Enough Auto-Pilot

After driving home from work, I was greeted with the sight of chimichangas in process last night. I wasn’t feeling great, so my reaction was a little more subdued than it would normally be, but I was still more than happy to go back out the door for a quick drive to the store for 1 missing ingredient. I wasn’t terribly hungry, but they’re worth it!

So I drove to the store.

Well… I meant to drive to the store. But after a couple minutes daydreaming at a red light, I went straight when I should have turned right. The worst part of it was that I didn’t notice until 5 blocks later when I pulled into the church parking lot… which I had just left 5 minutes ago to go home!

Immediately, two thoughts flashed through my mind:

  • What the heck am I doing here?
  • Get yourself out of auto-pilot, Mike!

Somehow, I’d managed to drive 5 blocks completely out of my way, just because that’s the path I drive so often. Usually, that’s not a big deal. Every day, I drive that path. Every day, it gets me where I need to be. But last night, I didn’t need to go to my office, I needed to go get some green chile enchilada sauce! The well worn path that can be easily navigated on auto-pilot had become the wrong path.

I don’t want to push the metaphor too far, but I have a confession to make: I have lived on auto-pilot too often! My guess is, you have, too. But I’ve had enough auto-pilot. It’s boring – and it doesn’t always get you where you need to go. So let’s stop. Let’s shake off the rust of mindlessly going through the motions of the lives we’re in, so that we can thoughtfully and thoroughly pursue the lives He’s dreaming we’ll live.

And don’t forget the enchilada sauce!

What Have We Done?

Last week, my wife and I dropped off our oldest child at college. Actually, that’s not accurate… We dropped off her stuff. She took herself 450 miles away, and we drove a van load of her stuff to the school she’s been planning to attend since she was about 12.

Despite cheaper options…

Despite closer-to-me options…

We got everything set up in the dorm, met the suite-mates, attended a panel discussion meant to ease the minds of the parents of incoming students, gave her a hug & prayed, said goodbye… and she was off to orientation. After almost 19 years of feeding, loving, instructing, cajoling… and occasionally butting heads… as she walked away, I wondered, “What have we done? Was it enough? Did we get this whole parenting thing right?

I can easily slip into, “Oh, no, look at all the things I messed up!” mode, but I’ll keep that post in my head for now. (Actually, come to think of it, I’m probably better off just dumping that line of thought altogether!) Instead, I want to offer up a few things that I think we’ve done right, so far. Things that I think any parent can and should do in order to best prepare our kids for life…

  • We’re consistent. Our kids usually don’t have to guess where the boundaries are because we’re pretty clear about them. That doesn’t mean they like them all the time, but they’ve grown up knowing what we expect. The comfort of solid boundaries has been a huge blessing to them, I think.
  • We said “No.” when we needed to. There’s not enough time to do everything the world tells our kids they need to do. In our house, there’s not enough money to get all the things our kids want to get. More importantly, our kids have learned that the world will not (and should not) bow down to acquiesce to their every whim and fleeting desire. We’ve done our kids the greatest favor they hate by helping them understand that they don’t always get what they want.
  • We love each other deeply and give our marriage priority over just about everything else. My kids will never feel like they have to divide their loyalties between mom and dad. It’s a gift we decided to give them a terrifyingly long time ago, when we were about the age of our oldest two. We’re united and they have that unity to lean on whenever they need it. (They’re probably a little embarrassed by it from time to time as well, but… we make no apologies for that, and I can only hope that each of my kids finds someone they’ll still want to hold hands with 25 years after the first time – and counting.)
  • We love our kids and tell them so – even when they might not want to hear it. Our kids may wonder about a lot of things… but I hope they never have a doubt about whether they are loved.

Did we get this whole parenting thing right? Not entirely, I’m sure, but we’ve done what we could as faithfully as we could.

Was our parenting enough? Nope. Not even close. It would feel nice to say that we are enough for our kids, but the truth is, we fall short. Which is why I’m so grateful that God’s grace is enough when I am not.

