Disconnected By Busy-ness

Mike —  March 21, 2017 — Leave a comment
  • Planning a lesson
  • Writing a sermon
  • Listening to a podcast
  • Writing a blog post
  • Publishing a book
  • Reading a book
  • Designing graphics
  • Doing taxes
  • Waiting on hold with the IRS
  • Planning a worship time
  • Taking kids to school/track/soccer…
  • Picking up kids from school/track/soccer…
  • Parent/Teacher conferences
  • Helping a new friend find food or shelter
  • Ordering curriculum
  • Evaluating programs
  • Watching Netflix
  • Researching new ideas
  • Fixing broken things (or ideas)

I bet your list is as full as mine. Should we keep going? Any of these things can threaten to quiet your conversation with God or to drown it out completely.

DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN!

Some of these are really good things – things that we should be giving ourselves to. But none of them should get our time and attention at the expense of staying connected with Christ. In fact, if we are so busy (even in good activity) that we lose our connection, we’ll find ourselves spinning our wheels and getting nowhere. Jesus put it like this,

Remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

We have to stay connected with Jesus. Be careful to give God priority and keep the conversation of your life with Him going strong.


At the risk of turning this post into a sales pitch, I want to let you know (if you don’t already) that I’ve produced a resource that can help you do exactly that. It’s a guided journal called PRAY that walks you through the Bible to see what a life of conversation with God could look like for you. I’d love to have you check it out and let me know what God does. Your favorite bookstore can order you a copy, you can pick up a copy from me directly if you’re in the area, or you can get it via this handy, dandy portal to Amazon:

I consistently harp on the theme of investing in the next generation. If you’ve read this blog much before, you know this. If you’ve read this blog a lot, you may be tired of hearing it.

Brace yourself.

It’s coming again.

Last night, I got to sit back in the sound booth and watch as this guy led worship and delivered a heart felt, Biblical message to our Middle School and High School students here at WestWay. His name is Shane, and he grew up in this church, in this student ministry, in this room… I’m invested in Shane. He’s a student at Nebraska Christian College now, and he’s doing a residency with us this year. For about 50 minutes last night, he had control of the room and used it to help students think about not just “how” we worship, but “why”, and even more importantly WHO it is that we worship.

There have been all kinds of thoughts swirling through my heart and head since last night. Let me blast you with a few:

  • Sunday School teachers used to need reinforcements when this kid came along… or extended breaks! It’s awesome to see what God has done with the raw talent and extreme amounts of energy that He bundled up in this package called Shane as he has committed to giving God back all of that talent and energy. Don’t ever quit on the kids that don’t conform to the compliant church mouse mold. They’re often the ones He uses to change the world!
  • Students have LOTS of ideas. Some of those ideas are incredible and some of those ideas are just a step short of stupid. Help students filter through their ideas and try some out. Let students experiment to try to find out what God’s wired them for. How else will they find out? Full disclosure: I still have stupid ideas, too, and need partners to help me sort them all out. I hope you do, too because I have a suspicion that the only way forward is going to require stepping into the Sea of Stupid Ideas and watching God part the waters to get us to the other side.
  • Many churches have an age problem. We don’t trust young people to deliver what we think God wants delivered so we just keep letting the Baby Boomers “protect the platform”. And so Gen X has not returned to church after their college hiatus and the Millennials are creating new platforms where their voice will be heard. We have to stop. We have to trust GOD enough to know that He can deliver through 15 year olds in tennis shoes every bit as effectively as He can through 50 year olds in penny loafers or 25 year olds in those really cool flip flops. If students have given themselves to Christ and have His Spirit living in them, they are the church NOW and they have a mandate to make disciples. I sure don’t want to be the one to hinder them from doing so, do you? We have to equip them for the work Christ has prepared for them to do and let them get to work doing it.
  • Students don’t need busywork. Who does? If student leadership means only letting youth do the grunt work in your youth ministry, that is not going to cut it. Invest real energy in students and trust them with real responsibility. Because you’ve equipped them, they’ll be ready.
  • Once upon a time, Shane was the kid bouncing in his seat and I was the cool guy at the front of the room. A little nervous, full of ideas, and experienced enough to be the expert, but young enough to be the cool big brother. Now, I’m just those one kids’ dad, right? Not cool. Not at all. But Shane is. You should see our younger boys hanging on everything he says and does. They want to be like him a lot more than they want to be like me. I’m ok with that. (Some days I’d rather be like Shane than like me, too!) My job is to have helped him when he wanted to be like me, to know that what really mattered is only being like Jesus. Don’t hog the spotlight. Be a mentor and a consistent example for them to emulate, but don’t be the only one.
  • I’ve been here for 11 years as the youth pastor at WestWay. Some of them have been hard. All of them have had some difficulties. There have been moments when I felt like walking away and when open doors had a lot to offer. But God has kept us here and continued to work through our ministry here. Last night was a visible example of the results of that longevity. I can’t say that God wants every pastor to stay at every church for X number of years. But I can say, you will never see this kind of fruit firsthand if you move to a new ministry every 3 years. Youth ministry cycles make it tempting to feel like we’re done when a good class has graduated or when we’ve gone through our best ideas from the last place we worked. And maybe it is time to go… OR maybe it’s time to stop doing ministry off of last year’s calendar and good memories, and ask the Spirit to breathe new life into our imaginations to fuel the new thing He wants to do next.
  • Discipleship is hard. But it’s fruitful. And it’s what we’ve been commanded to do. Last night, I got a great reminder of why it’s so important that that has been my focus. And why it should remain so. Can we just stop for a minute and admit that if we’re not making disciples, we’re not really the church. The younger generations that live among us and with us, are a great place to start. Go, make disciples.

