Needing Direction?

I need direction. Constantly! Without it, my mind will wander and ramble to worlds unknown and I’ll get sidetracked from accomplishing what I need to in the real world. I remember well the old line “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it…” from Come Thou Fount. There’s another great line in that song that says “Here I raise my ebenezer” and if you don’t know what an ebenezer is (who would?) you’ll miss a great thought.

It’s the thought that God has brought me this far, I want to trust Him with the next steps, and here is a reminder of how worthy of my trust He’s proven Himself to be already. In 1 Samuel 7, the Israelites were gathered to fast and repent in hopes to end what seemed like a 20 year abandonment from God. Their nation was not well. They no longer knew that the God who brought them there was with them.

As Samuel urged them to return to God and gave them some direction to turn their hearts toward Him, the Philistines saw an opportunity to attack. This was understandably terrifying for Israel, they’d gathered to beg God for help, not for war. As the terror spread, Samuel urged them to continue to plead with God for deliverance.

God answered in a big way and the people of Israel celebrated a great victory. Samuel marked the occasion by standing up a monolith and naming it Ebenezer, the “stone of help” saying “up to this point the Lord has helped us!” This monument to God’s faithfulness served to remind them that the presence of God was still indeed available.

If you’re like me, you need such reminders, too. Reminders that God is at work in and around you. Reminders that He is faithfully here, with us, working to restore all things to the wholeness of His intent. These reminders help us find direction.

I have a handful of such ‘ebenezers’ in my life. A keychain from my first trip to another country… all alone (but not alone at all), artwork from a Catalyst conference where I was pushed in needed ways, a small root from a huge tree that had to be dug up to keep from caving in the basement wall of our first house (where God provided in so many ways), rhinos that remind me of the powerful force He’s left here to accomplish His mission (we call it church and when we pull together under His lead, we are unstoppable), an Acura center cap from a wheel that fell off my daughter’s car as she drove down the highway (He’s got plans for her, I have no doubt!)…

I’m a bit of a hoarder so I can clutter up my life with trinkets and memories, but these are a few that help me stay on course with His direction. Reminders of how God has helped me to this point – and of the promise that He will help me further as I continue to seek to serve Him. And I suppose, when it really comes down to it, that’s all the direction we really need.

What are your Ebenezers?


A few years ago, I developed a guided journal for my students and I to use in building up our conversation with God as we were seeking His direction. It’s helped me learn to recognize His voice and talk with Him (not just at Him). I’d love if it could help you to also find the direction you’re looking for. It’s simply called PRAY, and you can get one for $5 at that link right now!

You Did What?!

So… a few weeks ago, I stood in front of the church where I have served since 2005 and told them that I would be leaving before long. I was pretty short on specifics, but the gist of the moment was that the youth pastor who’s been here for 16 graduations will not be here for a 17th. I resigned. (And for those who appreciate a good timeline, my last day will be July 3.)

The first question posed to me after the service was a little unexpected, partially because it came from someone I’ve never really met before: “Have you ever thought about teaching in a Bible college… in Zimbabwe?” Complete with a long pause before naming the nation! (Full disclosure… I can’t say that Zimbabwe has been at the front of my ministry search.)

Most of the questions were a little more expected… “Where will you be going?”

“What are you going to be doing?”

“How long until you leave?”

“Can I have your office?” (just kidding)

(mostly, haha!)

Let’s back up a little bit… I remember when I got my first job, my dad told me “Don’t ever quit a job until you have another one.” That’s wisdom that I mostly have lived up to, but not always. I quit my K-Mart job because everyone was grouchy and slow and Subway was friendly, fun, and fast, and I didn’t have to wear a tie. I quit Subway to get married and move away to college, where I found 3 jobs right away. I quit Hy-Vee so I could keep working at the YMCA and JCPenney and stay awake for 8:00 classes. I quit those when I finished college to go find a full time ministry. I quit the car lot because my boss wanted me to rip people off and I wouldn’t. Then I quit Perkins because God showed me what He was waiting for me to find – my first full time ministry in the last place I would’ve looked for it and the best place I could’ve found it! (That sounds like a lot of quitting, but I really don’t quit well… that’s a 30 year work history that started as a teen!) I quit my first full time ministry in Auburn to move to my second here in Scottsbluff… and that brings us to now.

For the second time, I’m telling a church that I love them, but it’s time for me to go. But this time, I don’t know what’s next yet. I have officially quit a great job with a great church without having a better offer on the line! What an idiot. Why would I do something like that?