What have we done? We’ve launched a beautiful, compassionate, Kingdom minded genius into a world that desperately needs to see God’s beauty, feel His compassion, and experience His Kingdom and the hope that He brings!

Honestly, she’s a pretty awesome kid and we’re so happy to have been entrusted with her. She was great raw material from the beginning (despite the dirty looks she gave people when she was a baby) – right out of the imagination of the Creator! She’s already jumping in with both feet in her new home (helped lead music at a new church yesterday and helps lead the first chapel at school tomorrow!) and we can’t wait to see what’s next…

Need Some Silence?

One final quote from Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World that I think reveals a hinge that supports a great transition in our personal lives:

“Few of us can truly appreciate the terrible conspiracy of noise there is about us, noise that denies us the silence and solitude we need…”

Think about your last hour. What have you heard? A fan blowing… Traffic… Garage door opener struggling to get the job done… Radio guy talking… Ads at the gas station pump… Conversations… Netflix from several different rooms in the house at the same time… Sirens… Music… Doors…

Our world is not a quiet one, is it? And so much of what we hear in an almost constant buzz is just noise, adding no shred of order to the clutter of our private world. (Do we really need ads while we stand outside and pump our gas?)

All that noise takes up some bandwidth in our lives. It often out-shouts the still small voice telling us who we really are.

I don’t want to add to the noise. I just want to echo His voice.

“Be still… and know that He is God.”

And, you are His.

You are loved.

Find some quiet. Ruthlessly carve out some space in your life for it. Then listen.

 

 

Dare to Presume

Sometimes, when I write, there are specific situations or people I have in mind to address. Other times, there’s more of a general idea that I’m trying to communicate. But I’ve often looked back over past journals or posts I’ve written and noticed that there was probably no one who needed to hear the words I wrote more than I did in those moments.

Gordon MacDonald has a great chapter on journaling in Ordering Your Private World that describes this same thing and offers this further explanation:

“I dare to presume that His Spirit is often operative in the things I am choosing to think about and record.”

MacDonald was thinking specifically about journal writing that’s not necessarily intended for anyone else to read, anyway, but I wonder to what extent those of us who write and teach and preach would dare that same presumption? I know I have… and I want to more… but I haven’t always. But what if we lived with greater expectation and anticipation that the Holy Spirit was at work in what we were sharing, planning, & explaining? What if our classes, our readers, & our friends don’t really need our interpretation of this week’s lesson as much as they need the breath of fresh air that only the Divine Wind of God can provide?

That’s not to excuse poor planning of lessons or poor delivery of an important message, but the real power for the transformation that we seek is His, and we need to depend on Him to do His work as we do ours. What do you have to do this week? Will you dare to presume that the Spirit of God is operative as you contemplate and execute your work?

Just a quick additional thought… Daring to presume that God has something to say through you (and to you) is not license to assume that everything you say is what He wants to say. The audacity to “dare to presume” that I’m advocating here has to be harbored by the attitude of humility that shapes the environment in which the Spirit most often works. Outside of that humility, this presumption can be very damaging to both self and those nearby.

My prayer is that each of us will humbly position our lives to be filled with His action.

Stop & Think

What was the last thing you really thought about? I don’t mean obsessively worrying about who’s getting the rose, and I don’t mean a couple minutes deciding which pants to wear, but when was the last time you deeply contemplated something of substance? Something that matters…

I love wrestling with ideas, but I have to admit there are some days when I just don’t really think much. Days when auto-pilot seems to be fully engaged… In a chapter called The Better Man Lost in Ordering Your Private World, Gordon MacDonald points out the dangerous consequences that develop when those days stack up.

“In our pressurized society, people who are out of shape mentally usually fall victim to ideas and systems that are destructive to the human spirit and to human relationships. They are victimized because they have not taught themselves how to think, nor have they set themselves to the lifelong pursuit of the growth of the mind. Not having the facility of a strong mind, they grow dependent on the thoughts and opinions of others.”

