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.

Dear Graduate

Mike —  May 19, 2014 — Leave a comment

Dear Graduate,

Congratulations are definitely in order. I know you think you’ve just accomplished something, and you have… but there is so much more to life. Don’t get stuck as the person you are today. Keep growing, keep learning, keep reading, & keep chasing a great life that pulls you deeper into God’s story than you’ve ever been. Remember, you’re a product of His imagination, not just 13 years of free (or expensive) education. Keep digging into His imagination and give everything to make it a reality.

Please don’t settle for what I’ve told you is possible for your life. My vision is too narrow, my opinions of your capabilities are too limited, and my faith in you is not nearly as big as God’s. Oh, I believe in you, don’t get me wrong, and I want to do everything I can to continue to help you grow. I believe you can change the world… But He made you. He knows you inside and out and has the ability to draw out of you what you and I didn’t even realize was there. In Him you’ll learn things I could never teach you and discover the power that really does change the world.

Don’t tell your mom I said this, but live dangerously. A safe life is just too boring and won’t add a whole lot to His Kingdom, to be honest. Living safely, you’ll make it through ok, but in the end, you’ll still die – maybe a few years later than the more adventurous, but dead, nonetheless. Someday you’ll stop breathing. Your life’s mission is not to take every breath safely between now and then – it’s to be blown by the Wind of God into a life more colorful and passionate than any you could dream up for yourself. A life so over-filled that it brings life to the sliver of humanity that is wherever you go.

Don’t save your best dreams for sleep. Live them every day. Live in such a way that your waking life, completely submitted to God’s heart, thrills you infinitely more than the dreams you dream when you’re asleep. Give yourself fully to Him. Trust me, your subconscious mind can’t compete with the wonders of His imagination! Let God play around in your own imagination, and every once in a while, when you think the Spirit’s about to blow your mind – chase down one of those crazy ideas He puts there and work it out to His delight.

image from Phillip Keller at creationswap.com

Use the best of your creativity to celebrate your Creator. You’ll probably take some classes or have some jobs that seem like they’re sucking the life out of you. You’ll work hard, but feel like it doesn’t really matter. Work hard anyway, because it does matter. Strike back at the monotonous with something beautiful and make sure the world sees your Maker in your creation. Make art that matters and show the world His unlimited creativity. Make a marriage that actually works and show people His kind of selfless love. Make babies and be sure you notice His image in them. (Don’t rush this – and make sure you get the sequence of events right on those last two!)

Don’t tell your mom about that last part either – she’s not ready for it! Probably, she never really will be, because she’s going to go on thinking of you as her baby. That’s ok. Let her love you like that, because when she does, it reminds her how much God loves you both.

Build relationships on that love. Go for walks with Jesus. Deepen your connection with Him as much as you can, and let Him connect you to the people who need you in their lives. Learn to treasure the quiet moments when it’s just you and Jesus… and live fully with Him.

Live. There’s so much more to say, but that one word pretty much captures it all.

Live.

May your lungs be filled with the life giving Breath of God.

May His Voice echo in your heart and through your life.

And may His Love reach a dying world through your living.

 

Love,

Me

The mission we are called into is not one we can undertake alone. As we dig in to the The Right Tools and the Right Access series, we need to carefully consider that ours is not a solo assignment. We are in this together. We need access to each other.

We are the church together...

In addition to our access to the Holy Spirit, we also need to pay attention to our access to each other. The journey of discipleship is not one that we are meant to walk alone. In fact, we can’t make it alone. Thankfully, we don’t have to. God has given us each other. In each other, we will find friends and fellow travelers, supporters and comforters; we’ll find those who challenge us beyond what we thought was capable and those who guide us to realize tomorrows we never would have even imagined on our own. One of His greatest gifts to us is each other.

He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ… Under His direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

-Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus

It’s not popular to admit we need each other, but we can’t escape the fact that we are made for each other. Each one has a special work that facilitates the health and growth of the whole body. One of the most unhealthy behaviors in the church today is the way we can compartmentalize certain subgroups. On an individual level, we keep others at a distance and never really give them access to what God has to offer through us. We withdraw when things get a little messy or our toes get stepped on one too many times. But if one of God’s greatest gifts to His Body is each other, that means you are part of that gift, too, for the benefit of others. Here are a few ways to give others access to your life:

  • Make the most of your circumstances and skills. Your abilities, your work place, your circle of peers and friends – these are not accidental. Be diligent in letting God work through these and make sure you’re keeping sharp enough to take advantage of opportunities to show His grace and love when they come along. Don’t just do your job, do a great job at it.
  • Open your doors. Just because your workplace has an open door policy doesn’t mean the people around you feel open to approach. If your door is constantly closed, that sends a very different message and the policy is irrelevant. This works at home, too. Hang out in the yard or the front porch when your neighbors may be around to strike up a conversation. Yes, you may miss some half naked people that no one but dancers ever heard of dancing with other half naked people that used to be famous on tv, but who cares? Really…
  • Don’t shrink back from necessary conflict. I have seen very few things cripple the church more than avoiding conflict. Rather than following Jesus’ instructions about reconciling with our brother, we’ll too often just avoid that brother altogether. Sit on the other side of the building, go to a different service or venue, or join a new church… But when we go to these lengths to avoid hurt feelings, we often fail to bring about the reconciliation that Jesus wants to put on display. Is there someone you need to stop avoiding and carefully restore relationship with?
  • Have meals together. When we eat together, we open time for conversation to go beyond the first couple minutes of pleasantries and actually get to know each other a little bit. Do this regularly and you are giving people access to your life and building bridges that God will work through to strengthen His Body. Take someone out to eat for lunch after services this Sunday. (And leave a tip that reflects your Father’s generosity to surprise your server.)
  • Travel together. As a youth minister, I take this for granted. I get to travel often with a van load of students from our youth ministry to camps or conferences. We enjoy access to each others’ lives because of these trips. But one of my favorite trips was a cross country drive for a conference with our small group of adults. We crowded into a vacation house for a few days, got on each others’ nerves a little bit, and were drawn together in exciting new ways. What if you took your small group or a couple close families to a conference or vacationed together?
  • Work together. Find a Habitat for Humanity project nearby or just find someone in need of some maintenance work, grab a few people to conspire with, and do some some good, helpful work side by side.

God has given us each other in the church to strengthen each other for the journey ahead, but also to strengthen our combined efforts to move forward with a gospel of reconciliation in a world that is desperately in need of it. We are joined with a family that stretches across the globe and a couple thousand years that gives evidence of far greater things to come…

Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)

But let’s not run alone. We should go together.

In The Right Tools & The Right Access I mentioned our need for the right tools and access in order to accomplish the job that is at hand. In youth ministry, and in the church, the stakes are very high, and the job is huge. Without the right access and the right tools, we have no hope of success.

The first access that I want to talk about is the Holy Spirit. At a youth event recently, one of my students questioned the speaker on something huge. He did it after the session and in a polite way, just for the record. This wasn’t a snotty, know-it-all attitude pridefully telling the speaker he was wrong about something. (Like I may or may not have done as a kid!) The speaker talked about how great it would be to to have been Moses, hearing the voice of God from within a burning bush that didn’t seem to be burning up. He talked excitedly about getting to heaven and asking Moses what that was like. My student’s question… “Don’t you think Moses wonders how awesome it is for us to have God’s very Spirit living inside of us?!” Whoah!

The church has been given a spirit not of fear.

Paul’s words to Timothy are a great reminder to us.

Sometimes, it seems that we forget today, the very fact that enabled the early church to survive and move forward with the Gospel of Jesus: His Holy Spirit is alive in His people! The Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit at work within our lives. He is here to comfort with love, strengthen with faith, & encourage with hope. God has given us access to the very heart of who He is in the Holy Spirit. He is here to empower us to do exactly what He directs us to do.

  • Self-reliance – We are taught from the time we’re very young to rely on ourselves. The problem is, the job is a God-sized job that we can’t do on our strength. All the best technology and skill and strategy come up short without the Spirit. We need to rely on His strength.
  • Fear of what we can’t control – The Holy Spirit is not some little candle that we hold up at Christmas time to sing Silent Night to. He’s an all-encompassing, all-consuming fire that will burn wherever He finds fuel. He’s like the wind. You can learn to steer by it, you can learn to harness the power inherent within it, but you can never hope to control it. Is it a risky proposition to set your sail to be fully directed by such a power? Sure it is. But there’s no other way to get to where He wants you to be. Raise your sail and trust Him. He’s not tame, but He’s good.
  • Guilt by association – There are some, even as early as the book of Acts, who have tried to make a name for themselves by misrepresenting the Spirt. Selfish profiteering has caused some to claim the Spirit’s power for their own ends, not His. A lot of well-intentioned Christians have steered clear of too much talk of the Holy Spirit because they don’t want to be associated with these various movements or personalities. This is an old roof that we need to cut away in order to show a better understanding of what the Spirit is all about.

Cutting away these old roofs is critical to gaining access to the Spirit Jesus promised to His disciples. Is there an area where you need to do a little cutting?

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Forgotten God from Francis ChanCheck out Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit ~ It’s a great book from Francis Chan that’ll give you a little more to think about regarding the Holy Spirit.