Comment below to share how you’ve seen discipleship happening in the next generation. I don’t have all the answers… What’s working for you? What’s not?

Problems beg to be solved. They often lie there like a beached whale, begging for a solution.

Sometimes, the solution is obvious.

Other times… not so much.

So we start thinking… imagining… tinkering…

We get creative.

Unfortunately, there are days when creative solutions just flat out fail. Here are a few signs that your creative solution is probably going to fail (or already did).

  1. The gathering crowd seems to sense impending doom as they see you begin to implement your strategy.
  2. The solution involves half a ton of dynamite and a consensus of city officials & the highway department.
  3. Police are called in to cordon off a safe zone before you can act.
  4. The problem is still there when you’re done. Doh!
  5. The problem is worse when you’re done. Duh.


(HT to Sheldon Shires for bringing this stunning bit of creative thinking to my attention several years ago.)

Bonus Signs
If either of these phrases could possibly be uttered as a result of the implementation of your tactics:
     “Bits of whale rain across the beach.”
     “Over a quarter mile away, a massive chunk of blubber has flattened the roof of a brand new Cadillac…”

What problems are you seeing right now in need of creative solutions? Can I help? (I promise to leave the explosives out of the equation. Probably.)

Back in Balance

Mike —  March 1, 2017 — Leave a comment

Whoever let me forget how much better I feel when I’ve been running (semi)regularly… Please don’t let me forget again.

It’s not a lot, but I’ve run more miles this first 2 months of 2017 than I have in the past several years. That says a lot more about the last few years than about the last couple months. I didn’t have to choose to stop running. I just took a little time to recover from a particularly long run once… got busy… missed a few too many days because of bad weather… then found that I hadn’t run in way too long. But getting back into the practice of running has helped me get some physical things back in balance. I’ve trimmed a couple pounds, my lungs feel better, I’m sleeping less fitfully, and I generally just feel better. Running helps me clear the clutter in my head and is a time of prayer for me to refocus and remember Who my life is really about. Which brings me to this…

Our spiritual lives can get out of balance through unplanned inactivity, too.

An easy stretch of life lulls us into thinking that we’re doing well. We forget how dependent we really are on God as we get caught up in our own little day to day. We stop noticing God at work around us. Soon, we realize, we haven’t really noticed Him at all lately or given Him much thought… in way too long.

Maybe running isn’t your thing – and that’s fine. This isn’t really about running. It’s about paying attention to your spiritual life – your real life.