This is grossly evident in how most of us interact with news media today. Read a few headlines… Repost the ones that reinforce what we already think… Label as fake the ones that are contrary to what we already think… Unfollow the friends who disagree too much or too often… Repeat… Without ever understanding what the “news” really means. We can walk away feeling well informed about whatever the current topic is, but we’re really not. Headlines aren’t meant to inform, they’re meant to grab attention. When we give a little attention, but not enough to dig into the topic at hand and THINK about it… we remain worse than ignorant about what’s really going on.

This isn’t just about headline skimming and fake news, though. It’s about mental growth. We are called to love God with all our mind. Since God is infinitely more than my mind can fathom, this requires me to work to expand my mind if I’m to have any hope of loving Him as much as I think He deserves to be loved. Paul urged the early Christians in Rome to avoid getting stuck in the patterns of the world, but to instead “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” so that they would know how to figure out what God wants.

Want to know what God wants? Stop and think! Let Him transform you by filling your mind with His Word and thinking about it deeply. Seek out other healthy mental food to stretch your mind. Find some friends that you can discuss life with who don’t always see things the same way as you do and learn to disagree in healthy ways that bring life to both sides. Read books you might not agree with and think about why you don’t agree.

Let God transform you.

MacDonald ends the chapter with a quote from Oswald Chambers,

“I hate to meet a man whom I have met ten years ago and find that he is at precisely the same point…”

I have to confess that there have been a few periods of my life where I would have been that guy. Coasting. Getting by on natural talent or relational capital or whatever… (Hopefully not for 10 years running, though!)

I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t think you want to be that guy. So let’s stop and think… about everything.

———-

I’m digging through Ordering Your Private World over the next few weeks and sharing some thoughts. Would love to have you join me. How’s your private world? If your inner life is a little ‘out of order’, how is it going to get better? Maybe this can be a start…

Ordering Your Private World (Again!)

“Most of us have been taught to manage our public worlds well… Our public worlds are filled with a seeming infinity of demands on our time, our loyalties, our money, and our energies. And because these public worlds of ours are so visible, so real, we have to struggle to ignore all their seductions and demands. They scream for our attention and action.

But there is this private world in every one of us, a world that may be as infinite in size as we perceive our public worlds to be. But often the private world – like the depths of the ocean – remains unexplored, full of surprises, ambushes, emotions, and dreams.”

20-some years ago, as a freshman in Bible College, one of the books assigned for class was Ordering Your Private World from Gordon MacDonald. It seems that those in charge of training up young men and women for lives in very public service/ministry thought we needed to pay close attention to the very private workings of our inner lives before we got too drawn in to the buzz of activity they knew would be coming.

Over two decades within that buzz have lulled me into some patterns that have left little time for paying attention to the order within, so I’m revisiting the book and came across the quote above. With all the pressure of keeping up the social media appearances that we heap on ourselves today (not to mention the maintenance in the rest of our public lives) our culture leaves very little time for the private world. That needs to change for me, and I’m guessing there’s a good chance, for you, too.

I’ll be digging through the book over the next few weeks and sharing what I find, but I’d encourage you to dig a little deeper on your own, too. How’s your private world? If your inner life is a little ‘out of order’, how is it going to get better? Maybe this can be a start… Get a copy and start digging.

What Makes A Marriage Work?

WARNING: The individuals seen in the following photo were older than they appeared. Slightly.

This was not a staged, dress up photo – it was a real life picture taken moments after life-altering vows had been made. There were a lot of reasons conventional wisdom said this was not the greatest idea these two kids had ever had. They had no real source of income. An upwardly mobile career path was not even on the radar. No house… Vague hopes and dreams… No actual plans… An uncertain future… No life experience… No testing to see if any “better options” would surface… They hadn’t even had sex yet… How could they possibly know they would be compatible? And yet…

Today is our 24th Anniversary.

