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!

Pray Like Manoah!

Mike —  June 25, 2014 — 1 Comment

You probably don’t know who Manoah was (though I’m sure you’ve heard of his son). Manoah is not a name we hear today. I’ve never seen an illustrated Bible story of his life or come across a statue to commemorate his contribution to God’s people. He’s never in anyone’s VBS list of heroes. But there was a moment when Manoah received an incredible promise from God. His wife was unable to have children, but the promise was that life was about to break through her barrenness. Manoah was about to become a father!

In this moment, Manoah asked God what I think may be the most important question any of can ask on behalf of our children:

…when your words come true, what is to be the child’s manner of life, and what is his mission?

How should I teach him to be?

What is he here to do?

Where are we going, Dad?

Where are we going, Dad?

I hadn’t noticed Manoah’s prayer before today, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather do as a parent than help my kids discover how God intends them to be and how that relates to His mission in their lives. Each of my kids has their own set of interests and gifts and curiosities that need to be explored and tested and discovered. As I think of my ministry students, too, I know that one of the greatest joys I’ve had is helping them discover how and who God has created in them. But it’s not enough for me to recognize hidden talents and draw out latent abilities they didn’t even know were there. I hope to help them see the unique character God is forming in them and the mission for which He has prepared them.

And so I pray with Manoah:

     What should they be like?

          What is their mission?

20th Anniversary

Mike —  June 11, 2014 — Leave a comment

Yeah… it’s real. 20 years ago today, this was us. All dressed up… Taking pictures… Getting married.

Honestly, I don’t remember a lot of the details of that day. I remember a certain ring bearer stopping to scratch his butt halfway down the isle. I remember putting LuAnn’s ring on the wrong hand (oops). I remember hugging my English teacher in our reception line (she’s awesome). I remember wondering why so many people were asking me if I was nervous. I was marrying my best friend and looking forward to starting a new life of adventure together. I wasn’t worried, I was excited to jump into life with the greatest partner I could imagine!

After 20 years, we don’t look so much like a couple kids playing dress up anymore. But we’re still having every bit as much fun! Aside from His own son, I can’t think of a better gift that God has given me than the friendship and partnership that He’s given me in LuAnn.

I can’t wait to see what’s next in our adventure together.

Wedding

If we’re going to faithfully and successfully be the church Jesus calls us to be, we need access to people outside the church. We need to have connections with people who don’t notice God that enable us to help them see Him. At a recent visit to Flatirons Community Church, I heard it called building bridges between people and God and “creating an environment where lost people can bump into Jesus.” That’s a great picture of what ambassadors do, right? They engage in events where the locals in the foreign places they’re living can get a glimpse of the beauty of their homeland and culture, spreading goodwill and building relationships.

But if we forget that we’re not at home here, and we start to behave as if we have some claim or rights to our turf, we run the risk of cutting off access to the very people we’re sent to. We’ll push the “locals” away, rather than intriguing them with and engaging them in the greatness of the God that sent us here. Here are a seven suggestions to make sure you have access to people who don’t notice God (and you’re doing everything you can to reveal Him to them)…

  1. Notice the broken-ness and hurt of the people around you. Take the time to offer comfort and wholeness. Are there needs in your community that you could help meet? Just for the record, there are. Whether it’s food and shelter or recovery from emotional traumas or the devastation of tragic losses, there is pain in your community that you can help relieve.
  2. Tell the world what you’re for more loudly and more often than what you’re against. It’s so easy to get this backward and spend so much effort protesting government policies or cultural practices or whatever other hobby horse we want to ride, that we rarely get around to talking about the real Jesus that people need so desperately.
  3. Don’t be a jerk. Seriously, if you’re claiming the name of Christ, there’s no room for the kind of behavior that pushes people away or gives them more reason to dislike Christians. Take on the attitude of Jesus and treat people well.
  4. Get involved in community events. Learn to referee youth soccer games or coach little league. Join a civic group that cleans up parks or runs a local farmer’s market. Find some people who are already engaged in making your community a better place, and help them see the One that could make it an incredible place!
  5. Live with so much hope that people wonder what’s up. The apostle Peter taught people to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Who’s been asking about your hope lately?
  6. If your employment is on a church staff, get out of the office and work in your community. If we want access to the lives of people who are far from God, are we more likely to find that behind our stained glass windows or at the local coffee shop or stadium?
  7. Do the best work you’re capable of doing, whether you get recognized for it or not. Someone will notice and wonder why.
  8. Hang out on your front porch. Do you really know your neighbors? If not, are you going to change that by spending another night in your bunker basement watching Fox News?

Bottom line here: We have to get close to people who are far from Christ if we’re to have any hope of showing them who He is and helping them find hope in Him. We can’t make disciples from a distance.

For most of us, actual access to the Bible is not the problem. Unless we’re living in an area of the world where Scripture is restricted or prohibited, we can pick one up from our shelves or open the Bible app on our phones any time. The problem is, we don’t.

Devotion, Bible, EncounterIf our job as His church is to join God in the work He’s doing to make disciples, work that “He’s prepared for us to do,” we need to be able to recognize what He’s doing. Scripture is crucial to understanding the heart of God. When we learn to recognize what He’s doing in Scripture, we train our ‘spiritual eyes’ to see what He’s doing in the world around us. We gain a sensitivity to His Voice when we dig into His Word and allow it to transform our minds.

  1. Get a translation of the Bible that you can read and understand. If you need large print, get large print. If you like the way one translation flows more naturally than another, read the one you understand without a lot of extra deciphering. Having a Bible that you can understand makes it that much more likely that you’ll actually read it.
  2. Find a way of reading that works. Some people like to wake up before God does and read the Bible early. Some of us are a little slower to gain consciousness so it’s better to wait until later in the day! It’s good to read through whole books or sections in a short period of time, but sometimes, we need to stop and chew on just a verse or phrase for a while.
  3. Read with a plan. YouVersion has some great long term and short term plans to follow.
  4. Share what you’re learning. When God brings something to your attention, find a friend or mentor to talk with about it. Learn together. Teach someone else what you’ve learned.
  5. Don’t just read it ~ do what it says. Spending much time with Scripture will result in revealing patterns in your life that need changed. When they’re exposed… change them.

This is an area where the access we need has never been better.

Let’s take advantage of it.