometimes they’re a necessary step we must take before we’ll ever be able to take the next one.
  • Eugene Peterson takes on our cultural preference for the instant in his description of discipleship as A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Walking through the Psalms of Ascent that have traveled with Hebrew pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for centuries, Peterson holds out their consistent step after step persistence as the pattern disciples follow in response to Jesus. Keep going and growing closer to Him.
  • Multipliers is Liz Wiseman’s well researched dig into “how the best leaders make everyone smarter” (which is the book’s subtitle). It’s an organizational leadership book, so as someone who’s convinced that good leadership is a critical component of a healthy church, it was a great look at how to make disciples who are rising up to fully engage their potential in the mission of Jesus.
  • Who Is This Man? puts the life of Jesus in historical perspective. John Ortberg examines the impact Jesus made not just in his own day, but in ours as well. Just how could a first century carpenter’s boy in Roman occupied Palestine transform the history of humanity? (Hint: It’s because He is the ultimate multiplier, who humbly jumped the fence of eternity to become one of us and who faithfully executed every necessary ending on His long obedience to make all things new.)

I want to be the kind of leader who’s always growing into the next steps of his journey with Christ. So I read. A lot. I find that often, there’s an underlying current to books I’m reading in a particular time span. This was really evident in this stack. I hear God using writers to echo His own heart as they share theirs. What is He echoing into you? What story do your “stacks” tell? Anything I can help with?

I have a recently graduated student who is currently kicking butt in boot camp. I don’t mean some pretend, game-show like, office-morale-boosting “boot camp” – he’s in the Army, now! I know basic training isn’t supposed to be fun, but this kid is tearing it up and loving life right now. He’s the kind of guy that could make a career out of military life and love it. If he does that, he’ll have several opportunities throughout his life to re-enlist. He’ll be given an open exit door and the choice to take it with an honorable discharge or to recommit to another term of military service.

What if church membership was a little more like that?

I’m not suggesting that being part of the Body of Christ is anything but a lifetime endeavor. You should definitely go all in on that – for life.

But what if we opened the door every 3 or 4 years for either a grace filled exit from or recommitment to a particular area of service? I’ve seen volunteers in the church who’ve served faithfully for decades who would re-up every time because they truly love what they’re doing. They’ve found what they’ve been gifted for and are pouring themselves into it. But I’ve also seen volunteers who mustered up the courage to try something new who’ve discovered it’s not really a good fit, but who continue to languish in less than effective ministry because they don’t know how to stop. They feel like something must be wrong with them and feel guilty even suggesting an end to their service, but deep within, they know they’re not the right person in the right place at the right time. I’ve also seen many who have lost that first love who need to be challenged to recommit to the beautiful work that God is drawing them into. They’ve settled in to the patterns around them and are plodding along under the weight of the status quo. Would a consistently timed open door help to remind them of the freedom that first excited and energized their Kingdom work?

I’ve seen church leaders get frustrated when volunteers sort of fizzle out. First they miss a week… (But it’s ok, they’ve arranged their own replacement.) Then it’s a couple weeks… They start coming late and getting done a little early… They forget to let you know they’ll be gone and stop arranging their own subs… The leader comes to grips with the fact that he doesn’t really know if the volunteer will make it or not… then they’re just gone. (By the way, this is as much an issue of healthy leadership as it is an issue of the commitment of the volunteer… or more.)

What if we could embrace this re-enlistment model? I’m sure there would be some unintended consequences to this model, but I think we’d see a few awesome results as well:

  • Honorable Discharges – Releasing our people to explore other ministry opportunities for which they are more suited
  • Fewer volunteers feeling indefinitely stuck
  • More focused energy/work knowing an ending point is established
  • Deeper ownership by each person of their part in the mission of Christ through His church

In Creating a Missional Culture, JR Woodward shares a great quote from GK Chesterton:

The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it has established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.

Would you describe your church as a place where good things run wild? Where the good ideas that poke their heads up are free to explore and grow and where they are nourished to maturity and fruitful ministry? Where the messy art of living is celebrated and fully engaged in His mission to restore and reconcile?

After exchanging his fastidiously law oriented life as a Pharisee for a wildly grace led adventure as a disciple of Jesus, the apostle Paul wrote that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” I wonder if we fear the good and wild things of the Spirit to the point that we’ve exchanged being led by His Presence with us for coldly following His rules. While obedience to His written word is certainly not optional, is that really the full extent of the relationship God wants with us?

Could it be that the express, written commands handed down to us through generations of godly men and women are meant not to corral us, but to free us to live in rhythms that allow His song to resonate most deeply through our lives?

What if God wants to reveal Himself to humanity not through an army of compliant drones, but through a kingdom of priests? Will you take your place among the priests? Live a life that reflects God’s ideals AND shares His ideas.

What Are You By God’s Will?

Mike —  September 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

I sat down to read through 2 Timothy earlier and got stopped before I had a chance to get too far into it.

This letter is from Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will…

That’s as far as I got.

In letters of leadership and life instructions to someone he considered a spiritual son (1 Timothy begins similarly), Paul begins with a humble reminder that what he is, is because of God. What he does, he does because that’s what his Sender appointed him to do. The mentor makes no claim for himself, but points to the One who sent Him. He wasn’t an apostle because he had the right temperament or personality type or skill set or experience.