So what did we do right? How have we “made it” this far despite our inexperience and youth on our wedding day? (We were 17 & 18.) We’re both far from perfect and have not done everything right, but here are a few things that we’ve done that I believe have made all the difference in the world for us – and they can for you, too. I write this to say: if these two kids could do it, so can you. You have everything at your disposal to make your marriage work that we did/do.

We let God unite us. We weren’t hunting for someone to complete us. We weren’t desperately looking for a spouse before it was too late to find one. We were friends from church that God drew together as we chased after Him. I don’t want to over-spiritualize what happened – we were as wonderfully afflicted with puppy love and all the chemicals and hormones it induces as anybody else has ever been – but our relationship with each other grew out of our relationship with Christ. And as we stay connected to Him, He keeps us united with each other.

We left home and made a new one with each other. Both of us grew up in great, solid, Godly families that we continue to love to this day. But God intended us to grow out of those cultures in order to develop our own. The afternoon following our wedding, we drove a couple hours away, set up a tent, and began our honeymoon and our life together. After a couple weeks of cheap travel, we loaded everything up and headed to an on campus apartment 500 miles away from anyone we knew. We didn’t have much, so it was easy to learn to depend on God. We couldn’t go run to mommy and daddy to calm the sparks when frictions developed… we had to figure it out together. So we did. We listened to God and did what He said, and He made us one as nothing else can.

We talk about everything (and listen to each other). Communication is crucial to the success of any relationship. We go for walks just about every day and talk. About life, our future, the kids, work, friends, neighbors… pretty much everything. We keep each other informed about what we think God’s doing, and He keeps us on the same page.

We even talk about money. One of the issues that hurts so many marriages is how a couple handles money. When there’s “his” money and “her” money… there are going to be problems. When there is agreement on the fact that the money is God’s (all of it), and He has entrusted it to us to engage in His mission, there’s little reason to fight about money. We discuss how He wants us to use what He’s entrusted to us, then do what He says to do.

We don’t talk negatively about each other. You will never hear me even jokingly refer to my wife as my ball and chain, the old lady, a nag, a slave driver, or in any other derogatory way. She’s none of those, and it’s just not funny. I don’t ever want to get a laugh from my buddies at my wife’s expense. And when we do have a problem with each other, we talk about about it WITH EACH OTHER. God has created each of us uniquely and given us an inexpressible value for each other. That doesn’t mean we always have the same opinion on everything. It means we value each other more than we value our own opinion and work it out together. We value the gift that God has given us in each other, and He keeps increasing the value of what He’s given us in each other!

We forgive. We have not done any of the above perfectly. Our marriage has had the same difficulties as anyone else’s. We’ve had to kill our own egos time and time again. We’ve hurt each other deeply a time or two. But instead of walking away… instead of giving up… we’ve learned to forgive. There is no right to get even that I will ever hold against LuAnn (at least not for long). As Christ forgives us, He’s also enabled us to forgive each other.

————

There’s a risk in a post like this of coming across as more than a little prideful. I don’t hold myself up very often as the hero of the story or the model to be followed. But in a world where so many marriages are being abandoned and leaving kids shattered and broken shells of who God has crafted them to be, I’m going to humbly go out on a limb with the apostle, Paul, and say “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” You can do this, too.

The bottom line is this: We submit to Christ and to each other and place our own selfish desires and agendas aside for the sake of the mission God has given us together. If you think it can’t be that simple… try it and see what God does!

It’s been pretty productive for us for the first 24 years. I can’t wait to see what God produces in the next 24!