How are you doing?

Is it time to get back into the practices of life that help you grow?

Don’t let unplanned inactivity wreck your spiritual life.

Let me offer a few suggestions:

  • Read Scripture. Often. Carve out time and listen to what He says in His Word.
  • Get outside. For some of us, being in contact with creation helps us get in touch with our Creator.
  • Make something. The Spirit He’s placed in us is His creative Spirit. Exercise it. Make something beautiful and new.
  • Read. Check out something from the library. Head to a bookstore. Or start with something off the list below. Just find some good words to make you think…

   

Or maybe you just need some of these:

Why Not?

Mike —  January 24, 2017 — Leave a comment
  • It will be cold.
  • It’s going to be really crowded.
  • Someone is probably going to get hurt… almost for sure.
  • You’re going to freeze… you don’t really need all those fingers and toes, right?
  • There is basically only a thin sheet of plastic between your carcass and a frozen hill of packed ice. That can’t be comfortable.
  • Have you thought about how cold it will be?

There are all kinds of reasons to stay home on a snow day under a blanket on your nice, warm couch.

Don’t listen to reason all the time.

Take them anyway.

Into the Mist

Mike —  January 23, 2017 — Leave a comment

I’ve been re-reading An Unstoppable ForceIt’s a wonderfully dangerous book and one of my favorites for 15 years! This line stuck out to me again this morning:

Sometimes, I forget this and think I have to have all the answers pulled together before I can invite someone into the question. But following Jesus and leading the church God’s way often means I only get to see the next step. Sometimes not even that! Sometimes I have to take the step God’s telling me to take before I can even see where my foot will fall.

It’s a little unnerving to be honest. It requires something to be developed within me that allows me to overcome the logic that says “stay put in the safety of what you already know…” It requires something to grow in me to break me free from the gravity of the solid and tangible… It requires a confidence in what I can’t see and a certainty in what I hope…

It requires faith.

And so, I step into the mist. Not because I’m brave or possess abnormal levels of courage. Not because I’m a super-spiritual answer man. Not because I know everything will turn up roses and sunshine. But because He stepped forward and I want to stay with Him. He is on the move and I want to keep with Him. So I step into the mist.

Want to go for a walk?

Use Your Words

Mike —  January 12, 2017 — Leave a comment

Why am I hiding?

What have I to fear?

My words, when kept deep within,

tear at my soul to find their way out,

gasping for a precious breath of life.

These invaluable words are not meant to be buried

and I don’t want to become the wicked, lazy

bury-er of what God has planted.

Their power to hurt is mitigated, sure,

but so is their power to heal, to stretch, to grow…

Their life-giving breeze is stifled within

when kept below the surface and kept away from the crowds.

“Out loud” is where they belong,

free to voice dreams and right wrongs,

free to run into stories and songs.

And when it really is Your breath in my lungs

there is no greater praise I posses to pour out

than to tell the story You’re writing.

To tell it well.

And to tell is whole.

And to tell it always.

When Jesus Wouldn’t Stay…

Mike —  December 28, 2016 — Leave a comment

There was a day, early in Jesus ministry that could have derailed the whole thing if Jesus had made a lesser choice. Imagine the high Jesus must have felt (yes, Jesus had feelings) after blasting through the devil’s lies as he tempted Him in the wilderness. Choice by choice, refusing to stray from the path His Father had revealed… You know how good it can feel when you succeed in beating temptation, right? Now imagine the crash when Jesus’ return to His hometown of Nazareth ended in a mob threatening to throw him off a cliff!

It had to hurt. But Jesus faithfully went on His way to nearby Capernaum, where He taught and healed some people and rescued others from demons. Unlike Nazareth, these people ate it up. They loved it and began bringing people with all kinds of sicknesses to be healed by Jesus. After the rejection at Nazareth, it had to feel good to be amazing people left and right. It must have been tempting for Jesus to soak it all in and bask in their adulation. He could have hung up a sign and made Capernaum famous as the home of the healer who never fails (and probably made Himself rich in the process). But He didn’t.