Paul identifies himself as an apostle because that’s the way God identified him. When Jesus re-routed Paul’s life, he responded with humble obedience and from what we can tell, he never looked back.

Which leads me to wonder:

What am I “by God’s will”?

What are you?

May we humbly accept what He names us and follow faithfully wherever He leads.

If you’ve been anywhere within shouting distance of just about any social media outlet over the last few weeks, you’ve seen your friends and favorite celebrities (and maybe a few ill informed strangers on horseback or boat docks) dumping buckets of ice water over themselves. (Seriously, why would anyone thinks it’s a good idea to dump ice water on yourself while sitting on a horse?!) It all began recently in an effort to raise awareness of ALS and raise money for researching a cure. It’s definitely raised a lot of money – almost $90 million as of yesterday according to ALSA (more money has been given to ALS research in the last couple weeks than was given all of last year).

As for the awareness… well, maybe not. A lot of people seem to be jumping on the trend without a whole lot of thought. Oh they’re aware that there’s this thing called ALS (or LAS or something like that), they just have no idea what it actually is. My wife was recently explaining a little bit about ALS to someone and their reply was “No, that’s Lou Gehrig’s, not ALS.” If that doesn’t sound a little off to you, you should definitely not have donated money to something so unfamiliar. Do some research. Or at least google it or something.

Some people are shunning the effort without a lot of thought, too. Research into treating ALS has included stem cell research. The mention of stem cell research causes red flags to go up for a lot of people due to the moral implications of harvesting embryonic stem cells. Most stem cells used in research are actually skin cells, harvested from adults and induced into functioning as stem cells. (Science friends, please excuse the overly simplified explanation of iPS cells, I’m too wordy as it is.) If you’re concerned about funding a practice to which you’re morally opposed, there are still ways to help fund ALS research if you want to, like donating to researchers that use only adult stem cells. ALSA has also released this statement on stem cell research that you should read.

But this post isn’t really about ALS or abortion or what you do with your money or ice water. Learning a little more about ALS has caused me to wonder if the church has a sort of spiritual ALS sometimes. A person with ALS loses muscular control when the motor neurons in their nervous system fail to communicate properly with the muscles throughout the body. The impulse of the mind just doesn’t make it to the body (again, I know this is overly simplified, please forgive me).

Here’s where I’m going with this: The church is called the Body of Christ. If that Body somehow loses connection to the mind of Christ, it won’t function the way it’s intended to. Jesus claimed as much himself in John 15.

“As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

We cannot be the church He calls us to be without a deep and abiding connection to Jesus, our head. We can adopt all the best leadership tactics and organizational strategies, but the Body just doesn’t function right when it’s not directed by the impulse of the mind of Christ. The church’s spiritual muscle becomes misguided, underused, and atrophied. You probably don’t want that for your church, so try this:

  • Spend your own time with Jesus. Alone. Connecting with Jesus isn’t just about showing up in a church service on Sunday or joining a small group. Those are great and you should do that, but how much time are you personally spending with Christ? The answer to that question has huge implications for how connected your church is to its head.
  • Pray for your leaders… with your leaders. Help them strengthen their connection with Christ with the encouragement you give them by praying for them. Pray that God would continue to draw them close to His heart and that His mission would be crystal clear as they serve in His Body.
  • Go make disciples. Jesus’ direction to make disciples of all nations is too vast to leave it to a few “professionals”. If you are spending time with Jesus and living by the Spirit He places within us, you have what it takes to be a disciple maker. Getting engaged in His mission is crucial to ‘remaining in Him’. It bears mentioning that in the same passage, Jesus says the branch that doesn’t bear fruit will be cut off. What are you teaching and showing to the people around you about who Jesus is and how to follow Him? Who are you discipling? Step up to this responsibility and you’ll find not only a new desire to stay connected with Jesus, but also a whole new crop of fruit that only He can produce in your life and church.

Hi. Long Time, No Words…

Mike —  July 29, 2014 — Leave a comment

It’s been a pretty dormant time here on this site lately. There will be another few weeks at least before that changes, but I wanted to touch base quickly while I have a chance. I am sorry for the lack of content lately, and ask for your prayers as I navigate the way forward. I’ve missed writing here, but for a variety of reasons, I haven’t been able to do much this summer.

Part of that is due to being gone 3 of the last 4 weeks for camp & CIY Move. Connectivity is low and demand for time is high during those weeks, so I didn’t even take my keyboard this year.

Additionally, I don’t want to write general, ministry-help articles that stay a little bit neutral and maybe ‘fluffy’ and offer a little bit of something for everyone. There are thousands of those already. I want to write from my heart about what God is doing in and around me. But I don’t know how to write about what God is doing right now. There’s so much going on that is still in process and wouldn’t make sense if I could put it into words, so I’ve offered a little less. Be praying that I’m learning what He wants me to learn during this time and that when the time is right, I’d be able to share clearly what He wants passed on.

In the meantime, check out some previous posts. I’ve added a feature to each post that shows 3 related posts from the past. Browse around through those and offer your insights in the comments sections. Or check out the Archives in the right side column – they go back through almost 10 years of posts!