Archives For January 2009

Igniting What Could Be…

Mike —  January 28, 2009 — Leave a comment

This past weekend, I got to take some students on a winter retreat.  The theme of the weekend was “Ignite” with the idea of not being lukewarm.  There was a lot of focus on real practical implementation of our faith.  It was awesome to hear (and see my students hear) so many echoes of what I’ve been feeling and teaching lately.

A college friend who is now preaching at Calvary Christian Church after being the youth minister there for a number of years was the speaker for the weekend.  My kids really got a lot out of the stories he shared of real, concrete ways that other students had put feet on their faith when they stopped living for themselves.
Saturday was skiing for the morning and afternoon.  Up until Thursday or Friday, there was very little snow, so I’m not sure many of us were very optimistic about the skiing.  But Friday night it snowed enough to provide a little cover for the ice-packed hills.  About the time the slopes were freezing up again (after about an hour of a few hundred people skiing on them) it started to snow again and didn’t stop most of the day.  There was plenty of snow.
One of the greatest parts of the weekend for me was the music.  Not so much the music itself, but Tommy, the worship leader.  This event is located at the church where I went when I was in high school, and Tommy was one of the Jr. High kids there at that time.  Back then, no one that I knew of would have imagined that he’d one day be a worship leader – but God did, and now he’s the worship and youth minister at that church.  It was awesome to worship with Tommy and his brothers leading and think about the transformation that only God can bring about.
It was humbling to be reminded of a small thing I did while Tommy was in high school that was a part of his “ignition”.  A spark that stayed around in his life long enough to find fuel and combine with a lot of other flickers until a life is now engulfed in passionate love for God.  How many times do I miss those little things I could be saying now that will spark something later on?  How often do I let my frustration blind me to a future fully in His hands?
May God let us see what could be…

Mission Critical

Mike —  January 21, 2009 — 1 Comment

–I’m posting next month’s newsletter article here before the actual newsletter goes out. So, that kind of makes this an advanced/pre-release copy you’re reading. Feel special.–
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Sunday morning worship, Sunday school, small groups, Wee Ones, ladies groups, seasonal choirs, men’s retreats, women’s retreats, ski retreats, Noah’s Park, Jr. high trips, high school trips, camps, VBS, mission trips, girls trip, vision meeting, WOW, youth group, children’s ministry, nursery… Sounds like quite a club – there’s a lot going on around here!

But Jesus didn’t die to form a club. He has called us to be a people of action, not merely activity. Being like Jesus means meeting needs, not just attending meetings. The world cannot afford for the church to be like the priest who was so caught up in his own religious duties or personal life that he “passed by on the other side” when a man needed his help so badly.

The flurry of activities involved in being a part of the church can become a distraction if we let it. If I don’t pay attention to God’s vision for my life and remain constantly aware of His mission to redeem His Creation, I can be lulled into the deep sleep of routine.

Satan tricks us with a lie that says, “Just be faithful in attendance and you’ll grow spiritually – and that’s what matters.” But simply showing up doesn’t mean I’m doing anything useful for the Kingdom – I may just be growing spiritually fat. What matters is Jesus – am I living my life like Him? Do people see Him when they see me? When they bump into Mike, do they notice that they’re loved by the Maker?

If you haven’t lately, take some time out from everything else and ask God to remind you of His mission in your life. Ask Him for His vision of who you are…

Then be still.

Listen.

Know that He is God.

Then (and only then)… pick up the tools He’s given you and go to work for His mission.

Around this time last year, I decided to take some time and only read the Bible. I missed reading other books, but felt like it was important to focus a little more attention on Scripture for a couple months. Lately, I’ve been wanting to read a little more of a variety of books. I read a lot of books geared for youth ministry and leadership, but wanted to do some reading outside of those realms.

I don’t really have the funds to just be buying books that I may never even look at again, so I decided I’d go to the library. I went to the section that has somewhat new additions to the library for this foray into randomness and noticed a book there about the First Emperor of China and his Terracotta Warriors.

Let me just say that I would love to be able to go to the site of the Terracotta Warriors. The history of it all is fascinating and the fact that these thousands of oversized warriors lay hidden in the ground until only about 35 years ago only adds to the aura that makes a curious person like me want to know more.