5 Things You Don’t Need To Share The Gospel

You may or may not have heard the recent news about an evangelist asking his followers to donate money so he can buy a $54 million dollar jet (so he can tell more people about Jesus). Apparently the $21 million jet on his runway has to stop for fuel too often – and you know how those jet fuel stations can be, right?! Before this gets too snarky, let me just say that this is not a swipe at preachers with jets, or pools, or nicer houses than mine or whatever… (maybe another day)

It’s about the gospel of Jesus giving us the hope of reconciliation with God, and what it takes to share that hope with people who need it. If you have aligned yourself with Jesus, you’ve been directed to do just that. God hasn’t called very many of His people to stand on a stage and preach Christ to thousands of faces in the crowds, but He has called (and gifted) every single one of us to share the love of His Son with everyone we can. But there are a lot of people in a lot of churches who don’t ever share Christ with anyone because they think they don’t have what it takes.

Here’s what you don’t need to share the gospel:

You don’t need a jet. Let’s just get this one out of the way first. You can tell people about Jesus without a plane! Who knew? You really don’t even need to go anywhere, necessarily, let alone to some far corner of the world. People right where you are need to hear the truth of Jesus. Your neighbors, followers, and Facebook friends don’t know who Jesus is. Explain.

You don’t need a Bible college degree. “I’ll just leave the preaching to the professionals.” Specialized training is not necessary to tell someone about Jesus – you just have to know Jesus! Certainly, Bible college is a great way to gain a depth of perspective that you might not already have. I love school, graduated from a Christian College, and am sending my first kid to one in a couple months. But in no way is it a pre-requisite for talking about Jesus. The first disciples were once referred to as “unschooled, ordinary men…” They did a pretty good job sharing the gospel, don’t you think?

You don’t need a pulpit or any other kind of platform. Maybe that should be developed, but maybe not. You already have all the platform you need right now in the form of relationships with the people around you. Speak Christ into those relationships.

You don’t need a charismatic personality. I used to have a problem with this one. I think I’m pretty boring. I can’t imagine much of a reason for anyone to listen to me talk about much of anything. I will never walk into a room and instantly have everyone hanging on every word I breathe into existence. But I don’t need that. I have the one who breathed me into existence living inside me, and sometimes, when I get my self out of the way, He talks to people through me. His personality is the one that matters, not mine. And it’s amazing!

You don’t need all the answers. I hear a lot of people who feel like they can’t talk about Jesus with their friends because they don’t know how to answer all their questions. It’s a legitimate feeling. But it’s not a legitimate reason to withhold the truth from your neighbor. Don’t be afraid of questions. Grab hold of them and wrestle with them alongside the people who’re asking.

—-

Basically… In order to share the gospel with someone, you need to have confidence in Jesus and compassion for your neighbor. When He is alive in you and you are responsive to Him, He will speak through you and your words to explain Himself. It’s incredible, and you should experience it, plane or no plane!

When Tassels Turn…

My oldest child has graduated.

The tassel’s been turned. The diploma’s in hand. The thank you cards are being written. And even the leftover reception cupcakes are almost gone.

Despite her usual distaste for change, the upcoming years in the worship arts program at Nebraska Christian College have her pretty excited. She’s ready to fly, and we’re ready to pretend we’re ok with pushing her out of the nest. It’s been a very strange mix of anticipation and last minute finishing touches around our house lately.

At the same time, our oldest son looks forward to solidifying his place on the math and soccer teams as a sophomore next year. He was conscripted into the math team this year after refusing to even peek through the window when club sign-up time came around last fall. He was a new freshman and pretty cautious about which steps he was willing to take. He did great though, and had a blast. He excitedly told me the other day about the summer math team schedule. Summer Math??? Yep. Summer Math.

My younger son is heading up to high school with more than a little trepidation, and my youngest daughter is loathe to exchange her 5th grade teacher for whichever ones she gets at the middle school next year. I’m sure they’ll both embrace the changes as well eventually, but it’s interesting how uniquely we all interact with change. I’m not sure how much is natural/personality and how much is life stage/maturity and how much is varying degrees of damage done by their dad!

It’s funny to me how I can look back and see how bravely I embraced change in the past (I graduated HS, got married, and moved 500 miles from anyone we knew within the span of about 40 days once upon a time) and also look ahead and sheepishly stare at changes that scare the ink right out of me. Maybe the difference is between change we choose and change that’s forced upon us…

But we can’t stay in 5th Grade forever.