The short answer is an inexplicable knowledge that this is where God has led. After a lot of conversation with the leadership here, I know that the ministry that WestWay needs done right now is not the ministry God is calling me to do right now. There have been years leading to this point, and fits of wrestling with God, searching for alternatives, and waiting for answers. I have had “windows” where the timing was right for us to move on, but the next step just never materialized. Today, the next step has still not been revealed, but there are some good possibilities coming into view.

I once wrote a song with a lyric, “If I jump can I know you’ll catch me?”

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for more than a few years have noticed that I’ve written a lot less over the past few. The space between posts has grown significantly as I’ve toed the ledge and wondered and waited for an answer to that question. Most of my writing here has been me processing my experiences in a way that I’ve hoped would be helpful to you. As I’ve wrestled through this particular season, there was a lot that I just couldn’t process outside my own head, but I’ve learned some things that I hope to share more moving forward.

So, where will we be going, what will we be doing, when exactly will we leave??? Again, a short answer, “We’ll see.” God hasn’t showed us that step yet, but I’m confident that He’s asked us to take this one, so “we’ll see…”

Another line from that same song was “I wonder where this road is taking me…”

Wonder with me…

I wonder where this road is taking me…

Simply a Legend?

Words have carried a lot of weight in my life. I remember distinctly how certain words have built me up, puffed me up, or torn me down. Sticks and stones will hurt for a while, but cut me with words and I’ll bleed much longer than you’ll even remember what you said. On the other hand, I’ll run for miles on the momentum of genuine affirmation as well. I have a note from my dad from almost 30 years ago because its words helped shape me and prepare me to be a man that God could work through. (I also have a box full of letters from my wife telling me how awesome I was back in the days before emojis – not that she uses emojis or anything!) I have a distinct memory of a meeting in Jerry’s office at NCC when his words changed the trajectory of my education and shaped the way I’ve approached ministry, “Michael, you need to consider preaching.” I’ve seen great power in words. Words matter – and they move us.

Last week, we attended Sr. Day as our son prepared to graduate yesterday. The words, “He is simply a legend.” were used by his math teacher to describe Dakota as he was awarded Outstanding Math Student. To be fair… he is an outstanding math student. His brain is wired for math that looks like hieroglyphics to the rest of us, and he’s worked hard to fine tune his understanding. Because of that, he’s won a lot of math competitions, some scholarship money, and a reputation for being the guy to see when you’ve got a numbers problem.

But the word LEGEND caught me off guard a little bit. I’m glad Mr. Aaberg didn’t stop there. He continued with words that I pray will carry great weight for Dakota… He’s not just good at Math. He’s kind and patient to help other students understand as well. These are the words I hope he’ll carry with him. His greatness at math is a matter of engaging his God given neural pathways and making the most of an incredible gray matter filing system – but the way he treats people needing help is a matter of the heart and character that will take him beyond legend status in my book.

May we never settle for simply being a legend. May the stories ‘they’ tell of you always point beyond you. May we be men and women chasing after God’s own heart and serving those around us in every way we can. Well done, Son.

Every legend begins somewhere…

Who Is Really the Greatest?

I love the episode in Mark 9 where Jesus is traveling with His disciples, people have been miraculously fed, demons have been cast out, blind people have been given sight, and Jesus has nonchalantly mentioned His upcoming death a couple times lately.

Mark tells us that the disciples didn’t understand what he was talking about… but they were afraid to ask.

So Jesus just let them walk in their ignorance for a while. He didn’t rush in to answer all their questions. And it seems they didn’t wonder deeply enough, because in the very next passage, just when everyone settles in for some rest after a lot of miles on the road, Jesus hits them with a question of his own…

“Hey, back there on the road, what were you guys “discussing”?”

Silence.

Even Peter didn’t want to open His mouth for this one… Can you imagine Jesus asking you a question and you just… don’t answer hoping the moment will pass as you shrink into the scenery? (I bet you can…)

Back on the road they must have gotten a little heated as the conversation moved from whispers of “What did he mean ‘rise from the dead’? Is this another one of those parable things?” Now, here in the calm of the house in Capernaum, they were embarrassed. He must have overheard as their conversation turned from resurrection to “Which one of us is the greatest?”

Oof…

This really probably should have been a settled question by this point, right? There should have been no doubt that Jesus was greatest, and maybe the disciples were jockeying for P2 in his kingdom, but even at that Jesus leaves no doubt:

“Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

So many times, Jesus paints this picture and flips our power structures on their head. Today, in the wake of so much discussion and celebration of Resurrection, let’s remember who is the greatest and find someone to serve in His Name.