I was excited to dig into the book and quench that thirst. Sadly, this particular book has not done justice (at least in my opinion) to its title. The book is supposed to be an introduction to the ruler, but hasn’t been as informative as I’d have liked.

Strike one for random selection at the library…

I Saw Jesus at Wal-Mart

Mike —  January 20, 2009 — Leave a comment

I want my students to go beyond a mild-mannered exploration of their parents’ religious bent, so I’m talking for a few weeks about the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian?”  Just wanting the students to know they need to dig deeper than they can go with a few spoonfulls of Sunday sugar.  They need to aim a little higher than “faithful attender”.

Last week, we talked about how being a Christian means we care about people.  Matthew 25 even shows Jesus equating how we treat the poor, hungry, imprisoned… with how we treat him.
Today as I was at Wal-Mart picking up some stuff for the office, I saw a perfect example of someone with a faith that means something.  A faith that has translated itself into caring about someone else.  It was a college student I know.  She saw a lady in a wheelchair trying to push a cart.  This was an older lady, not very physically proficient…  She had one foot which seemed to be pretty much under control that she used to push herself – one step at a time, while she pushed a cart and tried to steer her wheelchair with her hands.  
When I first saw them, my assumption was that my college friend had found some part time employment helping this elderly lady with her errands.  The truth is that she just happened to see her struggling and wanted to do something to help.  I was really encouraged by seeing her in action.  It was Jesus I was watching care for this lady.  I can’t imagine how she would have done on her own – though she emphasized to both of us that she could manage if she had too (she seemed as grateful for the company as for the help).
How many times do we wander through our day, not noticing those who struggle all around us?  How many times do we turn a blind eye and walk by on the other side of the road – away from somone who needs us?  It’s not a chore to help someone else – it is an act of worship to the one who created us.  It’s an act of emulation of the one who left heaven to beat down the gates of hell.  It’s time to wake up and live the faith we claim to hold.

Leadership Frustration

Mike —  January 18, 2009 — 2 Comments

Andy Stanley ends his book, Making Vision Stick, with this quote:
“If you are consumed with the tension between what is and what could be… if you find yourself emotionally involved… frustrated… brokenhearted… maybe even angry about the way things are… if you believe that God is behind your anguish… then chances are you are on the brink of something divine, something too important to abandon.”

This was very timely for me to read yesterday, and the thought has been bouncing around my cardio-cranial edges all day. I am consumed with the tension he’s speaking of… I am frustrated with what is and the comfortable satisfaction therein… I am brokenhearted for those who will never know what could be because my/our comfort has robbed them of us sharing the hope we have… I’m even angry at systems and complacency that keep thing the way they are…

The question then, is whether it is God behind my anguish, or only me? I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one so frustrated… and if so, then what?

I don’t think I’m alone… so, now what?

Alltop Inclusion

Mike —  January 17, 2009 — Leave a comment

My blog will now be included in alltop – a news site that lists “all the top news” for a lot of different categories. I’m listed in the Christianity topic. Basically, whenever I post, alltop shares it with everyone who uses alltop.

Not sure exactly how the various sites are listed or ranked. I think right now, my blog is like the second to last one at the bottom of the page, hanging out below Eric Bryant (one of the leaders at Mosaic). Not sure if the positioning is static or how exactly that’s decided.

Alltop, all the cool kids (and me)

My second read of the year was Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus, But Not the Church. Kimball shares some conversations with people he knows who seem to be open to Jesus, but very closed to the church – and shares their common perceptions and misgivings of the church. One thing I really liked about the book is that he doesn’t just point out a bunch of problems with the church. He doesn’t just criticize. He offers real hope that perceptions can be changed where the church honestly reflects the reality of Jesus’ character. I loved the stories he shared of people opening up when they discovered people in the church who didn’t fit the caricature they’d bought into. It’s amazing how people respond when they see the real Jesus in His people.

One of the most challenging aspects of the book is Kimball’s desire to get Christian leaders “out of the bubble”. I must admit, I spend a lot more time in my office than in the world.

Whose God is He Anyway?

Mike —  January 14, 2009 — Leave a comment

“Jeremiah, go talk to your God for us and find out what we’re supposed to do…” Jerusalem was decimated by Babylon and only a few remained. They’d abandoned the God of their ancestors, and now it seemed their very existence was all but lost. But there was Jeremiah. Unflinchingly delivering message after message from God to the king and to his people. So in Jeremiah 42, the few who are left go and ask Jeremiah to pray to his God to find out what they should do.