In Luke 4:42, we find Jesus out in a solitary place, away from the crowds for a moment, getting ready to leave Capernaum. But the crowds found Him and tried to get Him to stay. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

Before He walked on water…

Before He called out a single disciple…

Before He rose from the grave…

Jesus understood WHY. He knew that He had been sent, and He knew why He’d been sent. No highs or lows could dissuade Him from His mission. I know that I’m prone to be thrown around a bit by the ups and downs, but it’s when I forget why I’m here that I can get most off track. I’m grateful for a God who reminds me that I’ve been sent, for His Sprit who reminds me why, and for the Son who shows me how to humbly accept what comes and continue faithfully on His mission.

I pray that your 2017 will be full of clarity about the fact that you are sent and about WHY God has sent you wherever He has.

Top 6%…

Mike —  December 14, 2016 — Leave a comment

If you play along here on this blog much at all, you already know that I recently published a book. If you have any book writing experience, you know that it’s one thing to write a book and quite another to actually sell copies of it. (Which is why writers have agents and publicity teams, etc.) I’ve read that the average non-fiction book sells about 250 copies a year and about 2000 copies over the “lifetime” of the book. Even though there are a ton of books published each year, there aren’t that many that actually sell very well.

Now, I’m not looking to get rich or get a major publisher’s attention/book contract with this little effort, but I’ve also never been one to be satisfied with average. I’m glad to already be very close to surpassing that 250 mark in the first several weeks, but did I mention that it’s a very different thing to sell a book than to write a book? The writing is done, and I’m happy with it. I wouldn’t have gone to print if I thought it wasn’t worth reading. I’ve very comfortable sitting down and grinding out word after word for hours on end… But I AM TERRIBLE AT PROMOTING myself (and my work by extension). It feels stupid asking people to buy my book all the time. I look back at my social media feeds and feel embarrassed… but the thing is, I ACTUALLY THINK THIS JOURNAL CAN HELP PEOPLE.

Find Fuel

The world needs a church that is in intimate conversation with our Maker, our Head. People need to know that they can actually talk to God and He will listen, and He will actually respond and we need to listen, too. We are absolutely dependent on Him to fuel the Movement that He has started and sustained to seek and to save His lost children. We have to learn again what it means to be a people of prayer, and I think a few weeks going through this book can help us do that.

So, I’m learning how to tactfully (and hopefully humbly) promote the book/myself. Here are a few things I’m learning:

  • Stats and analytics pages don’t do anything good for the ego. They either puff it up or tear it to pieces. I’m learning to remember who God says I am regardless of how many books have sold.
  • There are a LOT of books available that aren’t selling a whole lot. I found out today, that PRAY was in the top 6% of books selling on Amazon. That sounds much more impressive than the equally true rank of #455,000 (out of 8 million).
  • I now know how to set up ad campaigns on Twitter and Facebook. (Twitter seems to be more exposure for me so far, but I’m not sure how much that’s converting to actual sales yet.)
  • No amount of promoting that I do can rival what you who have already bought the book could do collectively. I wrote it, of course I’m going to want people to buy it. But you… your “word of mouth” is what will get your friends (who don’t know me at all) interested in the book. If you could take a few minutes and share in a post on your own blog, or on Facebook or Twitter, or if you could share an entry of your journal to your Snapchat story or leave a review on Amazon… Get your small group to go through the journal together… It could be the beginning of an eternal difference, not just a book rank difference!

I wonder what it would take to get into the Top 100,000? Want to help me find out?

Marked

Mike —  December 6, 2016 — Leave a comment

Paul reminded the Christians in Ephesus that they’d been chosen to play a part in God’s fulfillment of His will to “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head…” God was making them heirs with Jesus and reserving for them an inheritance that only His extravagant grace could provide! He was blessing them with “every spiritual blessing in Christ…”

Maybe, like me, you need reminded from time to time that you’ve been given such a role, too. You’ve been chosen, and given His Holy Spirit to work in and through your life and to guide you to the promised inheritance of God.

You’ve been marked.

Don’t let a circumstantial discouragement or a momentary setback cloud over His mark in your life. Listen to His whisper and let His promise light the world around you.