Revealing the Kingdom

In Matthew 9, we see Jesus doing Jesus things… Healing, calling someone to leave behind the life he knew to become a disciple, teaching, and… a lot more healing. The legalists among His people hated what they saw happening because Jesus didn’t seem to fit their paradigm or follow their playbook – and he certainly wasn’t limited by their sense of propriety and power.

And then…

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

– Matthew 9:36-38

His people were unknowingly living in the light of a Kingdom so imminent they could see it breaking through if they’d only look. But like sheep with no one to direct their attention they steadily grazed on, oblivious to the LIFE that was right there with them. Jesus knew they were close, and he knew he only had a handful of disciples to show them the Kingdom they were missing, and he knew he only had a few years to train those disciples how to reveal the Kingdom.

So he told them to pray.

“You guys have a lot of work to do… better pray that God sends some help.”

We usually connect this line to the actual harvest, the moment of reaping. But before a harvest can happen, doesn’t a crop have to be nourished? Before it’s nourished, doesn’t it have to be planted? And before seeds are planted, doesn’t the soil have to be tilled and maybe amended in some way to be ready for the seeds?

Workers aren’t just the harvesters in this metaphor. Every moment of the process of the Kingdom coming involves different work. And every step needs workers. Sometimes workers need to do different work for a different season.

Are you tilling any ground right now? Planting any seeds? What are you nourishing in the people around you? Every disciple today is the result of others praying this prayer and doing the work God called them to. Who were those people for you? Who made sure the soil of your life was ready to receive the seed of His Kingdom? Who planted those seeds?

Take some time this month to get in touch and tell them thanks.

Then, be the answer to Jesus’ and the disciples’ prayer – work to reveal the Kingdom the world is crying out for. And join them in praying for God to send some more workers…

CORE 52 Wrap Up

A little over a year ago, I started to take our students through a book I’d come across called CORE 52 from Mark Moore. (You can see where we started with this post.) It was a great journey through scripture, highlighting 52 of the major themes and verses that capture the essence of the story of Scripture. If you’re looking for a solid discipleship tool to sharpen your Biblical focus – grab a couple friends, buy the book, and discuss your walk through the Bible over the next 52 weeks.

There’s evidently a Student Edition coming out this Spring! Watch for it… or pre-order here.

I revived my instagram account and used it to post a verse image each week with a bit of a comment to help remind students of what we’d discussed and to help in memorizing the verse. Take some time and enjoy a visual walkthrough:

Don’t Forget To Be A Person, Pastor

Some thoughts for my Pastor type friends, especially. You’ve got an important message to communicate, but does it ever feel like no one’s listening?

I write a lot of fairly serious stuff that I think is really important. Like – life or death forever important. I hope to help people see and engage some potential God has put within them that they may not have realized was even there. I love it when I get to see this happen.

But, in a life full of a constant stream of information, I know my stuff is not always an easy read and my lesser self tells the rest of me that it’s easy to ignore. That I’m easy to ignore. No one’s listening, so why bother… I have ample evidence to make this case, and yet I keep tilting at the windmill, hoping to spark something in you that God will use for His glory and someone else’s benefit.

But a couple days ago, I posted something that was anything but serious, definitely not meaningful, and at face value of little redeeming quality. It was a flippant comment about the food I was eating. It was this:

Just a dorky comment about cereal, but between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, (where I also post all the other more serious stuff) I had about 50 times more interaction about my cereal that anything else I’ve posted lately. It was a good reminder of a few things:

Many people aren’t as interested in public discussion about matters of faith and church and spiritual growth as I might be. I’m a church nerd all the way through and I don’t mean to back away from that at all, but “everyone eats.” As we pastor from a distance right now, we need to make sure to maintain common ground and not get lost inside our own thoughts so deeply that we begin to disconnect from the people we serve.

Maybe this one’s just me, but it’s easy to start to take ourselves (and everything else) too seriously. There is room in your life for a goofy food post once in a while, or a stupid meme you found funny, or maybe even that horrible dad joke that makes you laugh way too hard when no one’s looking.

Pastor friends – I know your work load is crazy right now and you’re having to learn new ways to communicate and gain new skills to do it. You’re helping lead churches full of people facing fear and uncertainty looking to you to know what to do. They need to see your faith and confidence and character that grabs a mop and leads through the mess.