They were desperate and turned to a God whom they did not recognize as their own. “Pray to your God…” Generations had drifted so far that the people of Judah didn’t even recognize the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (their ancestors) as their own.

But God continually reminded them of His desire to be their God. He promised a new covenant unlike the first covenant that they had broken. He offered His law written in their hearts, not just on scrolls and tablets. In Jeremiah 31, Hosea, Ezekiel 37, 2 Corinthians 6, Hebrews 8, and Revelation 21 – scripture uses the same language to describe a day when “They will be my people, and I will be their God.”

Today in the church, the people of God, it seems there is a great danger of a generation adrift failing to recognize God’s desire to be their God. Anecdotal evidence points to a very high percentage of young people leaving the church as they enter young adulthood. It seems that though they’ve connected with their peers in youth group, they’ve not connected with God Himself or the wider Body of Christ. Their faith is perhaps only a thin veneer, subtly stripped away by the questions of life.

I believe that we can do a better job of connecting young people with their Creator who loves them desperately. We can help them see that God is not only the God of Grandma and Grandpa – He desires to be their God as well.

Sadly, the people in Jeremiah 42, though they promised to do whatever he said, put their trust in another nation instead of in God. They disobeyed yet again, and were destroyed in their false refuge. May God lead His people today to connect young people to Himself. May His people follow His lead.

Messes?

Mike —  January 13, 2009 — Leave a comment

Vince Antonucci, on his blog and in his book (“I Became a Christian and All I Got was this Lousy T-Shirt” – which has just been added to my list of books to read) writes that, “Following Jesus should not give us warm fuzzies in our heart, but messes in our underwear.”

In Mark 10, the people following Jesus were scared. They had good reason to be. Jesus kept telling them he was going to die. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

He had just told the rich young ruler to go give everything away, then come back and follow him to eternal life. I wonder if we’re too comfortable? Are we too used to the way things are to see the victory on the other side of our fear of uncertainty? Have the “warm fuzzies” of the contemporary church deadened our senses to the point where our response to Jesus is to sadly retreat into our comforts?

Wild Goose Chase

Mike —  January 7, 2009 — 2 Comments

Last night, I finished reading Wild Goose Chase from Mark Batterson. It’s a really good book, pushing readers to break out of the cages that keep us from being led by the Holy Spirit. I like Batterson’s writing and found myself agreeing with his assessment of boredom in the church. Christians have been safe (but bored) in their cages for way too long, and I don’t want to be a part of keeping them there.

I talk with a lot of young adults, especially, who seem to drift away from the church, not because they don’t believe in God, or want to explore other world views, or even because they want to be ‘free’ to live however they please… they’re drifting because they’re bored. Their faith is covered in bubble wrap – safe and secure, but suffocating.

The six specific cages that Batterson lists are: responsibility, routine, assumptions, guilt, failure, and fear. Of these, I’d say that I’ve struggled with the cage of routine most lately. Early in ministry, everything was an adventure. We’d left behind friends and family, moved to a place where we didn’t know anyone, and chased the Wild Goose to the greatest place in which I could have started ministry. Lately, my ministry has taken on a much less adventurous demeanor and become much more routine. It’s been driving me nuts, but this book helped me see a little more clearly what’s going on. My routine still needs to be shaken up. (The difficulty is when you’re leading a ministry and you shake up your routine, it also shakes up the routine of others. Pray for this to happen in a healthy way.)

One section of the book that really struck me was when he wrote about life goals. A lot of people don’t accomplish much in life because they’ve never decided what they want to accomplish. I’ve had some vague notions of what I want to accomplish, but I think I need to be more specific about some of my goals. One of those is writing. I like to write, and I’ve had a number of people respond positively to things I’ve written (yes, all three of you who read this blog and several others). But I don’t think I’ve put that passion to its’ fullest use yet. I want to write stuff that will strengthen the church beyond the borders of my circle of fellowship. I want to write books. I have no contacts in the publishing world or anything like that, so I’m not sure how to get it done, but one of my goals right now is to find out and do it.

Chase the Goose!