What change is coming down the road for you?

How are you preparing?

How can I help?

Fighting Ministry Fatigue

Last summer, I followed up an incredible week at a CIY Move conference with my High School students with a week serving a mission called 3:18 Ministries on a reservation in Arizona. Despite the heat, fatigue, and variety of creepy-crawly “hosts”, that week was a great one as well. Driving across parts of 4 large states at the end of that two week trip, I was filled with a healthy feeling of satisfaction and pride in my students. They really are an amazing group of people (I’m sure yours are, too), and I was honored to be able to have such a great seat to watch God work in their lives.

A couple days at home provided enough time to wash clothes and re-pack for a week of camp with my Jr. High students up in the Black Hills. It’s a setting I look forward to visiting every year. But I’d already covered over 2000 miles in a full church van over the previous 13 days. After the week surrounded by Jr. High campers, I was out of gas. Which wouldn’t have been a big deal, except…

I still had one more week of camp to go!

This would have been a huge problem had it not been for a great couple of volunteers from our church who were going to be at camp serving in other capacities. They were willing to add to their list of duties, so I was able to drop them all off Sunday and come back to get them on Friday. They had a great week without me!

The pace of last July was the most solid example I’ve encountered (next to the gray hairs and balding spot on my head) of the fact that youth ministry takes something out of you. As rewarding as it is, there’s no denying that it can be draining as well. It’s critical that we don’t let ministry drain us completely. I’ve noticed a few things that can help us continue to have something to offer.

Plan the calendar with Christ as the center. If you and I don’t plan our time, someone else will, and they won’t necessarily have God’s mission for us in mind. Parents, students, Lead Pastors, friends, coaches, and pretty much everybody else have something they want from you and your ministry. If we’re not careful, we will fill our schedules with every body else’s expectations and our traditions and neglect to plan around what God wants. If you’re doing what God wants, He’ll provide the fuel. But why would He fuel a flurry of activity that doesn’t have Him at the center?

Work your way forward with a team. The workload of a normal, healthy youth ministry will overwhelm you if you try to drag it around on your own. So please don’t try. Find some other adults in your church who care about the next generation, build them into a cohort that is intent on discipling students, and do everything you can to equip them to do just that. Pull away from your regularly scheduled youth ministry schedule a few times a year to refine the vision of your ministry with your team and share some tools to help make that vision happen. Learn to lean on each other as God knits together His Body.

Stay connected with Christ. Your youth ministry is not about what you can accomplish. It’s not even really about what you have to offer. It’s about Jesus producing fruit in you that will sustain the life of His movement to redeem and reconcile the people around you. He does that when we stay connected to Him. I have to admit to some pretty dry stretches from time to time when I was only cracking my Bible open to get fodder for the next lesson I had to teach. When prayer was a token offered up at bedtimes and meals. Apart from Him… I could do nothing. But when I am consistently renewing my mind by feeding on His Word, I can both hear His voice more clearly and am given the power to respond to His call more confidently. When we stay connected with Him, He continually fills us no matter what life and ministry take out of us.

Don’t forget your first church. It’s easy to get busy with any job and neglect our families. In ministry, we can also lull ourselves into thinking it’s ok because we’re doing important, God-honoring work. But (if you’ll forgive the paraphrase) what would it profit a youth pastor to gain the best youth group ever known to man and lose his own family in the process? One of the most exciting things for me right now is to see my own kids leading out in our student ministry. 3 of my 4 kids are old enough to be part of our youth ministry and I love seeing how God is working through them within our groups. But I wonder how they’d be feeling if I’d let my ministry steal me from them when they were younger…

There are sure to be times that are more taxing than others. But youth ministry doesn’t have to drain you. Determine now what God wants to do through your ministry and plan accordingly. Develop your team, keep each other connected, and never lose sight of those God has placed most firmly in your sphere of influence. 

Then, go make disciples.