But don’t forget to be a person. Often, connections are forged in the trivial moments we share every day with each other as much as in the deep, meaningful, momentous occasions that come along once in a while.

Take a breath…

Take another…

Relax… He’s got you.

Have some Cookie Crisp.

What Do You Really Believe?

“Instead of asking yourself whether you believe or not, ask yourself whether you have this day done one thing because He said, Do it, or once abstained because He said, Do not do it. It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe, in Him, if you do not do anything He tells you.”

George MacDonald

What we really believe is seen in what we really do. The quote above stopped me in my tracks last week as I read it and began to think about the way I live my life. This doesn’t mean I have absolute confidence in every decision I make… definitely not that. But it means I have some way to cut through my self doubt and find some assurance that what I’m doing (or not doing) is in sync with the heart of God.

Am I living a life that reflects the fact that it’s being directed by God or by me?

What exactly did I do today that He told me to do?

How has God instructed you?

How have you responded?

(These questions may sound rhetorical, but I really don’t mean them that way. I hope you’ll wrestle with these questions for yourself, and I’d love to hear your stories of God’s direction and your response. Use the comments section below if you don’t mind sharing.)

Shared Victory

The agony of the cross faded into a silent anguish and the grief that follows the unexpected.

“What do we do now? I thought He would lead us to glory and victory… I can’t believe He’s gone…”

The answers didn’t come… at first.

But then the silence of Saturday was broken as the Lion of Judah shook death still in His jaws, threw it to the side, and stepped out of the grave with an earth shaking roar. An incredible victory – but one that perhaps shouldn’t surprise us as it does. What else would the Author of Life do when He’d tasted death? (What a luxury is a couple millennia of hindsight!) The greatest victory is always one that is shared.

What may be even more amazing is that Jesus put His power over death to use at great personal cost for the benefit of those who are powerless against it without Him. We have no hope against death outside of the hope He has given us by inviting us into life, His life. So that’s exactly what He did. He’s invited us to share in His victory.

“Or have you forgotten that when we were joined to Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined Him in His death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. and just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in His death, we will also be raised to life as He was.”

Paul, in a letter to Christians in Rome

Easter was certainly different this year. But Jesus’ power over death has not been diminished. Our union with Him still leaves us with nothing to fear from death. And His selfless use of His power for our benefit is still the example we follow.

I wonder… What power do you have? How are you using it to benefit someone else and help people find the Way to life? How are you entering into the darkness and uncertainty and fear in your family and neighborhood with the light of hope and faith and love?

Look Deeper…

“The sail was patched with flour sacks, and furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.”

-Ernest Hemingway

In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway begins with this description of old Santiago’s sail – it’s beaten and weathered and old and used up. Just like the man, himself. On the surface, it’s easy to see the signs of defeat.

But look deeper and you can see determination greater than the defeat. Every patch and wrinkle and scar points to something more than defeat. They point to tenacity and resilience. They point to a long-suffering mind, set on doing just what he was made for. Born to be a fisherman, Santiago launched out day after day after day in the pursuit of the fish.

Our world is looking a bit worn these days. Our society is revealing its brokenness in ways we haven’t often experienced before. On the surface, the signs of defeat are evident: the selfish hoarding, the accusations and mistrust, the shoving away of our fellow man in just about every possible way… We are broken.

But look deeper and you can see determination greater than the defeat. We wear the scars of our sin, yes. All creation groans as the result of our choosing of death over union with Life, even as it also cries out His glory with every sunrise and hidden valley and sack lunch given away. We wear the scars, but those scars can remind us the scars of another – those worn by one who did nothing to earn them, who bore their pain and shame on our behalf.

In Jesus’ final week, the signs of defeat were easy to see – a fickle crowd turned in just days from shouts of praise to calls for death, a family of friends reduced to a hiding gang of misfits unsure of what to do next after the betrayal from one of their own, a final meal, a cross, a tomb… Surely the defeat is now absolute.

But look deeper and you can see determination greater than the defeat. Every step brought him closer to doing just what he had come for. Born to rescue, Jesus launched out into Jerusalem one last time. He set his gaze on his Father and ran a stake through the heart of death itself to open the way for every sin scarred one of us to come home.

Whatever defeats you are feeling and seeing today, keep looking deeper. Determine to gaze deeper into the heart of our Father and be just what He’s made you to be. These defeats are not final. These wounds will be healed. Because of Jesus, even death itself is only a way marker on our journey home.